There are certainly misuses and abuses of both the biblical interpretation and application regarding the answer to this question for us after the New Testament days, but that is not to hinder or excuse any Christian from researching and living by the question's answer. More so, it's never a 'should' but a 'want' (desire) to give. Giving is a desire when we become a Christian, in which we have trusted in Christ to follow him. There certainly seems to be extremes in life, especially regarding topics like 'church giving' or 'tithing', where one answers the question with pragmatic or spiritualized reasons to give or not give. Instead of extremes or bi-polar opposites, let's find sound answers and live differently than the world for the sake of God and his good news to the world.
The difference is between an other-than-God-centered or God-centerd person, in which one desires, lives, and gives accordingly. The other-than-God-centered pays bills, taxes, and life wants first, while the God-centered lives and gives to the Lord first and aligning their budget accordingly to steward bills, taxes, and other life matters. The one devalues the Lord because of the pressures of life while the other values the Lord more than life itself. The other-than-God-centered grows cold and deaf to the mission of God and the needs of others while simultaneously growing foolishly entangled and enslaved to the world. The God-centered lives in response to God's work in their heart according to his word, while growing in wisdom and desires that resemble the Bible's Old Testament book of Proverbs by Solomon.
The difference between these two is summarized well by Solomon in Proverbs 1:7 as the key verse to the entire book, "The fear (awe) of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools (stupid, stubborn, evil) despise wisdom and instruction." Thus, God-centered people are Christians who have come to trust in Jesus the Christ and live for him, including their budget and finances, hence why he said in the Bible's New Testament book of Matthew 6:24, "No one can server two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money."
Christians are people who have become truth-filled and loving, which in turn shows up as serving God (with the entirety of our heart and life), soundly repentant, joyfully aware and compassionate to people, humbly serving others, sensitive to needs, pursuing ways to help, willing to endure, faithful until the end, sacrificial and wise living. In other words, Christians are generous people, even if that means Christians lose -- we then lose for the gospel's sake so that others live. This means Christians are not hoarders or putting their interests first as Paul says in the Bible's New Testament book of Philippians 2:1-11, which applies even to giving to and among a Christian's local church they gather with:
“So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others .Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:1–11 ESV)
Regardless of whether someone believes there is or not a New Testament command to specifically 'financially give' or 'tithe', there is vast biblical evidence and examples that there is to be some kind of helpful provision for God's use among Christian leadership (pastors/elders/teachers/etc.) and local church community. Another way to say this is if someone's not giving anything, then that's a different and deeper problem that one needs to deal with and certainly cannot be excused with the guise of biblical arguments, theological debates, or historical evidence.
We as Christians give -- specifically and broadly -- for the sake of God, his mission, his purposes, and his gospel, and as such, God creates and uses the local church of Christians and it's leadership accordingly. We submit and give our entire life to him, which includes our time (work, rest, volunteering), treasures (money, assets, possessions), and talents (gifts, skills, abilities). When we do not participate in giving, we are believing and living contrary to how God intended, and we then are prioritizing our lives over God's commands and counsel that brings people to the gospel that we have confessed to believe in.
Therefore, we give to the Lord, and the Lord calls the church's leadership to use that giving as support for the work of the gospel in their personal lives and collectively among the church as needed. By this, when pastors are supported by Christians giving to the Lord, it then also serves as an example to non-Christians that the church is a loving community putting Christ first, even in their financial life.
Biblical Context and Explanation
God has called his people to worship him in which he then simultaneously uses the contents of the people's worship as provisions for those in the 1) Bible's Old Testament Levitical family and priesthood and later in the 2) Bible's New Testament Christian church's apostles and pastors (i.e. elders, shepherds, oversees). God also called his people, including the priests then and pastors now, to worship the Lord by also generously giving from their personal lives to other needs and people within and beyond the local church such as widows, orphans, poor, strangers, enemies, and Christians in different areas (e.g. the Apostle Paul and the churches he was involved with beyond Israel).
- God's Provision to the Priests by the Israelites in the Old Testament
After the fall into sin and separation from God recorded in the Bible's first book in the Old Testament, Genesis, God promised Adam and Eve there would be a savior to reconcile them by taking on the condemnation to them and the remainder of humanity. The promised savior would be entitled at the Christ, Messiah, Anointed One, Chosen One, or Promised One. And in order for humanity to discern who the Christ would be, God made the large family and nation of Israel that the Christ would be born and raised up among. This is the storyline of the entire Old Testament, and God promised to guide and care for this family of Israel uniquely so that the remainder of the world would have cause to observe and believe in the same God because of the Christ.
Part of God's provision for the family was through one of the twelve tribes of Israel, the Levites, in which they were to care for the tabernacle and later on the Jerusalem, Israel temple. The wage for their work came through the remainder of the Israelite family according to God's commands and purposes. Therefore, the Israelite family were commanded to bring tithes, offerings, contributions, and sacrifices to the tabernacle and later the temple to God. God repurposed some of these things to then be a wage and life sustaining provision to the Levitical priests, just as Moses recorded in the Old Testament book of Numbers 18:21, "To the Levites I have given every tithe in Israel for an inheritance, in return for their service that they do, their service in the tent of meeting (i.e. tabernacle)."
God called all humanity, and in particular the Israelites, to give their entire life to him, and were considered stewards or managers of God's creation and ownership of the earth. Therefore, a 'tithe' was a mere 1/10 percentage of what was already God's and to be used for God's purposes, versus a tenth of their
- God's Provision to the Pastors/Elders by Christians in the New Testament
Jesus provided for people, and in particular, he provided for his disciples during his short 3 1/2 year ministry before being crucified, resurrecting, and ascending as the Christ and also the God-man. He trained them not to trust provisions but him as the provider, even if that means they having nothing except their relationship to him which is more important than life itself. He further commanded the disciples to 'make disciples' that trust him with the entirety of their lives, even if that means they die for his sake (Matthew 28:11-20; Acts 1:1-8).
We further read in the Bible's New Testament book of Acts how Christians followed Christ with a loving, giving heart -- doing things from the heart according to Jesus' two commands that summarized the Old Testament:
“And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”” Jesus - (Matthew 22:37–40 ESV).
“Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. Thus Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas (which means son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus, sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.” (Acts 4:32–37 ESV).
In the context of one's local church, 'neighbors' include pastors as well as other believers, and we see even them with likeminded to Jesus in counting them more important than ourselves (c.f. Philippians 2:1-5). To not give can especially be a way to hoard, protect, or live a certain lifestyle that rejects and many times fights against the heart of the gospel and God's conviction and transformation of our lives to live for him among people that God wants to make the gospel known to them.
Paul even trained Timothy to train the church in Ephesus to ensure the pastors are provided a wage by the church for their God commanded work:
“Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages.”” Paul (1 Timothy 5:17–18 ESV).
Paul called out and corrected a lot of the Corinthian church's behavior in various issues, with one in particular to ensure that even the apostles had the choice and God-given ability to commit their time in laboring in ensuring the gospel is being made known among a people and that Christians are gathering together and relating one to another in truth and love:
“Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working for a living? Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard without eating any of its fruit? Or who tends a flock without getting some of the milk? Do I say these things on human authority? Does not the Law say the same? For it is written in the Law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain.” Is it for oxen that God is concerned?” -- Paul (1 Corinthians 9:6–9 ESV).
Paul instructed the church Corinth to prepare by planing and storing up in order to give.
“On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come.” -- Paul (1 Corinthians 16:2 ESV).
He also instructed the church in Macedonia to be a generous church in 2 Corinthians 8 to give genuinely, generously, joyfully, on their own, above and beyond, through sacrifice and affliction, for the sake of the gospel, in response to God's work in them to love, and to care for the incoming, gospel, and godly leaders (i.e. Titus):
“We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, 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, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints—and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us. Accordingly, we urged Titus that as he had started, so he should complete among you this act of grace. But as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you—see that you excel in this act of grace also. I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine.” -- Paul (2 Corinthians 8:1–8 ESV).
Paul even encouraged Timothy to train those who are rich to not be greedy ('love of money' c.f. 1 Timothy 6:10) but to give accordingly:
“As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.” -- Paul (1 Timothy 6:17–19 ESV).
Questions and Answers
- What if I don't have enough money? This involves various issues and maybe even problems, from the definition of 'enough', how one manages their finances, what is at the core of one's lifestyle, and so on. So, it could be a spiritual, practical, or both-and issue. We would recommend seeking counsel from mature Christians, pastors, or resources that address the broad and specifics of this question. Just know that anything is more than nothing, and therefore, we give from anything and more so we give because of someone -- God. He then calls us to pursue wisdom in prayer and relationships.
- What if I don't want to give? 'Want' refers to desires or the heart which is where God is truly at work to transform and renew us inwardly that results in outward effects (works, life). Giving never is a have to, but it's a want which is given and driven by God and for the gospel sake. This is where one tends to bring up the pragmatic or spiritualized excuses of why not to give, which then is telling or revealing that something else needs to be addressed in the heart and soul of one's relationship to God.
- What if I'm in-between jobs? Christians are called to walk in wisdom, preparation, and patience, to where as so as it can depend on responsibility, that we have planned for these life transitions along with other life changes. Some either are changing jobs or been let go from one job and seeking another. More likely though, this would just affect the 'regularity' in giving like someone skipping a period of time in financial giving because of not receiving a monthly income or a commission like income. If it's a simple situation, then be wise and have a heart to care in order to determine how to ensure there's no month missed, there's not a long duration of a giving break, or how to provide what you and when you can. It can be helpful to communicate with the church leadership such as pastors or elders so that can be wise and plan accordingly. This may also provide healthy communication beyond mere financial giving, and hopefully, the leadership is engaging, relating, and training you before you would have approached them.
- Should I give to other people or organizations for my 'tithe'? 'Tithe' or the concept of tithe from the Bible's Old Testament is meant to be conceptually focused on giving to the local church you are gathering with. And since tithe comes from a generous heart, we then are additionally aware and budget to give to other various people or organizations led by God's counsel and biblically informed spiritual convictions to love but never in replacement of giving to the local church Christians gather with. You may want to seek wisdom on who and how when giving to others to ensure you are giving well and rightly due to various misuses and abuses. The 21st century tends to have seen an incredible increase in organizations beyond the local church that really reflect the failure of local churches in training people to trust Christ with their life and also collectively come together and help their immediate context as well as anything beyond, such as international.
- Do I give a percentage based on the gross or net of my income? Net means you gross minus taxes, which means you have given to the earthly, governmental agencies first. But God calls Christians to recognize him first and foremost in everything in life, especially finances. Therefore, we give from our gross income. God has provided the 'tithe' or tenth of one's finances from the Old Testament as a good standard to an initial low percentage.
- How do I determine a generous percentage of my income to give? When one calculates the percentage in the Old Testament of how much the Israelite family gave to the tabernacle and temple, it is well above 20% of finances and possessions (land, animals, etc.). Therefore, 10% is low then and remains to be since then. Wisdom, genuineness, and historical examples of mature Christians throughout the last years since Jesus ascending to heaven, recognize this kind of narrowing 'how much' to a percentage as typical and biblical. However, it still is not a command, and so we seek God to ensure we are giving and giving plenty, especially to the local church and it's leadership.
- How often should I give? There are biblical examples of a faithful pattern and consistency. The consistency has included weekly, monthly, annually, and over the course of one's lifetime. One needs to determine according to income and budgeting, but it would be healthy, wise, and loving to communicate with the church's leadership.
- Do pastors 'tithe' or give? Yes, pastors give and they do in the same manner and methods that anyone else in the local church does. Pastors are first a Christ-follower (i.e. Christian), and as such, they fulfill their call to follow Christ is the same ways though they serve in different roles. More often than not, pastors tend to be the only ones or one of the few that give. Some pastors do not give because they are in a difficult situation and need to pursue wisdom and help to get through it, and we would still encourage pastors to be giving. Some pastors never give thinking their time and efforts are their 'tithe' which is unhealthy. Part of being a pastor is being an example to mimic, which then is a part of their role, and the church needs to follow that example among other things.
- Should my pastor(s) talk to me about giving and even amounts? Some pastors differ on this. Some fear this kind of conversation. Some believe this is between you and the Lord. Some spiritual abuse their role as a pastor for greed sake. But, biblically, pastors are like shepherds caring for the whole of a person, and finances is part of one's life. When done with the right, gospel-centered heart with wisdom and discernment, then talking through 'tithing' or giving becomes a genuine aspect of relationships among the local church. Some people want to hide certain things and even sins, but with a mature, wise, caring, and discretionary pastor, these conversations have great value well beyond monetary value. These conversations and healthy pastoral relationships can lead people to know how to talk through life with one another, including sinful things, resolve issues, avoid pitfalls, walk in wisdom, and also then be prepared to counsel others in like manners for them to benefit and others to come to know Christ.