Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Thoughts On Christian Giving: Tithing Misconceptions

Thoughts on Christian Giving: Tithing Misconceptions

“Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!” -2nd Corinthians 9:15

I don’t suppose you can recall the last time that you gave to your church? Last Sunday, perhaps? Or perhaps give some money to a local, regional, or national mission? But even more importantly: When was the last time you spent some of your valuable time or money on a brother or sister in Christ that was in need? When was the last time you helped the orphans and widows?
The importance of Christian giving canot be overstated. All throughout the Scriptures, we are not only encouraged, but required to give and with a cheerful heart! Christian giving, be it with your material wealth, or with your time, effort and resources, is a vital part not only of the Christian life, but it is what makes the church unique in many aspects. Since our church is built on the truth that Christ’s blood is a free gift to us, how much more should we then be willing to give to others, and meet the needs of those around us?
Giving and sacrificing time, wealth, and effort for the sake of the church is found everywhere in the New Testament. For example, read James 1:27:

“Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of God and Father is this: to help widows and orphans in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.”

Here James is informing us of the sheer importance of living out our faith and grace by taking action, and by doing good. “Faith without works is dead,” and this is certainly true in the area of how we dedicate our resources to the Lord. Here James is saying specifically that an aspect of real, true faithful service before God is aiding those who cannot freely provide for themselves, the widows and orphans. Also he mentions the importance of keeping from worldliness. This is no encouragement, my friends; this is a pretty blunt and direct statement about the truth of our faith!
Another aspect of Christian care for one another is the known story that Christ Himself says, in Matthew 5:41-42:

“Whoever forces you to go with him one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you.”

Christ Himself commands us that we are required to give time, service, and resources to those who ask of us! Now, this is important, Christ does not mean to just give to absolutely anyone who asks of you: This is in the context of a legitimate need. However, if we find someone who has a real need and asks for help, we are not just encouraged, but commanded by Christ to fulfill and provide for the needs (note again, the needs, not the wants) of those who ask for help!

However, that being said, there are some common misconceptions and misunderstandings about exactly what the Bible speaks of in the way of tithing, giving, and sacrificing resoures and/or time to the Lord or the church. This is mainly the subject here: I’m certainly sure that most of you have run into several problems with this today in our modern, contemporary church. Taking these Scriptures and other similar doctrines, many churches today preach messages on the importance of giving to the church, the rewards that God returns to us when we give freely to God’s work, or even claiming that God rewards those who follow Him with wealth and generosity.
Frankly put, most of these are lies.
Here are some examples of messages in which certain false teachers of our day use these Christian principles to ask for money, or resources on behalf of God, who use it for themselves. Also, some underlying lies regarding their doctrine are apparent:

(insert videos here)

What then is the problem with the teaching of these individuals? Are they not preaching to some extent, the truths of Scripture and Christian love and giving? Are they not encouraging one of the fundamental aspects of Christianity?
Absolutely not.
Here is a common misconception about Christian giving: That if you give material wealth to God (putting aside whether or not this wealth is really going to God’s work or not), He is required and has promised in Scripture to give even more back to you. This is an outright lie. Some of the passages that these teachers use in order to promote the mass giving of money to a church-based organization are:

Luke 6:38:

“Give, and it will be given to you. They will pour into your lap a good measure – pressed down, shaken together, running over. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return.”

This, or similar passages in Christ’s words, are usually the passages mentioned, Scriptures about how when you give, God will give back to you. However, what’s missing is the context. Let’s read the entire passage in context:

“But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to the ungrateful and evil. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Do not judge, and you will not be judged, and do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Pardon, and you will be pardoned. Give, and it will be given to you. They will pour into your lap a good measure – pressed down, shaken together, running over. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return.” -Luke 6:35-38

Note here the context: Is money mentioned as the type of giving here? Perhaps, in verse 35, but even then note it says ‘and expect nothing in return.’ Furthermore, the context indicates the discussion of forgiveness, not material wealth! Even where material wealth is mentioned, we are asked to expect nothing in return. This is merely one example of abused passages which some people claim point to God’s promise to reward those who give in terms of wealth. Make no mistake, nowhere does God promise wealth to anyone, under any circumstances. Search and find out for yourself. If anything, Scripture condemns the wealthy, and looks down upon the desire for material things (1st Timothy 6:10, 1st John 2:16, James 5:1-3).
Now, naturally you ask: “So are you claiming then that it is wrong to seek money/wealth?” By no means, absoulutely not. Honest gain and accumulating for yourself (as long as it is honest) is certainly no sin. Merely, when the desire for money overrides the desire to do God’s will, or to use God as a means for money, then it becomes evil. Thus, the passage of 1st Timothy. However…this is an entirely different discussion in itself.

That being said, then, you ask, “Very well then…so we should give without expecting any in return? Is that the point you’re trying to make Alex?” Well to an extent yes, but I believe that also, in today’s chuch, the method that we use to ‘give to God’ is also not quite what Paul meant when he asked us to give with cheerful hearts, or what was meant when the Old Testament fathers set aside a tenth of their gain to the Lord.
And here is what I mean: Today, when you tithe, what do you do? Typically, the vast majority of those who attend church and are convicted to tithe give ten percent of their material earnings (money, cash or check, etc.) to the church they attend. This is how the church institution is supported, when it’s members allow usually a tenth, give or take, to go to the operating expenses of the church, the salary of the elder/pastor, or to other chuch projects. Sometimes it is a gift to a mission organization, money that is turned into food, clothing, or shelter for those overseas. And this, friends, is considered our ‘tithe.’ This is the primary method that Christians use to ‘give to the Lord.’ When looking at passages such as Paul’s and Christ’s commands to give, freely, and with cheerful hearts, we have arrived at the conclusion in today’s church institutions that this means, the more money you give, the better you’re doing. The more generous you’re being. I find a few minor problems NOT with the giving itself, or with this method of giving. But I DO find them in the mindset that this is the primary way to give to God.
Let’s take a look at what the Scriptures mean in terms of giving, perhaps, for a little more clarification on my point. Note again, I hardly am condemning giving to the church, absolutely not! But I fear that many believe this is the fulfillment of their giving to God, when in fact, God might much prefer something else from us.
I believe a primary example first would be in the major passage in Scripture that discusses the giving and sharing of money for Christian people. Let’s take a look at 2nd Corinthians 8.
In this passage, Paul is discussing the current trials that the believers in Jerusalem are undergoing, in that while they are being persecuted, they are starving and without shelter and/or clothing, being cut off from the rest of the strictly Jewish society there. As a result, they are unable to work or associate with the Jews, and thus cannot acquire food or provide for themselves. The apostle Paul mentions this in 2nd Corinthians, and urges the believers of Corinth to give to their brothers in Jerusalem. Let’s read it in context:

“Now, brethren, we wish to make known to you the grace of God which has been given in the churches of Macedonia, that in great ordeal of affliction their abundance of joy and their deep poverty overflowed in the wealth of their liberality. For a testify that according to their ability, and beyond their ability, they gave of their own accord, begging us with much urging for the favor of participation in the support of the saints.” - 2nd Corinthians 8:1-4

He goes on here to discuss this issue, and his reason for urging the Corinthians to give as well:

“I give my opinion in this matter, for this is to your advantage, who were the first to begin a year ago not only to do this, but also to desire to do it. But now finish doing it also, so that just as there was the readiness to desire it, so there may be also the completion of it by your ability. For if the readiness is present, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have. For this is not for the ease of others for your affliction, but by way of equality – at this present time your abundance supplying their need, so that their abundance also may become a supply for your need, that there may be equality; as it is written, ‘He who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little had no lack.’” - 2nd Corinthians 8:10-15

Now this is an interesting statement indeed! I notice some very frank points that are made in this statement by Paul, and I would see that here he is claiming blatantly:

1) What is more important than the giving itself, is the desire to give or the mindset of it.
2) This giving is not to be necessarily a complete sacrifice on our material part, but ‘by way of equality.’

Hmm, what could this mean? Firstly, the obvious opening point that Paul worries about, is that what is more important than the giving itself is the heart and mind behind it. Giving to the church/missions for personal reasons other than the duty of serving God with your material wealth, and peforming your duty to aid your Christian sisters and brothers, is not a godly mindset. Or rather, you would be surprised how many other reasons many of the church give what they do! Perhaps out of desire for personal status, a pride motivation. Or a grudging duty to God, only because you really should, not because you want to. It is better not to give at all, than to give grudgingly.
Secondly, this last point that Paul makes is...very profound. It almost sounds as though he is advocating communism! (No, he is not. By NO means does this Scripture, or any other, support Communism. Rest assured.) He says to give to your fellow Christians in their time of need, NOT “by way of their affliction,” that is, their loss for someone else’s gain. But rather, “by way of equality,” so that if they give while the needs of their brothers is current, than they, in turn, will help and give when it’s the other way around! How about that?
Also remember, this was in fact what made the church very special and quite a model for the Gentiles back in the early church days. The mark of the church was always known by the fact that they took care of each other, in a very dutiful manner. Elders saw to it that poor, weak, and helpless were fed and clothed. Christians by duty took care of widows and orphans in the church. And whenever a church has a serious need, churches in other locations would hurry to give to the needy church, which is exactly the point of this passage.
In other words, the early church didn’t just give for giving’s sake, or just to sacrifice to missions. It seriously worked like a large, almost business-like system, in which it was the duty of the believers to care for one another’s material needs when they had them. They were commanded to take care of their own. And not only did this function like a economic sub-system, with believers giving by way of equality, like a constant insurance company, but as Paul goes on to state, they had “the desire to do it.” This wasn’t something that was forced or required by any means, for “God loves a cheerful giver.” However these believers, and most of the early church, gladly took care of each other’s needs when those needs were dire, and in turn received help when their needs were too great. Interesting?
Before we go much further, it would be wise to mention: By no means is Paul advocating any use of socialism or Communism in this Scriptural passage. Many times, proponents of this system claim this passage as evidence for their way of life. Here, Paul is encouraging free giving among the members of the church when needs arise, on all sides. Whereas socialism is an economic system in which needs or no, equality is absolutely demanded. Furthermore, Communism is the construction of a ‘perfect’ economic system without allowing God into the equation. By no means is Paul supporting that!

This, brothers and sisters, is something I see greatly lacking in today’s church. Not only that, but it’s been replaced with this mindset of thinking that giving to God only entails supporting the local church institution, and/or giving to missions. Why this is fantastic, don’t get me wrong, I believe the church has largely forgotten this concept Paul mentions here in Corinthians, where believers take care of each other ‘by way of equality’ when needs arise. Like a massive insurance system, almost! In exchange for taking care of your needy brothers and sisters when they need it, you also will be taken care of, “by way of equality.”
My point then? I would encourage this: The next time that you seek to give your time, money, or effort to God, and before you give all of it to a far off mission, or to your local church, look around first! Is there anyone in your chuch family in need? Perhaps someone that could use help or needs funds to live on? Maybe a believing person or family near you that is going through trials or struggles? Give to them, and take care of your Christian family! Give some of your time or material to those believers around you that are struggling, now or later. “God loves a cheerful giver!”

As it was said before, God would rather you not give at all than feel forced or required to give. But the next time you want to apply your many blessings to further God’s Kingdom, seek to look out for the ones around you in trials! However, let’s go on to read what else Paul has to say about giving and taking care of our fellow believers in Christ:

“Because of the proof given by this ministry, they will glorify God for your obedience to your confession of the gospel of Christ and for the liberality of your contribution to them and to all, while they by prayer on your behalf, yearn for you because of the surpassing grace of God in you. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!”
- 2nd Corinthians 9:13-15

Even with all of this in mind, Paul concludes (some verses later, after more discussion in this subject) that when we do these things, God is glorified, and it even further proclaims our obedience to the Gospel of Christ, who truly is the greatest Giver of all time. When we imitate our Lord, who truly gave freely and not grudgingly, everything He was, and give freely of ourselves, we mirror God, and glorify His works and Name! Finally, Paul finishes with a focus on that gift, the gift of Christ. “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!” We may give and serve, but even all of that is nothing in comparision with the absoulutely incomprehendable gift of Christ! Blessed be His Name!


  1. Excellent point! I've thought over most of what you've said before, but there was a point or two in there that I hadn't considered. The new points actually help me out with something I need to do, so :)

  2. Definitely man! I'm glad it was helpful to you, thanks for the feedback! I don't get enough of it. :D Yeah, same here...I was kinda surprised myself by some of the concepts taught in those Scriptures, but definitely ones I need to be putting to more use too.

  3. Great post, Alex! I've struggled with the tithing issue because I want to give generously, and it's hard to do that when it just disappears into gigantic numbers in an institutional budget. I'm committed to the mission of my local congregation, but I've been able to find more personal ways to give my money to support individuals, and I've found that much more meaningful and less "out of duty" like you've described.


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