In our previous study we began to consider some Biblical principles which ought to guide our attitude and approach toward giving. We have considered the principle of God’s sovereignty; the principle of stewardship; and the principle of sowing.
We take a principled approach to giving and avoid a legalistic or rule-based approach because we believe that is what the New Testament teaches. We will continue looking at Biblical principles in this study. Namely, will look at the principle of supply; the principle of sincerity and the principle of sacrifice followed by a word about tithing.
The Principle of Supply
So far we have examined the principles of sovereignty, stewardship and sowing. Now we will consider the principle of supply.
Philippians 4:19 And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 4:18 I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God.
The Philippian church took it upon themselves to send some sort of generous gift to Paul. Paul compares this gift to a sacrifice given to God. A sacrifice with which God is very pleased. Paul thanked the church for the generous gift and then reminded them that God could answer their liberal giving by supplying all of their needs.
Biblically, we see a direct correlation between God supplying our needs and the liberality with which we supply the needs of others. Think of it this way – if God is pleased with how you are planting, he is going to keep supplying you with seed.
Look again at:
2 Corinthians 9:6-8 The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. 7 Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8 And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.
The idea again is that as we give liberally and cheerfully we are not to think that we will “give ourselves into poverty”. God will continue to provide our needs as we give. Why would God want to continue to supply the needs of this church? Look again at verse 8 “[that they] may abound to every good work”. Because of their liberal giving, God knew he could entrust them with more. He would continue to provide for them so that they could abound in the work of God.
Look at 2 Corinthians 9:10 where we see this principle again.
2 Corinthians 9:10 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.
This verse speaks of God providing not only a means to sow but also a means to survive. God supplies the giver with his own needs and with the means to give to others. As long as God can count a man faithful to supply the needs of others, he will continue to bless him with daily provision and excess to give to others.
Lastly, let’s look again at Proverbs 11:24.
Proverbs 11:24-25 One gives freely, yet grows all the richer; another withholds what he should give, and only suffers want. 25 Whoever brings blessing will be enriched, and one who waters will himself be watered.
The psalmist is using different imagery to state the same truth. He says that the one who waters will be watered himself. The idea being, if we are busy sowing and watering then we will not only have the privilege of benefiting from the natural results of our efforts but God will also directly bless us.
Proverbs 3:9-10 says, Honor the LORD with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your produce; 10 then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine.
God has designed the church to be absolutely dependent upon the obedience of its people to supply its financial needs. When God’s people submit to His sovereignty, as good stewards, with a desire to supply the needs of others, the work of God will abound. God will freely bless the liberal giver, not only by allowing him to see the Kingdom of God increased but also by blessing him personally.
The Principle of Sincerity
Finally, let’s consider the principle of sincerity.
2 Corinthians 9:7 Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.
Giving is not a matter of compulsion. When we attempt to dictate how much and how often one should give we are ignoring God’s clear principles regarding giving. He does not want us to give grudgingly or because we feel we have to. This is why he has designed giving to be a matter of the heart.
2 Corinthians 9:7 Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.
God has not commanded us to give cheerfully. God tells us to make giving a matter of the heart, without grudging and without obligation because He loves cheerful givers. Giving as a matter of the heart leads to joy and God loves it when his people sacrifice in sincerity. Therefore it is not Biblical to tell someone they are obligated to give a certain amount and then warn them to do it cheerfully. God tells us to give according to what we have decided in our heart without the pressures of obligation. Why? Because he knows this is the only way that we can give with joy.
Not only do we have a responsibility to ensure that we are giving with a willing heart but we must also ensure that we never cause others to feel they must give out of obligation. Either way we are violating God’s design for heartfelt giving.
The Principle of Sacrifice
In the twelfth chapter of Mark we find Jesus in the temple observing those who are placing their money in the offering. The temple featured large trumpet shaped coffers designed to receive offerings. Men and women would place their money in the open mouth of these “trumpets” where it would then slide down the neck for safe keeping.
Mark 12:41-44 And he sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. 42 And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny. 43 And he called his disciples to him and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. 44 For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”
What this woman placed in the treasury was far smaller than any denomination that we have today. It would have equaled fractions of a cent.
This poor widow’s offering was very small and the rich cast in much. But God does not measure our offerings by dollar figures. Her offering was great and accepted by God, not because it was big or small but because it was sincere and sacrificial. God is more pleased by a miniscule offering given with sacrifice and sincerity than he ever is with a large offering given without care.
The Early Church
Read Acts 4:32-37 where we see an account of the early church:
Acts 4:32-37 Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. 33 And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. 34 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 35 and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. 36 Thus Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas (which means son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus, 37 sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.
The above is an early example of the church’s attitude toward giving. These spirit-led believers loved each other. Between the Jewish tithe and the Roman taxes, they did not have much money left to give so they sold off possessions to provide for the church. They gave sacrificially and they did it willingly. Not surprisingly, this sincere, sacrificial giving is also directly connected to spirit-fullness (v31,33).
In the very next passage we have the example of Ananias and Sapphira. This couple, motivated by the sacrificial giving of other believers decided to sell off land. They did sell their land, but they were not prepared to give such a large offering. They lied to God and suggested they gave all the money from the sale when in actuality they skimmed off the top. The shame is, they weren’t required to give it all, so they lied needlessly and God judged them for it.
The Example of the Macedonians
Read 2 Corinthians 8:1-5. In this passage we find Paul encouraging the church at Corinth by telling them about the church at Macedonia.
2 Corinthians 8:1-5 We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, 2 for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. 3 For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, 4 begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints– 5 and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us.
In verse four Paul indicates that this church was almost begging him to take their offering and to distribute among other believers who had need. This was remarkable since the Macedonians themselves had very little. Their love for the church lead them to give and to give sacrificially.
Just like the early church in the book of Acts, we see a spiritually minded church whose love for God and his people overflowed into sacrificial giving. Here we find a principle – Spirit-led believers are always led to give sacrificially. The account of the New Testament church is saturated with the theme of sacrificial giving. This type of sincere sacrifice is at the core of Christian character. Therefore, those who are living in the Spirit with God’s interests at heart will naturally desire to give freely and sacrificially. We don’t demand this of anyone, but we recognize it as the natural outflow of spirituality. For this reason, a lack of giving is often (but not always) a symptom of a spiritual problem in the life of a believer.
A Word About Tithing
In contrast to some of our points above, some would teach that God has commanded that we give a set amount of money to the church. Generally they claim that God demands 10% of all of our income. This teaching has its roots in God’s Old Testament commands for the nation of Israel.
God commanded Israel to give 10% of all of the land to support the Levites. The Levites were men set apart by God to operate the temple and the theocratic government in general. Because they were to be holy and set apart, they did not own land. As a result, God had to provide for them by taking 10% from all the other tribes of Israel. This tithe was very similar to a national tax for the function of the government.
This tithe was of “stuff” and not money. In fact, if the Jews wanted to “redeem” their tithe by giving money instead of grains/animals/etc. they would have to pay a cash penalty (Lev 27:31).
The above is not the only tithe that Israel had to pay. The twelfth chapter of Deuteronomy describes a tithe that was set apart for a festival. The Israelites would set aside another 10% of their grains, wine, livestock and other goods and then enjoy all of it together in the form of a festival.
At this point we see that the Israelites had to pay at least a mandatory 20% of what they had gained from the land. But we aren’t done yet. The fourteenth chapter of Deuteronomy describes yet another tithe. This tithe was to be brought every third year for the purposes of welfare. Orphans, widows, strangers and Levites were the recipients of this tithe.
These three mandatory tithes equal 23 1/3% of all of the Israelites grain, wine, livestock, etc. In addition to these tithes, the Jews were required to do other things like leave the corners of their fields unharvested so the poor could come and gather food (Deut 24:19-21).
The Bad Bible Interpretation Behind New Testament Tithing
At the root of this idea that the church is to tithe is very poor Biblical interpretation. Many who teach that the tithe is for the church go to lengths to draw unscriptural parallels between the church and Israel. They parallel the church to the temple or the storehouse. They parallel the Levites to the Pastor and they replace crops and herds with money. This misguided teaching is not harmless. The idea that the church has replaced or is the new Israel is a false teaching that can lead to all sorts of other (more serious) doctrinal errors.
Freewill Offerings in the Old Testament
The Old Testament tithe is part of the law which God instituted to govern the nation of Israel. It was mandatory and it was closer to 25% than it was to 10%. It is unfortunate that some have decided to emphasize the Old Testament tithe because in doing so they have missed some wonderful principles of freewill giving in the Old Testament. If anything applies to the church it is not the law of the tithe, but the many times that the children of Israel gave other offerings freely and with cheerful hearts.
The striking thing in the above verses is the emphasis on the heart. There is a direct correlation between these Old Testament freewill offerings and the principles of giving in the New Testament. Giving is always to be done freely, with a willing heart, and with no prescribed amount. This way is the only way to ensure that it is done with joy.
It is not wrong to cite the Old Testament to teach principles of giving. But emphasizing the tithe as a requirement is misguided and poor Bible interpretation. Compulsory giving in the Old Testament was always a form of taxation for the operation of the theocracy. Outside of taxation, God’s plan for giving has always been that of his people giving willingly according to how he leads them in their hearts. Therefore, the universal principles concerning giving in the Old Testament are not to be found in the tithe but in the freewill offerings.
Gleaning Principles from the Tithe
Is it wrong for a Christian to determine to give a set 10% of his income to God? Absolutely not. The idea of dedicating a set percentage of ones income to God is a wonderful example of faithful giving – if done without a sense of reluctance or obligation. In the New Testament we see Christians encouraged to give as they “purpose in their heart”. This could very well include prayerfully deciding to give a set percentage of one’s income to the church.
This type of giving has many advantages. Consider the following:
- It allows you to budget your giving thereby avoiding a situation where you are unable to give what you would like.
- It ensures that you have kept your giving a priority and not an afterthought.
- It allows your giving to naturally grow along with your income (1 Cor 16:2).
- It enables the elders to have a general sense of what will be given to the church on a regular basis.
- It avoids a situation where your giving is determined at the last minute and in an arbitrary manner.
The above are advantages to giving a set percentage of one’s income but this does not mean that doing so is mandatory. That being said, as we prayerfully seek God’s leading regarding how much to give, giving a set percentage is a very good option to consider.
Many Pastors shy away from the idea of teaching freewill giving instead of tithing. Why? Because they fear that giving will falter and the church will not be able to meet its expenses. Is this a legitimate concern? Yes it is. Giving is a matter of liberty and for a Christian to exercise his liberty in a God-honoring way, he must be led by the Spirit of God. Wherever there is liberty, there is also the abuse of liberty. For this reason, we often see the teaching on liberty grouped with warnings against abusing liberty (1 Pet 2:16; Gal 5:13; 1 Cor 8:9).
It is easy for a Pastor to allow the fear of unspiritual Christians abusing their liberty to drive them to teaching legalism instead of liberty. But this is not God’s way. Just like Peter and Paul, we teach liberty and we also warn against the abuses of liberty. We are compelled by our commitment to faithful Bible interpretation to teach the same way in regard to giving. We have liberty to give as God works in our heart without compulsion and without obligation. We give as the Spirit of God leads us. The result of this approach in the New Testament church was joyful, liberal and sacrificial giving.
The fact that giving in a church is directly connected to the spiritual condition of its people can be a scary thought for some Pastors. If we instruct people to give according to what they feel in their heart and their heart is polluted with sin, covetousness and other unbiblical thinking, what will the result be? Offerings will be low and the church will suffer financially. So, what is the solution? Do we teach people that they are required to give a certain amount on a regular basis? Do we teach in such a way as to guilt them into giving? Do we use Old Testament scriptures to threaten them with a curse from God? What do we do to make sure they continue to give?
In order for Christians to continually give, they must continually grow. God is never honored by spiritually anemic people giving to him out of obligation. In fact, he rejects this type of offering. What pleases God is spirit-driven people who give with their whole heart as an act of worship toward him. The work of a Pastor is to help bring his congregation to this place of spiritual maturity.
Part of this growth process is learning exactly what the Bible teaches regarding giving. This is what we have done throughout this study.
You will find that as you are spiritually encouraged you will desire to give. If you find yourself giving begrudgingly or not giving at all, consider whether or not you are growing spiritually. Take care of sin in your life and recommit your life, including your finances to God’s glory.