Everybody, it seems, is asking for money.
Yes, I get the same letters you get, indicating that almost every Christian organization in the world needs additional funding. The truth and tragedy of the matter is they really do. Local churches, mission boards, social agencies, Christian colleges and seminaries – all these and more wait in line for the evangelical dollars which some get and some don’t.
While Christian organizations cut back their budgets and scrape along on less than adequate funds, we continue to mouth the old cliché, “God’s work done in God’s way will never lack God’s support.”
Clichés are handy things because, like poems, they don’t need to carry an explanation. Surely we understand what is meant by the broad designations, “God’s work,” and “God’s support.”
But precisely what does it mean to do God’s work “in God’s way”? To be even more specific, what is the biblical pattern for obtaining money to carry out the ministry of a Christian organization?
All discussions of fund-raising and deferred giving aside, this issue forces us back to the Bible. Not that deferred giving or various kinds of fund-raising are improper. George Müeller may have been led of God to carry out his ministry by never telling anyone of his needs, but that does not make George Müeller’s way God’s way.
Hudson Taylor may have never written a fund appeal letter, but he was certainly not bashful about sharing the needs and the blessings of God on the proclamation of the gospel in China. But that does not make Hudson Taylor’s way God’s way either.
Call it “tithing,” “offerings,” “collections,” “estate planning,” or “stewardship”; we need to know how the people of God are to give of their resources to see that the work of God is carried out properly. And there is no lack of biblical information on that subject, though the methods of giving are rarely spoken of.
Old Testament Patterns
In the Old Testament, the “tithe” represented a taxation required to keep the theocratic state going. A careful study of all passages identifies this obligation as representing about 25 percent of a family’s income, not unlike the required tax on many middle-class American families.
Before the time of Moses, giving was almost exclusively voluntary. Abraham gave a tenth of the spoil to Melchizedek (Gen. 14:20). Cain, Abel, and Noah all gave voluntary offerings, while Jacob volunteered a tenth of whatever God would give him (Gen. 28:22). Joseph also instituted a required civil taxation for bad times ahead in the amount of 20 percent of all the harvest (Gen. 41:34).
Though some refer to Jacob’s vow (Gen. 28:20-24), we generally get our concept of tithing from the law of Moses in which required giving represented 10 percent of everything (Lev. 27:30-33). This portion of required giving made possible continuation of the theocratic state. In Deuteronomy 12:6-17 we learn that another 10 percent was given to carry out social activities while yet another “tithe” was collected every third year to aid the poor (Deut. 14:28).
So the tithe consisted of required giving for the purpose of maintaining civil government, and it represented more than 10 percent of one’s income.
Meanwhile, freewill/voluntary giving in the Old Testament had no limit and was based upon what a person had received as well as how much he loved and trusted God. The concept of “first fruits” dominated giving: the best of the flocks were chosen and people were encouraged to give as God had blessed them (Ex. 22:29; 23:16).
This voluntary offering did not relate to the tithe extracted for the maintenance of the state. Here we must distinguish between mandatory and voluntary giving by emphasizing that a rigid percentage factor applies to the first but not the second.
Many who emphasize tithing as a New Testament way of giving also make much of Malachi 3:10, which says, “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in My house. Test Me in this, says the Lord Almighty, and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.”
From such texts countless promises of God’s blessing have been pronounced on tithers as preachers have unknowingly misconstrued the biblical manner of giving.
New Testament Patterns
It’s just a short hop from the Book of Malachi to the New Testament, though the actual chronology between Malachi and Matthew occupies some four hundred years. In the New Testament, required giving emphasizes governmental taxes again, this time paid to Rome rather than to a theocratic Hebrew state.
Here, required giving divides between what was to be rendered to Caesar (Matt. 22:15-21) and what was still going to the priest (Matt. 23:23). Jesus set an example for His disciples and followers by faithfully paying His taxes to Rome (Matt. 17:24-27).
Freewill/voluntary giving in the New Testament follows a number of general principles, but does not deal with percentages. Apart from references in the Gospels and flashback historical notes in the Book of Hebrews, the concept of tithing disappears. This is not some dispensational quirk, but is a distinctly Christian way of giving. How interesting that the patterns are essentially the same – required taxation goes to the maintenance of the state, whether Hebrew or Roman, and a freewill gift goes to God for the advancing of the cause of His work in the world.
In the New Testament we are encouraged to invest with God (Lk. 6:38); to give sacrificially (Lk. 21:2-4); to determine personally what God wants us to give (Lk. 19:2-8); to give for the purpose of demonstrating love to other believers (Rom. 15:25-28); and to give generously (1 Tim. 6:17-19).
A Central Bible Passage
The sixth verse of 2 Corinthians 9 identifies a principle of Christian giving:
“Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.” Two paragraphs constitute the text from verse six through the end of the chapter. The first paragraph answers the question, “What does your giving do for you?” while the second answers the question, “What does your giving do for others?”
Four answers appear for each question, the first in verse six: Our giving determines what we will get.
God applies the law of sowing and reaping to the giving of His people. If a person invests in a stingy way, he can anticipate God’s blessings in like manner. The generous person, however, will receive in a generous way.
Secondly, our giving reflects our heart attitudes.
Verse seven indicates that everyone would give what he has decided in his heart. This giving should be done without complaining that the church is always asking for money, and without compulsion; that is, apart from devious trickery or pressure to give.
A few years ago a major city newspaper carried a story about a certain religious organization which was suing one of its members to collect a pledge he had failed to pay. Though the Bible certainly has something to say about following through on one’s word, nothing distorts the New Testament pattern of giving more than suing an individual to obtain his funds!
God doesn’t want complaining or compelled givers. He seeks those who give in good cheer, delighted to be able to share with others in the perpetuation of God’s work.
Still a third answer to our first question is found in verses eight and nine: Our giving makes us dependent on God.
Quoting Psalm 112:9, Paul reminds the Corinthians that when they thrust themselves on God, He will generously provide all grace in all things at all times, so that they would have all they need. The word “sufficiency” (NASB) is sometimes translated “contentment,” indicating that the man who gives generously to the work of God (and therefore makes himself dependent on God’s resources) will enjoy contentment in that dependency.
Finally, our giving enables us to give even more (vv. 10-11).
God will supply; God will cause increase; God will enlarge; God will make us “rich”, so that we can be generous on every occasion. Rather than giving once and being out of resources, the person whose heart really represents the biblical pattern of giving in generosity and cheerfulness will find that he has more and more to give, the more he gives the more he has, and the more he has the more he wants to give.
But the second question has to do with the results of giving in the lives of others, and we learn in verse twelve that our voluntary service and giving supplies the needs of God’s people. No, we can’t meet every need of every Christian organization, so the matter of sensitivity to the Holy Spirit’s leading becomes tremendously important. Consider these practical guidelines for determining where to give:
1. The local church deserves a priority commitment. Apart from the family, it is God’s primary agency in carrying out the work of Christ in the world and must be supported by His people. This is not the same as “storehouse tithing,” which is a superimposed and artificial concept not really found in the New Testament.
2. It is important to faithfully support those ministries in which God has called us to serve. A missionary, for example, should give some of his voluntary offering to his mission board or to the ministry on his field. A college board member ought to be expected to give to the college he serves.
3. We should respond generously to the ministries which serve us directly. Obviously, the local church would be included here had it not been listed separately, but we also can identify other kinds of direct service ministries such as Christian radio stations or programs, denominational ministries, and Christian schools in which our children are being instructed in the faith.
4. Christians ought also to be concerned about supporting ministries which have a far-reaching or lasting impact. Obviously, foreign missions and the spread of the gospel in world evangelization would be the top priority here. I would certainly include ministries which train pastors and missionaries to carry out the work of the church around the world. It seems to me rather foolish to willingly give to “missions” without concern for where those missionaries have come from or how the next generation of missionaries will be produced.
5. Finally, we ought to be able to demonstrate that the ministry has real need. Certain Christian organizations seem to attract more attention among believers. Other ministries – perhaps because of their small size or lack of visibility – must struggle along on fewer funds.
Obviously, believers ought to support only ministries true to the faith and to God’s Word, which stand clearly for what the donor wants to see propagated in the name of Christ.
A second answer to the question of what our giving does for others appears in the second half of verse twelve – the giving of God’s people promotes the glory of God.
Though the people who receive our money may never see the donor personally, they praise the name of the Lord for his willingness to give.
Still a third result is that giving demonstrates the faith and obedience of the donor (v. 13). This verse tells us that the recipient will offer more praise for the spiritual qualities of the donor than for the gift which he has sent. Such a response probably depends on the spiritual maturity of the recipient, but we learn here that the proper biblical reaction to obedience and generosity includes praise for the Lord, not just appreciation for the gift itself.
Finally, giving motivates people to love and pray for us (v. 14). Everyone wants to be loved, and I would assume everyone feels the need for prayer. When we give, the recipients (if they stand in a right relationship with God) respond warmly to the giver. The NIV translates the passage this way: “And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you.”
The last verse of the chapter reminds us again that Christian giving does not earn salvation but results from the change of life regeneration brings – “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!” This beautiful benediction on generosity reminds us that true biblical giving is a response to and a reflection of God’s gift at Calvary.
We have all heard of the little old lady who hid great sums of money in her mattress. Psychologists attribute such behavior to some kind of emotional disturbance.
Scripture makes it clear that Christians who hoard money, “tip” God a few dollars now and then, and constantly complain about having to give to the Lord’s work, suffer from a deep spiritual disturbance.
Such unhappy Christians live under the law, thinking that God holds demands over their heads – demands they find burdensome to meet. They completely miss the joy of voluntary/freewill giving as the New Testament explains it:
“Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor. 9:7).
Kenneth O. Gangel. Kindred Spirit