The Simple Truth About Tithing
by Jason Ashe
Here’s a hypothetical question to consider: If you had no prior knowledge of the Old Testament and slowly read through the entire New Testament, do you think that you would come away from it believing that Christians are commanded to give 10 percent of their earnings to their church? What verses would you draw your conclusion from?
We must decide that regardless of what we’ve been taught, we will let the New Testament tell us how Christians should give. We must also remember that the truth is not found in, “It is written” but, “On the other hand it is written” (Matthew 4:1-11). We should always compare Scripture with Scripture for proper understanding.
The Bible consists of two primary types of text: descriptive and prescriptive. Descriptive passages are historical accounts that describe an event that occurred: Jesus went to the temple. Noah built an ark. They all spoke in tongues. Paul circumcised Timothy. Sarah laughed. These passages simply tell us what happened to someone or what they did. Prescriptive passages, however, contain commands for us to obey: Do not lie. Put away all anger. Forgive others. Do everything without complaining. If we wanted to know how to have a godly marriage, for example, we would look at prescriptive passages like Ephesians 5, 1 Corinthians 7, 1 Peter 2 and 3. These are all passages that clearly tell us what to do and what not to do in order to have a godly marriage. What we wouldn’t do is look at the lives of David, Solomon, Sampson, or Hosea as examples of an ideal marriage.
These descriptive passages may support, but never cancel out the clear instruction of prescriptive passages. We should never forget that. So when looking for instructions about how Christians should give—or seeking a foundation for any other Christian doctrine—we should look to clear prescriptive passages in the New Testament, not descriptive passages about historical events.
One of the things that amazes me the most when I reflect upon church history is the great zeal that many professing Christians have had about so-called religious relics. People would travel by land and sea just to see some of these alleged articles of the faith. Some would even pay money for a momentary glimpse of these items. Things like: Jesus’ foreskin and baby teeth, tears that He shed at the tomb of Lazarus, the tail of the donkey that He rode into Jerusalem, the crown of thorns, a seed from the parable of the sower, Peter’s toenail clippings, and perhaps the most ridiculous one of all… a medieval church in Canterbury England once claimed they had some of the same dirt that God used to make Adam with!
It’s likely that none of us will go to that extreme today, but we can still possess a similar naive attitude. The sad truth is that many of us are perfectly comfortable with our prejudice toward anything that is contrary to our denomination’s way of doing things. We think, “Well if all of us do it, if all of us believe it, it must be right! After all, we’ve been doing things like this for years and look at the good that comes from it.” I fear that some of those same individuals will read a few paragraphs in an article like this without ever taking time to go before God and say, “This is talking about a potential snare in my life. Show me what this really means.” They are the ones who eagerly read things like this, not to understand the teaching or biblical perspective more thoroughly, but to pick holes in the theology. Their true character and unteachable spirit is revealed in their motive.
To be disappointed in ourselves because we haven’t understood certain things in the Bible that other people have understood is probably the result of not being taught, or a failure to read the Bible carefully. This could happen to anyone. But not even trying to understand something potentially hazardous is the way of fools because “Fools have no interest in understanding; they only want to air their own opinions” (Proverbs 18:2, New Living Translation).
Evidently, the real stumbling block for such a person isn’t an indecisiveness regarding how Christians should give. At the core, one of their greatest obstacles is that for years they have elevated the opinions and traditions of men above the eternal truths of God, are now entirely comfortable to never seek for revelation regarding any of their church practices that have absolutely no foundation in Scripture but are taught as doctrines, and they are highly skeptical of anyone who would appeal to Scripture to suggest something different.
As believers, there are many things that we’ve been led to believe about the Bible and Christianity that simply aren’t true.
For example, most of us have been taught that the word ‘grace’ means: God’s unmerited favor. That’s a teaching that has been repeated for decades, but have you ever questioned it? The Bible explicitly says that God gives His grace to the humble (James 4:6, 1 Peter 5:5) yet every proud human being who still has breath in their lungs to blaspheme God obviously has His unmerited favor. The Christian and the atheist—or even terrorist— farmer can live side by side, but when the rain falls it isn’t only the Christian’s crops that get watered (Matthew 5:45). God favors the arrogant atheist too.
We also see that Jesus received grace from God. Luke 2:40 says, “The Child continued to grow and become strong, increasing in wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him.” John 1:14 says, “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Was Jesus full of unmerited favor from God? To put it another way, did the only person who lived over 12,405 days without sinning have favor from God that He didn’t deserve? Of course not. If you do a search of the word ‘grace’ (charis in Greek) in the New Testament, you will see that it is more accurately defined as God’s power for the human needs of a humble person who truly believes. Grace is generally associated with spiritual power in the New Testament because favor in itself cannot provide us with any supernatural power. When we were dead in our sin and following the desires of our old man, the grace of God saved us and made us alive with Christ when we acknowledge our need of Him (Ephesians 2:8). Now, when we are tempted to sin, grace can give us the power to resist (Hebrews 4:16). And when our circumstances seem too much for us to bear, grace can give us the strength to endure (2 Corinthians 12:9). Grace is evidently more than unmerited favor even in the few verses quoted above.
Also, consider the way we use religious titles today. No one was ever called Pastor, Father or Reverend so and so in Scripture. Jesus vehemently spoke against that sort of thing and said that we elevate ourselves as soon as we take a religious title (Read Matthew 23:7-12 and think about what Jesus is telling His disciples). The Bible is clear that a pastor is someone who has the gift of shepherding (Ephesians 4:11) so to ask others to refer to me as Pastor Jason would be just as foolish as a sister asking people to call her Healing Ashley or calling a brother Tongues William or Mercy Michael. They are all spiritual gifts given to the church. Paul never once referred to himself as “Apostle Paul,” nor did any of the other New Testament authors. Paul frequently opened his letters with, “Paul, an apostle” (read verse one of all his letters). As one who formerly persecuted the church and whose authority was often questioned, he was simply stating his gift and function among the churches. But we do something entirely different today by elevating ourselves with empty religious titles.
So clearly, our understanding of certain biblical things may be clouded by our tradition. We must all admit that we see dimly. But praise God who is eager to give us revelation if we have a teachable spirit and are open to correction (Isaiah 66:2).
While we look at this teaching of tithing, it’s also important for us to remember that the Jewish people always became angry and sought to kill Jesus whenever he exposed the emptiness of their beloved traditions and religious practices (Matthew 12:1-14, John 8, John 10:31-39). This is what ultimately led to His crucifixion, not His preaching about holiness. Matthew 23:37 says, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling.”
Essentially, the outstretched hand of our loving heavenly Father who wishes to impart to us something of eternal value is spat on and slapped away by those who profess to be His children. That’s heartbreaking, to say the least. Likewise, because of a great emotional attachment to certain practices, anyone should expect similar ill-treatment if they stand against the religious traditions of Christianity today, especially that which deals with money.
Tithing in the Old Covenant
The system of tithing was initially set in place to meet the economic needs of Israel.
In Leviticus and Deuteronomy, we see that the Old Covenant law can be broken up into three categories: moral law (like the Ten Commandments), ceremonial law and civil law. Ceremonial laws dealt with their worship and regulated things like priestly duties and sacrifices. Civil laws dealt with their daily living as a nation governed by God. Today, every government makes laws that people under their jurisdiction must abide by such as sales taxes, parking regulations, speed limits and penalties for crimes. Tithing is classified as a civil law.
The tithe was a form of government taxation for their nation. It provided for the needs of the civil servants (the Levites) as well as for the poor (widows and orphans) travelers, and holiday celebrations (Deuteronomy 14:28, 18:1-5, 26:12, Numbers 18:26, Nehemiah 10:38). The majority of Canadian tax dollars are spent in the same way today.
The Jews were commanded to tithe from agricultural produce that was generated in the land of Israel (Leviticus 27:30, Deuteronomy 26:1-3). It was one of the primary ways in which the Israelite’s proved their fear of God and that as former slaves, they had received everything from a covenant-keeping God and wanted to give Him first place in their lives (Deuteronomy 14:23). Craftsmen and the poor did not tithe, and those living outside Israel did not tithe.
But what about Christians today? How should we give under the New Covenant? Is there a certain percentage that we are commanded to give?
There are only 3 verses in the New Testament that even mention the systematic tithe at all, and all of them refer to people who were under the Old Covenant (Matthew 23:23, Luke 11:42, 18:12).
Luke 18:12 is the parable about the Pharisee and the tax collector. In the parable, the Pharisee is boasting about his strict religiosity, but there is no command or encouragement for Christians to tithe. In Matthew 23:23 and Luke 11:42, Jesus commended the Pharisees for tithing mint, dill, and cumin. However, He also stated that tithing was a matter of the Law—which the Pharisees were still required to obey. This is no different from Jesus telling a leper to show himself to the priest after he was healed or Jesus celebrating the Passover. These were also commandments in the Law of Moses (Leviticus 14:1-32, Luke 5:14).
It’s important for us to remember how Jesus classified tithing—a matter of the Law. This is crucial because when a man teaches tithing as a commandment for Christians to obey, he should only refer to the example given under the Law to support his claim. Why? Because the Israelites were the only people commanded to tithe in the Bible. Unfortunately, many preachers are inconsistent and will claim that since tithing pre-dates the Law—referring to the example set by Abraham tithing to Melchizedek or Jacob’s vow to tithe if God would watch over Him as he traveled (Genesis 28:20)—it is an indication that all Christians must tithe today, no exceptions. But there are other practices like circumcision and sabbath-keeping (an even older biblical principle seen in Genesis 2) which also pre-date the Law and yet are not binding on us. What's the deal with that?
Although Abraham’s example could potentially be a helpful principle for an individual to adopt, it should not be taught as a Christian doctrine seeing as Abraham was never commanded to tithe by God, only tithed one time, and only tithed from spoils of war after Melchizedek fed him along with his companions (Genesis 14:18). Even this is secondary to the fact that it’s a descriptive passage from the Old Testament. Hebrews 7:6 speaks about this incident in relation to the supremacy of Christ over the Levitical priesthood. But this passage gives no commandment for believers to follow Abraham’s example in this regard, nor does it even allude to it in the context (Hebrews 7:1-8:2).
These three verses are the only references to tithing in the New Testament. Although pastors may use other verses to support their view on tithing, it’s evident from the context of the verses they use that they are also inserting their opinion where they “think” a New Testament passage is referring to tithing. At best, preachers today can only assume that it is permissible as a financial principle and should say that they are just giving their opinion. No one can teach tithing as a Christian doctrine for believers to obey using New Testament verses in their context.
Law vs Grace
Pastors might say, “I love it when people use the excuse of being under grace for not tithing because I reply, 'Oh really? That means you give more than 10 percent then?' If 10 percent was commanded under the Old Covenant and Jesus raised the standard under the New Covenant, then that means we should all be giving more money today.” This sounds super spiritual, but it's a sad misunderstanding about the nature of the New Covenant—not that I’m an expert myself. With that logic, one could say that we should now have two weekly Sabbath days, circumcise boys as soon as they’re born (instead of waiting for 8 days as the law commanded), or create even stricter laws regarding what God's people are allowed to wear.
The New Covenant is primarily about the internal work of the Holy Spirit. Jeremiah 31:33 says, “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,’ declares the LORD, ‘I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.’” This verse is also mentioned in Hebrews 8:10 and again in Hebrews 10:16. The law which was based upon external commandments and ordinances which even a hard-hearted religious individual could obey most of (Romans 7:7, Philippians 3:6) has now been replaced by a New Covenant where hearts are made soft in order that what was written on stone tablets could now be written and obeyed internally (Ezekiel 36:26).
Many pastors will theoretically agree with this and say that Jesus has indeed abolished the Old Covenant laws. A few of them will even teach it. Instead of worshiping in a temple or building made with human hands, God now dwells within us as His children so we worship Him everywhere we go (1 Corinthians 3:16, John 4:20-24). Instead of sacrificing animals year after year as the law commanded, we are now continually cleansed by the blood of Christ when we walk in the light and confess our sins (1 John 1:7-9, Hebrews 10:3-5). Rather than being circumcised in our body, we are all commanded to be circumcised in our heart (Romans 2:29, Philippians 3:3). We no longer fight with human beings, but with spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places (Ephesians 6:12). Lustful thoughts are now called adultery, being angry in our thoughts is called murder, and lying can now be committed with the heart (Matthew 5:27-28, 21-22, Acts 5:3). We also aren’t required to celebrate the Jewish feasts, observe the Sabbath or to be cautious about what material our clothes are made of. All of this was a shadow of things to come (Colossians 2:16-17). All of these external laws of the Old Covenant are obeyed internally (spiritually) in the New Covenant.
But have you ever wondered why people teach that this is true about every single law for the Jewish people except for the law of tithing? Logically, we cannot pick tithing out of the law and totally disregard everything else. But this is exactly what many people have done.
The doctrine of tithing distorts the very foundations of the work of Christ and promotes a Christianity where believers unknowingly live in limbo between the Old and the New. Jesus has certainly raised the standard in the New Covenant, but the standard of what? Of morality. Of righteousness. Of holiness. Of love. Everything listed in the Sermon on the Mount deals with our heart attitudes. The same is true with the way we should give in the New Covenant. So the real problem with the Christian teaching about tithing is not just the mandatory percentage, it’s the human reasoning that encourages the religious "What's the minimum I need to do for God?" mindset, causes people to think and to act inconsistently with the truth of what God has done through Jesus, and eclipses the fact they are now sons and daughters of God and brothers and sisters in Christ. How do you give to your family members? Do you live by a law when it comes to helping your parents that sets a benchmark? The answer is probably no. This reveals much about the state of Christianity today where many of us just want to know what's the minimum God requires of us.
Cursed with a Curse
Perhaps, like myself, you’ve also heard pastors quote Malachi 3:10 saying, “If you don’t tithe you’re robbing God!” Under the Old Covenant, the tithe was the Lord’s and the children of Israel were robbing God when they didn’t give it to Him. If they obeyed everything the Lord said, they were blessed. If they ignored it, they were cursed (Deuteronomy 28). But we have a completely different relationship with God in the New Covenant. He is our father and we are His children. No loving earthly father—who is evil by comparison to God (Luke 11:13)—wants money from their children or curses them when they don’t obey. Discipline? Yes. But cursed? No way.
What God desires isn’t what’s in our bank account or our reluctant adherence to a religious law. 1 Corinthians 6:12 says, “For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.” God wants us—our will and our body. “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship” (Romans 12:1). We were purchased with the precious blood of Jesus, so robbing God is not merely a matter of holding back 10 percent of our income.
The truth is that we rob God when we continue to live in sin after coming to a knowledge of the truth. Jesus died so that we would no longer live for ourselves (2 Corinthians 5:15). Therefore, we don’t just give 10 percent of our money to our church and do whatever we wish with the other 90 as is often suggested. Luke 14:33 says that we must forsake all that we own in order to be disciples. In other words, everything we have belongs to God! All of our life— expenditure included—should be surrendered to His purposes and guided by the Holy Spirit.
But let’s be real.
It’s much easier to give 10 percent of our paycheck once a week than to live simply, righteously and faithfully with 90 percent of it, and truly think and behave as if our money belongs to the Lord. Unfortunately, far more is preached about robbing God with tithes and offerings than with robbing Him by living in secret sin and continually violating the promptings of our conscience.
Consider how often Malachi 3:10 is quoted urging believers not to let Satan “the devourer” ruin their lives and their families by holding back the tithe and being cursed as a result. Now, consider how little Christians are warned about partaking of the breaking of bread in an unworthy manner, but there is an actual warning to Christians about the possibility of being weak, sick or dying prematurely when we fail to break bread with the right attitude (1 Corinthians 11:27-32). Jesus said that if we make a habit of looking at women with lust and getting angry with people, we are guilty enough to go to hell (Matthew 5:21-22, 27-30). He also said that God will not forgive us if we do not forgive others and that the only reason for divorce is because of a hard heart (Matthew 6:16, 19:8). We are taught in Ephesians that going to sleep angry gives the devil a foothold (Ephesians 5:27) and Hebrews 12:25 says that a small root of bitterness is enough to defile us. Very rarely are such warnings ever given today.
There is actually no curse for the believer in the New Covenant. Think about this. God made Jesus, who knew no sin, to become sin on our behalf so that we might obtain His righteousness. 2 Corinthians 5:21 says, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” He’s the one who atoned for our sin and the sin of the whole world (1 John 2:2). Now, no one would dare suggest that despite this reality of Jesus becoming sin for us, someone who is born again must still suffer the punishment for their sin. That’s insane! But many pastors teach something similar by telling people they are under a curse if they don’t tithe, even though Galatians 3:13 says, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us, for it is written, ‘CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO HANGS ON A TREE.’”
Call it sarcasm if you want to, but I’ve even heard one American pastor offer his congregation a money-back guarantee if they tried tithing and weren’t satisfied. He said, “l will make you a deal, alright? If you tithe for the rest of this year and if you’re not fully satisfied, I’ll give you your money back.” Many pastors have also followed this example by offering their congreations 90 day and 1 year tithing challenges by which they can "see if it works". In your wildest imagination can you imagine Titus going to Crete on Paul's behalf and saying, "If you guys try tithing for 3 months and you're not fully satisfied, the elders will give you your money back"? Things like this reduce the blessing of giving to the work of God into a no risk subscription service. This pastor then went on to say that anyone who doesn’t tithe is opening themselves and their family up to demonic forces, and if they purchase anything before they set aside their tithe, the rest of their money is cursed. His belief is that you can still give 10 percent and not be tithing because God demands the first fruits of your increase. So if you pay bills or buy groceries for your family before writing your tithe check, you’re not really tithing according to God’s principles. The idea is that the first portion carries the blessing of God and has the ability to redeem the rest. Things like this make me angry and sad at the same time.
Jesus actually rebuked the Pharisees for teaching this sort of thing, telling them, “You skillfully sidestep God’s law in order to hold on to your own tradition. Moses gave you this law from God: ‘Honor your father and mother,’ and ‘Anyone who speaks disrespectfully of father or mother must be put to death.’ But you say it is all right for people to say to their parents, ‘Sorry, I can’t help you. For I have vowed to give to God what I would have given to you.’ In this way, you let them disregard their needy parents. And so you cancel the word of God in order to hand down your own tradition. And this is only one example among many others”-Mark 7:10-13 (New Living Translation)
So as sincere as this brother may have been, where is any of this taught by Jesus or the apostles? How could a person give in secret when their pastor is keeping track of what everyone is giving? We cannot judge a person's motives, but how can we have confidence in someone who says, “I’m only preaching about tithing for your benefit” when that same person receives their salary from the tithers? Just ask yourself, when was the last time you watched a TV preacher who didn’t ask their listeners to “sow a seed” by partnering financially or to buy some book or video series? How often do you attend a church event where they don’t ask for money? Not even a “love offering”?
The truth is that we aren’t required to give money to avoid the schemes of Satan or his forces. Scripture is clear, “Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you” (James 4:7). Submission is an act of the will and although it may involve our money, it’s not as simple as giving away 10 percent of our earnings to the church. Tithing, in itself, does not provide anyone with spiritual authority. This kind of teaching has become so popular in our Christian culture that sadly, it’s rarely ever questioned. Those who teach that there is a curse for not tithing are contradicting the most basic truths of the New Covenant and are preaching another gospel.
You see, the prosperity gospel today is not what it used to be even 15 years ago. Modern preachers have learned to mask their intentions by using better sounding language, but at the core, they teach the very same thing. Nowadays, they use words like “provision” not “prosperity” and “blessed” instead of “rich”. They will begin a book or 8 week sermon series entitled “How to be Blessed” by saying that being blessed is more than having money and good health, but they will dedicate more than 90% of their teaching to explain that you cannot be blessed by God without giving Him your money and that the primary mark of God’s blessing is financial prosperity—something Matthew 5 thoroughly contradicts. They will insert moving testimonies about people whose lives turned around after they began to tithe to the church, and the stories do a wonderful job of distracting the listener from the contextual errors in the verses they use as the premise for their teaching. Most of the verses being descriptive verses from the Old Testament or commandments in Leviticus and Deuteronomy. Does any of this sound familiar to you?
God Doesn't Change
Other pastors will turn to Malachi 3:6 and say, “But God says, ‘I the Lord never change,’ so don’t go telling me that Christians shouldn’t tithe today.” The ironic thing is that these same preachers have changed nearly everything about the law of tithing without any Scriptural basis to do so, but they will still attempt to use this argument.
Consider how they teach that the tithe is now money and given to a local church or a denomination, not agricultural produce from within Israel that is brought to a storehouse. When did the tithe become money and when did the storehouse become the church? I imagine a scenrio where a sister tithes some of her garden produce instead of money, what would her pastor say? Pastors also teach that the curse of the devourer which were locusts and worms under the Old Covenant (Deuteronomy 28:38-39), is now a Satanic stronghold on your finances and family. What teaching of Jesus or verse in the epistles teaches this? Lastly, they teach that God’s Old Covenant promise of opening up the windows of heaven— which was a reference to God sending rain to nourish the land (Deuteronomy 28:12)—is now financial blessing and money multiplication under the New Covenant. But no verses in the New Testament support any of these allegories like they do with other Old Testament symbols. For example, the water flowing rock in the wilderness and the bronze serpent both represented Jesus (1 Corinthians 10:4, John 3:4).
The verse in Malachi says that God does not change. In other words, His divine nature is unalterable. It says nothing about His laws or His dealings with humanity. If the Bible says that the Old Covenant is now obsolete (Hebrews 8:13, Ephesians 2:15) and that a descendant of Judah, not Levi, is now our eternal High Priest (Hebrews 7:12-17), that is a clear indication that although God’s divine nature is still the same, His covenant relationship with man has indeed changed… and for the better (Hebrews 11:40).
Giving in the New Covenant
So how should we give today? The spirit of giving in the New Covenant is, “Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7). In this verse, which was originally written to a church full of Gentile believers, no specific percentage is mentioned at all. Yet, it tells us what we should give, how we should give and why we should give. These believers were first told to give whatever they had previously decided was sufficient (2 Corinthians 9:5). They had been informed about the crisis in Jerusalem and were asked by Paul to help out (1 Corinthians 16:1-2). Paul told them to set aside a sum of money every Sunday so that they wouldn’t have to go around collecting money when he came. Although they were giving to those outside of their local church, this certainly would have been the time to teach these folks about the tithe if it was a required practice for Christians.
They were also told here that their giving should not be done out of reluctance, but rather a cheerful and eager heart. Paul wasn’t trying to force these brothers and sisters to give, he was simply reminding them to do what they had already promised to do when they received his first letter (2 Corinthians 8:10-12).
Paul wasn’t even speaking this as a commandment. He simply wanted these brothers and sisters to prove their love by their generosity and experience the blessing of being a partaker in the ministry. 2 Corinthians 8:8 says, “I am not speaking this as a command, but as proving through the earnestness of others the sincerity of your love also.” He wasn’t setting up a law for giving or using psychological manipulation tactics like we see today. Although the poor Christians in Jerusalem were suffering greatly, Paul's written appeal to the Corinthians never seeks to paint a vivid picture of their circumstances. In all he says, there appears next to nothing that draws upon the natural sympathies that arise when we hear about person in need. This is a good example to follow. The apostles never played on the emotions, but rather they appealed to reason and simply stated what the need was. They trusted in God, not in money. Regarding this matter, A.W. Tozer once said this:
“The economic squeeze is not unknown in religious circles and has always been the devil’s own device whether used by a church board to bring a bold pastor to time or by denominational leaders to force a local church into line. Such abuses are possible only because we have allowed ourselves to get entangled in unscriptural methods of church financing. The point I am trying to make here is that while money has a proper place in the total life of the church militant, the tendency is to attach to it an importance that is far greater than is biblically sound or morally right. The average church has so established itself organizationally and financially that God is simply not necessary to it. So entrenched is its authority and so stable are the religious habits of its members that God could withdraw Himself completely from it and it could run on for years on its own momentum”-A.W. Tozer.
Nowadays, numerous companies are emerging who desire to help churches with online giving while providing them with resources to “promote generosity.” Articles such as, “5 Helpful Tips to Maximize Year-End Giving in Your Church”, or “4 Ways to Inspire Giving During the Thanksgiving Season”, and “5 Modern-Day Church Offering Speeches”, are all too common today. This is a dishonour to God and stands in direct contradiction to the commandment to not give under compulsion. Some of these companies even offer a pastoral salary guide which considers things like education, experience, and special talents when determining what to pay a pastor. One denominations Pastoral Salary guide reads: “There are many factors to consider, such as education, experience, demonstrated ability and talent. Generally, the more education, experience and demonstrated ability, the higher the salary.”
Understandably, this may be the way that a lot of us do church, but where do we see these things happening in Scripture? We read that those who preach the gospel are permitted to make their living from the gospel (1 Corinthians 9:14), but do you suppose that the deacons in Philippi considered the pastoral experience, talent and level of education of their elders in order to determine how much money they should regularly receive? No way, but this is exactly what most churches do today.
I should also mention that although I’m now a strong advocate against tithing, God has used the teaching for my good.
One of my earliest memories about going to church is the excitement that I felt when I would get my allowance during the week and set aside 10 percent to put in the offering plate on Sunday. It was only a dollar, but I wanted to please God as best as I knew how. Unfortunately, that attitude didn’t last into my teenage years, but God has been merciful to me. I’m grateful for this experience because it was a fundamental lesson in being disciplined with money.
There are some Christians who are well off financially but have not had such an experience from childhood. They can clearly see how the church has copied the pattern of the corporate world in many ways, they come to the knowledge that God doesn’t require them to tithe under the New Covenant and sadly, they stop giving entirely. They believe that they are now under grace, but the fact that they are miserly and lack generosity proves that they are not even living under law and have not truly known what it means to live under a New Covenant where a love that doesn’t seek its own is paramount. They still put their hope in their bank account, so hearing that they are no longer under a curse if they don’t tithe and they can still have a fairly good Christian testimony when they don’t give money is like music to their ears. This may be a greater deception than reluctantly tithing to a church.
When we consider these things, we have to admit that there is undoubtedly a huge disconnect between what we read about in the Bible and what we see taking place today regarding financial matters in the church. And this is what has made a mockery out of Christianity in many places.
Examining Our Pursuits
The principle of putting God first above our riches still remains although the law of tithing has been made obsolete. Putting God first in the New Covenant means allowing Him to govern every moment of our life and having the desire to be able to say in all honesty, “Whom have I in heaven but you? I desire you more than anything on earth” (Psalm 73:25, New Living Translation). To seek the kingdom of God first doesn’t mean giving all of our money to missions or using the majority of our spare time to volunteer at church events. It means having the foremost desire for righteousness, joy, and peace that comes from the Holy Spirit (Romans 14:17). Remember, seeking His Kingdom first is linked with seeking His righteousness (Matthew 6:33). This implies the work of sanctification by the Holy Spirit (Philippians 3:9).
The Bible is clear that Christians should still be exceedingly generous people (1 Timothy 6:17-1), but we must remember that even then it doesn’t necessarily mean that we are free from the love of money.
Many people are being taught that if they tithe it's a clear indication that they don’t love money. They assume that when they give they are actually testifying that they’re obeying Jesus and refusing to serve the God of mammon (mammon means material wealth. See Matthew 6:24). If only it were that simple. 1 Timothy 6:7-11 says, "For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content. But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. But flee from these things, you man of God, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness."
This passage equates the love of money with longing for it and having a desire to get rich. This is the root of all sorts of evil and it has caused many people who’ve started off well to wander from the faith. Men like Lot, Balaam and Gehazi, all began on the right track but ended up destroying themselves because they loved money. This leads to the question: Can a person give away lots of money and still long for it and have a desire to acquire more of it? Of course. Judas was responsible for handling the money that people would give to support Jesus’ ministry. He would often give money to the poor, but he still loved it and would occasionally steal from the money bag (John 12:4-6). Ultimately, it was this love of money that proved to be fertile soil for the root of evil that sprung up and led him to betray Jesus (Matthew 26:15).
So we see that it’s the presence of this discontentment and inner longing for money that proves whether a person loves it or not. Anyone with enough religious zeal could sell all they have and give the money to the poor, but even that isn’t necessarily pleasing to God (1 Corinthians 13:2). I believe that many believers read the verses in Matthew and Luke that tell us “where our treasure is, there your heart will also be” and are inspired to give to the kingdom of God believing that they will automatically be more heavenly minded as a result. The idea is that our heart always follows our money. Although this is true in some cases, many people who tithe regularly will have to admit that they really aren’t thinking about the kingdom of God that much in their spare time. Outside of the church meetings or their devotional time in the morning or before they go to bed, they are seldom concerned about spiritual things, about the spread of the gospel, or about the spiritual growth of those around them. Talking to them about spiritual things is like pulling teeth, but mention the newest Netflix series and they will tell you all of their favorite parts. Many of their decisions are still made with money at the forefront of their minds. If they receive a job offer or ministry position in another city that promises to pay them more, they may hesitate and pray about relocating as a religious formality, but their heart has already begun the journey.... and they know it. The excitement of gaining more money is greater than the pain they feel about leaving their local church. Thereby they prove that even though they give sacrificially and minister zealously, they are still serving the god of mammon, and when he says, “Leave this church and take that job offer,” they delightedly reply, “Yes master.”
This is why we must be honest with ourselves and determine what the actual goal of our life is. What are we pursuing? What do we think about most? That’s one surefire way to determine what our attitude to money is. We can only run in one direction. The truth is that if we are not pursuing (chasing with maximum effort) righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance, and gentleness, we are not fleeing from the love of money—we still love it in one way or the other.
This is why I pray often that God will reveal Himself to me increasingly so that one day, by His grace, I can say like Paul, “all that was gain to me I count as loss.” As the song says, the things of this world grow strangely dim in the light of the glory of Christ.
Giving under the New Covenant is all about the heart.
With that said, I bet that if you reflected on the number of sermons you’ve heard about tithing, you would admit that the majority of them emphasized the percentage and the blessing of tithing and mentioned nothing or very little about giving with the right motives. The teaching of Jesus and the apostles shows that the level of our spirituality is not determined by the amount we give, but by how we give and what we do with the money left over. It is better to give one percent joyfully than to give ten percent reluctantly with the intention of getting something for ourselves. Our giving may amount to ten percent and that is perfectly fine provided we are giving cheerfully, secretly, and are in good standing with every member in the church. There is also nothing wrong with having a specific percentage of your income designated for your weekly offering. It’s wise to have a budget and be faithful with the money that God has given us. What I’m speaking against is the false teaching that every believer in the New Covenant is obligated to systematically tithe a tenth of their income and that they’re under a curse if they don’t.
Instead, we are commanded to give whatever we decide in our heart to give, whenever we decide to give it, as our brothers and sisters have need (1 John 3:17, James 2:15-16). Peter told Ananias this very thing when Ananias was being deceptive with his giving. He said to him, “The property was yours to sell or not, as you wished. And after selling it, it was yours to decide how much to give. How could you do a thing like this? You weren’t lying to us, but to God” (Acts 5:4, The Living Bible). Of course, this scenario is a little different than tithing from your salary, but Ananias still probably gave more than 10 percent given the fact that he could pretend like he was giving the whole sum of what he received for the sale of his property, but he was still slain for giving with wrong motives.
Although the majority of New Testament passages that teach about giving are in the context of helping those outside of the local church, we still learn some valuable New Covenant principles about how, when and why we should give:
Secretly (Matthew 6:3-4)
In right relationship with other believers (Matthew 5:23-24)
As a result of the grace of God, if we are born again (2 Corinthians 8:1, 3 John 1:7)
In tough times and in poverty (2 Corinthians 8:2a, 2c)
Joyfully and cheerfully (2 Corinthians 8:2b; 9:7)
Based on income, not mandated percentages (2 Corinthians 8:3a)
Sacrificially (2 Corinthians 8:3b)
Voluntarily, not by way of manipulation or compulsion (2 Corinthians 8:3c; 9:7)
With a sense of eager participation in the Lord’s work (2 Corinthians 8:4)
Out of love for the Lord (2 Corinthians 8:5a)
Generously as the Lord provides (2 Corinthians 9:6)
Trusting God to provide so more can be given (2 Corinthians 9:10-11)
Now, I’m not suggesting that God will not bless those who faithfully give or tithe to their local church. He promises to do it and I’ve seen Him do it. And yet, every verse in the New Testament which speaks about the blessings of sacrificial stewardship says absolutely nothing about a 10 percent entrance fee into the land of blessing. The truth is simple: If we sow sparingly we will reap sparingly, and if we see a brother in need and have the means to help but do nothing about it, we don’t really love them or love the Lord—and we should leave it at that.
I’m also not suggesting that everyone who asks for money or teaches Christian tithing is a wolf who’s out to get something from the sheep. There are some who are simply doing what they have been taught to do. Unfortunately, since they fail to truly study the Bible for themselves, their concern for the body of Christ and knowledge that money is required for certain tasks has been corrupted by their denominational influences. They have yet to be gripped by the truths of the New Covenant and the reality that the Old Covenant has been made obsolete in Christ (Hebrews 8:13).
We must remember that we are all prone to unknowingly accepting the teachings of our Christian group as being the same as what is written in the Scriptures and contextually revealed. Pastors are not exempt from this. So basically, our definition of “real church” is usually determined by whatever denomination we happen to be a part of. The activities, doctrines, traditions, and practices of the group are never questioned or examined thoroughly with the Word of God. As a result, our spirituality is generally accessed by how much we identify ourselves with the customs of the group and as long as we look like everyone else and teach what everyone else teaches, our spiritual well being and the various doctrines that we subscribe to, are never called into question. We cannot judge others in this regard. Our judgment of them is far greater than their ignorance. But we should gently and unapologetically share the truth when the opportunity presents itself.
Some claim that it’s simply easier to tell Christians that they should give at least ten percent rather than try to explain another, more “complicated”, method. Simply asking people to take their paycheck and to multiply it by 0.10 and then write a check based upon that total is seemingly less complicated. In that case, people are not required to exercise discernment or listen to the leading of the Holy Spirit regarding when and how they should give when they are tithing. Overall, those who teach tithing for practical reasons have an easy-to-obey doctrine on giving for Christians, especially for new believers.
However, church statistics reveal that tithe teaching is failing. Tithers only make up 10-25 percent of any congregation and since 1990, religious giving has gone down by about 50 percent. Despite being taught otherwise, Christians only give 2.5 percent of their income on average. In the late 1800s, one of the reasons for the wide acceptance of tithing was that many people believed that the methods that were being used to gather funds were unbiblical (e.g. bake sales, yard sales, pew rentals, pledge drives, etc.). They taught the tithe to replace these practices. However, nowadays many pro-tithe churches do both. They preach tithing, but they continue to do fundraisers. Therefore, this continued practice is an admission that teaching Christians to tithe, as easy as it may be, is not working in the church today.
Some are fearful that the alternative of free-will offerings will lead to a decrease in giving. We should remember that a genuine work of God may use money, but it is never dependent on money. It is dependent only on the power of the Holy Spirit working through mortal man. If any Christian work or church is dependent on money, it is not a genuine work of God. Statements like, “If we only had more money we could do so much for the Lord”, are all too common in our day, but as Hudson Taylor—a godly man who believed in tithing—once said, “God’s work, done in God's way, will never lack God's supply.” The life of Jesus bears witness to this.
Jesus was the first physical “Body of Christ” on earth. His ministry was dependent only on the Holy Spirit. Never once do we ever see Him asking others for money to support His ministry. He did, however, accept free gifts of money from His followers for His work (Luke 8:2-3). But Scripture is clear that He never asked anyone at any time for money, and He never made His financial needs known to anyone but His Father in heaven. This is the pattern that I desire to follow.
After examining the verses mentioned above and reading this short article, it should be almost impossible to conclude that God requires all Christians to tithe from their income and that we are cursed if we don’t. But I know that it’s also almost impossible to convince a man whose livelihood depends on peoples tithes and offerings that tithing is not required for Christians. The reality is “when an honestly mistaken man is shown that he is in error, he chooses to either cease to be mistaken or he ceases being honest.” So there are some who will continue to preach and believe what they have been taught, but there are others who will humbly submit to the teaching of the Word of God, honestly say, “I was wrong,” and realize the great power and freedom that the New Covenant offers them. Which will you be?
Those who have ears to hear let them hear.