For 5 years I was the pastor of Trinity International Church in Strasbourg, France. I created this blog with those people in mind. In mid-November 2018 I will become the Senior Pastor of Word of Life Church in Coon Rapids, Minnesota. The focus of this blog will therefore shift, but I pray that people from the blogosphere will continue to find it helpful wherever they might be found.
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Friday, September 21, 2018

The Offering Plate is Coming...What Do I Do?

"Is there a rule about how much a Christian should give to their church?" 
"Are Christians required to tithe (give 10%) like they were in the Old Testament?" 
"How do I decide how much to give and where to give it?"

I have several concerns when I hear these questions. The first concern I have is that many people think that the church is primarily interested in accumulating wealth for itself. The grand cathedrals of the medieval era and the multimillion dollar salaries of today’s televangelists have given rise to a sense that churches are merely schemes for preachers to get rich. I don’t want to add to that impression. 

Second, I rarely hear these questions from someone who wants to know whether there is a limit to the amount they should give. People want to know if there is a minimum standard. For some, this comes from a desire to make sure that they are “paying their dues” like they would to a club. For others, it comes from a heart filled with greed. They want to know how little they can give and still be okay with God. Still others are struggling financially. They are considering lowering their giving and want to know if that is okay. An adequate answer must take into account the various motivations that might lead to the questions.

Third, the questioner often wants a simple answer. In reality the issue deserves the careful examination of the Scriptures and an open heart to following what it says. A soundbite-sized answer doesn’t do the issue justice. So I’ll try to lay out what I believe is the biblical guideline for giving to the local church. It will take more than a paragraph, but I hope that it sheds light on what the Bible teaches.

It is About More Than Giving: It’s About Our Hearts

The teachings of the New Testament are clear: following Jesus demands that he have control of our money. All of it. Giving isn’t a matter of setting aside a little bit of money for God and keeping the rest for ourselves. All our money  is to be under his control. If he isn’t Lord of our bank account, he isn’t really our Lord at all. It is essential that we commit our finances (and the rest our “stuff”) to the Lord. The person who takes up his cross to follow Jesus keeps nothing of his own (Luke 9:23-25).

We must acknowledge the power of money. It can easily become an idol. Paul warns us that those who desire to be rich fall into a snare and many harmful desires that endanger their very souls (1 Timothy 6:9-10). Jesus warns in explicit terms against covetousness (Luke 12:15-21). He told the rich ruler who asked him how to gain eternal life to sell all of his possessions, give away the proceeds, and to follow him (Luke 18:18-30). 

In a sense, the right answer to the question of how much a Christian is to give is “Everything.” This giving flows from a heart that has received richly from the storehouse of the grace of God. A redeemed sinner who has seen the glories of the grace of God in Christ lives a life of grace-filled giving. The things of this world have little value in comparison to the joys of knowing Christ. This is the joy that should mark the giving of the believer (2 Corinthians 9:7). The overwhelmed heart yearns to bless God and others with everything they have. That includes their finances.

The issue of giving cuts deeply into the areas of our heart that we rarely let others enter. While the majority of people will battle against greed or fear of not having enough, others will be prone to let their giving be a matter of pride (Matthew 6:1-4). Still others will give hoping to influence God or people. We must instead surrender of ourselves to the Lord and realise that he owns everything and we are stewards or managers of resources he entrusts us with.  If we will be held accountable for how we use money, then we need to know what his expectations are for our management of the money he has given us. The Bible becomes highly relevant at this point! So what does it say about giving to our church?

Old Testament Background

In the opening chapters of the Bible, we read that Abram rescued his brother Lot from the wicked kings that had captured him. In the King’s Valley the king of Salem (Jerusalem) appears with bread and wine. His name is Melchizedek and is called a “priest of God Most High”. He blesses Abram. Abram responds by giving this king/priest a tenth of everything (Genesis 14:17-20). This is the first mention of the tithe in the Bible (tithe simply means 10%). The tithe originally was a spontaneous gift given to the representative of God in thanksgiving for Lot’s deliverance.

Later, God established a formal priesthood. When they entered the Promised Land, the tribe of Levi, one of the twelve tribes, was set aside to serve as priests. The other tribes each received a portion of the land. Working the land would be their means of generating income. The Levites, on the other hand, received no land. They were to be supported by the rest of God’s people setting aside a tithe (10%) of their income to give as an offering. This is the way the priestly ministry was funded. The Levites themselves were not exempt from this required tithe. They, too, were to give a tenth of their income (Numbers 18:19-26). There were other offerings, and at times there was spontaneous giving to the Temple, but the basic means by which the ministry of the priests was financed was the tithe. 

The Relationship Between the Old and New Testaments

The work of the priests included performing the duties of the ceremonial system. This system pointed to the coming of Jesus. It emphasised the need for sacrifice to atone for sin. The final sacrifice was the death of Jesus for our sins. By his death, Christ fulfilled the Old Testament law. As a result we are free from the law. For example, we no longer offer animal sacrifices or worry about its regulations about clean and unclean food. We are saved by grace through faith in Christ and our lives are not lived by following rules like under the Old Covenant (Roman 6:14-15; 7:5-6; Galatians 3:15-4:7; Colossians 3:4-18). 

Instead, we serve by the Spirit and the law of Christ. Since the ethical commands of the Old Testament are based on the principle of loving others, there are many ethical commands that guide the life of the believer (Romans 13:8-10). We are free from observing the ceremonial law, but are empowered by the Spirit to follow the moral law. So we don’t sacrifice animals to atone for our sin but we do avoid stealing. We don’t consider some foods to be unclean, but we do help others in need. 

The question then becomes whether the tithe is one of those things that is commanded for Christians to obey. Was it fulfilled in Christ like the other ceremonial laws? Or is it like the ethical laws that are reaffirmed in the New Testament? We are called to be generous, but are we required to tithe (2 Corinthians 8-9)? To answer that question we turn to the New Testament.

Jesus and the Tithe

While Jesus talks about things like adultery and killing in a straightforward way, the only time Jesus talks about the tithe he does so in a roundabout way. In Matthew 23 Jesus is rebuking the scribes and Pharisees for the way they are leading the people. He chastises them for being careful to tithe even the smallest thing that they receive, but neglecting the more important things like justice, mercy, and faithfulness. Instead of rebuking them for tithing, he says that they should have tithed and done the more important things (Matthew 23:23-24). He affirms their careful tithing. Does this mean that believers are supposed to tithe? Maybe. It certainly points to the danger of focusing on religious observance without transformation of the way we interact with others. But the Levitical priesthood that was supported by the tithe has now been abolished. Does this mean that tithing is no longer required?  Perhaps.

Other New Testament Insights

Full-time Ministers of the Word

While the Levitical system no longer exists, the New Testament tells us that there will be those who would give themselves full-time to the ministry of the gospel. Let’s consider a few passages.

1 Timothy 5:17-18

Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages.” (ESV)

In this passage, Paul indicates that there would be elders who are worthy of “double honor”. He specifies that these elders are those who labor in preaching and teaching. He then quotes two Old Testament passages that infer that these elders should receive payment for what they do. So Paul is saying that there will be those elders who have given themselves to the time consuming work of preaching and teaching in such a way that they deserve to be compensated for their ministry.

1 Corinthians 9:3-11

This is my defense to those who would examine me. Do we not have the right to eat and drink? Do we not have the right to take along a believing wife, as do the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas? Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working for a living? Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard without eating any of its fruit? Or who tends a flock without getting some of the milk? Do I say these things on human authority? Does not the Law say the same? For it is written in the Law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain.” Is it for oxen that God is concerned? Does he not speak entirely for our sake? It was written for our sake, because the plowman should plow in hope and the thresher thresh in hope of sharing in the crop. If we have sown spiritual things among you, is it too much if we reap material things from you? (ESV)

Paul points out that the other apostles and ministers are not working for a living. Instead, they are being supported by the other believers. In effect, their ministry is their job. He compares it to a shepherd receiving milk from the flock or a vineyard owner receiving fruit. Paul is reinforcing the idea that there will be elders who give themselves to preaching and teaching in such a way that prevents them from having regular jobs. Their work is valuable and they are to be compensated for their ministry.

Galatians 6:6

One who is taught the word must share all good things with the one who teaches. (ESV)

Paul is direct in the way that instructs this compensation to be made: those who are taught are responsible. In other words, the teaching and preaching ministry of the local church should be supported financially by those that attend. 

These passages establish the idea that churches will often have elder(s) whose main focus is teaching and preaching. They are to be compensated by the church for their work. Typically, this will be their full-time occupation. At the same time, there is nothing mentioned about how much each person is supposed to give toward their support. There is no command to tithe to support them. So how much are we to give? That’s where 2 Corinthians provides some help.

2 Corinthians 8-9: An Important Passage 

In Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians he gives instructions regarding giving. The context is important: there is a collection being made to help believers who were suffering in the area around Jerusalem. So this passage isn’t about giving to support the ministry of the local church, but it does give some indication about how believers are to give to meet the needs of others. Its principles are worth noting as one considers how to meet the needs of those who give themselves to teaching and preaching. 

He begins by bragging about the churches of Macedonia. They were experiencing a severe trial and were in extreme poverty, yet they were filled with the joy that comes from the gospel. Their joy resulted in an outpouring of generosity that went even beyond their means. They were begging to take part in the relief effort! (2 Corinthians 8:1-5). Their poverty didn’t prevent giving: their joy in Christ overflowed in giving to others. 

Paul goes on to instruct the Corinthians to give. But he doesn’t set a percentage that they should consider. Instead, in this relief effort they should give what they "decided in their own hearts" to give. He wasn’t going to force them. He wasn’t going to motivate by guilt. Instead he wanted them to give in the same joyful spirit that characterised the Macedonians (2 Corinthians 9:7). 

Paul taught them that giving generously would result in a multitude of blessings. First, it would meet the needs of others. There would be rejoicing and glory given to God by those who receive. There would be an increase in righteousness in the lives of the givers and God would supply them with even more. Of course, this increase in righteousness and “seed for sowing” would lead to even more generosity and more glory given to God (2 Corinthians 9:6-15).

Paul challenges the Corinthians in a way that we all need to be challenged. He tells them that they are excelling in faith, in speech, in knowledge and in love. They are doing well. Then he challenges them to excel in this grace of giving (2 Corinthians 8:7). Paul calls them to a greater discipleship that will impact their own lives but also the lives of others.

Key points:

1. Jesus requires total commitment. All areas of our lives, including our finances, are to be under his Lordship. It is helpful to say to the Lord, “All I have and all I will ever earn, is yours.”
2. The tithe was established in the Old Testament to support the levitical priesthood. These priests did not receive land (which was the primary means of earning an income) and instead were paid for their ministerial duties.
3. The tithe is not binding on Christians. 
4. There are elders in the New Testament whose work is preaching and teaching. They are to be supported by those tco whom they minister.
5. Christians are to be open-handed people. We are to seek to excel in the grace of giving. We are to give joyously and generously give to meet the needs of others.


The tithe is not a New Testament requirement in the same way that it was in the Old Testament. However, the New Testament does indicate that there will be those in the church who give themselves to teaching and preaching. They are to be supported by those who attend the church. In addition, believers are to give to meet the needs of others beyond what they give to the local church ministry. The New Testament gives no indication of a percentage of income to be given for either type of giving, but we are to give what we have decided in our own hearts, after having committed ourselves to excel in the grace of giving.

How I Do It

Let me share with you how I have applied this in my own life. Remember, for many years I was NOT a pastor. I had “real” job. My thinking was formed on this issue before I had a “stake” in what people gave to the local church. 

I was raised going to church. When I was young, my parents gave me a few coins to put in the offering plate during the service. Eventually I started to receive a weekly allowance from them and they stopped giving me coins. Now I had a decision to make: would I put some of “my money” into the offering plate? Frankly, I would have been embarrassed not to put something in, so I tried to remember to bring a few pennies to put in. 

It wasn’t until I was in university that I fully committed my life to Christ. I was blown away by depth of his love, grace, and mercy. My heart pounded with love for him. Now the few pennies seemed like silly things to put in the offering plate on Sunday morning. How much should I give? 

I studied the Bible and came across all the passages that I've mentioned. It seemed to me that the heart transformed by grace should excel in giving to an amount that at least matches that of those who lived under the Old Testament system. They were required to give 10% of their income to the support of the priesthood. I decided that I would do the same. I would seek to give to the Lord 10% of my income through my local church. It seemed like a good way of fulfilling Galatians 6:6. At the same time, I wondered how it was possible to give so much. University students are not known for having lots of extra money! Could I “afford” to give so much? It was then that I ran across God’s challenge in Malachi 3:10. He dares the people to bring the full tithe into the storehouse and see what would happen. He promised them incredible blessing. So I accepted the challenge and discovered it to be true. God met my needs and I found myself drawing closer to him. 

So while not explicitly commanded to do so, I use the tithe as personal guide in giving to my church. This has been my practice during both times when my income was high and when it was low. It has been my practice during seasons where I was excited and when I was concerned about things that were happening at church. Through the decades I can say that I have not lacked. Even in lean times, God has been faithful to supply what I need. Malachi 3:10 is a challenge from God to trust him. He is faithful. 

I also decided that I would give beyond what I give to the local church to meet the needs of others. This might be in support of missions or some physical needs of people the Lord brings to my attention. Though the years this amount has gone up and down depending on my situation and the needs that I was aware of at the time.

That’s the way I do it and I commend it to you as a means of seeking to excel in the grace of giving. 

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