Learn How to Give

Some things in life just come instinctively, like breathing, loving pizza, and prayer.  Other things just need to be disciplined into life like flossing, taking empty pizza boxes to the trash, and (dramatic breath) giving.  You would think that giving should be instinctual for the followers of Jesus, but then you’d think that about new moms and breast feeding too.  God didn’t hard-wire every critically important human activity.  Giving as a Jesus-follower is something that needs to be taught and learned.  I once heard about a woman who was new to the whole church thing.  She had figured out that giving was an important activity for a God-worshiper, but no one had ever taught her how to go about it.  Left to figure it out on her own, she decided that since she was in worship about the same amount of time as going to a movie, she would use the movie theater as her standard of giving.  So what she put in the offering plate each Sunday was equivalent to a movie ticket and a tub of popcorn.  At least she was giving something, right?!  But what a sad statement that she had to invent her own standard of what to give when God’s way of giving is easily accessible.
Let’s just get it out of the way right now – you know, the whole “ten percent thing”.  If you have been around church for any length of time you have at least heard of “tithing”, and you understand that it really isn’t church speak for giving on a regular basis; whether you want to admit it or not, you know that it means giving ten percent of your living back to God.
Resistance to tithing comes down to three basic reasons:
1.  “Jesus never mentioned tithing”:

  • Technically true, if you mean Jesus did not explicitly teach the disciples or the crowds to tithe.  Jesus did mention tithing to the Pharisees once however, in Matthew 23:23.  Jesus didn’t condemn them because they were too meticulous in their tithing, but because they missed the big picture.  If Jesus was about to set up a new standard for giving back to God, this would have been a great opportunity to comment on the absurdity of tithing even the mint from their herb garden.  Instead, it may be inferred that he endorsed their meticulous tithing ethic.
  • Trying to make a case for something from what Jesus or the New Testament doesn’t say is notoriously shaky.  Jesus didn’t have to teach about God’s standard of tithing, because his audience was steeped in it.  See for example Matthew 22:15-22 where Jesus’ opponents try to trap him about paying taxes to Caesar; Jesus asks for the coin and says give to God what is God’s, and to Caesar what is Caesar’s.  They understood what was God’s – ten percent.  The question was about what was due to Caesar (observe that we know what we owe the IRS, we just dispute what we owe God).
  • One final thought.  Tithing has been the “gold standard” for giving as an expression of gratitude and allegiance for millennium – the standard in most cultures throughout history, not just for Judeo/Christian people.

2. “The New Testament doesn’t mention tithing.  Instead it says there is a new standard that you owe God everything, your entire life in all its aspects, not merely ten percent. Therefore, whatever you give back to God simply represents the whole – the exact percentage doesn’t matter.”

  • True.  Very true – The New Testament is very clear that your entire life, in all its details of every day walking around, should be offered to God.  It’s right here in Romans 12.1.
  • However, see the second and third bullet points above.
  • If the biblical and historical standard of gratitude and allegiance has always been ten percent, why would you choose to give less as an act of submission and obedience (did you know that the average giving for mainline Christians is two to three percent)?

3.  “I can’t afford it.”  I now lean back in my wing back chair, light a cigar and say in my best Sigmund Freud voice, ”Ah ha!  zer goot.  Now ve are getting some vhere.”   Isn’t that why we like objection number two?  Metaphorically schlepping our bodies down as some metaphorical offering is easy on the budget!  But here’s the secret – ten percent represents a significantly large commitment on purpose; it begins to represent sacrifice.

When God first outlined his financial expectations for his people (Numbers 18:26-28, Deuteronomy 14:22-29 for example), what kind of people where the Israelites?  They weren’t people who got pay checks, or stock revenues – they were invested in things like goats and wheat.  They couldn’t “afford” that ten percent any more than you.  What was at stake was avoiding starvation, not simply keeping their Netflix subscription!  One goat out of ten made a real difference.  But that’s what God asks from his people, because it’s enough to make you gulp and wonder, just a little, “how can I afford this?”

And that is the whole point.  Giving is about trusting God.

Manna Logic

That’s where manna logic comes in.  Read Exodus 16 for the story of how God set up the manna system.  The Israelites were told to go out every day (except Sabbath day) and pick up a couple quarts of this mysterious stuff.  They weren’t supposed to keep any overnight, except on Sabbath eve.  That one night, the manna would stay good so that they could have a day of rest on the Sabbath.  Because it was common sense to save some for tomorrow just in case God forgot, they tried to save some that first day and all the leftovers got really nasty.  But, when they picked up twice as much that Friday, it carried over real well.

Why did God set it up that way?  Because God wanted the Israelites to trust that he would give them everything they needed, one day at a time.  God had things covered today, and they had to trust that he would cover them again tomorrow.  That’s manna logic.

Manna logic is in the Lord’s Prayer: “give us our daily bread”.  It is the foundation for Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount: “…don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘what will we eat?  What will we drink?  What will we wear?  … your heavenly Father already knows all your need” (read Matthew 6:25-33).

So: God expects you to give ten percent, and you can trust God to provide you with all you will need today; if we extend manna logic a little, that means God will also give you what you need to give.  You’d think there would be a Bible verse – oh wait, there is!  Take a look at 2 Corinthians 9:10-11: “This most generous God who gives seed to the farmer that becomes bread for your meals is more than extravagant with you.  He gives you something you can then give away…so that you can be generous in every way” (The Message).

See how easy that is?  You have enough today, including enough to tithe.  There is no need to worry if you will be able to tithe a month from now, because by the time that day comes, you will have enough.  Jesus-followers need a new mind set about giving.  Tithing is not an act of charity that comes out of surplus; it is not a financial decision.  Tithing is an act of obedience, a decision to act on what you believe is true about God.  If you don’t believe that you can afford to tithe, perhaps you need to evaluate what you are affording instead.  Look at Malachi 3:8-11 to see how serious God is about tithing.

But don’t lose heart, because now comes the fun part!

The Tithe Party

Deuteronomy 14:22-29 is fascinating because it instructs the Israelites to use their tithe not only to take care of the Levites (religious professionals who had no land), but also to put together a big celebration feast with buffet tables and open bar in God’s presence.  That’s how they were to show God reverence – By having a great big national party with their tithe!  Really?  Why would God instruct them to do that?

I think that they could throw a tithe party because God had come through and provided more than they needed that year – and they knew God would do it again next year.  It expressed their freedom from need.  They were free to blow some of their hard earned produce and cash on some frivolity, because of what God had provided them, and how God would continue to provide.  The tithe party was a time of rejoicing over what God had given them, instead of griping about what they didn’t have.

In Scripture, tithing expresses joy and gratitude.  It isn’t an oppressive burden; it isn’t a teeth-clenching duty.  Giving back to God can be a response of laughter: “God you have set me free from worrying about the things I need, because you give me what I need, day in and day out.  Thank you!  Here – I don’t need this 10%, it’s yours!”  Giving is part of how we celebrate – we give gifts on birthdays, at Christmas and Easter, at weddings.  So when God-worshipers give their tithe to God, it is a celebration that God has provided day in and day out – that God has given everything necessary to be generous.  Tithing is really a response of laughter!  Joyful laughter, because God has set you free from worrying about material things, so that you can be generous.

In the words of the old Nike commercial, “just do it”.  Bite the bullet and write that check for ten percent (start with ten percent of “net” if you need to), then sit back and watch how God will take care of you tomorrow.  Learning to give is really pretty simple.


4 thoughts on “Learn How to Give

  1. I like your statement: “Trying to make a case for something from what Jesus or the New Testament doesn’t say is notoriously shaky. ”

    Let me add to that: Trying to make a case for something the Old Testament doesn’t say is also notoriously shaky.

    NO ONE, absolutely NO ONE pays the Biblical tithe today.

    Leviticus 27:30-33 defines this tithe as a tenth of crops and animals in herds and flocks.
    Numbers 18 gives the ordinances, or instructions, for this tithe, and commands this tithe be taken to the Levites.
    Purpose of this tithe: to support the Levitical Priesthood.

    Deuteronomy 14:22-27: aka The Festival Tithe – a tenth of crops, plus add to that the firstborn animals, and take for the yearly feast.
    Purpose of this tithe: “that thou mayest learn to fear the LORD thy God always”

    Deuteronomy 14:28-29: aka The Three-Year Tithe aka The Poor Tithe – a tenth of crops, kept at home, and invite the Levites, widows, orphans, stranger to eat.
    Purpose of this tithe: to feed the poor.

    When God gave the Israelites the promised land, he RESERVED, for Himself, a tenth of the crops and every tenth animal. They NEVER did belong to the Israelites. In other words, the tithe was from God’s increase of FOOD, not from man’s income. It was a way to distribute FOOD to the Levites and priests who did NOT inherit any land.

    No one, not even the farmers, tithed on their income.

    The farmers made their income by SELLING and/or barter-exchanging their crops and animals but did NOT tithe on that income.

    Today, ALL born-again believers are priests. ALL of us are called to be deciples of the Lord. No one of us is higher than another. Our bodies are the Temple where the Spirit dwells. According to the scriptures, priests do not tithe.

    When you understand the Biblical tithe, it makes sense, and it is plain to see that it makes NO sense to try to tithe today.

    • Gary: Thanks for your comment. I think your website looks great.
      In some things I think we are close, yet I would disagree with you about distinguishing agricultural production and income. I also recognize that in 1 Peter believers are referred to as a royal priesthood, but I think it stretches the text to suggest that means believers literally stand in the place formally held by OT priests. But that’s kinda nit picky on my part.
      Where we significantly diverge is I am not swayed by the argument from silence, that because tithing is not found in the NT it means the idea ended at the cross. I would argue that the purposes of the OT three fold tithe remain true for believer’s giving today. I am not suggesting that the particulars of OT tithing apply (historical/cultural differences), only that God’s purposes still do, and that the standard of 10% in the OT is still a standard of obedient, generous giving to God, based on God’s generosity to us. I do not believe that is Law – the NT is very emphatic that we have been set free from the Law, and as you suggest on your website, we are to be guided in our giving by the Spirit. What I am trying to argue is that if we claim to be lead by the Spirit in giving back to God we should find ourselves giving at least 10% of what God provides us. I think that the argument from silence about tithing and the NT has led to spiritually ill Jesus-followers who find in that idea permission to only give what they think they can afford; therefore, we find mainline Christians giving 2-3%. Spiritual health and open checkbooks go hand in hand. Ok, now I’m preaching again.
      Thanks for your time to comment. We may end up agreeing to disagree.

  2. Thanks for responding to my comments, Tom.

    The New Testament teaches generous, sacrificial giving, from the heart, according to our means. For some, $1 might be a sacrifice, while for others, even giving 50% of their income might not induce a sacrifice. In the Old Testament, ONLY the farmers tithed, and it was equal percentage (a tenth). The New Testament teaches the principle of equal sacrifice instead of equal percentage. Equal sacrifice is much harder to achieve, if not impossible, than giving ten percent.

    Note: CAPS used for emphasis only.
    The ONLY people in the Old Testament that were commanded to tithe were those who INHERITED THE PROMISED LAND WITH EVERYTHING ON IT. They got the land, house, animals, crops, etc. ALL FREE AND CLEAR. No mortgage payment or rent to pay. And THEY were commanded to tithe on the crops and animals and take it to the Levites who INHERITED the tithe INSTEAD OF the promised land with everything on it. No one else tithed. Wage earners did not tithe. Jesus did not tithe as a carpenter. Paul did not tithe as a tent maker. Peter did not tithe as a fisherman.

    We both agree that we are not under the law. However, since the tithe was disannulled in Hebrews 7, why would we want to use it as any type of guideline?

    The ONLY place in the Bible, after Calvary, that tithing appears is in Hebrews 7. In the first nine verses of Hebrews 7 the words tenth or tithes appears SEVEN TIMES.

    Hebrews 7:5 (KJV) “And verily they that are of the sons of Levi, who receive the office of the priesthood, have a commandment to take tithes of the people according to the law, that is, of their brethren, though they come out of the loins of Abraham:”

    Verse 5 is the first occurrence of the words TITHES, COMMANDMENT and LAW.

    Hebrews 7:12 (KJV) “For the priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the law.”

    Hebrews 7:18 (KJV) “For there is verily a disannulling of the commandment going before for the weakness and unprofitableness thereof.”

    The word COMMANDMENT in verse 18 must be referring to the word COMMANDMENT in verse 5 which is referring to the tithe.

    Therefore, the COMMANDMENT to TITHE was disannulled.

    Being under a better covenant does not mean minimum 10%, or we should give even more than 10%. We are called to be good financial stewards of 100% of our income.

    When you say 10% to be obedient, that contradicts your statement that we are not under the law. There is NO amount we give “to be obedient” to God. It is now a heart issue, not an issue of obedience.

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