How Much Should I Give?

At age 49, Mr. X suffered a stroke that transformed his mind. Afterward, he quit his job to live a life of “excessive and persistent generosity.” He “gave liberally” to strangers – food and drink to children living on the streets of his hometown in Brazil, for instance. His wife worried that such grandiose giving would ruin his family financially.

I recently read over a passage of scripture I’ve spoken about a hundred times. But Mr. X’s story sparked new insight.

A Warning About Giving

By the end of Paul’s letter to Christians living in Corinth he would ask them to contribute to an offering that would support the poor living 800 miles away in Jerusalem. But before asking them to give he warned them not to give too much.

Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality.

~2 Corinthians 8:13

Like Mr. X, the Corinthian Christians had been transformed to a potentially dangerous degree. Paul was concerned that their “excessive and persistent generosity” might result in the kind of unwise sacrifice that would needlessly endanger their own lives for the sake of saving someone else’s. (“Hard pressed” is translated here from the Greek word thlîpsis, which can also be rendered “affliction”, “tribulation” or “trouble”.)

What are we really after when we ask How much should I give?Has the children’s minister at your church ever worried that too many already-stretched-thin parents have volunteered to teach three year-olds? Or has your youth minster ever been concerned that too many people are taking time off from work to be counselors at youth camp? Or has the accountant ever fretted that too many people dropped too great a percentage of their income into the offering plates on Sunday morning? Has your pastor ever had to warn against excessive generosity?

A Limit On Giving

The possibility that the Corinthian Christians might actually over-give surprised me. But so did Paul’s response: How strange that he didn’t limit their generosity with a percentage. No mention of a tenth…or any other number.

Instead, Paul restrained their giving with a single word: equality.

Paul defines that word in 2 Corinthians 8:15 as everyone having enough to feed everyone in their house every day. We could infer more generally that we’re to stop giving when doing so truly endangers our life.

How Much Should I Give?

I’m frequently asked how much a Christian should give. The conversation that follows often reveals what’s really being asked: “How much do I have to give?” or “What’s the minimum I should be giving?”

Paul didn’t answer these questions. The Corinthians afflicted with “excessive and persistent generosity” didn’t ask them.

After two years of treatment, Mr.X no longer experienced depression, irritability and memory loss caused by his stroke. But his giving continued. Mr.X believes this proves his generosity was not caused by brain damage after all. His explanation? “I saw death from up-close.”

A person rescued from death and given life is transformed into a joyful excessive persistent giver. There’s no need to set up a minimum giving requirement for such a person. Only a maximum limitation is necessary.

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