Donor fatigue is real. Do you feel it? Are you tired of all the people and organizations asking you to support them? Last week I introduced the issue of donor fatigue by saying that in our culture, where money is tight for so many, it can be hard to be generous. When all of the asking piles up, it feels frustrating and exhausting. But since Jesus calls us to be generous people, how do we avoid donor fatigue?
This past Sunday we looked at the final section of 1st Timothy, chapter 6, verses 17-21, and there Paul talks about generosity. In verse 18 he gives four important commands:
- Do good
- Be rich in good deeds
- Be generous
- Be willing to share
In other words, be like Amazon. Amazon specializes in distribution. I’ve been astounded at how fast Amazon can get purchases to me. If you have an Amazon Prime subscription, you get your products in two days. And shipping is free! We need to see ourselves as distributors of God’s resources.
Those of you who are rich financially, Paul says, should be known not because you have a lot of money, you should be known for your generosity. There is nothing wrong with having a lot of money. Paul never says money or having money or making money is wrong. Back up a few weeks and we saw that it is the love of money that is the problem. But money itself is neutral.
No doubt, Paul is saying that those who have a lot of money, those who are rich, need to be exceedingly careful because they can become arrogant. So those of you who have money, see yourselves as distributors. God has given you the ability to make money, or maybe you were born into money, so you can be a distributor!
When our hearts are so full of the joy of the Lord, when we know that God is faithful to keep his promises, we can see ourselves as distributors of God’s resources. That is what honors God.
Paul’s teaching about generosity is something he would refer to in other letters as well. Probably the best place to read a full treatment of what Paul had to say about generosity is found in 2 Corinthians 8-9. I would encourage you to make a note of that and read it this week.
He is especially focused in 2 Cor. 9:6-15. In verse 10-11 he says, “You will be made rich… so that you can be generous!” We are distributors of God’s resources.
You can sum up Paul’s teaching of giving in four words: consistent (1 Cor. 16:1-4), joyful (2 Cor. 9:6-15), sacrificial (2 Cor. 8:1-15), generosity (2 Cor 9:6-15; 1 Tim. 6:17-21).
You know what word is not in any of these passages? Tithing. Do you know what tithing is? It is when you give 10% of your income to the Lord. This word is in the Old Testament frequently. In fact, Israel was commanded by God to give three different tithes. Two of them were annual, and one was every third year, amounting to about 23% of their income given to the Lord every year. But the purpose of those tithes included caring for the Levites and other causes that were very similar to our taxation system.
But what about Jesus and the apostles? There is some debate about this. I have read authors who make a case that tithing should be binding on all Christians. I am not convinced with their argument. If Paul believed that Christians should tithe, he had ample opportunity in 2 Corinthians 8-9 or 1 Timothy 6:17-21 to say that. He doesn’t. In fact, if tithing was so important for the church, it really is strange that Paul didn’t mention it. My conclusion is that tithing is not binding on Christians.
It is not wrong to give 10%, but quite frankly for some of you, 10% is not nearly enough. You could give a lot more. And maybe you should. For others of you, it is OK if you give less. The question that we need to answer is “How much money should I give to the Lord?” And a second question as a follow-up, “To whom should I give that money?”
Let’s try to answer the first question: How much should I give? The principle is this: Give with consistent, joyful, sacrificial generosity.
I have heard people say “I can’t give,” or “I can’t increase my giving.” But let me ask: when we think that we can’t give, are we really saying: “I can’t give because I have to support my lifestyle first, and there is nothing left.”?
That’s why back in 1 Timothy 6, Paul has something important to remind the people of in verse 19: “Lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age.” Doesn’t that sound a lot like Jesus talking about storing up treasure in heaven?
How do we invest in heaven?
Paul goes on to say that we “Take hold of life that is truly life.” What is the life that is truly life? We talked about this last week when Paul said something very similar: “Take hold of eternal life.”
It is a life of trust in God. We think, and our culture certainly tries to convince us, that the good life is life that money can provide. But what about God’s life? Living God’s life? Being filled with the Holy Spirit, transformed, with the fruit of the Spirit flowing out of us? That is truly life, living eternal life now. So how we do take hold of that now? It is a life of consistent, joyful, sacrificial generosity. But what does it look like?
We need examples of people who live out consistent joyful sacrificial generosity. One is a guy named R. G. Letourneau. He was famous for creating a company that built earth-moving machines. He was a committed disciple of Jesus, and as his business and wealth grew, he decided to practice a reverse tithe. For him, the answer to the question “How much should I give God?” was 90%. His story is in the book The Treasure Principle, which I encourage you to read for more examples of generous people. Those people show us that it is possible to live a life of consistent joyful sacrificial generosity.
Letourneau is a wonderful example of the phrase “God loves a cheerful giver!” There is a massive joy in radical sacrificial generosity.
I have been so impressed with how Faith Church has practiced consistent joyful sacrificial generosity. We had a fundraising breakfast a few weeks ago. It benefited one of our Faith Church families that has had significant medical concerns. It was amazing. Delicious food, great conversations, and it brought in thousands of dollars to show love to that family. That was some joyful generosity!
So I am not going to answer the question “How much should I give?” with a dollar amount or a percentage. Instead, when you try to answer the question “How much should I give?” I encourage you to take that question to the Lord in prayer. I ask you to present your income and your expenses to the Lord in prayer. See what he would have you do. And in prayer to the Lord, ask him this: “Lord, how can a I move more in the direction of consistent, joyful sacrificial generosity?”
One last thought on that joyful part of giving. So often giving a regular weekly offering, or giving a monthly contribution can seem compulsory. Do you ever feel like that? Do you ever daydream about how you could use that charitable donation for new gadgets or entertainment? If so, join the club. How then, can our charitable giving be joyful? When you see the value of what you are giving towards, it fills you with joy. It is the mission of God’s Kingdom, especially through your local church. When you know you are depending on God by giving generously, it fills you with joy!
The second question is “Who should I give to?” When you are bombarded with requests, this is a hard one to answer. I wish it were as easy as “give 10% to the church, and then give generously on top of that as God blesses you.” But the New Testament teaching is consistent, joyful, sacrificial generosity. But who do you give to? Let’s take a look at a few practical options.
Our church family has decided that we would like to operate using a budget. Every year at our congregational meeting we vote on that budget, and throughout the year that budget guides our spending. We plan a budget that asks each family to give about 6.3%, based on average local incomes. When we vote on the budget, we are making a commitment together as a church family that we will give enough to fully fund that budget.
There are plenty of other ways to give, as I mentioned at the beginning of the sermon. Give to missionaries, to local social services, or those working in international justice and relief. But donor fatigue is real. None of us can give to every cause that asks us, and frankly none of us can give to all those we want to give to, let alone all those that ask.
So remember the cheerful part. It is so easy to feel guilty about giving, like we are not giving enough, like we are disappointing people or God. But instead I encourage you to be joyful and cheerful about giving what you can. Of you money, your time, and of your abilities. How can you cheerfully, joyfully, avoid donor fatigue? Tend your heart. God is most of all concerned about your heart!
Take a look at closing comments Paul gives in verses 20-21: “Timothy! Pay close attention to what I have said in this letter.” Paul was a mentor to Timothy. That principle of mentorship is very important. As we think about finances, do you have a spiritual budget coach? I urge you to be humble and ask for help if money is struggle for you. We often view money as deeply personal, as if no one should know how much we make or how we spend it. Instead, I urge you to open the doors to that area of your life. Invite financial accountability.
This is a sermon that I struggled with preaching. How should a preacher preach about money? I don’t want people to walk away from the sermon just hearing “Joel’s asking for us to give more money to the church.” Please hear my heart in this. I know money is a struggle. I know the feeling of getting a letter from the bank saying that you overdrew your account. I’ve been there, many times. It’s embarrassing and humiliating, especially when they charge you fees. But I urge you to trust in God to provide as you give, using the principle of consistent, joyful, sacrificial generosity.
For some of you, I urge you to consider how you can re-evaluate your spending. What can you do to live more simply so you can pay off debt? Perhaps one of the most spiritual, sacrificial things you can do is reduce your expenses so you can pay off debt faster, and thus put yourself in a position to be more generous faster.
Remember that behind it all is our heart’s desire. The principle is consistent, joyful, sacrificial generosity. Obviously, Paul is saying to Timothy that people should give of their finances to the work of the Lord.
But they should be generous is other ways too. In good deeds. Generosity is a lifestyle. It is not just about how much money you give to the church. Are you a generous person with your money, with your talents, with your time, with your abilities?
You don’t have to be a millionaire to be generous. All of us can be consistent, joyful, sacrificial generous people, with the three Ts: our time, our talent, our treasure. So I urge you to place all that before God, and say “Here I am, Lord, all of me.”