Tithe literally means “tenth.” In the Old Testament, the tithe referred to God’s people giving the first 10 percent of their gross income (also called “firstfruits”) to God to fund the Levite priests’ ministry. [FOOTNOTE: Num. 18:21–29; 27:30] There were additional tithes and offerings required of God’s people, including 10 percent paid for festivals to build community and for celebration, 3.3 percent given to help the poor, crop gleanings collected for the poor and aliens, and other occasional additional tithes above and beyond regular giving. [FOOTNOTE: Deut. 12:10–11, 17–18; 14:22–27; Deut. 14:28–29; Lev. 19:9–10; Neh. 10:32–33] Therefore, the total “mandatory” Old Testament tithe resulted in over 25 percent of a family’s gross income going to God and ministry.
In the New Testament, financial giving among God’s people focuses on grace, generosity, the heart, and not actual percentages of one’s income. The word tithe is rarely used in the New Testament, and when it is, it is usually mentioned negatively in rebuking religious types such as the Pharisees who gave their money to God but not their hearts and lives.
It cannot be overstated that when we give to God, we are not deciding how much of our wealth to give. Rather, we are determining how much of God’s wealth we are keeping for our own uses, “But who am I, and what is my people, that we should be able thus to offer willingly? For all things come from you, and of your own have we given you.” [FOOTNOTE: 1 Chronicles 29:14]
Perhaps the most thorough teaching in all the New Testament on giving is found in 2 Corinthians 8–9, where we discover eight principles regarding generous giving. [ENDNOTE #1]
- Generous giving is sacrificial. [FOOTNOTE:2 Cor. 8:1–6, 10–12] Paul says that the Macedonian Christians were experiencing severe affliction and extreme poverty but responded with abundant joy and overflowing generosity.
- Generous giving is something that some people are spiritually gifted for. [FOOTNOTE: 2 Cor. 8:7] Those with the gift of giving should teach and model about it with love as with all other aspects of Christian discipleship.
- Generous giving is a gospel issue. [FOOTNOTE:2 Cor. 8:8–9] Christians are to enjoy being generous givers because doing so is a response to and reflection of Jesus’ gift of salvation to them.
- Generous giving encourages churches to share with other churches and ministries in need. [FOOTNOTE:2 Cor. 8:13–15] This includes such things as helping churches in impoverished nations, new church plants, and churches filled with new converts and college students.
- Generous giving is motivated by friendly competition. [FOOTNOTE: 2 Cor. 9:1–5] Paul challenged the wealthier Corinthian church, for example, to match the financial giving of the impoverished Macedonian church.
- Generous giving is about sowing and reaping. [FOOTNOTE: 2 Cor. 9:6–12] Unlike prosperity theology, which encourages people to give to God so that they might get more money, generosity theology aims to sow, or invest, in ministries that will reap a gospel reward of converts to Jesus and mature disciples. Therefore, the sowing and reaping that the Bible speaks of is not necessarily personal as much as it is missional.
- Generous giving is one of many evidences that someone is truly a Christian. [FOOTNOTE: 2 Cor. 9:13–14] Paul’s point is that if someone has truly received the generous grace of the gospel of Jesus Christ, he or she will be generous.
- Generous giving promotes the worship of Jesus as God. This is among the ultimate goals of generous giving—seeing as many people as possible enjoy the generosity of God’s grace and respond in worshipful joy. Paul says this repeatedly at the close of his lengthy teaching on generous giving:
- You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God.
- For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God.
- By their approval of this service, they will glorify God because of your submission flowing from your confession of the gospel of Christ, and the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others.
- Thanks be to God for His inexpressible gift!
Our capacity can be increased every year which means that seeking to increase the percentage of one’s giving to the Lord each year is a good life goal. For the Christian, we should seek to be as excited to give God our time, talent, and treasure as we are our sin since all we are and all we have belongs to Him!
- These points are adapted from John Stott’s book The Living Church: Convictions of a Lifelong Pastor (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2007).