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Written by David Banks
Throughout the Bible, Old and New Testaments, the people of God have been required give of their money and/or material possessions for various purposes. In the Old Testament the children of Israel, under the Law of Moses were required to give a tithe (tithe = 10%) of their grain, the fruit of their trees, and/or of their flocks or herds. In the case of the flocks and herds the cattle were sent through a shoot with a rod over it, and every tenth animal that passed under the rod was taken as the offering. The giver, in this case, was not permitted to ask whether or not the animals that were chosen were good or bad, they simply met their obligation and went on their way.
The tithe was given for the purpose of meeting the specific needs that existed among the Israelite people. As you recall, when God was giving the tribes of Israel the lands of their inheritance in Canaan, He did not give any of the land to the tribe of Levi. Rather He commanded that each of the tribes allot certain portions from their inheritance for the Levites. This way God would have priests among all the people in order to help them with their legal and religious obligations (Deuteronomy 10:8-9). The tithe also was given to the Levites. This too was their inheritance instead of land like all the other tribes. When they received the tithe they were to use a tenth of it to make an offering of their own, no one was excused from giving (Numbers 18:21-32).
The tithe was to be put into the storehouse to be used to take care of the needs of the Levites. Another portion of the tithe, however, was to be used to take care of the poor (aliens, fatherless and widows). The Lord promised that as long as the Israelite people were faithful in giving their tithe that He would bless them in all the work of their hands (Deuteronomy 14:28-29). In addition to the tithe every male Israelite, twenty years of age and older, was to give a half shekel (two days wages) for the upkeep of the temple (Exodus 30:11-16).
These Old Testament commands concerning the requirements for giving, while no longer in effect today, I believe laid the foundation for giving in the New Testament. Not only did the tithe and the temple tax meet the basic needs of the people, but they also met a much greater need that the people did not always fully appreciate. They met the peoples need to trust and obey God. It is interesting that after leaving the 70 year Babylonian captivity and returning to Jerusalem and when the temple was rebuilt in Jerusalem that among the first things that the children of God did was to reinstitute the temple tax and the giving of their tithes (Nehemiah 28-39).
In the New Testament, the giving of our physical recourses, including our money, possessions, and our time, are presented as the personal responsibility of each individual Christian. There are no direct commands as to the amount that each Christian should give, nor is there any concrete direct commands of Scripture to dictate that every congregation of the Lords church must require a contribution to be collected on the first day of every week. That being stated, it should be the quest of each Christian to determine conscientiously and Biblically, why they should be giving on a regular basis and how much they should give.
In addressing this issue, let us first determine whether or not a congregation of the Lords church has the Biblical authority to collect a weekly contribution. We know that in the early days of the church, several congregations were called upon, in fact ordered, to take up a weekly contribution for a specific need that had arisen. At the end of Pauls first letter to the church in Corinth, he wrote, Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given orders to the churches of Galatia, so you must do also: On the first day of the week let each one of you lay something aside, storing up as he may prosper, that there be no collections when I come. And when I come, whomever you approve by your letters I will send to bear your gift to Jerusalem. But if it is fitting that I go also, they will go with me (1Corinthians 16:1-4). It seems likely that Paul gave the order for this collection to be taken up on the first day of the week as a matter of convenience because the church was already meeting on every first day of the week to partake of the Lord's Supper. He also gives the specific destination of this gift. It was to be taken to Jerusalem in preparation for the coming famine. The prophet Agabus had prophesied that there was to be a severe famine throughout the world. The disciples determined to send relief to the brethren in Judea by the hands of Barnabus and Paul (Acts 11:27-30).
In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul announced that he is coming shortly and upon his arrival expected them to have their previously promised gift ready. Intending to encourage them in their graciousness Paul mentioned the faithfulness and zeal of some other congregations that had already given. He wrote in some detail about the churches of Macedonia. Of them he wrote, In a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded in the riches of their liberality. For I bear them witness that according to their ability, yes, and beyond their ability, they were freely willing, imploring us with much urgency that we would receive the gift and the fellowship of the ministering to the saints. And not only as we had hoped, but they first gave themselves to the Lord, and then to us by the will of God. (2Corinthians 8:1-7). In this Paul declared that he was testing the sincerity of their love by comparing it to the diligence of others. Following this, Paul went on to write, I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened; but by equality, that now at this time your abundance may supply their lack, that their abundance also may supply your lack that there may be equality (2Corinthians 8:13-14).
These verses make a good case for approved example. A need had arisen, several churches were compelled/ordered to take up a weekly collection on the first day of every week to be placed into the hands of approved men from several of these congregations to deliver the gift to meet the needs of other Christians who would be most severely affected by the predicted disaster. Certainly the same desire for equality among brethren should exist today, as well as the same attitude about giving. Common sense should lead us in the direction of good will. When we graciously, from our abundance, supply the lack of others, then they should likely be inclined to supply from their abundance our lack should the need arise.
In chapter nine of the second Corinthian letter Paul gives his reasoning for giving on a weekly basis. He had instructed them a year prior to this letter and he wanted their gift to be gracious and generous. If they had been giving a little at a time on the first day of every week like Paul had instructed, then their gift would not have to be burdensome to them as a grudging obligation but as a matter of their own generosity.
In admonishing the Corinthian Christians to sow bountifully, Paul wrote, So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver (2Corinthians 9:7). With this admonition he gave also the promised results of their offering. He promised first that in the graciousness of their giving God was able to make all grace abound toward them. He was encouraging them not to worry that God would take care of their needs (Matthew 5:25-33). He promised also that God would increase the fruits of their righteousness. In this he was informing that God would take their gift and use it to the maximum of its effectiveness to both fully supply the needs of the saints and also overflow unto the winning of souls (Matthew 5:13-16). Ultimately, Paul was telling them that the fact that they had anything at all was because of God's grace and providence and let us never forget the greatest gift of all, For God so loved the world that He gave His Only Begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life (John 3:16). Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!
There are a few conclusions that I believe we can draw from our study of Biblical giving. There is no evidence in the New Testament to suggest that the Old Testament command to give a tenth of their income (i.e. tithe) is still in effect today. The amount that we determine to give is strictly between God and ourselves. The admonition Paul gave to the Corinthians was, On the first day of the week let each one of you lay something aside, storing up as he may prosper (1Corinthians 16:2), and Let each one give as he purposes in his heart(2Corinthians 9:7). In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus, referring to the giving of money to help the needy, said, Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven. Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, that you charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly. (Matthew 6:1-4).
Although the amount we give may, for the most part, be secret we should be careful not to use that as an excuse not to give liberally. We must remember that giving has always been stressed as a means of showing our trust in God and our gratitude for all that God has given to us and done for us. The Israelites gave their tithe as a demonstration that they trusted that God would provide for them. The Christians in the first century were commanded to give as God had prospered them. They were encouraged to give liberally/bountifully, not grudgingly or of necessity, trusting that God was able to supply seed to the sower, and bread for food.
The first century Christians were also encouraged to give selflessly putting the needs others above their own needs. This Christian quality extends far beyond the giving of money. To the Philippians Paul wrote, If there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfill my joy by being likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. (Philippians 2:1-4). Many legitimate needs still exist in these modern times. With this in mind, as we have been prospered, we should give liberally with the intention and purpose of meeting the needs of the church, helping those in need and spreading the gospel; and to do this in such a manner as to make it a matter of generosity and not as a grudging obligation, we should give faithfully on the first day of every week.
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