A CLOSER LOOK AT TITHING
By: Victor T. Stephens
"People often claim to hunger for truth, but seldom like the taste when it's served up."
~ George R.R. Martin
New Testament Principles of Giving
We have learned that the biblical injunction to tithe has no applicability for the new covenant church. In today’s age of grace, the only type of giving pertinent to believers is freewill offerings, also termed as “grace giving”.
During my years of research and study, I have discovered that there is a segment of those who believe in grace giving rather than tithing; but allege that giving under grace should begin with and/or exceed the tithe of the old covenant. In addition, it is alleged that tithing helps Christians discipline themselves in the area of giving. I find these points of view appalling for the following reasons:
1. The tithe under Mosaic Law consisted of food items, not money.
2. Their viewpoint is contrary to 2 Corinthians 9:7. Everyone is to decide in his heart how much to give. No one has the right or authority to dictate a minimum percentage to give on account the old covenant law demanded ten percent; which again was fruit, grain, herd, and flock (Leviticus 27:30-32), not money.
3. Numbers 31:25-31 indicates that two percent of the spoils of war were given to the Levites. This disproves the perspective that tithing should be the minimum standard of giving.
4. Tithing ... or a tenth part is not some magic number that promotes discipline. Christians have the freedom to choose any percentage or various amounts to give according to their circumstances and levels of income. Discipline is a matter of the heart, not a specific number.
The adopted perspective that giving under grace should begin with a minimum of ten percent is due to either ignorance of Scripture or it is being used as a convenient back-door method of “playing both sides of the field” … attempting to have it both ways for various reasons.
Some pastors may have honorable intentions, but lack faith when it comes to receiving financial support on a freewill basis. Therefore, they teach tithing as a minimum standard of giving under grace or as a forced means of giving under law. A lack of faith, however, does not justify teaching false doctrine. God does not approve of receiving funds through coercive tactics.
But, let’s be clear, although God never instructed the Christian Church to pay tithes, that does not rule out our responsibility to maintain a heart of generosity to those in need ... including those who have been justly appointed by God to preach and teach the gospel.
Many professing pastors frequently place much emphasis on the promises of God’s blessings to those who give liberally. Is this the proper motivation for giving? Do we give to get something from God? Do we give so that we may brag about what God has done for us? Our enthusiasm for giving should be love for God and others. Giving with the wrong motives is highly discouraged.
"And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing." (1 Cor. 13:3)
That said; let’s now take a closer look at various concepts of new covenant principles of giving. These passages are key examples that stress significant principles for supporting the poor as well as those who have been called to preach and teach the gospel.
1. "So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver."
(2 Cor. 9:7)
This passage indicates that God is more concerned about the condition of our hearts than the amount given. Rather than using a forced system of giving such as tithing, God would prefer Christians to be good stewards over their finances; and to give cheerfully and willingly according to their means. Those with a selfish disposition will reap sparingly; while those with a generous heart will reap generously. However, God does not promise what our blessings will be. God is more aware of our needs; and will provide according to His will.
Although tithing is not a law under the new covenant, there is nothing wrong with giving a tithe if one freely makes a decision to give that amount. The Lord will honor any percentage given from a sincere and cheerful heart. A donation of five dollars could be just as valuable in God’s eyes as a donation of five-thousand dollars or more if it is given with the right motives. An eloquent speaking false teacher dressed in an expensive suit and tie or wearing “religious garments” may attempt to fleece you out of more than five dollars; but bear in mind that we are seeking to please God, not man.
2. "Moreover, brethren, we make known to you the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia: that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded in the riches of their liberality. For I bear witness that according to their ability, yes, and beyond their ability, they were freely willing, imploring us with much urgency that we would receive the gift and the fellowship of the ministering to the saints. And not only as we had hoped, but they first gave themselves to the Lord, and then to us by the will of God." (2 Cor. 8:1-5)
This passage indicates that we should voluntarily give according to our means and sometimes sacrificially. However, notice verse five says that we should first give ourselves to the Lord. Many pastors teach that verse five means we should first give our money to God in the form of tithes. Such reasoning is untrue. Verse five simply means that they first offered their bodies as living sacrifices. (Romans 12:1)
3. "But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever." (1 Tim. 5:8)
There are some professing pastors who believe they know the financial circumstances of every believer. They allege that there should be no reason why someone should not be able to give at least ten percent of their income to the church.
Factually, no one has the right to dictate how much a person should give. God always takes into account our circumstances. Therefore, before we provide support to the church and to others we should first consider the financial responsibilities to our immediate families and to the needs of other relatives. Failing to honor our obligations to immediate family needs nullifies our claim to know God. Sadly, it is a fact that some Christians have become so enslaved by pimping tithing preachers that they are neglecting the needs of their households.
4. for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.' "Then they also will answer Him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?' Then He will answer them, saying, 'Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.' (Matthew 25: 42-45)
In this passage Jesus instructs us how to give to Him. We are giving to Christ when we feed and give to those who are in extreme need.
5. "Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given orders to the churches of Galatia, so you must do also: On the first day of the week let each one of you lay something aside, storing up as he may prosper, that there be no collections when I come." (1 Cor. 16:1-2)
This passage indicates that we should give systematically according to the level of our incomes. The greater our incomes, the more we should give. Conversely, those who have less should give less. Since tithing was abolished after the cross, freewill offerings are the only type of giving under the new covenant. Grace giving applies to financing a church facility as well as general giving.
"Although all of the apostles were originally Jews, reared in tithing, with not one word did any one of them even intimate that in the new covenant the Christians might find tithing a helpful method of making their contributions to the work of the church. This strong negative is immensely re-enforced by the totally different method suggested by Paul when called on the churches for a great offering, 1 Cor. 16:1, etc.; 2 Cor. 8:4, etc. Exegetically and thus dogmatically and ethically the New Testament is against tithing as a regulation in the new covenant. Desire for more money also for more money in the church and for the church must not blind our eyes to the ways employed for getting more money? Jesus does not want to be misunderstood." (Lenski, R. C. H., "The Interpretation of St. Matthew’s Gospel", pages 907-909)
Some pastors who believe in grace giving, allege that tithing is a good way to give proportionately. Such a claim is finely manipulative because it has a tendency to stifle the believer’s right to choose to give less than ten percent. Those who make this allegation fail to acknowledge that God commanded less than a tithe in the account in Numbers 31:25-30; which was two percent of the spoils of war that were allotted to the Levites. Moreover, the old covenant legislations of tithing fruit, grain, herd, and flock diametrically opposes the model of tithing in today's church.
6. "Now you Philippians know also that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church shared with me concerning giving and receiving but you only. For even in Thessalonica you sent aid once and again for my necessities. Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that abounds to your account. Indeed I have all and abound. I am full, having received from Epaphroditus the things sent from you, a sweet-smelling aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well pleasing to God. And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus. Now to our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen." (Phil. 4:15-20)
In this passage, Paul pointed out that he didn’t receive any support from certain churches in Macedonia. Notice that he didn’t invoke Malachi 3:8-10 or mention anything about “curses” and robbing God of tithes like so many professing pastors do today. The only form of giving that Paul speaks of is freewill offerings.
To compensate for a lack of support from other churches in Macedonia, the Philippians freely gave sacrificially to help meet Paul’s needs. This passage illustrates the importance of sacrificial generosity that should be demonstrated in the lives of believers today. The amount one gives, however, should be between the giver and God; and not through manipulative schemes employed by many tithing advocates.
7. "Do you not know that those who minister the holy things eat of the things of the temple, and those who serve at the altar partake of the offerings of the altar? Even so the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should live from the gospel." (1 Cor. 9:13-14)
As we addressed in an earlier segment, many professing pastors reference this passage to promote tithing. However, Paul was affirming the eternal moral principle of compensation for work performed rather than an individual prescribed tithing principle. That said, although tithing is not a law under the new covenant, those who work preaching and teaching the gospel have a right to receive support. Such financial assistance should be in the form of freewill offerings.
8. "Let him who is taught the word share in all good things with him who teaches." (Gal. 6:6)
As in the previous passage, this verse is saying that ministers have a right to receive compensation. Furthermore, we have to consider that a church facility requires maintenance (heating, air-conditioning, etc.). If we attend a church on a regular basis, and the ministry is helping us to properly edify our lives according to the genuine teachings of scripture, then we have a moral duty to share in the expenses according to our means.
Let’s bear in mind that although tithing is not a new covenant mandate, this does not give us the right to be stingy. However, let’s also bear in mind that false teachers and professing pastors who teach tithing for financial gain are not worthy of our financial donations.
9. "And in this I give advice: It is to your advantage not only to be doing what you began and were desiring to do a year ago; but now you also must complete the doing of it; that as there was a readiness to desire it, so there also may be a completion out of what you have. For if there is first a willing mind, it is accepted according to what one has, and not according to what he does not have. For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened;" (2 Cor. 8:10-13)
This passage teaches us that we should be eagerly willing to give to those in need; which includes our local church assembly. Again, notice that our giving should be according to our means rather than a mandated tithing system.
God will honor any percentage or unknown amount if the gift is given from a sincere and cheerful heart. And no one should feel ashamed, guilty, or fearful of a curse if they are unable to give as much as they would like to give. The Lord also knows when circumstances are outside our means to keep under control. Thus, even if one has very
little or nothing to give financially, the Lord will nevertheless honor that person's sincerity of heart.
True pastors who have been called by God have a right to receive financial support to enable them to live a lifestyle comparable to those whom he teaches. This is pointed out in verse 13 ("… but that there might be equality”).
However, many church leaders who advocate tithing are causing numerous people emotional, financial, and economic hardship. Some people have suffered foreclosure on their homes on account that they paid tithes to their minister. Some people have been evicted from their apartments on account of paying tithes rather than paying their rent first. Some people don’t have enough food to feed themselves and their children properly because they paid tithes to their church. Despite the fact that a number of believers are suffering fiscal decimation, some professing pastors have the audacity to encourage them to give additional funds in order to receive their “breakthrough”.
Meanwhile these deviant tithing pimps are living a very wealthy lifestyle. They reside in million dollar homes, their families are eating the best foods, and their children are attending the best colleges. And to conceal their thievery, they have the boldness to claim that it was God who blessed them. Unless these false teachers repent of their wickedness, hell-fire awaits them (Matt. 23:25; 1 Cor. 6:9-10).
10. "Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly." (Matt. 6:2-4)
This passage clearly explains that our giving should be carried out as discreetly as possible. However, there are many “Christians” who give with a disposition of self-interest. They relish in being noticed as they parade their acts of righteousness to others. Some professing Christians brag about their capability to greatly surpass the tithe by sacrificially contributing their paychecks to the church. These individuals judge themselves as God’s special chosen ones who are more favored than non-tithers.
One major factor that triggers such haughtiness is the minister who applauds tithers and criticizes non-tithers. In some churches, tithers are asked to stand and cheer while waving their tithing envelops. Of course Malachi 3:8-10 is typically invoked prior to the “collection” rituals for the designed purpose of causing those who don’t tithe to feel shameful and fearful of a curse. This demonstration of pride and exploitation is abhorrent to the Lord.
11. "Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away." (Matthew 5:42)
Here, Jesus is referring to an appeal for either a donation or a loan. The Lord says that we should give and not deny the one who makes a request of us. Whether we look forward to getting paid back or whether there is no chance of being repaid, we should be willing to give to those who are in need.
However, this verse does not mean that we are required to give to whoever asks for something without careful thought of the matter. We should consider legitimate needs verses those who are too lazy to work; and thus, are looking for a hand out. In 2 Thess. 3:10, it states, "If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat."
These eleven (11) scripture references represent grace giving; which is the only type of giving applicable to believers today. While there are no strict rules, believers should carefully consider and evaluate their financial status and give regularly, generously, cheerfully, discreetly, and at times, sacrificially. We give to demonstrate love and appreciation to God as well as love for others ... especially those within the body of Christ.
Of course, Christians are free to give a voluntary tithe. Grace giving can include any amount between zero and one-hundred percent. However, believers should be cautious to whom they give. No one should be manipulated and controlled by dictatorial church leadership or false teachers. To insist that tithing is still valid stifles grace giving and produces an unworkable financial burden to some, and complacency to greater giving by others.
For example, let’s take two families with surnames Smith and Dupont. The Smith family earns $40,000 per year, while the Dupont family earns $150,000 per year. The Smith family has a mortgage payment, car payment, two children, and medical bills. On the other hand, the Dupont family received their home as an inheritance; they have no car payments, no children, and no medical bills. Under a tithing system, the Smith family would be required to pay $4,000 per year which could cause extreme financial hardship. In contrast, the Dupont family would be required to tithe $15,000 per year which might be scanty considering their economic status.
This example demonstrates the vast array of variable financial conditions that exist in today's economy. Using spiritual discernment and adhering to New Testament principles of giving eliminates these repressions.