As I work with a lot of different churches and ministries, I have had to sit through (or endure…) many different messages on giving. Now before you get the wrong idea, I want to say first and foremost that I am a giver and do my grace-enabled best demonstrate the discipline of giving in my own life. Having said that, my frustration with the messages I hear many pastors preach deals with where they go in scripture to support our Biblical command to give. Many times, a pastor’s primary supporting text is Malachi chapter 3. The passage, especially verses 8-12, says that the nation of Israel is robbing God and under a curse.
Can a person rob God? You indeed are robbing me, but you say, ‘How are we robbing you?’ In tithes and contributions! You are bound for judgment because you are robbing me–this whole nation is guilty. “Bring the entire tithe into the storehouse so that there may be food in my temple. Test me in this matter,” says the LORD who rules over all, “to see if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you a blessing until there is no room for it all. Then I will stop the plague from ruining your crops, and the vine will not lose its fruit before harvest,” says the LORD who rules over all. “All nations will call you happy, for you indeed will live in a delightful land,” says the LORD who rules over all. Mal. 3:8-12
The conclusion that most pastors draw from this is that present day believers are robbing God and under a curse if they do not give. Let me show you my deep angst at this faulty theology which prompts people to, “give to get out from under a curse.”
Jesus became a curse for us so that we would not be cursed (Gal 3:13). If you apply this verse in Galatians to the present day experience of the believer and preach that Christians are under a curse if they do not tithe, you are faced with an imposing choice. Essentially, you are saying that the death of Christ did not completely remove the curse of the law. Think of it this way: Why would Christ rescue us from the curse only to place us back under a curse if we don’t tithe? Why would he set us free from the law only to enslave us to it again? Or, even further, if tithing causes us to be ‘blessed’ then why do we need Christ? The Bible points to Christ as the supreme, all-surpassing blessing and the curse breaker. Therefore, all curses were broken at the cross and giving is not required to keep us in God’s grace.
Why didn’t Paul or any of the Apostles bring up this verse in the New Testament? We know that the Apostles quoted scripture and knew the commands of God, so why did they not highlight this text to take care of their own needs among the churches in their day? I believe that it is because they knew that this verse applied to Israel under the Old Covenant, but did not apply to the people of God after the finished work of Christ. In other words, a different dispensation was in effect. Believers in Christ did not offer sacrifices at the temple anymore because they had received Christ’s substitutionary atonement. The death of Christ had made the sacrificial system obsolete. Therefore, why should people give to perpetuate a form of worship that was only a shadow of the greater thing?
The ‘Tithe’ is actually about 33% or so of one’s income. Yes, I am aware that the word ‘tithe’ does mean a tenth. Yet, if you study and calculate all the offerings and tithes written and required in the law, it equated to about 33% or so of all gross net worth (crops, animals, oil, wine, money, etc.). So, are we supposed to give 33%? Are we to give grain and animals to a local church? Any pastor today will tell you that he does not want your grain or animals (wine maybe… but that depends on your denomination!). So, I guess, if you were to follow the torah understanding of tithe, you should sell them in proportional increase, and give to your pastor/church or you will be cursed. In Seminary, I had no OT professors agree with the idea of God cursing his people today for not ‘tithing’. These were men who were great examples in the faith and knew both the OT and NT with humility.
So, what is the believer to do? The believer is to give and give generously. The amount is not important. Here are 4 reasons why the believer is to give and not tithe:
1. You can’t out-give God! It all belongs to him anyway. So, whether it is 30%, 4% 22% 12% or anything else, it is ultimately all his. The question then becomes, how much of God’s stuff will we release back to him in an act of worship? Do we give to get? No, – but rather, we give to become. When we give, we become more like Christ who gave of himself without condition or reserve, so that we might have abundant life. God is the quintessential giver. We give because we want to be like our Father.
2. If you give everything and have not love it is nothing (1 Cor. 13). It matters not if you give to the utmost with no love. Therefore, the amount is inconsequential. It is the motivation behind the gift. If the motivation is material blessing or the removal of an imaginary curse, then I am not so sure that that giving amounts to very much – if anything – at all.
3. You reap what you sow. Whether in immaterial or material things, this truth is vital to understand. The effect of Christ’s death was his glorification and reward of souls that he had purchased with his blood. From one incorruptible seed sown in death came life to the many. Armed with this understanding, we sow generously knowing that we will reap generously; if not on the earth, then in eternity. God sowed generously through Christ and he will reap generously.
4. Some people live off of your giving. I think that it is spiritual manipulation for someone who lives off a congregation’s offerings to preach that people are under a curse if they do not give. But, just as the Levites lived off of the temple tithe, many people in the present day who serve the Lord live off of support (financial or other means) from believers. Whether you believe this type of lifestyle is by choice or by divine calling, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that you give to those who you are in relationship with and who are working to bear fruit that will last (making mature, healthy, disciples who reproduce themselves in others).