Giving Because of the Character of God

Editors' Note: This article is part of the Patheos Public Square on Charitable Giving. Read other perspectives here.

Why do we give and where does generosity come from? Is giving more blessed than receiving? These are interesting questions on many levels. For many in America, giving is the frontline of social responsibility; for others it is a means to shape the future or organizations, communities, and even countries. For some it may be a duty, and for still others it may be something that happens on the spur of the moment. Followers of Christ are more intentional. Christians believe that giving is not merely a social responsibility or that generosity is a social convention. Nor are giving and generosity means to personal gratification, or simply means to propagating missionary activity or the ministries of the local church. Followers of Christ are to give and be generous as a response to the revealed character of God.

Yahweh is the giving God. He gave us the cosmos, our being, his Word, the Spirit as a down payment to all those who believe, and the pinnacle of his gift-giving was Jesus of Nazareth who in turn gave his life as a ransom for many. Yes! Yahweh is the giving God, and this character trait is communicable, that is, it is something we can understand and imitate. So, in our imitation of God Christians affirm his character as that which should be replicated in our world. Yahweh is giving and generous and his children must follow.

Giving and generosity are more important than one may conventionally assume. For instance, in giving financially, followers of Christ experience one point at which the worldview of Jesus of Nazareth unites the particular responsibility of the individual with the universal goal of the Church. This particular act of worship unites Christians in purpose toward a universal end, namely the propagation of the Gospel to the glory of God. To live within a worldview that seeks to unite the particulars with the universals is deeply rewarding. This is another reason why Scripture would describe the act of giving as better than receiving.

Christians believe that giving devoid of proper motives does not please God. We become akin to those who honor God with lip service when our hearts are far from him. Generosity grows out of a heart fixed upon the generosity of God and cannot help but respond with acts of worship, such as giving a portion of our financial gain back to God.

This idea of giving back is central to generosity for Christians. We believe that everything we have comes from God. King David succinctly states this point in 1 Chronicles 29:14 where it says, "For all things come from you, and of your own we have given you." Thus, giving and generosity become a moment of recognition of God's preeminence, a moment in which followers of Christ take pleasure as we happily display our love for God in giving back to him what he has given to us.

However, financial giving in an affluent society can be the easiest type of giving. This is why generosity for followers of Christ is more comprehensive. Financial giving is only one particular out-working of generosity, whereas participation in worship, prayer, discipleship, missions, neighborly living, and coaching little league are still others. For followers of Christ, giving encompasses their entire life. Generosity is about imitating Yahweh and seeking to worship him with a grateful heart. This then affects one's life, not just our checkbooks. Our wills and daily living are available to God and his purposes.

This is why Christians should be a giving and generous people regardless of the tax benefit. Such motivations are secondary. However, why wouldn't government favor charitable giving? Why wouldn't government favor virtuous actions, and seek to further them? In favoring a virtue, the state is acting as it was meant to; it is fulfilling at least part of its purpose. To suppress vice and applaud virtue makes for a genuinely free society. For, one is most free when pursuing virtues and most enslaved when pursing vices. When government applauds and privileges charitable giving the process of producing virtuous citizens and a free society is strengthened.

For the follower of Christ, the benefits of giving, free of the motivation of receiving something in return, is a way we imitate and express our love of God. It seeks the betterment of others above self. Any action within a consumer-driven society that provokes at least the opportunity for self-sacrifice is of value. Giving allows people to experience a better way of life, which in turn hopefully persuades them toward more and more virtuous and godly actions.

So, why do followers of Christ give? What are our motivations? Why should Christians seek to give generously without expecting something in return? The answer to these questions lies in the character of God, his revealed will, and our acknowledgement that all we have is his and he is worthy to receive the glory for our virtuous stewardship of his resources.