We have an important budget meeting this week. Naturally, the topic of giving/tithing has been on my mind a great deal over the last few weeks. I cannot think of a time when I have directly taught on giving/tithing at CPC, either in the pulpit or outside of it, but I have learned over the last three years that competing perspectives on giving/tithing have proliferated at CPC. Which is right? Which are wrong? Which are helpful or harmful? Most people want their pastors to give the “right answer” so they can check that box and move on with life. Some of you likely want me to do the same or to avoid this “uncomfortable” subject altogether. But you should know me well enough at this point to realize neither option is on the table…lol!!! What, then, is my position on tithing?
Firstly, it is helpful to evalutate the four main perspectives on tithing:
Perspective 1: Tithing (10%) is irrelevant for the Church today. – This perspective is altogether wrong!!! If you have questions why, I am happy to explain in person!
Perspective 2: Tithing (10%) is not required for the Church today. – This perspective certainly has its merits and contains a certain degree of truth. However, it is usually based on the idea that the tithe was first required by the Mosaic Law, which it was not. The tithe was already an established practice in the time of Abraham (Gen. 14:17-24) and, arguably, is rooted in creation itself (Abel’s offering in Gen. 4:4). Thus, tithing cannot be rejected simply because it was part of the OT law; it existed before the law, as did God’s promise to Abraham (cf. Gal. 3-4). Nowhere in the NT is tithing directly abrogated or continued/reapplied, but is indirectly commended by Jesus (ironically, during his condemnation of the Pharisees; Matt 23:23), implying at least some continuing validity of the principle even if tithing is “not required.” This perspective is typically applied in one of three ways.
- “Not required…Therefore, I am not required to give anything” – sinful and wrong!!!
- “Not required…Therefore, I give what I can afford to give” – subjective, vague, and ignores the fact that the whole of the Christian life (even finances) requires sacrifice(s)!
- “Not required…Therefore, I give whatever amount feels good / seems right / makes me happy” (e.g., the “cheerful giver” test) – again subjective and vague; not altogether wrong but highly unsatisfactory!
Perspective 3: Tithing (10%) is required for the Church today. – This perspective, like the previous perspective, has its merits and is the simplest, most straightforward understanding of what Scripture teaches about giving/tithing. Even so, it can be misused as a legalistic regulation, and someone who faithfully gives the “required 10%” can easily fall into the trap of works-righteousness (e.g., the aforementioned Pharisess in Matt. 23:23). Additionally, does that 10% come from pre-tax or post-tax income? Does it account for the benefits provided by many employers (pension, insurance, payroll taxes, etc.)? When such things are considered, the “required” perspective is not as “right” or as cut-and-dry as it might initially appear. (And modern economics should not be read back into the Bible!) The emphasis on “required” will almost certainly overshadow what should be the greater emphases – ever-increasing gratitude, generosity, self-sacrifice, etc. Consequently, this perspective, though commendable, is insufficient!
Perspective 4: Tithing (10%) is instructive & suggestive for the Church today. – This perspective provides a solid “middle ground” between the previous two positions (“not required” and “required”) but avoids many dangers and inconsistencies associated with both. Rather than being formulaic and seeking to “get the right answer,” this perspective rightly understands that tithing a principle to be applied faithfully, not a rule to be followed legalistically. For new or immature believers, the tithe provides an objective standard and starting-point for godly stewardship of material resources (similar to the 4th Commandment’s objective standard and starting-point for godly stewardship of one’s time!). For mature believers, 10% should not be a set limit for giving, but a baseline for showing gratitude to the Lord and generosity toward others. Though this perspective is not entirely without problems, it is the best option available and, far more importantly, the most consistent with what the Bible teaches in both the Old and New Covenant!
Ultimately, if we consider the infinite, eternal, unimaginable “economic sacrifice” our Savior made by leaving the highest heaven, descending to earth, and then offering his very life as our all-atoning sacrifice, the question of the “right amount” to give/tithe should be altogether irrelevant. Our goal as believers is not to get things “right” in this life, but to strive to be more and more like our Lord and God. The more we truly understand God’s generosity and grace shown toward us in all things, the more we will let go of the things of this world, counting them all loss so we might gain the riches of God in Christ Jesus.
As you reflect upon the future of CPC and what commitment you will make to the Lord’s work here, I again humbly request you would do some homework. Here a few articles about tithing (from varying perspectives) to challenge and to encourage you:
“God Takes Our Stinginess or Generosity Personally” by Randy Alcorn
“What Does the Bible Say about Tithing?” by R.C. Sproul
“The Ancient Rise and Recent Fall of Tithing” by Christianity Today
“Is Tithing a Christian Obligation” by the PCA Foundation
“The Bible Commands Christian to Tithe” by William Barcley (The Gospel Coalition)