Many of us have heard it said, or preached, that Christians should give away ten per cent of their income, in accordance with practices that we read about in the Old Testament, but is this still a requirement for Christians today?
The ten per cent “tithe” was part of the Mosaic law, but the New Testament makes it clear that Christians are no longer under the law, for example, Galatians 3.24-25 says, “[…] the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.”
Moreover, the tithe was one of many offerings required by the law. A faithful Jew was expected to give between twenty and twenty-five per cent of their income. If we were still under the law, why would we limit our giving to ten per cent?
Some proponents of the tithe cite Jesus’ affirmation of it in Matthew 23.23:
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practised the latter, without neglecting the former.”
Jesus tells the Pharisees that they should not have neglected “the former”, namely tithing from their spices. However, it should be noted that Jesus himself lived under the mosaic law, since the new covenant (God’s new agreement with humanity), did not come into effect until after Jesus’ death and resurrection. We tend to forget that Jesus was decidedly Jewish in his daily practices, worship and outlook.
In a list of the top 50 subjects that Jesus taught on, money and finance comes in at number four, yet Jesus never chose to teach about tithing. In short, the New Testament does not stipulate a ten per cent tithe for Christians. So, what should our position on giving be?
The New Testament makes it clear that giving is an essential Christian discipline. However, instead of a percentage amount we are given clear principles.
Firstly, our giving should be generous and sacrificial. Paul commended the poverty-stricken Macedonian church that gave beyond its means to support the church in Jerusalem, saying: “In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability.” (2 Corinthians 8.2-3). This is a corporate version of the kind of generosity that Jesus commended in the poor widow, who gave two copper coins and the last of all she had (Mark 12.41-44). Sacrificial generosity requires great faith in the Lord’s ability and willingness to provide for all our needs (though not necessarily our wants). A standard ten per cent tithe would not be sacrificial for the very wealthy because they could offer it without forgoing any of life’s luxuries.
Secondly, our giving is to be joyful. That is to say, it should flow from an attitude of the heart, rather than from a sense of obligation. As it says in 2 Corinthians 9.7, “Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” Again, there is no mention of a percentage amount that everyone must pay. One could assume that some will give more than ten per cent and others less, according to the leading of the Holy Spirit.
Finally, our giving should be thoughtful and prayerful. It is worth remembering that Jesus taught us to go beyond the requirements of the law. The law says, “Do not murder”, but Jesus said, do not harbour anger and resentment in your hearts. The law says, “Do not commit adultery”, but Jesus said, do not look at someone with lust. The law says, “Give a tenth of all that your fields produce each year”, but Jesus said, “Give to everyone who asks you.” (Luke 6.30)
Our generosity and giving should not be limited by a set amount, rather it should grow and increase as God’s kingdom grows within us (Luke 17.21). Deuteronomy 10.14 reminds us that everything belongs to God. In other words, everything we have is on loan to us; we do not own it and we cannot take it with us when we depart from this world (Ecclesiastes 5.15). James reminds us that “every good and perfect gift is from above” (James 1.17). Our very lives are a gift from God, as is our eternal salvation. We do well to remember what it cost Jesus to secure it for us. With all this in mind, we think, and we pray, and we trust — and we decide in our hearts how much to give.
First Published on the St Andrew’s, Springfield website in September 2023.Jump to next article