Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Deciding What To Give

It's Christmas season and with all the talk of spending flying around we thought it would be great to talk more about finances and giving/tithing in particular.

For many couples deciding what and how to give is difficult, especially in the midst of a struggling economy. This issue is also affected by the different family backgrounds of you and your spouse. It can be quite frustrating when the two of you have different opinions about giving.

What makes this conversation a thousand times more difficult is that there are varied interpretations of what Biblical giving should look like. Even on our last blog post about building a budget, two of the comments were specifically about this issue and what the Bible calls the tithe.

The basic understanding of the tithe comes out of the Jewish Scriptures and is understood as giving 10% of your income to the church. After this basic explination though, there are still many questions:
  • Does the 10% apply to our income before or after taxes? 
  • Do you have to give the 10% to a local church or can you give it to a mission agency or non-profit organization? 
  • What about if you are struggling financially, can you give less than 10%? 
  • What about people who are extremely wealthy and 10% is like pocket change to them? Are they obligated to give more? 
  • What do you do if you want to “obey the Bible” and give 10% of your income but your spouse doesn’t agree with your theological understanding about giving and isn’t comfortable giving that much? 
  • What about gifts, bonuses or other unexpected checks? Do you have to tithe on those too? 
Perhaps some of these questions have come up in your marriage or relationship and the resulting disagreements have really taken the joy out of giving. How do you decide where to start and what is the right amount for your family to give?

1) As you guys start conversations about giving don’t begin with the tithe debate. Getting caught up in a conversation (or argument) about “10%”  actually misses two very important aspects of giving that supersede the conversation about a specific amount.

First, ask why the two of you should give in the first place. Sadly, it seems more and more people are choosing not to give. Barna Group, a Christian research organization, has reported fairly consistently over the last few years that giving is on the decline. (See their most recent stats here). In our opinion, failure to give anything as a Christian in many cases points to a spiritual immaturity that really does as much harm to ourselves as it does to the people who we are neglecting to help.

The whole reason it is even possible to have a relationship with God is because God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit gave. As Christ’s followers, we are called to follow in His footsteps. Jesus’ disciples completely understood this as they started the church in the book of Acts. Read through the first few chapters and see how many references there are to the early Christians giving, sharing and helping others out. Think about James 1:27, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress.” The only way we do carry this out is by giving!

Second, the other thing we need to keep in mind is that God doesn’t want 10% of our finances; He wants 100%. The money that we are blessed with is a gift from God – along with the gifts, skills and talents He has given each of us to earn said finances. We have the responsibility to be good stewards with all – not just 10% - of what God has given us. Consider the widow that Jesus affirms in Luke 21:1-4 who gave “all she had to live on.” As you discuss giving, the conversation must be broadened to not just focus on how much God wants us to give but instead to ask the question, “How does God want us to spend every dime we make?”

2) With those two big issues in mind, it is now appropriate to start talking specific amounts. When it comes to this we don’t think there is a “correct” answer or percentage but instead echo Paul’s words to the church in Corinth:

Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.” (2 Corinthians 9:6-8)

A couple of points about this passage:

First, giving in this passage isn’t about meeting any particular percentage. It’s about the heart and the motives of the giver. Spend time talking, praying, searching Scripture and reading books about how you and your spouse should use your income, including giving, make a decision and just go for it. Giving 10% is a fantastic benchmark to aim for but don’t get legalistic about it nor use it as a reason to not give more because “you’re giving the amount God wants.”

Second, regularly challenge yourselves to give more. We try to evaluate what we give every 6 to 12 months. We also challenge ourselves with this whenever we get an extra freelance job, gift or bonus. Compared to the rest of the world, those of us who live in the West are very well off and we have more to spare than we often admit. (For specifics, check this calculator out: http://www.givingwhatwecan.org/resources/how-rich-you-are.php.)

We have found that this passage definitely rings true and the more we give, the more we reap! This isn’t always a return in a dollar amount but in the joy of loving other people, growing in our faith and a shift in our priorities from our stuff and ourselves to God and others.

-Jake

The Money Series:
Part 1: Starting the Money Conversation
Part 2: Building a Budget
Part 3: Deciding What to Give (you're reading it)
Part 4: Do We Really Need That?
Part 5: Cutting Corners: Tips for Tight Budgets

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Our goal of this blog is to share stories (both good and bad), thoughts and insights about our marriage and we would love for you to jump into the conversation.

The goal is to provide three things:
1) HOPE for struggling couples that they are not alone.
2) GROWTH in our marriages and our understanding of marriage.
3) ENCOURAGEMENT to keep loving your spouse unconditionally.