For Christian giving, there are three parties to our gifts. There’s the giver, the recipient, and God, the often, overlooked party. But how does God, who owns everything, possibly benefit from our giving?
We learn as early as Cain and Abel that God seeks personal pleasure in our gifts. The Hebrew text suggests that God gazed at Abel and his gift. He fixed his eyes directly on Abel, taking pleasure (showing regard, favor, respect) in the transaction. Cain’s gift did not have this impact on God.
In the Law of Moses, the Israelites understood that acceptable animal offerings triggered a pleasing aroma, capturing God’s attention in unique ways (in the Bible, the word acceptable means “pleasing”). When the fire from heaven consumed the acceptable sacrifices on the altar, the people knew God had noticed. And He was pleased.
Even the Apostle Paul wanted the Philippians to know their cash gifts to him not only met his needs (the recipient), and stored up treasures in heaven (for the giver) — but that their gifts were a “fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God” (Philippians 4:18).
But it’s not always easy to view God in our giving. After all, God is invisible. And He doesn’t drop fire from heaven to show pleasure in our cash gifts. Sadly, that’s why giving today often becomes more about having impact than about pleasing God.
When making giving decisions, we wonder: Does the church leadership have vision? Does the non-profit have sound management? Are the funds getting to the poor? How much of every dollar goes to administrative costs? We want our gifts to make a difference, right? After all, our gifts can change the world. And that makes us feel good. But what makes our gifts especially acceptable (pleasing) to God? Consider two thoughts.
- God measures how our gift costs us. God values our sacrifice.
Consider two families with the same household incomes. Both give the same percentage of their gross incomes to their church. Digging deeper, we learn Family A receives free medical coverage from their employer and use of a company car. But Family B pays a significant portion of their health care premiums.
Family A also has parents who live nearby — providing regular dining opportunities, occasional vacations and on-call babysitting for the grandkids. Family B does not have assistance from family and incurs significant costs to care for a special needs child. Though the percentages are identical, the “giving” costs more for Family B. The point is not to undermine Family A’s generosity (their gifts can please God also), but to recognize that God’s calculator goes much deeper in measuring how our gifts cost us personally.
When a man offered to provide King David the land, animals, and materials to present sacrifices to God, David insisted he pay full price, saying, “I will not sacrifice to the LORD my God but offerings that cost me nothing” (2 Samuel 24:24). The question for us is — does our giving cost us in a meaningful way?
- God measures the gift by our hearts (that is, our obedience)
Giver A is viewed as a “good person.” He attends church regularly as well as occasional Bible study classes. But he doesn’t seem bothered by behaviors such as cheating on his taxes, gossiping at home, cutting corners in the marketplace to inflate sales commissions, or ongoing lust in his heart.
Giver B prays and reads the Bible faithfully, seeks forgiveness with her family and others. Maintaining a pure heart is a priority to her. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said that if your brother has something against you, leave your gift at the altar and go reconcile. Then come give your gift (see Matthew 5:23-24).
So, we see that our gifts are an extension of our walk with God. If a seemingly “generous giver” is living a life of sin or conflict, the gift may be nothing more than Christian philanthropy (literally, “love of man”). A gift might be effective (at meeting needs) but may not please God. Ananias and Sapphira learned this the hard way (see Acts 5:1-11). They sold their land and gave (part of) the proceeds. The gift might have been effective, but it did not please God.
Remember, our gifts of money and possessions have great power. They can feed the hungry, clothe the naked, care for the sick, and spread the gospel. But more importantly, like the gift from a child to a father, our gifts can delight the heart of our Heavenly Father.
Jeff Anderson speaks and writes about walking with God and leading your family into deeply rooted faith. He’s the author of Plastic Donuts: Giving That Delights the Heart of the Father and Divine Applause (Multnomah/Random House). Find him at www.JeffAndersonAuthor.com.