Are We Rewarded in Heaven for Leaving Money to Christian Ministries When We Die?

Question from a reader:

I got the impression from Money, Possessions and Eternity or The Treasure Principle that you don't believe we will receive eternal reward for money we leave to God's kingdom in our wills, after we die. What about Art DeMoss and all the good his foundation has done since he died? I personally benefited from it. Isn't he being rewarded for that?

Answer from Randy Alcorn:

Heb. 9:27 says, "It's appointed unto men once to die, and after this the judgment." Everything we receive reward for is what we actually did on earth. I think that leaving instructions for what others are to do after we leave is not the same as what we do while still alive.

Suppose I leave my friend a note telling him to go say "I forgive you" to my abusive Dad, after I die. That's a nice gesture, but didn't God want me to trust him enough to actually go offer that forgiveness to my Dad while I was alive? At very least we'd have to say that if God rewards us for leaving the note (He's certainly free to do that—and he doesn't have to clear it with me), He would have rewarded us more for actually doing the thing itself.

To put it in a biblical context, would Jesus have pointed to the woman who gave away her last two coins the same if she had died that day and left those same two coins to the temple charity in her will? I don't think so. Would he be pleased she left them in her will, as opposed to wasting them or leaving them to the ungodly? Sure. But I don't think the reward would be comparable.

I agree with what you said about the DeMoss estate, and certainly you and others have been greatly blessed by Art's choices. But of course, if all that money had been given away while Art was alive, to help people in another corner of the world to hear the gospel, their testimony would have been, "We're sure glad Art gave it to reach us and feed us rather than putting it in a foundation for later distribution."

In that sense, testimonies cancel each other out. Citing evidence that something is a good thing doesn't always prove it was actually the best thing. Since the alternative wasn't done there's never anyone to speak up for having done it, so it's hard to discern on that basis. I'm certainly not saying Art DeMoss did it wronghe may very well have done exactly what Christ wanted.

But I still think God rewards faith and sacrifice. It takes no faith or sacrifice to leave stuff behind when you die, since hanging onto it isn't an alternative. It will happen one way or the other. Giving is choosing to part with something, while leaving is simply controlling the destination of what you couldn't hold onto. In fact, if we die possessing great wealth, we've held onto these treasures until the last possible moment, which doesn't seem open fisted but tight fisted.

I think it's possible we'll be rewarded for making a choice to leave money to a worthy cause when we die. But that's not for sure. There's no biblical proof either way but I think there's biblical implication against it. But if there's reward, I think we'd have to conclude it would presumably be less.

Leaving and giving are not the same thing. Scripture doesn't say "Test me in this by leaving your assets after you die and see if I won't open the floodgates of heaven." It calls upon us to give. Jesus didn't say "Leave and it will be left to you in the measure you leave" but "Give and it will be given to you in the measure you give."

Giving is voluntarily parting with money. The "voluntary" is as key as the faith and sacrifice. Suppose someone stole a million dollars from my bank account and gave it to famine relief. Now, arguably the million will do just as much good that way than if I willingly given it. But would the reward be the same? No.

There 's something self-protective and counter-faith about hanging on to excessive wealth. Now, Art Demoss (who I certainly respect from all I've heard about him)—I assume—held onto it as a kingdom-building strategy. And a lot of blessing has come out of that. But if he had held onto it out of fear of letting go or out of unwillingness to surrender control to the Lord—and I don't think that was the case—it would be different. Also, as Jesus had different wills for Peter and John, he has different wills for us. Art may have precisely followed Christ's leading for him, while his leading for others—taking into account the same biblical principles—may be very different. Of course, God rewards us in keeping with what He wants us to do. So if God wanted him to leave it in a foundation rather than liquidate and give it while he was still alive, God would reward him for it. Still, the normal understanding of Scripture would lead me to believe God rewards us for the giving we do while we're still living on earth, and when we still have the option of keeping it instead of giving.

One of the related issues is whether we should hold on to money until we die so it multiplies through investments. I'll cut and paste from something else I've done on that:

The only antidote to materialism is giving. It's what will free you from the gravitational hold of things. People sometimes ask, should I give now or later? Should I give when the market is high, or should I hang on to it longer in the hopes I'll have more to give later? You have to ask God that question, but I do have some thoughts about it. One thing is, how soon do you want to be free?

It's never a wrong answer to give now. When we stand before God, I don't believe He will say to us, "I'd like to say well done, but you really blew it when you gave me all that money rather than hanging on to it a few years longer."

God is capable of producing much greater returns on money invested today than the stock market or real estate can produce. God didn't say to the poor widow, "you should have invested that money and not given it to me until you could first make a tidy profit."

If we don't give today there are real risks:

1) The economy may change, and we'll have less to give him;

2) Our hearts may change. God works in our hearts and moves us toward his kingdom—then we go, "I'm going to position myself, so six, eight months from now, two or three years from now, then I'll give." If we leave our treasure outside the kingdom today, we leave our hearts outside it. For the sake of your spiritual life and your eternal reward and your example to your family: don't miss the chance to solidly move your heart to God's kingdom by moving your treasure there.

There's a huge danger whenever we procrastinate obedience. When God speaks and tells you to pray, pray now. When he tells you to read his Word, read it now. When he tells you to share your faith, share it now. When he tells you to turn off the TV, turn it off now. When he tells you to give, give now.

Don't just make plans to pray and read and share and give. Nothing is more fleeting than the moment of conviction. To procrastinate obedience is, in most cases, to disobey.

3) Our lives may end before we've given it. "No problem—I'm putting it in my will." Can I say this gently? By all means do your estate planning and give heavily to missions. But giving is more than just designating where it goes after it's not mine any more. Giving is parting with it when I don't have to, but choose to anyway, when it requires trusting God.

James 4, "Don't say tomorrow I'm going to go out and make this much money, because you don't know what will happen today."

John Wesley made a lot of book royalties—his goal was to have nothing left when he died. And he didn't. Personally, I think that's a great goal. Don't leave any money behind. "But what about our children?" Your children should work for a living, love God, trust him. They shouldn't be waiting for a windfall when you die. It's God's job to take care of them, not yours.

If I were the devil, and I wanted to ruin Christians, I'd try to get their parents to leave them large amounts of money. Unearned wealth is a burden and a temptation. Most often It leads to moral corruption, waste, dependence on a higher standard of living, and the breakdown of family. (See studies of lottery winners and heirs.)

Talk to your kids. If they're godly, they'll commend you for giving to God's kingdom. If they're not godly, the last thing you should do is leave them money to subsidize their ungodliness. God has a higher purpose for entrusting money to us than the destruction of our children's character.

Buy up shares in eternal investments. God's not going to look at you at the judgment seat and say, "I have one thing against you—you just gave too much to missions, you invested too much in my kingdom." It's not going to happen. I guarantee you—you'll never be sorry you made this kind of investment. Today the church is infected with prosperity theology, the gospel of health and wealth. God does promise to bless givers, but his primary purpose in providing is not to increase our standard of living, but our standard of giving.

Randy Alcorn (@randyalcorn) is the author of over sixty books and the founder and director of Eternal Perspective Ministries