[Depending on your background, posts on tithing may not interest you. But if you are interested, this is part two. Please see part 1 first.]
In this post we’ll look at some biblical principles in the New Testament about giving, focusing on 2 Corinthians 8 and 9. Although the particular situations in these chapters have receded into history, it contains basic principles about Christian giving that apply across time. Here is an overview of some of the content:
- The Macedonian Christians suffered afflictions and were in poverty themselves, yet they willingly and on their own initiative wanted to contribute to the special offering for the Jerusalem saints.
- Our motivation to give should not come from external commands, but from internal devotion or the sincerity of our hearts. Verse 9 (of chapter 8) is touching summary of the gospel, reminding us that though Christ was rich, he became poor for our sakes.
- The Corinthians had initially planned to give but then apparently did not follow through, as Paul urges them to complete what they had shown a readiness to do.
- A guiding principle for the giving of funds between churches is equality. Paul does not want to see one church eased and another burdened, but rather that when there is a need that funds will flow to the needy church.
- Giving should not be done grudgingly or as an obligation but cheerfully or willingly.
- Paul sets forth the “law of the harvest” and some of the rewards of Christian giving. As it is with agriculture it is with giving, and we will reap according to how we sow. We should give generously. However, the point is not about the giver receiving back or becoming wealthy. Rather, a Christian does not impoverish themselves by giving to God’s people and God’s work. God is able to supply our needs.
How does all this apply to us?
While I emphasized in part one that Old Testament tithing isn’t for today, that does not mean that 10% can never be a general guide or helpful in some circumstances. A percent to aim at might be what some people need to help them become consistent givers. However, it is easy to become legalistic and so concerned with the percentage that we lose focus or forget the intended spirit of giving.
A strictly legal perspective can lead to silly debates. Do we tithe on our gross or net income? Take home pay only – after health insurance premiums and retirement funding is taken out? How does this fit in with our modern day progressive income tax system? Etc.
In addition, 10% can be such an arbitrary number! For a person in meager circumstances, 10% could be extremely generous and sacrificial. While for a more affluent individual, giving 10% could actually be stingy and lacking in generosity. As Corinthians teaches, we should give generously, and that percentage could vary considerably depending on personal circumstances.
Indeed, placing the main focus on 10% could actually limit giving. I read of a Christian who was donating 90% of their income to the Lord’s work, and living on 10% of it. Obviously, they had a very high income – but with a strict tithe focus they could have stopped at 10% and felt they had done their duty. Clearly this wasn’t duty for them, but sprung from a heart’s desire to honor God with their wealth.
Rather than be focused on a percentage, I think we should apply the principles of Corinthians to our lives today.
- The Macedonians gave voluntarily and took an eager initiative in giving even when their own circumstances were less than ideal. Are we waiting to give until we are asked? Are we waiting until our circumstances are perfect before we give? We should be praying for spiritual perception to notice needs, take the initiative and give voluntarily and sacrificially.
- The Corinthians planned to give but then delayed, and Paul had to encourage them to complete the task. If we see a need, we should not delay and follow through on our intention to give.
- We should give cheerfully and sacrificially, as we consider Christ’s example who stepped from the glories of heaven into earthly squalor for our sakes. Is Christ our focus?
- Instead of obsessing over the amount we give, perhaps it is better to routinely assess our financial affairs asking ourselves how we can best manage them so that we are able to give more to the Lord’s work. Not from obligation or a sense of duty, but because we want to honor God with our income and be in a position to give as much as possible.
This sentence from D.A. Carson perhaps succinctly summarizes a Christian philosophy of giving:
“New Testament ethics turn not so much on legal prescription as on lives joyfully submitted to God.”