One Friday night, the small group I lead was studying about giving. I presented some biblical materials on the subject and then opened the floor for discussion and testimonies. After a few comments, one man shared sincerely, “I know that God has put an obligation in the Bible for us to give. In return, He has an obligation to bless us. I have been giving faithfully to God for a while now because I know that if I do, He will bless me and make me win the lottery.”
Just as I was about to correct him for his poor theological reasoning, I had to reflect on my own motivation for giving. Had I been giving to God out of obligation or with selfish expectations?
WHAT IS YOUR MOTIVATION FOR GIVING?
I once met with a group of pastors and was asked to summarize the work of stewardship. A grand total of three minutes was allotted for the presentation! In an attempt to say as much as possible in such a brief time, my opening remark was, “The task of stewardship is to turn ordinary disciples into great lovers.” This seemed to catch their attention, and it allowed me to suggest that when need, duty, or expectations are used as motivators, they are weak and in need of constant repetition. On the other hand, when a person acts from the basis of love, motivation builds and reinforces itself with the passages of time.
Stewardship is responsive; it acts on the basis of what has already been done. Love responds to love and provides a deep reservoir from which wonderful actions and gracious motivations flow. This is the heart of 2 Corinthians 9:7: “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.” Christian growth flourishes in such a climate.
It is axiomatic to repeat that one can give without loving but cannot love without giving. Stewards find vital truth in the “love chapter”—1 Corinthians 13. “If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing” (1 Cor. 13:3). Givers also do not parade their generosity in prideful ways. They do not claim an advantage— no matter the size of their gift—nor do they expect it to cover their shortcomings. “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs” (verses 4, 5).
Giving with love is not always easy. Here are some questions for you to wrestle with as you seek to grow in your love for and generosity to God:
1. Does how much I give accurately convey how much I love God (Ex. 35:4-9, 29; Matt. 26:7-13)?
2. How often do I reflect on what God has already given to me at the cross (John 3:16; 15:13; 1 Cor. 2:2)?
3. How do I express my love for God compared to how I express my love for the world (John 15:19; 1 John 2:15)?
4. Do I get more excited about spending money on temporal things than I do about giving money for eternal things (Matt. 6:19-21)?
5. Whose agenda is at the top of my priorities: God’s or mine (Matt. 19:16-22)?
6. How often do I do something for someone in need without expecting anything in return (Acts 2:42-47; 4:32-35; 9:36)?
7. What are some creative things my family and I can do to show our love through giving, i.e., forgo Christmas/birthday gifts, eliminate a nonessential expense, fast for a period of time to free up money to share with those in need, use personal allowance or have a garage sale to fund mission projects, etc. (Matt. 25:34-40; James 1:27)?
When God’s love is at work in us, we can break the cycle of selfishness and do the Christlike thing we call giving. God’s love reminds us: “Everything that we are, everything that we have, every talent, all our time, all our treasures are all gifts from a loving Creator who made us and gave us management responsibilities.”1
Billy Graham once said, “Tell me what you think about money, and I can tell you what you think about God, for these two are closely related. A man’s heart is closer to his wallet than almost anything else.”
THE HEART OF THE MATTER
The nickel-and-dime giving of our younger days can ripen into Christian generosity as we mature as disciples and grow in our love for God. Even our highest generosity, motivated by Christ’s love within us, pales in significance when compared with the supreme gift of love—the gift of God’s Son for us!
Let’s strive to live every day in the certainty that our lives are controlled by the loving generosity of Christ!
Ellen G. White, Testimonies to the Church, 9:245.
S. Joseph Kidder is a professor of church growth and leadership at the Andrews University Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary in Berrien Springs, Michigan, USA.