Tipping, Tithing, and Grace Giving (Part 4)


Today’s Christian gains big-picture understanding of what the Bible teaches about financial giving by learning the Old Testament background and foundational truths related to the subject. This was presented in the previous article. But the New Testament contains the full teaching that guides what we do in the church and in our individual Christian lives. Join me as we survey Jesus’ teaching, the practices of the newly-formed first century church, and the instructions given by the apostles.

Jesus’ Teaching on Giving
Some say Jesus spoke on the topic of money more than anything else. I haven’t personally verified this assertion, but I do know that He had a lot to say about giving. The following is representative of His teaching on this subject.

  • The right condition of our relationships is a prerequisite to giving.
    Jesus said, Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift (Matthew 5:23-24). We must endeavor to resolve offences between ourselves and others before we offer any gift to God.

    Jesus made it clear that our view of God and other people is more important than any material offering we could present. And to love Him with all the heart, with all the understanding, with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is more than all the whole burnt offerings and sacrifices (Mark 12:33).

  • Openhanded generosity is the measure of giving.
    Probably the best-known example is the poor widow who gave her two mites. The monetary value was minimal. The proportional value was incredible because it was “all that she had” (Mark 12:41-44).

    Jesus also encouraged generosity when He said, Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you (Luke 6:38).

  • Invest earthly material possessions in ways that produce eternally lasting dividends.
    Jesus taught this truth when He said, Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal (Matthew 6:19-20).

    He also spoke of giving to others as an eternal investment when He said, Sell what you have and give alms; provide yourselves money bags which do not grow old, a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches nor moth destroys (Luke 12:33).

    He used the parable of the unjust servant to convey the life lesson, . . . make friends for yourselves by unrighteous mammon, that when you fail, they may receive you into an everlasting home (Luke 16:9). This means to use our money in a way that will influence people toward believing in and following Jesus so that we will spend eternity with them.

In the previous article, Three Ways People Give, I demonstrated that Jesus mentioned tithing (giving 1/10 of one’s income) on only two occasions. In both of them He was addressing the sinful attitudes of certain Jewish people. He was not instructing His followers to practice tithing. The examples above are representative of Jesus’ teaching on giving. He emphasized the condition of the heart, having right relationships with God and others, being generous, and investing for eternity.

The Newly-Formed Church’s Practice of Giving
Now we’re getting to the principles and practices that directly involve the New Testament church. The book of Acts relates a number of occasions in which the first Christians gave financial offerings. Their practice is our example. Let’s learn from them. Here are the characteristics of giving in the early church.

  • Giving with voluntary generosity
    According to Acts 2:44-45, the brand new Christians had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need. Their actions evidence spontaneous generosity that would be considered extreme in our day.
  • Responding to people with specific pressing material needs
    This is evident from Acts 2:45 (above). Also, much of the Apostle Paul’s instruction on giving includes appeals to provide assistance to needy believers. 2 Corinthians 8-9, the most extensive New Testament passage on financial giving, is an appeal to contribute to a relief fund for impoverished brothers and sisters in Christ. In another example, Paul thanked the Philippians for giving to meet his material needs as he spread the Gospel (Philippians 4:10-20).
  • Channeling offerings primarily through the leadership of the church
    This doesn’t mean the leaders were the primary recipients of all that was given. The people brought their offerings to the leaders who then administered the use and distribution of the funds.

    This is described in Acts 4, which contains another example of the spirit of generous sharing that permeated the infant church. It tells us the people actually liquidated their land and houses in order to have funds to assist their needy Christian friends. Verses 34-35 say, Nor was there anyone among them who lacked; for all who were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of the things that were sold, and laid them at the apostles’ feet; and they distributed to each as anyone had need. Verse 37 specifies that Barnabas having land, sold it, and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet. They entrusted the funds to the church leaders who oversaw the distribution.

    Acts 11 reveals that the church in Antioch collected funds for the relief of the Jerusalem believers. Designating Barnabas and Saul (later Paul) to deliver it, the church sent it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul (Acts 11:30). In other words, it was delivered to the leaders in the church of Jerusalem who determined how it would be used.

  • Confronting sinful heart issues related to the practice of giving
    Ananias and his wife Sapphira participated in the real estate liquidation program. Ananias brought part of the funds and “laid it at the apostles’ feet” just as the others had done (Acts 5:2). But evidently he and Sapphira had conspired to give the impression that they were donating the full amount of the proceeds of the sale (verse 3). The Holy Spirit revealed this to Peter, who accused Ananias and Sapphira of lying to the Holy Spirit (verse 4).

    Both Ananias and Sapphira were struck dead (verses 5-10). Word spread of this occurrence and produced a healthy fear that suffused the young church. The sinful heart attitudes of hypocrisy and pride seem to be a perennial problem. Malachi confronted these issues as did Jesus. The exposure of these attitudes and the forcefulness with which God dealt with them should send a strong message to us today as well.

  • Giving voluntarily according to ability
    This was the pattern from the beginning. Then the disciples, each according to his ability, determined to send relief to the brethren dwelling in Judea (Acts 11:29). Paul commended the Macedonian believers for giving according to their ability and even going beyond that (2 Corinthians 8:3). He also said that what a person gives is accepted according to what one has, and not according to what he does not have (2 Corinthians 8:12).

The Apostles’ Instructions on Giving
This will be a fairly concise view of the overall teaching of the Apostles on financial giving. For now I am omitting the instructions on the causes, projects, and people we support with our giving. These will be addressed in a subsequent article on the targets of New Testament giving. The following instructions focus on the motivation, attitudes, and practice of financial giving.

  • Give in response to the grace of God.
    He is the Supreme Giver. He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? (Romans 8:32). This tells us that giving starts with God, is modeled by God, and is possible because of God. Paul motivates the Corinthians to give by reminding them, For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich (2 Corinthians 8:9). See also 2 Corinthians 9:15.
  • Give your whole self to God.
    We no longer offer animal sacrifices. But Paul exhorts us, Present your bodies a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1). Also, in the context of encouraging financial giving, Paul says of the Macedonian Christians, . . . they first gave themselves to the Lord, and then to us by the will of God (2 Corinthians 8:5).
  • Give sincerely, not hypocritically.
    Paul exhorts Christians saying that “he who gives” should do it “with liberality” (Romans 12:8). The Greek word translated liberality means singleness. It conveys the idea of being without pretense or hypocrisy. We are not to give for show, or to impress people, or so we will receive appreciation or recognition or a financial advantage.
  • Give intentionally and systematically.
    Paul told the Corinthians, 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 (1 Corinthians 16:2). This particular offering was for the relief of suffering Christians in Jerusalem. Paul wanted them to be proactive in preparing for this offering by setting aside an amount after each week’s work and corresponding to each Lord’s Day (“on the first day of the week”). Rather than arrive unprepared or make a spontaneous decision, they should decide to participate in the giving opportunity, designate an amount, and keep it for that purpose (“lay something aside”). Paul did not specify a percentage, but told them to make their gift proportionate to their income (“as he may prosper”).
  • Give from your abundance.
    People who are financially prosperous should be ready to give, willing to share, storing up for themselves a good foundation for the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life (1 Timothy 6:18-19).
  • Give from your poverty.
    The Macedonians are the models once again, who in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded in the riches of their liberality (2 Corinthians 8:2).
  • Give as an act of worship.
    Because Jesus Christ is our full and final substitutionary sacrifice, we are not obligated to make blood sacrifices at a temple. But we still bring offerings to our gracious God. In addition to the sacrifice of praise, we can also offer the sacrifice of giving to help others who are in need. So we should not forget to do good and to share, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased (Hebrews 13:15-16).

In addition to these apostolic instructions, 2 Corinthians 8-9 contain a high concentration of teaching on giving. The concept of grace giving is front and center in this passage. It is here that we are exhorted to “abound in this grace also” (8:7)—the grace of giving. I will devote the next article to developing, primarily from 2 Corinthians 8-9, The Concept of Grace Giving.

Tipping, Tithing, and Grace Giving (Part 3)

We’re examining what the Bible says to today’s Christian about financial giving. I encourage you to read Part 1 and Part 2 if you haven’t already. They are essential to knowing how the following information fits in the sequence of thought.

Let’s look at giving in the Old Testament context. We can then understand better how the Old Testament principles and practices fit into the New Testament setting and how they relate to Christians today.

There are three kinds of giving that God instructed the children of Israel to observe. They are sacrifices, tithes, and freewill offerings. Let’s look at each one.

People offered sacrifices to God long before He instituted the sacrificial system into the lives of the Jewish people. A moment of reflection brings to mind Cain and Abel (Genesis 4:3-4), Noah (Genesis 8:20), and Abraham (Genesis 22:1-14). These all gave sacrifices as a form of voluntary worship to God.

The various types of sacrifices in the system instituted by God are outlined in Leviticus 1-6 and 16. They included:

  • The burnt offering for sin
  • The grain offering for recognizing God’s goodness
  • The peace offering for giving thanks
  • The sin offering for forgiveness
  • The trespass offering for making restitution for personal offences
  • The annual offering for the sins of the nation on the Day of Atonement

The purpose of these offerings was to receive forgiveness for sin and to express worship, devotion, and thanks. Some were required and others were voluntary.

God instructed the children of Israel to give 1/10 of their agriculture and produce. The noun, “tithe,” is the English translation of a Hebrew word that means “tenth part.” The verb, “to tithe,” means “to give a tenth part.” God’s instructions given through Moses about tithing are recorded in Leviticus 27, Numbers 18, and Deuteronomy 12 and 14. Tithing was an act of worship. The people took their tithes to the sanctuary and dedicated them to the Lord in a spirit of joyful devotion (Deuteronomy 12:11-12).

It seems from these passages that there were actually three tithes required of the Jewish people. The text doesn’t explicitly say this, but the information in these Bible passages seems to indicate it. Jewish rabbis1 and other scholars2 have concluded that there were three distinct tithes. Though I am not dogmatic about it, I tend to agree and will present them accordingly.

  • The first was the Levites Tithe (Leviticus 27:30-33; Numbers 18:21-32). Leviticus 27 contains the command to tithe. Numbers 18 explains that this tithe would be used to support the Levites—the men who ministered in the temple and their families.
  • The second was the Festival Tithe (Deuteronomy 12:17-18; 14:22-27). The Jewish people gathered yearly for a festival in Jerusalem. They were instructed to bring a tenth of their grain, wine, oil, and livestock to the festival. This tithe was not just for the Levites, but was to be eaten together with everyone as they rejoiced together in God’s provision.
  • The third was the Poor Tithe. According to Deuteronomy 14:28-29, a tenth was collected every three years to take care of needy people, including aliens, orphans, and widows. The needy also included the Levites, because they had no land for producing food and no inheritance from which to draw support.

If you accept the three tithe concept and do the math, you will realize that the children of Israel did not merely give 1/10 of their possessions to the Lord. They gave an annual tithe to the Levites; they brought another tithe to the yearly festival; and they gave an additional tithe every three years for the poor and needy. If there were three tithes, then they actually gave about 23% annually. This is separate from their sacrifices and their freewill offerings. Christians who calculate their giving based on Old Testament tithing should take this into consideration!

Freewill Offerings
The giving of sacrifices and tithes was required. The Jewish people could also give freewill offerings. These were voluntary offerings to express devotion, worship, and thanks. They usually consisted of animal sacrifices. Leviticus 22:17-33 and Deuteronomy 12:5-19 include instructions about these.

There was another kind of freewill offering in addition to the animal sacrifices. This was a donation of gold, silver, and other valuables to provide for the construction of the tabernacle in the wilderness (Exodus 35) and for the construction of the temple which David envisioned and that Solomon eventually built in Jerusalem (1 Chronicles 29). The captives who returned with Ezra to Jerusalem also took freewill offerings with them consisting of silver and gold for furnishing the reconstructed temple (Ezra 1:5-6; 7:11-18; 8:28-34).

David’s prayer in 1 Chronicles 29 highlights the motivation for Old Testament freewill giving: “Now therefore, our God, we thank You and praise Your glorious name. But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to offer so willingly as this? For all things come from You, and of Your own we have given You” (1 Chronicles 29:13-14).  As individuals we recognize that our material possessions came to us from God. We are managers of the resources He has given us. We have the privilege and joy of voluntarily setting aside part of what He has entrusted to us and bringing it to the place of worship where we present it to Him so that it can be used for the work of God in order to bring glory to God. In subsequent articles, we will see that this is the same motivation for New Testament grace giving.

A key message of the Old Testament is that sinful human beings always fall short of God’s holy character and just requirements. This was evident in many aspects of the lives of the Israelites, including their giving. The prophets rebuked the people for their neglect of giving as a sign of disobedience to God. They also admonished them regarding their motives.

Probably the best known prophetic voice on the topic of giving is Malachi’s. Preachers frequently quote his challenge to non-tithers, “Will you rob God?” But Malachi had a lot more to say than that. His message, though directed to the people of Israel, generates some timeless applications.

Malachi identified three problems with the children of Israel’s giving:

  • First, their offerings were inferior (Malachi 1:6-9). They offered their worst rather than their best. He rebuked them because the inferior quality of an offering is a sign of low esteem for God.
  • The second problem was their hypocrisy (Malachi 2:13-15). They continued to bring offerings while abandoning their marriages. His point here is that offerings do not compensate for disobedience.
  • The third problem was their neglect or refusal to give (Malachi 3:7-12). The prophet equated their unwillingness to tithe and to give offerings to theft. A person who refuses to give denies that his possessions are under the authority and ownership of God.

We must be careful not to impose Old Testament requirements on New Testament believers, nor to place Israel’s obligations onto the church. However, today’s Christian can benefit from numerous observations related to Old Testament giving.

  • The Jewish people’s worship of God included material and financial giving.
  • Their offerings were not to be perfunctory, but given in a spirit of devotion and thanksgiving to God.
  • People in need received significant help.
  • God’s people acknowledged His greatness and goodness as well as His authority and ownership by their freewill offerings.
  • The Israelites gave generously to projects associated with the work of God.
  • Right motives are more important than the gift itself.

The New Testament completes the picture by showing us what biblical giving looks like in the lives of Christians and in the church. That is what we will examine in the next article.

1 Singer, Isidore, ed. “Tithe.” JewishEncyclopedia.com.  Online edition of The Jewish Encyclopedia.  Funk and Wagnalls. 1906.  Accessed Feb 6 2015.

2 Allen, R. B. (1999). 1711 עשׂר. In R. L. Harris, G. L. Archer, Jr. & B. K. Waltke (Eds.), Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (R. L. Harris, G. L. Archer, Jr. & B. K. Waltke, Ed.) (electronic ed.) (702–704). Chicago: Moody Press.

Tipping, Tithing, and Grace Giving (Part 2)


People who give at church do it in one of three ways. I’ll call the first way tipping. In our culture there are times when we give a few dollars to someone who provides a service. The most common example is a restaurant server. If he or she gets our order right and delivers it in a timely and cheerful way, we leave a tip of 15% or more.

This is how many people give to God. When the offering is mentioned, they go digging for loose cash, drop a few bills in the plate, and maybe wonder how they’re going to buy lunches or lattes for the rest of the week. Some may plan ahead, considering their income, expenses to support their lifestyle, and how much discretionary money is left. They will arrive at what they feel is a reasonable amount and give that to the Lord. People who give this way may be fulfilling an obligation, not wanting to seem rude or feel guilty for not participating. Or they may be truly grateful for what the church or the Lord does for them. It is possible that this is all they know, not having been taught what the Bible has to say. So, “tipping” is giving a small portion of your extra resources to God. There isn’t a biblical basis for it. It’s just what people do.

A second way that people give is called tithing. It is often accompanied by the term offerings, as in, “tithes and offerings.” This is how many people in the church have been taught to give. Tithe means 1/10 or 10%. Many people equate the word “tithe” with giving any amount in an offering, whether it is $5 or $500, 1% or 25%. But tithe means 10%. God commanded the children of Israel to give 1/10 of all their produce (agriculture and livestock). In addition to tithing, the Israelites could give free-will offerings.

According to this teaching, since God instructed His people to tithe and to give additional free-will offerings, that is the biblical pattern for all believers for all time. God instructed His people to give tithes and offerings, and even though the New Testament doesn’t explicitly say this applies to Christians, it is the principle and pattern of giving we should follow.

Often this teaching goes to another level, saying that if you don’t tithe, you are disobeying God, He won’t bless you, and bad things will happen to you. If you tithe and give free-will offerings, you are right with God, He will bless you, and good things will happen to you.

But what does the Bible say about tithing that is relevant for Christians of today? Here are some observations:

The Old Testament instruction to tithe was for Jews. Tithing was the means for supporting the priests, providing for the needy, and sharing in a feast that occurred every three years. (Giving in the Old Testament will be explained further in the next article.)

Tithing is mentioned in the New Testament in four places. Not one of them contains instructions to Christians about tithing.

  • In Matthew 23:23 and the parallel passage Luke 11:42, Jesus is rebuking Pharisees for their hypocrisy. They tithed fastidiously from their seeds but gave little attention to mercy, judgment, faith, justice, and love for God. At that time and up until Jesus rose from the dead and the apostles gave new instructions about Old Testament laws, the requirement of tithing was still in effect. Jesus was not telling Christians to tithe. He was telling Jews not to be hypocritical. His point was that giving 10% does not make up for an ungodly heart.
  • In Luke 18:9-14 Jesus told a parable to illustrate self-righteousness in contrast to humility. Verse 12 quotes the Pharisee as saying, “I give tithes of all that I possess.” In other words, he gave more than the law required. This story illustrates a truth: Congratulating yourself about tithing is evidence of pride, and pride distances you from God. Again, it was a story illustrating a truth to Jews under the ceremonial system, not an instruction to Christians.

Before going further I want to emphatically say, that is all Jesus said about tithing! The two situations described above are the only occasions the Gospels record that Jesus’ teaching mentions tithing. However, He had a lot to say about giving.

  • There’s one more place in the New Testament where tithing is mentioned. It is Hebrews 7:1-10. This gets a little complicated, but I will do my best to make it plain. The point of Hebrews is that Jesus is superior to everything the Jewish people trusted in prior to the coming of Christ. The writer is making the case in chapters 6-7 that Jesus is a superior High Priest. In chapter 7 he uses the example of Abraham giving a tithe of battle spoils to a priest named Melchizedek. Keep in mind, the book of Hebrews was written initially to Jews. The writer’s argument follows a six point logical sequence that made sense to the Jews whom he was addressing:
    • Abraham tithed (once) to Melchizedek.
    • The priests were in Abraham’s loins (would descend from him).
    • Therefore the priests tithed to Melchizedek through Abraham.
    • That means Melchizedek is greater than all the other priests.
    • Jesus is like Melchizedek, therefore He is greater than all the other priests.
    • Conclusion: Jesus is the greatest High Priest.

The writer used Abraham’s tithe as an example from Israel’s history to illustrate to New Testament era Jews that Jesus is the superior, in fact the only, way to God. It has no bearing on the financial giving of New Testament Christians. It is a misapplication to teach from this passage that since Abraham tithed, Christians should also.

Grace Giving
The third way people give to the Lord can be best designated as grace giving. This practice is based on the New Testament scriptural instructions directed to Christians on the topic of giving. Keep in mind that Old Testament giving included animal sacrifices, tithes, and free-will offerings. Remember that Jesus Christ is our substitutionary sacrifice, so animal sacrifices are no longer necessary. Also note that the terminology of tithing is used only of the Jews under the Old Testament ceremonial system, as has been demonstrated above. That leaves one kind of giving that is not rendered obsolete, but carries through both the Old Testament and the New – the free-will offering.

In a sense we can say that grace giving has existed since the beginning, but it comes to the forefront in the New Testament. Grace giving is a voluntary choice based on an individual’s personal experience of the grace of God in bestowing spiritual blessings as well as material resources. The required tithe fades from view in the New Testament, while grace giving grows and becomes the norm in the life of the church. This will be developed in subsequent articles.