We have noted with concern that biblical giving is one neglected subject. There is a lot of talk about it from many pulpits, but actually the neglect is both from the pulpit and from the pew. At the same time there are lots of excesses in the actual practice of giving. Many church members give very little towards the work of the Lord and the effect is that the church remains stagnant because it is unable to support its own pastor and the ministry. Others have wrong motives in giving that they miss the actual blessings in the grace of giving.
How did the Chief Shepherd intend the running of His church? Christ demands and expects you to give thoughtfully and proportionately (not necessarily 10% – but more than that, out of generosity and gratefulness to Him!). The proportion in question is as the Lord has prospered them (1 Corinthians 16:2). Whatever income you have, there must be some relationship with what you give.
He expects you to give generously and cheerfully (2 Corinthians 8 – 9). The Lord taught secret giving when he said:
“But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:3-4).
We live at a time when preachers and churches are raking in huge amounts of money collected from Christians and those who attend their churches. The old saying, ‘as poor as church mouse’, needs to be reviewed! Many churches preach that Christian believers should tithe and give offerings – thanksgiving, freewill, first-fruits etc. So many preachers have jumped on the bandwagon of “Panda mbegu ubarikiwe” (Plant a seed to be blessed). It is possible that this may be too appealing or appalling so that we go to the one extreme or the other and do not preach giving at all. If we went to this other extreme, then we are ever in financial needs!
- Do you think this is in agreement with the New Testament?
- What about planting seed so that God can bless your labour?
- What proportion of income should I give to the church?
The grace of giving
We need to go back to the Bible and see the Biblical principles of giving. The following passages are the most basic when it comes to New Testament giving: Matthew 6:1-4; Acts 11:28-30; Romans 15:25 ff.; 1 Corinthians 16:1-3; 2 Corinthians 8 – 9; Galatians 6:6; Philippians 4:15. Please study them well at your convenience and you will find these basic principles therein:
- Priority of giving to other Christians (Romans 12:13)
“Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.” Christians give and especially do so to meet the needs of their brothers and sisters in Christ. In doing this, they give towards the work of the gospel for the building of the kingdom of God, as the saints are helped. While giving to the saints is a priority, we should also give to the needy. The Lord taught, “Give to the one who begs from you… (Matthew 5:42, Luke 6:30). This is the way to demonstrate true faith, for James asks, “If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and the one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled’, without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (James 2:15-17).
Therefore we are to take a special care of the brethren in faith when they are in need. For this reason Paul took it upon himself to provide materially for the Jewish brothers. This was a God-provided opportunity for the Gentile Christians at Philippi (Philippians 4:15) to show that they were united with Christ and were one in the same body of Christ by supporting the needy Jews. Remember that many Jewish Christians considered the Gentiles as second rate (or even third-rate) Christians since they were not in the initial covenant of God with its privileges. But the gospel is the power of God for salvation for everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek (Romans 1:16).
They thought that all God’s blessings must pass through the Jews. How mistaken they were! [This is the same principle behind prosperity preachers, that they have a better access to the throne of God so that they can pray for you in a manner that you cannot pray for yourself so that you may be blessed!] But when those in Jerusalem were in financial distress the Gentile Christians came to their rescue.
You know the Mosaic Law could not allow Jews to take anything from Gentiles since they could be defiled. Though we must, “as we have opportunity, … do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:10). This was the time for Paul to prove to his Israelite brethren that the Gentiles had been admitted into the commonwealth of God.
The first Biblical principle here is that we are to give towards the needs of others and especially the brothers in faith (Galatians 6:10). No poor must be neglected, but God’s poor must particularly be regarded. Though we are to love everyone, yet a special brotherly and Christian love is to be extended to those of our faith. This is the reason why we are to show a special concern for the needs of other fellow believers because we belong to one another.
This principle may mean that the pastor may not necessarily be the most needy in order to be supported by the church financially – the pastors who are supported are first of all those “who rule well,” so are worthy of “double honour” because they “labour in preaching and teaching” (1 Timothy 5:17). A church might have members who are needier t
han the pastor – I served in a church that had so much need so that I opted not to request for any financial support but laboured with my own hands to support the church.
By this principle, much caution need to be exercised in giving to beggars on the street, while failing to give to meet the needs of our own brothers in the church. With the present drought in Northern Kenya, we should be sure to give first and foremost to those who are suffering in the local churches in these areas. Relief, should be collected and disbursed for the distribution to the brethren there, and hopefully, there will be something remaining for the rest of the people in the area.
- Give according to your ability
The second principle is that we are to give according to our ability, as they did in Acts 11:29. “So the disciples determined, everyone according to his ability, to send relief to the brothers living in Judea.” No one ought to give beyond his ability so as to leave himself in debts or in poverty. We have been given different abilities and possessions. The measure of our giving is ‘as God has prospered you’ (1 Corinthians 16:2). Every man determined to send something, according to his ability, what he could spare from the support for his family and of himself. What may be said to be according to our ability we must judge for ourselves. However we must be careful to a make righteous judgment so that we do not give God what is left-over as many are in the habit of doing. At the other extreme are the preachers who demand for their congregations to give to the last penny until they demand even their personal effects like watches, cell-phones, jewellery, clothes and shoes! Such is completely unwarranted by Scripture and only serves to show the greed of the preachers (and the greed or generosity of the givers).
It should yet be noted that there is a place of giving beyond your ability. The Macedonian churches are commended, “For they gave according to their means … and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favour of taking part in the relief of the saints” (2 Corinthians 8:3-4).
Based on this
principle, is it true that ‘no one should appear before God empty-handed’ as many preach?
- Give through the hands of trusted men
The third principle is that we are to give through the hands of trusted men who will neither defraud those who are needy, nor rob from the givers. These churches sent the relief through the hands of Paul and Barnabas, and Titus and our brother (2 Corinthians 8:16-24) – trusted men, whose integrity in financial and spiritual matters was above reproach. Again the gifts were not sent by one man since there is always a need for one to check the other and to be accountable for the same. Further, this would be helpful for witness since money is a big area where many are tempted to deceive. This is seen further because it was to be given to the elders who would be held accountable as they give the money to the needy through the deacons of the church.
The deacons are the specific officers in the church in charge of money (Acts 6) – not the pastors. Therefore, should pastors sign even the check-books? Well, only in the sense of providing oversight in all matters in the church. It is no belittling, in an extraordinary case, for ministers of the gospel to be messengers of the church’s charity. However, to undertake the constant care of that matter would be too great a distraction from more needful of prayer and the ministry of the word. This is why the deacons have to take that role.
Every church should endeavour to have these two offices occupied by faithful, trustworthy, diligent and tested men. These men have a responsibility to serve the saints by stewarding the resources given so that the needs of the church are met. It is the duty of members to make sure that those men who are entrusted with this responsibility are men who are qualified from 1 Timothy 3:1-13.
- Give cheerfully, without grumbling
Fourthly, we are to give cheerfully, not reluctantly or under compulsion (2 Corinthians 9:7). Christians are not to do any service under compulsion because they are serving God who can see all that is done from the heart. We are, therefore, to give liberally and in love since God loves a cheerful giver. Please bear in mind that all that you have is from God and to complain while giving to Him is behaving like a child who as soon as he gets the toy from the father, is not willing to hand it back to the father so that he can be given some food! It is the cat or dog spirit and it should not be among mature believers.
This is one of the ways of showing genuine love taking the example of Christ. Readiness in giving should be taught and encouraged among the saints. So Paul urges the Corinthians, “So I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to go on ahead of you and arrange in advance for the gift you have promised, so that it may be ready as a willing gift, not as an exertion” (9:5).
It is for this reason that each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. God blessed you with your possessions liberally and
generously. Therefore, he expects that we would give in the same spirit.
- Give thoughtfully
Fifthly, we are to set apart what to give in the heart before giving – even store it up so that it is not impulsive giving (2 Corinthians 9:7). It should be deliberate with thought and design and not by accident. No one should give more than they intended, and then regret afterwards. Or possibly, had they duly considered all things, they would have given more. There ought to be due deliberation about our own circumstances and those of the persons we are about to relieve. This will be very helpful to direct us how liberal we should be in our contributions for charitable uses.
Persons sometimes will give merely to satisfy the importunity of those who ask their charity, and what they give is in a manner squeezed or forced from them, and this unwillingness spoils all they do. Others give to be seen, and congratulated by others. But the Lord taught secret giving. “But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:3-4).
We ought to give more freely than the modesty of some needy persons will allow them to ask. We should give freely with an open hand, and cheerfully with an open heart, being glad we have ability and an opportunity to be charitable.
Is tithing binding for believers?
Christians are much more blessed and privileged than Old Testament believers. Consider this passage to prove this:
And all these (the heroes of faith listed before), though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect (Hebrews 11:39-40, emphasis mine).
Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look (1 Peter 1:10-12, emphasis mine).
We know that a greater privilege demands a greater responsibility. Since the Old Testament believers were expected to give a minimum of 10% do you think we would be required to give anything less? They were required to give by commandment a set figure, but for us we are expected to give joyfully for much has been given to us! It should also borne in mind that there many other offerings and sacrifices that were demanded under the law, which are no longer binding for the New Testament believers. Essentially, if we were diligently to work out how much was offered and given by the Old Testament saints, it was far more than a tithe.
For these reasons below, I believe that tithes are not binding for Christians today:
- There is no direct command to give tithes in the New Testament. We give out of love for the Lord. It is true that the Lord Jesus in Matthew 23:23 mentioned tithing. But note that while he was condemning the Pharisees for their hypocritical religion, He was neither affirming nor condemning tithing. All he said was that justice and mercy and faithfulness are ‘weightier matters of the law’ that must not be neglected. This verse does not sufficiently prove that tithing is binding for us. In Hebrews 7:4-10 Abraham tithed to Melchizedek, so is this not a proof text for tithing? Does it not give us a precedence and example that we must follow? The text gives an example that we must not ignore since we are children of Abraham. It gives us the principle, that while our giving is not to be bound by tithing, it must not be less than a tithe. How can we give anything less than what our father of faith gave? Yet, if Abraham gave an earthly king 10% can we give our heavenly King and Saviour anything less?
- There is no single example of Christian tithing in the church. It is the Pharisees who gave tithes of all they had publicly to display their religion. And for this the Lord condemned them. Christians give their all in generosity, cheerfulness, regularly, secretly and thoughtfully.
- Christian faith is of the heart and is according to what the word of God and the Spirit engraves upon the heart of man. Volition in giving shows cheerfulness in giving.
- Christians are to give more than 10% for we see the early church with people who were giving everything to other Christians that they had planned well before hand. This shows generosity.
Therefore, is tithing biblical? How many times do you expect monthly income earners to give in a month? As they may prosper (that is once a month corresponding with their income).
The example of generosity
“There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. Thus Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas (which means son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus, sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet” (Acts 4:34-37).
They sold houses and lands to give to the needs of others because they had gotten a greater treasure in Christ (Matthew 13:44). Whatever gain they had, they counted as loss for the sake of surpassing worthy of Christ (Philippians 3:7-11). So they sold what they could not keep (temporal earthly possession) to gain what they could not have gotten, that is, every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places (Ephesians 1:4), the inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled and unfading kept in heaven for us (1 Peter 1:4). After all it is the Lord who had given them all they had! Does this mean that we sell all we have and give it all away? Not necessarily! It means that we should consider that, although we might think that tithing is too much, God expects His stewards to bring everything to Him, like Joseph Barnabas did (Acts 4:36-37)! In glorious eternity, we shall not find it too much to cast our crowns before him and worship as the (Revelation 4:10)!
What was given by those who had, was not given to the Apostles for their personal use – it was to meet the needs of others and ministry. Therefore, preachers should not simply jump to the conclusion that everyone should sell everything and give to the church.
A note to the pastors:
Dear pastor, I care that your church does not give enough to support you. It is true that the Law says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads the grain,” and it is for you that the Lord is concerned. For who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard without eating any of its fruits? Or who tends the flock without getting some of the milk? (1 Corinthians 9:7, 9). If you labour in preaching and teaching then you are worthy of double honour (1 Timothy 5:17). If they do not give enough to keep you, there is the way to deal with it. The Biblical way to change this is to teach them the word of God and to pray for them. Leave the rest to the Lord to work in their hearts. Do not manipulate their minds. Do not twist the Scriptures so that they can give more. Be faithful, be diligent, work hard at cultivating this grace in their hearts, and leave the Holy Spirit to deal with them. Plant and let the Lord give the rain and the growth, and then in due course you shall reap!
A note to the members:
Dear brothers and sisters in the Lord, you have duty to care for your pastor. If he has sown spiritual things among you, is it too much if he reaps material things from you? Remember that the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel (1 Corinthians 9:14). The one who is taught the word must share all good things with the one who teaches (Galatians 6:6). Give generously. Don’t impoverish the one who is watching over your souls.
There are so many needs in the church: Apart from paying the pastor(s), there are the needy among you to help (mercy ministry), church bills to pay, training and sending of pastors and gospel efforts in missions across the world to be concerned about. These require faithful giving from you and it is one of the reasons why God gives you income. Invest part of your earnings into the kingdom of God.
Finally you need to consider these statements:
“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.” Jesus Christ (Matthew 13:44)
“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.” Martin Luther
“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” Jim Elliot
“The currency of this world will be worthless at our death or Christ’s return, both of which are imminent.” Randy Alcorn
This article is taken from Grace & Truth #131