Is the giving of Christians somehow different from that of non-Christians? After the January earthquake in Haiti large numbers of individuals, both Christians and non-Christians alike, gave generously for the relief effort. Was the giving of Christians a tithe or offering, a gift to God, or was it essentially a personal gift emanating from human empathy just as the giving of non-Christians was? What distinguishes a tithe or offering from a personal gift? At one level, that to which I am giving might hold a clue. What I give to my church or to a Christian ministry is probably Christian giving, whereas I would say my gift to the local symphony or to cancer research is a personal gift, not a tithe or offering.
Recently, this question of what constitutes Christian giving has become important to me in the context of my own giving. My wife and I are supporting several children from Christian families through school. God blessed me richly by providing the resources for me to get a good education, and out of thanksgiving to Him and out of a realization that everything I have is from Him I am passing that gift on to others within the family of Christ. To me that is clearly Christian giving. But what about my financial support for the education of the children of a Muslim family? This also is a good and generous thing to do, it is assistance to the poor and the oppressed and it will give those children opportunities that otherwise would not be theirs. But is this also Christian giving or is it simply a personal gift from me?
This question is particularly relevant for Christians who give to humanitarian causes such as safe water, orphan care or micro-finance. Isaiah 58 and Matthew 25 are very clear in their emphasis on feeding the hungry and clothing the naked as Christian responsibilities, and the Church has a long history of ministry to the poor, the sick and the downtrodden. But there are also many secular organizations that do exemplary humanitarian work, and many Christians and non-Christians alike donate generously to these. If as a Christian I give to a secular humanitarian effort is that Christian giving or is it instead a personal gift, indistinguishable from the gift of a non-Christian?
I am sure there are many ways to approach this question, beginning with our conscience as well as relying on God’s leading, but John Stott’s last point in his sermon titled “10 Principles of Christian Giving” provides a simple test. Speaking from 2 Corinthians 9:11-15 Stott states that Christian giving promotes thanksgiving to God. It overflows in many expressions of thanksgiving and is a crucial test of whether our giving is authentically Christian or not. Truly Christian giving leads people to thank God for His Grace.
This test, although probably not comprehensive, greatly simplifies the question:
"Does my giving result in thanksgiving to me, or does it result in thanksgiving to the God we love and serve?"