We might not immediately think of giving as a spiritual discipline, but if you remember from the beginning of our series, we (loosely) defined the spiritual disciplines as practices that help us grow in our love for God and for other people. Giving absolutely is one of these practices. As we examine what the Bible says about giving, we will look at passages that primarily refer to giving money, but we will then discuss what giving looks like in regard to things other than money as well.
One way that giving functions as a spiritual discipline is that it imitates God. James 1 states that “every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of Lights…” (vv. 16–18). Psalm 145:15–19 also beautifully declares the Lord’s generous heart in giving his people all that they need and at the right times. God is a God who gives, and when we practice giving in our own lives, we imitate him (and ideally grow in our love for him in the process).
Giving also expresses our love for God in worship. We often here the word “tithe” associated with giving. Today this word essentially means giving 10% of your income to your church. In the Old Testament, though, it was a bit more complex, but full of worship. The people of Israel were not only to tithe money, they were also to tithe crops, animals, etc. Deuteronomy 14 tells them to set aside the tithe of all that they produced that year, so that they could then use that to worship God at one of the annual feasts in Jerusalem. In essence, they “gave” ten percent to the Lord by using it in a joyous feast or worship to him.
It doesn’t stop there, though. As Deuteronomy 14 continues, we see that the tithe, and giving in general, is also a way to love others. While the tithe was used to celebrate God’s goodness and to worship him through treating themselves to good food and drink, the Lord also makes it clear that this tithe should also provide for those who did not have much. Verses 27–29 command them to include the Levites (who did not have a land of their own), the sojourners (those from other lands dwelling in Israel), the widows, and the orphans. These are people who historically did not have much of their own, so God reminds them to use their tithe to bring others into the celebration of God’s goodness and provision too, showing love to those who were often overlooked or forgotten. The book of Acts also shows the early church generously selling their own possessions so that the money can be used to support those who are in need (Acts 4:32–35).
Finally, giving builds faith. It can be hard to give, especially when we feel we don’t have much to offer. But God will provide for the needs of his people and desires generous hearts. Paul reminds the church at Corinth that those who give generously will also receive generously (2 Corinthians 9:6–8). In this passage, he also makes it clear that God does not necessarily care about the amount or percentage that a person gives, but he does desire for his people to give generously to others as an act of faith and love. Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, commands his followers to make sure that they are not storing up treasures for themselves here on earth, but rather investing in eternity. Giving is a way to do this, as it demonstrates faith that the things the world says are important really aren’t, so we can give them away to help the needs of others.
But how can we give when we don’t have much money? We looked at several ways. First, you can give your time. This could look like serving neighbors, widows, and family members in various ways, or it could look like just spending time with someone who needs a friend. Second, you can give a portion of what little money you have. Even if all you have is birthday and Christmas money, it can be a good practice to begin setting aside a portion of that to give to the church or to someone in need. Again, the Lord cares about the heart of the giver, not the amount of the gift. Third, you can give your stuff. Many of us have for more stuff then we actually need, so maybe giving something we have (or foregoing getting a new thing) can be a way to bless others around us. Finally, we can give our love. This is similar to time, but sometimes the most valuable thing we can do is to give love to someone who does not often receive it. This can be such a gift to someone who is discouraged and hurting, and it is a powerful demonstration of how God loves them and wants them to know him and walk with him!
The Bible says a lot about giving. Ultimately, God has given us everything we have, so he wants us to be wiling to share that with those around us and to worship him through doing so. The New Testament doesn’t command us to give a certain percentage like the Old Testament does. Sometimes we just don’t have much to give, and even need to ask for help from others instead. That’s ok! But other times we do have something to give, but we use our “needs” as an excuse to hold onto stuff for ourselves. What God cares about is hearts that are generous, even if it is giving the tiniest portion compared to others.