Believe it or not, money and possessions are the most talked about subjects in the Bible — more than prayer, faith or salvation. That’s because God knew what areas we would struggle with. Our interaction with money should begin with acknowledging that everything belongs to God (Psalm 24:1). When we honor the LORD with our wealth, we demonstrate that we trust him. In return he promises to take care of us (Proverbs 3:9 – 10).
In Old Testament times, tithes were to be given to God from the proceeds of land, herd and flock. The Israelites were to give a percentage of their belongings to God, recognizing God as both the source and owner of all material blessings. The tithe (Hebrew maaser, meaning “the tenth”) was originally 10 percent of every Israelite’s property (Leviticus 27:30 – 33). It was given as a type of tax to support the priests and Levites (Numbers 18:21 – 24). However, greed discouraged many Israelites from paying it, and eventually it became a duty that replaced true worship.
Are Christians Required to Tithe?
The short answer is no, Christians aren’t required to tithe. The Law of Moses mandated the tithe to support the Levites in their priestly service and those in need among the foreigners, orphans and widows (Deuteronomy 14:28 – 29). Since Christ’s sacrifice of himself removed the need for a Levitical priesthood, the principal purpose for the Old Testament tithe is gone. But the New Testament says quite a lot about giving.
Believers are to give in the following manner:
Jesus told his followers to give to everyone who asks (Luke 6:30), to give to those who can’t repay (Luke 14:13 – 14) and to freely give what we have freely received (Matthew 10:8). Paul established the principle that what we reap is a reflection of what we sow (2 Corinthians 9:6).
There is danger in thinking that if we follow a specific rule, we have done everything that God requires. Jesus chastised the Pharisees for giving a tenth of their spices while neglecting more important matters of the law — justice, mercy and faithfulness (Matthew 23:23). To suppose that God demands 10 percent — and nothing more — can foster an attitude that says, “This bit is for God, and the rest is mine.”
With the Proper Attitude
Using a strictly legal principle of giving prompts wrangling over questions like: Is it 10 percent of gross income or net income? Of take-home pay only? Before or after insurance and retirement deductions? Instead, we are to give what we decide in our hearts to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver (2 Corinthians 9:7). Therefore some better questions might be: How can I better manage my affairs so that I can give more? Where can I give that will best serve God’s purposes? Now that I’ve given what money I can, what else can I give?
The New Testament doesn’t contain instructions for Christians regarding the tithe, but there are many admonitions concerning giving.
● Giving should be an act of stewardship. God is the source of everything we have (John 3:27; 1 Corinthians 4:7; 12:7 – 11), so in a sense we own nothing but are only stewards of what is rightfully God’s (1 Peter 4:10)
● Giving should be an act of worship (Romans 12:1)
● Giving should be proportionate (1 Corinthians 16:1 – 2)
● Giving should be voluntary (2 Corinthians 8:1 – 5, 11 – 12; 9:2)
● Giving should be planned (2 Corinthians 9:3 – 5)
● Giving should be cheerful (2 Corinthians 9:7)
● Giving should be generous (2 Corinthians 8:2; 9:5, 11, 13)
Setting a standard of giving, such as tithing, can help us do what we believe in our hearts to be right even if our feelings should waver. But if a Christian decides to tithe, it should be a free and joyous decision, not a legalistic one.
What Should Determine the Amount We Give?
When we feel compelled to give based on an external standard, the heart is cut out of the gift. Such giving is a matter of works, not grace. On the other hand, discipline helps us with what we know to be right. Choosing a standard of giving can help us do what we believe in our hearts to be right, even if our temporary feelings should waver.
The apostle Paul summed up the New Testament standard of giving in 2 Corinthians 9:6 – 7 when he said,
Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.
Limiting ourselves to a rigid 10 percent standard of tithing can cause us to miss the fundamental principle behind biblical generosity. God’s liberality is the basis for his people’s openhanded, bighearted responses. In fact, we are called to willingly offer 20, 30 or even 100 percent (Luke 18:22) if that is what the Lord should require of us.
Many Christians have adopted a system called 10 – 10 – 80, which is to give 10 percent of their total income, save 10 percent and live on 80 percent. These percentages aren’t mandated in the Bible, but the principle as a whole is both biblical and practical.
Are you giving humbly, generously, and with the proper attitude? Ask God to speak to your heart regarding your giving habits. Then listen and obey.
Article edited from study features in the NIV Quest Study Bible.
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