Last year, I was sitting in a reasonably packed conference watching the host on the screen as he made a request for an offering to let the content of the conference be sent out to nations that couldn’t afford it.
A noble effort, to be sure.
But just before the collection was taken, he looks to the audience, points a finger and declares, “If you aren’t giving your full ten percent to your local church, don’t give to this. You are in sin and you are robbing God. Get right with God and then give to this.”
I’ve heard a lot of similar type comments before. But hearing it this time… honestly, it just made me angry and I’ve never been fully able to articulate why until recently.
I wasn’t angry because I was being convicted of sin in this area. I was angry because this attitude turns financial giving—something that should be a wonderful, worshipful act—into something ugly.
Why do you give?
Do you give out of a sense of obligation?
Do you give out of a sense of guilt?
Or do you give out of a heart of gratitude for all that God given you—in response to His saving you through faith in Jesus Christ?
What was most helpful for me was recently discovering the place of the tithe in the New Covenant community.
Tithing & Taxes
My pastor recently spent the last two weeks teaching on this, so it’s all still pretty fresh and I freely admit that I’m stealing from him. But here’s the big idea:
The term “tithe” is a mathematical term, referring literally to a tenth. It’s also a term that refers to taxation.
In Genesis 41:34, Joseph interprets Pharoah’s dream and says that a 20% tax—an imposed, mandated tithe—will allow them to store up provisions during the seven years of plenty to care for the people during the seven years of famine.
Under the Mosaic covenant, the Israelites are given three mandated tithes that equate to roughly 23% of their annual income. This provided for the needs of the Levites, the poor and for festivals.
In short, it was their taxes.
Accordingly, the tithe still exists today under the New Covenant. And it’s—ta da!—your taxes!
Your taxes, mandated by your government—which was put in place by God, whether they are godly or ungodly—are your tithe. You have no control over what you pay (aside from legal deductions).
And it’s a lot more than 23% for most of us in Canada.
As my pastor explained a couple of weeks back, and I think he’s dead on—paying your taxes, that money that comes off your paycheck before you even see it, is an act of worship.
Offerings from a Heart of Gratitude
But there’s another element to giving: The offering. These are gifts that are not imposed, but given in response to God freely.
In Genesis 4 we see the first one with Cain and Abel (as there is no command recorded we can only assume that this was a freewill offering).
We see another in Genesis 14:19-20 when Abram meets Melchizedek and he gives a tenth of his spoils from battle (again, there is no command for him to do so). This is motivated by his love for God.
In Exodus during the construction of the tabernacle, God says, “From every man whose heart moves him you shall receive the contribution for me” (25:2). Moses commands them in Exodus 35:4, “Take from among you a contribution to the Lord. Whoever is of a generous heart, let him bring the Lord’s contribution.”
So they went away and they decided what they would give. Apparently it was so much that the people had to be restrained from giving more!
The New Testament Perspective
As I’ve been studying the New Testament, I’ve found that 2 Corinthians 8-9 contain the most exhaustive instructions regarding giving in the New Testament. While it may be an oversimplification, these can be summed up in three basic instructions:
- Give Cheerfully
- Give Generously
- Give According to Your Means
That’s pretty much it.
In 2 Corinthians 8:1-12, Paul commends the Macedonians to the Corinthians, saying that though they were in serious affliction and extreme poverty, they gave in an overflow of generosity according to their means. They worshiped God with their money.
He continues in 2 Cor. 9:6-12:
The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. As it is written,
“He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.”
He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God. For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God. (emphasis mine)
Notice verse seven:
Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.
So what does Paul say?
Give according to what you’ve decided in your heart. Do not give under compulsion. To give out of guilt or a sense of obligation is actually an abomination. That’s actually the point of God’s rebuke of the Israelites in Malachi 2-3.
They are giving their tithes & offerings, but it’s only because they “have” to. They don’t give out of a sense of joy in their heart, a thankfulness for God’s grace in providing for all their needs.
That’s why He says, “And thereby put me to the test…if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need.” (Mal 3:10)
All of our giving is to be from a generous heart, cheerfully offered.
Guilt and obligation—these things don’t produce this kind of heart. But the Holy Spirit does.
Where Your Treasure Is…
What I’ve been reminded of is that, as Pastor Norm rightly said, faith and finances are inextricably linked. “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also,” said Jesus in Matt. 6:21.
The reason I became so angry with the message presented during the conference last year was not because I don’t think people should give and give generously, but because it’s not a message that encourages heart change.
It leads to pride or despair.
If I’m giving “my full ten percent” then I’m somehow “right with God” on the basis of what I do. If I’m not then I’m a good-for-nothing, useless sponge who doesn’t have enough faith in God to provide.
I’ve been the guy who has taken pride in how “generous” I’ve been.
I’ve been the guy who has felt beaten up about “not having enough faith” to give away our grocery money when we were learning how to budget again with one income.
Both are ugly. Neither encouraged me to love Jesus more.
Perhaps I’m naïve, but I don’t think brow-beating people into giving is going to produce soft hearts.
But reminding people of the gospel—that Jesus, though he was rich became poor on our behalf, lived a sinless life, died on the cross, offering up His life for ours and rose again to give us the gift of new life—that changes people’s hearts.
That moves people to be generous.