Christian Giving

Christian Giving

And the Question of the Tithe


Richard Hollerman

 

  • What does God want you to give?

  • Does He require you to tithe—give 10%?

  • What does the Lord say about riches?

  • What principles do we see in God’s Word?

  • Did you know that one’s attitude toward money
    may send him to hell?

     

We are living in an age of unprecedented financial prosperity!  While this is true of the United States, it is likewise true of other Western and developed nations.  Presently, there are some 5,000,000 (five million) millionaires in America, including 400 billionaires!  Bill Gates, with $39 billion, is the wealthiest man in the country!   Americans have more than $10 trillion worth of wealth!  (generousgiving.org).

 

On the other hand, there is also a vast amount of poverty in this world, at the very time that many are basking in the sunlight of vast amounts of riches.  We’ll mention later the trials that come to believers who must live daily with very limited financial resources.  It would be wrong for us to fail to discuss this serious problem while we give much of our attention to the wealth of many.

 

By poverty, we mean tragic circumstances, such as lack of income, lack of housing, lack of food, lack of medical care, and lack of other necessities.  Many countries are places where poverty is endemic.  Note the percentage of people below the “poverty line” in several countries: Armenia (51%), Bangladesh (50%), Columbia (64%), Guatemala (56%), Kenya (52%), Madagascar (71%), Malawi (65%), Rwanda (60%), Sierra Leone (70%), Zambia (73%).  What about those who live on less than $2 per day?  This would include 77% of those in South Asia, 77% of those in Sub-Saharan Africa, and 47% of those in China and East Asia and Pacific (devdata.worldbank.org).  Most who are reading these words know little of this kind of poverty.

Our understanding of money must always begin with God Himself.  Our view of material possessions must always have its root in God and His Word.  God also is the chief consideration when we think of giving to Him and His purposes on earth.  He is the source and object of what we do as followers of Jesus Christ.  “For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things” (Romans 11:36). What do we know about God’s own giving—to us, to the world, to all? 

 

God is a God who gives!  Paul the apostle spoke to the pagans in Lystra and declared the nature of the true and living God: “He did not leave Himself without witness, in that He did good and gave you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness” (Acts 14:17).  This God—the true God—is a God who gives!  Paul’s message to the unbelievers in Athens was similar.  The true God is not “served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things” (Acts 17:25).  Again, Almighty God is the God who gives all people material, physical, and especially spiritual blessings.

 

The greatest gift that God has given is the gift of His own Son, Jesus Christ.  Jesus said, “God so loved the world, that He gave His own begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16).  Through this Gift of all gifts, God gives us all of the blessings of salvation.  Scripture says that God gives the “gifts” of salvation (Eph. 2:8-9), the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38), righteousness (Romans 5:17), and eternal life (Romans 6:23) to those who are in Christ Jesus (Eph. 1:3).  As God gives to us as believers, so we must live a life of giving back to Him and to others!

 

Since the creation of the world, God has wanted His people to give back to Him a portion of what He places in our hands.  During one period of His dealings with His people, God specified that a tenth of their income (a tithe) was to be given.  Everyone who has been a church member for a length of time knows what the word “tithe” means.  In brief, as it us used in religious circles, it means to give a tenth part of one’s goods or income to a religious cause or church.  It is used to translate the Greek term dekatoo, from dekatos, “a tenth.”

The tithe is mentioned as early as two thousand years before Christ.  Abraham gave Melchizedek, king of Salem, a tenth of the goods he took from the battle, although there is no indication that he gave a tithe of anything else during his lifetime (Genesis 14:17-20; Hebrews 7:4).  Jacob also said that he would give a tithe to Yahweh God (Gen. 28:16-22).  About 500 years later, regulations on the tithe were incorporated into the Law of God, given through Moses.  The tithe “originated as the tax that Israelites paid from the produce of the land to support the priestly tribe (the Levites), to fund Jewish religious festivals, and to help the poor” (Barna, “New Study Shows Trends in Tithing and Donating,” barna.org).  (Numbers 18:21-26; Deut. 14:22-27).  The Law specified that every tenth animal was given as a tithe (Lev. 27:32-33). 

God even accused Israel of withholding the required tithe.  He declared, “Will a man rob God?  Yet you are robbing Me!  But you say, ‘How have we robbed You?’ In tithes and offerings” (Mal. 3:8).  He then commanded, “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in My house” (v. 10-12).  When an Israelite refused to give a tenth of his income and possessions, he was actually stealing from God!  These tithes were to be taken to the storehouse in the temple in Jerusalem (cf. Deut. 12:5-12, 17-18; 1 Kings 7:51; 2 Chron. 31:11-12; Neh. 13:12). 

Notice this explanation:

Tithing does appear in the Bible.  So yes, tithing is Biblical.  But it is not Christian.  The tithe belongs to ancient Israel.  It was essentially their income tax.  Never do you find first-century Christians tithing in the NT. . . . The Lord instituted three kinds of tithes for Israel as part of their taxation system.  They are:

·         A tithe of the produce of the land to support the Levites who had no inheritance in Canaan.

·         A tithe of the produce of the land to sponsor religious festivals in Jerusalem.  If the produce was too burdensome for a family to carry to Jerusalem, they could convert it into money.

·         A tithe of the produce of the land collected every third year for the local Levites, orphans, strangers, and widows.

This was the Biblical tithe.  Notice that God commanded Israel to give 23.3% of their income every year, as opposed to 10%  These tithes consisted of the produce of the land—which is, the seed of the land, the fruit of the land, and the herd of the flock.  It was the product of the land, not money.  (Frank Viola, Pagan Christianity, pp. 218-219).

It is particularly important for us to notice that the tithe was required by God—but it pertained to His people, Israel, for a particular period of history.  There is no indication that it was a legal requirement for those who are not under the Mosaic law.

Tithing for Israel is not the same as the tithe that we hear of today– in fact tithing was rarely money. There were three tithes in the Old Covenant. More often tithes were the crops, the produce of the soil was to be tithed, grains, the fruit of the trees, every year new wine and oil, the firstborn of their herds and flocks (Leviticus 27:30-33). If the place the nation of Israel were to tithe and was too far away to carry their goods (such as Jerusalem), it could be exchanged for money. They were to use their money to buy anything the owner chose: cattle, sheep, wine (Deuteronomy 14:22-26). Every third year the tithe was to be reserved as a festival tithe where they brought out all the tithe, and their produce where the Levite, the stranger, the orphan, the widow, the poor who were in their town, could come and eat and be content (Deuteronomy 14:28-29; 26:12-15). You can expect not to see those who teach tithing as an obligation to practice the third year tithe. (letusreason.org)

In the New Testament, the Lord Jesus reprimanded the hypocritical Pharisees with strong words of condemnation: “You tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law; justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others” (Matt. 23:23; cf. Luke 11:42).  In other words, Jesus said that these Jews should have paid special attention to the inner qualities of justice, mercy, and faithfulness—yet they should not neglect giving a tenth of their income and possessions to the Lord, and this included even small items of produce.  Jesus supported and commanded the tithe by His special nation of Israel.

The details of the Old Covenant regulations are no longer binding on us today.  Paul stated that Jesus abolished “in His flesh” the “Law of commandments contained in ordinances” (Eph. 2:14-15), and “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (Rom. 10:4).  The various “shadows” of the old covenant were done away when Christ our “substance” was crucified (Col. 2:16-17; cf. Heb. 10:1).  This suggests that all of the Mosaic commands were fulfilled in Christ (cf. Matt. 5:17-20), and the Christian is no longer obligated to keep them.  (See our booklet, The Old Covenant and the New Covenant, for many contrasts between the old and the new covenants.)

Note this quotation that also points out that the tithe was a requirement under the Law of Moses, like sacrifices and other commands were, but today we are not bound by these regulations:

“. . .Tithing is a biblical law. But so is the rite of circumcision and so is the sacrificing of animals. Does this mean that Christians today should ritualistically circumcise their male children or sacrifice animals because these laws were once ordained in the Bible? . . . There is nothing more clear in the Bible than the teaching of God about the ordained tithe. The Bible shows who were to pay the tithe, who were to receive the tithe, the types of products that were to be tithed, who was not to tithe, how the tithe was to be used, along with regulations that gave limitations and restrictions on its use, yet these laws of God are being violated wholesale by preachers, priests, evangelists and theologians who want a ready money supply for their religious or church work…the matter of raising funds for Christian activities is not the problem. It is the method that is being used by ministers and churches to raise those funds that is at issue. It is whether ecclesiastical authorities should use deceptive methods to gain funds (by teaching that church members are obligated to pay the biblical tithe today)…” (http://askelm.com/tithing/index.asp).

Few Professing Christians Tithe Today

Some professing Christians today insist that the tithe—the giving of ten percent of our income—is still binding on God’s people since it was practiced by Abraham and Jacob several centuries before God made the tithe part of His Law given through Moses.  They would acknowledge that the Mosaic degrees are no longer to be practiced but say the tithe principle existed before the Law of Moses and should exist today, after the Law of Moses was fulfilled in Jesus Christ. 

This, however, is supposition and we cannot make the tithe an obligation with the force of law today.  Many churches do make this part of their teaching and encourage their members to give a tenth of their income to the local church to meet its budget.  Many writers, public teachers, and preachers likewise urge their readers and hearers to give a tithe of their income, with part of this to be given to Christian parachurch ministries, missionaries, or charities.

The Barna Group, a religious organization that surveys people on a wide range of topics, has studied the subject of the tithe (“New Study Shows Trends in Tithing and Donating,” barna.org).  The findings are interesting and revealing.  Barna says that in 2007, their research discovered that only 5% of adults tithed!  He states:

Not surprisingly, some population groups were more likely than others to have given away at least ten percent of their income.  Among the most generous segments were evangelicals (24% of whom tithed); conservatives (12%); people who had prayed, read the Bible and attended a church service during the past week (12%); charismatic or Pentecostal Christians (11%); and registered Republicans (10%).

Which groups seldom tithed?  Barna reports:

Several groups also stood out as highly unlikely to tithe: people under the age of 25, atheists and agnostics, single adults who have never been married, liberals, and downscale adults.  One percent or less of the people in each of those segments tithed in 2007.

Another revealing finding:

Among all born again adults, 9% contributed one-tenth or more of their income.  The study also showed that Protestants were four times as likely to tithe as were Catholics (8% versus 2%, respectively).

Although pastors and preachers often emphasize the practice of tithing, they sadly discover that most of their members do not tithe at all.  Barna states:

Christians tend to be the most generous group of donors.  An examination of the three dominant subgroups within the Christian community showed that evangelicals, the 7% of the population who are most committed to the Christian faith, donated a mean of $4,260 to all non-profit entities in 2007.  Non-evangelical born again Christians, who represent another 37% of the public, donated a mean of $1,581.  The other 42% of the Christian population, who are aligned with a Christian church but are not born again, donated a mean of $865.  Overall, the three segments of the Christian community averaged donations of $1,426.  The Christian giving was divided between Protestants (mean of $1,705) and Catholics ($984).

For the sake of comparison, if the average “Christian” earns $50,000 a year, a tithe would be $5,000—but Barna says the average donation is only $1,426.  We must also realize that the $1,426 is what was donated to all “non-profit entities” and not only to churches!  As we have noticed, the Mosaic tithe cannot be bound on new covenant believers today, yet it is dismaying that most people do not even give a tithe of their income!

Some Churches Promote Tithing

Some denominations do advocate the tithe of their members.  For example, the “Confession of Faith” of the Cumberland Presbyterian Churches states:

Proportionate and regular giving of all that God entrusts to the human family is an act of devotion and a means of grace. Giving to and through the church is the privilege of every believer.  Tithing as a scriptural guide for giving, is an adventure of faith and a rich and rewarding practice. The tither not only experiences the grace of God but even the grace of sharing.

The Southern Baptist Convention promotes tithing quite freely.  Facts and Trends Magazine gave a report on the question of the tithe (tithing-russkelly.com).  It found that many do believe in tithing, but few practice it!

An exclusive study conducted by Ellison Research for this issue of Facts and Trends indicates that 51 per cent of a church’s laity believes there is a biblical mandate to tithe to the local church. However fewer than 1 in 10 actually gives 10 per cent or more of their income to any cause or organization. (p14)

 

The report states that 56% of clergymen (of various denominations) believe that there is a Biblical mandate to tithe to the local church, but a much greater number—76%–of Southern Baptist preachers believe this.  As for Protestant churches in general, 36% of the laity believe that tithing is a Biblical mandate. 

 

Regarding tithing in general, 68% of all Protestant clergy believe that there is a Biblical mandate to tithe (56% believe it must be to the local church), and 59% Protestant laity believe this (36% believe it must be given to the church).  As for Southern Baptists, 80% of clergymen believe there is a Biblical mandate to tithe (76% would say to the local church), and 79% of the laity believe this (51% would say to the local church).  This shows that tithing is generally thought to be God’s will, although the majority fail to obey it.

Notice further what some preachers and churches urge upon their congregations.  The United Methodist Church, the second-largest Protestant denomination in America, has this agenda:

…the 2000 General Conference adopts as a high priority for the next eight years a program for teaching and preaching for spiritual growth in giving, with an emphasis of setting tithing as a goal for every person in The United Methodist Church (from The Book of Resolutions of The United Methodist Church — 2004. The United Methodist Publishing House, archives.umc.org).

Among both clergy and laity, Pentecostals, Southern Baptists, and people from other Baptist denominations are the ones most likely to believe in tithing to the local church, while Presbyterians, Methodists, and Lutherans are the denominational groups least likely to hold this opinion…”
(laityumc.org/tithing.htm+methodist,+tithing).

The televangelists are known to promote tithing—not merely to one’s local church but to their ministry!  Kenneth Copeland, for example, emphasizes the tithe:

Tithing was instituted under the Old Covenant as a way for God to communicate His blessing to His people. The word tithe means “tenth or ten percent.” Proverbs 3:9 says, “Honour the Lord with thy substance, and with the firstfruits of all thine increase.” Tithes are to be given from the first fruits, from the top— the gross, not the net. A person who does not tithe is robbing God and is operating under a curse (Malachi 3:8-9). The first fruits of our income is God’s; it is not ours to use to pay bills.

Tithing is different from seed-faith gifts and offerings. The tithe is your 10 percent that God commands us to give—gifts and offerings are above and beyond it. Some people want to give “as the Lord leads them” instead of tithing—but the Spirit would never lead you against His Word. The Word says to tithe. . . .

Tithing is not only an Old Covenant command, but also a New Testament blessing and privilege. Hebrews 7:8 says, “Here men that die receive tithes. But there he receiveth them, of whom it is witnessed that he liveth.” . . . .

Where you place you tithe depends on where you are receiving your spiritual food. God says to bring the tithes into the storehouse. That is where the food is—where a pastor, an evangelist, an apostle or some other ministry is in operation. When you give, you are not giving to an individual, but for the furtherance of the gospel. Since your tithe is God’s money and since Jesus is the One who handles and receives it, you should always pray and let Him tell you where it should be put to work (kcm.org/real).

It is more than a little interest to us that this “Health and Wealth” speaker and writer is known to live in lavish surroundings, to own an opulent home, to drive luxurious automobiles, and to have his own jet plane.  This is the end result of the tithe of his followers!

When Did “Christian” Tithing Begin?

When did tithing begin in a context that professed to be Christian?  If it was not practiced by the early believers of the first century world, when did the apostate church establish this teaching and practice?  Russell E. Kelly has made a special study of this:

Early church leaders did not even attempt to introduce tithing for at least 200 years after Calvary…Tithing would not become a church law for almost five hundred years after Calvary. The introduction of tithing emerged in direct proportion to the disintegration of the doctrine of the priesthood of believers and the emergence of the power of the bishop-priests…Historians usually agree that, not until A.D. 567, five hundred and thirty seven (537) years after Calvary, did the Church’s first substantial attempt to enforce tithing under its own authority appear in history!…Today most religious bodies have abandoned the practice of compulsory tithing, particularly in the United States, where no system of tithing was ever generally employed after the American Revolution. (Russell E. Kelly, “Should the Church Teach Tithing?”)

Another historical reference makes these comments:

In the beginning [provision] was supplied by the spontaneous support of the faithful. In the course of time, however, as the Church expanded and various institutions arose, it became necessary to make laws which would insure the proper and permanent support of the clergy. The payment of tithes was adopted from the Old Law, and early writers speak of it as a divine ordinance and an obligation of the conscience. The earliest positive legislation on the subject seems to be contained in the letter of the bishops assembled at Tours in 567 and the Canons of the Council of Macon in 585. (Catholic Encyclopedia, 1912, p. 259).

Notice another account:

The early church’s expectation that every Christian would tithe found formal expression at the Synod of Mâçon in 585, which embedded the practice in canon law. A millennium later, the Council of Trent sharpened this law’s teeth: it provided for excommunication if any Catholic declined to contribute his tithe. This, despite the stain in the Church’s monetary record that Luther had so recently uncovered in his critique of papal indulgences…Without a state-imposed tithe, giving in the United States developed quite differently than in Europe. American church leaders have often emphasized the New Testament’s command to give freely and cheerfully, which some leaders have cited to advocate giving less or even more than ten percent.  As a result, tithing has been practiced only sporadically in the modern church, though some revival has been seen in recent decades among Baptists and elements of the Wesleyan holiness movement and Pentecostalism…”
(christianitytoday.com/history/newsletter/2003/jun6.html).

One further and more complete account of how the tithe entered the church (when it became apostate):

Cyprian (200-258) is the first Christian writer to mention the practice of financially supporting the clergy.  He argued that just as the Levites were supported by the tithe, so the Christian clergy should be supported by the tithe.  But this is misguided thinking.  Today, the Levitical system has been abolished.  We are all priests now.  So if a priest demands a tithe, then all Christians should tithe to one another!

Cyprian’s plea was exceedingly rare for his time.  It was neither picked up nor echoed by the Christian populace until much later.  Other than Cyprian, no Christian writer before Constantine ever used Old Testament references to advocate tithing.  It was not until the fourth century, 300 years after Christ, that some Christian leaders began to advocate tithing as a Christian practice to support the clergy.  But it did not become widespread among Christians until the eighth century!  According to one scholar [Edwin Hatch, the Growth of Church Institutions], “For the first seven hundred years they [tithes] are hardly ever mentioned.”

By the eighth century, the tithe became required by law in many areas of Western Europe. . . . Before the eighth century the tithe was practiced as a voluntary offering.  By the end of the tenth century, it had devolved into a legal requirement to fund the State church—demanded by the clergy and enforced by the secular authorities! (Viola, pp. 221-223).

It should be clear from these lengthy quotations that the early church didn’t impose tithing on Christians as a continuation of Old Testament requirements.  This came hundreds of years later.

Some Churches Do See Problems with Tithing

We are not alone in seeing serious problems arising from denominational teaching on tithing.  Notice this quotation that reflects this concern:

While tithing may be a good spiritual discipline and a good starting point for a mature Christian, it may not be the best way to present biblical giving since it can easily become a legalistic requirement of the law rather than a cheerful offering motivated by the love of God shown toward us in Christ.

We maintain that God’s stewards are managers, not owners. This means that God’s stewards have been entrusted with life and life’s resources and given the privilege of responsibly and joyfully managing them for Him. Thus, as children of God through faith in Jesus Christ, and with the Holy Spirit’s help, we will encourage cheerful, firstfruit, proportionate (including but not limited to tithing) living and giving in all areas of life by Christian stewards. (Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod).

Yet another caution was issued by the Church of Scotland:

The Committee does not find the evidence on tithing in the Bible and the history of the Church so clear or consistent as to oblige the Church, in faithfulness to the Scriptures, to teach that tithing is ‘the Biblical standard of giving’ which members ought to adopt (tithing-russkelly.com).


The Early Christians’ Giving

The early love-filled, life-filled, and Christ-filled believers shared their possessions and money with “all, as anyone might have need” (Acts 2:45).  So unique were these early saints that “not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own, but all things were common property to them” (Acts 4:32).  Note that material things “belonged” to the believers, but they didn’t have a selfish or possessive attitude toward them—they didn’t say they “owned” them.  There was a certain detachment from a materialistic spirit (cf. 1 Corinthians 7:29-31).  With this generous attitude prevailing, we read that “there was not a needy person among them, for all who were owners of land or houses would sell them and bring the proceeds of the sales and lay them at the apostles’ feet, and they would be distributed to each as any had need” (vv. 34-35). 

Before the age of social security, insurance accounts, 401K plans, and CDs, these believers were able to care for the physical and material needs of their own spiritual family members.  Their love overflowed into the lives of their fellow-believers.  These Christians continued to “own” houses and have possessions (cf. Acts 12:12; 21:8), but they didn’t greedily hold on to this when they could help each other.  Significantly, we never read of the early Christians tithing.

We must remember that Jesus Christ demonstrated His grace by becoming poor that we might become spiritually rich, and we are to have this same attitude of sacrificial love toward others for their spiritual good (cf. 2 Cor. 8:9).  It seems that these early Christians were so joyful with their new-found redemption in Christ that they openly gave whatever they had to Him and to others.  Writing of the Macedonian believers, Paul said that “in a great ordeal of affliction their abundance of joy and their deep poverty overflowed in the wealth of their liberality” (2 Cor. 8:2).  Although they experienced “deep poverty” along with an “ordeal of affliction,” these persecuted Christians freely gave of their meager possessions.  After the Macedonians “gave themselves to the Lord (v. 5), they freely gave of their possessions.  Although “deep poverty” was their lot, Paul wrote that they voluntarily gave—“beyond their ability they gave of their own accord” (vv. 2-3). 

We must confess that all we possess belongs to God and that our financial income and material goods are placed in our hands to use according to His will.  “The earth is the Lord’s, and all it contains, the world, and those who dwell in it” (Psalm 24:1; cf. 1 Corinthians 10:26; Psalm 50:10-12; Haggai 2:8; cf. Matt. 24:45-47; Luke 16:1-13).  “’The silver is Mine and the gold is Mine,’ declares the LORD of hosts” (Malachi 2:8).  Since God the Creator is Owner of all, He has a right to say how we use our money and possessions.

We must realize that God often looks on things differently than we do.  “God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7; cf. Isaiah 55:8-9).  Jesus spoke about the importance of our right attitude toward material wealth.  He said, “He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also in much” (Luke 16:10).  In this context, the “very little thing” refers to money, and our Lord said that if we are faithful to Him in our handling of money, we will be faithful in other matters of life.  If we are unrighteous in our view of riches, we will be unrighteous in much.  Riches serve as a test of our heart! 

Jesus declared, “No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be devoted to one and despise the other.  You cannot serve God and wealth” (Luke 16:13; cf. Matt. 6:24).  We cannot serve both God and money!  The Pharisees “who were lovers of money,” were listening to Jesus speak these strong words.  Jesus responded to them: “You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of men, but God knows your hearts; for that which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God” (vv. 14-15).  In this context, wealth is “highly esteemed among men,” but when it is mishandled or made into an idol, it is “detestable in the sight of God”!  God is not only interested in how we use our money and possessions; He is very much concerned about our heart and what causes us to do  what we do with our wealth and material things!

While He was in the temple, Jesus saw the rich people giving many gifts into the treasury, then He observed a poor widow giving “two small copper coins.”  This refers to the lepton, which was 1/128 of a denarius.  A denarius was the wage for a laborer in a day.  Thus, her two coins was only 1/64th of a day’s wage!  Significantly, Jesus said, “This poor widow put in more than all of them; for they all out of their surplus put into the offering; but she out of her poverty put in all that she had to live on” (Luke 21:1-4).  In the eyes of the surrounding rich men, her actions were not prudent or financially responsible.  In the eyes of God, this poor woman gave more than all of the rich people who thought they had given more—and surely other people also thought they gave more.  But Jesus looks on the heart!  Jesus is more interested in what we have left after giving than He is on what we actually give! 

Paul says that the way we give to the needs of others is a test of “the sincerity of [our] love” (2 Cor. 8:8).  When you give with sincere motives and with an honest heart, Paul says that your giving is “the proof of your love” (v. 24).  We demonstrate our love for the Lord by giving to Him, His cause, and His purposes on earth. And we show our love for others by giving to meet their needs.  Outward actions demonstrate our inner faith, love, and commitment.  Just as our words reveal our heart, so all of our outward actions demonstrate our attitude of heart (Matthew 12:34-37).

Serious Problems with the Tithe

A misleading impression is given to many people.  Frequently, when the tithe is emphasized, this is the stated or unstated impression: The tithe is for the Lord, but the remaining 90% of your income is for you!  The assumption is that whatever is left after the tithe is contributed may be freely used in whatever way one chooses.  Sadly, this teaching of the tithe becomes an occasion for selfish indulgence and careless spending!  After all, it is assumed that if 90% of my income belongs to ME, I can use it any way I may want.  We wrongly conclude that part belongs to God and part belongs to me.  Part is for His work and part is for my needs.  Part of my income God has the right to control, while the other part is up to me to control!  This is dreadfully wrong and leads to disastrous conclusions!

John Barclay wrote a paper with this significant point:

Putting emphasis on tithing might well constitute a trap if the impression were given that the Christian can do whatever he or she desires with the other ninety per cent.  (This is at least part of the reason for the criticism of the tithing practice in Matthew 23: 23 – the minute concern for the giving of ten per cent can overshadow the large and limitless commitment which we owe to God.) (tithing-russkelly.com).

What is the truth in this matter?  All of our income belongs to the Lord!  Every last penny that we have is actually owned by God!  He has the right to all of our possessions, all of our money, all of our income!  In fact, we are merely stewards of all that God gives to us, and “it is required of stewards that one be found trustworthy” (1 Cor. 4:2).  We sing a favorite old song that says this so well—“Take My Life and Let it Be.”  In the song, we give to God what He already owns—our life, our days, our hands and feet, our voice, our money, our intellect, our will, our heart, our love, and all we are.  We don’t have the right to use any of our money in a selfish way since all of it belongs to the Lord and we are merely caretakers of His wealth.

Notice the account of David and the people of God contributing to the building of the temple in Jerusalem.  The scripture says that “the people rejoiced because they had offered so willingly, for they made their offering to the LORD with a whole heart, and King David also rejoiced greatly” (1 Chronicles 29:9).  With a whole heart and great joy, they willingly offered their gifts to the Lord.  David then prayed to God:

Yours, O LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, indeed everything that is in the heavens and the earth; Yours is the dominion, O LORD, and You exalt Yourself as head over all. . . . But who am I and who are my people that we should be able to offer as generously as this? For all things come from You, and from Your hand we have given You (vv. 11, 14).

David knew that all material wealth was owned by God and was given by God—and anything we give directly to His work really belongs to Him already!

Perhaps we can see by now that teaching an Old Testament form of tithing as a legal obligation does have serious problems.  Stuart Murry, in Beyond Tithing, states:

My firm conviction is that tithing has been a pernicious and unjust system through many centuries; that it is based on a deeply flawed interpretation of biblical teaching; that it hinders thoughtful engagement with the much broader scope of biblical teaching on the issue of handling resources …. Texts about tithing comprise a very small proportion of what biblical authors have to say about financial issues.  On what basis are they given paradigmatic significance?  What other biblical principles or practices do we fail to grapple with when we prioritise the tithing texts in this way? (tithing-russkelly.com)

 

The Purpose and Object of Christian Giving

Why did the early Christians give of their substance?  The ultimate purpose in all that we do as believers is to glorify God!  In fact, we have been created to bring glory to God (Isaiah 43:7).  When Paul encouraged the Corinthians to give of their income and possessions to support the poor among the Jerusalem brothers, he knew that this act of love, generosity, and solidarity by the Gentiles would produce “thanksgiving to God” (2 Corinthians 9:11), even “many thanksgivings to God” (v. 12).  He then says that the Jewish believers “will glorify God for [the Gentile Christians’] obedience” to their confession of the gospel of Christ” (v. 13).  This agrees with Peter’s insistence that “in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 4:11).  The ultimate purpose of giving is to bring glory and thanksgiving to our glorious God, through Jesus Christ our Lord!

If this is the purpose for our giving, what are the different areas that should be our concern or the various objects of our giving?  As we look through the pages of Scripture, we note that the early Christians used their money in the following ways:

  • Poor and needy Christians—both locally as well as from a distance (Acts 11:29; Romans 15:25-27; 1 Corinthians 16:1-2; 2 Corinthians 8:4; 9:1, 12; Galatians 2:10).  This giving was done in a corporate way, but it was also done by individual Christians (cf. James 2:15-16; Galatians 6:10; 1 John 3:16-18; Matthew 25:31-46).
  • Poor Christian widows and orphans (cf. Acts 6:1-6; 1 Timothy 5:3-16; James 1:27).
  • Christian brothers who preach the gospel of Christ (cf. 1 Corinthians 9:14; cf. vv. 6-14; 3 John 5-8; Philippians 1:5 with 4:10-19; 2 Corinthians 11:7-9; cf. Matthew 10:10; Luke 10:7)
  • Elders in the body of Christ (also known as overseers or shepherds) (1 Timothy 5:17-18).
  • Teachers of Scripture (Galatians 6:6).
  • Christians should also help unbelievers in need, as they have opportunity (cf. Luke 10:30-37; Galatians 6:10; 1 Thessalonians 5:15).

Believers or Unbelievers?

These are some of the ways the early Christians used their money and shared their possessions.  There must have been other worthy causes, but their money was not without limit.  There is no indication at all that Jesus Christ sent His people into the world to become a benevolent society.  They were not a charitable organization.  There was a vast amount of poverty in the first-century world, and God knew that His people would always be in the minority.  They couldn’t do much to meet the extensive needs of the world’s poor.  In fact, even in Israel, Jesus reminded His followers, “You always have the poor with you” (Matthew 26:11). 

Instead of extending benevolence to all mankind, the early disciples majored on caring for their own number.  This is the emphasis in Scripture.  The early Jerusalem saints gave of their possessions to help each other (cf. Acts 4:32-35; 2:44-45).  The saints in Antioch also gave to their Judean brothers (Acts 11:29).  The Macedonian, Galatian, and Corinthian believers gave to support their fellow-believers (Romans 15:25-27; 1 Corinthians 16:1; 2 Corinthians 8:4; 9:1, 12).  The household of Stephanas “devoted themselves for the ministry [service] to the saints” (1 Corinthians 16:15; cf. Hebrews 6:10).  Paul commands the Roman saints, “Contributing to the needs of the saints” (12:13).

Although we are to bless the lives of all, as we have opportunity, our responsibility is to care for and support our brothers and sisters in Christ (Galatians 6:10; 1 Thessalonians 5:15; 1 John 3:16-18).

Tithing in Today’s Religious World

We have discussed the question of tithing in the body of Christ, but what about people in the professing Christian world—the world of Christendom?  Within some of the denominations, tithing is taught, encouraged, and even stipulated.  It is written in their church discipline or denominational manual and preached from the pulpit.  However, no religious body approaches the tithe when we look at the entire membership.

The “Generous Giving” website (generousgiving.org) is not meant to be authoritative in stating what various religious bodies give, but this organization does suggest the percentage that members of various churches contribute (presumably to their churches).  Notice these results:

Church Denomination

Percentage Given

African Methodist Episcopal Church

2%

American Baptist Churches

2.5%

Assemblies of God

5.25%

Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

1.75%

Episcopal Church

1.75%

Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

1.5%

Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod

2%

National Baptist Convention

2.75%

Presbyterian Church in America

3%

Presbyterian Church

2.5%

Reformed Church in America

3.25%

Roman Catholic Church

1.25%

Southern Baptist Convention

3%

United Church of Christ

2%

United Methodist Church

1.75%

 

This shows how little church members give.  Surely this is a pittance of their income—in the richest nation on earth!  We must admit that, presumably, some of the members of these religious bodies must also give to other religious causes (charities, missionaries, radio and television stations, ministries, parachurch organizations), but the statistics above do say something!  Most people do not even give a tithe of their income to “the Lord”—however they define this.  While some devoted members give a tenth or even more of their income—most give far less.

The Tithe May be a Stumbling Block

A stumbling block has been defined as “an obstacle or hindrance to progress, belief, or understanding” (Random House Webster’s Dictionary).  How can an emphasis on the tithe be an obstacle?  How can it be a hindrance to one’s spiritual progress, his Christian belief, or His understanding?

Let me explain.  When the tithe is emphasized, many people receive the impression that only 10% of their income belongs to the Lord, which leaves 90% of the income for their own use—to use in whatever way they choose.   However, in the New Testament scriptures, there is no indication that Christians should merely give 10% of their income to “Christian” causes.  While people who are severely limited in their financial income and material means may only be able to give a tithe, surely many—probably most—are able to give more than a tithe, especially in nations of material abundance!

Stuart Murray urges sincere people to be more radical in their giving than merely giving a tithe.  He makes this telling comment:

Tithing is simply not radical enough for the kingdom of God – especially where tithes are used primarily to support church staff, premises and programmes.  Costly decisions are needed that may involve living more simply, moving into smaller houses and into run-down neighbourhoods, redistributing resources across the world church, investing capital as well as income in kingdom projects, and much else.  Becoming rich honestly is no barrier to following Jesus, but retaining wealth in a world of poverty, hunger and suffering surely is. (Beyond Tithing, tithing-russkelly.com).

 

Consider the average yearly salary of those in a number of professions and occupations in the United States.  There are various levels in most occupations (beginning to experienced), so the following list may vary considerably, according to geographical area, educational requirements, experience, and employer.

Occupational Field

Yearly Salary

Nurse assistant

$25,874

Charge nurse

$64,211

Head nurse

$84,848

Accountant I

$40,942

Accountant III

$59,575

Architect I

$36,791

Architect III

$47,537

Senior pastor

$83,196

Associate pastor

$60,410

Application Systems Analyst V

$95,357

Client/Server Programmer III

$79,018

Plumber II

$46,559

Mathematics Professor

$82,846

Bricklayer

$55,410

Insurance claims adjuster

$43,699

UPS driver

$60,000

Librarian

$54,768

Biologist III

$61,177

Senior electrician

$50,493

Senior auto mechanic

$49,812

Technical writer

$53,593

Landscaper

$23,500

Postal worker—senior

$52,000

Carpenter II

$42,580

Co-pilot of large jet

$87,466

Dentist

$133,288

Dentist assistant

$32,775

Physician—family practice

$156,884

Physician—dermatologist

$231,717

Physician—surgeon

$288,507

 

(We are in no way addressing the question of whether any of these positions would be scriptural and honorable—or whether any would be compromising and wrong.  Notice our booklet, Working in Today’s World.)

We should remember that common laborers would earn much less.  For example, one who earns merely $7.25 per hour (minimum wage in 2009) would only make $14,500—before taxes!

This gives us a general understanding of the range of wages in various professions and occupations today (2008 figures).  As we stated, some of the above occupations pay less and others pay more than the stated amounts above (taken from www.salary.com).  Another matter that changes the above figures would be overtime worked as well as benefits.  For example, a UPS driver may earn $24.69 an hour, but with overtime, he may earn $70,000 a year, plus $10,000 to $15,000 worth of insurance, along with generous retirement benefits (blogs.payscale.com and USA Today figures).

The point we are making is that many people do not even give a tithe of their income to the Lord (or for what they believe to be spiritual purposes).  Even those who have a larger income than average do not give a tithe of their income.  Ironically, it has been pointed out that the larger wage-earners actually give less of a percentage of their gross income than the lower wage-earners!

According to the above statistics, the tithe (i.e. 10%) of a head nurse would be $8,484.  A tithe of an accountant III would be $5,957.  The tithe of a postal worker may be $5,200 and a UPS driver would be $7,000.  The tithe of a librarian would be $5,476, that of a carpenter would be $4,258, that of a senior electrician would be $5,049, that of a family doctor would be $15,688, and that of a surgeon would be $28,850.

But is this application of the tithe really equitable and reasonable?  Is it fair that those with greater income only give 10% of their income to the Lord?  Is it fair that they give no more than the tithe, considering their greater income?  Think of what a few of those in the above occupations have left after they give 10% of their income:

Occupation

Income

Amount left after a tithe

Dental assistant

$32,775

$29,498

Head nurse

$84,848

$76,364

Technical writer

$53,593

$48,234

Librarian

$54,768

$49,292

Pastor

$83,196

$74,877

Systems Analyst

$95,357

$85,822

UPS driver

$70,000

$63,000

Dentist

$133,288

$119,960

Dermatologist

$232,717

$208,546

 

In God’s sight, it may be that the dental assistant actually gives more of his income than does the dentist!  Why?  Because it is more of a sacrifice to him than it would be for the dentist!  After the tithe, the assistant has only $29,498 to live on, while the dentist has $119,960!  In view of this, would not God want the dentist to give more—much more—than a tithe?  Surely we can see this principle!

While some poor people may not be able to give more than a tithe, many Christians can—and should—give much more.  Some who have higher incomes may be able to give 20%, 30%, 40%, or 50%, to the multi-faceted work of the Lord!  Some professing Christians earn ten times as much as other brothers!  For example, one may only be able to work part time for minimum wage or may merely receive income from social security, while another may earn $190,000 or $500,000 a year!  One may have no medical insurance, while another may be given $20,000 worth of job benefits!  Instead of giving a meager tithe, true believers who have more than enough should be looking for opportunities to give more and more to God’s cause, thereby laying up treasures in heaven rather than treasures on earth (1 Timothy 6:17-19)!  Remember what Paul stated: “The love of money is a root of all sorts of evil” (1 Timothy 6:10).

The tithe can definitely be a root of evil for the rich person.  One writer charges: “Modern tithing is good news to the rich.  To a high-earner, 10% is but a paltry sum. Tithing, therefore, appeases the consciences of the rich, while it has no significant impact on their lifestyles.  Not a few wealthy Christians are deluded into thinking they are ‘obeying God’ because they throw a measly 10% of their income into the offering plate” (Viola, Pagan Christianity, p. 224).

God’s Means of Sharing

We have already noticed that God is not as much interested in what we give to His cause, or what percentage we give, but He is very much concerned about what we have left after we give.  The account of the poor widow established that.  Further, God is interested in what we would want to give if we had the means—and not just the amount that we can give.  Paul explains this principle:

If the readiness is present, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have.  For this is not for the ease of others and for your affliction, but by way of equality—at this present time your abundance being a supply for their need, so that their abundance also may become a supply for your need, that there may be quality; as it is written, ‘He who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little had no lack’” (2 Corinthians 8:12-15).

Notice what the apostle is saying here.  He says that there should not be extremes of wealth and poverty in the body of Christ.  The family of God should not have those in extreme need while there are members of the family who have an abundance—much more than they really need.  Instead, the abundance of those who have should supply the lack of those who do not have.  What is the result?  “There may be equality” (v. 14).  Those who have much, “did not have too much,” and those who had little, “had no lack” (v. 15). 

This is the principle that both James (2:15-16) and John (1 John 3:16-18) establish.  It is even touched upon in Proverbs 30:8-9: “Give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is my portion.  That I not be full and deny You and say, ‘Who is the LORD?’ Or that I not be in want and steal, and profane the name of my God.”  There are serious problems with extreme wealth and extreme poverty.

We know that this must be tempered with the fact that each culture and nation has its own standard of living.  There are legitimate differences between believers in different locations, and this includes economic levels.  That being said, there must also be a way to implement Paul’s instructions in the passage above in our own setting.

A Few Others Issue Warnings

Although many professing Christian leaders seem to be content with urging the practice of tithing, a few do see the danger of this.  We venture to include a number of quotations below, although we would not agree with the belief system of most of them (see generousgiving.org).  Yet they do have a strong message for us regarding possessions and giving.  Notice the following:

  • “My take on tithing in America is that it’s a middle-class way of robbing God. Tithing to the church and spending the rest on your family is not a Christian goal. It’s a diversion. The real issue is: How shall we use God’s trust fund—namely, all we have—for His glory? In a world with so much misery, what lifestyle should we call our people to live? What example are we setting?” (John Piper).

“There are many hearing me who now know well that they are not Christians because they do not love to give. To give largely and liberally, not grudging at all, requires a new heart.” (Robert Murray McCheyne, 1813-43).

  • “What is the chief end of giving? To glorify God and enjoy him forever.” (Dennis Bakke).

  • “[When I die] if I leave behind me ten pounds … you and all mankind [may] bear witness against me, that I have lived and died a thief and a robber.” (John Wesley, 1703-91).

  • “I cannot help leaving my books behind me whenever God calls me hence; but in every other respect, my own hands will be my executors.” (Wesley).

  • “Earn as much as you can. Save as much as you can. Invest as much as you can. Give as much as you can.” (Wesley).
     

  • “I judge all things only by the price they shall gain in eternity.”  (Wesley).

  •  “I will place no value on anything I have or possess except in relation to the Kingdom of Christ. If anything I have will advance that Kingdom, it shall be given or kept whichever will best promote the glory of Him to whom I owe all my hopes, both for time and eternity.” (David Livingstone, 1813-73).
  • “As base a thing as money often is, yet it can be transmuted into everlasting treasure. It can be converted into food for the hungry and clothing for the poor. It can keep a missionary actively winning lost men to the light of the gospel and thus transmute itself into heavenly values. Any temporal possession can be turned into everlasting wealth. Whatever is given to Christ is immediately touched with immortality.”(A.W.Tozer).

  • “One of the greatest missing teachings in the American church today is the reminder to men and women that nothing we have belongs to us.”(Gordon MacDonald).

  • “Money never stays with me. It would burn me if it did. I throw it out of my hands as soon as possible, lest it should find its way into my heart.” (Wesley).

  •  “We should travel light and live simply. Our enemy is not possessions but excess.”  (John R.W. Stott).
  • “Give me five minutes with a person’s checkbook, and I will tell you where their heart is.” (Billy Graham).

Are We Free to Use our Income in Any Way?

If a person mistakenly believes that he owns 90% of his income, he may wrongly conclude that he can use it for the satisfaction of his personal desires.  Especially in an affluent society, the majority of people misuse their money and spend it in ways that would displease the Lord.  A land of wealth (and this would include the United States, Canada, Europe, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, as well as other affluent Mideastern countries) offers many opportunities to practice greed and manifest a selfish attitude!

Why does God give us financial income?  Does He do this so that we might spend our money on ourselves, with no thought of the work of the Lord and without a genuine care for those in physical and spiritual need?  God gives us our income for several legitimate purposes:

  • To support the Lord’s work of the gospel (1 Corinthians 9:6-14).    
  • To support ourselves and our families (Acts 20:34; 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12; 2 Thessalonians 3:8-13; 1 Timothy 5:8)
  • To support the weak and poor (Acts 11:27-30; Galatians 2:10).
  • To pay taxes to the civil government (Romans 13:6-7; Matthew 22:17-21).

There is no indication that God gives us an abundance of earthly possessions so that we can use them selfishly.  Paul warns, “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3).  Jesus declared, “Seek first [God’s] kingdom and His righteousness” (Matthew 6:33).  If we are given more than we need, God wants us to devote that extra to His work in this world.  Notice this clear command:

Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy.  Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is life indeed (1 Timothy 6:17-19).

Those who are “rich” in earthly goods—and this would include many of us—are to use those for God’s glory so that we may have eternal treasure in heaven (cf. Matthew 6:19-21).

I’ve distributed literature at the “Word of Faith” or “Health and Wealth” conventions, pointing out the false doctrine promulgated by this aberrant theology.  Sometimes, when I point out that these Word of Faith televangelists live in regal splendor and encourage their followers to strive for riches, I hear various justifications of their lifestyle and wealth.  I may ask whether it is really God’s will for them to own and drive their Jaguars, their Lincolns and Cadillacs, live in multi-million dollar mansions, living like kings in this world.  Their deceived supporters have replied that if their preachers have the money, they can do whatever they wish with “what God has given them”!  They may say, “We are to live like King’s Kids!”

In light of this, I ask whether gratifying their worldly lusts really is a manifestation of true love.  Love is the key here!  If there is unlimited material abundance on earth, then everyone could drive luxury automobiles, but when there is a vast amount of poverty on this earth and thousands die every day through malnutrition and starvation (and this includes professing Christians), then for me to live in material wealth is a lack of love.  Love is from the Greek agape, the outgoing care and concern for others.  True love meets the needs of others, mercy seeks to alleviate the painful misery of people, compassion seeks to care for those in desperate need.  Is it really loving for me to gratify my materialistic lusts while I refuse to use my money to help meet the needs of the sick, afflicted, poor, deserted, and needy?  Jesus said that the second command is to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31).  Therefore, I have charged these false teachers and false prophets with the grievous sin of lovelessness—as well as a myriad of other obvious sins and false doctrines.

Principles of Giving

Notice several principles to guide the giving of our income and possessions, according to Paul’s instructions in 2 Corinthians 8-9, the longest section in the Bible dealing with this subject:

1.      The joy of our salvation should motivate giving (2 Corinthians 8:2).

2.      We should first give ourselves to the Lord before we give of our substance (8:5).

3.      Our love is demonstrated and proved by our giving (8:8, 24).

4.      The grace of Jesus Christ in giving Himself should motivate our own sacrificial giving (8:9).

5.      There should be a move toward equalization of wealth, so that Christians do not have too much or too little (8:12-15).

6.      Our handling of money should always be done in an honorable way (8:21).

7.      While many needs exist all around us, we have a special obligation to other genuinely saved people (8:4; 9:1, 12).

8.      We should give “bountiful gifts” and must flee from a covetous attitude (9:5).

9.      We should sow bountifully rather than sparingly (9:6).

10.  Our giving should arise from our own heart purpose rather than external obligation (9:7).

11.  We should not give grudgingly but cheerfully (9:7).

12.  God is able to bless our giving so that we will have sufficient (9:8-10).

13.  Our giving will result in thanksgiving (9:11, 12) and glorification of God (9:13).

14.  Our giving expresses our obedience to our confession of the gospel of Christ (9:13).

15.  When we give, it is God’s grace at work in us (8:1; 9:14).

Additional principles of giving are scattered throughout the Scriptures.  The NASB New Testament, Soul Winner’s Edition, tells us that 16 out of 38 parables of Jesus deal with stewardship.  One out of six verses in the New Testament mentions the right or wrong use of possessions and man’s relationship to material things.  This shows how important giving is in the sight of God!

Let’s notice a few more principles of giving in the new covenant writings.

  • Our giving should be done secretly rather than publicly.  It should be for God’s approval rather than for outward display and the approval of others (Matthew 6:2-4).
  • It is more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:35).

  • Our giving may not be rewarded on earth, but God will “repay” us in the resurrection of the righteous(Luke 14:14).

  • We should not lay up material treasures for ourselves on earth, but we should place our treasures in heaven (Matthew 6:19-21; Luke 12:21, 33; 18:22).

  • It is a sin to use our material possessions for selfish indulgence when others in the body of Christ suffer need (1 John 3:16-18).

  • If we only concentrate on our own possessions with no thought of eternity or God, we are utterly foolish (Luke 12:16-21).

    Our true life does not consist of our possessions (Luke 12:15).

  • If we live luxuriously here, we will suffer need in the life to come (Luke 16:19-31).

  • If we live in riches without using our substance for God’s glory and the cause of Christ, we will be sadly disappointed after death (Luke 6:20-26).

Practical Uses of the Lord’s Possessions

Some people assume that all that a Christian gives must be directed to the local body of believers.  There definitely is much in the New Testament to show that the early Christians did pool their resources for a variety of needs (cf. Acts 4:32-37; 11:27-30; 1 Corinthians 16:1-4; etc.).  Yet there are many other needs that may be met without giving to the local assembly of believers.  Some of you may even be in the regretful position of not being part of a loving, scriptural, intimate, zealous, and devoted body of believers at present.  You can still give!  Notice some of the expenses that may require your personal and family funds:

1.      Buying or growing food for family hospitality and sharing with the needy (Matthew 25:31-46; Luke 14:12-14).

2.      Transportation expense for preaching or going to Christian meetings (Hebrews 10:24-25).

3.      Purchasing or reproducing literature for distribution in sharing the gospel with the lost (e.g., tracts, Bibles, recordings, etc.).

4.      Purchasing or producing literature to share with other believers for their own growth in knowledge of God’s will (Matthew 28:20).

5.      Purchasing books or recordings or other materials for one’s own spiritual growth and that of your family (2 Timothy 3:15-17; 4:13).

6.      Educational supplies for home-schooling your children (cf. Ephesians 6:4; Deuteronomy 6:4-9).

7.      Building a room to your house for use in Christian gatherings or offering hospitality (2 Kings 4:8-11; Acts 12:12; 21:8, 16; Romans 12:13; Philemon 22; Hebrews 13:1-2).

8.      Hosting and feeding brothers and sisters in the family of God in your home for worship and edification (cf. Romans 16:5; 1 Corinthians 16:19; Colossians 4:15; Philemon 2).

Besides these and other personal or family Christian projects requiring financial expense, there are the numerous—perhaps countless—works worthy of support that we mentioned earlier: preachers of the gospel, teachers of the word, overseers or shepherds of the flock, needy brothers and sisters, etc.

The Deadly Danger of Earthly Wealth

We are living among people who passionately desire to be rich.  They are willing to work overtime, neglect their families, travel long distances, compromise their standards, be dishonest, work on the Lord’s day, take sinful occupations, and neglect the Lord’s work—all to earn more, have more, and spend more!  They play the lottery, play poker, and go to the races with the hope of getting something for nothing.  Others save for the future so they can live a “comfortable” retirement of travel, golf, fishing, and pleasure-seeking—then, ironically, they may die a year after attaining the retirement goal!  Again and again, the teachings of Jesus and the apostles warn against the deceptive sin of greed.

We can barely treat this subject at this time.  Jesus said, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (Luke 12:15, ESV).  Yet most people do think that life consists in piling up riches on earth, thus they live their life coveting more, greedily seeking to satisfy their materialistic desires.  The Hebrew writer said, “Make sure that your character is free from the love of money, being content with what you have; for He Himself has said, ‘I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you’” (13:5).  Paul warned against this attitude of greed:

If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content.  But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction.  For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs (1 Timothy 6:8-10).

Paul says that we are not to pursue riches, for this perspective will cause one to fall into temptations and a trap, into foolish and harmful desires that plunge man into ruin and destruction!  But men refuse to hear this warning and insist on continuing their own self-chosen, destructive plunge.  They allow the advertisements on television to captivate their heart and make them believe that happiness will come to them if they have a larger house, a vacation cruise, the latest luxury car, and designer clothes.  They are willing to take the Lord’s money and misuse it to purchase these “toys” and live “the American dream”!  No longer is this the proverbial quest of a car in every garage and a chicken in the pot, but we are speaking of the rank affluence of the heart that is materialistic and carnal, uncontrolled by the Spiritual fruit of love, mercy, contentment, and generosity. 

James warns of this worldly attitude of greed: “It is in the last days that you have stored up your treasure! . . . You have lived luxuriously on the earth and led a life of wanton pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter” (5:3, 5).  Doesn’t this sound like twenty-first century America!

The Lord Jesus warned that this is a matter of life and death, of heaven and hell!  He said, “How hard it will be for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God!” (Mark 10:23).  He went on to elaborate, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God!  It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” (vv. 24-25).  The rich person generally has his eyes and heart fixed on material things, on earthly pleasures, on a trust in money and material resources.  God is either forgotten, minimized, or compromised!  Yet we see the masses of people boasting that they strive for material wealth—which Jesus warned us would prevent most from entering God’s coming Kingdom!

We earlier stated that the Pharisees were careful to tithe all they possessed, including the tiny garden herbs (cf. Matthew 23:23).  The Pharisee in the temple boasted, “I pay tithes of all that I get” (Luke 18:12).  But they also were “lovers of money” (Luke 16:14).  Paul likewise wrote of men who would be “lovers of self, lovers of money,” and “lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God” (2 Timothy 3:2, 4).  This love of money, love of possessions, and love of material things will drag one down into ruin and destruction! 

While millions, even billions, of people are without a knowledge of the gospel of Christ, professing Christians are content to pile up riches on earth rather than placing their treasures in heaven (Matthew 6:19-21).  Jesus gave a parable of a rich man who was only concerned about his earthly possessions.  He said to himself, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come; take your ease, eat, drink and be merry” (Luke 12:19).  Doesn’t this picture the common American quest!  God replied, “You fool!  This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?” (v. 20).  Jesus then stated, “So is the man who stores up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God” (v. 21).  Someone wisely said, “The only way we can store up treasures in heaven is to put them into something that is going to heaven!” 

    • Instead of thinking of earthly things, we need to think of heavenly things (Philippians 3:19; Colossians 3:1-2).

    • Instead of piling up treasure on earth, we need to put our treasure in heaven (Luke 12:33; 18:22).

    • Instead of loving material things, we need to be loving God and loving people (1 Corinthians 16:14; 2 Timothy 3:2, 4).

    • Instead of being consumed about personal pleasures, we need to be thinking of how we may please God (Ephesians 5:10; 2 Corinthians 5:9).

    • Instead of loving the world, we need to love God the Father (1 John 2:15-17).

    • Instead of thinking that money can satisfy our own selfish desires, we need to think of money as a means to bless the lives of others and glorify God (Luke 16:8-10).

    • Instead of serving wealth or money as our master, we need to have God alone as our heavenly Master and Lord (Luke 16:13; Matthew 6:24; 4:10).

    • Instead of seeking things, we need to discover that God alone satisfies (Hebrews 13:5-6; Psalm 73:1-28).

The virtue of contentment is not popular (Philippians 4:11; 1 Timothy 6:6-8; Hebrews 13:5-6).  Simply stated, when we live a life of greed and covetousness (which literally means the desire for more and more), we will invest in our own comfort, our own pleasure, our own possessions, our own security, and our own earthly happiness.  On the other hand, if we have a focus on God and love Him and others with all of our heart, then this will be reflected in how we use our financial income and material possessions!

Earthly wealth, per se, is not evil or wrong.  A rich person can do much for the Kingdom of God (1 Timothy 6:17-18).  Mary of Jerusalem offered hospitality to many believers (Acts 12:12).  Lydia offered her house to a group of evangelists (Acts 16:15, 40).  The home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus was used by Jesus and His disciples (Luke 10:38-42).  Devoted women of means supported the Lord and His followers (Luke 8:1-3). 

Sadly, very few will divest themselves of their earthly wealth and invest in heavenly treasure.  Most will cling to their riches.  Imagine a passenger on the Titanic holding on to a bag of heavy gold coins—and refusing to part with this earthly hoard.  Instead, he sinks beneath the waves and the money takes him to the depth of the Atlantic Ocean!  In the same way, most would rather allow their money to destroy them—than use it for God’s Kingdom and glory, and the proclamation of the gospel of Christ (Mark 10:21; 16:15).

Change Your Perspective Today!

Are you willing to repent of this attitude of materialism that permeates this society?  Are you willing to change your heart regarding the money you earn and the material things you own?  Are you willing to turn from this attitude of greed and covetousness, and replace it with a heart attitude of outgoing love, unselfishness, and generosity?

This may mean that you will be willing to sell your Lexus car, or your luxurious home, or elaborate furnishings, or your boat and summer lakefront house.  It may mean that you will choose to give the Lord 20% or 50% of your income, instead of trying to “do your duty” to God by giving a measly 10% tithe, or even less.  It may mean that you will seek for ways to make restitution for years or even decades of selfishly using your money and possessions for yourself and your family.  If you have only given 2%, 5% or 10% of your income for the Lord when you could have given twice that amount, and you now feel secure in earthly investments of land and houses, you may need to sincerely repent and make restitution by divesting yourself of this accumulated wealth and giving much to the Lord and His earthly work!

Now is the time to make these hard decisions for the Lord!  The song entitled What Shall it Profit? by Johnson Oatman, Jr., puts all of this into perspective:

Not all earth’s gold and silver can make a sinner whole;

What shall it profit thee, O man, if thou should’st lose thy soul?

The heaping up of riches to many seems life’s goal;

But in the eager rush for wealth, forgotten is the soul.

This solemn question answer; is worldly gain thy goal?

Can fleeting riches be compared to an immortal soul?

Chorus:

What shall it profit a man, what shall it profit a man,

If he gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?

 

This is so true!  Because of this, we urge you to repent of your materialistic focus today—while there is the time and opportunity.  Paul warns us that covetous people “will not inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10).  He says that covetousness “amounts to idolatry” and “it is because of these things that the wrath of God will come upon the sons of disobedience” (Colossians 3:5-6).  The apostle combines these truths when he says that the covetous or greedy man (one who seeks material things) is an idolater who will suffer the wrath of God and not inherit God’s kingdom (Ephesians 5:3-6).  We must not be “partakers” of these sins (v. 7) for the greedy idolater will have his part in the lake of fire (Revelation 21:8).  Even now, the body of Christ must not have fellowship with a greedy brother, but must exclude him from all association in God’s family (1 Corinthians 5:11-13).

 

Can you see how vital it is to look on material things differently?  Perhaps you have felt confident because you contribute regularly, dropping your $20 into the collection plate each Sunday.  God calls on you to repent of this greedy, prideful, and materialistic perspective and begin to give all that you can to Him, to the work of Christ, and to the physical and especially spiritual needs of others.  We do not suggest that you should give more—or even anything—to a human denomination or church that compromises truth, teaches error, delights in worldly entertainment, refuses to live in holiness and simplicity, or fails to take God’s Word seriously.  No, we encourage you to refuse to support this hypocrisy!  Instead, give your funds to scriptural works—Godly and genuine needs of the Lord.  “Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth” (1 John 3:18).  “God so loved the world, that He gave. . .” (John 3:16).

 

Appendix 1

The Opulent Incomes of the Tithing Clergy

This is not the place for a more complete examination of the televangelists, theologians, radio speakers, pastors and preachers, and healers who receive incredible amounts of money from their devoted followers.  While little ladies on social security, single mothers with a low income, and gullible devotees dutifully send in their tithes, the ministry heads and religious leaders rake in millions and live in multi-million dollar mansions, living in kingly splendor.  Russell Kelly has done extensive work to document the incomes of some of the religious leaders to whom we refer who supposedly all encourage the practice of tithing.  Notice some of the prominent names along with their financial income:

    • John Hagee–$1,300,000 from his ministry and Cornerstone Church.

    • Joyce Meyer—with compensation package of up to $900,000 a year and $450,000 for her husband.

    • Paul Crouch–$409,306 annual salary, plus Jan Crouch with $361,000; plus $5 million mansion, tennis court, six-car garage, and pool with fountain; plus an 80 acre ministry estate in Dallas worth $10 million.

    • Richard Stearns, president of World Vision, at $384,772 annually.

    • Franklin Graham, president of Samaritan’s Purse, at $368,115 annually.

    • Charles Stanley of In Touch Ministries, at $299,512 a year.

    • Pat Robertson of CBN at $306,293 a year.

    • Dennis Rydberg, head of Young Life, at $272,127 annually.

    • Billy Graham at $451,707 a year.

    • Wes Stafford of Compassion International at $202,679 a year.

    • Chuck Colson of Prison Fellowship, at $218,614 per year.

    • James Robison of Life Outreach International at $195,500 a year.

    • Peter Popoff of Peter Popoff Ministries made $425,019.

    • R.C. Sproul of Ligonier Ministries made $221,576.

    • Hank Hannegraaf, president of The Christian Research Institute, received $280,331 a year, plus a $66,000 Lexus.

These figures are several years old at this point, but the present amounts would probably be higher.  Most of the sites do not mention the benefits package offered.  Many of the fabulously wealthy “Word of Faith” or “Health and Wealth” televangelists—such as Benny Hinn, Kenneth Copeland, Oral Roberts, Richard Roberts, and Creflo Dollar—were not mentioned in this report.

Check out Kelly’s website for complete documentation, along with much discussion on the question of the tithe in general (tithing-russkelly.com/id81).  The point we wish to make is that this is the partial result of the tithing doctrine and it shows the sad consequence of doing things in an unscriptural way.

Appendix 2

The Giving of the Needy Saint

Those preachers and pastors who urge the tithe on all of their members, regardless of income, fail to consider the vast differences in people and their economic situation in life.  As we discovered earlier, one professional or business man may earn over $200,000 a year, while another low income earner may merely receive $8,000 from social security or $14,500 from wages.  Consider with me for a moment the difficulty of this low-income Christian as compared to the higher-income person. 

Let us say that the man in our example grosses $14,500 a year (minimum wage in 2009), and gives a tithe of the gross, which would be $1,450.  He then pays $2,000 in social security and taxes, bringing his net income to $10,600 per year.  Perhaps the following expenses come during the year:

Expense

Amount

Rent

$9,600    (12 x $800)

Car repairs

$1,500

Gasoline

$1,500

Food—2 adults and 4 children

$13,140 ($6 x 6 x 365)

Clothes

$1,000

Telephone

$420 (12 x $35)

Electricity/Gas

$1,800 (12 x $150)

Water

$360 (12 x $30)

Doctor and dentist

$5,000

Car insurance, inspection, fees

$1,200

Gifts

$400

Homeschooling curricula

$1,000

 

As you can see, there may be a couple dozen other expenses that would arise during the course of the year for this family of six.  (There is no savings, no health insurance, no incidentals such as haircuts or trash pick-up or necessary travel.)  All of the listed items above would be $36,920.  If we take these expenses from the net income of $11,050 we arrive at the following amount: (minus) -$25,870.  In other words, earning a gross of $14,500 a year, spending judiciously through the year, will result in a negative amount of $25,870 below zero!

Obviously, this is an clear impossibility, but we simply offer it to show the difficulties that lower-income saints have in living a modest life and only giving a tithe (10%) of their income for the Lord—apart from extra expenses, sickness, additional children, lost jobs, and other items that would require further financial outlay. 

Those saints whose income is much higher than this example should be grateful that God has given them additional resources—not for the gratification of their own lusts but as a sacred trust to be used to glorify the Lord and bless the lives of others. 

Questions You May Ask

 

As you have read this study, probably various questions have come to your mind.  Let’s briefly notice a few common ones.

 

Question 1

 

Was the early body of Christ in Jerusalem a communistic society and should we be communistic today?

Answer

The early Christians continued to hold private property (Acts 12:12), however they freely gave of this substance to the Lord and the community of Christ.  This was entirely voluntary and at the discretion of the owner (cf. Acts 4:32-37; 5:1-11).  The key that made them differ from others, both then and now, was that the Lord instructed them to be generous with their income and possessions, motivated by love and a desire for the glory of God.

 

Question 2

 

If I come to Christ for salvation, is there anything that I should do about my past materialistic focus and sin?

 

Answer

When a person comes to Christ with genuine repentance for his sin and true faith in Christ, all of his past sins are wiped away.  Peter speaks of the purification from our former sins (2 Peter 1:9).  Yet, if one is truly sorry for his life of greed and materialism, he will want to do all he can to “make up” to the Lord for his past sinful focus.  When Zaccheus came to salvation, he said to Jesus, “Behold, Lord, half of my possessions I will give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will give back four times as much” (Luke 19:8).  He was willing to try to pay back and rectify his past sins and this should be something that we also seek to do.

 

Question 3

If I have failed to give to the Lord as I should have for the past ten years since I have been saved, what should I do?

Answer

In one respect, the answer is similar to the previous one, although there we envision one who comes to salvation and here the scenario relates to a Christian who has been lax, irresponsible, and sinful after his new birth.  In this case, restitution would also be the right response (Luke 19:8-10).  The repentant Christian should seek to make up for past wrong by giving more to the Lord and His work now that he has repented.  Surely it is axiomatic that one should not profit from continual past sin.

 

Question 4

If I find myself in a materialistic lifestyle, what shall I do?  What if I have a luxury house (really a mansion), an expensive sports car, a beautiful beach home, plenty of fine clothes, and other rich items that must grieve the heart of God?

 

Answer

When people came to John the baptizer and asked how they should repent, He replied: “The man who has two tunics is to share with him who has none; and he who has food is to do likewise” (Luke 3:11).  The Lord’s answer to the rich young ruler was even more drastic since He could see the deeply-rooted greed in the man’s heart: “One thing you lack: go and sell all your possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me” (Mark 10:21).  Many Americans are utterly captivated by materialistic chains.  They dwell in the prison of greed.  In order to break free from this deadly condition, God surely would want such people to divest themselves of many of their possessions and wealth and give the proceeds to the work of the Lord and the needs of the saints.

 

Question 5

Isn’t it true that we will either enter eternal life or eternal fire based on our treatment of other people, according to Jesus’ teaching of the Judgment scene in Matthew 25:31-46?

 

Answer

This passage has been discussed frequently and different answers have been given.  (Please read this passage now.)  Some would say that the “brothers” of Christ who receive the acts of kindness and care (v. 40) are His fellow-Jews, but this seems most unlikely.  Others would say that Jesus is here teaching the importance of caring for people in the world in general—both believers and unbelievers.  While we are to be interested in the needs of everyone, this also must be wrong in this context.  Jesus had already revealed that His “mother” and “brothers” (His spiritual family) consist of those who do the will of God in heaven (Matthew 12:46-50; cf. Mark 3:31-35).  Therefore, this must refer to believers in God through Jesus Christ.  Will our entrance into God’s kingdom and reception of eternal life (vv. 34, 46) depend on how we express compassion toward our fellow-believers?  We know that salvation is “not as a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).  Instead, the merciful works to which Jesus refers would be the “fruit” of their salvation and not the “root” of it.  Those who belong to Christ by faith, expressed in obedience, will live lives of active service and merciful deeds to other saints (Hebrews 6:10; Galatians 6:9-10).  We cannot enter God’s kingdom apart from a heart of love that expresses itself in active works toward other believers, but our salvation is not based on these compassionate deeds.

 

Question 6

You have discussed the issue of physical and material need here.  What about the drastic spiritual need in this lost and dying world?

Answer

It is true that people may have serious earthly needs that make life seemingly unbearable.  However, surely their spiritual need far exceeds the earthly.  One may die of malnutrition, but if he knows God, he will go to be with Him in a place of eternal blessing and delight!  We should use our income and possessions wisely—and without doubt this should mainly involve the sharing of the saving message of salvation through Christ Jesus to all people.  This is precisely what Jesus our Lord commanded (Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16; Luke 24:46-48).

 

Suggested Reading

·         William MacDonald, Where is Your Treasure? (Walterick Publishers, 6549 State Ave., Kansas City, KS 66102).

·         ——–, Think of Your Future (Walterick Publishers).

·         ——–, True Discipleship (Walterick Publishers).

·         Ronald Sider, Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger.

·         Lillian G. Harvey, Covetousness: The Sin Very Few Ever Confess (Harvey Christian Publishers, 3107 Hwy 321, Hampton, TN 37658).

·         Matthew E. Narramore, Tithing: Low-Realm, Obsolete and Defunct (Tekoa Publishing).

·         Russell Earl Kelly, Should the Church Teach Tithing?

·         Richard Hollerman, The Christian’s Response to Financial Problems (presently unavailable).

·         Richard Hollerman, The Deadly Peril of the World.

 

 

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