How should I give to the local Church I attend? Should I give to the Church alone, or can I give elsewhere? And how much of what I have should I give? Will there be a curse if I fail to give? Does God’s love towards me change if I am not in a position to give? These and many other questions cross the minds of many believers today. The thought intensifies as society becomes more individualized and detached from genuine fellowship and relationships. Do you give? What has your pattern been?
First Things First
Giving is not an optional endeavour that saints get to toy around with. As Christians, we must see giving as an obvious expectation in scripture that enables us to cater for the work of ministry. Examples of giving we have in the Bible are Cain and Abel (Genesis 4:1-7), Abraham to Melchizedek (Genesis 14:17-24), etc. After the establishment of the Old Testament Church, we see that God instituted the whole giving mentality to the nation of Israel. For instance, we see five types of offerings: burnt offerings (Leviticus 1:17); grain offerings (Leviticus 2:1-16); peace offerings (Leviticus 3:1-17); sin offerings (Leviticus 4:1-5:13) and guilt offerings (Leviticus 5:14-6:7). Other than that there were several types of tithes, as we shall see below. Merely considering the number of offerings we already see here should be enough to convince us that giving is indeed not optional.
Giving, done rightly, expresses the Father’s heart, who gave us his begotten Son for our salvation (John 3:16). It is more a heart issue than a material or money issue. The distinguishing factor between the Pharisees and the woman who gave her last dime was not in the amount but the posture of her heart, as Christ explains it (Mark 12:41-44). Therefore, we must tackle the state of our hearts and our understanding of the Father’s heart in light of everything he has provided.
The Old Testament Tithing System
The Old Testament portrays many ways of giving, including tithing. The following are the different types of tithes under the Law of Moses for the nation of Israel.
- The Levitical, or sacred tithe (Numbers 18:21-24) – This mode of giving can be tracked all the way back to Abraham and Melchizedek (Genesis 14:18-20), and then, in the days of the law, given to the priests for their work/ service to the temple and the congregation of Israel. (Note that Abraham had the concept of setting aside a certain amount to give to Melchizedek many years before the Law of Moses was effected). That is the context and background of God’s call in Malachi 3:1-12. Back then, there were literal storehouses in the temple; therefore, a practical reference to pests, crops, vineyards and fruits regarding the store—even the overflow beyond containment is meant to be understood in a practical sense and not allegorical or typical. For many, this is the premise for giving the 10% in the Church today–to support those who serve the congregation explicitly as pastors and church staff. The modern Church doesn’t need to belabour this thought today. We shall discuss this further later.
- The tithe of the feasts (Deuteronomy 14:22-27) – The Levitical Law required that a Jew go up to Jerusalem on certain occasions. In reality, this religious ordinance included a definite social provision—vacation periods for the family. And how should the head of the household provide for the vacation expense? By setting aside a second tithe, the one described in Deuteronomy 14:22-27, the tithe of the feasts. Thus, the second tithe was dedicated to the good of man himself, for a vacation and, specifically, a vacation with a religious purpose, such as going to camp meetings, etc. Sadly, we do not hear such a tithe emphasized in the fellowship today. On the contrary, we have heard of ministers who coerce their members to provide a different type of giving for their holidays, cars, and other leisure activities.
- The tithe for the poor (Deuteronomy 14:28-29) – This tithe was given only every third year and was to be laid aside for the sojourner, fatherless and widow. The distribution was a community project to which everybody had to contribute.
With this in mind, we realize that even in the Old Testament, we find a much broader concept of giving than we generally assume. Their giving included, first, God; second, man’s physical and spiritual welfare; and third, their neighbour’s needs. Therefore, having God, yourself and your neighbour in this order is an excellent way to plan for your giving.
New Testament Teachings
One thing we know about the coming of the Messiah, the Christ, is that he did not come to make void the law he gave to Moses, for Jesus has always existed from the beginning (John 1:1-2). Instead, he came to fulfil it (Matthew 5:17). Jesus viewed the Torah and the prophets as highly as anyone could imagine and more. Not only that, but he had to fulfil it to the letter. Therefore, Christ’s understanding of giving is richer than the basic idea many have from the writings of the prophets.
In Matthew 5:20, Christ calls the listeners to have righteousness beyond what the Pharisees exhibited. One of the marks of pharisaical righteousness was boasting about giving tithes and alms to the poor, having an external outlook of purity and strict timings for prayers, etc. Jesus warned and called them out while warning the listeners to guard against the same (Matthew 5:17-32). Giving cannot just be considered in terms of fulfilling the Laws of God because none of us is good enough to fulfil the Law of God to the utmost (Romans 3:23). There is more to giving than just a percentage. In the same way, purity for Jesus, the giver of the law, was beyond the acts of adultery; giving is beyond the percentage. It is a matter of the heart.
Here are a few things to consider as we seek to grow in our giving.
God’s Grace for Giving
It is more than dipping your hand in your pocket and pulling out a note or swiping a card. It is a gift given to us from above, an act that comes from divine enablement. Generally, giving is the favour or opportunity to give (2 Corinthians 8:4), the gracious work of the collection itself (2 Corinthians 8:6, 7, 19), the gracious character of the Lord (2 Corinthians 8:9) and an expression of thanks to God (2 Corinthians 8:16, 9:15). Paul says God gave this grace to the Macedonian Churches (2 Corinthians 8:1).
The Macedonian Churches exhibited great joy in giving. The same is said of the Churches in Philippi, Thessalonica and Berea (Acts 20:1-6). Consider David’s giving during the preparation for the building of the temple (1 Chronicles 28-29); it was evident that he was not in any way sad about it. His joy is evident in what he gave; large amounts of gold, silver and other materials. Is your heart joyful at the thought of giving, or are you caught up in balancing equations and leger books in your mind? Paul says that the Macedonian churches had overflowing joy, not mere joy.
Giving from Poverty
Often we consider ourselves unable to give because we have a perspective of wealth that is crippled. The world has given us a measure that would define one as wealthy; therefore, we hoard and become stingy in our bid to ‘attain the mark’ so that we can give generously. So how come these Churches gave beyond their financial ability (2 Corinthians 8:2)? Generally, because their understanding had been reformed. It was not about how wealthy they considered themselves to be; instead, their hearts were convinced that they could outdo themselves, which they did. Paul says that they pleaded with him so that they could take part and be a blessing to God’s people (2 Corinthians 8:4-5).
We must avoid giving out of coercion and do so from a willing heart. In 1 Chronicles 28-29, David gave willingly for the construction of the temple, and the Israelites followed his example until they were asked to stop giving. The willingness of the Macedonian Churches is worth emulating. Paul says they gave entirely on their own, not out of compulsion (2 Corinthians 8:3b). In 2 Corinthians 9:7, Paul says that each one should give as they have decided in their heart and not reluctantly. The challenge of Ananias and Sapphira was that their giving was coupled with deception and a significant level of unwillingness (Acts 5:1-11). As a result, they were punished by death in the presence of the Lord.
A Cheerful Giver
The bottom line is that God loves a cheerful giver (2 Corinthians 9:7), not a grumbly and deceptive one. It is not the amount that usually counts before the Lord’s eyes, but rather the heart. If the heart is right, the giving will please the Lord. But if we are stingy and full of grumbling in our hearts, we had better not give, for God has other faithful saints whose hearts are transformed and renewed. They are, and they will give both willingly and cheerfully.
What about Figures and Quantities?
Should I give more than 10%, or should I give from my excesses? These are also heart issues and not just open questions from confused hearts. Suffice it to say that you must push for accountability and openness if you are unsure how your Church spends its money when you give. (That is why Churches hold AGMs). But our giving is not about how it is spent; I must emphasize here that expenditure matters as part of godly stewardship. We give because there is nothing that we have that we did not receive from the Lord (1 Chronicles 29:14). When we are caught up in the percentages, we should be alarmed that our hearts are not willing or joyful in that act of giving.
What are we to consider when giving?
- 100% of your money belongs to God, and He can do whatever He wants with it. He is the giver of seed and bread (2 Corinthians 9:10-11) and can enrich us to be generous for his glory.
- Set aside finances for your family. God is not a thief, and He does not defraud his children. In His providence, God expects us to care for our families properly. Pay rent, buy food, get clothes for your family, pay school fees, have savings for a rainy day, support others in need and stand with those afflicted. God has given us the wisdom to know how to do these things. So, may we do them well.
Giving is not to be seen as bait or lending to God. God owes man nothing! Be careful if your attitude in giving is because you want God to extend you favours and other privileges in future. God is not a business partner to the believer; therefore, we must shun away any idea of giving that suggests a kickback relationship with God. We give because we have been given already.
Giving is not a password for your blessings from God, as the prosperity preachers portray. On the contrary, our God can make all grace abound without our help. We are blessed (Ephesians 2:1-10) beyond what we can imagine, and the world can give.
The long and short of it is this; give and be joyful in your giving. God can make all things abound for his saints. God has given us the wisdom to cater to our families and needs; therefore, we need not worry. If our hearts are transformed, we will give even from our poverty. Give because you have received from the Lord. Give, not to fulfil all obligations, but to the glory of God above.