A Focus on the Family Interview with Randy Alcorn: Discover 'The Treasure Principle' of Giving

Randy Alcorn loves giving, and he wants you to love giving. Just listen to him talk about giving, about joyful tithing and radical generosity. But fear not—Alcorn won’t guilt you into giving. Nor will he instruct you to sell your possessions, abandon all forms of entertainment or forego future vacations.

What he will say is this: Once you’ve discovered the secret joy in giving, your life will never be the same. Alcorn calls this life-changing perspective “The Treasure Principle,” and he wants to let the rest of us in on the secret.

While plenty of us acknowledge that tithing is part of our Christian duty, how many of us do so begrudgingly, or not at all? In The Treasure Principle: Discovering the Secret of Joyful Giving, financial expert Alcorn reports that, American Christians on average give two to three percent of their income to churches and Christian ministries, while many don’t give anything at all.

It’s also true that changing established giving habits isn’t always easy—so we don’t, and we end up feeling guilty. And there’s no shortage of reasons people come up with for not giving.

Maybe you’re living from paycheck to paycheck, or mired in mountains of school loans, car payments or credit card debt. Perhaps you’ve vowed to start tithing the moment you get a higher-paying job or that long hoped-for raise. From health care costs to house payments, daily life is expensive and money hard to part with—especially at the expense of personal gratification.

Sure, it’s easy to get discouraged over the state of our finances. And that, Alcorn said, is where many people are mistaken.

“I want to emphasize the joy and the pleasure of giving,” Alcorn told family.org. “In Acts 20:35, Jesus says, ‘It is more blessed to give than receive.’ If we really believe that, then we’re missing a blessing when we don’t give—and getting in on a blessing when we do.”

Joy Through Giving

Since he began telling others about the delight that accompanies giving, Alcorn said he has seen many lives changed for the better. The Treasure Principle is Alcorn’s vehicle for taking his message to the masses. He based the concise, power-packed book on Matthew 6: “Don’t store up for yourselves treasures on earth . . . Instead store up your treasures in heaven.”

Alcorn defines the treasure principle as this: You can’t take it with you, but you can send it on ahead. While earthly treasures will be destroyed, treasures in heaven are eternal. Alcorn quotes legendary author and pastor A. W. Tozer, who said, “Whatever is given to God is touched with immortality.”

Indeed, joyful giving certainly sounds nice, but when it comes down to it, consistently forsaking a chunk from your checking account hardly seems pleasurable. Another misconception, Alcorn said.

“Giving is completely contrary to the thought that happiness can be found in accumulating money and possessions,” he said. Rather, joy is acquired by surrendering the material, and embracing the eternal.

Alcorn continued, “If you literally believe it is more blessed to give than to receive, then you will become a giver. If you don’t believe it, you’re either saying the Bible isn’t reliable and Jesus didn’t really say that, or that Jesus was wrong.”

So, how can we become joyful givers?

“By giving,” Alcorn said. “Don’t sit around and wait. Go ahead and give, then you’ll develop a cheerfulness about it, and God loves that.”

“Don’t postpone what God has called you to do,” he added. “When you procrastinate giving, it often is procrastinating obedience. James 4 tells us we don’t know what tomorrow will bring. So whenever we say we’re going to do something in the future, it can be pretty presumptuous.”

Save More and Give More, But How?

Alcorn offered several practical suggestions to help families balance responsible money management with giving as God commands.

The first step is to sit down and examine where money is being spent that could translate into giving. “Many of us think we can’t afford to give,” Alcorn said, “but how much are we spending per month at Starbucks and on video rentals? I don’t mean these things are wrong, but God clearly commands us to give . . . and if we’re not, something is terribly wrong.”

The second step is to record every expenditure during a 60-day period. Write down every transaction, whether the money’s going toward a car payment or a candy bar. “We can’t effectively trim our spending habits to create more money to give unless we understand where our money is going. I’ve found that the average person really doesn’t know where their money goes. All they know is that it disappears.”

Alcorn continued, “When people are recording what they spend every day and they know they’ll have to add up these figures and possibly divulge it to their spouse, spending can go way down.”

Yet the point of this exercise isn’t to justify expenditures, Alcorn said, because the only account we ultimately give is to God. “He’s the one who will do the performance evaluation on what kind of a job we’re doing. So, if I don’t feel like I can justify a purchase to my spouse, I’ll bet I don’t feel like I can justify it to God.”

The Treasure PrincipleA third step in helping keep tabs on finances—and one that involves the whole family—is to create a budget. Begin by setting aside portions devoted to giving and saving, then dividing the rest among your regular expenses. Alcorn suggested using play money to show kids the areas where funds are spent, such as utilities and credit card bills. Parents can even turn a shopping trip into a teachable moment by having children decide which items for sale are things people need versus things they merely want.

And to the notion that joyful giving flies in the face of our greed-saturated culture, Alcorn cites Ecclesiastes 5:12: “The sleep of the laborer is sweet, but the abundance of the rich man permits him no sleep.” In short, the more you have, the more there is to worry about.

The Treasure Principle is a helpful—and humbling—reminder that the gospel is about giving. “Grace means giving,” Alcorn said. “We participate in God’s grace whenever we give as we’re made to do. And our hearts rejoice in it.”