Giving is all over Scripture. Over and over and over again, people respond to God’s generosity toward them by (1) giving a portion of their blessings back to him and (2) meeting the needs of others. In 1 Corinthians 16, Paul urges the Corinthians to set aside money for an offering in response to the terrible famine in Jerusalem. In this exhortation, he answers four key questions about giving. They are as timely today as they were 2,000 years ago.
1. Who should be giving?
The short answer? All of us. Notice how in verse 2, Paul says, “each of you is to set something aside …” Earlier in 1 Corinthians (chapter 11), Paul had already rebuked the rich people for snobbishly separating themselves from the poor, so when he says “each,” he means all people, not just the rich. As we think about giving, we have to ask ourselves if we love and trust God enough to give him our first and our best. It’s not about how much we give; it’s about the place Jesus holds in our hearts.
2. When should we give?
Paul says, “On the first day of the week …” implying regular, recurring giving. In other words, don’t be an impulsive giver, waiting only for the next giving campaign or great need. That kind of giving isn’t biblical; it’s emotionally manipulated. Instead, build generosity into your budget. Make it your first bill, not your last.
3. Where should we give?
Paul encourages the Corinthians to give to their local church because that’s Jesus’ hub of ministry. From the church, they can take care of the poor and support evangelism and church planting. This doesn’t mean all of your giving has to be to the local church, but I believe the New Testament teaches that the bulk of it should be.
4. How much should we give?
This is the million-dollar question (Get it? Get it??) that I get asked more than any other. It’s as if people imagine God handing out gold stars for the best and biggest givers. I have some bad news: there’s no fixed amount for giving in the Bible.
But I have good news, too: there is a helpful concept—firstfruits. Throughout the Bible, God tells us that we should honor him with the first and best of all he gives to us, a tithe, which literally means “10 percent.” But here’s the thing: tithes weren’t the only offerings represented in Scripture.
In Deuteronomy 14, for example, God commanded that every third year, another tithe be taken, this time off of someone’s total assets. That was then given to the Temple to be distributed exclusively to the poor, the widow, or the refugee. There were also “freewill offerings,” when God’s people voluntarily gave to a specific need beyond their firstfruits and tithes as God led.
The New Testament doesn’t specify any prescriptions for giving, only descriptions of what giving looked like. But the descriptions are remarkable. In Acts, for instance, there “wasn’t a single needy person among them” and many people in the church sold large plots of land to support gospel expansion. In Luke, Zacchaeus was so grateful to God that he gave away half of his possessions to the poor. A poor widow gave “all that she had” to the Temple. In Matthew, a forgiven woman broke an alabaster flask of expensive perfume over Jesus’ feet, a family heirloom of inestimable value.
Though you’re not going to find specifics on giving, ask the Holy Spirit what giving should look like for you personally. As Paul says, “each of you is to set something aside and save in keeping with how he is prospering …” (1 Corinthians 16:2 CSB). How has God blessed you? Don’t miss out on the opportunity to respond to how much God has given to you. Your prosperity has a purpose beyond yourself. God prospers his people not so they can simply increase their standard of living, but also so they can increase their standard of giving.