Last week, we looked at some statistics on generosity and I said I believe too many of us are missing out by not giving more. We’re missing out on the joy that comes from living the generous lives we were designed to live. And we’re missing out on the satisfaction that comes from having a financial situation that works well. (Read Living “The Life That is Truly Life”)
In this day and age, it feels somehow incorrect or impolite to be too specific about something as personal as giving. And yet, without clear guidance, many of us will opt for a standard that’s lower than what God teaches through His Word.
The Bible teaches that we are not all expected to give the same amount of money. Instead, we are to determine how much to give based on a percentage of the money coming into our household. We see this concept of proportionate giving in the Old Testament.
Each of you must bring a gift in proportion to the way the LORD your God has blessed you. – Deuteronomy 16:17
And we see this concept in the New Testament.
On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made. – 1 Corinthians 16:2
Tithes and offerings
What proportion are we to give? The historical biblical starting point for generosity is 10% of income. It was part of the Old Testament law.
A tithe of everything from the land, whether grain from the soil or fruit from the trees, belongs to the LORD; it is holy to the LORD. – Leviticus 27:30
As Randy Alcorn has pointed out, 10% is where God started the poorest Israelite. So, he asks, is it reasonable to think God might expect less of us who live in the wealthiest country in the world and who have the Holy Spirit to guide us?
When Jesus was asked about tithing, He affirmed the practice, but also cautioned against taking a cold, legalistic approach to giving; He wants our hearts involved.
“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens, but you ignore the more important aspects of the law—justice, mercy, and faith. You should tithe, yes, but do not neglect the more important things. – Matthew 23:23 (NLT)
In most classes on biblical money management, someone usually asks, “Is that 10% of gross or 10% of net?” I believe it’s 10% of gross income. That’s because of biblical teaching on “firstfruits” giving.
Honor the LORD with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops. – Proverbs 3:9
The “firstfruits” means the first and best portion. That’s why I believe we should think of 10% coming out of our income first, before our taxes and any withholding for health insurance, workplace retirement plan contributions, or anything else.
I also believe the tithe is to come from any money that comes into our household—salary, commissions, gifts, an inheritance. That’s because another translation of Proverbs 3:9 uses the word “increase.”
Honor the LORD with your possessions, and with the firstfruits of all your increase.
One final point about the amount of our giving. It’s clear from Scripture that the tithe was intended as the starting point of biblical generosity, not the stopping point. In many places in Scripture, we read not just of tithes, but of freewill offerings as well—sums that go beyond a tithe.
Giving to Jesus
As for where we are we to give, the short answer is we are to give to Jesus. I really appreciate the teaching of Howard Dayton on this. Dayton is the founder of an international biblical financial stewardship ministry called Compass — Finances God’s Way. He suggests that when we give, imagine that we are giving directly to Jesus. I love that.
More specifically, to give to Jesus is to support the work that He so clearly cares about. One such concern is the spread of the Gospel.
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. – Matthew 28:19-20
He cares about the poor.
Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the LORD, and he will reward them for what they have done. – Proverbs 19:17
He cares about teachers of God’s Word.
The one who receives instruction in the word should share all good things with their instructor. Galatians 6:6
In our household, of the money that we give, the largest portion goes to our church because it is a trustworthy place to help with all three of the concerns I just mentioned.
Our local church preaches the gospel to those who have never heard it, whether that’s first-time visitors or those being reached by missionaries the church supports. Our local church helps the poor by its support of numerous ministries that serve the poor locally, nationally, and internationally. And of course, our local church is a primary source of our own instruction in the Word.
Then we give to other Christ-centered ministries that God has put on our hearts over the years.
I love the instruction and encouragement God gave to Abram.
The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” – Genesis 12:1-3
That’s a good way to think of our own situation in life. We are called to go out into the world and live lives of impact. To see a central part of our mission in life as, “to be a blessing to others,” is to live in synch with how God designed us. Investing money into God’s Kingdom work isn’t the only way we can be a blessing to others, but it’s an important way. And that’s a type of investment God has said He will multiply.
Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God. 2 Corinthians 9:10-11
I like to think of generosity as a journey. Growing in generosity takes faith; it takes trusting that God will continue to meet our needs as we give away more. Quickly, as we see how God uses our investments in His Kingdom work to bring about life change, it becomes one of the most rewarding ways we can use money, one of life’s greatest adventures. My encouragement to all of us is to continue growing in generosity.
Take it to heart: “Honor the Lord with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops; then your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine.” – Proverbs 3:9-10
Take action: What next step do you sense God encouraging you to take on your journey of generosity? Why not take that step this week?