Tithing – How Much Should a Christian Give? Part 1

by Jason on April 19, 2010

Recently, Lakita from Personal Finance Journey had a great post asking the question if we should tithe off of our income tax refund.  

There were some great comments on this post and led to a good discussion of giving in general.

Another good post on giving in the last couple of weeks was from Free Money Finance who asked, “Where Did All the Givers Go?”

In that post he quotes Randy Alcorn who says that although American Christians control 70% of the world’s Christian wealth, they only give about 2.6%.

He says it’s a sad indictment that people following a religion that teaches so much about giving actually give so little!

At the same time these posts were being written, I had just finished teaching a series at our Young Adults group at church on money, giving and missional living so the topics were fresh in my mind.

So I thought it’d be good to have a discussion on R2 regarding  Christian giving, generosity and tithing.

Over the course of this next week, I want to answer three main questions:

  • How much should a Christian give?
  • Who should a Christian give to?
  • Should we give even if we don’t have the money?

So today we want to look at how much should a Christian give?

Tithing in the Old Testament

Tithing, or “tenth”, is a Hebrew word that described giving a tenth of your crops, herds etc.

It was actually first mentioned in Genesis 14 regarding Abraham bringing a “tenth” to Melchizidek, but was more defined in the law –

God had some very specific commands in the Old Testament as to how much and when people of God should give.

In fact, the tithe only represented one part of the sacrificial giving system in that day – most Israelites were giving upwards of 20-30% of their goods and “income” at that time if you factored in all the giving requirements.

But things aren’t so clear in the New Testament – or are they?

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Tithing in the New Testament

The word “tithe” in the New Testament is only mentioned in regards to statements of what somebody did – for example, Jesus says in Luke 11:42:

But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.

So Jesus is stating a fact that the Pharisees were tithing.

Nowhere does the New Testament define how much a Christian should give in terms of percentages, tithes etc.

Does that mean we should throw out the Old Testament tithing idea?

What Jesus Does With the Law

Jesus says He did not come to abolish the law, but rather fulfill it.

What I love about Jesus is that He is so radical, so counter-cultural, yet he reaches and penetrates the hearts of the people around him.

But one of the main things He does is He pokes holes in the organized religion of the day by bringing matters back to the heart.

He always takes the law, magnifies it and brings it right back to a heart issue.

For example, he talks about how we shouldn’t commit adultery, but says that if you even look at a person with lust you’ve committed adultery in your heart.

It’s doubtful many of us have murdered anyone, but Jesus says if you get ticked off at your brother and call him some not-so-nice names that you’ve murdered him in your heart!

And of course with giving, He isn’t concerned with the size of the gift as much as He’s concerned with the heart motive and the sacrifice behind it.  Take a look at Luke 21:1-4:

Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box, and he saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. And he said, “Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”

And so by doing this, Jesus ironically makes it easier for us so we don’t have a list of rules to live by – and yet – it is also harder because dealing with heart issues is never easy.

Setting the Stage

In this post, I’m really just setting the stage for some deeper discussion in tomorrow’s post about how much we should give – so come back for some further thoughts on tithing and Christian giving.

Question to Consider

Should we throw out the concept of the Old Testament tithing because the New Testament doesn’t mention it? I’d love to hear your thoughts below!

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