By J. Oliver Jones
The purpose of this article is to examine the Biblical principles of giving as it is related to the three areas of tithes, gifts (alms), and offerings. We will discover how these are different, how they are to be understood under the different dispensations of Law and Grace, and how we should view these under the principle of “Stewardship” as a part of the New Testament Church.
Malachi 3:7-12 “Ever since the time of your forefathers you have turned away from my decrees and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you,” says the LORD Almighty. “But you ask, ‘How are we to return?’ “Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me. But you ask, ‘How do we rob you?’ In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse—the whole nation of you—because you are robbing me. Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it. I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not cast their fruit,” says the LORD Almighty. “Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land,” says the LORD Almighty. NIV
2 Corinthians 9:6-8 But this I say: He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work. NKJV
The subject of giving is one that affects every person, Christian or non-Christian, at some time in life. We have all been asked to give to support some worthy cause, to meet a special need of someone we know, to help a person unknown that has endured some tragedy, or to support research seeking a cure to some dreaded disease. People have always responded to this type of giving. When our hearts are touched, our emotions stirred, or our own mortality recalled, we are glad to give to help another person in need. After all, it is usually a “one time” situation. And who, but Scrooge, doesn’t want to help those less fortunate, especially at Christmas time?
But what is our attitude toward regular “giving to God”? Doesn’t He have enough already? Why does He want to take what we must work so hard to get? When we give to the church, do we do it joyfully or grudgingly? Do we know what we should give, yet “hold back” some for ourselves? Do we give out of duty? Do we give out of fear of what might happen if we don’t give? Are we really a grateful people giving out of an abundant heart?
I am reminded of a prayer by the character Charlie Anderson, played by the actor Jimmy Stewart, in the 1965 movie Shenandoah: “Lord, we cleared this land by the sweat of our brow. We tilled and prepared the land. We planted and weeded and harvested by our own hard work. We have taken no charity from anyone, and if we hadn’t done it ourselves it wouldn’t have been done…but we are thankful to you anyway, Lord. Amen.” I am afraid that this is the attitude many of God’s children have when it comes to giving from a grateful and cheerful heart. But let us never forget the words of God, Himself, as He spoke to Israel in Deuteronomy 8:17-18: “You may say to yourself, ‘My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.’ But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth…”
What is the Difference?
There are basically three terms used in Scripture as it relates to giving. One such term is alms giving, and relates to the term “gifts.” This expression of giving has to do with one’s charitable donations to the poor, to humanitarian interests, or to non-religious benevolent concerns. While these are often worthy of financial support, they are viewed separate from the tithes and offerings that relate to the direct work of the Lord.
Perhaps the term that most people are familiar with is that of the tithe. Tithing is a Biblical principle for the support of the Lord’s work. The tithe is normally considered to be a tenth part of a person’s gain. This tenth part principle is established in Genesis 28 and Leviticus 27. The tithe is to be paid from all sources of increase and is to be given from the “firstfruits” of that increase (II Chronicles 31:5-6 and Proverbs 3:9-10). This simply means that the tithe is paid not on what is left after all the “bills” are paid, but from the total of one’s income or increase.
Finally the term offering is distinct from the tithe, as is seen in the Malachi 3 text (you have robbed me ‘in tithes and offerings’), and in Deuteronomy 12:5-6: “But you shall seek the place where the LORD your God chooses, out of all your tribes, to put His name for His dwelling place; and there you shall go. There you shall take your burnt offerings, your sacrifices, your tithes, the heave offerings of your hand, your vowed offerings, your freewill offerings, and the firstborn of your herds and flocks”(NKJV). The implication of these and other passages is that the tithe already belongs to God, and the “freewill offering” is an amount in addition to the tithe that one “purposes in his heart” to give, “not grudgingly or of necessity,” but willingly and joyfully because, “God loves a cheerful giver” (II Corinthians 9:7).
So how do all of these work together?
The following is a simple illustration. A farmer receives a sum of money in the amount of $2,000 from the sell of produce he has grown. He figures the amount spent in planting, growing, and harvesting the crop, which comes to $500. His increase is $1,500. He has already decided to tithe on the increase, so he sets aside $150 to give to his church. He also wants to give a special donation to the church’s building fund of $100 and makes a freewill offering for that purpose. He supports the American Red Cross when he can, and decides to send to them a gift of $50. On the way to the bank to deposit his money, he sees a homeless man and spends $15 to buy the man food to last for a day or two. So what has he given out of his increase? A tithe of 10% ($150), an offering to his church of 6.6% ($100), a gift to a worthy charity of 3.33% ($50) as well as a gift (alms) to a person in need of 1% ($15). His total giving is $315 or 21% of his increase. And he has done all of this with a cheerful and grateful heart!
Tithing Under the Old Testament Law
There is no argument that in the Old Testament dispensation tithing was expected by God from every person. Giving anything less than a tenth part of all one’s increase was considered as disobedience. The great passage from Malachi 3:7-12 shows God’s heart toward this subject. Go back and read again what is said to Israel through the prophet Malachi.
In this passage God established three principles pertaining to tithing.
Let us look at them briefly:
- A person who does not tithe is considered a thief and a robber against God, and is thereby under a divine curse.
- The tithe is to be brought into the storehouse (see note on the concept of “Storehouse Tithing” below) in order to have sufficient funds to support the ministries, the ministers, and the missions of the Lord’s work.
- The person who tithes is promised a dual blessing from God. On the positive side, the tither will receive God’s continued blessings – the pouring out of more blessing than there is room to receive. On the negative side, God will rebuke the devourer (Satan – see John 10:10). This is a promise that Satan will not be allowed to take or destroy what is left after the tithe is given.
*** A note here is needed about the concept of “storehouse tithing” as it relates to the Church. Many who teach tithing as a continued requirement in the Church Age teach that the tithe (ten percent) is to be given to the Local Church. Any donation to other ministries, charities, or works is to be in addition to the ten percent given to the local “storehouse” (church). The concept of New Testament tithing will be dealt with later in this article. ***
The really amazing thing about this passage is that God “dares” His people to try Him and see if what He says is not true. What a challenge, and what a promise to every person who will take God at His word and bring their “tithes to the storehouse.”
Is Tithing Required in the New Testament Age of Grace?
Talk about a loaded question! It is difficult to get church leaders from the same denominational and theological backgrounds to agree on this one. There are some good arguments on both sides of the issue. Since the concept of tithing was established before the “Law” was given (Genesis 14:20), the argument is presented that the principle of tithing transcends God’s dispensational dealings with man. Genesis 14 tells of when Abraham met Melchizedek, the first mentioned priest of God. As Abraham returned from the victory over Chedorlaomer, Melchizedek, the king of Salem, met him. Later, in the book of Hebrews, Melchizedek is said to be a type of the priesthood of Jesus Christ. Abraham “gave him tithes of all,” apparently giving him one-tenth of all the spoils of battle. As Elmer Towns has stated, “It is interesting to note that when the first priest of God appears in the Bible, tithes are collected to support him. Also, tithes were paid at a place that later would be connected with tithes. Melchizedek was king of Salem, a place we know today as Jerusalem.”
On the other side it is argued that, while the “principle” of tithing is still relevant for today, the teaching that tithing is required is rejected as legalistic and not consistent with God dealing with Christians as mature heirs under grace, not law. While the giving of at least ten percent of one’s income is recommended, the amount is not as important as the spirit in which it is given. “So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver” (II Corinthians 9:7 NKJV).
We could continue to present additional “pro” and “con” arguments concerning New Testament tithing. But rather than treading deeper into the issue in this manner (which usually only serves to strengthen whatever position a person already holds), let us consider a different approach, one believed to present the best understanding of giving or tithing as it is considered in the present dispensation of grace. This approach is in conjunction with the New Testament teaching on Stewardship and brings us to what this writer believes to be a Biblical, as well as a logical, conclusion.
Giving and Stewardship
It has been said there are 38 parables in the New Testament and twelve of them deal with the subject of stewardship. Evidently, stewardship is an important subject for the Christian as almost one third of the total parables deal with it. We all know that we come into this world with nothing (no material goods), and we understand that we leave it the same way – with nothing! Everything we have in this life, therefore, is only ours to use temporarily. In actuality, we own nothing and nothing is permanently ours! We then are simply stewards of that which belongs to someone else, namely, to Christ.
And the Lord said, Who then is that faithful and wise steward, whom his lord shall make ruler over his household, to give them their portion of meat in due season?(Luke 12:42 KJV)
Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God. (I Corinthians 4:1 KJV)
So then, what is the meaning of being a steward? The word comes from two Greek words that together mean a “house-manager.” According to the Bible, then, a steward is one who manages the household or the goods of another. To you, the believer, it means that God has placed in your care His goods and has entrusted you with managing those goods (material goods, abilities, talents, time, etc.) until He returns or until you are called to your heavenly home. You recall that you came into this world with nothing, and when you depart, you leave everything behind. All that you have between birth and death belongs to God.
The land must not be sold permanently, because the land is Mine and you are but aliens and my tenants. (Leviticus 25:23 NIV)
The silver is Mine, and the gold is Mine, says the LORD of hosts. (Haggai 2:8)
The earth is the LORD’s, and the fullness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein. (Psalm 24:1)
I will not take a bull from your house, nor goats out of your folds. For every beast of the forest is Mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills. I know all the birds of the mountains, and the wild beasts of the field are Mine. (Psalm 50:9-11)
Since the earth and everything in it belongs to the Lord, you have simply been made a “manager” of these things while on the earth. A good steward is one who manages and uses the goods entrusted to him to bring blessing, honor and increase to his Master. Does this not also describe a good Christian? It is the responsibility of a Christian to use those goods entrusted to him or her for the best return to the Master. To consider anything as belonging to oneself, and using it for only selfish means, is both dishonest and disobedient. And when we speak of those things entrusted to us by God, we mean not only material things, but also our talents, our time, and our service. In I Corinthians 6:19-20 we are told that even we ourselves are not our own, but belong to God.
Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your bodyand in your spirit, which are God’s. (NKJV)
Stewardship: Sowing and Reaping
But this I say: He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. II Corinthians 9:6
You have probably heard the cliché, “You can’t out-give God.” This is actually more than a cliché; it is closely tied to the universal law of sowing and reaping. This “law” has also been referred to as “The Law of the Harvest.” I am not sure if it is original with Dr. Ronald Carrier, (retired pastor of the St. Paul Southern Methodist Church in Nashville and current pastor of the Goodlettsville SMC), but many years ago he wrote an article by the same name, The Law of the Harvest. In the article he gave three principles of sowing and reaping that have stuck with this writer over the years.
You always reap what you sow.
You always reap more than you sow.
You always reap later than you sow.
Have you ever thought about why the issue of tithing is so debated in the church? It is because so many believers desire to give so much more than just ten percent, and they feel bound by this tithing principle. Wait…I think I said that wrong. What I meant to say is that it is because so many believers are afraid that if they give a whole ten percent to God, they won’t have enough left for themselves. They have totally rejected the Law of the Harvest. God has promised that those who sow bountifully will reap bountifully. He has even “dared” us to try Him and see. We love to quote the verse that promises that “God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19). But it is obvious most Christians do not believe that either, for they are constantly “robbing God” trying to take care of their own needs! God’s Law of the Harvest promises where much is sown, much will be harvested.
So what is the Difference between a Tither and a Steward?
One who tithes looks at his possessions and truly desires to give God a tenth part as required. If he is especially spiritual, he will often give an offering above the tithe. There is nothing wrong with this, but borrowing the words of Paul as found in I Corinthians 12:31, “I show you a still more excellent way.”
As we have already discovered, everything belongs to God. We come into this life with nothing, and we leave with nothing. As believers we are God’s adult heirs, no longer under the “schoolmaster” (paidagogos – Galatians 3) or under the law. We have been entrusted as the stewards (managers) of the household of the Creator of the Universe. He owns it all; we own nothing. It is our duty, our privilege, to manage all He has placed in our hands for His honor and His glory. The question for a Steward becomes then, not how much he gives to God, but how much of what belongs to God he uses for himself. The concept of a tithe is lost as he sees his position as that of a manager of the Master’s goods. If all believers would see themselves as Stewards, there would never be an issue concerning tithing. Church ministries would be fully funded; missionaries would not struggle to raise funds to go to the mission field; even many of the government programs for the poor could be cancelled as the church would have money to care for those in need.
So, is tithing for the New Testament Church? Well, let’s answer it this way – At least! But not as law, but because of grace, this should only be the starting point!
You can give without loving,
but you can’t love without giving!
If God is the Lord and Master of your billfold,
He is most likely the Lord and Master of all you are!
Summing It Up!
It is now time to draw a few conclusions from our study on tithes, gifts, and offerings. Some of these are Scriptural conclusions and some will be conclusions reasonably based on our study. What is most important is not that you agree with each point of this section, but that you apply the concepts which these conclusions represent. Here, then, are the conclusions.
- A tithe is a tenth part of one’s increase given to the Lord.
- An offering is that which is given to the work of the Lord above the tithe.
- A gift (alms) is a benevolent or charitable donation made outside the “storehouse.”
- The principle of the tithe predates the giving of the Law.
- Under the Old Covenant, God expected at least the tithe be paid into the storehouse as an act of obedience.
- The purpose of storehouse tithing was to provide for the needs of those who labored in service to the Lord (Levites and priests).
- Under the New Covenant (Church Age) a believer is viewed by God as a mature heir, not an immature child, and as such is given the position of a steward of God’s household.
- All things belong to God; we own nothing. We enter the world empty handed, and when we leave all material possessions stay behind.
- As a steward (manager) of God’s possessions, we should not consider how much of what we have we give to God, but how much of what God owns we keep for our own use.
- The law of sowing and reaping states that those who sow bountifully shall also reap bountifully, and those who sow sparingly shall also reap sparingly. Thus, one cannot out-give God!
- Those who reject tithing for today as a way to avoid having to give a full tenth to the Lord have missed completely the principle of sowing and reaping, and in the process they “rob God.”
- Based on the law of sowing and reaping, those who give in order to “get” (not acting in faith as a steward of God’s possessions, but out of greed to gain more for themselves) sin against God.
- A mature heir living under grace as a steward of God’s possessions should never give less to the Lord’s work than an immature child living under law was required to do.
- The principle of “storehouse tithing” should still be considered a valid model as a steward of God’s possessions determines where to give to the work of the Lord.
- Our needs will never be met by holding back for ourselves that which belongs to the Lord. By God’s grace our needs will be met as we, in love, give to the needs of others, both through the local church and through other acts of benevolent and charitable gifts.