In a recent membership class at First Central Baptist Church in Chicopee, MA, we had a discussion about tithes, offerings, and giving in general. In an effort to better communicate the principles, I put together a handout covering the FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) about giving. You can download it as a pdf file or as a 4-page booklet. Our church will include it in this Sundays’ bulletin.
The FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) about Giving
Q: When we take our offering, Pastor Mark or Chris Ames sometimes uses the phrase “tithes and offerings.” I’ve never heard a message on tithing before. Where does that come from?
A: Most people associate the tithe—10% giving—with the requirements of the Old Testament Law, but it actually existed before the Law was given. In Genesis 14:17-20, Abraham is returning from a battle in which he rescued his nephew Lot. On his way, he meets Melchizedek, a priest of God Most High. In gratitude for God granting him victory, Abraham gives a tenth of everything to the priest.
Many years later, Abraham’s grandson, Jacob, leaves home and is on his way to his Uncle Laban’s house. On his way, he has a dream about God in the desert (Genesis 28:10-15). In the dream, God promises to be with him and make him successful. Jacob makes a vow that if that indeed happens and he returns home safely, he would give God a tenth of everything (Genesis 28:20-22).
Q: That makes it sound like a tithe is just an example. Wasn’t it part of the Law?
A: Giving a tithe was an important aspect of the Old Testament Law, but it was actually closer to 23% than 10%.
Q: I’ve never heard that before. Where does that come from?
A: In the Law, several tithes and offerings were required of each person. The Israelites were to give one-tenth of all produce and all animals back to God (Leviticus 27:30-33). A second offering was the festival tithe (Deuteronomy 12:5-6, 11, 18). One-tenth of the nine-tenths that remained (9%) was to be set aside and taken to Jerusalem where it would be eaten as part of a sacred meal. A third offering was the triennial or charity tithe which was given during the third year (10% given over 3 years or 3 1/3% a year) and used to help the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow (Deuteronomy 26:12-15; 14:28-29). If you add up these amounts—10%, 9%, and 3 1/3%— the tithe is 22.3% a year.
Q: That makes me glad I don’t live under the Law. How is the New Testament different?
A: The Old Testament Law is prescriptive. It gives us a list of “Do’s & Don’ts.” The New Testament gives principles to guide us, but leaves the decision up to us.
Q: What does the New Testament teach about giving?
A: There are two key passages which teach principles about giving, 1 Corinthians 16:1-4 and 2 Corinthians 8-9.
In 1 Corinthians 16:1, Paul is writing to the Corinthians, but indicates this is the same thing he told the Galatians. This should be the normal practice of all believers and churches. In verse 2, Paul gives five principles about giving. Giving is to be:
- Periodic—“On the first day of every week.” There should be a regular pattern and consistency to our giving.
- Personal—“each one of you.” Each one of us is to give something.
- Planned—“should set aside.” We are to think through what we are going to give.
- Proportionate—“a sum of money in keeping with his income.” Rather than being haphazard, the amount we give should be consistent with our earnings.
- Purposeful—“saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made.” We are to follow through with our plan and make sure we give.
Q: Are there different principles in the other passage?
A: 2 Corinthians 8-9 provides us with three additional principles. The first one is that God doesn’t want our money. He wants us. We begin by first giving ourselves to God, and then secondly by giving our resources to whatever ministry we are involved in (8:5).
The second principle is that we are to give cheerfully (9:6-7). We are to remember the law of the harvest, that we reap what we sow. In addition, we are the ones who determine the amount of our gift. But more important than the amount is our attitude. God delights in cheerful, generous giving.
Q: What if my income is limited or tight? Do I wait until I have enough before I give?
A: The answer to that question is found in the cycle of grace giving (9:6-11) and provides the third principle to guide us in our giving. We give cheerfully (9:6-7), then God gives back so that we have enough (9:8a). We then give generously (9:8b), and God gives back so that we have more than enough (9:9-11). We give—God gives back. We give more—God gives more back. The result of all of this is that God’s name is praised (9:11b-15).
The bottom line is that when we give of our money, the gift enriches the donor (9:6-11), supplies the needs of the recipients (12a), and promotes the glory of God (12b-15).
Q: It sounds like it is up to me to determine how much to give. Is that true?
A: Giving 10% is a good guideline, since it was the pattern of godly people even before the Law was given. But it is not a requirement. For some, giving 10% would require a step of faith. For others, it would be too little and they would not miss it.
Pray about what God would have you to give. Be faithful to what he puts on your heart. Give generously. Be joyful. Honor God in your giving.