Four Guidelines for Becoming a Discerning Giver

by Joe Plemon on December 28, 2009

The Hand
Creative Commons License photo credit: Alex E. Proimos

Christmas is the season when we celebrate God’s gift to us: his son. God gave this gift to mankind and thus to each and every one of us. It is a gift any of us can receive but none of us deserve.

Because this gift was given to everyone, it seems that God gives gifts indiscriminately. But does he? And what discernments, if any, should we use when giving?

I can think of four guidelines:

1. Give to the truly needy.

James 1:27 says, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” Widows and orphans in this first century culture had it rough; they would commonly beg to survive unless family members intervened. Christians were therefore called to step up and help. The principle has not changed; believers still need to seek opportunities to help those with real needs. Many single moms, for example, are “truly needy”.

I think this type of giving parallels God’s gift of his son. Such an extravagant gift, while given to all, was not really given indiscriminately. It is just that all of us, apart from God’s intervention, are helpless and destitute spiritually. We are all truly needy.

2. Give to those who will use the gift.

In the parable of the talents (Mat 25:14-30), Jesus gave more talents to the ones who used what they had. We should therefore seek to bless those (missionaries, ministers, charities, etc) who have demonstrated that they are responsible with whatever gifts they already have.

3. Do not give to those who won’t work.

2Th 3: 10,11 reads, “For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies.” Giving to a lazy person does not help that person; it only encourages more laziness. Not eating, on the other hand, will motivate a lazy person to work. God expects our gifts to bless, not harm, the recipients.

4. Give from your strength.

Proverbs 21:20 says, “Precious treasure and oil are in a wise man’s dwelling, but a foolish man devours it.” Wisdom is saving; foolishness is living pay check to pay check. God is a giver because he has a surplus. As much as our hearts may tug us to help those in need, we simply can’t do it if we don’t have the money. We therefore need to become wise, living on less than we make and avoiding debt like a plague, so we can be more like God. Stated bluntly, that $600 a month car payment may be keeping you from being the giver God wants you to be. Only the strong can help the weak. Decide today to set yourself on a pathway of financial strength. Not only will you be better for it, those you give to will be blessed.

Readers: what other guidelines for giving can you think of? Your input is greatly appreciated.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

R February 4, 2010 at 10:20 pm

Several years back while watching a local news report I realized that people are not embarrassed to receive charity. The report showed a church giving out free Thanksgiving boxes to those in need. Watching their faces as they lined up to receive them, I noted the smiles and talking as if they were in a regular grocery store waiting to purchase the items. Having watched footage from the depression era I noted the difference in facial expressions on those folks. Same thing with a school that gave out food items to children in their backpacks on Fridays so they would at least have something over the weekend to eat. These children were all smiles and had even asked the teacher if they were going to be receiving the snacks that day. To me, it speaks volumes.

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joeplemon February 5, 2010 at 9:41 am

R,
You make a great point. The way people receive gifts tells us much about them and also sends a message to the giver. Some, as you say, act like the gift is owed to them, which sends a message of callousness (certainly lack of appreciation) toward the giver. It seems that many young couples do not even take time to send thank you cards for marriage gifts.

I think the attitude should be one of simple appreciation and thankfulness. A smile is not wrong when accompanied by heartfelt thanks.

I wrote a post: “Do You Know How to Receive Gifts” around Christmas time that further digs into the issue.

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R February 5, 2010 at 12:37 pm

The most disturbing thing to me is how many words that come to mind in today’s society: fundraisers, coatdrives, foodbanks, non-profits (hmmm, I truly question this one…) and on and on and on. The one word that completely disgusts me is “Community”. This is one I hear ad nauseum every day. Not kidding. Whether it’s based on local/regional/ global community, it’s going to be there in some form of news daily. Read Matthew 26:6-13. It put a new perspective in my thinking. Especially verse 11.

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joeplemon February 5, 2010 at 2:18 pm

I love that passage. The disciples were indignant that this woman would have the audacity to “waste” her gift on Jesus. Their logic was that it could be sold and the money given to the poor. Jesus lined them out by not only accepting the gift, but by calling this gift a beautiful thing. We will never take care of all the poor and we can never be too extravagant in giving to Jesus.

By the way, Janice and I are very intentional about giving to Jesus through our church and by supporting other ministries that make an impact for the kingdom. This is not to say that we are so straight laced that we don’t help those we deem to be “truly needy” (point 1 in this post). It is just that we want our giving to make an eternal difference.

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