Tipping, Tithing, and Grace Giving, Part 1

The Bible does not tell Christians to tithe. But it does tell us to give.

During my early years as a pastor, I taught that there is a principle and pattern of tithing (giving 1/10 of your income) in Scripture and that there is also a principle and pattern of giving offerings over and above the tithe. I taught this because it is what I learned from those who taught me. But as I learned the Scriptures through years of reading and studying, I became aware of facts that caused me to question my own thinking and teaching on this issue and to develop a new understanding of what God’s Word says about it.

One of these facts is that the most extensive New Testament passages on giving as a Christian are about helping other Christians in need, not supporting the work of the church. Most of the principles I had been teaching were from these passages (2 Corinthians chapters 8 and 9, for example). I realized that I was bypassing the primary application of these truths, which is helping people in need, in order to urge people to give to the church. The very first “offerings” in the newly-formed assembly of believers in Jerusalem were designated to help others in need (Acts 2:45)!

There are instructions to the church on giving to support the work of the church and the spread of the gospel. But all of the passages need to be taught and applied in the way in which they were intended, and this is often not how they are presented.

Another fact is that all of the instructions on tithing in Scripture are directed to Jews under Old Testament law. Instructions to Christians in the New Testament are about giving to specific causes, people, and needs, motivated by and patterned after God’s free and generous outpouring of goodness on us. I want to emphasize this. Please understand that I am not saying there is no instruction to Christians about giving—there is a lot!

But the formula, if you want to call it that, for giving as Christians does not involve calculating 10% of your income. It actually starts with considering how abundantly gracious God has been to you and then responding by giving a significant portion of your material resources to the work of the local church, the spread of the gospel, and people who are in need. What I have observed in Scripture is that Christians are not instructed to tithe. They are instructed to practice grace giving.

This is the first post in a series on this topic. I am estimating it will require 7 more posts to address it completely. What I want to share with you is about being biblical in our thinking and practice. It’s not about giving so God will bless you. It’s not about taking care of God’s business so He will take care of yours. It certainly doesn’t eliminate the responsibility of giving. It is about appreciating and emulating our gracious God in tangible, purposeful ways. I hope to penetrate the fog of misunderstanding of Scripture, bad preaching (mine included), and plain old human selfishness and greed. I want to show, as clearly as possible, what the Bible says to today’s Christians about financial giving. I will also suggest some very practical steps for implementing biblical giving into our lives. I hope to point us toward living by God’s Word and toward living under God’s grace.

Dean Taylor bio


Dean Taylor is Senior Pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Simpsonville, South Carolina. He has served in pastoral ministry for twenty-five years. Dean is a graduate of Bob Jones University and Seminary (BA Bible, MA Theology, MDiv) and Northland International University (DSM). His delights include his family, reading, and the great outdoors.

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There are 6 Comments

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Nicely begun. Looking fwd to rest of the series.

I realized that I was bypassing the primary application of these truths, which is helping people in need, in order to urge people to give to the church.

I think giving to "help people in need" and "giving to the church" are more closely connected that many realize (in the long run, what helps people more than discipleship?) but the two aren't automatically well linked, and it's always best to work from the original context.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

There are multiple views on the topic, some with more merit than others. 

  • The "if they were required to tithe under the old covenant, we should give at least that much under the new" view
  • The "tithing is timeless because Abraham paid a tithe to Melchizedek" view
  • Overlapping with the previous: the "yes we should tithe today (but the tithe is only 10%) view"
  • Some others I'm sure...

The trouble with the third variant is that the OT Israelites actually "tithed" a good bit more than 10% when you add it all up. If I'm remembering the details correctly, there was  tithe to nearest Levitical City, an annual tithe to the temple, and a tithe from the harvest... and I'm  not sure even that covers it all.

Of the three, the second has some merit, taking "tithe" as 10%. But its omission from church teaching, though an "argument from silence" is compelling. Sometimes silence has weight, as, for example, in a set of apostolic letters written to address very common church problems. I can't believe none of the target churches of the epistles were lacking a few tithers. So it's hard to believe the apostles would have failed to address that if it was an obligation for NT believers.

Jim's picture

Conceptually what  I like about tithing:

  • It's simple: Take your gross ... X .1 = how much
  • It's ancient (as Aaron mentioned above)
  • It is "proportional" ... the more or less you make, the proportion is constant
  • There's no doubt one's local church is deserving of funding (including the commands to pay the pastor)
  • 10% provides a constant and reliable income stream for the above
  • A small # of tithers can adequately support a nascent, small ministry

But:

  • I am not comfortable teaching others to follow this practice. 
  • B/c Paul as the church "wise masterbuilder"  (architect / "ἀρχιτέκτων" ) (1 Corinthians 3:10) did not

To a new Christian I recommend:

  • Give something 
  • Give regularly 
  • Understand all that you have is God's
  • Understand the concept of stewardship ... 
  • Grow in the grace of giving
Craig Toliver's picture

Does God require me to give a tithe of all I earn?

Two kinds of giving are taught consistently throughout Scripture: giving to the government (always compulsory), and giving to God (always voluntary).

The issue has been greatly confused, however, by some who misunderstand the nature of the Old Testament tithes.

Tithes were not primarily gifts to God, but taxes for funding the national budget in Israel. Because Israel was a theocracy, the Levitical priests acted as the civil government. So the Levite's tithe (Leviticus 27:30-33) was a precursor to today's income tax, as was a second annual tithe required by God to fund a national festival (Deuteronomy 14:22-29). Smaller taxes were also imposed on the people by the law (Leviticus 19:9-10; Exodus 23:10-11). So the total giving required of the Israelites was not 10 percent, but well over 20 percent.

All that money was used to operate the nation. All giving apart from that required to run the government was purely voluntary (cf. Exodus 25:2; 1 Chronicles 29:9). Each person gave whatever was in his heart to give; no percentage or amount was specified.

New Testament believers are never commanded to tithe. Matthew 22:15-22 and Romans 13:1-7 tell us about the only required giving in the church age, which is the paying of taxes to the government. Interestingly enough, we in America presently pay between 20 and 30 percent of our income to the government--a figure very similar to the requirement under the theocracy of Israel.

The guideline for our giving to God and His work is found in 2 Corinthians 9:6-7: "Now this I say, he who sows sparingly shall also reap sparingly; and he who sows bountifully shall also reap bountifully. Let each one do just as he has purposed in his heart; not grudgingly or under compulsion; for God loves a cheerful giver."

Source: John MacArthur, God's Plan for Giving (tape series).

Bert Perry's picture

....of Pastor Taylor admitting that he was missing the main point of the passages most often used to argue for generous donations to God's Work.  May I be so honest as I go through Scripture, and I'm looking forward to the rest of the series.

One thing that occurs to me, especially as I read Jim's comments, is that perhaps we ought to consider the ROI of our gifts.  To use 2 Cor. 9 as an example, the ROI for Paul was the preservation of the Church in Jerusalem--nobody was getting marble corridors out of the deal.  On the flip side, you've got the millions poured into televangelists, Heritage USA, and that $6000 air conditioned dog house.  I would dare suggest that God desires us to consider the recipients rather than simply giving blindly.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

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