Four Christian men were discussing their giving. Anil said that he carefully calculated his tithe and gave 10% of all his income from salary, rent and interest earnings. Balan said that that was too calculating. What he did was to draw a circle on the ground, stand 10 feet away from it and throw all his money toward the circle. Whatever fell into the circle he gave to God, the rest he kept for himself. Chander said that Balan’s method still gave him a lot of control. Chander said that his own method was to stand with his back to the circle and throw all his money over his shoulder so that he couldn’t see and make sure where it would fall. Then whatever fell within the circle belonged to God and the rest to him. Deepak said that he believed in giving all his money to God. His friends were astonished because they knew him to be a man of extravagant tastes. Deepak then explained that he would offer all his money to God by throwing it into the air. Whatever God wanted to keep He could, and whatever fell to the earth then belonged to Deepak.
Some Christians tithe. Some are haphazard with their giving. Some just say that whatever they have belongs to God. How should Christians give to God?
From 1997, when Grace Bible Church began its existence, till 2005, I never preached about giving. For eight years we didn’t have a sanctuary to maintain. We were getting more money than the volume of our needs. I was also embarrassed to talk about giving in a small group when my own support was the major expense item. I am sure many pastors share my feelings in this respect.
When I was a boy, the church we used to attend sent a peon from house to house with a register. People gave two or three rupees per month per family. Everybody saw what others gave and everybody tried to match others. Everyone tried to just be an average giver. The upper class would give ten or fifteen and everybody thought everything was just fine.
Walter Stan Skillicorn, the pastor who led me to the Lord, introduced the congregation to the book Christian Giving by Bishop V S Azariah, the first Indian national bishop in the Anglican communion. After my parents read the book and learnt about tithing, they began to practise it. We were not rich and so my parents were never able to give my siblings and me pocket money regularly. But whenever we got any cash gifts or pocket money, we were encouraged to tithe. So we grew up with the notion that this was a Christian value to live by.
My father died when I was 17. Mother was not a graduate. She had no employment outside the home. She picked up my father’s insurance agency and began to sell insurance policies. She had the gift of the gab and was like the proverbial persistent widow. Even though she had three teenagers to support, she did keep up the practice of tithing.
Mother was involved with a small group of women for Bible study and prayer. One of the women was an architect who was making a lot of money. She belittled my mother’s practice of tithing by saying, “Christians are not bound by Old Testament laws.” She was absolutely right, except that she hadn’t replaced the Old Testament law, she was insistent on giving up, with a New Testament principle. It seemed like an excuse for giving less. While the Jews were bound to tithe, many Christians seem bound to their money, and the second is the greater slavery.
In order to see the law about tithing in proper Christian perspective, we need to remember that Jesus was not against tithing. He told Pharisees, “For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest part of your income, but you ignore the important things of the law—justice, mercy, and faith. You should tithe, yes, but you should not leave undone the more important things” (Matt.23: 23, NLT). Our Lord was not opposed to keeping the Law. In fact, He said that He Himself had come to fulfil it (5: 17).
It will be good for Christians to remember that Jews gave more than a mere 10%. They gave a tithe to the Levites, God’s servants, who had no lands and possessions of their own (Num.18: 21). God also directed them to set apart a second tithe to celebrate their community life (Deut.14: 22-29). In addition to these two tithes, they also gave the first fruits, and made special offerings. I reckon, they gave about 25% towards the practice of their religion.
However, the basic tithe was not just cultic practice. Giving 10% of one’s goods predates the giving of the Mosaic Law. Abraham gave a tenth to Melchizedek, the priest of God Almighty (Gen.14: 20), and, when Jacob saw the vision of heaven, he promised to give God a tithe (28: 22).
If, as Christians, we feel that we are not required to keep this Old Testament law, then we ought to pay attention to what the Lord said: “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the Scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:20). We should therefore aim at doing more, not less. We must not give less than a tithe, but try to give more than a tithe.
When the rich young ruler asked the Lord, what else he could do to attain eternal life other than keeping the commandments, Jesus said to him, “Sell all you have, give it to the poor and follow me” (19: 21). This is probably why the earliest Christians sold their possessions and practised the “community of goods” or sharing everything they had (Acts 4: 32-35). Since Christians were giving so extravagantly then, there was no need to teach them about tithing. They were giving more than a tithe.
Today there is a need to teach about giving according to some basic biblical principles. This is where the concept of tithing is helpful. It teaches proportionate giving—that your giving should keep pace with your income, always remembering that for Christians following the Lord’s teaching means going beyond the tithe (Matt.5: 20).
Does your giving go up as your income goes up? That is the question to be considered by all who follow Christ Jesus. While the Lord urged the practice of justice, He did say that people should not neglect to tithe (23: 23).
New Testament Principles
In keeping with the Lord’s teaching that His disciples ought to exceed the Pharisees in doing acts of righteousness, Paul wrote that Christians ought to “excel in [the] grace of giving” (2 Cor.8: 7, NIV). In chapters 8 and 9 of 2 Corinthians, Paul set forth the essentials of the New Testament’s teaching on giving.
* Being generous comes as a result of God’s grace in the lives of Christians (8:1).
Selfishness is human. Generosity is not. If we receive the grace of God, graciousness will automatically characterise our lives. Grace cannot be stopped up. It is in the nature of grace to just flow out.
* Christian giving does not depend on the circumstances of life being favourable.
Since it depends on the grace of God, it can flow even out of trials, deprivation and poverty (v.2)! It is wrong to think that we are going to do better, if we were richer. Wealth has nothing to do with generosity. The most generous givers in churches are not the richest. It was so even in our Lord’s time. He observed that a poor widow gave more than all the rich because she gave everything she had, while they only gave a portion of their wealth. When she gave, she had nothing left. When they gave, they still had most of their wealth (Mk.12: 42-44). Paul commended the Macedonian Christians for giving according to their ability in the midst of their poverty and even going beyond their ability (2 Cor.8: 3-5).
* The secret of being a good giver is committing ourselves to God first (vv.3-5).
Without commitment to the Lordship of Christ we will not be motivated to release the wealth we have been given so that it will be used in His service. Keeping the Lord in mind will make us feel that, when we give, we are the ones who have been given a privilege of sharing in the Lord’s service (v.4).
* Our example in giving is none other than our Lord (v. 9).
He gave Himself to enrich us. He gave up the riches of heaven for our sake. Disciples are followers. We must follow His example.
* We are to give according to our means.
Our giving should match what we have (vv.11-12). Don’t say, “I would give ten thousand if I had a lakh.” Why not just give one rupee out of the ten you have? Don’t make promises in the air. Make promises that touch your life right now.
* We are called to enrich others so that there is equality (vv.13-14).
This is the basis of Christian mission and all giving to churches and Christians in needy situations. It started in the period of the New Testament church and continues to this day.
* Our giving should be generous if it is not to be a grudging gift (9: 6).
Giving should not be regarded as a forced duty. If we are tight-fisted when we give, our attitude shows: we are not giving because generosity is overflowing our lives, but merely meeting the letter of the law. God doesn’t want that. He doesn’t want slaves. He wants children who respond out of love.
* We are to plan our giving.
We make plans for all aspects of our lives. We plan for studies. We plan our careers. We plan our savings and our retirement. In the same way, we need to plan our giving. It should be based on a personal decision, instead of giving suddenly under the pressure of emotional appeals (v.7).
Though God has already given us so much, He responds to our giving! God’s Word says that God loves the cheerful giver (v.7). God loves all people. He loved us so much He gave His Son (Jn.3: 16). What does it mean then to say that God loves the Cheerful giver? Doesn’t it mean that when we give, we experience a special outpouring of God’s love? People who give experience a “good feeling.” Though we are poorer for having given, we feel good. That is nothing less than God’s affirmation of us. That is God saying to us, “Hey, you’re becoming like me!”
When we give, He enables us to give more. Just as it is the grace of God that moves us to give (8:1), He is the One who gives us the continuing ability to give more. “God can give you more blessings than you need. Then you will always have plenty of everything—enough to give to every good work. It is written in the Scriptures: ‘He gives freely to the poor. The things He does are right and will continue forever.’ God is the One who gives seed to the farmer and bread for food. He will give you all the seed you need and make it grow; so there will be a great harvest from your goodness. He will make you rich in every way so that you can always give freely” (9:8-11). God’s blessing will be so much that it will overflow our lives. That is the promise.
Our Lord said that when we are generous we will receive bountifully from God. “Give to others, and God will give to you. Indeed, you will receive a full measure, a generous helping, poured into your hands—all that you can hold. The measure you use for others is the one that God will use for you” (Lk.6: 38, GNB). We must, however, not think that the blessings of God are to be measured in rupees and paise. Has He not given us life and health, family and friends, work and leisure? How much is all that?
Paul took the concept of being given measure for measure, and said that generous giving will reap us a rich harvest. But he was not talking of getting more for ourselves. He was talking about a rich harvest of souls brought to Christ (2 Cor.9: 6-14).
Giving to Churches
The question still remains as to how much should be given to one’s church. Most people want to keep some part of the tithe for giving to charities of their choice. However, if we accept the definition of the tithe, it already belongs to God and we do not retain the right of determination about its spending. We cannot play benefactors with what belongs to God.
Some Pastors urge “storehouse tithing.” They say that all the tithes should be brought to the church that a person is a part of. This is based on what the prophet Malachi said: “‘Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,’ says the LORD Almighty, ‘and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it. I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not cast their fruit,’ says the LORD Almighty” (Mal.3:10-12, NIV).
However, people do not want to give it all to the local church. They feel that they are justified in that because their local church would spend it all on maintenance of the church, its pastor(s), its building, etc. If the local church is not looking beyond its own boundaries, it could well be because the members do not give enough for the church to consider needs outside of itself. The local church needs to be enabled to fulfil its mission to the outside world.
The prophet Malachi’s word about bringing the tithes into God’s storehouse can easily be translated to fit the New Testament notion that the Church is the body of Christ. If the local church is to function as one body, it depends on its members enabling its body-life. I urge people to give to missions and charities through their own church so that their church is enabled to be the Body of Christ. A church, to be the church, must engage in mission, but it will depend entirely on its members enabling it.
Christian giving is:
* an acknowledgement that God has total ownership in our lives,
* a token of our gratitude, and,
* an expression of our love for God.
All that we have has come from Him. We owe it all to Him. That is why Christians talk of stewardship. When we give to God, we say that we are only managers of what belongs to Him/what He has given us. When we give, we don’t ever match God by our giving. We can never do that. It is only a small way of saying thanks to God. Our giving indicates that we are in a covenant relationship with Him.