Read Part 1.
People who give at church do it in one of three ways. I’ll call the first way tipping. In our culture there are times when we give a few dollars to someone who provides a service. The most common example is a restaurant server. If he or she gets our order right and delivers it in a timely and cheerful way, we leave a tip of 15% or more.
This is how many people give to God. When the offering is mentioned, they go digging for loose cash, drop a few bills in the plate, and maybe wonder how they’re going to buy lunches or lattes for the rest of the week. Some may plan ahead, considering their income, expenses to support their lifestyle, and how much discretionary money is left. They will arrive at what they feel is a reasonable amount and give that to the Lord.
People who give this way may be fulfilling an obligation, not wanting to seem rude or feel guilty for not participating. Or they may be truly grateful for what the church or the Lord does for them. It is possible that this is all they know, not having been taught what the Bible has to say. So ”tipping” is giving a small portion of your extra resources to God. There isn’t a biblical basis for it. It’s just what people do.
A second way that people give is called tithing. It is often accompanied by the term offerings, as in ”tithes and offerings.” This is how many people in the church have been taught to give. Tithe means 1/10 or 10%. Many people equate the word “tithe” with giving any amount in an offering, whether it is $5 or $500, 1% or 25%. But tithe means 10%. God commanded the children of Israel to give 1/10 of all their produce (agriculture and livestock). In addition to tithing, the Israelites could give free-will offerings.
According to this teaching, since God instructed His people to tithe and to give additional free-will offerings, that is the biblical pattern for all believers for all time. God instructed His people to give tithes and offerings, and even though the New Testament doesn’t explicitly say this applies to Christians, it is the principle and pattern of giving we should follow.
Often this teaching goes to another level, saying that if you don’t tithe, you are disobeying God, He won’t bless you, and bad things will happen to you. If you tithe and give free-will offerings, you are right with God, He will bless you, and good things will happen to you.
But what does the Bible say about tithing that is relevant for Christians of today? Here are some observations:
The Old Testament instruction to tithe was for Jews.
Tithing was the means for supporting the priests, providing for the needy, and sharing in a feast that occurred every three years. (Giving in the Old Testament will be explained further in the next article.)
Tithing is mentioned in the New Testament in four places. Not one of them contains instructions to Christians about tithing.
1 & 2. In Matthew 23:23 and the parallel passage Luke 11:42, Jesus is rebuking Pharisees for their hypocrisy. They tithed fastidiously from their seeds but gave little attention to mercy, judgment, faith, justice, and love for God. At that time, and up until Jesus rose from the dead and the apostles gave new instructions about Old Testament laws, the requirement of tithing was still in effect. Jesus was not telling Christians to tithe. He was telling Jews not to be hypocritical. His point was that giving 10% does not make up for an ungodly heart.
3. In Luke 18:9-14 Jesus told a parable to illustrate self-righteousness in contrast to humility. Verse 12 quotes the Pharisee as saying, “I give tithes of all that I possess.” In other words, he gave more than the law required. This story illustrates a truth: congratulating yourself about tithing is evidence of pride, and pride distances you from God. Again, it was a story illustrating a truth to Jews under the ceremonial system, not an instruction to Christians.
Before going further I want to emphatically say, that is all Jesus said about tithing! The two situations described above are the only occasions the Gospels record that Jesus’ teaching mentions tithing. However, He had a lot to say about giving.
4. There’s one more place in the New Testament where tithing is mentioned. It is Hebrews 7:1-10. This gets a little complicated, but I will do my best to make it plain. The point of Hebrews is that Jesus is superior to everything the Jewish people trusted in prior to the coming of Christ. The writer is making the case in chapters 6-7 that Jesus is a superior High Priest. In chapter 7 he uses the example of Abraham giving a tithe of battle spoils to a priest named Melchizedek. Keep in mind, the book of Hebrews was written initially to Jews. The writer’s argument follows a six point logical sequence that made sense to the Jews whom he was addressing:
- Abraham tithed (once) to Melchizedek.
- The priests were in Abraham’s loins (would descend from him).
- Therefore the priests tithed to Melchizedek through Abraham.
- That means Melchizedek is greater than all the other priests.
- Jesus is like Melchizedek, therefore He is greater than all the other priests.
- Conclusion: Jesus is the greatest High Priest.
The writer used Abraham’s tithe as an example from Israel’s history to illustrate to New Testament era Jews that Jesus is the superior, in fact the only, way to God. It has no bearing on the financial giving of New Testament Christians. It is a misapplication to teach from this passage that since Abraham tithed, Christians should also.
The third way people give to the Lord can be best designated as grace giving. This practice is based on the New Testament scriptural instructions directed to Christians on the topic of giving. Keep in mind that Old Testament giving included animal sacrifices, tithes, and free-will offerings. Remember that Jesus Christ is our substitutionary sacrifice, so animal sacrifices are no longer necessary. Also note that the terminology of tithing is used only of the Jews under the Old Testament ceremonial system, as has been demonstrated above. That leaves one kind of giving that is not rendered obsolete, but carries through both the Old Testament and the New—the free-will offering.
In a sense we can say that grace giving has existed since the beginning, but it comes to the forefront in the New Testament. Grace giving is a voluntary choice based on an individual’s personal experience of the grace of God in bestowing spiritual blessings as well as material resources. The required tithe fades from view in the New Testament, while grace giving grows and becomes the norm in the life of the church. This will be developed in subsequent articles.
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.