Tithing and Giving as Christians
Republished from August 167, 2017
Bad reasons to give:
- Duty – Bible says to do it, so we have to do it
- Status – to win favor with others
- Guilt – because we have it and others don’t
Why are we to give?
- For the glory of God
- Love for neighbors – for the blessing of our city
- Missions – purpose of making disciples of all nations
- Worship – because we can’t help it. It’s an overflow of a grace-filled life.
Where are the Biblical examples of tithing?
1. Tithing in the Old Testament
The word “tithe” is derived from the “tenth,” and Israel’s forefathers had long practiced a tradition of giving ten percent (Gen. 14:20, 28:22) before it was instituted at Sinai (Lev.27:30-32; Num. 18:21-28; Deut. 12:5-19, 14:22-29, 26:1-19).
Old Testament giving was diverse. Israel was to give sacrifices, freewill offerings, redeem their firstborn people and animals and pay various taxes, among other things. The ten percent tithe harvest and flock offering were simply one aspect of the diverse gifts required under the Mosaic Covenant, and some estimate that as much as twenty-five percent of income was required when considering various festivals and offerings presented.
A popular passage most church members remember is Malachi 3:8-10. Often we hear it as a failure to tithe ten percent of your income was equivalent to thievery. But is this the case? Is ten percent still required and expected? Or has the revelation of the gospel clarified how we are to think about giving?
2. Tithing in the New Testament
Beyond a mention of tithing in a parable (Luke 18:12) and a description of Abraham’s gift to Melchizedek (Heb. 7:3-10), tithing is only mentioned in two parallel passages of the Gospels (Matt.23:23; Luke 11:42). The New Testament never commands the tithe, but the parallel gospel accounts assume it.
What are we to make of this virtual silence in the New Testament?
As with each and every element of the Old Testament, we must read through gospel-informed lenses as gospel-centered people. We don’t live in ancient Israel and thus must not holistically apply the prescriptions of the Old Covenant as if we are not living in the New. The life, death, and resurrection of Christ have fundamentally transformed how believers are to relate to the Mosaic Law.
Jesus changes and completes everything by exposing motivation and intent. All throughout the Gospels we see Jesus dealing more with the condition of the heart and motive than we do with stringent specifics. We can almost imagine Jesus whispering, “You have heard it said, ‘give your tithe of ten percent,’ but I say to you…”
So, how then shall we give?
How are we to give?
The short answer is that we are to give like God gives. It is apparent all through Scripture that God is a giving God. If we were honest we would admit it is because God gives (and how He does it) that causes us to fall deeply in love with Him. He LOVES to give. He delights in it.
As those being conformed to the image of Christ, we should equally delight in giving. And it isn’t just giving in general that is expected; rather it is selfless, sacrificial, and spontaneous as an overflow from a heart responding to the generosity of the gospel.
Here are a few principles to consider:
1. Give generously
To grasp the heart and nature of the right kind of giver read and re-read 2 Corinthians 8-9. Not just the “God loves the cheerful giver” section, but the whole thing. The Macedonians gave generously, “beyond their means,” and begged earnestly for “the favor” of doing so. This is radical giving, not just throwing some pocket change in the plate as it passes by.
Believe this – there is a reward for giving. Yes, there is a reward for giving but it is dependent upon a heart free from lust for the temporal rewards of this earth (Matt. 6:1-4). Gospel giving is cheerful and voluntary because it trusts that every deposit into the kingdom will earn eternal interest. We do believe that if you can’t give cheerfully, that you should give anyway because your internal sin should not lead you to external sin. As you give, confess your struggle with joy and seek clarity on the disconnect between your heart and the gospel.
3. Give sacrificially
Giving sacrificially inconveniences us, and the flesh is quick to offer excuses and justification, but the gospel calls us to deep and radical sacrifice. In 1 John 3:16-17, the apostle exhorts the Church to care for brothers in need as an overflow and implication of gospel love, the type of love that lays down one’s life for another. Do we actually give to the point that we feel it and the feeling stings? Does the call to take up our cross in Matt. 16:24-26 not also carry the charge to lay down our checkbooks?
4. Give spontaneously
A heart freed by the gospel does not wait for opportunities to give but intentionally seeks them out. Gospel giving looks for chances to bless others and listens to the needs of those near and far. Gospel generosity gives to those who beg (Matt.5:42) risking the gift might not be used properly (which is not to say it is not righteous and wise to occasionally withhold support for some greater purpose). Those walking in the light of the gospel engage in good deeds and meet pressing needs anytime and anywhere they arise.
5. Give regularly
Though we should give as need arises, we should also be consistent and disciplined in giving. Giving is linked with prayer and fasting (Matt6:1-18), and both should contain some element of discipline and regularity. In 1 Corinthians 16:2, the apostle Paul explicitly commends a disciplined and orderly form of giving in addition to whatever spontaneous offerings and gifts we might be compelled to give.
6. Give secretly and honestly
There is a general theme of secret giving for the sake of eternal reward. The flesh craves the praise of man, and thus we need to beware the hypocrisy and tendency to give in an effort to purchase the acclaim, attention, and affection of others (Matt.6:2-4). We also see the importance of giving with a pure and honest heart (Acts 5). If we do say we are going to give a certain amount, then we need to give it fully and not just for a show.
7. Give thankfully
Grace is the basis for giving thankfully. A person who understands that much grace has been applied for his life will be a generous and grateful giver.
To whom do believers give?
We see throughout Scripture that we are called to give to:
1. our local church family
2. our spiritual family
3. our biological family
4. our neighbors and community
5. our enemies
Though the law of the tithe as understood in its Old Testament context is no longer mandatory for believers, we argue strongly that giving a regular, set amount to your local church is a healthy and helpful principle. God commands the church members to support those who explicitly labor for the sake of the kingdom (1 Tim. 5:17-18; 1 Cor. 9:3-12), and the church leaders often have a greater picture of the church’s and the community’s needs.
Within the New Testament, we see the early Church selling their possessions and laying the proceeds at the feet of the apostles (Acts 4:32-37), trusting them to discern how to best steward the gifts. In the same way, you should entrust a major portion of your giving to your local church.
In addition to giving to a local church, there are many missionaries and ministries in need of funding, as well as countless family, friends, neighbors, enemies, widows, orphans, and the impoverished and oppressed. Such need requires attentive hearts. It is hard to be generous and compassionate without being observant and aware of the needs around us.
We desire for our people to be informed by gospel lenses. We desire that we would think of giving as a joyful opportunity instead of responsibility. In view of this reality, ten percent should not be the goal. We should continue to think through how we can afford to give more and more for the glory of God. The gospel compels us to give, confronting our fleshly tendencies toward greed, control, comfort, and convenience.
We desire our people to be so inspired by love and fueled by grace so that they ask questions like:
● What if a raise or bonus provided an opportunity to further advance the gospel rather than pay for an addition to our house?
● What if where we ate and traveled and what we wore and drove were all filtered through a kingdom-first mindset?
● What if we anticipated opportunities to give when we went out instead of reacting negatively when approached on the corner?
● What if we sought to give not ten percent but twenty-five or fifty percent or more?
● In what ways is God calling me to be more generous and helpful?
● What ways am I being more selfish and private instead of supportive, trusting, and kind?
It’s not about the tithe. It’s about giving generously, cheerfully, sacrificially, spontaneously, regularly, secretly, honestly, and thankfully.
Financial stewardship for the glory of God.