I once had a colleague that had a huge sign in his office. It said, “Keep the main thing, the main thing!” It was a great reminder every time I stopped in because it’s human nature to lose sight of our priorities. So, for the first few weeks of this new year, I’ve been trying to get our 2020 vision clear. To do that, we’ve looked at several passages that use the word “first” to examine what our priorities should be for this upcoming year. We’ve seen from Matt 6:33 that our ultimate priority is to seek God’s rule and righteousness in our lives. From 1 Cor 15 we’ve seen that our most important message is the Good News, that Jesus died for us and rose again. And from Romans 1:16, we saw that it should be a priority to communicate the good news of Yeshua to His own Jewish people. Now let’s take a look at the priority of giving.
The New Testament frequently speaks about finances. In fact, it discusses money more than twice as often as heaven and hell combined. Right now, let’s take a look at just one passage where Paul mentioned the priority of giving.
In 1 Corinthians 16:1-2, Paul describes his plan to take up an offering for the Jewish believers in Jerusalem. Then he says, “On the first day of the week, each of you is to set something aside and save to the extent that he prospers, so that no collections will need to be made when I come.” It seems that the only time this verse is ever mentioned is to make the case that we should worship on Sundays. But it really says nothing about Sunday worship. In fact, when translated literally it says, a person is to “set something aside by himself.” One of the greatest New Testament Greek scholars in history, AT Robertson, wrote that this means, the money is to be saved on the first day “by himself, in his home.” This would refer to a private act of setting aside money, not one in a congregational setting.
What’s the point? Paul was merely using a sound budgetary principle: That is, the money for the contribution was to be set aside first, before other expenses and bills of the upcoming week drained their finances. In other words, our giving to God should come off the top. We should give to the Lord with our substance, not with our leftovers. God is calling us to priority giving. So how do we give to the Lord first? Here are some suggestions:
First, we should give to our home congregations as a priority. Our giving should give back to the place where we are being cared for spiritually. That’s the example of the first congregation—in Acts 2:44-45, it says that the people gave voluntarily and generously so that the needs of their community could be met.
Second, we should give to those who minister to us. In 1 Cor 9:11, Paul told the Corinthians, “If we have sown spiritual things for you, is it too much if we reap material things from you?” We need to support financially those who minister to our spiritual lives.
Third, our giving should be regular and systematic. Paul didn’t believe people should give based on emotional appeals and sad pictures or videos. He saw giving as part of routine faithfulness. That’s why, in 1 Cor 16:2, he exhorted them to set aside their gifts, regularly, on a weekly basis, out of commitment, not because of a last minute emergency offering.
Fourth, priority giving to God applies to everyone. Paul reminded the Corinthians that they should give proportionately. Elsewhere, he said the gifts of the Macedonian believers came out “of their deep poverty and overflowed into the wealth of their generosity” (2 Cor 8:2). All of us should be giving. Remember the poor widow that the Lord Jesus commended—she was honored for giving out of poverty. Godly giving is always sacrificial giving.
Finally, we need to give because of gratitude, not guilt. Our gifts don’t come “out of regret or out of necessity, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor 9:7). If we are grateful for all that God has done for us, we cheerfully will give back to Him.
I once read that there is no good economic reason to give. And the very first accountant I had, some 25 years ago, agreed. He told me it would be wiser for me to put more money into my retirement account than to keep giving to God. I told him I was storing up treasure in heaven, something he didn’t quite get. But I got a new accountant after that. Here’s the point—we don’t practice priority giving because of what it will do for us in this life but how it honors God eternally. And that’s the reason we give off the top.