Financial giving is the best way to battle materialism in the life of the believer. Without learning to become a generous giver to the cause of Christ, we will all be very vulnerable to the effects of materialism. We believe there are several good reasons for joining in this important spiritual work:
REASON #1: We can’t keep our material possessions.
We can’t take our material possessions with us into the next life. The old adage is true: There are no trailers attached to hearses. Paul writes, “We have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either” (1 Tim. 6:7). We have already made the case that living for temporal rewards is absurd in light of eternity (see “The Eternal Perspective”). However, we should think about this again, carefully. Imagine if a close friend told you to invest in Blockbuster video rental. You’d probably (and hopefully!) say that this is an idiotic investment, right? But why? This investment won’t last very long!
But the same is true with amassing great wealth here on Earth: it won’t last very long. Therefore, we should invest in spiritual wealth—what Jesus called the “true riches” (Lk. 16:11) that will never fade. While living for this world is futile, the Bible offers another option. We can transfer our wealth to a spiritual bank account:
(Mt. 6:19-20) “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal.”
(Lk. 12:33) “Sell your possessions and give to charity; make yourselves money belts which do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near nor moth destroys.”
(Phil. 4:17) Not that I seek the gift itself, but I seek for the profit which increases to your account.
(1 Tim. 6:17-18) Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, 19 storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is life indeed.
(Prov. 19:17) One who is gracious to a poor man lends to the Lord, and He will repay him for his good deed.
This is banking and accounting language (e.g. “store up” “treasures” “money belts” “increases to your account” “lends to the Lord”). The Bible makes the claim that investing in the cause of Christ is the wisest investment that we can possibly make. Alcorn writes, “Jesus isn’t saying it’s wrong to invest. He’s saying, ‘Don’t make a stupid investment, make a smart one.’” As Jim Elliot famously said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” Francis Schaeffer writes,
We are often told, “You can’t take it with you.” But this is not true. You can take it with you—if you are a Christian. The question is, Will we? … Jesus was not merely making a psychological adjustment inside a man’s head. He was telling us that in actual fact we can lay up our treasure in one of two places. In one place, it will assuredly rot away; in the other, it will never decay. We can lay up money in land or investments, but we can lay it up just as realistically and objectively in Heaven. It is as though Jesus had mentioned the First National Bank in New York as opposed to the Banque Suisse and said that you can choose to make your investments in either America or Switzerland. The perspective of our lives should be that we can lay up treasure in one of two places—earth or Heaven… a man is a fool to put money in a bank that is not going to last when he can deposit it in a bank that will.
Alcorn compares this to a southerner investing in Confederate currency toward the end of the Civil War. If you had an enormous amount of Confederate money in 1864, what would you do with it? Surely you’d try and transfer it into regular currency, because the war would soon be over, and your money would soon be worthless. But our spiritual war here on Earth will soon be over too (either when we die or when Christ comes back), and we will be stuck with money in our bank accounts that isn’t worth anything for the rest of eternity. Alcorn asks,
Suppose I offer you $1,000 to spend today however you want. Not a bad deal. But suppose I give you a choice—you can either have that $1,000 today, or you can have ten million dollars if you’ll wait one year—then ten million more every year thereafter. Only a fool would take the $1,000 today. Yet that’s what we do whenever we grab onto what will last for only a moment, forgoing something far more valuable we could enjoy later for much longer.
Ask yourself: What will I be regretting 10,000 years from now? Will you regret not buying that sound system for your home theater? Or not spending enough money on new furniture? Not likely! Five seconds after you’re dead, you will only regret that you hadn’t given more over to Christ.
When actress Lisa Whelchel was 18 years old, she was the leading star of the popular show The Facts of Life. During this time, she listened to a message from a Christian speaker about the suffering of the poor in Haiti. With tears in her eyes, Whelchel immediately went to liquidate her money to give to the impoverished Haitian children, but her friends told her that she was being “irrational.” The “logic” of their arguments was strong, and they talked her out of it.
In her autobiography, Whelchel tells the sad story of eventually losing all of her money over the next decade anyway. By age 28, she was completely broke. Looking back, she writes, “[God] was trying to get me to invest my money in heaven, where it would be safe, but I thought it was too risky to take him at his word.”
REASON #2: Only people make it to eternity—not possessions.
In God’s economy, people are the central, precious commodity, because only people will continue on into eternity. Most of our reward in heaven will be the relationships that come with us. Paul writes, “For who is our hope or joy or crown of exultation? Is it not even you, in the presence of our Lord Jesus at His coming? 20 For you are our glory and joy” (1 Thess. 2:19-20). Notice that our reward is not a what; instead, our reward is a who. When we get to heaven, the only things that will follow us are the people that have come to faith in Christ. Our possessions will perish, but people will persist.
At the end of Steven Spielberg’s movie Schindler’s List, Oskar Schindler (played by Liam Neeson) stands in front of the 1,100 Jewish people that he saved from Hitler’s Holocaust (watch the clip here). He weeps in front of Itzhak Stern (played by Ben Kingsley), as he explains his deep regret over the people he could have saved from the concentration camps.
Oskar Schindler: “I could have gotten more out. I could have gotten more.”
Itzhak Stern: “Oscar, there are 1,100 people who are alive, because of you… Look at them!”
Oskar Schindler: “If I had made more money. I threw away so much money. You have no idea. If I just…”
Itzhak Stern: “There will be generations of people because of what you did.”
Oskar Schindler: “I didn’t do enough.”
[Stern looks directly into Schindler’s eyes]
Itzhak Stern: “You did so much.”
Oskar Schindler: “This car… Why did I keep the car? Ten people right there. Ten people. This pin… Two people… This is gold… Two more people… He would have given me two more. At least one… I could have gotten one more person [begins weeping]… and I didn’t.” [Itzhak Stern hugs Schindler, as he begins to weep]
We picture that this scene will be similar to the bema seat of Christ (1 Cor. 3:10-15; 2 Cor. 5:10; Rom. 14:12). Looking back on our life, the only thing that would have mattered is our dedication to Christ and reaching others with his message of love and forgiveness. At this point, we imagine that believers will “suffer loss,” as Paul teaches (1 Cor. 3:15). But, at the same time, we picture Ben Kingsley’s character as playing the role of Christ, interceding for our deep regret. As we condemn ourselves, we picture Christ saying: “There are so many people here because of you… There will be generations of people because of what you did… You did so much.” As Paul writes, “Each man’s praise will come to him from God” (1 Cor. 4:5).
Jesus’ message of love and forgiveness has not yet reached all people on Earth today. Roughly seven billion people fill the world today. According to the United States Center for World Mission (USCWM), the message of Christ has reached roughly four billion of these people (4.06). That is roughly 59% of the world—or close to two out of three people on Earth. Therefore, the spiritual poverty on Earth is enormous.
REASON #4: We are all “rich” by global standards.
If you know Jesus Christ personally, then you are spiritually rich according to the Bible. Paul writes, “You know the generous grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty he could make you rich” (2 Cor. 8:9 NLT). But in addition to our spiritual wealth, most of us are financially rich by global standards. Alcorn writes,
If you made only $1,500 last year, that’s more than 80 percent of the people on earth. Statistically, if you have sufficient food, decent clothes, live in a house or apartment, and have reasonably reliable means of transportation, you are among the top 15 percent of the world’s wealthy. If you have any money saved, a hobby that requires some equipment or supplies, a variety of clothes in your closet, two cars (in any condition), and live in your own home, you are in the top 5 percent of the world’s wealthy.
How can we justify hoarding our resources, when so many go without every night?
REASON #5: We are stewards—not owners—of our possessions.
A steward is a person who is responsible for managing someone else’s estate or money. For instance, in the popular book The Lord of the Rings, the “steward of Gondor” maintained the kingdom for Aragorn the king, while he was missing. However, once he returned, the right to the kingdom belonged to the king—not the steward.
The Bible teaches this same concept in regards to the Christian life (1 Cor. 4:2; 1 Pet. 4:10). Originally, God placed the first humans in stewardship over creation (Gen. 1:28; Ps. 8:3-4), and in addition, Jesus mentions stewardship in three of his parables (Lk. 16:1-13; 19:11-27; Mt. 25:14-30). God claims that he owns all of the resources on Earth, so everything ultimately belongs to him:
(Ps. 24:1) The earth is the Lord’s, and all it contains, the world, and those who dwell in it.
(1 Cor. 4:7) What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?
(Job 41:11) Who has given to Me that I should repay him? Whatever is under the whole heaven is Mine.
(1 Chron. 29:12, 14) Both riches and honor come from You, and You rule over all, and in Your hand is power and might; and it lies in Your hand to make great and to strengthen everyone… 14 “But who am I and who are my people that we should be able to offer as generously as this? For all things come from You, and from Your hand we have given You.
(Lev. 25:23) The land, moreover, shall not be sold permanently, for the land is Mine; for you are but aliens and sojourners with Me.
(Hag. 2:8) ‘The silver is Mine and the gold is Mine,’ declares the Lord of hosts.
(Ex. 19:5) …All the earth is Mine.
(Deut. 10:14) Behold, to the Lord your God belong heaven and the highest heavens, the earth and all that is in it.
God claims that he owns everything that we have—even our gifts, intellect, and talents. Paul asks, “What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?” (1 Cor. 4:7). Of course, any money that we have “earned” was only due to the fact that we were given the sufficient gifts, intellect, and sovereign surroundings that gave us this opportunity in the first place.
At the end of our lives, the Bible teaches that “each one of us will give an account of himself to God” (Rom. 14:12), for the resources that we have been given. Ask yourself: Do you have an owner’s mentality or a steward’s mentality?
Owners versus Stewards
Owners ask, “How much of my money will I give to God?”
Stewards ask, “How much of God’s money will I keep for myself?”
Owners ask, “Will I enjoy this?” or “Can I afford it?” or “Can I make the monthly payment?”
Stewards ask, “How will this purchase affect my ability to advance God’s purposes?”
Owners say, “My finances and giving are my private business.”
Stewards say, “I will seek wise counsel so I can be faithful with God’s resources.”
REASON #6: God provides for us financially when we give.
When I was 25 years old, my church asked me to quit my job and come on staff for them. I was newly married, and the thought of leaving my full-time job to work 16 hours a week didn’t seem like the best idea at the time. But my wife and I prayed about it, and quickly decided that God was calling us to make this transition into vocational ministry. We had $2,000 in our personal savings from our wedding, and we felt that this would be a little cushion until I could come on staff full-time.
A few days after quitting my job, we received a letter in the mail from the IRS. (As you probably know, the IRS never writes just to say, “Hi.”) The letter informed us that we had $2,000 in back taxes from three years earlier! Our wedding savings was gone.
We both panicked, but I took it the worst. As the husband in the marriage, you feel a special responsibility to provide for your wife, and I felt like a failure. I was only working a part-time job—with no money in the bank—and I felt like an embarrassment. I remember sitting on our front porch on our date night that week, when my wife initiated prayer. “Why don’t we pray about it?” she said. I remember thinking, “What is that going to do?” It seemed hopeless. But I went ahead and prayed that God would provide for us anyhow.
A couple of months later, a loved family member passed away, and we received an inheritance check in the mail. And guess how much he gave us in his will?
I couldn’t believe it. Even better, in my devotional time that week, I had been in the book of Philippians. That afternoon, I was reading Philippians 4, where Paul writes, “I am generously supplied with the gifts you sent me… And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs” (vv.18-19). My wife and I had been the beneficiaries of this verse; God had provided for us. While the inheritance money had come from my grandfather, we both knew that it had ultimately directly from the hand of God himself.
While this story is very powerful for me, it’s nothing compared to the ways that I’ve seen God provide financially for other believers. What about you? Have you seen God provide for you financially? It’s important to write down the ways that you’ve seen God do this. It builds your faith, and it helps you to remember the powerful provision of God (Lk. 17:17-18; Ps. 77:11; 143:5).
The Bible teaches that God will provide for us financially as we learn to give to the cause of Christ. Solomon writes, “The generous man will be prosperous, and he who waters will himself be watered” (Prov. 11:25). Jesus said, “Give, and you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full—pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, running over, and poured into your lap. The amount you give will determine the amount you get back” (Lk. 6:38 NLT).
Of course, health and wealth teachers have misinterpreted these verses to mean that God will make us rich, if we give to the Lord. This certainly isn’t the case. God will provide for our needs (Phil. 4:19)—not our wants. He doesn’t bless us so that we can be rich, but so we can become even greater givers to others. Paul writes, “You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion” (2 Cor. 9:11).
This happens in many forms and ways. My wife and I have had fellow believers personally support us with money, cars lasting longer than they should have, and other inexplicable help. Alcorn explains this phenomenon when he writes, “As God miraculously stretched the oil and bread of the widow in Elisha’s day, and as he made the clothes and sandals of the children of Israel last forty years in the wilderness, I’m convinced he sometimes graciously extends the life of things that would normally have to be replaced.”
REASON #7: God provides for us spiritually when we give.
When we become financial givers, our emotional life becomes wrapped up with our dedication to serving Christ. Jesus taught, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Mt. 6:21). When we start to give financially, this shows that we are more trustworthy with taking on spiritual responsibility. It’s amazing to see the spiritual life change in a person who has started to give to the Lord.
Jesus said that some people can be financially rich, but are “not rich toward God” (Lk. 12:21). He said that God would not trust us with spiritual responsibility, unless we are faithful with financial generosity. Jesus said, “If you have not been faithful in the use of unrighteous wealth, who will entrust the true riches to you?” (Lk. 16:11). When we begin to give, God will start to entrust us with more of a spiritual influence on those around us. If this were the only reason to give, it would be reason enough.
REASON #8: Financial giving speaks powerfully to the watching world.
Jesus claimed that good works have a profound effect on the watching world.
(Jn. 13:34-35 NLT) So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. 35 Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.
Good works cannot replace the gospel, but they do make the message attractive to lost people (Titus 2:10). Historically, Christianity spread in the ancient world, because of the sacrificial living of believers. In the fourth century, the Roman emperor Julian writes of Christians:
Atheism [i.e. Christian faith] has been specially advanced through the loving service rendered to strangers, and through their care for the burial of the dead. It is a scandal that there is not a single Jew who is a beggar, and that the godless Galilaeans care not only for their own poor but for ours as well, while those who belong to us look in vain for the help that we should render them.
Secular people in the Western world are incredibly skeptical and cynical of Christianity in our day. Just imagine if believers could lead the way in ending world poverty—what a testimony this would be to our cynical world!
What about false teachers who steal donated money?
In 1972, a fraudulent Pentecostal charismatic teacher filmed a documentary called “Marjoe,” which was about how he scammed multiple churches out of money in his “evangelistic circuit” (see here). In our area, there is a local preacher that lives in a million dollar house, right next to his mother’s $900,000 house! Because of these horrible examples, many Christians become cynical of financial giving altogether.
However, while the Bible certainly teaches that we should give to the local church (Gal. 6:6; 1 Tim. 5:17-18), at the same time, it is also critical of irresponsible giving. For instance, when Paul took a large sum of money to the Jerusalem church, he took several credible partners to carry the money with him. He writes, “We are traveling together to guard against any criticism for the way we are handling this generous gift.21 We are careful to be honorable before the Lord, but we also want everyone else to see that we are honorable” (2 Cor. 8:20-21 NLT). Therefore, the local church should be concerned about how the watching world will perceive their handling of money, and believers should be careful where they give their money.
However, while some organizations are crooked, we shouldn’t let this stop our giving altogether. Otherwise, these false teachers would accomplish their purpose: keeping us from giving to the cause of Christ altogether. Consider, for example, if a young girl heard about adultery for the first time, and then she concluded, “I’m never, ever going to get married!” Would this be a reasonable conclusion? We think not. And while the Bible tells us to be careful with where we give our money, it never tells us that this is a reason not to give at all.
Some believers say, “I’ll wait until I’m in a better financial situation, and then I’ll start giving.” But surprisingly, statistics show that the wealthier we get, the less likely we are to give. John Rowell writes,
In 1921, per-member giving as a percentage of income was 2.9 percent. In 1933, at the height of the Great Depression, per-member giving grew to 3.3 percent. By 2000, after a half-century of unprecedented prosperity, giving among Christians had fallen to 2.6 percent… This observation is consistent with the general recognition that ‘the richer we become, the less we give in proportion to our income.’
Similarly, Barna notes, “We discovered that people from middle- and lower-income households are slightly more likely to give on a monthly basis to organizations, such as churches, than are the wealthiest among us.” This fits with what the Bible has taught all along. But as with any biblical teaching, we need more than just persuasion; we need action. James tells us, “But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves” (Jas. 1:22 NLT). Nothing can substitute for acting on the truth that we’ve heard.
If you’re interested in giving financially to a credible organization, consider the Humanitarian Aid and Development Fund.
 Alcorn, Randy C. Money, Possessions, and Eternity. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 2003. 94.
 Schaeffer, Francis A. The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaeffer. Second Edition. Volume Three. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1985. 184, 185.
 Alcorn, Randy C. Money, Possessions, and Eternity. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 2003. 100.
 Alcorn, Randy C. Money, Possessions, and Eternity. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 2003. 104.
 I am indebted to Alcorn for this anecdote. Alcorn, Randy C. Money, Possessions, and Eternity. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 2003. 287-288.
 Lisa Whelchel, The Facts of Life and Other Lessons My Father Taught Me (Sisters, Ore.: Multnomah, 2001), 57-60. Cited in Alcorn, Randy C. Money, Possessions, and Eternity. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 2003. 288.
 The Joshua Project is a ministry of the United States Center for World Missions. Joshua Project “Great Commission Statistics.” http://www.joshuaproject.net/great-commission-statistics.php.
 Alcorn, Randy C. Money, Possessions, and Eternity. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 2003. 291.
 Alcorn, Randy C. Money, Possessions, and Eternity. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 2003. 214.
 Emphasis mine. Cited in Neill, Stephen. A History of Christian Missions. 2nd ed. Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England: Penguin, 1986. 37-38.
 Rowell, John. To Give or Not to Give?: Rethinking Dependency, Restoring Generosity, and Redefining Sustainability. Tyrone, GA: Authentic Pub., 2007. 100.
 Barna, George. How to Increase Giving in Your Church. Ventura, CA: Regal, 1997. 29.