In the last post about giving, we took a look at what some giving patterns were in the Old Testament, especially under Mosaic Law.
Many of us have heard things like...
"Failure to tithe 10% of your income was equal to thievery..."
"Christians are supposed to give 10% because that’s what God commands of his people..."
But is this the case? Is 10% still required and expected? Or has the revelation of the gospel clarified how we are to think about giving?
The reality is, when Jesus entered humanity and history he changed everything forever. He is the pinnacle, the climax, the linchpin in history.
But, lest we throw out everything in the Old Testament, look what Jesus says in his sermon on the mount, arguably one of the most famous passages in scripture:
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:17-20 ESV)
Hmm. So we're still supposed to give 10%? Not quite. Resulting back to a simple 10% check-off-the-list attitude would be totally missing the point of what God has to say about money and giving.
As with each and every element of the Old Testament, we must read through gospel-informed lenses. We don’t live in ancient Israel and thus must not woodenly apply the prescriptions of the Old Covenant as if not living in the New. The life, death and resurrection of Christ has fundamentally transformed how believers are to relate to the Mosaic Law.
New Testament Giving
Jesus changes everything by exposing motivation and intent. He exposed the heart behind every Old Testament practice, particularly when we he said he did not come to abolish the law, but fulfil it. Often, he even took it further!
Immediately after Jesus says this in Matthew 5, he starts of these radical statements...
“You have heard it said, ‘You shall not murder…’ but I say to you...”
“You have heard it said, ‘You shall not commit adultery…’but I say to you...”
“You have heard it said, ‘You shall not swear falsely…’but I say to you...”
I can almost hear Christ whispering, “You have heard it said, ‘give your tithe of 10%, don’t harvest to the edge...’ but I say to you…”
The New Testament never commands the tithe, but the gospel accounts do assume it. Jesus assumes it. As he is talking and interacting with people, especially Jews, living under the Mosaic law, he assumes they are giving. Because he assumes they are giving, his teaching on giving are about the heart behind giving. That's consistent with what God is saying about money throughout all of scripture: it's about our heart, our motivations, our desires. It's about where we are putting our trust and faith.
The New Testament gives us some pictures of where God and money intersect. I want to do a quick survey through those stories to give you a sense of how God, money and giving connect in Jesus.
The Rich Young Ruler - Luke 18:18-30
And a ruler asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.’” And he said, “All these I have kept from my youth.” When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” But when he heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich. Jesus, seeing that he had become sad, said, “How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” Those who heard it said, “Then who can be saved?” But he said, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.” And Peter said, “See, we have left our homes and followed you.” And he said to them, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life.” (Luke 18:18-30 ESV)
Jesus’ invitation to this man to give was clearly more about his heart than anything (we’ve covered this story, we won’t spend too much time on it). Jesus tells him that being his disciple means we can’t worship other things and we can’t look to other things, like wealth, to be our savior. Those wells will dry up, and Jesus invites us to himself, a well that doesn’t dry up.
Zacchaeus - Luke 19:1-10
He entered Jericho and was passing through. And behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich. And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small in stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully. And when they saw it, they all grumbled, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:1-10 ESV)
This is a story of salvation and the resulting worship in light of the beauty of God’s grace and redemptive work. Zacchaeus’ giving is a combination of a retribution, tithe, offering and gleaning!
The early church - Acts 2:42-47
The church was a bustling, challenging, life-giving place where people were captivated by the power of the Gospel. The result was a new economy where nobody viewed their possessions as their own but shared everything for the sake of this new family of God.
And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. (Acts 2:42-47 ESV)
The pace that the early church operated under didn’t seem to continue into every church plant, but there is a beautiful picture of generosity and selflessness that follows the filling of the Holy Spirit.
What the story of Acts seems to indicate, is a continuation of God’s intent for his people to marked by him, for their worship to be exclusively hism and to live the kind of lives that point back to our maker. God gives both Israel and the early church this mission to live in a way that mimics him, so that the world would know who God is. So the way we view / spend / steward money is in a way that shows people we are gracious and generously provided for by our God.
Barnabas - Acts 4:36-37
Thus Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas (which means son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus, sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostles' feet. (Acts 4:36-37 ESV)
With no official instruction for Barnabas to do so, he sold off property and gave to support the needs of the body. The story shows that he was filled and compelled by the Spirit to share what he had to benefit the mission of Jesus.
Ananias and Sapphira - Acts 5:1-11
But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, and with his wife's knowledge he kept back for himself some of the proceeds and brought only a part of it and laid it at the apostles' feet. But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to man but to God.” When Ananias heard these words, he fell down and breathed his last. And great fear came upon all who heard of it. The young men rose and wrapped him up and carried him out and buried him. After an interval of about three hours his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. And Peter said to her, “Tell me whether you sold the land for so much.” And she said, “Yes, for so much.” But Peter said to her, “How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.” Immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last. When the young men came in they found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband. And great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things. (Acts 5:1-11 ESV)
God’s desire for us to give does not include us giving out of false motives, selfish gain, vanity, fear, or even obligations. The story of Ananias and Sapphira establishes early on in the church that God is deeply passionate about our hearts being for him and our motives flowing out of that place.
In each of these stories comes the crucial reality that it’s not about the money - it’s about the heart.
Out of a transformed heart, comes a transformed life. God is calling us to live a transformed life, but only from a place of confidence and faith that Jesus has forever changed everything, and we see reality through his lens.
So... The Tithe?
Christians for years have debated whether we should still use the tithe as an obligation (law) or if giving is now entirely spirit-led.
After looking through the history of God’s people and giving, I think it’s important to note that as people have found eternal life in Jesus Christ, generosity has only gone up, not down. So the 10% debate, in a sense, is not the right question. It’s sort of irrelevant, because it’s missing the point.
When we focus on the particulars of the religious act, trying to satisfy a God who judges us based on our achievements, and not the heart and motivation, we’re missing the lead.
The heart to provide for God, his people and the mission of Jesus to see his name spread all over the earth has grown, not shrunk. There are more people, more churches, more needs, more darkness and more opportunities than have ever been available to us in history.
So I’ll ask this…
Why would we give any less?
Why would we try to reduce the generosity of God’s people in the past to 10% or occasional support? What is it about the Scriptures that would cause us to land on that conclusion? If we are truly captivated by the Gospel and demonstrating that money has no hold on our hearts, but that Jesus and Jesus alone are the object of our worship… why would we give any less? Why would we hold back? Why would we not trust God and his faithfulness?
God wants your worship, your devotion, your love. God loves you so much, that we wants all of you, and he is on a mission to take down every other god we force him to compete with.
We have been wholly changed by Jesus Christ, the son of God, and we are given the Holy Spirit to continue on the work of Jesus and make us more like him. If we have been truly changed, and brought into this story, why would we give any less?
Oh, God, would you squash our desires for more and more of what takes us away from you! Give us your heart for our heart. Free us from the bondage of material things and help us see the world as you do!
To view sermons from our series "Money: The Heart Of The Matter" click here.