Talking about Money and Tithing
Money is the single greatest cause of stress in American life today. It’s an ever-present phantom, haunting and affecting every aspect of our lives. Money influences our decisions and impacts everything, from where we live to our very health. But, because money is so personal, discussions on the topic can be frustrating and offensive. Desperate for answers and searching for hope, many look to the Bible for answers.
The good news is the Bible has a lot to say about money. In fact, it’s one of the most talked about subjects in the entire Bible. Overall the Bible mentions money or possessions over 2,000 times. More than half of Jesus’ parables mention money. There are also many scriptures dedicated to tithing and giving to the church. Clearly God does not shy away from discussions on this personal subject.
But, when it comes to explaining the Bible’s view on money and especially tithing, there can be a lot of confusion. This article will help clarify the Bible’s view on money to help you develop a more Biblically-oriented view on the subject.
What Does the Bible Say About Tithing?
There’s something about money and possessions that’s connected to our very souls. Instead of trusting in God to provide in life, we lean on money and find security in how much we own. To combat the competition our possessions play in our life, God established a tithe for his people. Tithe literally means a tenth and in the Old Testament God instructed his people to dedicate a tenth of all income to Him.
“A tithe of everything from the land, whether grain from the soil or fruit from the trees, belongs to the Lord; it is holy to the Lord.” Leviticus 27:30
This practice of dedicating a portion of everything won, grown, or gained began well before the Law of Moses. Adam and Eve’s own children determined to give the first of their harvest to the Lord. Later, Jacob had a dream where God promised a great blessing for he and his offspring (the Israelites). In response Jacob promised to give back a tenth of everything he received to God (Gen. 28:22).
It became standard practice for followers of God to honor him with a tenth of their earnings. Proverbs 3:9 says, “Honor the Lord with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops.” Firstfruits simply refer to the first crop gathered during a harvest. One would dedicate a portion to God first before enjoying the harvest themselves. This served as a reminder that all blessings came from God and that He was in control of all aspects of life.
The practice of dedicating a tenth of all income to the Lord continued throughout Israel’s history. This concept even continues today for many Christians. But, it’s important for the Christian to understand that Jesus influenced and even altered how one dedicates their income to the Lord.
Jesus and the Tithe
Jesus had a lot to say about money. In fact, besides the kingdom of God, he spoke about money and possessions more than anything else. Sixteen of his thirty-eight parables were about the things we owned. I think he knew there’s something about our money that’s deeply connected to our heart.
In one teaching Jesus told his disciples to not focus so much on gathering things here on earth because we can’t take them with us when we die, and they could all be gone in an instant. But, instead we should focus our attention on the things that really matter most- eternal things that will last forever. He then says, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt. 6:21). Financial giving was a way to destroy the dominance possessions have on our heart and declare our trust in God.
In explaining his view on money, Jesus never lowered the expectation of tithing. In fact, in some ways he raised it. At one point Jesus railed on the teachers of the law for following the rules of giving perfectly, but totally missing the point of why. He encouraged them to continue giving money, but also wanted them to live a lifestyle of generosity. Because giving is really an issue the heart- not the wallet (Matt. 23:23).
Jesus encouraged his disciples to live a life a generosity. They were to be generous with love, forgiveness, time, and their money. Jesus told many parables about individuals who were concerned only about their money, but in the end lost it all (Luke 12:42-48,16:1-13, 16:19-31). Generosity helps put money in its right place in the believer’s life.
The New Biblical Standard: Generosity
As the church began, it was normal for leaders to collect an offering (1 Cor. 16:2). There was no mention of what percentage a person should give, just the overall value of generosity. This generosity was a mark of the developing church. The book of Acts says, “All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property to give to anyone who had need” (2:44-45).
In his letter to the church in Corinth Paul brags about the generosity of the churches in Macedonia. He then challenges the church in Corinth, “But since you excel in everything- in faith, in speech, in knowledge…see that you also excel in this grace of giving” (2 Cor. 8:7). He then takes this principle of generosity even further by saying, “Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver”(2 Cor. 9:7).
In his book, The Treasure Principle, author Randy Alcorn noted the strong connection between our spiritual lives and how we think about and handle money (2001, p. 9). Giving generously and joyfully helps to sever the hold money has on our heart. As a follower of Jesus today, if you’re looking for a specific percentage God requires, then like the teachers of the law during Jesus’ time, you’re probably missing the point of giving. In the same way the follower of Jesus loves because God first loved us, we should give generously to all because all good gifts in life come from God. Ten percent is a good place to start, or work towards. But, more than a specific percent, the question is- are you living and giving generously?