One of the areas where I get questions as a pastor is about giving. The big frequently asked questions I get are:
- How much should a Christian give?
- Why does God want us to give?
- Does it count if I tithe to an organization other than my church?
- Should a Christian tithe on Net income or Gross income?
I’ll attempt to answer these as best I can. What a person gives is between them and God. However, that being said, Scripture has made God’s will for giving very clear, and while giving is between the individual and God, the individual needs to follow God’s word in making these decisions.
1) How much should a Christian give?
In the Old Testament, the command is to tithe. A tithe is the first 10% of what you earn. Note that: the FIRST ten percent. This is very important to understand, because right now we live under a different system that will be addressed later. However, back to the question, the Old Testament command is to give 10% of what you earn to the Lord.
In the New Testament, there is not a clear command. Jesus makes a veiled reference to tithing in Matthew 23:23 and Luke 11:42 when He is criticizing the Pharisees, telling them to practice justice and mercy AS WELL AS tithing, but there is no specific amount commanded. Jesus doesn’t tell His followers to give 10%. He isn’t interested in a set amount. What His teachings are regarding money is that money is the main thing that will keep you from God. He teaches against greed and materialism and encourages generosity and giving to the point that it changes your lifestyle. Many people, after reading Jesus’ teachings on money, prefer the easier 10% command of the Old Testament.
So, a Christian should give a minimum of 10% of his or her income to the church. Most Christians, however, don’t even do this. The average Christian in America gives about 2.5% of his or her income to the church. This, interestingly enough, makes us more faithful to the teachings of Mohammed than of Jesus, because one of the Five Pillars of Islam is to give 2.5% of income to the poor.
2) Why does God want us to give?
There are several reasons God commands us to give. One very plain and simple reason is that it’s all His and He can command us to do anything with it that He wants. The command to give reorients our view of money. We by default believe that our money is OURS, our houses are OURS, our cars are OURS, etc. Nothing could be further from the truth. We are managers of God’s property while we are alive. Then we die, and someone else takes over managing what we formerly managed. If it were ours, we could take it with us when we die. But we obviously can’t.
I was sitting on my back porch one day looking out at my backyard, feeling pleased with this plot of land that I own and I call mine. All of a sudden, the Lord asked me, “How many people have ‘owned’ this piece of property since the beginning of creation?” I answered, “Probably a whole lot.” And then it hit me. When I leave, someone else will ‘own’ it. Not really. Someone else will manage it, then someone else, then someone else. Nothing we have is ours. It’s all God’s.
Giving regularly is a statement of obedience to God. It is a statement of recognition of His sovereignty over our things and our money. A faithful Christian realizes that everything he or she has belongs to God, and giving to God is a recognition of His authority and His ownership. It is an expression of gratitude to God for His many blessings.
However, I don’t like this question. The reason I don’t like this question it is, quite frankly, the wrong question. A Christian never asks, “How much of my money does God want me to give?” Instead, the Christian asks, “How much of God’s money do I get to keep for myself?”
When God commands us to tithe, He isn’t taking our money. He is allowing us to keep 90% of HIS money. When you begin asking the right question, your entire focus on giving changes.
3) Does it count if I tithe to an organization other than my church?
I get this question a lot. There are lots of great organizations that do great Christian work, and Christians need to support them. However, it is my belief from Scripture that these are separate from the tithe.
In Deuteronomy 12:6, the writer draws a distinction between the “tithe” and “special gifts.” The tithe was the first 10%. The special gift was over and above the tithe, according to what the person wanted to give. My interpretation of that is that the full tithe goes to the local church that you are a part of. The church is God’s instrument to bring the gospel to the world, and if you are at a church that you don’t feel comfortable tithing to, either start tithing or go join another church where you feel comfortable tithing to.
After the tithe has been given to the local church you attend, THEN special gifts can be given to parachurch organizations. My wife and I practice this. We fully tithe to the church I pastor. After that, we sponsor five orphan children, support missionaries, and support crisis pregnancy centers with our special gifts.
4) Should a Christian tithe on Net or Gross Income?
And here is why.
The tithe is not only 10% of your income. It is also the FIRST 10% of your income. God set up the tithe as a recognition of His sovereignty and authority. Whoever gets the “first fruits” is who we recognize as God.
How are our paychecks set up right now? Who is set up to get the first fruits of our income? Answer: the government.
It hit me several years ago that if I tithe off of my net income, my after-tax income, I am making a statement that the government is God. Whoever gets the first part of my income is who I proclaim to be God. I am not willing to proclaim that the government is God.
The only way I proclaim God to be God is to tithe off of my gross income. That way, my giving is an outward sign that I believe God to be the supreme authority in my life, not the government. If I tithe off of my net income, I am acknowledging the sovereignty of the government in my life, with God coming later. I’m not willing to make that statement.
So, I will never, NEVER, tithe off of net income. As for me and my house, we will always tithe off of our gross income. Always.
Some practical thoughts on giving:
I love giving. I find more joy in giving than in receiving. So here are a few tips from someone who absolutely LOVES to give, both to the church and to people, to organizations, and to needs around the world:
-Giving can’t be haphazard. Giving can’t be about giving a few bucks here and there. Giving needs to be budgeted. You need to sit down and figure out your income, look at what the Lord commands, and go do it. In my house, we look at tithing and special gifts as we would our mortgage payment. We schedule our giving every month at a set amount, and we build that into our budget. If you don’t do that, you will find it very hard to be faithful to this important command of our Lord Jesus.
-Giving makes your church experience far better. Where you invest your money is where you invest your heart. If you sacrifice each month to support your local church, you will find that Sunday mornings are more fun, more meaningful, and more positive. You will draw deeper meaning from your Christian faith and your church experience. Like the old saying goes, “You get out of it what you put into it.”
-Giving is worship. Giving isn’t a time in the service where we take a break from worship. Giving IS worship. In fact, it’s the oldest form of worship. The first recorded worship in Scripture wasn’t singing or preaching. It was the offering the Cain and Abel made to the Lord. All throughout Scripture, where you find worship, you find giving. Giving is an expression of love to God. Someone once said, “You can give without loving, but you cannot love without giving.” Giving is a natural expression of love to the object of our affection. Therefore, giving should flow naturally out of the believer to God.
-Giving is the largest area of disobedience in the church today. If 94% of church members committed murder, we’d do something about it. If 94% of church members committed adultery, we’d be up in arms. If 94% of church members stole each week, we’d have a conniption. However, when 94% of church members don’t even fulfill the minimum amount of giving in the Old Testament, we think it’s okay. Estimates are that only 6% of church members in America actually tithe. I can’t think of any other area of the Christian life with that rate of disobedience. It’s time for us to take the commands of Jesus and the commands of Scripture seriously.
-Giving should be joyful. I love to give. Giving isn’t always easy, especially when finances are tight. I know this personally. I have a mortgage, three kids (one of whom is in college and one who will be going to college next year), sports to pay for, cars to pay for, bills to pay, savings, retirement, etc. I have all those things to consider. So do you. No one said it would be easy. However, it can always be joyful. When I face stressful months where an HVAC unit goes out unexpectedly and the kids need something new and all that, I can give joyfully because it’s a statement of faith in God that He will provide. So we joyfully place our resources in God’s hands with the belief that He will provide everything we need. Living that way produces a joy that you will never understand until you do it.
Thanks for reading. Be a joyful giver. Have fun with it. Generous people are always more joyful than stingy people. Be one of the people who starts being faithful to the commands of Scripture regarding giving this year. Then sit back and watch what the Lord does. I love giving. I hope you do too.