One of the ways we “make things better” is through the generous use of our resources – money, knowledge, time, emotional energy, etc. Can you imagine a world without philanthropy, generosity and charitable giving? It would be terrible. Is it possible to add up all the ways that your life as an individual, and as a member of a society, has been bettered through the generosity of others?
We’re in a series on what the Bible says about giving our resources. If you’re curious on the broader background of the bible and money or more specifically the bible’s perspectives on giving read the related blog posts. This week we’ll tackle some of the specific practices.
1. Proportional: Rather than a designated “cut” there are two lear instances in which giving is related to income. In response to the upcoming famine which would affect believers in Palestine “the disciples determined, every one according to his ability, to send relief to the brothers living in Judea” (Act 11:29). In a similar vein Paul urges the Christians in Corinth, “Now concerning the collection for the saints: as I directed the churches of Galatia, so you also are to do. On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come ” 1 Cor 16:1-2. This fits with Jesus’ principle that the more that is entrusted to someone, the more that is required of them (see Luke 12:48).
Under the Old Covenant (God’s relationship with Israel) the tithe (10%) was the normal proportion for giving. I do not think this requirement carries over to Christians for four brief reasons:
1. The tithe was directly associated with the Old Covenant system of priests and temple worship which has been fulfilled in Christ. 2. The tithe was part of a larger economic legislation and as part of this economic legislation was adjusted to the realities of poverty and destitution in a agricultural society. For example, many sacrificial offerings have gradations that take into account poverty and the same is true of the “tithe” in that if you are to give every tenth sheep that passes under the shepherd’s staff (Lev 27:32) and you only have three sheep there is no tenth that you pay.
3. In all of the New Testament’s teaching on giving there is no reiteration of the tithe. The closest we get is Jesus’ rebuke of the religious leaders, “Woe to you… for you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others” (Mat 23:23). Jesus says they are right in tithing their spices, but this makes sense as they are still operating within the Old Covenant. When Paul appeals to Christian churches to support the ministry of the gospel he gives various reasons but does not appeal to the tithe.
4. While we see both Abraham and Jacob making 10% gifts there are features of these accounts that are different than tithing within Israel – i.e. Abraham giving a tenth of the spoils of war, Jacob’s giving in response to a vision.
This emphasis on proportion is both challenging and freeing. There is not a magic number, but a task of discernment in which various God given responsibilities must be weighed and the heart examined. I think it can be helpful to start with a percentage (be it 2%, 5%, 10%, or 20%) towards which you budget and work. Another approach is to consciously not to increase your lifestyle as your income increases. If you get a raise, change jobs, go from one income to two, pay off your house or car, wrap up student debt, or finish sending a child to college – there are a variety of ways in which our income can grow, and make significant increases in income. On the other side, there are times when income decreases and we give a smaller proportion. We can much more easily imagine these scenarios.
2. Ecclesiastical: The New Testament is straightforward in it’s expectation that Christian’s giving supports the “local church.”
Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with the one who teaches (Gal 6:6).
Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages.” (1Ti 5:17-18)
In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel. (1Co 9:14)
While there are countless noble and worthwhile causes out there the starting point should be the church where a Christian is both cared for and committed. While Christian generosity does not stop at the local church (Acts 11:29 – above) it must begin there with the goal of providing for the needs of its leaders. I can imagine this raising questions, some of which we’ll address in our final installment in this series.
3. Regular: In 1 Cor 16:1, cited above, Paul commands a regular practice of setting aside money each week. Our giving should not be sporadic, haphazard, but according to a plan (1 Cor 9:7) to which we strive to adhere. This attention and thoroughness rises from the seriousness of our calling to generosity (see last week) and coheres with Scripture’s emphasis on planning, diligence, and faithfulness to commitments.
4. Responsive: When Christians hear of pressing needs in Acts and in the ministry of Paul in the gentile world, they respond with financial assistance (Acts 11:29). This principle of giving in response to both local and broader needs fits well with Jesus command to “Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.” (Mat 5:42)
5. Sacrificial: In both Mark and Luke the account is recorded in which
“Jesus sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny. And he called his disciples to him and said to them, ‘Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.'”
In a similar vein, the Apostle Paul points to the generosity of the church in Macedonia
“for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord….” If giving does not affect our lifestyle, lead us to rogue something we have wanted, or force us to make hard choices then we have not given enough.
*Again, my thoughts here are indebted to others. In this particular post I draw specifically from T. David Gordon’s “The Tithe in Biblical-theological Perspective“, as well as work from our Sr. Pastor in Providence, David Sherwood.