Fact check: is tithing ever commanded for New Testament believers? The answer is “no.” Does that mean tithing is bad? No, it just means we are not morally obligated to give 10% of our income to church.
Now some of you are thinking, “Darn heretic doesn’t want people to give to God.” Others may be thinking, “Thank goodness, now I can keep that 10% for myself.” Well, if you are thinking either of those things (which you may very well not be), you’re wrong. See, tithing is easy. Almost anyone can survive on 90% of their normal income, and for most people that 10% will not impact much of anything. God, though, never goes the no-impact route. Jesus’ callings always change lives.
See, consider that whenever Jesus spoke on the Old Testament law, He didn’t simply set it aside. Instead, He exposed the true meaning and raised the bar even higher than the letter of the law, while at the same time preventing the legalistic abuse of the law. This is what He does with tithing. No longer are you (merely) required to give precisely 10% of your income to God, for that is far too simplistic, but you are commanded to give radically, generously, and self-sacrificially. The law said, “Give this percent.” Grace says, “Give until you can’t give anymore.”
Need proof? Let’s look at the New Testament on giving.
Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ”
And now, brothers and sisters, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. 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. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people. And they exceeded our expectations: They gave themselves first of all to the Lord, and then by the will of God also to us.
2 Corinthians 8:1-5
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.
2 Corinthians 9:7
And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.
What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?
If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?
These texts, combined with other teachings such as not “looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others” (Phil. 2:4), show us that Jesus intends for us to be radically generous. As believers, we ought to sacrifice our goods and money for three things (as I find in the texts):
- The functioning of the church
- The welfare of fellow believers
- Ministry to unbelievers
In most cases, we give 10% which mostly accomplishes the first purpose. Yet our call is much higher. Give, give, give, so that no fellow believers will be in need, and so that the needs of those outside can be met towards their salvation and the glory of the transforming Kingdom of God. It takes more than 10% to do that, so just give. Don’t worry about the numbers. Give all that you can. If you can’t live without every last 10%, give whatever you can afford, and if you really can’t afford to give anything, seek the aid of your church so that they can be blessed by ministering to you through giving. After all, “it is more blessed to give than to receive.” Oh, and does all this mean you should never spend money on your own desires? Far from it! Money is like all other blessings in life: to be enjoyed gratefully by you, used in ministry for others, and dedicated to glorify and serve God. So glorify God!