Should Christians Tithe?
The Bible is not silent concerning money; it directly addresses material wealth roughly 800 times. Jesus, during his earthly ministry, lets us know that our view of money has significant spiritual implications. Sadly, because Scripture and Jesus himself talk about money, some preachers and ministries take this to mean that wealth is the primary concern of the Kingdom of God. In a day where unbiblical teaching about finances and the material world is pervasive, the need for sound, biblically-rich truth concerning money is desperately needed.
Let's Start With Your Worldview: Stewardship
The Kingdom of God has little to do with money but everything to do with stewardship. God calls his children to be wise stewards of everything in their life--including money. Stewardship describes a worldview that reveals our lives and possessions are gifts entrusted to us by God. We are to use all we have for God's glory and the good of others. Stewardship is in stark contrast to the worldview of ownership--which assumes our lives and possessions belong to us and we can use them in any way we wish.
Some are quick to dismiss the concept of stewardship because they wrongly assume that God is forbidding them from enjoying anything to do with the material world. But God-honoring stewards are actually led to enjoy the material world in a much deeper and satisfying way. Stewards do not look to the material world as the source of their joy, hope, and fulfillment; they look to Jesus. This frees their hearts to view and enjoy the material world--while giving thanks to God for what he has entrusted to and provided for them--in a way that those who reject God's authority and goodness are not able to. The ownership view of life places expectations on the world that it is unable to meet or fulfill. God has designed life in such a way that his presence alone can truly satisfy and meet our deepest desires and expectations.
Sign Posts in Scripture
When looking at the Scriptures, the concept of stewardship becomes increasingly clear. There are several "sign posts" that point us to this worldview.
Jesus was the example of the perfect steward. Jesus left his home in heaven, full of riches and glory, to live in poverty and humility on Earth. He used his life to glorify the Father and bring salvation to sinful humanity. In John 17:4, Jesus says he accomplished all the work the Father had given him to do--the perfect steward. Jesus became the most generous giver in history as he suffered upon the cross. He took our sin and gave us his perfect life. He takes our death and gives us his life. He takes our punishment and gives us salvation. Upon his return to heaven, Jesus continued to give. He gives us the Holy Spirit and provides spiritual gifts for his church. Although we will not be perfect in our stewardship, we should still strive to follow Christ's example and steward our lives and possessions for God's glory and the good of others.
We belong to the Lord. Romans 1:6 states that we are called to "belong to the Lord." Simply put, our lives are not our own. God is the only person who can rightfully have the ownership view of creation.
Everything belongs to the Lord. The Bible recognizes the ownership of property by individuals, which is one of the reasons it forbids stealing, but it ultimately points to God as the owner and sustainer of everything. The Bible says that all financial wealth is his, all resources that lead to wealth are his, and even the skills that allow humanity to work for wealth are his.
The Bible makes a compelling case that pushes us towards the stewardship view of life. As Christians, Jesus is our treasure. We do not need to take part in the idolatrous pursuit of the created world to satisfy us. The Bible also lets us know that more stuff won't make us happier. To focus our lives on the accumulation of material, while hoping it enriches our existence and keeps us from wasting our lives, is an exercise in futility. Jesus also directly states that it is "more blessed to give than receive."
A joyful life is one where a person generously stewards their wealth and possessions. God, who is the most generous giver in the world, is also the happiest. Furthermore, when we act as generous stewards, we are storing up treasures in heaven. This is not saying that earthly treasures are bad, but that they won't last. However, treasure in heaven cannot be stolen, taken away, and will last forever.
Where Does Tithe Fit In?
Tithe, literally meaning "tenth," is an Old Testament term that referred to the giving that God's people were commanded to provide in support of the Levite priests' ministry. They were directed to give the first ten percent of their income. In addition to the first ten percent, other tithes and offerings were required of God's people throughout the Old Testament. They were told to give towards celebrations and practices that built community and proclaimed what God had done in their lives. They were also commanded to give in ways that would help the poor, foreigner, and sojourner. When all the various areas of mandatory giving are added up, God's people would have given around twenty-five percent of their income for ministry purposes.
Moving to the New Testament, the word tithe is barely used. And when it is, the context is usually negative and connected to a rebuke. Rather than mentioning the tithe, New Testament examples of giving focus on stewardship, grace, generosity, sacrifice, the heart, and the motivation for giving rather than percentages. The gospel unleashes grace into the hearts of believers that lead them to give much more than ten percent of their income. It leads them to give God their hearts and lives.
Rather than focus on percentages, we should orient our giving around the principles found in the New Testament that inform us how we can give generously. The most thorough teaching regarding New Testament giving is found in Paul's letters to the church at Corinth.
New Testament Giving Principles From 1 and 2 Corinthians
Giving is sacrificial (2 Cor. 8:1-5). Paul writes about followers of Jesus who, although they were going through severe affliction themselves, were still generous and gave in a way that would have required sacrifice and selflessness. Additionally, in several examples that Jesus gave concerning Christian giving, he points out the sacrifice being made by the giver.
Giving should be consistent (1 Cor. 16:1-5). Generous givers are not "hit-and-miss" when it comes to their giving. Rather than being led by inconsistent impulses and impressions, generous giving seeks to be faithful and consistent. God wants us to be thinking of and aware of our stewardship often--not just on some sporadic occasions. This would lead us to give and practice wise stewardship on a regular basis. It also communicates that we cannot truthfully and biblically come before God and others in worship without examining what our treasure is and if we are being wise stewards of all that God has given us. Without being legalistic about the regularity, believers should prayerfully and thoughtfully consider what regular giving means for them based on how God is daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly prospering them.
Giving requires you to make some decisions (2 Cor. 9:7). How much we give is up to us. We are to voluntarily and willingly give the amount that we personally determine. The concept and wording of "decided in our heart", found in 2 Corinthians 9:7, does carry with it the idea of thinking through how much we are to give beforehand. It should lead us to deeply consider and think about our giving in advance, when that is possible, rather than acting on an impulse.
Giving is a cheerful act (2 Cor. 9:7). God does not desire our begrudging submission--he wants joyful obedience. For some, they cannot begin to understand how followers of Christ can be cheerful when giving their money away. Generous givers understand that money isn't their treasure--Christ is. This enables them to be cheerful in their giving because they know their generosity will magnify Jesus and help others come to know him. Knowing that you are participating in God's redeeming work in the world fills your soul with deep and lasting joy.
Giving is about the gospel (2 Cor. 8:8-9). Not only does our giving reflect and point others towards the God who gives his life for the salvation of others, it is a way for the gospel to take deeper root in our own hearts and lives.
Giving helps support churches (2 Cor. 8:13-15). Generous giving recognizes that some of the abundance of wealth and possessions one may have has been entrusted to them so they can support the growth of the Church. This directs wise stewards to give to those who are seeking to plant new churches, establish churches where none exist, and to existing churches.
Giving provides for those who teach you the Word of God (1 Cor. 9:8-14). God calls many to serve his Church through the labor of teaching and preaching. For some, God calls them to forgo gainful employment in their community so they can give themselves fully to the task of teaching, preaching, and shepherding God's people. When God's people recognize those whom God has called to such a task, and seek to provide financial support for them, they can be assured they are lining up with the Word of God.
Giving is about sowing and reaping (2 Cor. 9:6-12). Some wrongly encourage Christians to give to God so that they might get money and material in return. This is a damaging and an unbiblical interpretation of sowing and reaping. In reality, we are to sow into ministries that preach the gospel and lead people to have their lives changed by Jesus. When we use our money and material to ensure the gospel goes forth and people meet Jesus, we reap a satisfaction in our souls that mere material could never provide. For those who steward their money this way, focusing on the Kingdom of God first and foremost, Jesus promises he will provide for them and meet their earthly needs.
Wrong Ways to Give
The New Testament teaches that simply giving money away does not ensure us that we are being obedient to God. There are ways that Christians can give that do not please God or help them spiritually grow.
Giving reluctantly. If each time we are giving there is a sense of reluctance, grief, sorrow, or remorse, then we are giving in a disobedient manner. We're still giving, but we may be sad about it. We know we should and we know it is right, but we are not happy doing it. In such a case, the action of giving does not please God or benefit the giver. A person would be better off keeping their money until their heart and attitude has changed about giving. For some, this should be a matter of asking God to do a work in your heart that helps you give joyfully and deeper understand the gospel.
Giving under compulsion. Giving under compulsion, because we feel like we "owe" God ten percent, damages our spiritual lives. We are not to give because somebody told us to, others are doing it, or because we have been coerced. Paul, in his own life, goes to great lengths to ensure that he is not placing a burden or compulsion upon people to give. God desires that our giving come from a heart that voluntarily chooses to rather than one that gives because we feel as if we have to.
Giving to be seen. When we give for accolades, or to impress others, Jesus lets us know that this type of giving is not something that God the Father will reward. Giving in this way devalues the Kingdom of God, needy people, and other righteous occasions for giving. It places one's self as more important than what their giving may be going towards. Being able to give towards something meaningful, that matters to God and to the advancement of the gospel, should be reward enough. There should be no need for anyone to recognize and applaud us. This type of giving also assumes that people's opinion and view of us, which are important in some regards, are more important than what God thinks of our actions and hearts.
Giving to heretical and false teachers. God values truth and expects his people to discern which ministries are worth supporting. Some tragically proclaim teaching that does not honor God or lead its' hearers to a biblically sound understanding of life, church, the gospel, or God himself. And they do it all in the name of Jesus. When we support the spread of lies that are taught under the guise of biblical truth, we dishonor God and his Word. These ministries often promise those who give that they will receive material wealth if they support them. This type of teaching has, and continues to, hurt many people while often taking advantage of the poor and needy. God expects his children to be able to discern these false teachings and to refrain from giving finances and support to those who teach them.
Jesus Said It Best
"No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money."
The way we view and handle the material world is an evidence of our salvation. If someone has truly received the grace of God through the gospel of Jesus Christ, they will be generous. They will use material and money to glorify God and help people rather than use people and material to satisfy and bring glory to themselves. Their identity will be shaped by the gospel and the Word of God instead of their income, bank account, the size of their home, what kind of car they drive, or what clothes they wear.
Jesus offers us an alternative, through faith in his sacrificial death, to the consumerism, greed, and covetousness that is a normal part of our culture. The gospel can transform our hearts and identities in such a profound way that it causes us to view the material world in a drastically different way than most in our culture. Our world desperately needs to see those that have been transformed by the gospel humbly live in a way that is marked by generosity, hospitality, and compassion. Let there be no confusion about who our Master is.