Start Giving Before You Inherit

Millennials may inherit over $68 trillion from previous generations by 2030. According to Newsweek, some experts believe this “could be the largest transfer of wealth in the history of humankind.”

What will younger generations do with that wealth?

Studies show the younger someone is, the less he or she tends to give financially. Not just less in amount, but less in proportion. According to Barna Group, “Only 13 percent of Millennials and even fewer Gen Z (6 percent) give money on a frequent basis.” In “The Generosity Gap,” Barna reported that 7 percent of those who are 70 or older give 10 percent or more of their income to their churches, but only 1 percent of millennials claimed they do so. Only 21 percent of all believers give 10 percent or more of their income to their local churches, while 25 percent give nothing.

Without a vision for giving as investing in eternity—and a sense that God’s purpose for prospering us is so we can help the church, aid the poor, and reach the lost—inheriting such wealth could be a curse rather than a blessing.

Dangerous Inheritance

Scripture says that “A good man leaves an inheritance for his children’s children” (Prov. 13:22). In Old Testament times, passing on ownership of the land to the next generation was vital. Many people lived at a subsistence level, too poor to buy land. With no inheritance, they would likely end up enslaved or unable to care for their children, parents, or grandparents.

In the West today, however, things are different. There are exceptions, but inheritances are usually financial windfalls coming to people who live separately from their parents, have their own careers, and are financially independent, They have dependable sources of income generated by their own work, skills, saving, and investing. In many cases, they have a higher net worth than their parents.

In a society with such affluence and opportunity, I’ve long advocated that, in most cases, Christian parents should seriously consider leaving the bulk of their estate to churches, parachurch ministries, missions, and other kingdom purposes, leaving only a relatively small portion to their children.

If your parents are among those who’ve decided to give away most of their wealth rather than pass it on to you and your siblings, I encourage you to rejoice. Honor their choice and support them in it. Having grown up in an unbelieving family, I would’ve loved for my parents to have had such a kingdom vision.

Without a vision for giving as investing in eternity, inheriting such wealth could be a curse rather than a blessing.

If your parents do leave you with the majority of their wealth, ask God what he wants you to do with it. Understand it doesn’t truly belong to you and that many lives and marriages have been ruined by an infusion of unearned wealth. Yes, an inheritance can be a blessing. But that’s not all God tells us. He also says, “An inheritance gained hastily in the beginning will not be blessed in the end” (Prov. 20:21). Jesus knew our tendency to live in denial about the dangers of money love, so he sounded this alarm: “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions” (Luke 12:15, NIV).

When I was a missions pastor, I worked with a couple who finished their missionary training and were soon headed to the field. Unexpectedly, the wife inherited significant wealth. The couple was excited, thinking they could now become self-supported missionaries. When they asked my advice, I encouraged them that they needed the accountability and prayer support of having financial partners. We talked about how they could give away the majority of the inheritance, thanking God for the opportunity to invest in eternity. This would allow them to trust God to provide, as missionaries normally do, and move forward undistracted.

In the end, they kept most of the money. What happened next broke my wife’s and my hearts. Over the next few years, their marriage, family, and ministry plans fell apart. Sadly, they never recovered. Obviously, the money wasn’t the only problem, but it certainly had a significant negative effect. What seemed like a blessing—what we believe could have been a blessing if they’d given most of it away—proved to be a curse.

Give Today

When it comes to money and possessions, we tend to compare upward, not downward. But even if we’re lower-middle class in America, the truth is we’re in the upper 98th percentile of the world’s wealthy. Whether we’re set to receive an inheritance or not, most of us are already rich by global standards. So instead of starting to make purchases based on money you think you’ll inherit, start giving now as good stewards of what God supplies.

The key to such giving—and to avoiding greed, pride, and possessiveness—is recognizing God’s ownership of everything: “Behold, to the LORD your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it” (Deut. 10:14). If our possessions and money ultimately belong to us, no one has the right to tell us what to do with them. Until we truly grasp that God is the owner and we’re merely stewards of his assets, we won’t be generous givers. But once we embrace God’s ownership of everything, it’s a small step to ask him what he wants us to do with his money and possessions.

When God prospers us, it’s not merely to give us new toys and more beautiful homes but to allow us to give still more: “You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way” (2 Cor. 9:11). God’s extra provision isn’t usually intended to raise our standard of living but to raise our standard of giving.

It’s human nature to imagine that spending on ourselves will make us happiest. But Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). In that verse, the Greek word makarios (translated “blessed”) really means “happy” or “happy-making.” If giving wasn’t an act of love, if it didn’t help others, and even if God didn’t tell us to do it, it’d still be in our best interests. Because generosity leads to joy.

Jesus told his disciples that when they gave money away, their hearts would follow the treasures they were storing in heaven (Matt. 6:19–21). He said God would reward them for helping the needy (Luke 14:14). We’re forever connected to what we give and the people we give it to. As Martin Luther said, “I have held many things in my hands and I have lost them all. But whatever I have placed in God’s hands, that I still possess.”

Greater Reward

Our role in Christ’s kingdom isn’t only as a son or daughter of the King but also as an investor, an asset manager, and an eternal beneficiary. The command to store up treasures in heaven proves giving isn’t simply parting with wealth—it’s transferring wealth to another location where it can never be lost. Giving to God’s kingdom is the most dependable and profitable investment ever. When you give, don’t think of it as divesting but investing.

Peter speaks of an inheritance God has awaiting us after death that includes both our salvation and the eternal treasures we store up through generous giving: “He keeps them for you in heaven, where they cannot decay or spoil or fade away” (1 Pet. 1:4, GNT). God promises our wise stewardship and generous giving will pay off, with joy now and rewards in the future.

May we always remember that God—not real estate or wealth—is our true inheritance. May we live and give accordingly so that what we inherit doesn’t become for us a curse but a true blessing from God’s hand.

By Randy Alcorn / Start Giving Before You Inherit (thegospelcoalition.org)

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