An Irrational Financial Act

Wednesday, February 1st, 2012

Forbes magazine may seem an unlikely place for an article about charitable giving. After all, Forbes is all about business and making money. But there it was. Under the headline, “Irrational Act,” publisher Rich Karlgaard wrote not just about giving, but about tithing, the biblical principle of giving 10 percent of one’s income.

He told about a friend—“educated and rational,” who earned a high income, but could never save any of it. Raised in a strict church that required payment of the tithe with the same level of humor and grace the IRS uses in requiring payment of our taxes, not surprisingly, his friend had drifted away from the church.

Now in middle age, with two degrees from prestigious universities and a thriving career, Karlgaard’s friend found himself in church once more. There he heard another message about tithing. But this time it wasn’t a finger-wagging lecture; it was a simple, compelling promise: give 10 percent and you will be free from financial worry.

That day he and his wife decided to take the minister up on his challenge. “Almost immediately,” Karlgaard wrote, “a mysterious transformation took place.” Besides giving 10 percent of their income to charity, the couple found they were able to start saving 10 percent as well—they call it “the 10-10-80 rule”: give 10 percent, save 10 percent, and live on the rest.

Karlgaard also wrote about another friend who said tithing helped turn down “the decibel level” of his life. “Every possession speaks to you,” he explained. “Everything you own wants attention. When I began to tithe, I found a freedom from my possessions. I don’t hold on to things as tightly any more.”

Of all the things we can do with money, giving it away seems completely, utterly irrational, doesn’t it?  It just doesn’t compute that increased giving would somehow make it easier to save money, right?  And freedom?  Doesn’t that come from a focus on accumulating as much as we can?

It turns out that generosity is a key component of what it means to use money well, and that’s why the fourth of my 11 principles for simple, meaningful success is: Give Some Away.

Here are three reasons why.

Generosity is Part of Our Design

The Bible says we were each made in God’s image, and since God is infinitely generous, that means generosity is woven into the fabric of our spiritual DNA.

When we don’t give, or give only token amounts, or give from a sense of guilt or obligation, we deprive ourselves of one of life’s great joys.  But when we give generously with grateful hearts, we live in concert with our design.  It’s no wonder that generous people are generally happier and find life more meaningful than those who are not generous.

Generosity Reminds Us of Our Priorities

The Bible says, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21).  I remember a time when my wife, Jude, wanted to give some money to a friend doing missionary work in a country that I wasn’t sure I could find it on a map.  Up to that time, I never thought of that country.  It just wasn’t on my radar screen.

However, after we started sending some money there, I noticed every time the country was in the news.  And I took great interest in each letter Jude’s friend wrote about her work.

My heart went there because some of our money was going there.

Giving regularly and generously to support God’s work in the world is a very powerful way to keep our hearts focused on God.

Generosity Leads to Blessings

I am very confident that giving in order to get something from God is nothing less than an affront to God.  I want nothing to do with the prosperity gospel.

Biblical generosity is motivated by gratitude; it’s a response to God’s generosity.

Still, many passages of Scripture clearly state that there are blessings that flow from generosity, such as Proverbs 11:24: “One man gives freely yet gains even more.  Another withholds unduly but comes to poverty.”

Some people trace material blessings to their giving.  Others experience blessings related to their health, relationships, sense of peace, and more.  Still others, such as Rich Karlgaard’s friends, find it easier to live within their means and experience financial freedom when they start giving.

It seems irrational.  It doesn’t make sense on a spreadsheet.  It’s one of those hard-to-explain but impossible-to-deny realities that there is a link between generosity fueled by a grateful heart and blessings.

Making It Practical

Next week I plan to go into more detail on generosity, responding to some of the most common questions I get about this topic, such as, “How much should I give?” And, “Where should I give?”

For now, I’d love to hear your feedback on the three major points in this post: Generosity is part of our design, reminds us of our priorities, and leads to blessings.

Who else would benefit from this post?  Why not forward a link to my site? And if you haven’t done so already, you can subscribe to this blog by clicking here.  Two or three times a week, you’ll receive ideas and encouragement for using money well.

Categories: Generosity

11 Responses to “An Irrational Financial Act”

  1. Joel Goff says:

    Matt, I couldn’t agree more with everything you said in your most recent blog. It fits my understanding of Scripture and the experience of our family the past 40 years. Thanks for your regular challenge, teaching and encouragement.
    PS – I give a copy of your book to all my pre-marriage counseling couples

    • Matt Bell says:

      I appreciate your note, Joel. And thanks for using my book with your pre-marriage counseling couples. I’m glad to be in partnership with you in helping couples in your church get started down the right path with their finances and their marriage.

  2. Mitch says:


    I am a member of a very “conservative” Lutheran synod. According to statistics kept by the synod, the average communicant gives less than 2% back to the church. When I mention the idea of tithing to members, they say that is contrary to what Paul writes about in Corinthians that one should give an amount each week that he has agreed in his heart to give because God loves a cheerful giver and where does that lead us-always in debt.

    I believe God not only encourages us to give but commands us to give back to him since he owns everything anyway. I have found that the more I give, the more I get in various areas of my life and money becomes less of a worry.

    Keep up the great work and God bless you and your family.

    • Andrew says:


      While I agree that giving is Biblical and definitely beneficial for a full life, I always cringe when I see churches use statistics like this. Just because a person isn’t giving a full 10% to a single church doesn’t mean they aren’t giving that money somewhere else.

      I tithe, but I’d imagine only somewhere around 2% of that goes to my actual church. Some goes to sponsoring children through World Vision, some goes to supporting missionaries, some to give cash to friends who need the help, and some even to non faith based organizations that I believe are benefiting the world. I give to these because I can see where my money is working, and yes, I give to these groups much more cheerfully than if I were merely to give 10% to my church home.

      • Mitch says:

        Hi, Andrew.

        I agree there are various ways to give back to the Lord and not necessarily all to their specific congregation. I too support different Christian based organizations besides the support I give my local congregation.

        I appreciate your take on my earlier response.

  3. Julie says:

    What a great post and so encouraging to see the Forbes article! Growing up in a Christian home I saw my parents give when I know buying groceries was difficult and how God was always faithful in providing for our NEEDS. I couldn’t agree more that this is part of our spiritual DNA and the real JOY of giving is such an incredible blessing.
    We give the majority of our tithe to our church (our Kingdom gift) along with supporting World Vision, several missionaries, our local food bank, and smaller gifts to charities we feel a connection. Often we find ourselves wanting to give more and making better, wiser choices in order to do so! This has made every aspect of our financial planning and discipline SO much better and God’s provision has left us many times humbled to our knees!
    Keep up the amazing work!

  4. kentjulian says:

    Excellent post, Matt. Solid insights about the joy and privilege of being a wise steward. Thanks for sharing. Keep “living it forward.”

  5. Kathy B says:

    I agree with kentjulian, great post Matt. I am a strong believer in God’s faithfulness to us and providing what we need. There are many examples in my life of when we give to our church with a grateful heart God does bless us in return.
    Keep up the good work Matt I love reading all your information.

  6. Shawanda says:

    It’s counter intuitive but, in the past, I found that I saved just as much or more when I tithed. It’s weird. Like I have to ask myself, “Where did the extra money come from?”

  7. zana says:

    I’ve been doing this for years and it works. God Bless America, the most generous country on earth. What does that say about us being a Christian Nation or NOT

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