A friend pointed me to an article in the SMH about the giving of the wealthy in Australia (“Old Money Tells New Money: You Can Make A Difference”, July 4).
The main focus of the article is quite encouraging. Wealthy old-money families in Australia are using their wealth in great ways, and encouraging others to do the same.
One statistic stands out, though:
Despite a surge in the number of Australian millionaires last year – from 173,600 to 192,900 – wealthy locals give less than 0.5 per cent to charity on an income basis, compared with almost 4 per cent in the US, according to 2008 Petre Foundation research.
You can find the report mentioned in the article here. What’s interesting about the report is that it contrasts the giving of affluent Australians with the rest of us. The report finds:
Affluent Australians give more than the average Australian but generally not much more. Gifts, measured by the value of tax-deductible donations expressed as a percentage of taxable income, are only marginally higher for the vast majority of the affluent (with taxable incomes of between $100,000 and $500,000) than for Australians overall, at approximately 0.45% and 0.33%, respectively.
Reflect on that for a second: Australians give just 0.33% of their taxable income!
Now, the real figure will be higher than that, since this only reflects giving made to organisations registered as Deductible Gift Recipients. Churches, for example, don’t fit in this category.
I wonder, though, if Christians give more than that? I hope so.
Faithfulness isn’t measured in dollar terms. Nonetheless, Jesus reminds us that “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21). Exhorting the Corinthians to generous, self-forgetful giving to their afflicted brothers and sisters in Jerusalem, Paul reminds his readers: “you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ: although he was rich, for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9).
In saying this Jesus and Paul extend the call of the Old Testament prophet Isaiah to be people who reflect God’s self-giving to us, needy and unable to repay him, in the way we relate to others: “if you offer yourself to the hungry [literally, offer your soul!], and satisfy the afflicted one, then your light will shine in the darkness, and your night will be like noonday” (Isaiah 58:10).
That’s the paradox of the Christian life: true blessing comes through self-forgetful sacrifice for the needs of others. That doesn’t just mean giving sacrificially from our material and financial wealth, as Isaiah 58 makes clear; our time, especially, is to be given to others. But material and financial wealth are an obvious and important place to start.
Why is this decidedly unworldly way the one God chooses? Because in self-sacrificial generosity we reflect the character of the God who has given himself for the needy: the Lord Jesus who suffered and died for his enemies, and whose life and death was vindicated with new life. Our generosity says something about our understanding of what God has done for us in Jesus.
Sure, we won’t be perfect at living generously; but as our love and knowledge of God grows, our generosity in response to his mercy should grow as well.
In any case, when we look at Jesus we see that God has given much more than 0.33% of his wealth.
How much are we giving?