How Much Should I Give?

I respectfully disagree with what some of today’s Christian leaders teach on the subject of tithing.

Each year, I present a Christian money management seminar in about fifty churches, colleges and other venues nationwide. Of course, I focus on all the pertinent topics: how to get out of debt God’s way, how to stop fighting over money, how to develop a workable budget, how to stay out of credit card trouble, and how to invest and retire with dignity. But, I can’t do what I do in good conscience without teaching about Godly giving.

Yet my approach doesn’t parrot the teachings in many churches. No, I’m not trying to shock you, but I am concerned that some of us really can’t support what we teach about tithing from the Scriptures. Feel free to consider my conclusions, pray about them, and then do as you believe is right.

I am fully aware that many Christians today teach that we should tithe, or give 10% of their money to God. Because of the battle I’ve fought in my own life against legalism, I’d like to share a few thoughts about this teaching. While I accept full responsibility for my comments, I am borrowing some ideas from Alger Fitch’s excellent book, What the Bible Says About Money.

Since man first began to relate with God, the question has been: What and how much should one give? There is much said in the Old Testament about tithing. Contrary to what many believe, tithing did not originate with the Law of Moses. Far earlier, in the Genesis account, we see Abraham tithing to Melchizedek the priest. (See Genesis 14:17ff and Hebrews 7:1ff.)

Additionally, the concept of tithing isn’t found only in the Bible. Various pagan cultures, such as the Greeks who worshipped Hercules and Apollo, also tithed. Arabians, Egyptians, Babylonians, Phoenicians, and Romans were familiar with tithing as well. Suffice it to say, God’s people were expected to tithe. By the time of Moses, tithing was the law of the land for the Jewish nation.

I find it curious, however, that when we come to the New Testament there seem to be no directives to any of the newly formed Christian communities about tithing. Paul has a lot to say about giving, yet never mentions the word “tithe” in his directives to the Christian church. Other first century records are silent on the subject as well.

Now, don’t think we’re off the hook. In second century writings, when tithing is mentioned, the emphasis is on followers giving more than the tithe because of the grace they have received.

It’s possible that the early writers felt no need to mention tithing in the first century because it was just assumed this practice would continue on as it had for centuries. Still, I go back to my earlier point: I hesitate to bind on everyone what I don’t see clear and concrete teaching for in the New Testament. Of course, in each of our lives we must be totally open and honest before God. And I must tell you that in our family, we are in favor of the concept of giving the first 10% of our fruits for several reasons:

First, by tithing we have some structure, or purpose, to our giving. As Paul told the Corinthians, our giving should be planned, or “purposed.” (See 2 Corinthians 9:7.) I know me, and I know that without a plan, or structure, I find excuses not to do as I should. I know I should be giving back to God – there is no question we are called to give of our resources. Tithing keeps me focused and precludes me from shirking my God-ordained responsibilities.

Second, tithing is a divine concept. Admittedly, as Christians we are under grace and not the Law. But as Fitch points out, “For a Christian under the Gospel to give less than a Jew under the Law is not an evidence of grace but of disgrace…the tithe is an appropriate starting line for those in the race, but an inadequate goal at which to stop running forward.”

Third, as one old sage put it, “The greatest danger with tithing is that some good church folks might use it as an excuse to stop at a tenth.”

Today’s church is dreadfully out of step with God’s heart on the topic of giving. Estimates suggest that the average Christian today is giving less than 3% back to the Lord — with many giving nothing at all. Friends, this is terrible! Barry L. Cameron says that if godly people faithfully tithed, there would be an extra $219 billion available every year for Kingdom purposes. Based on the estimated 350,000 churches in America — that’s an additional $625,000 for each one.

As pointed out earlier, there are still others that may think that once they’ve given 10% they’ve followed the rules, and God expects no more of them. Think of the resources we could put towards God’s kingdom if we were not only tithing but open to God’s leading beyond the minimum. Think of what could be getting done — and ponder how you can contribute.

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