This is one of those questions where many of us, for a variety of reasons, wish there was a nice, simple answer. The fact is, there isn’t. Some suggest that tithing from the OT should be our guide for giving in the Church Age, but this is simply not supported by Scripture. Tithing was, if anything, more akin to our modern taxation than to the freewill giving that should mark us as the people of God. While the New Testament certainly provides very direct, forceful teaching on the grace of giving, there is no mandatory ratio provided as the “required” amount to give. Rather, as in many areas of Christian living, we are left to search for Scriptural principles to apply, and then ask the Lord for guidance and burden of heart to implement these principles for His glory.
Possibly the most important principle to remember when it comes to the question of giving is that all “my” money is essentially the Lord’s. It is entrusted to me as a stewardship to use for His honor – it is not mine. It’s not that I must designate some fixed percentage as “the Lord’s” and then be free to spend the rest on myself as I see fit. I am accountable to the Lord for how I manage 100% of the money he entrusts to me – not just 10% of it (as some suggest with tithing) or some other fixed proportion. The real question therefore is not really “how much of my money should I give to the Lord?” but rather, “how much of the Lord’s money that He has entrusted to me must I keep to meet my needs?”
Giving as a Priority
One OT concept that does offer us a good guide for giving is the law of firstfruits. God does not get what’s left over after all other obligations (and desires) have been addressed. Our first thought and our highest priority with every financial decision we face should be “how can this situation be used to address my responsibility to give to the Lord and provide for the support of His work and workers?”
Strategic and Systematic Giving
Second Corinthians 9:7 (ESV) says: “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart.” This means that giving should be a deliberate, thoughtful, conscious act, planned in advance, and then carried through methodically. There has likely never been a time when this principle is more critically important than it is today. In our electronic world, most money flows into and out of our bank accounts without us ever touching it. Pay checks are direct-deposited, payments are directly withdrawn, and the vast majority of major spending decisions are made well in advance of actually earning the money to honor them. In this environment, if giving is not a priority, and is not consciously and deliberately planned, then it is not very likely to occur. The Lord will end up with the dregs (if that), as everything else will have already been committed elsewhere. It is critically important for each of us to carefully consider the importance of giving, first to the Lord, and then to deliberately and systematically set aside a pre-determined portion for the Lord and His work. Treat it like a tax or a mortgage payment or a retirement savings deduction. Make it deliberate and systematic, and then make everything else fall into line behind it.
In addition to our structured, systematic giving, we should also have a heart that is ready and willing to spontaneously respond to specific needs that may arise. “If anyone has this world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?”(1John 3:17, ESV). James states a similar point with more stinging emphasis when he writes, “if a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?” (James 2:15-16, ESV). Whenever a specific need crosses my path, and it is within my ability to immediately address it and help, my response should be spontaneous and generous. We should give “not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2Cor 9:7, ESV).
Perhaps the most searching NT principle to govern our behavior in these matters is that of sacrificial giving. Paul writes of the Macedonian Christians that “their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord” (2Cor 8:2-3). It is very searching to ask myself, “When did I last give to the Lord and His work to such a degree that it actually hurt, so that my decision to give actually resulted in a deliberate inconvenience or hardship in my own life?” For many of us, the fact is, whatever giving we practice generally does not compromise the relative ease of our ongoing lifestyles. The ultimate example used by Paul in verse 9 of that same chapter (2 Corinthians 8, ESV) is that of our Lord Jesus: “You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you by His poverty might become rich.” He is our supreme example in sacrificial giving.
Every believer should be active in giving – even those who feel they have very little to give. It is a principle of Scripture that “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much” (Luke 16:10 KJV). As we are faithful with whatever little the Lord entrusts to our stewardship, he will see to it that our resources increase, not to squander them on ourselves, but to use for His honor. As financial resources increase, remember that giving must also increase. In teaching the Corinthian believers about giving as an assembly, Paul instructs them, “Let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him” (1Cor 16:2, ESV).
Every one of us is going to give account to our risen Lord for our stewardship over our material resources. The fact that tithing does not apply in the NT does not relieve us of the obligation of giving systematically and liberally to the Lord and His work. I cannot just set aside some fixed portion of my income, and then spend the rest with reckless abandon without fear of a guilty conscience. Rather, the teaching of the NT should motivate us to ensure that we are contributing as much as we can to the Lord and to His work. Everything the Lord entrusts to me is ultimately His, and the highest and best use for it is to maximize its use for eternal glory.