Most of what we say is “Christian giving” is actually not biblical giving.
Many Christians are content to give their tithes to their church (I mean the rich churches, not the ones in the slums) unthinkingly. If they look closer, they will find out that their giving is not really for God. Most of our giving is spent towards our own comfort, to pay for our nice building, air-con, fat salaries for our pastors who will pamper us and whom we fire if they make us work, teachers for our children in Sunday school (who act like nannies for our spoiled kids), etc. These givings are actually giving to ourselves, for our comfort. True giving is to God, and we make sure none of it benefits us in a secret way.
There are Christians who give to missions for example but take liberty to order around the missionary they support like they were their own servant or employee. Or else, some donors give but use the money as a leverage to make the recipient toe the line, not disagree or speak against them.
The bible tells us to give our tithes and offerings to the poor. The giving to the poor is equivalent to giving to God. There is no more temple or priests or Levites to speak of. What remains in the bible is just the giving to the poor (referring to poor Christians, not poor unbelievers in the world at large).
Until the church we attend in does that, i.e. give to the poor, all our tithes and offerings are not counted at all as givings, and we still need to give on top of what we have given, because what we have given at first were just for our own comfort or to promote our own power.
There are many teachings on givings and they seem to have different degrees or levels.
The first of course is the teaching on tithes, 10%. Some will quibble over this and ask, if this is 10% gross or net of our income. Our wise pastor would reply: What kind of blessing do you want, gross or net? But kidding aside (and excluding those who sneak around like Pharisees), the 10% if you are a businessman should be of the net income (less cost of goods or cost of sales) otherwise, you won’t be able to continue your business anymore. Eve the BIR will not tax your cost of goods or cost of sales because you need to put that money back into your business and buy anew goods to sell.
Beyond the 10%, God tells us in 2 Corinthians that he loves a cheerful giver, which means less or more than 10%. It does not say, meaning, it releases us from the legalistic 10% standard. We give from our hearts. I think, if we are honest, it would be more than 10%.
But in the same chapter, 2 Corinthians 8 (then later in chapter 9), we can see that there is something more than cheerful giving mentioned here. It is not a command, but more an example. Paul is telling us to look at these poor Macedonians, how even in their poverty they vied to give as much as the rest, and gave beyond their means. This is called a sacrificial giving, the third kind of giving. It is higher than the first two.
I venture a fourth kind of giving, shared by Anthony Pangilinan. He quoted from Acts 20.35; it is more blessed to give than to receive. When members of our church and friends gave generously to him in his time of need (the heart surgery for his eldest son), he came back after a successful surgery to testify about the goodness of God, how God provided but he also made a threat, he was going to get even with those who gave generously to him. He felt he had been outgiven, following the principle of Acts 20.35 and he felt they were now more blessed than he. He did not like that and wanted revenge. He would give more so he would end up more blessed than those who gave to him. This is called vindictive giving.
Many actually cannot understand this verse. I illustrate this in class like this. Paull gives a new cell phone to Anna as a gift. Anna thus says, “I have a blessing.” And then I ask Anna, what about Paul, does he have a blessing also? And Anna says, yes. Paul also has a blessing. And then I ask, who has the more blessing, Anna or Paul. From Acts 20.35, it is Paul who has more blessings.
I have worked among the urban poor for decades and I know that this is the most difficult thing for them to accept. The poor in the slums can easily attend church, or receive Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior but it is very difficult for them to give. For me, it is a sign that they are truly born again when they give. I am not saying this to pressure them but I actually learned this from them. I saw it many times. When the poor becomes a real believer, he or she will give so much, beyond their means, all the time.
The final teaching on giving is in the same chapter, 2 Corinthians 8. There Paul describes the way of Jesus: although he was rich, he became poor in order to make others rich. This is the ultimate act of giving. The action or momentum of our spirituality is towards becoming poor. Some will warn me and say this is stupid because in doing so, the church will become bankrupt. How will the church pay for the electric bills or the rent? But what they forget is that God is quicker with the checkbook that any of us.
I have seen this during Ondoy when a community in San Mateo called, that for three days already, no one had gone to distribute relief goods to them and they had not eaten for some time. I thought I could order some things from Suy Sing using my credit card but before all the orders and the payment could be finalized, a truck arrived enough for the 400 families in that community in San Mateo. God is indeed faster on the check book. You can test it, see if I am right.
Wealth even among Christians is defined as hoarding, accumulating and amassing. It is about having a fat bank account, many cars, big homes, etc. Wealth is about possession and possessing and because of this wrong definition of wealth, many Christians cannot understand true giving.
Wealth in the bible is the opposite of this definition. Wealth is about giving, about how much we have given instead of how much we have kept or amassed. It is about how much we have blessed instead of how much we have kept for ourselves.
This is the reason our pastor in Tampa, Florida says, Americans know how to give but they don’t know how to share. Giving makes people mere recipients of our generosity. Sharing means we declare to all that all that we have do not belong to us, they belong to God. We are only stewards. The wrong theology of the prosperity gospel is this, it teaches only half-truths. It is only half true, that if we pray, God will give to us and make us rich. The other half is that God will make us rich so we can give more.
Being rich in the bible presumes a lot of Faith. That is why Jesus said, the poor are rich in faith and that is also why he often harasses the rich for their being rich (it is harder for a camel to enter the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom). When a person is wealthy, Jesus will assume he has no faith but is simply relying in his wealth and so he tells the rich young ruler to sell all his possessions and give the money to the poor.
But when he knows there is faith, he does not do that, so he does not tell Zacchaeus to give up all his wealth. Zacchaeus could keep what he had left after he had paid back those he had cheated (and I imagine he still had plenty).
It is faith that makes us wealthy. It is not our material possessions. Many of my friends and relatives in America actually think I am poor. Many among my poor friends on the other hand think Christians in America are poor – because they have very little faith (and very few relationships). I think having much material possession entails two dangers. One is that God expects us to be stewards and thus, we need to really be able to give our wealth and make sure it gets to the truly needy. If not, God will judge us. The other danger is that we will rely so much on our wealth and less on God. We need to constantly look into our hearts to see if we are not trusting in our wealth more than on God.
I make exceptions for some people who suffer a psychological handicap in this matter. I know some beautiful Christian souls who just cannot give because of fear. They suffer an undue anxiety about being poor or having no money. They need counselling and telling them to give more makes them only more guilty than sanctified. It may be that in their childhood, they had a family environment that was very chaotic or very poor that they are traumatized when they feel they are being sent back to that same condition again. Some are obsessive compulsive in material possession, very controlling in everything especially their money because when they were growing up they experienced parents or one parent who were or was so out of control.
I bring my students to the slums and I give them only one instruction: find out what you can live without. In the slums, sometimes, there is no bed or no toilet or no clean water. When we live there, can we forego these amenities or luxuries? Can we live without our toothbrush or our bed? I am not asking the students to become Spartan or a sort of robot warriors. Paul said, he knew what it was to live in luxury (five star hotel) and he knew how to survive in sheer poverty. All I am asking my students is that they learn to see their freedom, that when these material possessions and comforts are taken away, their faith will still remain, strong.
Many think the poor do not give or that the rich give more than the poor. This is wrong. The poor actually give more than the rich Christians do. If I tell the rich members of our church (a rich church) to religiously give 10% tithes, half of the church would leave me. But the poor easily give more than 10%. If the poor give 500 pesos in our church, we would look down on it even though it is already 100% of his surplus or disposable income. If a rich member gives one million pesos, we quickly make him or her an elder even though that one million pesos only represents less than 10% of his or her disposable income or surplus.
Discipleship in general requires giving up all our possessions. “Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Luke 12.33.
True giving is to be a steward, to be set free and to bless others.