What the Bible really says-and doesn’t say-about giving
When it comes to giving, we all have our beliefs and opinions. But it’s time to turn some sacred cows about giving out to pasture. As we become more and more inundated with appeals for finances, we must separate truth from myth. Let’s examine what Scripture actually says and doesn’t say about giving.
MYTH #1: You must give 10 percent.
Don’t get me wrong! I’m not suggesting we water down our giving. Instead, let’s discover the New Testament’s tough-yet-fair standard for giving. I used to believe that everyone should give 10 percent. But the more I study the New Testament, the more I see a theme that overrides the· 10 percent tithe.
Jesus’ teaching on tithing is limited to two comments. One was to the Pharisees in Mt. 23:23 (also recorded in Lk. 11:42), where Jesus criticized them for tithing but not practicing justice, mercy, and faithfulness. In this instance, Jesus did not suggest that the Pharisees stop tithing. Instead, He attacked a self-righteous motivation for tithing.
Jesus also mentions tithing in Lk. 18: 12 where He mimics a Pharisee, saying, “I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.” Once again, He does not speak for or against tithing but rather exhorts that self-righteous activities do not add up to pleasing God.
Peter, Paul, and James don’t even mention tithing in their letters. So, if the New Testament is silent on tithing as the guideline, does it offer another?
Yes! It’s tucked away in Lk. 21:1-4, the familiar story of Jesus observing “the rich” and a “poor widow” putting their gifts into the treasury.
Jesus said the widow “put in more than all” the rich givers even though she gave only “two very small copper coins.” Why? Because “she [gave] out of her poverty [or living]” whereas the rich gave “out of their surplus” (NASB). Jesus commends giving that affects one’s lifestyle, no matter what the amount. If we give only out of surplus, we’ve missed the point.
If 10 percent is the goal in giving, then consider what happens to Adam (not his real name), a new believer I meet with for Bible study on Tuesday mornings. Adam earns $806 per month, or $9,672 per year. To tithe, he would give $80 each month, leaving $720 to live on. His rent for an extremely modest apartment is $500 per month. It’s tough to raise kids on that income with or without tithing.
Adam, like us all, is commanded to give sacrificially. But for him, giving even $50 a month might be a sacrificial gift.
Another friend earns $250,000 yearly. Like Adam, he is a growing believer who wants to honor Christ in his giving. If he gave 10 percent of his income, that would leave $225,000 for living expenses, minus taxes.
Do you see my point? Is my $250,000 friend “off the hook” if he tithes? No. Most of us would say he could do more and should do more … and I know he does. But many rich Christians don’t.
C.S. Lewis put it well when he said, ‘I’m afraid biblical charity is more than merely giving away that which we could afford to do without anyway.” Paul had ample opportunity to teach giving 10 percent, and as a former Pharisee we would have expected him to. But in 1 Cor. 16: 1-4, “about the collection for God’s people” at Jerusalem, he does not mention tithing. Instead, he commands believers to set aside gifts “in keeping with [their] income” on the first day of every week.
Paul is even more insistent on sacrificial giving in 2 Cor. 8:3 when he encourages the Corinthians to emulate the Macedonians who gave “as much as they were able, and even beyond.” In verse seven he exhorts the Corinthians to “excel” in giving. Again, instead of setting up tithing as the standard, Paul, like Jesus, seems to have a broader, more far-reaching standard in mind. So how much should we give? The New Testament does not prescribe a fixed percentage. Jesus tells us to give in such a way that our lifestyle is affected. Give “of your living” not merely your surplus.
MYTH #2: You must give the first 10 percent to your local church.
Commonly known as storehouse tithing, this preaching centers on Mal 3:10, “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse.” Not a partial tithe, but all of it. Some churches say this means you ought to give your whole tithe to the local church. If you want to give more than 10 percent (which is often encouraged), then support mission organizations, the poor, or friends in need.
The “storehouse” of the Temple was a special room used for keeping tithed grain. But is the local church the cultural equivalent of the Jewish Temple? Bible scholars warn against bringing the practices of the Jewish Temple forward 2,000 years into the policies of the Church. Following that logic, wouldn’t we be obligated to adopt other Jewish practices, too?
Walter C. Kaiser, in Malachi: God’s Unchanging Love, says, “We must be careful about using this verse to insist on ‘storehouse’ tithing … the storehouse is not equated with the local church.”
Pastors are not wrong to ask for the first 10 percent to go to the local church as long as they make it clear it’s not a biblical command. A pastor friend of mine says asking for the first 10 percent for the local church is a “line policy, but you can’t get that from Mal 3:10.”
I believe the largest portion of our giving should go to the local church- not because of a Scripture proof text but rather because of simple logic. If the parishioners don’t give to their local assembly, who will?
And where else might we give? Some biblical suggestions are to the poor (Gal. 2:10), orphans and widows Jam. 1:27), those in full-time service (Dt. 26:12), missions (1 Cor. 16:3, Phil. 4:10-20, 3 Jn. 5:8), and those who teach us (Gal 6:6). Give where you choose! Can it be that unrestricted? Paul summed it up best in 2 Cor. 9:7: “Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give.”
But won’t this kill support for the local church? No. Not if giving is taught as a part of discipleship and not just once a year.
MYTH #3: If Christian leaders truly trusted God, they wouldn’t have to “ask.”
The accidental patron saint of this belief is George Mueller of Bristol, England, a godly pastor who saw vast amounts come in for support of his orphanages without making appeals. We love to hear of “last-second deliveries,” like when the milk truck broke down in front of the orphanage the very day Mueller ran out of milk. Rather than let it spoil, the milkman gave it all to the orphanage. A miracle? Yes! In our hearts, we wish all church and mission needs could be miraculously fulfilled like that. Just think. .. no more letters asking for funds. No more telephone appeals at supper time. No more “Stewardship Sunday.” No more offering plates!
But are sincere, honest appeals for funds unbiblical? If appeals for funds are wrong, then what about:
- Jesus telling the 12 and the 70 not to take provisions for their ministry trips but to live off the “worthy men” in the villages they visited. Showing up at the door is tantamount to an appeal in the hospitality-rich culture of the Middle East (Mt.10:11).
- Paul hoping to be “helped on my way” to Spain by the Romans (Ro. 15:24).
- Paul asking the churches to support the economically struggling believers back in Judea (I Cor. 16:2).
- Moses asking the people to give gold, silver, and other gifts to build the Tabernacle (Ex.35:5). Joash asking for gifts to “restore the temple of the Lord” (2 Chron. 24:4-5).
- Elijah asking the widow at Zarephath for a meal (1 Kings 17: 10-11).
A missionary once cold me over breakfast, “Scott, I’m not like you. I don’t make appeals for support. I just trust the Lord.” However, he honestly admitted, “But, I think about finances all the time.”
Although I too am a missionary, by contrast, I rarely thought about finances, except to manage them.
I tentatively asked my friend, “Which took more faith for Elijah? Trusting that a raven would bring him food every day? Or going to the non-Jewish, poor widow of Zaraphath to ask for her last meal?” He agreed that asking only God (ravens) and asking people ( the widow) both took faith.
Back to Mueller. Many people don’t realize char in Mueller’s day great noontime prayer often gave answers to prayer or prayer requests at these events. Also, Mueller sent out reports (rightly so) of his orphanage work, accounting for finances. True, Mueller did not appeal directly. But needs were made known. And that’s fine: For in deciding where to give, people usually must first be aware of specific needs.
Pastors and missionaries who make biblical, sincere, non-manipulative appeals trust God as much as those who “ask only God.”
MYTH #4: Once you make a giving commitment, you can never stop.
Deuteronomy 23:21 tells us, “If you make a vow to the LORD your God, do not be slow to pay for it, for … you will be guilty of sin.” Based on this, we feel a missionary’s ministry would be ruined if we were to cut his or her support, even by a small amount.”
But Dt. 23:21 must be balanced with Dt. 16:17: “Each of you must bring a gift in proportion to the way the LORD your God has blessed you.”
Giving is to be proportionate to how much you receive. For example, when a wife discontinues an outside job to have a baby, that reduces the couple’s income, so giving could be reduced, too. Some couples, by faith, continue to give at their former level, but it would not be wrong to cut back.
What if you want to cut back or redistribute your giving simply out of preference? Perhaps you would rather support outreach in Kazakhstan than continue a 10-year-old pledge to a rescue mission downtown. Can you reduce your rescue mission pledge and add to your Kazakhstan pledge?
Both those who give and those who receive must understand the principle of vertical giving and receiving found in Numbers 18:21, “I give to the Levites all the tithes of Israel … in return for the work they do.”
Missionaries receive from God; givers give to God. You have the privilege and responsibility to give, but you are not the source. If you’re a giver, relax. And if you’re a receiver, relax. You have the privilege of receiving, but look to God ultimately-not your donors.
Wouldn’t the rescue mission folks get discouraged if you quit giving to them? Perhaps. However, they need to look ultimately to God for support, not to you.
A second reason I believe you can rearrange your giving preferences is because of the “joy quotient” concept found in 2 Cor. 9:7: “for God loves a cheerful giver.”
If your enthusiasm for the rescue mission has dwindled to a joyless “have-to”, first, examine your commitment to Christ-if all your giving is a drudgery, you’re likely struggling with a serious worldly distraction. Once you’ve checked your spiritual health, determine which ministries you can support joyfully.
Take your commitments seriously, and avoid mindlessly switching, but don’t consider them a lifelong, unchangeable steel trap.
This article is submitted by Jessica Wood of Support Raising Solutions. Support Raising Solutions is a Missio Nexus member. Member organizations can provide content to the Missio Nexus website. See how by clicking here.