First, I want to acknowledge and apologize that sometimes people claiming to speak for God really are greedy. Being the sinners that we are, it is always possible for someone to give in to the temptation to misuse money that was given with the intent of honoring God. It’s also possible to misuse money as a way to try to buy favor or impress God (or to impress others, who cares what God thinks). But none of that is what God intended.
Think about it: God doesn’t need our money. It’s all His to start with! There are several Bible passages that make that point rather emphatically. Psalm 50:9-12 says “For every beast of the forest is Mine, the cattle on a thousand hills.” King Solomon, when dedicating his magnificent temple in 1 Kings 8:27, acknowledges: “But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain You, how much less this house which I have built!” 1. The Apostle Paul put it this way in one of his major sermons:
The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things;Acts 17:24-25
My main reason for giving any of my resources to God is that they all belong to Him. He entrusted money, time and talents to me for safekeeping and wise use. When I cling to them as “mine, all mine!”, that is untrue and disrespectful. When I hoard them because I’m afraid of losing them, that shows lack of trust that He will continue to provide for me. When I spend them wastefully instead of putting them toward His goals, that is really just stealing from Him.
Sad to say, this is one of my worst weaknesses. I’m sure that when I get to Heaven and learn what He meant for me to do with my money and time, how much more I could have done to advance His work, I’m going to be very ashamed (and very thankful to Jesus for loving me in spite of it!).
The original “tithes” (literally meaning 10% of something) were to be used to support the Levites who maintained and served in the temple 2. Today, it is still true that the church facilities and the people who serve in them need to be supported. Mortgages and utilities on the buildings aren’t free; neither are the mortgages and utilities on the homes of the pastors and other staff members. Their families need to eat, the same as the rest of us.
“Offerings” were separate from tithes. In the Old Testament, some were mandatory, because those were the days before Jesus. As a way of looking forward to His coming, the people’s sins were symbolically transferred onto the perfect animal chosen from their herds and flocks. The animal was killed on their behalf, to “atone” or pay the penalty for sin in their place.
If you think that sounds awful, it is. Sin is an awful rebellion against God, and exacts a high price. That’s why Jesus choosing to become the ultimate sacrifice for us is so incredible.
Another offering was the “first fruits”, given at harvest time to show gratitude for that harvest (Exodus 23:16, 19). God was to be given the first and best, in acknowledgement that the entire harvest was from Him. There were also thank offerings, expressing gratitude for some specific blessing.
To Christians, the guidance on offerings is less specific than the Old Testament, with its precise instructions on what tithes and offerings were to be done and at what times 3. Rather than being easier, though, it actually requires even more personal involvement. It’s no longer as easy to simply check off that you’ve completed a task.
First, the New Testament teaches that we are to depend on God rather than money. In the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7, Jesus tells us to “store up treasures in heaven” rather than here on earth because “where your treasure is, there your heart is also” (Matthew 6:19-21). Luke’s version says to “make yourselves money belts which do not wear out” (Luke 12:33). Jesus also warns that money can be a distraction from God: “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” (Matthew 6:24). Paul’s letter to his protege Timothy warns that “the love of money [note: not money itself, but the love of it] is a root of all sorts of evil” (1 Timothy 6:9-10).
The point is not about a specific (i.e. large) amount of money that must be given; it’s about the giver’s relationship with God. Mark’s gospel records Jesus being especially impressed with one woman who gave only a couple of cents…but that was 100% of what she had to live on! (Mark 12:41-44) That’s the kind of trust I could aspire to have.
Second, the New Testament also teaches that we are stewards, caretakers of something that doesn’t belong to us. The classic verse for this is in Luke’s gospel: “From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more.” (see Luke 12:42-48 for the full passage). Just as we expect an investment broker to manage our money as carefully as if it were his own, we should manage God’s money just as He would.
This includes making sure that any organization that we donate to is in turn being good stewards themselves!
Third, the New Testament tells us that we are representatives of God to the world, His visible hands and feet to do His work. What work is that? For the answer, look to Jesus. He healed the sick, fed the hungry, comforted the oppressed, noticed the forgotten ones of His day. We are to share His love and do the same, and that can’t be done by wishful thinking. It costs real money to buy food, clothing, and shelter for those who need help. Running homeless shelters and crisis pregnancy centers, rescuing victims of human trafficking, providing emergency services after natural disasters…those things don’t come cheaply.
Even more eternally important, and again looking to Jesus, we are to let everyone know of the good news that they are loved and have a life with God waiting for them if they choose. Communicating that gospel to every language and people group in the world takes resources. God provides those resources…through us as we return part of His gifts back to Him.
While researching for this article, I came across a quote I had never heard before, but I like it: “Tithing isn’t really giving – It’s returning.” 4. Expressing thanks to God and sharing in His work shouldn’t be a burden: It should be a joy!
Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.2 Corinthians 9:7
P.S. I had already written this post a week earlier but hadn’t published it yet when my daily read-the-Bible-in-a-year plan (day 200 of 365) happened to include the last chapter of 1 Chronicles (a “God coincidence”?). King David had amassed a wealth of materials to build a temple for God, but was leaving the project to his son and successor, Solomon, to be completed. In the record of the big ceremony handing both the project and the throne over to Solomon, there is a list of the amazing quantity of gold, silver, precious stones, and other goods that were donated for the temple by both David and his people. Check out these excerpts from David’s closing prayer at the ceremony:
Yours, O LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, indeed everything that is in the heavens and the earth; Yours is the dominion, O LORD, and You exalt Yourself as head over all.1 Chronicles 29:11
But who am I and who are my people that we should be able to offer as generously as this? For all things come from You, and from Your hand we have given You.1 Chronicles 29:14
O LORD our God, all this abundance that we have provided to build You a house for Your holy name, it is from Your hand, and all is Yours.1 Chronicles 29:16
I think maybe David had it right!
Footnotes and Scripture References
- The story of the temple dedication is also repeated in 2 Chronicles 6:12-21)
- Levites were one of the twelve tribes of Israel, descended from Levi, one of the sons of Jacob, later named “Israel”. God set the tribe apart to be the caretakers of the temple (Numbers 3:5-10).
- Leviticus chapters 1-6; I am not as familiar as I should be with these specifics, so here are some links to other information: Wayne Stiles, Seedbed, Image1, Image2