I love reading the Bible story where Jesus observes a poor widow giving away her only coins:
“Then he (Jesus) went over to the collection boxes in the Temple and sat and watched as the crowds dropped in their money. Some who were rich put in large amounts. Then a poor widow came and dropped in two pennies. He called his disciples to him and remarked, ‘That poor widow has given more than all those rich men put together! For they gave a little of their extra fat (literally ‘out of their surplus’), while she gave up her last penny.” (Mark 12:41-44)
I remember this Bible story from childhood. I wanted to be like her, but I’m not. I am humbled by her example, but I lack her faith and selflessness.
I’ve begun thinking about my own charitable giving. In comparison to the woman in the Bible story, all I have ever given is a “little of their extra fat.” (Mark 12:44)
Some Christians argue the Bible requires us to “tithe” – to give 10% of our income to church or humanitarian causes. Others argue the Old Testament traditions of “tithing” are either voluntary or do not apply to Christians. Although the concept of charitable giving was part of my Christian upbringing, the concept of “tithing” was not.
In truth, I don’t know what percentage my charitable giving represents in relation to my income. If I’m like most Americans, I probably give less than “tithing” would require. I read that only 5% of Americans tithe, with 80 percent of Americans giving 2% of their income for charitable causes.[i] Christians in America give slightly more as a group, averaging 2.5%.[ii]
The current rates of giving may not sound generous enough to some, but they represent some serious money. According to Giving USA Foundation, charitable giving from individuals during 2016 totaled an estimated $281.86 billion in the United States. Of that amount, an estimated $122.94 billion was given to religion.
As generous as we are as individuals, I sometimes wonder if charitable giving really makes a difference? I get so disheartened; humanity’s suffering seems so overwhelming and unending. I read headlines about charity fraud and corruption, and I wonder if our contributions ever make it to the people they are intended to help? An uninvited voice whispers in my head, “You’ve given enough. More money won’t make a difference. It’s impossible…” But then I think of Jesus and the uninvited voice grows quiet. Jesus whispers in my heart, “...But with God, everything is possible.” (Matthew 19:26) And my heart hears Him.
It has been estimated that if Christians would increase their charitable giving to at least 10% of their income (“tithe”) — from an average rate of 2.5% — the church would have enough money to:
- Relieve global hunger, starvation and deaths from preventable diseases in 5 years;
- Eliminate illiteracy in 5 years;
- Solve the world’s water and sanitation issues, specifically at places in the world where 1 billion people live on less than $1 per day;
- Fully fund all overseas mission work; and
- Have money left over.[iii]
Wouldn’t it be tragic if the only things preventing a solution to world hunger, preventable disease, illiteracy, and water and sanitation issues are our unwillingness to “tithe” and our lack of faith?
Perhaps author Mike Holmes identified the stumbling block to “tithing” (and extraordinary giving) best when he wrote, “Giving is a heart issue, not a money issue.”[iv]
I will not judge others who choose not to give generously, but neither will I rely on others to give generously if I do not. I pray that with Jesus’ help, I will do right by God — and by humanity.
[i] [i] Holmes, Mike. “What Would Happen if the Church Tithed? How 10% Could Change the World,” Relevant Magazine, March 8, 2016. < https://relevantmagazine.com/love-and-money/what-would-happen-if-church-tithed>, January 31, 2018.