The better question may be: “can I ever out-give God?”
Imagine what your community, our nation, the world, for that matter, might look like if every Christian were to give 10% or more of their income to the work of God…not the average of 3% it gives now.
Tithing was instituted in God’s law as a tax to support a theocratic nation known as Israel. The Israelites were chosen by God to separate themselves from the idol worshipers who lived around them. They were given a very high moral standard by which to live. They were promised that not only would they enjoy a loving, prosperous relationship with God, all the world would be blessed through their descendants.
When these people turned their back on God and refused to pay their taxes, they were called out by prophets, including one named Malachi. He reminded them that the law said:
“Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.”
This was a clear admonition to a people who ignored God and abandoned their responsibility to support the priests and temple worship prescribed by God. On top of that there were calls for additional tithes to further God’s work, including caring for widows and orphans, helping the sick and impoverished, and celebrating God’s blessings.
Tithing is not mentioned by Jesus or by Paul or by any other of the New Testament writers. We find no mention of tithing in the writings of the early church fathers. Why is that? The New Testament standard for giving is clearly the tithe and more. It is the intentional, responsible act of a Christian recognizing that because Jesus gave everything for us, including his life, we should gladly give all for him. Paul wrote to the Christians in Corinth:
For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.
2 Corinthians 8:9
Paul wanted Christians to recognize that the standard for giving should be inner motivation guided by the Holy Spirit, not outward compulsion.
For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people. And they exceeded our expectations: They gave themselves first of all to the Lord, and then by the will of God also to us.
2 Corinthians 8:3-5
Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.
2 Corinthians 9:7
So, when the issue of tithing come up, you should ask yourself, how has God prospered you, not how will God prosper you if you give. Despite what some preachers may tell you, there is no magic formula that says if you give X amount, God will give you back twice, or five or ten times as much. God is not in the bargaining business. He loves a “cheerful giver.” He also is a cheerful giver. Think about it, he has given you everything. So how much should you give? Let’s look at the examples of the Christians in the early church:
The disciples, as each one was able, decided to provide help for the brothers and sisters living in Judea.
For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own,
2 Corinthians 8:3
Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means.
2 Corinthians 8:11
While tithing is not specifically taught in the New Testament, we see that Christians were commended for giving according to their ability, and in some cases beyond their ability. If you are reading this, you are likely to be among the richest people in the world. (If you earn more than $15,000 per year, you are in the top 5%; if more than $50,000, you are a one percenter!) That suggests that today you should be thinking about how much, not how little, you can give back to the God who gave you everything. And since money is just a reflection of your earning power, you may also want to consider ways to give of your time and talents over and above your monetary contributions.
If you are a Christian, it’s probably a good idea to budget at least 10% of your income to support God’s work in your community and around the world. For most, that is a starting point. Sometimes you may need to stretch, to actually sacrifice, to give to God’s work. But, more often, you will find that giving as God has prospered you results in giving cheerfully well in excess of the tithe.
Bible verses are quoted from the New International Version