Our understanding of stewardship as a way of life is based in scripture. The first chapter of Genesis tells us that God created all things and created us to be the stewards of all creation. Being good stewards involves protecting our environment, as well as being concerned about the welfare of our fellow human beings. As stewards, we recognize that everything we have is a gift from God. We are responsible to tend our gifts, to nurture them and then to share their abundance with all.
The Bible specifies two main reasons for Christian giving:
First, Christians should provide for the needs of fellow Christians who are experiencing financial hardship. For example, while Barnabas and Saul were ministering in Antioch, there was a severe famine in Judea. Members of the community decided to send whatever they could to help their fellow believers in Judea. They collected the offerings and sent the money to the Church elders by Barnabas and Saul (Acts 11:27-30).
Later in Paul’s ministry, he gave instruction to other churches that they also should give to the poor in Jerusalem. He wrote: “Now, concerning what you wrote about the money to be raised to help God’s people in Judea. You must do what I told the churches in Galatia to do. Every Sunday each of you must put aside some money, in proportion to what you have earned, and save it up, so that there will be no need to collect money when I come” (1 Corinthians 16:1-2).
A second reason for Christian giving is to support Christian leaders. Paul wrote to the Corinthians that “those who preach the gospel should receive their living from it” (1 Corinthians 9:14). To the Galatians, he wrote: “Anyone who is being taught the Christian message should share all the good things they have with their teacher” (Galatians 6:6). Note that these Christians encouraged supporting those who lead them both in their local community and beyond.
The final question remains: how much should Christians give? Each Christian “should give, then, as they have decided, not with regret or out of a sense of duty; for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7). No set amount or percentage of income is dictated; rather, “if you are eager to give, God will accept your gift on the basis of what you have to give, not on what you don’t have” (2 Corinthians 8:12).
In summary, Christians are not restricted in their giving to the Old Testament understanding of tithing. Instead, they are to be challenged by New Testament guidelines which describe giving as:
- Proportional to one’s income (1 Corinthians 16:2; 2 Corinthians 8:12).
- Consistent (1 Corinthians 16:2).
- Sacrificial (Mark 12:43-44; 2 Corinthians 8:2-3).
- Cheerful/Joyful (2 Corinthians 9:7).
We Christians should live open-handed and generously, acknowledging that we are merely stewards of God’s creation and that all things come from God. The Bible provides powerful consistency in its messaging: giving helps model our life on that of Jesus and it is essential for those who choose to follow him. As Jesus was a gift to us – bringing heaven to earth – we are a gift to one another in our actions, words and lifestyle.