Both the Old and New Testaments promote the principle of giving in proportion to our ability. Here we see a positive example of this standard in the action of the returning exiles (compare this to the account of the Israelites giving more than was needed for temple construction in Ex 25:1–7; 36:2–7).
The apostle Paul may have been alluding to this passage when he commanded Christians to give in proportion to their incomes (see 1Co 16:2), as well as when he commended the Macedonians Christians, who “gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded … for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people” (2Co 8:3–4). Paul holds out the example of the Macedonians as committed, loving Christians, centered not on their own needs, desires and rights, but on those of others.
This principle of proportional giving makes sense, we agree, but working it out in our daily lives is not quite so simple. Why? Because our chosen lifestyle affects our ability to practice generosity.
In a reading adapted from author Randy Alcorn, editors John Ortberg, Laurie Pederson and Judson Poling attempt to identify the essential qualities of a Biblical lifestyle with regard to spending habits. Alcorn begins by contrasting two opposite but equally incorrect beliefs about money: materialism and asceticism. Alcorn notes:
During World War II, when fuel was precious, billboards routinely asked motorists, “Is this trip necessary?” Every resource used for individual convenience was one less resource for the country’s central concern, winning the war.
As Christians, we are also engaged in a great battle that requires great resources. We too must realize that spending resources on our own private concerns leaves less resources for our kingdom’s central concern. We should ask, “Is this thing necessary?” Does this thing really contribute to my purpose in being here on this earth? Is this thing an asset to me as a soldier of Christ …
In the words of Peter H. Davids, “A biblical lifestyle will necessarily recognize itself as being in opposition to the prevailing values and lifestyle of its culture. It is informed by a different view of reality.” This view of reality is not a harsh or austere view. It need not lead to bare-bones living, or to condemnation of those Christians who have greater opportunity or feel greater liberty to possess more than I do. Rather, it is a view toward the riches of the eternal kingdom.
Those who hold such a view are sincerely grateful for the refreshing pleasures and helpful possessions of this life. But regardless of what material things surround it, this view of reality remains focused on what is truly the greatest pleasure and possession of life, both here and hereafter—the pleasure of possessing Christ.
Lord, I want to live in a way that reflects a Biblical view of reality. Help me to do that.