3 Questions to Help Christians Find Balance in Charitable Giving

by Van Richards , Christian Examiner Contributor |

There are more charitable donations in December than any other month. One of the ways Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ is by showing generosity to others during the Christmas holidays. Christian and secular charities bring in almost one-third of their annual donations at this time.

Giving in the last month of the year is not all benevolent Christian love. It can also be done in an effort to make contributions that will can count as income tax deductions for the year. However, a new tax law removes some of the incentive to donate by year-end. These new amendments to the tax law make it an excellent time to re-evaluate personal giving.

Why should you be generous? How much should you donate? And to whom should you give? To answer these questions, it is necessary to look at the effect of the income tax changes just mentioned.

The satisfaction that comes with gift-giving fades quickly after Christmas. However, charities that serve our community are sustained for several months based on the donations they receive in December. Since this is the first year that the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 will be in effect, how charities are affected is yet to be determined.

Unless people who give consider the survival of the charities they support, 2019 may be a lousy year for non-profits. The likely problem for charities lies in how donors complete their tax return. Every person that files a tax return will get a standard deduction. That deduction reduces the amount of income taxes that are owed. The new tax law doubled the dollar value of the standard deduction. The number of charitable donations must be greater than the new standard deduction to give taxpayers more of a reduction in income taxes owed. For most people, this is a good tax amendment. It means more people will pay fewer income taxes and the process will be less complicated.

That said, the tax law will mean that many taxpayers do not have the end of year tax incentive to meet to get the income tax deduction available for making a charitable donation. Some tax advisors are recommending that taxpayers not make a charitable donation this year and double up on donations for next year. The increase in the charitable donation in the second year is intended to push the contribution above the personal tax exemption limit and give the taxpayer a deduction that will reduce their income taxes. What this could mean for charitable organizations is that there may be less money to continue their operations. It is tough for charities to switch from a twelve-month budget to a twenty-four-month budget in the hope that more donations will come in at the end of the following year.

Why, how and to whom should you give?

Now that you understand the tax effect on charitable donations and you can see how delayed giving will impact charities, look at the most critical questions surrounding your charitable giving; why should you be generous, how much should you donate, and to whom you should give?

The most important reason for giving is that we are God's stewards for everything that He has given us, and He tells us that we should be charitable. There are several scriptures in the Bible that direct Christians to be charitable. However, there are no scriptures quite so poignant as the parable that Jesus told about a beggar named Lazarus and a rich man. Perhaps the severity of the punishment for not being charitable is a reason that this parable rarely makes it into Sunday sermons. This parable is about the scary reality of being condemned to hell and it is being told directly by our Lord Jesus. The story of Lazarus and the rich man is indeed preaching about those that have wealth going to hell for not being charitable.

Why should you be generous?

To summarize the parable, it begins with a beggar named Lazarus who lays at the gates of a rich man's home. The parable includes the details that Lazarus is so sick that he lays as if he were dead while dogs lick his sores. The rich man ignores Lazarus and leaves him to die. However, when Lazarus dies, the rich man dies too. The rich man goes to everlasting torment in hell and Lazarus goes to heaven to be met by Abraham. In a rare exchange of words across the divide between heaven and hell, the rich man asks for mercy and a chance to warn his five brothers about hell. Abraham refuses the rich man's request telling him, "if [your brothers] won't listen to Moses and the prophets, they won't be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead" (Luke 16:31, NLT). Do you need any other reason to be charitable?

How charitable should Christians be? This question is addressed several times in the Bible, and the decision of how much to give is left up to the giver. There are at least three scriptures in the New Testament that show this as the truth. The previously mentioned Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus is a direct lesson that Christians should not avoid charity. The Parable of the Pharisee and Tax Collector, plus the story of The Widow's Offering, both come directly from our Lord Jesus' own lips and tell us that giving represents much more than simply just the amount given.

In the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector, Jesus tells the story of two men who both went to the temple to pray. The Pharisee proclaimed in his prayer that he was thankful that he was not like other men. The Pharisee stated that he obeyed the law, fasting regularly and giving away precisely the right amount of money. Then the tax collector prays and just asks God to have mercy upon him because he is a sinner. Jesus proclaimed that the tax collector, rather than the Pharisee, is more worthy of God's blessing because, "those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted" (Luke 18:14, NLT). This parable is a direct rebuke of the Jews of that time who were obsessed with the minutia of the Mosaic Law.

Additionally, in the story of a Widow's Offering, Jesus observed those giving at the Temple, and then He brought the donations to the attention of his disciples. Jesus watched as the rich people left their gifts in the collection box, and then a widow gave two of the smallest coins that the Jews of that day used as currency. Jesus pointed out that even though the widow had given the least in quantity, she had given more in relation to what she had when compared to how much the rich people gave. "'I tell you the truth,' Jesus said, 'this poor widow has given more than all of the rest of them. For they have given a tiny part of their surplus, but she, poor as she is has given everything she has'" (Luke 21:3-4, NLT).

How much should you donate?

God is not concerned about the amount that we give. It would be arrogant to think that God needs anything from any of us because He is God. All that we have is His. What God is concerned about is how we prioritize giving within our heart. Do we intentionally give with purpose and thought? Alternatively, is our giving based on the few dollars that we happen to have in our pocket at the moment the offering plate is passed?

To whom should you give?

The last question to address is, to whom should Christians give? The answer to that question should be as much from your heart as the answer to the other questions on giving. However, be thoughtful about your giving. Consider how your giving is to be used. For example, are your gifts to be thoughtfully used to help those in poverty move to self-sufficiency? Or, is your gift to be used to make the givers feel good about their contribution?

In Robert Lupton's book, Toxic Charity, he tells of many instances where charity has degraded the self-worth of the recipients and giving does more to hurt a community than help it. Lupton emphasizes that giving charity and help to those in urgent need is essential. However, be the judge of when urgency turns to dependence. "When relief does not transition to development in a timely way, compassion becomes toxic" (Lupton, 2011).

In the New Testament, there is no indication that all charity should be given to the Church. Paul the Apostle does indicate that giving should be a part of our worship, "On the first day of each week, you should each put aside a portion of the money you have earned. Don't wait until I get there and then try to collect it all at once" (1 Corinthians 16:2, NLT).

The balance of personal giving

To whom should Christians give? What does your intuition tell your heart? Perhaps the answer of the question to whom you should give should be as thoughtful as how much you should give. If you make a list of all your expenses, consider making your gifts to charity in proportion to your income or net worth. Additionally, consider putting charity at the top of your list of expenses. Make giving to your Church a priority. Be a part of your Church community to gain an understanding of how your gifts are being put to work. If you find worthy causes that you would like to support in addition to your contributions to your Church, give what you feel you can give.

Giving is part of your faith, and God commands you to be charitable. The response to how much you should donate, and to whom you should give, are questions of the heart that you can answer by planning your finances from a Christian perspective. Think of planning your finances in the way that Jesus taught us about the cost of being a disciple, and "don't begin until you count the cost. For who would begin construction of a building without first calculating the cost to see if there is enough money to finish it?" (Luke 14:28, NLT). Being a Christian can be challenging. However, the rewards last an eternity.

–Van Richards is a Christian financial advisor as well as the founder of https://www.Advice4LifeInsurance.com and http://www.Advice4Retirement.com. Van draws from his 30 years as a financial advisor to write about financial issues from a Christian perspective. You can contact him at van@advice4lifeinsurance.com.