What the Bible Says About Tithing and Christian Giving

Where to give: I would like to discuss the question of where we should give. Just as our motivations for giving have been warped by wrong teachings on the subject, so have our ideas about where to give. Sometimes we are afraid to give because we think the money will be misused. And some churches teach that we should give only to the local church. But the Bible gives us different criteria.

1). Give to who faithfully teaches you God’s Word. Paul explains this in Galatians 6:6: “Let him that is taught in the word communicate [“share”—NKJV] unto him that teacheth in all good things.” The Greek word translated “communicate” in the King James Version has an interesting meaning. It means to have shares with someone, to do something in common with him. In Galatians 6:6, it means that someone shares the Word of God with you, and you share what you have of your physical substance with him so that you are sustaining one another and having a common part in the teaching of God’s Word.

A few people say that those who teach God’s Word should never receive money because Paul worked to support himself (Acts 18:3). But this is a misunderstanding of what Paul himself says. Paul may have had to work at a trade for his living, but he also chastened churches when they did nothing to contribute to his support. Look at 1 Corinthians 9: “Have we [Paul and Barnabas] not power to eat and to drink? Have we not power to lead about a sister, a wife, as well as other apostles, and as the brethren of the Lord, and Cephas? Or I only and Barnabas, have not we power to forbear working?” (verses 4-6). In other words, Paul is asking, “Don’t Barnabas and I have as much right as the other apostles to eat and drink and to support a wife or sister on your contributions? Or do only Barnabas and I have no right to stop working for a living?” Apparently, from what Paul was saying, the other apostles were supported by those they served. Paul was trying to make the Corinthian Christians that he and Barnabas served realize that he and Barnabas should also be supported for their service toward them.

In verse 7, Paul writes, “Who goeth a warfare any time at his own charges? who planteth a vineyard, and eateth not of the fruit thereof? or who feedeth a flock, and eateth not of the milk of the flock?” Everyone gets paid for what he does. A soldier does not pay his own way when he goes to war. Farmers enjoy the fruit of their labor. Those who labor in the Word should be paid for it.

Paul next cites Deuteronomy 25:4 and explains it from a New Testament perspective: “Say I these things as a man? or saith not the law the same also? For it is written in the law of Moses, Thou shalt not muzzle the mouth of the ox that treadeth out the corn. Doth God take care for oxen? Or saith he it altogether for our sakes? For our sakes, no doubt, this is written: that he that ploweth should plow in hope; and that he that thresheth in hope should be partaker of his hope” (1 Corinthians 9:8-10). In the Old Testament, God said that the ox that is used to thresh the grain should be allowed to eat of that grain; he has earned it. Paul applies this to humans. Those who work should receive gain from it. Paul and Barnabas were laboring in the Word among the Corinthians, but the Corinthians were, in effect, muzzling them by not sharing their worldly goods with them.

Verse 11 is pivotal: “If we have sown unto you spiritual things, is it a great thing if we shall reap your carnal things?” The New American Standard Bible renders this very well: “If we sowed spiritual things in you, is it too much if we should reap material things from you?” It is a give and take. Those who sow spiritual things should receive material things in return. In verse 12, Paul says that he had not exercised his right to receive support from the Corinthians because he was concerned he would offend them away from the Gospel. But he tells them of his right, and he does so to their shame. In verse 13, Paul explains that the Temple priests in the Old Testament made their living by eating the offerings that were brought to the altar. “Even so,” Paul continues in verse 14, “hath the Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel.” Although Paul mentions the Old Testament priests, he is not suggesting tithing. He is simply using the priests as an example of the basic principle that we should receive a reward for the work we do.

Interestingly, the Philippian church had a different attitude toward Paul. They helped to support him, at least sometimes. In Philippians 4:10, Paul tells them, “But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at the last your care of me hath flourished again; wherein ye were also careful, but ye lacked opportunity.” Paul was happy that the Philippian brethren had revived their interest in his welfare. He says this even though he has learned how to be content in any circumstance, even when needy and hungry (verses 11-16). Notice in verse 17, Paul says that his joy over their gift is not because he had received something, but because he knew that God would profit the Philippians because of it: “Not because I desire a gift: but I desire fruit that may abound to your account.”

While Paul may have considered it his lot to suffer the wrong of not being supported by those to whom he preached and to be rewarded by God for his suffering this neglect, he ordered that other laborers in the Word should be supported: “Let the elders that rule well [kalōs proestōtes—”honorably stand in front” or “do a good job of presiding”; “rule” is a poor translation as the Greek does not mean to exercise control or dominate and it does not refer to an “ecclesiastical office”] be counted worthy of double honour [diplēs timēs—”double” may be taken as simply meaning “more”; “honor” is a good translation of , timēs, but the context that follows shows that physical sustenance, likely including money, is what is intended] especially they who labour in the word and doctrine. For the scripture saith, Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn. And, The labourer is worthy of his reward” (1 Timothy 5:17-18). And Paul is not alone in his opinion. Jesus, when sending His disciples out on a missionary journey, instructed them not to take money or extra clothing with them, for they should expect their needs to be met: “Provide neither gold, nor silver, nor brass in your purses, nor scrip for your journey, neither two coats, neither shoes, nor yet staves: for the workman is worthy of his meat” (Matthew 10:9-10).

So, while we are supposed to see to the physical needs of those who provide for our spiritual needs, many of these assumptions common today are not found in the Bible: 1) that there is a class of people, the “clergy,” who are the ones who speak, teach, lead, counsel, etc., while everyone else passively receives these services; and 2) that those who so serve are to be paid a salary. It is beyond the scope of this article to expand on point 1, but I will say something about point 2. It should be obvious from what we have just read from Paul that he was not receiving a set salary. Also, If those laboring in the church were receiving set salaries, there would have been no need for Paul to say what he did about elders in 1 Timothy 5:17-18.

In John 10:11-14, Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep. But he that is an hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth: and the wolf catcheth them, and scattereth the sheep. The hireling fleeth, because he is an hireling, and careth not for the sheep. I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine.” In the New Testament, the English words shepherd and pastor are both used to translate the Greek word poimēn. In Ephesians 4:11, for example, it would be less confusing if, instead of  “pastors,” the translation said “shepherds.” It gives us a better idea that the “shepherds” are to care for God’s “flock” as a shepherd cares for his sheep. But, as we read in John 10, Jesus is the true shepherd of His church.

Nevertheless, Jesus has set some as undershepherds. But in John 10, He specifically warns against hirelings. “Hireling” is from the word misthōtos. It means “wage worker.” In Mark 1:20, we read that Zebedee had hired servants or hirelings. Jesus says in John 10 that such wage workers care about their salary, not the flock. When danger comes, they flee. This is the temptation of the pastor who is the employee or hireling of his church. I can’t say that every salaried pastor will succumb to the temptation, but many do. In fact, I believe this is a major factor behind the ineffectualness of the church today. It is my own experience that if you take a typical local assembly that is apostatizing and investigate the causes, you will usually find a hireling pastor who is retreating from every step Satan takes into the church. At the same time, he will usually avoid the truth as best he can and even attack as “prideful,” “divisive,” or “unloving” those who bring the truth to his attention. He is a hireling of the church and, as such, he is under enormous pressure to give the church what it wants, even if it is not biblical.

The Bible depicts the servants in the church as looking to God for their needs. They are His servants and slaves, but not hirelings. They are never described as wage workers under the church. George Müller tells why he gave up his salary from the church where he served: “The whole system tends to the bondage of the servant of Christ. One must be unusually faithful and intrepid if he feels no temptation to keep back or in some degree modify his message in order to please men, when he remembers that the very parties, most open to rebuke and most liable to offence, are perhaps the main contributors toward his salary.” He was no hireling. (A. T. Pierson, George Muller of Bristol, Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, reprint, 70).

In summary, then, what Jesus and Paul teach on this subject is not restricted to only the local church. True, Paul’s reference to the elders refers to the elders of one’s local church. But support should be based on faithfulness to the Scriptures, not locality. In some places, there is no one who is faithfully teaching from the Scriptures. Paul and Barnabus were not members of the churches that should have supported them. They merited support because they were faithfully preaching and teaching God’s Word. Bringing the Gospel to someone is the greatest gift one can give. Therefore, supporting the sound preaching of the Gospel and teaching of Scripture is the best way financially to show love to our brethren and to our neighbor.

Copyright © 2004-2009 Peter Ditzel