What the Bible Says About Tithing and Christian Giving

Real Christian Giving

We have seen that the Christian’s motive for giving should not be legal obligation, getting wealth or health, or trying to pay for our sins or God’s grace. Giving—really giving without being forced by law or giving to get or giving as a payment—is an expression of love. But what characterizes this pure giving?

Voluntarily, freely, and cheerfully: In 2 Corinthians 9, Paul instructs the Corinthian church about the giving of a gift for the needy brethren in Jerusalem. In verse 7, he writes, “Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver.” Notice that this is not a legal obligation because it is not “of necessity.” It is not to be a fixed amount of one’s income set by the law or by the church, but every man was to give “as he purposeth in his heart”; that is, each person is to give as he or she has decided. Also, it was to be given freely, “not grudgingly,” and it was to be given cheerfully, “for God loveth a cheerful giver.” This is quite different from tithing, giving to get, and giving out of a feeling of repaying a debt.

Before we leave 2 Corinthians 9, let’s examine verse 6, for it is often used by the followers of the give to get philosophy to support their teaching. In 2 Corinthians 9:6, Paul states, “But this I say, He which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully.” Remember that earlier I said that there is an element of truth to the idea that we will be blessed for giving. This Scripture shows that truth. So do other passages, such as Jesus’ words in Luke 6:38: “Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again.” But notice what Jesus says just a few verses earlier: “But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil” (Luke 6:35). If we give, God will reward us. Perhaps He will do so in this life or perhaps He will do so in the next. Also, even if it is in this life, our reward may not be an abundance of riches, but, for example, more opportunities to serve God.

Remember that Jesus said that he who is faithful with few responsibilities will be given more. You didn’t know that Jesus said this? This is what He is saying in the parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14-30. When God gives us something—whether it be money, property, abilities, etc., He expects us to use it. With all that we have comes the responsibility to use it for good. As can be seen in the parable, those who do well with their responsibilities will be given more. In Luke 19:12-27, the rewards are called cities. Now, if you were given a city, I believe you would very quickly feel the responsibility. And, as Christians, God has given us cities, towns, villages, and countryside. In fact, He has given us the entire earth in which to spread the Gospel and to do good in His name. Going back to Matthew 25, notice that the parable of the talents is immediately followed by the parable of the sheep and goats. The sheep, God’s elect, are distinguished by their feeding and clothing the poor (the food and clothing both represent spiritual and physical sustenance), visiting prisoners, etc. The fact that these poor people are likened to Jesus Christ means that some of them were elect, so that ministering to them was ministering to Jesus. The King rewards the sheep. The goats, on the other hand, ignore the needs of others, live to themselves, and are given everlasting punishment.

So, are we to give in order to get? No! Jesus says, “But when thou doest alms [give to the poor], let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth” (Matthew 6:3). We are to give to help others, not ourselves. When we give to others, it is as if we are giving to Jesus Christ. Our motives are to be pure. Yes, God will reward us, but getting must not be our motive.

How much to give: If tithing is not for Christians, how are we to know how much to give? In Mark 12:43-44, Jesus observed a widow who gave all she had. He did not say she was stupid to do so or criticize her in any way. In Mark 10:21, Jesus told a rich man (see verse 22) to sell all he had, give the money to the poor, and then take up his cross and follow Jesus. Is the Bible saying that only poor widows and rich men should be willing to give up all? Let’s find out.

Notice, now, this contrast with the widow and what Christ told the rich man. According to Barna Research, Ltd., the average donor in 2000 contributed a mean of $649 to churches and $176 to religious organizations other than churches. That is a total of $825. Notice these figures: “In 1916, Protestants were giving 2.9% of their incomes to their churches. In 1933, the depth of the Great Depression, it was 3.2%. In 1955, just after affluence began spreading through our culture, it was still 3.2%. By 2001, when Americans were over 480% richer, after taxes and inflation, than in the Great Depression, Protestants were giving 2.7% of their incomes to their churches” ( http://www.emptytomb.org/research.html ). Now, I am not saying that we should return to an Old Testament idea of worrying about percentages. But anyway you figure it, 2.7 percent, or $825 a year, is a lot less than giving all. $825 a year is under $16 a week. That is about an hour’s wage for the average worker in the United States. So, the average American Christian donor works one hour a week for the Lord and 39 hours for the things of this world.

In November 2008, a crowd of shoppers waiting to get into a Wal-Mart store in New York for a “Black Friday sale” broke down the door of the store and trampled an employee to death (Wal-Mart worker dies in Black Friday stampede). People often stand outside for hours in long lines, even during inclement weather, to get into stores during sales or to get tickets for games or concerts. When was the last time you heard of people standing in line for hours to hear the Gospel? Or being trampled in a stampede to serve the poor? Does this sound ridiculous? In Mark 2:2-4, we read of so many people trying to get into the house where Jesus was that friends carrying an invalid had to get onto the roof, make a hole in it, and lower the man through it to Jesus. Matthew 13:2 mentions that so many people were trying to get near Jesus that He had to get into a boat and speak to them from there. Several other incidents of crowds pressing around Jesus are mentioned in the Gospels. And at least twice, multitudes of people followed Jesus into the wilderness without even being concerned that they had taken no food with them (Matthew 14:13-21; 15:29-38). Jesus didn’t criticize them; He miraculously fed them. In fact, I can think of no time that Jesus criticized someone for giving up too much for His sake.

What am I saying? Am I saying that we should sell all we have and give everything away? No, how much we give is an individual decision (2 Corinthians 9:7), and I am not going to suggest what that should be. Everyone’s circumstances are different. And we must remember that providing for our family comes first (1 Timothy 5:8). But does providing for our family mean that they (or you) must have the latest designer clothes, the best home entertainment system, weekly trips to the beautician, a new carpet? Do you need the jet ski? What about the snowmobile? Only you can decide. What I am saying is that we must examine our lives and prayerfully evaluate our priorities. Those of us who believe we truly cannot spare the money may be able to donate our time.

If we are Christians, and I assume we are, then let’s get out of our 21st century affluent lethargy and get more radical for the Gospel. Let’s realize that our past motivations for giving have probably been wrong, and that they have likely caused us to give in a legalist or selfish frame of mind. We need to pray that God will rid us of these errors and will motivate us to selflessly give with a generous spirit. We may have a long road ahead of us before we reach that point, but we can start right now. I am not saying to start with guilt—Jesus has taken our guilt away, but let us start with a desire for the spreading of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and Him crucified.

Copyright © 2004-2009 Peter Ditzel, Minor revision 5 Jan. 2015