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Charitable Giving By Dr. Gary Hoag


Charitable Giving at Year-End

Since the signing of the War Revenue Act of 1917 – exactly 100 years ago – Americans have used the provision in the income tax code known as the charitable gift deduction to maximize their contributions as a portion of income. This provision leads many people, especially those in higher tax brackets, to leverage their giving at year-end.

With tax reform in the news, it makes this a good time to remind ourselves why we give and why we encourage others to give generously throughout the year. This post summarizes what the world teaches about giving compared to what we read in God’s Word. Consider five contrasting points for thinking biblically about this timely topic.

The Purpose of Giving

The world teaches us that giving is all about you. The world says, “Give to meet needs that you care about and that match your values.” Alternatively, in God’s Word we learn that giving meets needs but has a higher aim. God uses giving to transform us into givers, and our giving results in worship and thanksgiving to God (2 Cor. 9:10–15). Giving is not about you; it’s about God. We think it’s for others; it’s really for us!

 As Robert Schnase notes, “Giving helps us become what God wants us to be. Giving is not merely about the [ministry’s need or the] church’s need for money but about the Christian’s need to grow in generosity. Generosity is a fruit of the Spirit, a sign of our spiritual growth. God uses our giving to change the world for God’s purposes, and God uses our giving to reconfigure our interior lives and to change us.”

The Source of Gifts

The world approaches giving with a scarcity mindset. It thinks humans are the suppliers. This reveals why many charities appear to work so hard to retain what they perceive is a limited number of donors. They even (wrongly!) talk about such people as “their donors” as if they own them. Instead, God’s Word reminds us to have an abundance mindset. Jesus celebrates when we give sacrificially from what we have (Mk. 12:41–44). We can do this not because we are loaded but because God our Supplier is (Lk.12:22–34). We are not “donors” as that term implies ownership, because God owns everything; rather, we are “distributors” especially at year-end!

The Motivation for Sharing

The world tells us to give to those we deem deserving of our support. It says to look at rating services that assess the merits and returns of charities. Sadly, this goes against grace. God lavished grace on all of us when we were undeserving. At His return, He wants to find us caring for the least and lost (Matt. 25:31-46). Our motivation for sharing flows from the realization of all we have received from God by grace. Further, God’s Word instructs us to prioritize but not discriminate in gracious giving. We are to share with those who teach us, the poor around us, brothers and sisters in the community of faith, and even outsiders (Gal. 2:10; 6:6–10). The best place to look in making giving decisions is to God in prayer. It’s all His money all year long; we are just stewards of it.

The Guiding Accounting Principles

The world says to gauge giving based on tax benefits. This often leads many people to give far less than they are capable of giving. Conversely, givers that are celebrated in Scripture hold nothing back (1 Kings 17; Mark 12:41-44; Acts 4:32–5:11). We are explicitly instructed to share our surplus and not to store it up on earth (Matt. 6:19–21; 1 Cor. 16:1–2). This means acceptable giving is based on what we have, not what we don’t have (2 Cor. 8:12). For those who consider tax implications at year-end, do it to maximize giving as God keeps track (Phil. 4:17). People look at how much we give. God looks at how much we don’t give.

The Promise of Rewards

The world tempts us to give generously to get recognition and perks in return. It touts that top charities “take care” of their donors. A message of “giving to get” permeates the philanthropic culture. On the contrary, God’s Word tells us to give freely not expecting anything in return from people because our giving is not to people, it is to God. In giving, we grasp eternal life now and anticipate rewards in the eternal Kingdom (Mk. 10:17–31; 1 Tim. 6:17–19). This year-end, celebrate that you “get to give” from all God has provided for you.

What’s my best biblical advice on giving at year-end? Give not just to meet needs, but because you need to give. Do it not as a donor but as a gracious distributor. Pray about where to give as it’s all God’s money that you steward. Focus on how much you don’t give rather than how much you give, as that’s what God looks at. Hold nothing back from Him. And regardless of your level of resources, celebrate that get to give as God loves cheerful givers!

These five points comprise one lesson – “Storing up Treasures in Heaven” – in a new series called, Good and Faithful: Ten Stewardship Lessons for Everyday Living. To learn more, click this link. You can watch videos freely and buy the book to explore the series more deeply as an individual or with others in church or ministry settings.

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Gary Hoag, Ph.D., (New Testament, Trinity College, Bristol, UK), serves as a visiting professor at six seminaries, on part-time basis as ECFA International Liaison, and is known widely as “the Generosity Monk” because he has dedicated his life to encouraging Christian generosity. Subscribe to his daily blog at www.generositymonk.com.

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