What do financial advisors, prosperity preachers, and Jesus all have in common?
As a financial advisor, I’m constantly providing counsel to all types of people about how to manage their money well. Prosperity preachers talk about money as if it were some type of investment seed: you give to God and he must give it back to you and more. As for Jesus, some scholars say that a third of Jesus’s parables revolve around money and possessions — and that the New Testament accounts of Jesus’s teachings mention more about money and possessions than faith and prayer combined.
Financial advisors, prosperity preachers, and Jesus all consider money to be significant.
A Great and Dangerous Gift
It’s clear that Jesus didn’t dodge the touchy topic of money and possessions. He recognized its potential power for good or evil — too powerful to ignore or neglect. On the one hand, Christians can use money for the glory of God, the expansion of his church, and the common good of all mankind by funding organizations, sending missionaries, and building schools and medical clinics.
But money is also extremely dangerous if we’re enslaved to it. It can be used to promote sin, and it is often the root of broken marriages, murder, and all types of sinful behavior (1 Timothy 6:10). What does it mean to serve money? John Piper says it well: “To serve money means to calculate all of your behaviors, all of your life, to maximize what money can give you, always asking what benefits can come to you from money.”
If we would glorify God with our money and possessions, we need to treat them as Jesus would, not as prosperity preachers or mere financial planners. One way to confront our love of money is to remind ourselves of its ultimate proprietorship. Scripture’s clear acknowledgement of divine ownership reshapes how we steward what we’ve been given.
Toward a Tenth and Beyond
Regardless of a person’s religious background, most are somewhat familiar with the concept called “tithing.” But in case you’re not, tithing refers to giving a tenth of one’s “increase” (Deuteronomy 14:22) or, we might call “income.” In the Old Testament, the tithe is referenced many times in relation to giving a tenth of produce to the Lord.
In all of Jesus’s recorded teachings about money and possessions, how often did Jesus speak about the tithe? Only twice: Matthew 23:23 (also reported in Luke 11:42) and Luke 18:12. And significantly, the New Testament apostles encourage us to go above and beyond in our giving, rather than limit our giving to ten percent.
D.A. Carson offers this memorable commentary on tithing and the New Testament: “The most penetrating New Testament passage on giving is 2 Corinthians 8–9. Under severe trial, the Corinthians’ ‘overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity’” (2 Corinthians 8:2, NIV). Carson concludes,
So why not aim for 20 percent in your giving? Or 30? Or more, depending on your circumstances (2 Corinthians 8:12)? “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that . . . for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.” (2 Corinthians 8:9, NIV)
Like our lives, our money is not our own. Every penny belongs to the Lord (Psalm 24:1). There is no contract between you and God that says he gets ten percent and you own ninety percent. He owns a hundred percent of our possessions, but he graciously enables us to steward it.
However, I have found in my own life that it’s easy to preach the message of generosity, but much harder to live it. In practice, I’m prone to act as if, after I give a certain amount, the rest is mine. Such an attitude runs opposed to what Scripture teaches.
How often have you given, wiped your hands clean, then lived as if the rest is yours?
Called to Generous Living
Jesus’s words about money and possessions, viewed in light of eternity, make me passionate to help people give money through sound, biblical financial planning. Thinking carefully about how we spend our money positions us to give as much as we possibly can and further the cause of the gospel in the world.
The Christian, renewed and transformed by Christ, is called to generous living, and this should shine in every aspect of our lives. Such a person wants to spread the good news through generosity and give as much as possible to support God’s global mission and the needs of fellow members and neighbors.
And while we should give generously, our giving always flows as a result of our relationship with God, not a way to earn it. We don’t give in order to gain God’s love, but we give because we’ve been loved. We are given grace through faith, therefore we graciously give in faith. We don’t even give in order to be given double or triple in return. We give freely with no expectations other than to see God glorified.
New Testament giving is
- willing and cheerful (2 Corinthians 9:7),
- a regular pattern of life (1 Corinthians 16:2),
- proportionate to one’s ability (2 Corinthians 8:3),
- generous (2 Corinthians 8:2–3; 1 Timothy 6:18), and
- sacrificial (Mark 12:42–44; Acts 4:32; 2 Corinthians 8:3).
How much you should give is a personal conviction to lay before God. Pray for wisdom, study his word, and act in faith as God leads you by his Spirit and in the fellowship of the local church. The message to the materially rich may be, “To whom much was given, of him much will be required” (Luke 12:48). And to the materially poor, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).