I’m a small town girl who was recently in New York City for the first time. From the moment I entered the subway station, people started asking me for money. In the time it took me to walk down the steps, four different people had asked me for amounts ranging from four dollars to five cents. Even combined it didn’t total very much, but it was a bit overwhelming to be stopped every few seconds. God loves a cheerful giver—that’s what it says in II Corinthians 9:7—but I wasn’t giving too cheerfully by that point.
In Mark 12:41-44 Jesus watched people putting their donations into the offering boxes. He was not watching because he needed their donations, for after all He owns the cattle on a thousand hills and everything else in all creation. (Psalm 50:9-12) What He was watching for was the attitude with which the donations were being given. He was concerned with the condition of people’s hearts. He knew that it was not the amount they gave, but the amount they withheld that was the measure of their generosity. The wealthy gave a large portion, but it was not a large proportion of what they had. The widow, a member of the poorest and most vulnerable segment of society, gave all she owned. The wealthy depended on their wealth to provide for them, but the widow depended on God. She trusted God to meet her needs. It was not her money that she gave to God, but her heart, her whole being.
When God tells us that he want us to give cheerfully, He means that what is important is the condition of our hearts, our motivation for giving. He doesn’t want us to give because people keep asking, or because we feel pressured by public opinion, or to get a tax rebate. He wants us to give because we love our neighbour as we love ourselves, and because we love Him and trust Him to provide for our every need.
What a reassuring promise! Philippians 4:19 tells us that God will supply our every need, but notice that this verse comes after discussion of the support that the Philippians gave to Paul. (Philippians 4:15-19) We cannot take this verse out of the context of the rest of the Bible; we must look at it in light of other scriptures.
Throughout the Bible we are told to give generously. The ancient wisdom of Proverbs tells us that those who are generous will be blessed, but those who withhold their wealth will come to poverty. (Proverbs 11:24-25, Proverbs 22:9) In Malachi 3:10 we are encouraged to bring the whole tithe into God’s house. This is one circumstance in which God invites us to test Him, and He promises to pour out a blessing upon us from the windows of heaven. Some people believe, or perhaps just use as an excuse, that this was an Old Testament law, and no longer applies to those of us living under the grace of the New Testament. However, this is essentially the same thing that Paul says in Philippians 4:19, God will supply your need according to His riches. Luke echoes this in Luke 6:38: Give and it will be given to you, good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over. I always think of baking when I read this verse. When you fill a measuring cup with flour, then press it down and shake the cup a bit, it creates room for more. This is the way that God gives; He presses down the blessings, shakes the air bubbles out and keeps on giving past the point where there is room to hold any more. But our giving has to come first.
When Paul thanked the Philippians for giving to him, he emphasized that it was not because he needed more (though it certainly was a blessing to him), but so that they would be acknowledged for their gift. Their generosity was an indication of their hearts toward God, as they were really giving to Him. (Matthew 25:40) God is pleased with such sacrifice (Hebrews 13:16), and He loves a cheerful giver. (II Corinthians 9:6-8) If you give generously, you will be blessed, and both the giver and receiver will experience joy in the gift.