Today we want to talk about the nature of giving; sometimes called tithing.
We’ve had some people ask us about how to give, what is our philosophy of giving, what does the Bible say about giving, what is required vs. what is permissible, etc.
Furthermore, we’ve been having quite a few people come to faith recently and we’ve been receiving some questions on the nature of giving. How does it work? What does God expect? And more broadly, how is the Christian supposed to think about it?
Beyond that, it’s also the time of the holidays, and so some are wondering about charitable organizations vs. just giving to the local church. Should they give above and beyond, or not? There seems to be a lot of need out there, so how do I figure out what to give to, if anything at all?
We’ve also been teaching our new members classes, where Christian giving is discussed, and so some good, honest questions are being asked. One of the commitments you make when you become a member at our church is that you commit to faithfully give to the work of the Lord through our church. So the question is; what does that mean, and what does that look like?
In light of that, we thought we would just commit a short episode to Christian giving.
And so our plan, here, is to develop a quick theology of giving for you, and, then give some practical suggestions along the way.
A Theology of Christian Giving
First, of all, you’ll often hear of the idea of tithing in churches and certain Christian circles.
The idea of tithing is an OT concept. The word “tithe” literally means “10th” in Hebrew.
In Leviticus 27, God is instructing the nation of Israel through Moses on the issue of offerings. And in v. 30, He says, “'Thus all the tithe (or a 10th) of the land, of the seed of the land or of the fruit of the tree, is the LORD'S; it is holy to the LORD.”
We see this also in other places (e.g., Deut. 14:22; 28, et. al.)
Furthermore, Proverbs 3:9, states, “Honor the LORD from your wealth And from the first of all your produce.”
So there was also the requirement to make certain that you gave to the Lord from the first of your fruits. The idea here was offering the Lord your best. You were not to take care of all your needs first, and then give to the Lord from what you had left over.
Rather it was a great act of faith. You were to give to the Lord from the first of your harvest. The idea, here, is that if you gave to the Lord from the first of your firsts, then He would be faithful to provide for all of your needs.
So Prov. 3:9 states, “Honor the LORD from your wealth And from the first of all your produce…”
But, then, v.10 is the key… “so that your barns will be filled with plenty And your vats will overflow with new wine.”
So the idea of titing didn’t really have anything to do with God needing money, or offerings, or the fruit of a person’s harvest. He is God and needs nothing from anyone.
Rather, the concept was to teach the nation faith… but faith in the God who supplies.
They were to trust that God would always be faithful to His promise to provide. The way that they demonstrated their faith in a tangible way, was by being obedient to give a 10th from all that they had. Again, that 10th was required to come from the first (or best) of their harvests.
So that’s the basic concept of tithing. It simply means a 10th. Now the key, though, is that this is where good hermeneutics come into play. The idea of the tithe was commanded to Israel alone in Mosaic Law. And so, as a result, it’s not something actually commanded of the Church.
Some churches will teach that Christians are required to give 10%, based on this OT principle, but it’s not actually commanded anywhere in the NT.
So what’s required of the Church?
There’s many passages that we could look at. But first, it’s important to keep in mind that the idea of the tithe is not actually present in the NT, so 10% is not something Christians must give.
Rather, the Bible gives some principles, and so these principles should control our giving. Before we get into, let us recommend an excellent resource by Randy Alcorn:
If you want a shorter version that you could read in one or two sittings, we highly recommend the Treasure Principle.
These are incredible resources that we cannot speak highly enough. In fact, some of the following principles will be drawn from His book.
Principles of Giving
Principle #1 - God already owns everything.
Psalm 24:1 - “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.”
Haggai 2:8 - “‘The silver is mine and the gold is mine,’ declares the Lord Almighty.”
Deut. 8:18 - “Remember the Lord your God, for it is He who gives you the ability to produce wealth.”
The point, here, is that it’s important to keep in mind that God does not need our money and gifts. Nor does He need our talent, time, and skills for that matter.
Much like in the days of Israel, God didn’t need Israel’s offerings. He already owns everything, and is therefore, not dependent on us. This principle is so important to keep in mind, because right away it helps us understand that giving is more about us than it is about God -- something we’ll develop as we go along.
Principle #2 - God supplies your wealth.
Matt. 6:31-33 "Do not be anxious then, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'With what shall we clothe ourselves?' 32 "For all these things the Gentiles eagerly seek; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 "But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you.”
2 Cor. 9:10 - “Now He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food, will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness…”
There are many more we could point to, but if God owns everything, He is also the one who enriches us.
So the only reason we have anything (e.g., money, time, skills, etc), we have because God supplies it from His sovereign grace.
This is so key, because once we forget that God is the supplier of anything we have, we’ll quickly begin to negotiate when it comes to giving.
So if God owns everything, and supplies us all that we have from His good pleasure, the principle to understand is that all of us are essentially His money managers.
This concept is picked up Matt. 25 in the parable of the talents (Matt. 25)
The idea is that God does not give, but rather, He entrusts.
It is His money, and we need to be faithful stewards of it. So the question is, how are we stewarding His money?
Do we view our money as something simply to be spent on us, or is it something with which we’ve been entrusted with to faithfully steward for the purpose of the kingdom?
And this is the critical shift in perspective that Chrsitians ought to have.
Principle #3 - Get an eternal perspective.
Here, the idea is that anything you keep is what you will lose, and anything you give is what you will keep.
Matt. 6:19-21 "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 "But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; 21 for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”
Here, the command is one that is motivated by eternity. There is a put off/put on in this passage. The negative command is “Do not lay up our treasures on earth. The positive command is “Lay up treasure in heaven.”
So in order to lay up treasures in heaven, you must first be obedient to not lay up treasures on earth. Again, this has everything to do with perspective, and where you desire to have your reward.
In v. 21, he says, where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. So if you’re laying up treasures on earth, it is the sign your heart is there as well. In other words, while many use the passage to speak about giving, it’s actually a passage about salvation-- but we’ll touch on some of this in a little bit.
So the underlying principle is clear enough.
Now, there’s a key word that many miss when reading this passage.
He says, "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures upon earth… “But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven…”
The key word is “yourself.” This is vital to understand. In other words, the motivation that Jesus gives when it comes to money, possessions, and eternity, is your own eternal reward.
So notice, to keep everything for the purpose of spending on yourself is possible to do. But the key to understand is that you are storing it up for yourself, and you're storing it up on the earth.
If you want to be rich in heaven, and have great reward for all eternity, then we would do well to be faithful to this command.
And so, people can feel guilty giving money away if it is only motivated by a heavenly reward. But that is the very mindset Jesus commands us to have…. “Store up for yourself treasures in heaven...”
2 Cor. 9: 6-11 “Now this I say, he who sows sparingly shall also reap sparingly; and he who sows bountifully shall also reap bountifully. 7 Let each one do just as he has purposed in his heart; not grudgingly or under compulsion; for God loves a cheerful giver.
8 And God is able to make all grace abound to you, that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed; 9 as it is written, "He scattered abroad, he gave to the poor, His righteousness abides forever." 10 Now He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food, will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness; 11 you will be enriched in everything for all liberality, which through us is producing thanksgiving to God.”
So, here, the principle is clear. God enriches, but for the purpose of generosity.
So the question we should be asking, is how are we using our money, time, and skill for the purpose of the kingdom.
In fact, Paul says in Phil. 4:17 - “Not that I am looking for a gift, but I am looking for what may be credited to your account.”
In the context, Paul is talking about the gift of money the Philippians gave to him when he was in need. And, here, he speaks about their generosity, and what that generosity produced for them in terms of their heavenly reward.
The clear idea, then, is that even Paul understood that God is keeping a divine account in heaven for every gift that is deposited in that account.
Again, you will only keep what you give, and lose what you keep. So it’s simply a matter of where you want your reward: is it here or in heaven?
Alcorn writes; “God enriches not to raise our standard of living, but our standard of giving.” This should be a key guiding principle. Again, it requires an eternal perspective.
Principle #5 - God designed money to reveal worship.
"But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. The lamp of the body is the eye; if therefore your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will hold to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon." (Matt. 6:20-24 NAS)
Note the idea of the “lamp” and “eyes.” This speaks of what we gaze and long for.
Also the absoluteness of Christ’s words “no one can serve two masters.” Americans are pretty well convinced that this is not true. But it is.
If you ever want to do a basic inventory of your spiritual state just look at how you use your money? What is your motivation? Are you looking for ways to enlarge your estate here or are you looking for ways to give more to the Kingdom? They both might look alike but the motivation is radically different.
Some practical tips.
First, we recommend making your local church the focus of your giving.
- If it’s a faithful church it will be faithful with your money.
- If it’s a faithful church, the work will flow beyond the four walls of that church.
At our church, we designate 5% of general funds to missions.
Further, we’re part of the SBC, so a percentage of our annual budget is designated to the SBC and supporting the work taking place through the SBC.
Further, because our church is not program based, essentially, just about every single dollar goes toward making disciples and furthering the Great Commission -- which is the purpose of the church.
Second, our common counsel when it comes to how much to give is this -- if 10% was required under Mosaic Law, then ought we not to at least meet that under grace? So 10% (in our perspective) should be the minimum.
In light of that, we also recommend a percentage based approach versus a dollar amount approach.
The reason is because income ebbs and flows. As your income goes up, you can increase your giving. If your income goes down, you decrease your giving. However, it’s always in proportion to your total revenue.
As you become more enriched, you can gradually increase the percentage you give.
We know of some, who as they became finally established later in life, determined the amount they needed to live on, and put into savings. Then, they simply choose to give away the rest. And as their income still increased, they were simply able to give more away.
So a good place to begin is by giving 10% of your income to your local church, and making this a non-negotiable.
Also, for the sake of your church, try and be regular in your giving. It’s one of the great benefits of electronic giving.
Many will get sick, or go on vacation, missing a week. As a result, they don't think to make that week up, yet churches still have expenses and bills that need to be paid.
With electronic giving, you can remain consistent and faithful in your giving. Many will give weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly. Personally, I like weekly, because I get an email reminding me a transaction has taken place, and it allows me to quickly pray as I have given yet another gift to the Lord. I ask that He would bless the giving and that He would be honored.
What about non-profits and special offerings?
At our church, we collect two offerings a year for the SBC. Annie Armstrong (N. Amer. Missions), and Lottie Moon (Inter. Missions). These are great works and very much worthy of our giving.
If the elders of your church recommend certain efforts to give to, it is worth considering and praying over. If they are good pastors, they’ll have thoroughly checked out how the money work for a partnership
We generally don’t recommend giving to charity organizations and other non-profits. It is not evil if you do, but we’ve been around long enough to know how inefficient many of them are, and how much they don’t actually accomplish.
Many of them are worthy causes with good mission statements, but the nature of organizations, admin, logistics, mission creep, constant turn-over of board members, directors, competing visions, etc. have a way of diluting the effectiveness of an organization.
Many organizations end up existing for themselves, though that is not the intention.
As a result, we say, simply stick with your local church, and make that a non-negotiable.
If you desire to give to a special offering in the church, or even an outside organization, we also counsel you to make certain you are giving to that above and beyond what you’re already giving to your local church. In other words, don’t rob Peter to pay Paul.
The Christian understands they’ve been given much in the Gospel. They've become eternally rich, and will inherit the kingdom. And yet, that is the very thing that ought to motivate us.
Again, God doesn't need our money. He already owns everything.
Rather, giving is about us. It certainly reveals where our heart is, but it also gives us an opportunity to exercise faith in the God who supplies to us everything we have.
Learning to develop a heart of generosity is key; and it is something that models the very character of our Lord, who owes us nothing.
Jim Elliot wrote- “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”
And if you know his story, you know how much he believed this.
Jesus spoke more about money than any other topic, and because it is the key marker that indicates the state of the heart. It literally reveals where you have placed your loves.
So think on these things, and we do hope some of this has been helpful to give you a place to start.
Again, we were intentional in giving principles, instead of strict rules or numbers. The principles should guide you. And as you dwell on them, let them inform the how, what, and why of your giving.
If you have any questions or concerns on this, please do write in, and we’ll try and answer them for you.