Certain topics in Scripture aren’t questions to be solved so much as they’re tensions to be balanced. Our approach to money falls into that category. We know, on one hand, that God gives us richly all things to enjoy. We also know, on the other hand, that he calls us to use our resources for the world just as Jesus used his for us. Emphasizing the first truth without the second leads to the false prosperity gospel. Emphasizing the second without the first might look more impressive for a while, but soon leads to burnout and frustration.
I firmly believe, however, that most of us in the American church think we’re far more “balanced” than we actually are. I know for myself that the inertia of my heart tips toward money idolatry. I find it far easier to enjoy what God has given me than to be open-handed and generous. That’s why, at every stage in my life, I re-challenge myself on this. It’s why our church keeps returning to it. Because if we don’t continually ask God to re-shape our habits about money, we’re going to end up idolizing it. No one falls into biblical generosity by accident.
That’s why at the Summit, we’re constantly reminding ourselves of this idolatrous drift by saying, “Live sufficiently, give extravagantly.” Most people want to swap that, giving just enough and living large on the rest. It’s a contagious attitude. But the encouraging thing is that generosity can be contagious, too. When we see people consistently giving with joy, it makes generosity fun.
People have legitimate questions about money. I hear them all the time. The most common is, “How much is enough?” To that I have two answers, and one caveat.
My first answer is that while there isn’t anything wrong with nice things, the balance should always tilt toward generosity. We’re far greedier creatures than we imagine, and it’s a good practice to uproot that idolatry as often as possible. As C.S. Lewis said, the only safe rule he could think of when it came to generosity was to give more than you feel like you can spare.
The second answer is that we should ask God to show us. The Apostle Paul says that generosity is a Spirit gift (Romans 12:8), which means that the Spirit of God moves on your heart about what you, individually, are supposed to give. I’m not saying that we should only give when we have a tingly moment, because Paul also says that our planning should be disciplined and systematic (1 Cor 16:2). But I am saying that we should seek the Spirit’s counsel on how He wants us to be giving. In new seasons, He may surprise us by putting his finger on something we didn’t expect.
And now, the caveat: many people who ask, “How much do I have to give?” don’t get the gospel. They may be Christians. They may believe the gospel. But they aren’t letting the gospel affect their wallets. Our money is a barometer for our heart, which is why Jesus talked about it so much. So we shouldn’t be asking, “How much is enough” in an attempt to get God off our backs. Instead, we should ask, What do our decisions about money say about where our treasure is, what we trust in, and what kingdom we’re living for? You see, I can give away 30% of my income and still love the 70% more than I love Jesus. That’s just as sinful as loving the 100%.
Only an experience with the gospel changes our heart’s attitude toward money. Remember: God doesn’t need our money. He’s not wringing his hands in heaven, wishing his people could just cough up a few more dollars because then he’d really have something to work with. He doesn’t want to get the money out of our pocketbooks; he wants to get the idols out of our hearts.
That’s why 2 Corinthians 9:7 says that God loves a cheerful giver. If God had needs, he wouldn’t care why you gave; he would only care that you gave. I’ve never gotten a letter from the IRS saying, “Yes, you paid the legal amount, but we sense that it wasn’t joyful giving. We’re concerned about your motives.” No, the IRS needs money, so that’s their bottom line.
But (thankfully) God isn’t like the IRS. God loves cheerful giving because gospel giving is primarily about worship and joy, not meeting needs. I have heard it said that God measures our generosity not by the size of our gifts, but by the size of our sacrifice, because sacrifice expresses the affections of our heart to God.
And if we find ourselves growing stingy and fearful once again, the answer is not to try harder. The answer is to look back at the cross, where God was lavishly generous with us. Because those people who truly experience the gospel become like the gospel—overflowing with grace.