Giving is a sticky topic….

Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. – 2 Corinthians 9:7

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. – James 1:27

Giving is a sticky topic, especially for American evangelicals. We are steeped in our commercialism, in the unspoken drive to hoard and accumulate whatever makes us comfortable. In addition to being natives of a landscape of materialism, we have the sincere and healthy desire to make sure that we amply provide for our family. This goes beyond basic survival needs. We want our kids to have the very best, especially if they are in school and under the ever-scrutinizing eyes of their peers. On the other hand, we have television evangelists and local pastors campaigning for our dollars, with the clout of the clergy behind their admonitions to give. What level of giving is acceptable in the eyes of God? And how can we reconcile the call to be a good steward and care for our family with the call to be generous? The issue of giving is not a uniquely Christian one; though I cannot make any assumptions in the individual case, I would venture to say that most people consider giving to others to be a good and healthy part of human life, regardless of their religious creed. There are a lot of questions that go hand in hand with the topic of generosity, and these questions need to be answered in our own minds and hearts before we presume to model a lifestyle of giving for our children. Though I won’t be able to answer these questions for everyone, I can certainly discuss them and offer my own conclusions, in the hopes that my thoughts on the matter will be helpful. Let’s dig in.

What does giving look like?

Generosity comes in a lot of flavors, but I think the common denominator is surrendering something that benefits you in order to benefit someone else. While letting go of something we don’t really care about, something that doesn’t require self-denial, could be called giving, I don’t think it means nearly as much as the alternative. So in this article, I will discuss generosity in terms of sacrifice. Though it may come in many forms, giving is sacrificial at its core.

So what sort of forms might that sacrifice take? Perhaps the most obvious example of giving is monetary. This may be the most common usage of the word, especially within the Christian church. It could take the form of a check in an offering basket, a commitment to fund a charitable organization, or paying for the groceries of the next customer in the check-out line. These are only a few examples.I’m going to go ahead and lump in the giving of material objects in with financial giving, because when it comes down to it, you paid for the item you’re giving away, and you could just as easily give the recipient the money and have him make the purchase instead.

Another way to give to others is through labor, through the sacrifice of time and effort. For some, this is easier than giving money, but for others, it is much more difficult. Giving of labor could be as easy as giving someone a ride to work, or it could be as taxing as providing comprehensive daily care to a loved one with a debilitating condition. Any act which requires personal sacrifice of time or energy for the benefit of another falls under this category.

I’ll also define a third category…mental, emotional, and spiritual giving. This category is related to the second in that many gifts of labor also require an investment of mental energy and a suspension of emotional preferences. However, the third category supersedes the second, as it includes many circumstances that do not fall under the umbrella of labor. So what do I mean when I talk about giving to another individual mentally, emotionally, or spiritually? I’m referring to a type of servanthood, an act which requires the giver to surrender his or her own comfort to provide support to another in one of these three domains. One example would be providing compassionate counsel, which includes extending a listening ear, becoming emotionally invested in the other’s problems, calling upon one’s knowledge and experience to push toward a solution, and quite possibly praying for divine wisdom and intervention in a troubling situation. This particular example incorporates all three components of this type of giving, which often consists of simply being there for the receiver, in every sense of those words. Another common way to sum up this category is giving of yourself.

These are by no means the only types of giving, but I think the lion’s share of personal sacrifice, which I’ve suggested forms the basis of true generosity, fits into at least one of these categories.

To whom should we give?

I can provide a short answer and a long answer to this question.

Short answer: give to everyone!

Long answer:
For those of us who, such as myself, who subscribe to the Christian faith, we have an explicit command in Scripture to show love to others, even those who abuse us (Matthew 5:44-47). (For those of us who do not share this belief system, I think I can safely assume that much of what I’m about to say will still apply.) So the short answer of giving to everyone holds true. However, I will make the argument that the type of giving which is appropriate varies depending both on the recipient and the context. Will you give differently to your child than to your employer? Will you give differently to those who are in critical need than to those who desire nonessentials? I think the answer is yes, you will, and even that you should. The heart of generosity is tied to giving according to what is needed, and not necessarily to what is wanted. Generosity, an outpouring of genuine love, truly desires the best for the recipient, and this may vary greatly according to the situation. So give to everyone, but don’t think that this means give to everyone in the same way.

How much should we give?

This answer follows directly from the previous one. As we stated above, the type and amount of giving may be highly specific to the context. So how do we know what to give and how much? I’ll list two guidelines which I feel provide a general rule of thumb for making these decisions.

1. Give according to conscience.

You know that nagging feeling you have when you think you should do something that you’re not, or when you feel like you shouldn’t be doing something that you are? In my limited experience, it’s a good idea to pay attention to it. If you feel that you’re supposed to give a certain amount to someone, then give the prospect serious consideration.

2. Give according to need.

Though gut feelings can be a good starting point, the heart can be a deceptive influence. Emotions should be tempered by another vital organ: the brain. Try to give logically, in a manner and degree which matches the true needs of the recipient.

What sort of attitude should we have towards giving?

From my perspective, there are three main traits of genuine generosity: willingness, humility, and trust. I’ll address them below.

1. Willingness

The phrase “God loves a cheerful giver” hints at what I mean by willingness. There is nothing satisfying or enjoyable about receiving from someone who does not want to give to you. A begrudging gift is no credit to the giver, and of little blessing to the recipient. However, a heart of true generosity revels in the joy that can come from giving, and this joy in giving makes receiving that much more pleasant and helpful.

“Give generously to him and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to.” – Deuteronomy 15:10

2. Humility

There is very little more offensive than condescension. The idea of someone giving because they feel a sense of superiority to the recipient is pretty repugnant. Even worse is the idea of someone giving with the sole motivation of looking good. Generosity isn’t pretentious, and though there are certainly good feelings that come from giving, personal pride should not be the motivating factor.

“But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.” – Matthew 6:3-4

3. Trust

One of the things that make giving difficult is that it requires self-sacrifice. Sometimes that sacrifice might include something we need. However, if we genuinely feel that we are supposed to give anyway, it’s essential that we trust the Person who calls us to give to provide the necessary resources.

“So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.” – Matthew 6:31-33

We’ve talked about the context and characteristics of true giving. Giving is self-sacrificing, cheerful, humble, and hopeful. All of these ideas point to one very important fact about the nature of generosity, which is how I’ll wrap up this discussion…all of these traits describe love. If there’s one way I’d like to summarize genuine giving, it is the hands and feet of love. This brings the topic full-circle, back to how we should model generosity for our kids. As dads, we show our children love in a thousand practical ways. Love (and hence giving) is a fundamental aspect of what it means to be a father. We can teach our kids to love and give to others by the way we love and give to them every day of their lives.

About the Author

Jonathan Dodi Profile Picture

I am a young dad in my early twenties. My wife Michaela and I have been married for almost five years, and had our long-awaited firstborn son, Lyric Joel, in March of 2016. We are currently learning the joyfully complex ropes of parenting, and loving every second of it. I am a Christian and I hope to point my son to Jesus, both through my words and my parenting decisions. I am currently a full-time student and prospective educator, and will begin teaching mathematics on the secondary level within the year. I also work part-time as a math tutor and in construction. You can find more information and contact me here:

Twitter: @jonathandodi



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