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What are the principles of Christian Giving?

Michael Vogelsang

Is tithing a Christian way of giving?

Tithing (giving 10% of one's income) was definitely part of the Old Testament law and the religious life of the Jews. In Malachi 3:8-9 the people of Israel were charged with robbing God by not paying tithes. God made it clear in no uncertain terms that they were not prospering materially because they were selfish. God promised them blessing if they would pay their tithes. Is tithing still the way of Christian giving, as some teach? It is noticeable that in the New Testament Christian converts were never asked to tithe anything to the church. Tithing in the church first appears centuries after completion of the Bible.


What about Abraham?

Some argue that even Abraham gave ten percent to Melchizedek and that was before the law. Generally speaking the ‘law of first mention‘, that is, to find out where in the Bible a thing is mentioned for the first time, is often helpful – as long as we draw the right conclusions. Let us take a closer look at the incident in Genesis 14 mentioned above. In this passage, the first reference to tithing in the Bible, Abram gives to Melchizedek (a priest of God) a tithe of the best of the booty taken in war. Notice that this was not from Abram's personal possessions, but rather booty taken from conquered nations. Abraham went to war on behalf of Sodom (!), to rescue his nephew, Lot . He then gave ten percent of these spoils of war to Melchizedek, and allowed Sodom to keep the rest, while he himself kept nothing ! And this one single unparalleled and never-again-to-be-repeated event, shall be Scriptural proof that Christians should give ten percent of their annual salaries (not the spoils of war, but their money, their salaries), not once, but year after year after year?


Principles of Christian Giving

However in New Testament Christianity we are ‘not under law but under grace' (Rom. 6:14 ). Does that mean we give less or nothing at all? We may say with the apostle Paul: ‘Far be the thought!' But it is necessary that we see, that the principle of Christian giving is completely different and on a higher level. A Christian does not give out of a sense of lawful obligation, but out of a grateful response to the grace of God, according as God has prospered him (1 Cor. 13:2).

Let us summarize some of the ways and motives that should guide a Christian in his giving according to the teachings of the Bible (A prayerful study of the following passages will be helpful: 1 Cor. 16:1.2; 2 Cor. 8 and 9):

•  there is first of all a giving of ourselves to the Lord, then a giving out of our material possessions according to the measure of what we have (2 Cor. 8:1-5).

•  we are encouraged to give cheerfully , rather than grudgingly or of necessity: ‘ Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver' (2 Cor. 9:7).

•  God promises that as we give liberally, we will also reap liberally: ‘But this I say, He which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully' (2 Cor. 9:6). How wonderful is the Lord's promise in Luke 6:38 in this connection: ‘Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom.'

•  our giving should be purposeful and orderly. In God's order there are to be collections made on a regular basis on the first day of the week, when the saints are gathered together: ‘Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given order to the churches of Galatia , even so do ye. Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come' (1 Cor. 16:1,2).

•  our Lord Himself has taught us to give secretly . There will be a sure reward. But that will be not of men, but of God. And it will be not necessarily in the present time, but in a coming day: ‘But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth: That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly (Matt. 6:3,4).

If we ask ourselves what is the purpose of Christian giving, we will find that the two chapters in 2 Corinthians (8 and 9) give us a number of purposes: We give of our substance:

•  to express fellowship ‘the fellowship of the ministering to the saints' (2 Cor. 8:4).

•  to abound in the different aspects of Christian experience : ‘Therefore, as ye abound in every thing, in faith, and utterance, and knowledge, and in all diligence, and in your love to us, see that ye abound in this grace also (2 Cor. 8:7).

•  to prove the reality of our love : ‘I speak not by commandment, but by occasion of the forwardness of others, and to prove the sincerity of your love ... Wherefore shew ye to them, and before the churches, the proof of your love, and of our boasting on your behalf (2 Cor. 8:8, 24).

•  to follow the example of our Lord Jesu s: ‘For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich' (2 Cor. 8:9).

•  to meet the needs of others : ‘ that now at this time your abundance may be a supply for their want, that their abundance also may be a supply for your want: that there may be equality: (2 Cor. 8:14 ).

•  to give to others an occasion to thank God: ‘Being enriched in every thing to all bountifulness, which causeth through us thanksgiving to God. ... but is abundant also by many thanksgivings unto God; Whiles by the experiment of this ministration they glorify God for your professed subjection unto the gospel of Christ, and for your liberal distribution unto them, and unto all men ;' (2 Cor. 9:11 -13).

•  that fruit may abound to our account. We certainly could add this purpose mentioned in Paul's epistle to the Philippians. ‘Not because I desire a gift: but I desire fruit that may abound to your account' (Phil. 4:17 ).

Christian giving is something that has to come from the heart before it can have real value before God. If there is not a ‘willing mind' (2 Cor. 8:12 ), then the giving is just a legal thing. Practical Christianity is not a matter of keeping rules and regulations. It is the answer of our love to Him that reflects itself in every area and aspect of our life. We love because He first loved us, and we give (ourselves and from our substance) because He first gave to us (Himself and all kinds of blessings).

Christianity is full of apparent paradoxes. One of them is the teaching of our Lord mentioned above: if we give, we will receive (Luke 6:38 ). There is a transfer taking place so that when we give, we are enriched. This divine principle of giving applies to many areas of life and certainly to the subject of Christian giving. ‘He is the richest man in the esteem of the world who has gotten most. He is the richest man in the esteem of heaven who has given most' (F B Meyer). Where do we want to be the richest?