7 Principles of Biblical Giving

Giving to the poor is a staple of Christianity and most other religions.

Typically, we consider giving alms to be an inherently righteous and holy act, so when Jesus warned that there was a wrong way to give to the needy, most people likely hadn’t even considered that was possible.

How can giving ever be anything other than godly?

To help answer how to give in a godly and biblical manner, here are 7 principles found in Scripture to guide our giving.¹

1. Give secretly.

Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:2-4)

In these verses, Jesus effectively states that the godly nature of our giving is voided whenever we give merely to be seen by others.

Jesus calls His followers to live in righteousness at the heart-level.

Whenever we give in order to be known as generous, we reveal pride to be our motivator, not true godliness.

The two hyperboles Christ presents are simply fantastic.

First, He warns not to sound a trumpet before you while giving your money. A lot of commentators present suggestions for what Jesus means, but I think Jesus was warning us not to hire a trumpet player/town crier to play a fanfare and announce, “Hear ye! Hear ye! Harken to the marvelous donation being made!”

It’s an over-the-top picture, yes. But Jesus uses it to illustrate the ridiculousness of giving in order to be noticed by others.

The second hyperbole He uses is not letting our left hand know what the right hand is doing. I think Jesus what means by this that we should be so prone to give secretly that a piece of ourselves might not even realize what we did. It’s as if our right hand gives the money, and the left hand says, “Wait a second, what happened?”

Once again, it’s over-the-top, but this call to secret giving should create in us a desire to give and forget about the gift.

The godly giver does not keep a mental record of his or her generosity; instead, they freely give because God freely gave.

2. Give cheerfully.

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)

I love this verse.

Jesus assumes in Matthew 6 that His followers would give to the needy, and Paul makes the same assumption throughout his letters.

Christians ought to desire to give, and Paul emphasizes that desire by saying that God loves a cheerful giver.

We should never give reluctantly or under compulsion, only cheerfully.

Why?

We know that God does not need us or our money.

As the creator of… well, everything… there is nothing that is not already His.

Each penny we “own” comes to us solely by God’s grace.

Everything we have is a gift from God, and if we are not cheerful when we give to others, it is a sign that we do not understand God’s gift of grace.

Christians are called to know only cheerful giving.

3. Give as the Lord Leads you.

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)

This verse is so good that I’m giving it a second round.²

If you ever feel like God is a cash-grabber, read this verse again.

There is not a one-size-fits-all dollar amount for Christian giving; instead, we are each meant to be led by the Holy Spirit to give as the Lord leads us.

Remember, giving should be a cheerful act for Christ’s followers. Sorrowfully giving what you think is the bare minimum or giving exuberantly to impress others are both sure to destroy the joy of giving.

4. Give sacrificially.

And he sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny. And he called his disciples to him and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” (Mark 12:41-44)

The poor widows offering is one of the most popular stories from Jesus’ earthly ministry. But what is the lesson to be learned from it?

The widow’s incredibly small offering was considered by Jesus to be greater than the large sums from others because she gave her offering sacrificially. Those two coins were all she had, yet she freely gave them to the Father.

This is contrasted with the wealthy givers who gave from their abundance, meaning their generous gifts had little-to-no impact upon them.

Yes, their gifts were large, but there was no sacrifice in giving them.

What faith is there in giving which costs nothing?

The widow’s faith was made evident by her refusal to cling even to her final two coins.

Let the widow’s sacrificial giving also keep us from ever using the excuse: “I would love to give more, if only I had more.”

We might have dreams of great acts of giving (dropping $100 tips everywhere, funding church plants, etc.), but in reality our hearts tend to place our wants and desires first.

Give sacrificially from what God has given you, and if the Lord wills, He will give you even more to give.

5. Giving is itself a blessing.

In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ (Acts 20:35)

I often come to this verse to ask whether I  actually believe it to be true: Do I really believe that giving is a bigger blessing than receiving?

To be honest, I really like getting thing (books, in particular), but as followers of Christ, we must see the act of giving as a greater blessing than receiving.

Paul repeated this line of thought when he discussed a monetary gift that the Philippians sent him. After writing about having contentment in Christ regardless of his circumstances, the imprisoned Paul told the church of Philippi, “Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit.” (Phil. 4:17)

The imprisoned apostle did not need their gift because God was sufficient for him, and that contentment allowed him to share in joy of the Philippians who were blessed by giving to Paul.

6. Giving is an investment in eternity.

Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. (Luke 12:19-21)

The act of giving is a blessing, but there still are more blessings for the giver.

In Matthew 6, Jesus indicated that secret giving will be rewarded by our heavenly Father who sees in secret.

Many prosperity teachers claim that God rewards us by miraculously multiplying and returning our money to us. Though God is certainly free and able to prosper us, this give-and-get teaching is entirely unbiblical.

Such teachings view material wealth as the ultimate reward, but the Scriptures teach that godly giving is an investment in eternal treasures.

“For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”

It can be so easy to safely store our hearts within our wallet or bank account, desperate for the security and provision that money seems to provide.

It’s an alluring treasure.

But God beckons us toward more.

When we give away our earthly treasures, we go against the impulse to simply accumulate money. Giving drives a knife into the heart of greed, and it reminds us not to place our hope in currency.

Giving helps us to fix our eyes upon our blessed hope, displaying that God alone is our great treasure and He alone possesses our heart.

7. Giving mirrors God’s heart.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)

This is the most significant reason for Christian giving.

God gave His only Son for us.

And we are called to be imitators of God (Eph. 5:1).

I’ll let the apostle Paul describe the wonder of this thought:

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,
but emptied himself,
by taking the form of a servant,
being born in the likeness of men.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death,
even death on a cross.
Therefore God has highly exalted him
and bestowed on him the name that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

(Philippians 2:5-11)

God Himself humbled Himself to point of the death, even death on a cross, for us.

Every grace that we have is predicated upon Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Jesus’ words to His disciples apply to us still: “You received without paying; give without pay.”

Because followers of Christ have experienced the immense grace of God, how can we not also become givers of grace?


1) These principles are far from exhaustive on the subject of giving, but I pray they are helpful nonetheless.

2) Seriously, memorize 2 Corinthians 9:7 and pray through it each time you give as away to check your heart’s motivation. You won’t regret it.

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Giving | Matthew 6:1-4

SUGGESTED VERSES FOR MEMORIZATION & MEDITATION

Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 6:1)

Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:2-4)

OPENING THOUGHT

The Gospel of Matthew is about Jesus bringing the kingdom of heaven to earth, and the Sermon on the Mount serves as the citizen’s handbook. Chapter five covered the characteristics and purpose of Christ’s followers, as well as their relationship to the Old Testament Law. The Beatitudes represent the characteristics of a citizen of the kingdom of heaven, and their purpose is to be the salt of the earth and light of the world. The chapter then concluded with six examples of how Christ came to fulfill the Law, not abolish it.

As we move into the sixth chapter of Matthew, we also enter a new section of Jesus’ sermon. Through chapter five’s discussion of the Law, Jesus flipped many of the Old Testament commandments on their head by revealing God’s heart behind it. Jesus now does something very similar with acts of religious piety. For many of the religious leaders of Jesus’ day, giving to the poor, prayer, and fasting were the three holiest acts one could perform, but Jesus shockingly reveals that even these godly acts can be done in an ungodly manner.

This week we focus on Jesus’ brief discussion of giving to the poor. It is important to note that Jesus begins with the phrase, “when you give…”. Thus, Jesus begins with the assumption that His followers will desire to give to the needy. We would tend to assume that giving to the poor is always a righteous act, but Jesus warns against giving in order to be seen by others. He claims that if we do good works for others to notice, their attention is our reward. However, if we give in secret, our Father will see us and reward us.

Read verse 1 and discuss the following.

  1. Jesus begins chapter six with a warning against practicing our righteousness before other people. Why does Jesus condemn doing good works to be seen by others?

Read verse 2 and discuss the following.

  1. Most of us are not likely to use to trumpets to announce whenever we give to the needy, so what does Jesus mean by “sound no trumpet before you”?
  2. What are some practical or real life examples of how we might (blatantly or subtly) search for other people’s acknowledgement of our generosity?

Read verses 3-4 and discuss the following.

  1. What does Jesus mean by not letting our left hand know what our right hand is doing?
  2. Biblically, how will the Father reward these secret givers?

ACTIONS TO CONSIDER

  • Obey. Consider your current practice of giving to the needy. Do you give at all? If you do, where is your heart when you give? How can you guard your heart from seeking the affirmation of others in your giving?
  • Pray. Pray to the Lord for a greater desire to be generous and to guard your heart against giving to be seen by others.