The current coronavirus pandemic undoubtedly poses a serious threat to global health, but it’s also proving to be equally deadly to global wealth. Economic effects are one of the more immediately recognizable consequences of the measures taken by governments around the world to stem the spread of the disease. In our own country, millions are out of work, and the trillions of dollars divvied out from Washington cannot stop an inevitable recession—a fact perhaps more concerning to many citizens than the possibility of contracting a harmful pathogen.
With lighter wallets, tighter budgets, and savings that hang in the balance, maybe this seems like an insensitive time to discuss tithing. But I would disagree. In fact, many of the Bible’s instructions about giving are in the context of financial strain, not excess. We have seen a sinful streak running through the world: as shortages become a real possibility, many people’s response is to hoard. To take. To keep. In principal, the entire concept of hoarding runs counter to the Christian message of service and sacrifice. But admittedly, in times of fear and uncertainty, it’s extremely tempting to look out for Number One and neglect the needs of others. But we can’t allow this pattern of the world to become the pattern for the church. So, as an encouragement to you, let me offer just three biblical reasons for why we should continue to give to the church, and give generously, even as we face increased financial hardship.
When We Give Sacrificially, We Give More
Do you remember the story of the poor window and her two coins? Jesus and the disciples are outside of the temple, observing people coming and going from the place of worship and depositing their offerings into the collection boxes. First the wealthy arrive, and their riches pour like a rushing waterfall into the treasury of the temple. But then we read that
A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny. And he called his disciples to him and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on” (Mark 12:42–44).
Most astounding is Jesus’ response to this event. He says, “She gave more.” Think about that. Rest on that line for a moment and notice what He’s not saying. He’s not saying, “It’s as if she gave more” or that “Proportionally speaking she gave more.” No. He says she literally gave more than those who gave from their abundance. The economy of the Kingdom of God is upside down to the economies of today. Wall Street doesn’t work this way. Capitalism doesn’t work this way. Math doesn’t even work this way. But this is how it works in God’s eyes: her two pennies are actually a greater investment in the kingdom than the loads of gold and silver dumped in by the rich who came before.
Why? Because our heart is tied to and transforms our gift. If our desire is to be generous and, at times, even to give above and beyond our means, that desire actually multiplies our contribution to the church. Even through meager donations we can give in sustaining ways to the work of the Kingdom! This can be—and must be—done even when we have plenty. We must always give from the heart, with cheerfulness and generosity (2 Corinthians 9:7). But as the cash flow may be drying up, let this encourage you to keep on giving. These two pennies made a useful investment in the Kingdom, they increased with interest, they were received with favor by God—and your pennies can be, too.
When We Give Generously, We Get Back
When we give from the heart, even in our time of lack, we actually are able to give more to the Kingdom of God. We learn elsewhere in Scripture a related lesson: that when we give abundantly and generously, not only do we give more, but we get back more as well. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 9:6, “Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.” Just as the farmer who spreads very little seed should expect very little growth, so too should we expect little return on a stingy offering. But note this: we should expect a return!
I find it fascinating that Paul is telling us that there is a correlation between what we give and what we get in return. This is not the only place in Scripture we learn such a lesson. Jesus Himself says, “sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven” (Matthew 19:21; see also Ephesians 6:8; Romans 2:6,10; Matthew 10:42; Luke 14:13-14 for more passages on rewards for our actions).
It gets even better when you consider the nature of the reward God offers us: while our giving is earthly our reward is heavenly. That is to say it is exponentially greater than anything we could ever give in the first place. Incidentally, this is one of the reasons why the so-called “prosperity gospel” is wickedly dangerous: it offers too little! Ours is a heavenly inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading (1 Peter 1:3), far surpassing health and wealth here on earth. God gives us “solid joys and lasting treasure” for the temporary and fleeting gifts that we offer to Him now.
When We Give Faithfully, God Will Provide
This leads to a final motivation Scripture gives for why we should continue faithful in our material giving: we should give faithfully because God will provide. Knowing the Lord’s presence and provision lays the foundation for all of our giving. We read in Hebrews, “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ So we can confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper’” (13:5-6).
At the close of Philippians, Paul writes to encourage the church that has given so sacrificially to the cause of his missionary efforts. They alone had “entered into partnership with [him] in giving” (4:15). In response to their generous donations, they are given a heart-cheering promise: “my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (v. 19).
We learn here something of the scope of God’s provision: He supplies every need—spiritual and material. If you are facing a struggle, no matter what it might be, God is the solution. But we also learn of the depth of God’s provision. When Paul says that God will supply every need, he is not simply saying that God cares about every need we have, but more accurately that God sees to it that the entirety of every need is met. The word for “supply” means to “fulfill.” There is nothing left to be done once God sets His hand to the work. If it were otherwise, He wouldn’t be God.
Ministry is needed now more than ever. Missions is needed now more than ever. By God’s design, that work is fueled by our giving. But take heart, dear believer. We give to the One who gives to us abundantly more than we could ever ask or imagine. We give to the One who alone ensures our every need is met. We give to the One who guarantees our giving is never in vain.
Jonathan Landry Cruse is the pastor of Community Presbyterian Church in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and the author of The Christian’s True Identity and What Happens When We Worship (RHB, forthcoming). He is also a hymn writer whose works can be found at www.HymnsOfDevotion.com.