Some people think that Christian giving is the New Covenant equivalent of Old Testament tithing, but this is not correct. Why? Because tithing and giving are not related. As we saw in the first part of this article, the ancient Jews had to tithe by law. Tithing was not giving; it was paying, much as we pay our taxes. The Israelites no more thought of tithing as giving a gift than we think of income tax as giving a gift. It is something we have to pay by law. As we have seen, Christians are not obliged to tithe. Christians are under the New Covenant, not the Old Covenant, and the law of the tithe is not part of the New Covenant. There were, however, gifts in the Old Testament. For example, we read of freewill offerings (see Leviticus 22). But even with these, the law tightly prescribed when and how they were to be given. In this part of this article, we are going to look at how Christians are to give, especially at what should motivate us. First, let’s look at what should not motivate us.
The Three Common But Wrong Motivators
I think I am not in any danger of exaggeration when I say that most churches and other ministries try to get people to donate using wrong, unChristian motivators. I am not saying that these churches and ministries know that these motivators are unChristian, but they are unChristian nonetheless. This problem is so serious that it has literally warped many Christians’ thinking on the subject of giving. That’s right, we are crooked in our thinking on this subject. Only the truth from the Bible can untwist us. So, with the hope that exposing error and revealing the truth will straighten us out on this subject, let’s take a quick look at three errors and then see what real Christian giving is.
1) Tithing: This has been covered in depth in the first part of this article. When Christians believe that they must truly tithe, they are acting on the wrong motivation. As already explained, tithing has nothing to do with Christian giving. Tithing is something even the carnal Israelites who were not born again could do when they watched their p’s and q’s. On the other hand, real Christian giving is something only born again Christians can do. If someone has been telling you to tithe, don’t believe it. If you have been telling people to tithe, stop.
2) Give to Get: No doubt you have heard it before: Donate and be blessed. You will be blessed for your giving. You cannot out give God, so the more you give, the more you will get. When you give, you will receive showers of blessings. As with many errors, there is, as we will see, an element of truth in this. Unfortunately, the way in which this is presented is usually a complete distortion of the biblical teaching. Many people are looking for what is often termed “a financial miracle,” so they turn to the religious version of the get rich quick scheme. Notice what popular televangelist Benny Hinn has said: “How do you get a financial miracle? By giving! That activates our faith! That gets our faith loose!… Every time I put my tithe in…or an offering, I say, ‘Thank you for my harvest.’ Audibly, I say it. Audibly. ‘Thank you for my harvest'” (TBN’s April 1990 Praise-A-Thon, as quoted in The Confusing World of Benny Hinn, G. Richard Fisher and M. Kurt Goedelman [Saint Louis: Personal Freedom Outreach, 1995] 147). Is this Christian? Does it reflect the freedom we have in Christ, or does it bind us? Does it motivate us to give unselfishly, or does it incite greed?
Hinn is typical of those who espouse this doctrine: “Make a pledge, make a gift. Because that’s the only way you’re going to get your miracle…. As you give, the miracle will begin. All right, so get to the phones and get busy” (TBN’s April 1990 Praise-A-Thon, as quoted in Confusing 146). In this case, the motive for giving is not love; it is not God-centered. It is selfish.
There are myriad others who are of essentially the same school as Hinn. They tell us that it is harvest time for our miracle, but we must first sow the seed for that miracle by donating to their ministry. They tell us that if we place Christ first (by giving to their ministry), we should be prepared to inherit a fortune. But it is they who are inheriting an earthly fortune while they distort our thinking about Christian giving. As Jude says, “These are spots in your feasts of charity, when they feast with you, feeding themselves without fear” (Jude 12).
Other ministries stress nonfinancial miracles in return for giving. They might suggest miraculous healing, or even little health benefits such as losing our headaches or backaches disappearing. Some tell us to look for other types of miracles. I know of one ministry that goes so far as to suggest that, after tithing, we may find that irritating co-workers are transferred or problems in our home’s plumbing will go away! Where are such things found in the Bible? Nowhere!
These false teachings might be amusing if they were not so tragic. Millions are taken in by them. I am intimately acquainted with an elderly couple in their 80s. They have been completely sucked in by the promises of miracles in return for money. There is no talking them out of this way of thinking. Saying anything to the contrary would only incite an argument. They give so they can get a miracle today. It doesn’t come, so they give more and expect a miracle tomorrow. But it, too, doesn’t come. Although they have been deceived into thinking that what they believe is from the Bible, in reality they have turned from the Scriptures to false teachers who promise them miracles in return for their money. Please don’t misunderstand me. The tragedy is not that these people are sacrificing to give. It is that they are sacrificing for the wrong reason.
I must add here that there are some highly respected Christian writers and radio personalities who promote the idea that giving to God is an investment that will yield a good financial return. They make people think that financial troubles stem from failing to tithe or not giving enough. They say that the first step to financial success is tithing or generous giving. But as Stephen Arterburn and Jack Felton, authors of a book about religious addiction, explain, “God is not a financial investment opportunity. He isn’t a ‘good bet’ to place your money on. What kind of faith would guarantee a return on money invested? That would not be faith; that would be a bank account” (Toxic Faith, Stephen Arterburn and Jack Felton [Nashville: Oliver-Nelson, 1991] 62).
As an example of real faith and giving, Arterburn and Felton tell of a Christian physician in Bangalore, India. After his children were raised, he went back to school and obtained a degree in psychiatry so he could help the many mentally ill people in his area. While others in his field drove expensive sports cars, he drove a broken down vehicle and lived in a small house that had no hot running water. On Sundays, he held church services in a lean-to shack made of scrap boards and raw lumber. The authors write, “The faithful walked, limped, and dragged themselves to that mat-covered room to worship…. It was poverty at its most extreme. The people listened to the sermon, sang, prayed, and had communion. Then they did an astonishing thing. They gave their money. Having almost nothing, they gave very little, but the percentage of their earnings that went to God was extraordinarily high.” (Toxic Faith, 61). These people were not giving because of some Old Testament law or because they thought they would get a financial return or because they needed to repay God for His grace by giving. They were giving because they wanted to, because they saw their church as the light in a dark world. These people, and Christians like them, give because they love God, because they put their money where their hearts are.
Here we see a physician and his congregation who were giving their all to God. Yet they lived in poverty most of us can only try to imagine. Why? Because they were not giving enough? Of course not! The answer lies in God’s sovereignty and His blessing His people with what He knows they need, not depending on their works. And, as the authors explain, these people “seem to prove that when all you have left is God, you get as much of God as you possibly can. The comforts of wealth often rob people of dependency on God” (Toxic Faith, 62). Accounts such as this ought to make the purveyors of the “give to get” and “God as a financial investment” gospels pull their books off the market, cancel their programs, and hide their faces in shame.
Copyright © 2004-2009 Peter Ditzel