Are we commanded to give ten percent of our income to our local church? That is an important question for Christians who want to be faithful with their finances. Lets begin with where the ten percent principle comes from.
Leviticus 27:30 “Every tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land or of the fruit of the trees, is the Lord’s; it is holy to the Lord.”
Numbers 18:24 “For the tithe of the people of Israel, which they present as a contribution to the Lord, I have given to the Levites for an inheritance. Therefore I have said of them that they shall have no inheritance among the people of Israel.”
Deuteronomy 14:22 “You shall tithe all the yield of your seed that comes from the field year by year.”
God commanded the people of Israel to bring a tenth of their income to the temple for the support of temple worship. In Malachi 3, the people had forsaken this law and God sternly confronts their disobedience.
Malachi 3:8 8 Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How have we robbed you?’ In your tithes and contributions
It is clear that the Israelites were commanded to tithe, but the Old Testament people of God were commanded to do a lot of things that no longer apply to new covenant Christians. We don’t offer sacrifices. We don’t have a temple or a priesthood. So the question remains, are we commanded to give ten percent of our income to the local church?
Let me begin with a somewhat uncomfortable but I think Biblical claim. From a New Testament perspective, many of us should be giving more than ten percent, not less. Consider Jesus’ comments regarding a widow who put all that she had in the offering at the temple.
Luke 21:1-3 Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box, 2 and he saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. 3 And he said, “Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. 4 For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”
Jesus was remarkably unimpressed by the giving of the rich. We are not told what percentages they were giving, but it would be safe to assume that they were giving according to Jewish law. But it was not sacrificial in nature. It was not worship, rather it was obligation. The widow by contrast gave sacrificially, and in faith that God would provide for her needs. The point is clear. God does not need our money. He wants our hearts to be free from the love of money and overwhelmed with love for him. For most of us in the American church, we align more closely with the rich in that story than the widow. We have far more than we need so much so that giving even ten percent is not a sacrifice.
The New Testament advocates for a totally new and radical perspective of possessions. Paul says that godliness with contentment is great gain and the pursuit of riches plunges people into ruin and destruction (1 Tim. 6:6-10). Jesus says that to store up riches on earth is foolish (Lk. 12:15-21), and no one can serve both God and money (Lk. 16:13). The first Christian converts immediately began giving away what appears to be more than ten percent of their possessions. “They were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need” (Acts 2:42-47). Jesus commands his people to sell their possessions and to provide themselves with money bags that will not grow old, with treasure in the heavens that does not fail (Lk. 12:33-34).
So Christian, how much should you give? Should ten percent be the maximum, minimum, or even the standard for our giving? There is no New Testament command that says it is sin if you give less than a tithe to the work of the Lord. I do, however, question the logic of giving far less than Old Testament saints in light of New Testament teaching. American Christians live in one of the wealthiest nations in the world and greed is perhaps one of our greatest blind spots. We need to stop asking questions like, “How much are we required to give?” and we need to start asking questions like, “How much it will take to get the Gospel of Jesus Christ to our communities and to the nations?”
The logic I have heard so many times never makes sense to me. It goes something like this. “We live in the New Testament. We have seen the love of God for us on calvary. We have seen the power of God for us on Easter morning. We have been filled with the Holy Spirit of grace and sonship. We are secure and nothing can separate us from the love of God. We have the promises of God almighty that he will supply all our needs according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus…., therefore… we may be content to give less than Old Testament saints. I have never understood that logic.
So are we commanded to tithe ten percent to our local churches? Not exactly. We have, though, made Christ Jesus Lord of our lives and our finances. We are to be content and to seek his kingdom first while storing up treasure in heaven that does not fail. If you began reading this article hoping to rationalize how little you give for the work of the ministry, I pray you will repent and ask God for a generous heart. May our giving be an overflow of our thanksgiving.
Give Regularly a Set Percentage to Your Local Church: The mission of God will be carried out through the ministry of the church. Paul commands that pastors be paid wages for their teaching ministry (1 Tim. 5:17-18). This means that their must be a constant cooperation of giving so that pastors may continue to preach. Paul told the Corinthians specifically that collections should be taken for the ministry of the church once a week (1 Cor. 16:1-2). Ten percent is a sensible starting point considering both the pattern of the Old Testament and the principles of the New.
Give Sporadically as the Spirit Leads: While we should discipline ourselves to give regularly we should also free ourselves to give sporadically. In ministering to our church, family, neighbors, and strangers, there will always be opportunity to fulfill the need of another. Like the good Samaritan caring for the hurting stranger, we should follow the Spirit’s leading to give when opportunity arises.
Live Simply so You Can Give Generously: Many of us in modern day America are unable to give generously, not because we make too little money, but because we have strapped ourselves into self-serving luxury so much so that we have nothing left to give. The people in the book of Acts were selling off the excess so that they could be freed to give as the Lord led (Acts 2:45). All of us have excess. Take some time to calculate how much you actually need to live off of. When God increases your income, consider increasing the percentage of your giving rather than the price tag of your lifestyle. Consider pastor John Piper. He could very easily be making millions of dollars from book sales, yet he has set a modest cap on his salary to cover his family’s needs. He gives away the rest for the mission of God in the world. May we follow his example and the example of Jesus. May we live simply so we can give generously.
(For various audio sermons on the topic of giving please click here.)
By His Grace & For His Glory,
Pastor Brandon Langley
St. Rose Community Church