When You Give to the Needy (Matthew 6.1–4), Part 2




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“When you give to the needy,” Jesus tells us, “do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you” (Matt. 6.3–4). Obviously, Jesus is speaking facetiously here. The ability to keep a secret from yourself is not a moral virtue; it’s a mental disorder. Jesus’ point is that our motivation to give should be a desire for divine approval rather than human applause.

And yet, Jesus assumes what I am not sure we can take for granted any more, namely, that we are giving. In The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience, Ronald J. Sider writes:

“In 1968, the average church member gave 3.1 percent of their income—less than a third of a tithe [10% of one’s gross income]. That figure dropped every year through 1990 and then recovered slightly to 2.66 percent—about one quarter of a tithe.

“Even more interesting is what is happening to evangelical giving. The Ronsvalles [authors of The State of Christian Giving] compare the giving in seven typical mainline denominations…with the giving in eight evangelical denominations…. In 1968 the eight evangelical denominations gave considerably more than the seven mainline denominations. While the mainline denominational members gave 3.3 percent of their income, evangelicals gave 6.15 percent. While this is significantly more, the evangelicals on average still gave less than two-thirds of a tithe. By 1985 mainline folk had dropped their giving to 2.85 percent of their income and evangelicals to 4.74 percent. By 2001, mainline members had recovered slightly to 3.17 percent, but evangelical giving kept dropping and was at a mere 4.27 percent.”

Sider draws two conclusions from these statistics:

(1) The spending patterns of evangelical Christians are becoming more self-centered and less generous. “As we got richer and richer, evangelicals chose to spend more and more on themselves and give a smaller and smaller percentage to the church. Today, on average, evangelicals in the United States give about two-fifths of a tithe.”

(2) Evangelical Christians are missing an incredible opportunity to change the world. “American Christians live in the richest nation on earth and enjoy an average household income of $42,409…. The Ronsvalles point out that if American Christians just tithed, they would have another $143 billion available to empower the poor and spread the gospel. Studies by the United Nations suggest that just an additional $70–$80 billion a year would be enough to provide access to essential services like basic health care and education for all the poor of the earth. If they did no more than tithe, American Christians would have the private dollars to foot this entire bill and still have $60-$70 billion to do evangelism around the world.”

Those statistics challenged me. Let me, in turn, challenge you. This year, tithe to your church so that it can spread the gospel and help the poor, both in your community and around the world.

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