In the New testament, we are encouraged to give ourselves to the Lord first (2 Cor 8:5, Rom 6:13, 12:1) and then to excel in the grace of giving of what belongs to us to meet the needs of others (2Cor 8:7). In the times we now live, we hear much about the giving of our money but seldom about the giving of ourselves to the Lord. We should not get this order mixed up.
The New testament mentions tithing in two places – once when Jesus was speaking to the Pharisees in Matthew 23 and Luke and the other when the writer to the Hebrews was speaking of Melchizedek in chapter 7. In Hebrews 7, the context is in proving that Melchizedek is greater than Levi, not about instruction for the church to tithe. Jesus told the Pharisees in Matthew 23 that they should continue to tithe without neglecting justice and mercy. He also said that justice and mercy were weightier aspects of the law than tithing (Matthew 23:23). This was spoken to the Pharisees and not to his disciples. Nowhere else in the New testament does one read of tithing. One does, however, notice that the New Testament speaks much about giving. I think the reason that tithing is not mentioned in the letters to the churches is because God does not want us to live by rules but by the Spirit – we are in a better covenant. All that we have is from God, there is nothing we have that we did not receive. Although Paul encourage us to decide how much we want to give, I believe that it is a good practice to start by giving a tenth of our income to the Lord and then increase it as God grants increase. We should not be giving just because we want to receive, rather we ought to give as the Spirit leads for all we have is from God. When we do give, the principle of giving and receiving starts to operate and so you will find that you cannot give without receiving.
Whom do we give to? This is the million dollar question. Do we give only to the church or can we give to others also? It is really simple – if your church is actively engaged in giving according to the criteria shown below, then by all means, give to your church. If not, then you are not bound to give to your church only, but expected to give according to the following criteria –
Lets look at what the New testament says in this regard.
1. Give to those in need whom God brings across your path (Luke 10:30-36). In the parable of the Good Samaritan, we find that he gave of his time and money to ensure that the victim of a robbery was taken care of. Jesus commended the Good Samaritan and told the lawyer who questioned him to go and do likewise. You don’t have to give towards every poor person in the world but you are expected to help those whom God brings across your path.
2. To those in ministry who are dependent upon God (Luke 8:1-3, 10:1-8, 3 John 8, 1 Cor 9:14). Many of Jesus’ materials needs were provided for by some of his followers. Jesus said that the laborer is worthy of his wages. In 3 John, we are encouraged to support those who go forth for Jesus name sake that we may become fellow workers with them. This includes giving to missions and missionaries.
3. To the poor, widows and orphans (Acts 4:34-37, 2 Cor 8:1-7, 2 Cor 9:1-15, Js 2:15,16, Lk 14:13, 14, 1 Tim 5:3-16, Js 1:27) God’s heart is for the poor and needy. We are encouraged to give to the poor, whether it be for their sustenance or towards their education. This includes giving to orphanages.
4. Towards needs in the church (Mark 12:41-44). Jesus commended the action of the poor widow in contributing to the temple treasury despite her poverty. The needs of the church are to be met by the gifts of those that attend the church. The practice of the church hoarding money without a clear objective is definitely unacceptable.
5. Towards your own household (1 Tim 5:8) If anyone does not provide for his own household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. You cannot have a member of your family being supported by the church, while you are financially capable to support the person.
The Bible speaks of excelling in the grace of giving, that giving is better than receiving, of the principle of giving and receiving. Jesus spoke of giving and receiving in Luke 6:38, Paul spoke of giving and receiving in Phil 4:15. It is in this context, in Phil 4:19 and 17 that Paul speaks of God supplying all the needs of the Thessalonians and of fruit abounding to their account. It was Cornelius’ prayers and giving that came up as a memorial before God (Acts 10:1-4). It is in the context of giving and receiving that Paul spoke of sowing and reaping (2 Cor 9). It is in the same context that he spoke of God providing all sufficiency in all things (vs 8) and an abundance unto every good work. He said that giving to those in need was a duty (Rom 15:27) that is expected to be fulfilled. God loves a cheerful giver (2 Cor 9:7).
Let us excel in the grace of giving.