We all dread the announcement: “Next Sunday we are having a budget catch up day so be prepared to give a little more!” The announcement is given quickly and both congregation and staff seem to cringe at the idea. The announcement itself insinuates that a church has not met its planned budget for the year. Coincidently, the announcement also creates an environment where whoever is delivering the message is also pronouncing guilt upon the congregation for not giving enough.
It wasn’t too long ago that we talked to our students about giving offering and we discovered something that is noteworthy for every Christ follower. First of all, we discovered the purpose of the offering.
“When you enter the land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, and you take possession of it and live in it, you must take some of the first of all the land’s produce that you harvest from the land Yahweh your God is giving you and put it in a container. Then go to the place where the Lord your God chooses to have His name dwell. When you come before the priest who is serving at that time, you must say to him, ‘Today I acknowledge to the Lord your God that I have entered the land the Lord swore to our fathers to give us’” (Deuteronomy 26:1-3 HCSB).
Purpose of an offering
The tithe was something instituted during Moses’ time by God. Essentially it was a tax that the people of Israel would pay to God specifically to provide for the Levites (whose lives were dedicated to serve God). This meant that the only source of income for the Levites was this tax. They were to forsake all other wealth-seeking pursuits and focus on the people. This tax consisted of produce and cattle, and today may be extended to all other profits from income (including money). The Israelites were to take this profit physically to the temple and present it before the Levite priest. As the people did this, they were to acknowledge that God had given them the land they were living in and the profit that they had gained.
The purpose of the tithe is two-fold. First and foremost, the giving of the tithe is a thanks offering to God specifically for His provision. If anyone does not give to God from the profits that he or she has received (as a gift from God) on this earth, it seems that he or she fails to truly thank God for what God has provided. As we think about this in more depth, we realize that worshipping God is not simply about the words that we say; it is specifically about following through with action.
For instance, I have an amazing wife. She takes care of me. She cleans the house, supports my ministry, she looks over everything that I write before the world gets to see it, she engages Scripture with me, and she understands my need to sometimes be alone and think. I could thank her for everything that she does for me. While words have some meaning, they cannot compare to my action in response to my appreciation for her. My appreciation for my wife is much more profound when I serve her or provide her needs and wants as she does for me. The same is true as we thank God for what He has provided. To put things simply, talk is cheap. We do not truly thank God for His provision unless we trust Him with that provision and sacrifice some of what He has given to us.
The second purpose the tithe had was to provide for the Levites. In our context, we can say that the tithe of the congregation has the specific Biblical purpose of providing for the ministerial staff. Of course, this assumes that, like the Levites, the ministers of the church have given up all worldly profitable pursuits and are content with the sacrifice of full-time service to God and to the people of the church. This being said, I want to clarify that the church I serve does very well in providing for its pastors and support staff. It has not missed this in the Scriptures.
In the same chapter (Deuteronomy 26:12-13), God also prescribes that the tithes should be used to take care of foreigners, orphans and widows. Applied to our context the meaning is the same. We support the ministries of the church as needed.
Here I want to encourage a shift in our thinking about tithes and offerings. So many church-goers tithe because it is what’s expected of them. Many churches preach that 10% is the rule of giving for the Christian and that we need people to give at least this to keep the church doors open for years to come. While keeping the church doors open is a noble goal, it is not the purpose of a Biblical offering. The purpose of a Biblical offering is specifically to act in thanks to God for His provision in our lives. The fact is: if we truly believe that God has provided, we will be generous in our giving. God gave first, so we give in return as an act of thanks.
The next question always bothers me: “How much should we give?”
How much should we give?
Leviticus 27 and Numbers 18 both describe a system in which the Israelites (excluding the Levite tribe) were to give specifically 10%. Many New Testament churches adopt this number, but we are not quite in the same context as the nation of Israel. For Israel, the tithe was a tax established by God within the context of theocratic rule. The tax was distributed nationally and was principally based upon land given within the nation of Israel. While 10% may be a good, safe number it actually seems as though we ignore the Scripture when we claim that it has to be that way. If we say 10%, it must be a matter of opinion. Anything more adds to Scripture and I’m not willing to go there. 10% is not a requirement for the New Testament Church.
Regarding the giving of money to missions, Paul addresses the church in Corinth:
“Remember this: The person who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the person who sows generously will also reap generously. Each person should do as he has decided in his heart — not reluctantly or out of necessity, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:6-7 HCSB).
This can be applied not only to missions, but also to our giving in the local church. Those who have faith in Christ and who trust in God’s provision ought to be the most generous people on the planet. Those who sow sparingly (those who give generously) will also reap sparingly (will receive generously). If we are stuck at 10% as a requirement, then there is no generosity in our gift because we give out of obligation. Paul even tells his audience here not to give out of necessity, and not to give reluctantly. If we do not want to give and are reluctant to do so, it seems that God is not pleased with our gift. Those who give out of necessity or give reluctantly please God as much as those who do not give at all. In fact, the gift may be more of an insult to God if it comes from a reluctant heart.
The beauty of a gift or of worship is that it is given freely. That being said, Paul encourages his audience that each should give what he has decided in his heart to give. If we say anything more, we go beyond Scripture and actually devalue the worth of a genuine offering.
Again, each person must decide in his or her heart what is right to give. Every gift is worship to God for His providing hand. The greater the sacrifice in the gift, the greater the statement of worship to God. 10% is a good guiding percentage, but some can give more. As you give: be sure to give in worship to God, to give freely and to give generously. On those pesky budget catch up days, let all of us be all the more generous. God doesn’t need our money or us but I am so thankful that He gives us the opportunity to be generous as He is generous.
Andrew Cannon, Associate Pastor of Youth