Radical Generosity: Reflections on Giving

The Scriptures teach that radical generosity in all of life, as well as faithful giving to a local church, is a hallmark of a disciple of Jesus.

Christians disagree about alot of things. Churches not only divide over important issues but secondary doctrines and even matters of indiference. But one thing that churches definitely have in common is that they believe that giving matters. It is virtually guaranteed that every church and ministry has an easily accessible “GIVE” or “DONATE” button on their website! After all, Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).

Usually conversations around giving focus on things like how much we are commanded to give, whether or not we have to “tithe”, and even really specific questions about tithing on gross or net income, capital gains, and tax refunds. However, we must expand this shallow understanding and see the picture and principles of radical generosity woven throughout the Bible.

Giving as a Response of Gratitude and Indicator of the Heart

The story of Abraham being blessed with bread and wine by the mysterious Melchizedek is often used as a prooftext for tithing (Gen. 14:17-24). But the main point of this story is that Abraham’s giving was a token of his gratitude to the God from whom all blessings flow. He gave a tenth of the spoils of his victory as a sign of his faith in God Most High, the Possessor of heaven and earth. Jesus, the true and greater Melchizedek, gives us bread and wine as well. Because of what God has now done for us in Christ, we cannot help but give.

Furthermore, our practices of giving are signs of our relationship with God. Malachi teaches us that how we handle our money, with an open hand or closed fist, reveals whether our heart is open or closed to God (Malachi 3). In other words, our giving is an act of faith, an expression of our heart, and an overflow of worship. It is a declaration that our lives belong to God, that our wallets belong to God. It proves that our desires are aligned with his and that we long to see his kingdom come and his will be done.

What about Tithing?

In the Old Covenant era the tithe was directly connected to the sanctuary and to the Levites. Every tenth belonged to Yahweh and was given primarily to support his priests (Lev. 27:30, 32; Num. 18:21). However it was also to be enjoyed by the giver at the sanctuary and shared with the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow (Deut. 14:22-29). So, in other words, the tithe was for the priests, the poor, and for parties!

But now that these Old-Testament shadows have given way to the New-Testament substance, the tithe as commanded in the Law is no longer in force. Christians are not required to give this tithe. And yet, it is abundantly clear from the Scriptures that the principle of tithing carried over into the life of the early church as they gave regularly and generously to support the life of the local church.

We see this principle and pattern of giving in a number of places. First, Christians are explicitly commanded to provide support for their pastors/elders and other ministers who preach and teach the gospel, such as missionaries or evangelists (Gal. 6:6; 1 Tim. 5:17-18). Consider Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 9:13-14: “Do you not know that those who are employed in the temple service get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in the sacrificial offerings? In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel.”

Second, we read about the early church doing whatever was needed to meet the needs of others in the believing community (Acts 2:44-46; 4:34). By so doing, they would “bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2; Rom. 12:13). Third, Paul’s letters to the Corinthians show us that giving is to be regular and according to one’s means, “as he may prosper,” and even beyond one’s means (1 Cor. 16:2; 2 Cor. 8:3).

Paul’s exhortation to the rich in 1 Timothy 6:17–19 is an excellent summary of NT giving:

As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.

Paul vs. the Prosperity Gospel

In 2 Corinthians 9:6-11 we learn reasons why we not only should give but should be excited about generosity. First, Paul tells us we should give because we will reap what we sow. Second, we give because God loves a cheerful giver. Third, we give because God’s abundant provision enables further generosity. Fourth, our generosity produces thanksgiving to God (2 Cor. 9:6-11).

For those of us who (unfortunately) are aware of, or have been victims of, the prosperity gospel, what Paul teaches here sounds awfully close to what you may hear from a TV preacher. This is because these principles of giving have been twisted into investment advice for building personal wealth: “Put money in, get money out.” Then, after you get a good return on your investment, you can cash out of God’s casino to live your best life. But this is not what Paul means. Paul is not teaching the Corinthians to give to the saints so that they can have more purchasing power or a promotion. He’s not telling them to use God to get more money for themselves. Paul is saying that we should give generously, in order to receive bountifully, so that we can give even more away.

While we must rightfully denounce any form of a health and wealth “gospel,” we must also not forget that God is still in the blessing business. Even when things are rough, and God seems to only be giving you the spiritual resources to persevere when the material resources aren’t there like you think they should, there are still ways to be generous with our time, our talents, and our treasures. According to the example of the Macedonians, even in extreme poverty we can be still find ways to be generous (2 Cor. 8:1-3). We can dare to be generous with our time, talents, and treasures and trust that God will meet our needs (Phil. 4:19).


The Scriptures teach that radical generosity in all of life, as well as faithful giving to a local church, is a hallmark of a disciple of Jesus. It is not the optional icing on the cake of the Christian life; it is not the duty of a select rich or talented few. Generosity, like prayer, reading God’s Word, suffering, ongoing repentance, and the fruit of the Spirit, is an essential, non-negotiable part of the Christian life.

Like the boy who gave his lunch to Jesus, may we give whatever we can, as we are able, to the Lord. May we give cheerfully and generously. Then let’s watch as the Lord miraculously uses our gifts, however big or small, to feed a multitude and bring glory to his name.