THEOLOGY OF FINANCIAL GIVING
by Pastor Adam Schwenk
I believe that financially supporting one’s local church is the greatest financial investment in God’s kingdom because it provides necessary proclamation of the gospel and edification of the collective Christian body.
HOW MUCH MONEY SHOULD ONE GIVE TO THE CHURCH?
Giving is more than money. Money is only one of many resources, including time, energy, and physical objects. However, financial support is clearly one aspect of a Christian’s generosity.
So is there an exact number a Christian should give? I believe Scripture does not instruct a strict 10% “rule” for the Church today. Nonetheless, this topic is heavily debated among American Christians.
Unfortunately Church leaders have abused their authority regarding financial giving. Historically, some leaders instructed people to give to the Church to atone for their sin. Today, some preachers teach the untrue prosperity gospel that preys on the ignorant and poor who simply need hope. Due to this heresy, we may be hesitant to discuss the role of finances in the local church. However, Jesus talked about it a lot, we interact with finances daily, and the church uses financial support to operate business-related portions of ministry (i.e., supplies, rent, salaries, etc.). Ironically, Christians claim they like sermons or articles on “real life issues,” but when leaders discuss finances, those same Christians get antsy.
So does the Old Testament instruction on the tithe apply in the exact same way for the church today? I do not believe so for 4 main reasons.
REASON 1: Grace
The New Testament describes Jesus fulfilling the law and giving a new law - one of grace (Hebrews 9:15). Grace means that Jesus did not give us a law with a list of rules.
Jesus didn’t tell us how much we need to pray, read, gather, sing, give, etc. When Jesus did numerically instruct a situation, he gave an answer that implies “always” and “abundantly” and “as needed.” (For instance, in Matthew 18:21-22 The disciples ask, “Lord, how much should we forgive?” And Jesus answered seventy times seven.)
However we want a law as a guideline. As humans we always want a law to serve as guidance and as measurement for our obedience. We ask, “How much do I need to pray, read, give, etc…???” We think to ourselves, “Let me do all the right things like other religions so I can perform the right rituals and demands of me to be in right standing with God.” However, the gospel teaches that we cannot perform any works to be in right standing with God. The only work needed was performed by Christ on the cross. He satisfied the requirements to be in right standing with God the Father.
Religions have laws; Christianity has freedom.
We must avoid making laws where there are no laws, or we are no different than the Pharisees who tried to reasure their righteousness and felt good about themselves because they checked off the boxes, even though their hearts were more corrupt than everyone else.
So what do we do? How much do we give?
Galatians 5:25 says, “ If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.”
Simply answered, are you walking in the Spirit with your financial generosity? One way to know is through prayer. When we pray and seek God, he faithfully makes it clear. If we are out of step with the Spirit, we feel specific conviction in the area of financial generosity.
Ultimately God doesn’t seek your money..he seeks your heart. He doesn’t need your money; he wants you because he loves you. And if we’re honest, many of our hearts struggle to fully trust God with our finances.
REASON 2: The tithe and other temple-related functions were all fulfilled by Jesus when he fulfilled the requirements of the Law.
Hebrews 9-10 explicitly describes the fulfillment of the Law by Jesus Christ’s perfect sacrifice. No longer are temple sacrifices needed or enforced. Moral laws from the Old Testament continue today because Jesus addressed them throughout his ministry, such as murder, adultery, and lying. However, ceremonially laws have been fulfilled through the sacrifice of Christ.
Specific excerpts from Hebrews 9-10 address this concept:
Hebrews 9:11-15 ESV
But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God. Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant.
Hebrews 10:12-14 ESV
But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13 waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.
REASON 3: Neither Jesus nor Paul nor any other New Testament writer instructed the church to give a tithe.
Jesus did reference tithing when condemning the Pharisee’s heart, but it was not taught according to the gospel accounts. If Jesus was recorded as teaching tithing, the debate would be resolved. However, he did not. So we must reconcile what to do with our finances today in light of Christian teachings.
The Apostle Paul wrote most of the New Testament epistles, instructing the various church plants on dozens of topics. Never once did he mention tithing.
Perhaps Paul never addressed giving because the new Christians all understood and faithfully practiced the Old Testament mandate on tithing. However, that seems far-fetched considering he addressed the most elementary of topics, such as prayer, caring for one another, confessing sin, and teaching sound biblical instruction.
In Acts 4, the description of Barnabas selling his field describes that he gave all the money to the needs of the church.
In Acts 15, the Jerusalem Council discussed practices the new Christian Gentiles must do to maintain the unity with Jewish Christians. That would be a perfect opportunity to command the tithe, but it wasn't commanded. In fact, they decided that Gentile men do not need to be circumcised in order to be in the community of the Jewish believers, which is arguably far more important to Jewish Law and customs and heritage than tithing.
REASON 4: Old Testament tithing was more than 10%, and it was land and animals, not monetary income.
The Old Testament tithing practices included 10% off of the land or herd, not income. Plus there was an additional 10% given for the festivals. Plus an additional 2-3.3% given every third year. Therefore, the total Old Testament tithing instruction was roughly 22-23.3%. When Christians say “tithing” they usually mean the root concept of 10%, even though the Old Testament commands tithing up to 23.3%. Ironically, many Christians passionately claim they believe in tithing, yet only three percent of Christians practice a 10% tithe. Hence, it’s a mess of poor application, both in understanding the text and in applying the text.
PRACTICAL TAKEAWAYS FOR EVERY CHRISTIAN
#1 God wants your heart, not your money.
Regardless of one’s viewpoint on tithing, God clearly addressed that the greatest form of worship was pure heart motives, not a single donation amount.
During the Old Testament Covenant Era, Hosea 6:6 states, “ For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.”
During the New Testament Covenant Era, Jesus states, “ Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on” (Mark 12:43-44, ESV).
We see that God wants our hearts. When He has our hearts, all other areas of our lives are submitted to Him, including our money. This teaching of freedom aligns with other New Testament instruction. For instance, there is not a strict amount of Scripture that should be read daily nor a time requirement for prayer length. Likewise, giving does not have an exact number. We must not use our freedom as excuse for laziness. We must not abuse this grace.
#2 Giving to the local church should be sacrificial, cheerful, and intentional.
We do believe 10% should be the normal starting point for every Christian. That is usually very sacrificial. Many people live paycheck to paycheck. Many people are used to giving only 1-3%, so they are out of practice to give as much as 10%. Many people live beyond their means, so debt escalates. When these scenarios occur, financially supporting the church usually becomes the first commitment to end.
Nonetheless, 10% is a fairly healthy standard for family finances. For instance: Give 10%, Save 10%, and Spend 80%. However, there are abnormal times when giving may be less due to unforeseen circumstances. There also may be times to give even more than 10%. Yet our normative giving habits should be sacrificial, which is often 10% to God.
We can give cheerfully recognizing that God has provided all of our needs and promises to do so.
2 Corinthians 9:6-7 ESV “The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”
So give to the church as God leads you, rather than a set percentage. It might be more than you’re used to giving; it might be less. But when you give, give with intentionality. This primarily means give first, not last . When we give to God right away, a heart of trust is cultivated. After all, God owns everything ; we are merely stewards. Rather than giving after everything else is purchased or expended, we give first. This firstfruit attitude is modeled in Scripture. In the scope of global Christianity, American Christians are so affluent that they should be some of the most generous in the world. John Piper said it well when he stated, “My own conviction is that most middle and upper class Americans who merely tithe are robbing God.”
HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT PASTORS WHO INSTRUCT THE TITHE?
There are great scholars and preachers who teach the tithe. Good friends of mine do. That’s fine. It’s nothing to cause dissension. If they want to teach the tithe, that’s fine, as long as their motivations are right. Frankly, most of their motivations are great. They know that giving our firstfruits to the Lord cultivates contentment. Just as they know reading the Bible instructs your heart and praying to God aligns your heart, they know that generosity frees your heart from natural greed. And those things are true. So they’re not malicious, they're not trying to pad the budget or line their pockets, and they’re simply teaching from conviction, and there are bigger battles to fight together not against each other. If that's where you land, great!
My only caution for you is this: Do not treat giving like checking a box on a weekly spiritual checklist. Hold all of your finances lightly knowing and being ready to give more (such as half or all of it) if God asks you.
YOU MIGHT BE STEALING FROM GOD OR LIMITING YOUR SPIRITUAL DEVELOPMENT IF:
The first thing you do with money is buy new clothes and the last thing is give it away.
God presents you with an opportunity to give but you don't, which denies Spirit’s work in you.
You are involved in a local church but never want to give to it. You do not regularly contribute money.
I encourage everyone to be involved in a church that is exciting to financially invest in (among other things). If you can't give due to personal disagreements, then it might not be a good local church for you. That's why we strive here at Legacy to be honest about our finances.
If you cannot give to a church due to disagreement, but you can give to other opportunities like missions, then you're possibly avoiding your need for biblical conflict resolution with self-reasoned and self-righteous financial efficiency.
You give to earn God’s approval or love or reward. Do you believe your identity in Christ as God’s child? His love is unconditional, so we give out of worship, not out of fear.
You forget you’re stewarding it for God. God doesn’t need the money in various ministries to be effective, but He calls us to give. We are just borrowing it. Stewarding it.
As elders at Legacy we’ve discussed biblical teaching on this. We mostly believe that giving with grace is the most academically honest Interpretation of biblical giving, and it is the most gospel freeing interpretation for the Christian culture in Greene County, which is steeped in legalism and trying to earn favor/points with God through giving money. We do believe Scripture clearly teaches about money, how much is the root of all evil, and how God wants us to trust Him with our finances. We also recognize some people in our church family will give 10% because they believe the tithe continues to today, and others will give 10% because God frees them to do so. Regardless, we seek unity in the discussion on financial stewardship.
Additional resources on financial stewardship
These resources are available to help you grow in your financial stewardship. None of these resources are meant to manipulate or guilt you into giving more.
12 Traits of a Biblical Church: Giving
We may not feel wealthy, but Americans are some of the wealthiest people in world history. We have food, homes, clothes, cars, educations, jobs and more. Yet the generosity of God towards us does not always result in our generosity to others. We have been content to stockpile God’s resources rather than use them for the spread of the gospel. David Platt examines how Scripture guides us in utilizing the resources that God has entrusted to us.
Perspectives on Tithing
Was the tithe just for Israel, or is it also applicable to Christians? Must a tithe go only to your local church, or can it be received by any Christian organization? Do we tithe on the net or the gross amount?
Perspectives on Tithing presents in point-counterpoint format the most common views about how Christians are to give of their financial resources, addressing the myriad of questions that surround the complex issue.
Money doesn't have to be stressful. Financial Peace University is a nine-lesson money class that teaches step-by-step how to create a budget, pay off debt, spend wisely, and save for the future.