Christian Giving and the Character of God
Usually when we talk about Christian giving it is in the context of good stewardship. Everything we have comes from God, so when we give from our abundance we are truly giving away what was God’s to begin with. When we give in His name, we manifest His love to the world! This is all true. Still, there is little about this message alone that results in cheerful giving. When giving is expressed this way—and only this way—it encourages many Christians to give from a sense of duty, or even guilt.
I’m not saying that Christians don’t have duties. We do. But when we take something God has intended for us to experience as a joy, as a way of partaking in His life in the world, and reduce it to “duty” alone we sell ourselves short of God’s fullest expression of grace for our lives. When it comes to giving there is so much more to it than duty and obedience.
To truly understand why Christian giving is a joy, rather than a burden, it must be understood in the light of God’s character.
One must dive no deeper into the Bible than the most cited verse in all of scripture, John 3:16 (ESV), “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” For these purposes, we’re going to dig a little deeper into the first half of the verse. That little word “so” is packed full of significance in the original Greek. The world literally means “in this way.” One might translate this verse as “For this is the way that God loved the world: he gave his only Son….”
God’s generosity, his willingness to give, proceeds from his character. Giving is the expression of God’s love for the world. 1 John 4:8 says that “anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love” (ESV). Love is a component of God’s very character, and giving (preeminently the gift of His Son) is the way his love is manifest for us.
Since God’s generosity flows out of his love for the world, our giving cannot be relegated to the realm of duty alone. Every good and perfect gift comes from above, from the Father of lights (James 1:17). In turn, as recipients of God’s gracious gifts, we become lights unto the world. We give not because we must (or else). We give because having been unworthy recipients of His gifts, we are transformed by His love and now, bearing the image of God in Christ, we grow in love toward others and become generous in kind.
We have a God who loves to give gifts. Notice, the Bible does not say he gives generously simply because we have a need, or because he feels sorry for us. Nowhere in the Bible is God’s generosity contingent upon our worthiness. God does not give us gifts because we deserve them. Just as importantly, he does not withhold his gifts from us because of our failings. If he did, God wouldn’t be doling out too many gifts because none of us would ever be worthy!
Instead, God gives us gifts solely out of His grace, because it is his nature to love us “in this way.” The greatest gift of all, in fact, was the gift of his Son, Jesus Christ, in whom we become inheritors of every spiritual blessing! (Romans 8:17).
Put in theological terms, Christian giving can be discussed from the perspective of a variety of doctrinal categories, i.e. sanctification (the process of becoming more holy), ecclesiology (what it means to be a member of the church), and stewardship (being responsible with God’s gifts). Indeed, giving is a part of all these things. That is only because “giving” is more fundamental than any of those categories. Giving is a part of God’s character. A theology of giving belongs, first and foremost, in the doctrine of God and His nature. We were created in God’s image and redeemed in His image in Jesus Christ (Genesis 1:27; 2 Corinthians 4:4). As partakers in His image, growing in His character, we are also growing in generosity.
Christian giving is not merely a duty—it is a joy! God did not give us His only Son out of a sense of duty or obligation. He gave His only Son because he loved us in this way.