Why Most Giving Falls Short of True Giving


Philippians 4:14-19

Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles. Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only; for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid more than once when I was in need. Not that I desire your gifts; what I desire is that more be credited to your account. I have received full payment and have more than enough. I am amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent. They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God. And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.


Outside of pure commerce, there are at least four basic frameworks for the exchange of money: investor/return, debtor/creditor, reciprocation, and giving. The first two are clear enough. An investor holds a stake in a business or venture and expects a return based on the company’s profitability. A creditor lends money and expects to be repaid the money plus interest as a payment for the use of the money. Reciprocation is an arrangement where we return the favor on a more informal basis than a debtor/creditor relationship. It’s more of a “I’ll scratch your back, you scratch mine” relationship.

True giving is not just another category but of another order of magnitude. Note, I said true. While all giving is good, most giving falls into one of the three other forms of exchange. We either expect to mange/control how our gift is stewarded/deployed, or we expect some kind of return from the recipient. That return can range anywhere from varying degrees of involvement in the direction of the venture as a stakeholder (investor), the ongoing management of a debt of gratitude and the varying forms of public recognition this takes (creditor), or the general unspoken but real expectation of returning the favor in kind (reciprocation).

I don’t mean to eschew any of these approaches to giving as somehow inferior or wrong-minded. They can all be very helpful, beneficial to causes and organizations and used of God. They do not, however, rise to the level of true giving, or what giving means in the kingdom of God. True giving means giving to God with no expectation of return. True giving is a marker of real faith, because though we are giving to a person or organization we can see, we are doing it in a surrendered way that signals our deep mind and heart to a God we can’t see. True giving is inspired by a hope not ruled by our expectations but born of the limitless possibilities of what God can do. Our expectations are to God’s possibilities as a creditor’s expectations are to a debtor’s interest payment. Finally, true giving is infused with the freedom of love. When we know we have freely received love, we are empowered to freely give love.

To give from a surrendered place of faith, hope, and love rather than from a posture of expectation of return is a profound risk. We so often think of sacrificial giving as giving till it hurts or giving some percentage of our wealth we think we can’t afford to give. I’m beginning to think that’s just another worldly way of thinking about money.

True giving, which is to say sacrificial giving, cannot be measured in amounts, percentage or otherwise. It is the manifestation of a surrendered soul in love for God and others. When giving to God for others is done in this fashion, which cannot be faked, what comes back to the giver from God through others is so surprisingly extraordinary and so completely free that they wonder why they didn’t give more. And they usually do. When people say things like, “You can’t outgive God,” this is what they mean. They have entered into an economy that cannot be explained by mathematical  accounting.

My best understanding is this is what Paul means in today’s text when he says this to the Philippians concerning their giving:

They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God. And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.


Abba Father, we thank you for your Son, Jesus, who is the giver and the gift and the ultimate vision of what giving even means. We are so bound by our expectations, be it for return on investment or our own self-interest or accruing the favor of others through doing favors for them. We want to give freely. Open our deepest soul to an ever deeper understanding that you have freely given us everything, and this will change everything. We pray in Jesus’ name, amen.


  1. Where are your sensibilities and sensitivities offended by today’s writing?
  2. What is it about you that makes you susceptible to this particular kind of offense?
  3. How are you growing as a true and bona fide giver? Do you want to grow in this way? What will lead to more growth?

For the Awakening,
J.D. Walt

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Comments and Discussion

2 Responses

  1. Wow ! Truer words were never spoken. I believe that a truly surrendered life is only possible when we come to the realization that we’re merely giving back to God what was always, already His, anyway. I’m convinced that this realization itself is a work of the Holy Spirit, a step in the process of our sanctification. Thank you for this.

  2. There has been one time in my life where, because of two back to back inheritances, my husband and I were able to donate a significant amount of money–in fact I was compelled to. Interesting thing is not long after the money was donated things began to go south with the church where the donation was made–including the direction of the project the money was donated for. I have since distanced myself from that church but I have never been angry about the money because, at the time it was absolutely the thing to do–it was all about us giving than how it was used. in fact, the unexpected direction the project took revealed a problem with the local church that I had no clue existed–just how divergent we all were in our thinking. Even now, I do not regret the donation because I never wanted the amount of money we had to define us because it never has–mainly because my husband and probably grew up closer to poverty than wealth. In fact, it was very stressful to suddenly become stewards of that much money.

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