Giving as a Means of Grace

By: Dr. Gregory S. Neal

Have you ever thought about why we give to the life and ministry of the Church? Have you ever asked yourself: "why do I give?" or "why do I tithe?" or even "should I give money to the Church?" For many of us giving seems like an obvious thing to do: we give money because we always have, because we were taught to do as children, and because the church needs us to give. In short, the motivation behind our giving appears to be obvious, and hence the theological grounds for our giving rarely, if ever, get addressed. And, yet, we can learn quite a lot of examining the theological grounds for giving – we can learn quite a lot about ourselves, our faith, and God’s Grace.

I believe that giving is a means of grace. By this, I mean that giving is an instrument through which we can receive the love, peace, and life transforming Real Presence of Jesus. Sadly, this is not how most of us view giving. In all honesty, we are more accustomed to thinking of giving as a duty or as an obligation which we must perform … we view giving as a "good work," not as a means of grace. However, when one examines the scriptural approach to giving, it becomes quite clear that the act of giving is far more than just an obligation or a good work. It can be made into a "work of the law" by our attitudes, words, and behaviors, but the Biblical truth is very far from such an approach to giving. Indeed, if anything the scriptures make it plain that, when we give of ourselves – of our personal, physical, and financial resources – God unleashes divine favor to us and, through us, to others. This is the fundamental essence of giving. In every respect it is a sacramental means of grace.

When we examine how giving functions in the religious life, we discover that no matter where it is found, it always has grace-filled characteristics. Specifically:

  • When we give to God our emotional, physical, and financial gifts of praise, thanksgiving, and worship, God pours out to us the gifts of divine love and presence
  • When we receive God’s grace through the gifts of others, we are called and empowered to join in giving to God
  • In this, our giving becomes a response to God’s grace and a means of grace for us and for others
  • Jesus established that we are to give to others and, by giving to others, we give to him
Giving is a means of grace. It is an instrument through which God opens up to us his storehouse of divine love. It is a tool through which we receive the promises of Christ. When we act in faith and present our offerings to the Lord, God promises to shower us with favor.

While found in the Hebrew Bible, the following passage is nevertheless highly instructive to Christians who are approaching the means of grace from a sacramental perspective:

Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in my house, and thus put me to the test, says the LORD of hosts; see if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you an overflowing blessing. ( Malachi 3:10, NRSV )

This is not some vague, undefined promise … it is a specific blessing, tied to a specific act or acts of giving. This is a very crucial point, and we should guard against super-spiritualizing it into non-existence: we are called to give, and in response to our giving God promises to pour out his blessings upon us. It’s not any more difficult than that. We are called to open ourselves to the grace of God by giving of the gifts that God has given us. And by giving, we are promised God will fulfill our needs.

The Church has needs, this is true, but as this passage from Malachi should remind us, we need to give far more than the church needs to receive.

© 2002, Dr. Gregory S. Neal
All Rights Reserved

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The Reverend Dr. Gregory S. Neal is the Senior Pastor of the First United Methodist Church in Commerce, Texas, and an ordained Elder in the North Texas Conference of The United Methodist Church. A graduate of Southern Methodist University, Duke University, and Trinity College, Dr. Neal is a scholar of Systematic Theology, New Testament origins, and Biblical Languages. His areas of specialization include the Theology of the Sacraments, in which he did his doctoral dissertation, and the formation and early transmission of the New Testament. Trained as a Christian educator, he has taught classes in these and related fields while also serving for more than 25 years as the pastor of United Methodist churches in North Texas.

As a popular teacher, preacher, and retreat leader, Dr. Neal is known for his ability to translate complex theological concepts into common, everyday terms. HIs preaching and teaching ministry is in demand around the world, and much of his work can be found on this website. He is the author of several books, including
Grace Upon Grace: Sacramental Theology and the Christian Life, which is in its second edition, and Seeking the Shepherd's Arms: Reflections from the Pastoral Side of Life, a work of devotional literature. Both of these books are currently available from Amazon.com.