To tithe or not to tithe?
This simple question has been debated in small groups, in Sunday school rooms, over kitchen tables and in textbooks for decades. In my new book Every Good Thing, I address it at length.
We don’t have the space to address the question in detail here, but I’ll simply say this: It is difficult to apply Old Testament tithing laws in our own context. In fact, if we survey the New Testament, we’ll find that it does not prescribe a formal method or fixed amount for believers’ giving at all.
Nevertheless, the New Testament does provide several examples and principles of giving that can guide us in our stewardship and giving. These principles ought to encourage many (if not most) Christians to give far more than 10 percent to kingdom work.
Two of the most important New Testament passages that address giving appear in Paul’s letters to the Corinthian church. In 1 Corinthians 16:1–2, Paul writes,
- “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.”
The second passage, which is too lengthy to quote here in its entirety, covers all of 2 Corinthians 8–9 (please, read it!). Using 1 Corinthians 16:2 as a rubric, and appealing to 2 Corinthians 8–9 for support, we can discern five principles of giving from Paul’s instructions in these passages.
1. Giving is to be periodic.
- On the first day of every week… (1 Corinthians 16:2)
Paul writes to the Corinthian church, “On the first day of every week” (1 Corinthians 16:2). There is ample biblical evidence that the early church met weekly, on Sunday (see John 20:26; Acts 20:7; Hebrews 4:9–10; Revelation 1:10). Paul begins his instructions about giving, then, by noting that the Corinthian believers ought to give when they are gathered together on the first day of the week. Such giving would prevent a lack when funds were needed (see 2 Corinthians 8:10–14; 9:3–5).
Of course, in our context, you may not be compensated weekly; but even if you are paid on a biweekly or monthly basis, your giving could still be periodic.
Generous giving is a tangible expression of our love for God.
2. Giving is to be personal.
- …each of you… (1 Corinthians 16:2)
Paul continues his instructions to the Corinthian believers by writing, “[let] each of you” (1 Corinthians 16:2). Every Christian ought to give since generous giving is a personal response to receiving God’s grace in and through Jesus Christ (see 2 Corinthians 8:1–2, 9; 9:15). God gave his only Son to atone for sin, to reconcile us to him and to provide eternal life to those who would repent and believe in Jesus. Christ came to earth so that we might become eternally rich through faith in him (2 Corinthians 8:9).
God’s grace toward us ought to be a motivation for giving—it is what Jesus appealed to in the parable of the Good Samaritan—and generous giving is a tangible expression of our love for God.
3. Giving must be planned.
- …put something aside and store it up… (1 Corinthians 16:2)
Paul directed the Corinthians, “Put something aside and store it up” (1 Corinthians 16:2). Here Paul is calling for thought and intention in regard to giving. Note that Paul does not make an emotional plea by offering heart-wrenching stories. He does not appeal to guilt, nor does he endorse sporadic, impulsive giving of varying amounts. Rather, Paul calls for planned, thoughtful giving.
In the book of 2 Corinthians, Paul also teaches intentional giving as he refers to giving with a willing mind (2 Corinthians 8:12) and references the gift that the Corinthians had previously promised (2 Corinthians 9:5).
4. Giving is to be proportionate.
- …as he may prosper… (1 Corinthians 16:2)
As he continues his exhortation, Paul says each believer should give “as he may prosper” (1 Corinthians 16:2). Later, in 2 Corinthians 8:3, the apostle encourages believers to give “according to their means.” In other words, each person was to give according to what he or she possessed. People with greater wealth could give more than those with less.
In 2 Corinthians 8:12 Paul teaches the importance of having a heart that is ready and willing to give. He writes, “For if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have.” Paul does not want believers to give out of a sense of grudging obligation but proportionately, willingly and cheerfully (see 2 Corinthians 9:7). Of course, giving in such a manner is only possible when you understand the gospel and love God more than earthly possessions.
A heart dedicated to Christ cannot help but be generous toward God and his people.
5. Giving is to be plentiful.
- …so that there will be no collecting when I come. (1 Corinthians 16:2)
Paul concludes his instructions, “So that there will be no collecting when I come” (1 Corinthians 16:2). Generous giving is a sign of spiritual maturity and sincere love—and here, Paul challenges the Corinthian church to demonstrate the sincerity of their love for their brethren by giving to meet their material needs. In 2 Corinthians 8:7–8 the apostle encourages the church to abound in the grace of giving, just as they abound in faith, speech and knowledge.
Genuine love for God and growth in the Christian life will result in a mature, giving heart. Indeed, a heart dedicated to Christ cannot help but be generous toward God and his people, often (if not usually) leading us to voluntarily give far more than what was required under the Old Testament tithing regulations.
This article originally published on Aug. 2, 2016. It is a modified excerpt from Dr. Jones’ new book, Every Good Thing.
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