In this Christmas season, as we celebrate the greatest gift the world has ever known, I thought it appropriate to address the issue of giving, especially among those who call themselves Christians.
As I have noted before, Americans are the most generous people on earth. Among Americans, Christians are the most generous. Within Christianity, evangelicals are, by a rather wide margin, the most generous, far more generous than mainliners, Catholics and so on.
According to George Barna, "Evangelical Christians distinguished themselves in their generosity. More than 4 out of 5 (83 percent) gave at least $1,000 to churches and nonprofit entities during 2007, far surpassing the levels reached by any other population segment studied."
On average (the mean), in 2007, evangelicals gave $4,260 to all nonprofits. Nonevangelical born-again Christians gave an average of $1,581, while nonborn-again Christians gave $865. Overall, all those calling themselves Christians gave $1,426.
However, according to the U.S. Census, the mean household income in 2007 was about $53,000. This means that, though Christians are usually among the most generous Americans, we still give only at a rate of about 2.6 percent.
Earlier this year in an issue of Christianity Today, several Christian authors and ministers discussed whether Christians are generous enough with their money. Brian Kluth, founder of Maximum Generosity, stated that "While some evangelicals are very generous, many are not. The concept that giving to God's work (local church, ministries/missions, the needy) should be a person's highest financial priority is embraced by very few Christians in today's materialistic, consumer-driven, and debt-ridden society, even though Scripture is clear on this teaching."
Barna notes that, in 2007, only 5 percent of Americans tithed (gave 10 percent of their income). Again, evangelicals led the way here with 24 percent tithing. Many sincere Christians have taken different views on tithing, but there is no mistaking that those who follow Christ are to be generous, and generally the minimum biblical standard for generosity is 10 percent.
Christ often used parables involving money and material possessions to teach people about the kingdom of God. In this way, Jesus was using earthly principles that people understood well to teach them spiritual principles which were far more foreign to them.
The late Larry Burkett concluded that "two-thirds of all parables in the New Testament deal with nothing but money." I think that it is quite noteworthy that even 2,000 years ago the concept of money and wealth was so common and significant that Christ chose to use it in the majority of His parables to point people to the truth.
Jesus was clear: If you follow Him, if you are a part of His kingdom, you are to be invested in every way. This includes your finances.
How people handle their money is a great indicator of where they are spiritually. A look at our checkbook or credit card charges reveals a great deal about us. If you want to know where someone's heart is, look at how and where they spend their time, and on what they spend their money.
However, make no mistake about it: God does not need our money to accomplish the things He is out to accomplish in this world. What He wants is a relationship with us, and just as within an earthly marriage, a great deal of this relationship revolves around material things, especially money.
As I have also noted before, the bottom line when it comes to money and finances, and the most important financial principle taught in Scripture, is that none of us really "owns" anything. We are merely stewards, or managers, of His property. Until we come to grips with this, we can never truly understand money and wealth, and we will never be as generous as God desires.
Mr. Burkett put it well when he noted that tithing, or giving in general, is recognition of God's ownership and authority. It is an act of worship, and, as Emerson said, we all worship something.
Last — and this is extremely important — as we give, may we never forget the ultimate goal of our charity. Every good deed that Jesus performed was done with one ultimate goal in mind: to bring people into His kingdom.
In other words, God became man not simply to do good deeds and to implore us to do the same, but to make us into new creatures. After all, God "gave" His one and only Son for no other reason.
Have a truly Merry Christmas, and get busy giving.
Trevor Grant Thomas is a Hall County resident and frequent columnist.