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Lesson 4: Why You Should NOT Tithe (Selected Scriptures)

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“It would be political suicide to give that speech,” said an aide to his boss. “He’s right, Senator,” chimed in another aide. “It’s just one clear-cut statement after another” (Morrie Brickman, Reader’s Digest [4/83]).

It’s probably suicidal for a pastor to preach on why you should not tithe! It’s risky at best, because some may hear the part about not tithing and block out the rest of the message! I would guess that if everyone who came regularly to this church gave ten percent to the church, our income would probably triple, at least! So why am I not preaching instead on why you should tithe?

The answer is that tithing is not the New Testament standard for giving. Perhaps more than any other factor, giving reflects the condition of our hearts: “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matt. 6:21). You can fake some things, but you can’t fake giving your money! You may get mad at me, but I’m going to give it to you straight: If you give ten percent or less of your income to the Lord’s work, in most cases it reflects a lukewarm heart toward God. I used to give ten percent and thought I was doing fine. Then I made the mistake of preaching on giving! I discovered that God’s Word teaches that ...

We should not tithe because God wants us to give generously, and tithing is the bare minimum.

Our God is a generous, giving God who so loved the world that He gave that most precious gift, His only begotten Son. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9). As God’s people who are to be like Jesus, we are to be generous givers.

The Bible teaches that God, who richly has supplied us with all good things, wants us “to be generous and ready to share” (1 Tim. 6:18). But what does generosity mean? Isn’t giving 10 percent of my income to the Lord’s work being generous? If not 10 percent, how much should I give?

1. Tithing is not the New Testament standard for giving.

Many churches promote a concept called “storehouse” tithing, based on Malachi 3:10, where God tells Israel to “bring the whole tithe into the storehouse.” They teach that the local church is the storehouse, the tithe belongs to God, and His blessing is conditioned upon faithfulness in tithing. One pastor in a church near me in California preached that if his people weren’t giving ten percent to that church, they were in sin and needed to go home and repent!

Before I critique this view, let me point out that there are some commendable points regarding tithing: (1) Those who tithe are often acting in obedience to what they believe God has commanded. (2) Tithing gets some to increase what they give. (3) Tithing helps consistency and discipline in giving. But consider these seven reasons why tithing is not God’s standard for Christians:

A. Tithing was a part of the law of Moses; believers are not under the law.

Romans, Galatians, and other New Testament passages make it clear that Christians are not under the law of Moses. That does not mean that we are lawless, because we are under the law of Christ (1 Cor. 9:20-21; James 1:25; 2:8, 12; Rom. 13:8-10). Those aspects of the Mosaic law that reflect the moral character of God are valid under the New Covenant and are repeated as commands in the New Testament. But the church is never commanded to tithe.

Those who argue for tithing point out that Abraham and Jacob both tithed prior to the Mosaic law (Gen. 14:20; 28:22). Thus tithing supersedes the law, they argue. If the New Testament gave no further guidelines, that might be a valid point. But it does, as I will show. But there are other practices, such as circumcision and sabbath-keeping which pre-date the Law and yet are not binding on us.

If you examine the references to Abraham’s and Jacob’s tithing, you will see that God did not command them to tithe and there is no indication that this was their regular practice. On one occasion after a victory in battle, Abraham tithed the spoils from that battle, but nothing is said regarding his other possessions or his regular income (Gen. 14:20). To follow Jacob’s example would be wrong, because he was making a conditional vow before God, promising that if God would keep him safe and provide for him, then he would give God a tenth (Gen. 28:20-22). That’s hardly a good example to follow in giving! Tithing was required under the Mosaic Law, but believers are not under the Law.

B. Tithing was an involuntary tax to support Israel; believers are not a part of the theocratic nation.

In the Old Testament, there was both required and voluntary giving. The tithe was required. It was commanded for every Israelite to fund national worship and help the poor. In actuality, there was not just one tithe, but rather two or three ([1] Lev. 27:30-33, Num. 18:20-21; [2] Deut. 12:17-18; [3] Deut. 14:28-29), so that the total was not 10 percent, but more like 22 percent (see Charles Ryrie, Balancing the Christian Life [Moody Press], p. 86). Thus if we are required to bring the whole tithe into the storehouse today, we had better up the percentage from 10 to 22 percent!

C. Tithing is not mentioned in any instructions to the church, although much is said about giving.

G. F. Hawthorne writes (New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology [Zondervan], 3:854:

Since the tithe played such an important part in the OT and in Judaism contemporary with early Christianity, it is surprising to discover that never once is tithing mentioned in any instructions given to the church. Jesus mentions scribes and Pharisees who tithe ..., but he never commanded his disciples to tithe. The writer to the Hebrews refers to Abraham paying tithes to Melchizedek and Levi paying his tithe to Melchizedek through Abraham ..., but he never taught his readers to follow their example. Paul writes about sharing material possessions to care for the needs of the poor ... and to sustain the Christian ministry .... He urges and commends generosity ... but never once does he demand, as a command from God, that any specific amount be given.

If tithing is to be practiced by the Christian church, it seems strange that Paul did not mention it when he wrote of giving, especially to the predominately Gentile churches which would not be familiar with the Old Testament.

D. Tithing is not mentioned in any writings of the early church fathers.

By itself this is not decisive, but it lends weight to the biblical arguments. If the early church practiced tithing, then the concept should surface somewhere in the writings of the church fathers of the second and third centuries. But it does not, even though giving was an important part of early Christian worship (see Hawthorne, pp. 854-855).

E. Tithing puts the wrong emphasis upon giving.

Tithing emphasizes your obligation to God; New Testament giving, as we shall see, emphasizes your willing, loving response to God’s grace. Furthermore, tithing limits giving by making a person feel that he has paid his dues (so to speak) and thus nothing more is required, when, in fact, much more could be done. Tithing has a tendency to put a person on a legal basis with God, rather than a love relationship. It’s the wrong emphasis.

F. Tithing leads to a false concept of stewardship.

It leads to the notion that 10 percent is God’s money and 90 percent is my money. In reality, 100 percent is God’s money, and He may want me to channel 90 percent into His work and live on 10 percent. Tithing can be a bad rut.

G. Tithing is burdensome for some and too easy for others.

If a man with a family of five makes $20,000 a year and tithes, he has $18,000 (apart from taxes) to support five people. If a childless couple makes $100,000 a year and tithes, they have $90,000 (apart from taxes) to support two people. That would be burdensome to the man with five mouths to feed, but ridiculously easy for the couple.

There are seven reasons that argue against tithing. Then what is God’s standard for giving?

2. Generous grace giving is the New Testament standard.

When you say “grace,” a lot of people, unfortunately, connect it with hang-loose, undisciplined living. But that is not grace! Nor is grace the balance point between legalism and licentiousness. Rather grace (as a system) is totally opposed both to legalism and licentiousness, which are two sides of the same coin.

Legalism and licentiousness both operate on the principle of the flesh. Legalism is an attempt to earn standing with God through human effort and leads to pride or condemnation, depending on how well you do. Licentiousness casts off restraint and lives to gratify the flesh.

But God’s grace is His unmerited favor based on Christ’s sacrifice. The motivating power in grace is the indwelling Spirit of God. The person under grace responds out of love and gratitude to God and depends upon the indwelling Holy Spirit to conform his life to what God requires. With that basic understanding of grace, let me spell out some things that grace giving is not, and then some things that grace giving is.

A. Grace giving is not ...

(1) Random and irresponsible. It does not mean that you give every now and then, hit and miss; rather (as we shall see next week), it is planned and systematic (1 Cor. 16:2; 2 Cor. 9:7).

(2) Based on feelings. Being under grace does not mean living by feelings. Living under grace means walking by faith and obedience in response to God’s love. There are many commands under grace.

(3) Usually less than the requirement of the law. God’s grace should motivate us to excel far more than the minimum under the law (1 Cor. 15:10).

(4) Giving God the leftovers. God deserves the best, not just what is convenient. If we love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, then we won’t just give Him what’s left over after the bills are paid. He deserves first place.

Thus grace giving is not sloppy, irresponsible, haphazard giving whenever we feel like it.

B. Grace giving is based on ...

(1) God’s example in Christ (2 Cor. 8:9). Aren’t you glad that God did not just give a tenth! He gave all. The Lord Jesus Christ was infinitely rich. He dwelled in the unimaginable splendor of heaven, apart from the sin and corruption of this world. But He gave that up, laid aside His privileges, and took on human flesh. He could have chosen to be born as a prince in palatial splendor. But instead He was born and lived in poverty. He ultimately impoverished Himself to the maximum by taking upon Himself the sin of the human race in order that we might become rich (2 Cor. 5:21).

Grace giving looks to the nail-pierced hands of the Lord Jesus, who gave Himself so that we might be rescued from the wrath of God, and says, “Lord, You gave all for me! What can I give back to You?”

(2) The concept of stewardship. “You are not your own, for you have been bought with a price ...” (1 Cor. 6:19-20). All that we are and have belongs to God, not just a tenth. I am merely the manager of His resources. As a good manager, I use the Owner’s resources to further His work (see Acts 2:44-45; 4:32-37; 11:27-30 for some examples).

(3) Inner motivation, not outward compulsion (2 Cor. 8:3-5; 9:7). Motive and attitude are crucial. It is better to give a small amount based on a loving response to God’s grace than it is to give a large amount based on outward pressure or pride. Note the attitude of the Macedonian believers: they had an abundance of joy (2 Cor. 8:2); they gave of their own accord (8:3); they begged with much entreaty for the favor (8:4!); first they gave themselves to the Lord (8:5); they had both the readiness and desire (8:10-12, 9:2); they gave cheerfully, not grudgingly or under compulsion (9:7).

We should not think, “How much do I have to give?” but rather, “How much can I give?” We should not wait for someone to pressure us with a need; we should look for needs that we can meet (8:4). I look for and give to Christian organizations or workers that do not pressure donors with desperate appeals for funds. You almost don’t notice these workers because there are so many pleading for your money so that they “won’t go off the air next week.” May I say, “Let them go off the air!” Christians ought to give based upon inner motivation, not outward pressure. Grace giving is based on ...

(4) A new relationship with the Holy Spirit, not the old dispensation of the Law. Romans 8:14 says, “For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God.” Galatians 5:18 says, “But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law.” The context of both passages shows that Paul is talking about the Holy Spirit leading the believer into righteous, godly living. In Galatians, such righteous living is spelled out in the context, in part, as sharing financial resources (6:6, 10).

It’s easier in some ways to follow a set of rules. Just give your 10 percent and that takes care of the matter. But God wants us to be led by the Holy Spirit. That’s kind of scary! The Holy Spirit might want me to give 35 percent or who knows how much! But the point is, I am not living by rules, but in a relationship with the living God.

(5) How much God has prospered you. How much should you give? How much has God prospered you? (Note 1 Cor. 16:2, “as he may prosper”; Acts 11:29, “in the proportion that [they] had means”; 2 Cor. 8:3, 11, 12). Generally, they gave according to their ability, and in some cases beyond their ability. Sometimes you should give sacrificially. (We will look at that next week.) But the general principle is, give as God has prospered you.

When God entrusts you with more money, instead of spending it on more junk that you have to protect from moths, rust, and thieves, you should ask, “Lord, how do you want this money used in Your kingdom?” As God gives you more, you should increase the percentage you give, not just the amount. If you have enough to live comfortably, then invest the rest where God pays guaranteed, eternal dividends.

But here’s the catch: we need to start giving where we’re at, and not put it off until someday when we’re rich. The Macedonians gave in the midst of a great ordeal of affliction, out of deep poverty (2 Cor. 8:2). Jesus commended the poor widow who gave all she had to live on, but He was not impressed with the large gifts of the rich, because they had much left over (Mark 12:41-44).

George Muller is remembered as a man who received millions of dollars to support his orphanage, in response to secret prayer, without making any needs known to others. What many don’t know is that Muller gave away vast amounts to the Lord’s work out of funds that were given for his personal support. From 1870 on, he personally contributed the full support for about 20 missionaries with the China Inland Mission. From 1831-1885, he gave away 86 percent of his personal income! As the Lord prospered him, he could have lived in style. But he lived simply and gave away the rest.

Conclusion

Generosity and grace giving are built on the qualities we have already studied. If you’re free from bondage to greed and debt, you won’t be enslaved to money. If you’re a person of integrity and if you’re faithful as a manager, not the owner, of your money, then when God supplies you with more, you will prayerfully channel anything above personal and family needs into His kingdom.

In this church, we don’t use pressure or gimmicks to get people to give. I want your giving to be between you and God, based on your response to the love He has shown you at the cross. Also, I want to encourage each of you to refuse to give to any organization that uses pressure and fund-raising gimmicks. If you believe in the work of this church, then give generously as God has prospered you, out of love for Him.

Don’t assume that because we don’t use pressure we don’t have needs. I believe it is legitimate to inform the church family about needs so they can give wisely. We have needs: to meet our monthly budget; to get some better office equipment; to pay off the mortgage on the house next door so that we can use it and the house across the street for ministry; to buy more property for adequate parking; to pave the lot behind the church. We have to turn away missionaries who need support. I believe the way to meet these needs is to help God’s people get their hearts right before Him and to teach what His Word says about money and giving. As we respond to God’s grace by giving generously, the needs will be met.

A farmer who was not much concerned with spiritual matters once went to hear John Wesley preach. Wesley was preaching about money and he soon had the farmer’s attention, because his first point was, “Get all you can.” The farmer nudged his neighbor and said, “This is unusual preaching! I’ve never heard the likes of this before. This is good!” Wesley talked about hard work and purposeful living.

His second main point was, “Save all you can.” The farmer became more excited. “Did you ever hear anything like this?” he exclaimed. Wesley denounced waste and extravagance. The farmer was quite happy, thinking, “I do all this.”

But then Wesley advanced to his third point, which was, “Give all you can.” “Oh, dear! Oh, dear!” moaned the farmer. “He has gone and spoiled his sermon.”

I hope you don’t think that I have spoiled this series on money by saying, “Give all you can.” God has given all for us; He wants us to be cheerful, generous givers who respond to His grace.

Discussion Questions

  1. Agree/disagree: In most cases, not giving more than 10 percent reflects a lukewarm heart toward God?
  2. What is the biggest hindrance to generous giving among Christians? In your own life?
  3. Should we give out of obedience even if we don’t feel like it? Isn’t that legalism?
  4. If 10 percent isn’t the standard for giving, how do we know when our giving pleases God?

Copyright 1993, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Finance, Spiritual Life, Tithing