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Church Life, Outreach, Missions

Sorting Out Giving
by Ed Vasicek

The truth is that giving feels good—at least sometimes. If we are convinced that our personal sacrifice is doing a significant good, we tend to be more generous. But giving also betrays a spirit of self-interest: many of us are anxious to give to something that we see, something that benefits us directly. Fewer of us get excited about giving to foreign missions.

Although the things we can see, including local needs, are to be taken seriously, we need to remind ourselves that we are building the invisible Kingdom of God, and we must aspire to reach beyond ourselves. Many of us, I think, do have this more mature view of serving the Lord. But we are left with nagging questions. How much should we give? What counts as "giving?"

Some teachers of the Word have easy answers. But the answers, friends, are NOT easy. I have done little preaching on this subject for several reasons:

  1. I think some Christians have brought disgrace to the Gospel by their constant pleas for money. No group is more guilty than television evangelists, promising everything under the sun if people will give generously to their cause. It is sickening.

  2. I have seen good organizations manipulate people through guilt trips.  I have always resented the squeeze play, and I have tried to avoid anything that smacks of it.

Let me be frank. I do not know that I understand the Bible's teaching about giving. Oh, I know plenty of Bible teachers and even scholars who think it is a piece of cake, but their interpretations do not satisfy me. Yet it is my job to lead this congregation, to offer direction. So what I am doing today is simply sharing some of my thoughts about giving.

To Tithe or Not To Tithe

There are a lot of arguments in favor of tithing (i.e., giving 10% off the top). In the Middle East, in ancient times, it was the custom of the devout to tithe, though not necessarily to the true God. Abraham seemed to know this custom, for he naturally paid a tithe to Melchizedek in Genesis 14:20: "Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything." Jacob likewise made this promise in Genesis 28:20-22. "If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear so that I return safely to my father's house, then the LORD will be my God and this stone that I have set up as a pillar will be God's house, and of all that you give me I will give you a tenth."

Under the Law of Moses, there were perhaps three tithes, the third being paid every third year. However, some of this 23% included benevolence and might be considered more of a "tax" than giving.

In the epistles to the churches, tithing is not mentioned, but rather freewill giving. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 16:2, "On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made."

Note that there is no mention of a tithe in this key text, but rather of giving in proportion to one's income. Some would argue that this proportion is determined by a tithe, which would have been understood by the Corinthians. Since the only Scripture they had were the Old Testament books, they may have presupposed the concept of tithing.

In Old Testament law, tithing was a principle to be obeyed, not a choice to be made. Godly people were expected to obey the law out of an attitude of gratitude and love, but obey they must. New Testament giving places more emphasis on attitude.

2 Corinthians 9:6-8 reads, "Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work."

Under New Testament principles, the amount one gives seems to be a personal decision, in proportion to one's income. This understanding of giving is called "grace giving."

Abraham and Jacob paid tithes before the law of Moses. Believers are to give in proportion to their income, and tithing would be a good way to make this happen. Yet it also seems clear that each of us should determine what we give with an open heart before God.

So do I believe in tithing? Yes and no. I do not believe God demands us to tithe, but I think tithing is a good starting point. It is consistent with the example of Old Testament believers, and it is a good way to give proportionately. Many of us would give less if we were not in the routine of tithing. Although our lives are not regulated by Jewish law, we are supposed to find principles from the law for our own application.

So we can choose to tithe, freely, as we pour over matters before God. But we are not CONSTRAINED to tithe. For some, tithing helps them discipline themselves to give (and there is much to be said for this). For others, tithing may be unrealistic. For still others, God may expect more than a tithe.

Note this: there are frequent promises of blessing to those of us who give, and we are encouraged to be liberal in giving. (There is a time for even we conservative Christians to be liberal!) As Jesus himself said, "It is more blessed to give than receive." (Acts 20:35) In a way, our life is to be a gift of thanksgiving to God, and our finances are part of that gift. Everything we have is God's, and we hold it in trust.

Sidebar: Pesky Tithing Questions

Q: Should 100% of my tithe go the church? If I give money to Moody Radio, for example, should I deduct that from my tithe?
A: I don't know. But don't get stuck on the idea of a tithe.

Q: If I am in debt because of unforeseen circumstances, is it better to keep the bill collectors away or give a tithe and be taken to court?
A: Pay your bills, but change your spending habits. Keep a good testimony of financial integrity. Don't sabotage your spending so that you can always claim this excuse. God commands you to be responsible. He may not call you to tithe—ever. Frankly, some people's means are so limited that they have no business giving much at all; they must find other ways to give, perhaps through additional time or talent. For others, God might direct more than a tithe.

Q: I heard a evangelist promise that whatever money I gave would come back to me, multiplied. What do you think of that?
A: Then why doesn't he give all his money away? Then he won't have to ask you anymore!

Q: Why is giving called a "sacrifice?"
A: It should "hurt" to give. If you are not saying "no" to something by giving, you are not giving enough.

Pastor Ed

Reprinted from the April 2001 Body Builder, a publication of Highland Park Church.

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Highland Park Church
516 West Sycamore Street
Kokomo, Indiana, USA
765.452.1779
church@highlandpc.com