“How generous are you inside your family? I want to give outside as well, but am trying to figure out what level of giving to family I should do.”
– Martin, India
What does the Bible say about this topic? Let’s look at a few passages.
Paul tells Timothy, “Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” (1 Timothy 5:8)
Jesus notes that every parent gives good gifts to their children. “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:9-11)
David wrote, “God sets the lonely in families,” (Psalm 68:6) and loves to see us care for our families. You delight to meet your children’s emotional needs and spiritual needs. But what about their financial needs?
And how far does “family” extend? Your children only? Your parents? Your grown siblings? Your nieces and nephews? Martin’s question is a tough one.
1. Focus on real needs.
John writes, “If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need, but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?” (1 John 3:17). But how can we tell the difference between needs and wants? Anyone who loves God will want to meet needs; but where do we cross the line to enabling an unnecessary lifestyle? Paul hints at the difference in describing his own needs: “If we have food and clothing [or shelter] we will be content with that” (1 Timothy 6:8).
2. Discern whether money is the best solution.
At the Celebration of Generosity in Chennai, India, Alan Barnhart said, “It’s important to meet real needs in your family, but it’s always dangerous to give money.”
People who give financial advice say that “you don’t solve money problems with money.” (When I looked this quote up, I was surprised to find that the internet credits American TV personality “Dr. Phil” as the author.)
Often, beneath financial issues are root causes: inability to handle money, inability to budget, reckless habits. Resist the temptation to throw money at the problem. If money is the right answer, great. But begin with the assumption that it’s not a money problem.
3. Set parameters and require accountability.
You’ve seen it happen: you give a gift that seems extravagant. Soon, the beneficiary is back asking for more. And not just asking for more, but asking with a sense of expectation, or even entitlement. Giving changes the relationship.
Too often, generous hearts run to offer a gift. Meanwhile, the generous head trails behind. The joy of saying, “I can help you with your problem” overwhelms the wisdom of restraint.
Before writing a check, ask God how He wants you to spend His money. And, if so, what wisdom does He want to give you to help you protect the relationship and maximize the benefit to your family member?
Is there a behavior or habit that the family member needs to change? What’s the root cause of their need? Once you’ve given the gift, your voice will not sound as loud in the recipients’ ears. So set wise boundaries beforehand. Is this a loan? Is this a one-time gift? What will happen if the recipient doesn’t meet your criteria?
4. Believe that money isn’t the best gift.
Alan Barnhart’s generosity includes providing well for his family: “We don’t live stingy so that we can give away more money, but we also realize that the best things in life are free,” says Alan.
Even more than money, your family needs you—your presence, your influence, your jokes, your wisdom.
When the Chennai audience asked Alan about mistakes he’d made in giving, he talked about giving too much creative energy to work and to ministries. Then he said, “So my mistake was not giving enough of that thought energy to my family.”
Father, Teach us to be generous as you are generous and to give in the ways that you lead us. Not just with money, but with our time and thought energy as well.