QUESTION: Is the “tithe” the standard for believers in the church today as far as their giving is concerned?
ANSWER: Money is an important and a sensitive issue and the Bible does have a great deal to say about it. It does speak often about the use of money including the matter of giving. So, does it teach tithing as the objective standard for a believer today? Is the pastor on target when he says on Sunday morning: “the ushers will now come forward and receive your tithes and offerings?”
What is a “tithe”? The word “tithe” means ten percent. It was essentially a tax that was imposed on Israel, and it is clearly distinct in the Law Code from a freewill offering (see Deut. 12:6). In the Law Code governing the life of Israel, there were actually three tithes that were required of the Israelites. Two were annual tithes (one being given to the Levites, and the second was the festival tithe, supplying the necessary funds for going to the prescribed feasts); and the third being the “poor tithe” given every third year (see Deut. 14:22-29; Lev. 27:30). So the law abiding Israelite would basically be taxed 23 1/3 percent of his annual income. So, as it is today, paying a tax on what we purchase or on our income, is not viewed as optional by the government. In Israel, the tithe was never considered to be in the category of an offering. It was a tax.
Is the tithe found in the New Testament? It is found in the gospels. But that is to be expected because Israel, at that point in time, was still operating under the Mosaic Law Code. So when it is sometimes observed that Jesus spoke approvingly of tithing, it must be remembered that Jesus was obediently living under the Law of Moses. And so, like keeping the Passover or any other parts of the Law, Jesus was obedient to it. But when the Church began on the “day of Pentecost” (Acts 2), the tithe is not mentioned from that point on. Giving and the use of money is talked about dozens of times (about 50 times) and yet the tithe is never once mentioned. (Note that Hebrews 7 does mention the tithe, but that occurrence is looking back in time to the days of Abraham). But in the Book of Acts and in the New Testament epistles, which detail the operating principles for believers today, the tithe is completely absent from the discussion. Giving and our stewardship is given much attention, but in all of this there is no reference to the tithe (the taxes). As an aside, it is my observation that those churches that believe the church is the “new Israel” regularly speak of the tithe. (For more on the subject of “the church and Israel”, see the Prophecy articles section on this website.)
What are the Scriptures which give the principles for our giving today? There are several key passages in the New Testament that give us the guidelines for what is often called “grace giving.” These are 1 Corinthians 16:1-4; 2 Corinthians 8:1 – 9:15; Galatians 6:6-10; 1 Timothy 5:8-18; 6:7-10, 17-19.
What are the principles for “grace giving”? When these scriptures are studied, there are certain guidelines for giving that emerge. The main ones are:
- Giving is required of all believers and is never seen as optional. While the tithe (the taxing of believers) is not found in the NT, this does not nullify the requirement to give. But this is because we are seen in the NT as STEWARDS of all that has been given “on loan” to us. All we have belongs to our Master, and to Him we will give account for what we have done with His possessions. This concept is dynamic and removes giving from a legalistic approach. We have the privilege of seeking the Master’s direction in where and how much we give. There is to be a very different attitude in our giving to the Lord than our paying of our income tax. The key idea in the matter of giving is this idea of us being STEWARDS of what belongs to Jesus.
- Giving is to be done regularly. The point seems to be that as income comes in, then we are to give. So, for example, a person who receives incomes on a monthly basis should set aside funds for giving on a monthly basis. (This does not mean that the money must be distributed on a monthly basis, but rather set aside for giving throughout the month). It could be distributed over a period of time as needs and opportunities arise.
- Giving is to be planned. Often giving is done on the basis of an emotional appeal made by a person or group. As STEWARDS, we are to think through where the money is going to go and why it is going there. It is the mind, not the emotions, that is to direct our giving (2 Cor. 9:7). But are there any guidelines on where our giving is to go? While we should prayerfully ask our Master how He wants His funds used, the NT does give some general guidelines.
–Give to those who are genuinely needy (and that primarily within the body of believers.) 2 Corinthians 8:14; Galatians 6:10.
–Give to those who have brought spiritual blessing to us. Romans 15:27; Gal. 6:6. This would probably first include the local church but also those other ministries who through their literature, radio, DVDs have brought strength and encouragement to us.
–Give to worthy servants of Christ. 1 Corinthians 9:6-14; 1 Timothy 5:17-18.
In all of these general guidelines, we see the need for thoughtful consideration (perhaps even some investigating).
- Giving is to be proportionate. As God chooses to prosper us, we are to give. The “law of the harvest” is twice spoken of by Paul, picturing the idea that if we want a large spiritual harvest we will need to plant a lot of seed. And the ability to plant a lot of seed depends on God’s choice to prosper us. We do not always know when God might choose to bless with great abundance or with very little, and this will have an influence on our giving. (Note that this fact would raise some red flags about those “faith promise” programs in churches and other ministries. We ought not pledge future giving when we do not know what our income might be.)
- Giving is to be part of worship. Giving is one way that we can respond to God and objectively give Him praise. Because this is giving and not paying a tax, it has a rightful place in the corporate worship of the church.
- Giving is to be done joyfully. Giving is a response of gratitude to the Lord for His generosity towards us. Pressured giving or giving in a begrudging way is out of line with the principles of “grace giving.”
- Giving is to be done according to our ability. This is related to #4, but here we want to emphasize that God is most interested in our attitudes and where our heart might be. He really does not need our (His) money.
SOME FINAL THOUGHTS
As noted when we began, money is a very sensitive issue. The Apostle Paul makes a very important point in 2 Corinthians 8:16-22 (see also 1 Cor. 16:3-4) He observes that it is essential when handling financial matters to do what is honorable in man’s sight as well as God’s sight. When a church or ministry is secretive about how money is spent, then those who give should be concerned. As they thoughtfully give, is their giving used properly or are those in charge of spending being careless or even worse, using funds for themselves (see 2 Cor. 2:17)?
Another matter is our own ability to rationalize when it comes to money and giving. The church at Corinth had the ability to rationalize away their giving, and Paul pointed this out. He warned them to watch out for a covetous spirit which was apparently impacting their giving (2 Cor. 9:5). They also said that they probably shouldn’t give because they did not know what the future held, and they wouldn’t want to be caught short of funds (2 Cor. 9:7-11). This was another excuse dealt with by the Apostle.
Paul’s teaching in 1 Timothy 6:7-11 adds some significant reminders. He reminds believers that money is temporal (you can’t take it with you). He tells us that if we have food and covering and then have more than that, then we are in the “rich” category. Money is dangerous because it can cause us to be proud and to create an independence from the Lord. On the positive side, he teaches that we are to be actively looking for opportunities to share the Master’s wealth with others. This chapter includes the famous statement that the love of money opens us up to all sorts of evil.
And finally, our use of the Lord’s resources will be part of our evaluation at the Judgment Seat of Christ (see 1 Cor. 4:1-2). How wonderful it will be to have the Lord Jesus look at us and say: “you were a faithful and generous steward.” May we not suppress those generous impulses which come from thoughtful consideration of people, circumstances and opportunities.