Giving to God: The Bible’s Good News about Living a Generous Life
- Author: Mark Allan Powell is a Bible scholar and theologian recognized for work in spiritual formation and congregational ministries and a professor of New Testament
- Updated: 12/19/2012
- ISBN: 978-0-8028-2926-9
- Copyright: Eerdmans Publishing Company
The purpose of this book is "to offer a biblical vision for financial stewardship." The basic vision is "to find life - the life God wants us to have, in confidence that this will be the best life we could possibly have.
Part One: Belonging to God
Stewardship is a way of life. It is about "turning total control of our lives over to God."
Part Two: Our Duty and Delight
In this part, Powell lays out a program for "living and giving that most Christians will be able to embrace as both a duty and a delight."
Giving to God: The Bible's Good News about Living a Generous Life
I recently told someone who knows Mark Powell that Giving to God has a playful, joyful spirit. He smiled and said, "Yes, he writes like he is."
Here are some thoughts from each of the chapters in this book. The book includes a set of discussion questions at the end of each chapter, a sample of which is included here.
Part One: Belonging to God
The purpose of this book is "to offer a biblical vision for financial stewardship." The basic vision is "to find life - the life God wants us to have, in confidence that this will be the best life we could possibly have." Stewardship is a way of life. It is about "turning total control of our lives over to God."
In this regard, the Bible contains both law and gospel. "The law tells us what we are supposed to do for God while the gospel reveals what God does for us."
Chapter One: An Act of Worship
While most people think about the offering as the way the church pays its bills and does some other good things, Powell contends that the high point of the liturgy is at the point of the offering. "At no other point in the service are we provided with so pure an opportunity to worship as this."
"We are invited to put money in the offering plate not because the church needs our money but because we want and need to give it ... a way we express our love and devotion to God ... by giving up something that we value." This is an act of worship that turns us away from ourselves and makes God the center of our devotion.
Sample question: Do you experience the offering in the liturgy as an "act of worship or does it just seem like an occasion for taking care of business?"
Chapter Two: An Expression of Faith
The Biblical message is clear -- we are all are stewards. We are either faithful stewards or unfaithful stewards. "The root cause of bad stewardship is often a fundamental misunderstanding of our false claim regarding ownership."
To be a steward is a privilege. "A faithful steward is a person who a) views this world as God's good creation and is grateful to be a part of it; b) knows that God cares for those whom God has made and is ready and willing to rule their lives; and c) trusts God to provide him or her with whatever is needed to be content. Faithful stewardship is a matter of becoming such a person and acting accordingly."
He declares that this is good news because "those who live as people who belong to God experience life as its absolute best."
Sample question: "What would happen if God were in charge of your finances? Would you use your money differently?
Chapter Three - A Spiritual Discipline
The author examines different passages of the Bible, one is Jesus' saying "Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (Matthew 6:21).
While some would say that what is important in this saying is that there is a right attitude toward money, Powell disagrees. This is a stronger message. It is bad news. Jesus is "stating flat-out what will happen ... Where your treasure is, there your heart will be ... your heart will follow your treasure."
At the same time Jesus is also prescribing what we can do about this problem. The answer is sometimes called "spiritual disciplines."
Sample question: "Reflect on the connection between spirituality and stewardship. Would you like to be a more spiritual person -- and is there anything that you might do with your money that would move you further along that path?"
Part Two: Our Duty and Delight
In this part of the book, Powell lays out a program for "living and giving that most Christians will be able to embrace as both a duty and a delight."
Powell asserts that what the Bible has to say about money is good news. The Bible:
1) "Presents God as the creator and supplier of all that we are and of all that we have.
2) "Promises that God will provide for us and, indeed, rule our lives, directing and enabling us to to manage our affairs more faithfully than we could on our own.
3) "Further assures us that when we offer ourselves and what we have to God in worship and in faith, we will discover the blessings of a rich spiritual life."
Talking about money in the church is often awkward. However, "Jesus made clear to everyone who followed him that he intended to meddle with their money. He had a lot to say about the subject and very little, if any, of it had to do with asking for donations to his own ministry."
Chapter Four -- Faithful Living
To live faithfully means we "recognize that all we are and all we have belongs to God and is to be given to God as an act of worship."
"God is interested in all of our money ... Financial stewardship is placing our finances under God's rule."
"Faithful living entails at least four things: When we are faithful stewards, 1) we acquire our money in God-pleasing ways; 2) we regard our money in God-pleasing ways; 3) we manage our money in God-pleasing ways; and, 4) we spend our money in God-pleasing ways."
Sample question: "How has your church been helpful to you in sorting out these four areas of faith and money (how you acquire your money; how you regard your money; how you manage your money; how you spend your money). In which area have you received the most help from your church -- and in which have you received the least?
Chapter Five -- Faithful Giving
"Faithful giving is one way (not the only way) of using our finances in a manner that is pleasing to God."
Powell makes a unique claim -- we are to give both out of duty (it is our responsibility to support the needs of the local congregation) and delight. Giving out of delight occurs as we make "meaningful sacrifices through renunciation of worldly goods." Sacrificial giving leads to delight. It is God-pleasing as it begins in the heart.
Sample question: "Consider the 10 'motives for giving' discussed in this chapter. Which of these do you think has played the greatest part in moving you to give to the church or to other causes?"
Chapter Six -- Support and Sacrifice
We give out of duty, which is based on a conviction that "all responsible church members are called by God to support the congregations of which they are a part with reasonable contributions proportionate to their income and circumstances."
We give with delight. "Receptive Christians will usually be moved by Scripture and the Spirit to go beyond providing such support to give up a further portion of their money as a sacrifice."
Powell proposes a process whereby congregations can inform members about their duty to act responsibility to support the local congregation. At the same time, the congregation can give people the opportunity to go beyond their duty and give delightfully from their heart.
Sample question: "What do you make of this chapter's distinction between support (duty) and sacrifice (delight)? Is it helpful to think about our giving in terms of these two categories?"
Chapter Seven -- How Much?
Is tithing a helpful guide in determining how much one ought to give? Powell asserts that while for some tithing is a regulation or maybe a noble ideal, it is not "easily transferable to modern circumstances." The biblical context is so different from our own. That doesn't mean that he leaves you comfortable with a lesser standard for giving.
Instead he calls for a practice whereby tithing is that portion of money which is given after we have made "appropriate contributions to meet our local congregation's needs. ... Tithing is giving away 10 percent of our income over and above what we give as responsible church members to support the life and mission of our local church."
Powell calls for a gospel orientation that emphasizes "cheerful expressions of faith and praise rather than potentially grudging fulfillment of requirements." There are many for whom tithing could be inappropriate if not irresponsible. Their giving ought to greatly exceed tithing on their gross income; while for others, to give a tithe would be irresponsible because of a perilous financial situation.
In summary he states, "I suggest, that we think of tithing (however it is defined) as a traditional guideline for Christian giving, a standard that many Christians find to be appropriate and attainable ... not a realistic goal for everyone ... never (to) be presented as some sort of timeless requirement expressing what God demands of all people everywhere."
He continues by pointing out that "the Bible contains more promises regarding stewardship than requirements. The best question to ask is not, 'Do I have to give 10 percent of my income to the church?' The answer to that question is simply, 'No!'" A better question to ask may be, "Would I like to be the sort of person who is spiritually and financially able to give 10 percent of my income to the church?" And if your answer is "yes," then there is a good chance that tithing is for you after all. He concludes by indicating how he makes the decision about how much to give.
The final sentence of the book reflects a gospel attitude: "You can be a generous person and live in this joy as one who knows God, loves God, pleases God and benefits others. I invite you to accept God's invitation to generosity, to live as one who belongs to God and to give as one for whom giving is duty and a delight."
Sample question: "As you reflect back over this book, what are the principles of good news that you want to keep with you? How will your life be different if the goodness of God takes hold of you and shapes you into a truly generous person?"
Giving to God approaches stewardship as a holistic, joyful response to a generous God. Powell stretches minds and imagination as he suggests giving as duty and delight. There are many excellent quotes and new insights throughout the book. I particularly like his discussion about tithing in the final chapter as he transforms the discussion from regulation to a guideline, from living out of the "ought" to living into joyful giving as an expression of faithful living.
The discussion about changing giving from duty and giving from delight is provocative. He has found it personally a helpful way to decide how much to give. However, I am skeptical about its applicability in congregations. I believe there can be delight in doing one's duty. Would this practice take away from the growing giver the delight of giving until they had filled their obligations? To grow people toward tithing is a commendable goal in itself. Will raising the tithing bar encourage greater generosity or be considered so unrealistic that it will discourage the growing giver?
Overall, I think it is a very good book. I recommend it to all stewardship leaders. I read it the first time a number of months ago and I find myself going back to it time and again. I think you will too.
-- Reviewed by Jerry Hoffman