Walking as Jesus Walked

Having the Mind of Christ

Friday, February 17, 2012

To Tithe or Not to Tithe

Should the church teach tithing?  Given our emphasis on tithing in the Indiana Conference, I am sure we would want to promote the practice of tithing.  However, as the recent flood of books on tithing (or not tithing) suggest, there is more to the story! 

Below is a sermon I shared on generosity.  I touch on this debate and show how the practice of generosity knows no limits.

The apostle Paul was eager to see the Corinthians practice generosity. 

The issue was simple:  as a sign of unity Paul wanted the predominately Gentile church in Corinth to share a gift – an offering – with the predominately Jewish Church in Jerusalem.

There was a need to build a bridge between Gentile and Jewish Christians, and there was a need to give a gift that would help those who were struggling.

Paul takes several chapters to instruct the Corinthians on the kinds of attitudes and principles they would need to adopt to demonstrate the kind of generosity he believed they could show.

Taking his cue from agriculture he reminds them that “whoever sows sparingly will reap sparingly” and “whoever sows generously will reap generously” (II Cor. 9:6). 

He continues:  “He [God] who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness” (II Cor. 9:10).

Every person should give not out of compulsion or reluctance but out of a cheerful, or loving, or willing heart (II Cor. 9:7)./1/

As it is God’s character to give so we are to give – generously!  As it is God’s character to love so we are to love – abundantly!

This is who God is and how God works:  at all times, in all things, in all places, to all who confess and obey the gospel (II Cor. 9:8, II Cor. 9:13).

God provides the seed and makes possible what we thought was impossible (II Cor. 9:10). 

What we see as the problem of scarcity God sees as an opportunity to supply in abundance (II Cor. 9: 12).

That’s the spiritual principle the apostle Paul wants the Corinthians to understand:  God is not a miser:  rather, God is the Lord of life whose grace overflows – all the time, in all places – always giving.

What’s the saying?  “God is good, all the time; all the time, God is good.”

There is in the very heart of God the law of abundance whereby God always gives what we need!  God’s grace is always sufficient (II Cor. 12:9)! 

So goes one of the first stewardship campaigns in the Christian church!

Vital Church!

Now over the last few weeks we have been sharing what a vital and caring congregation looks like, and we have been noting how Christ invites us and challenges us to be a healthy and strong church.

Last week Pastor Jenothy communicated how as a church God can offer to us and through us healing and forgiveness, making us whole and complete.

As the heart goes, she said, so goes the life of the Christian, indeed, so goes the life of the church!

It’s a point Jesus makes in Matthew’s Gospel that a good tree bears good fruit and a bad tree bears bad fruit (Mt. 7:18):  the good heart [person] brings out good things and the evil heart [person] brings out evil things (Mt. 12:33-36).

It’s a point Paul makes to the Galatians when he talks about the Spirit bringing about an inward change that produces fruit like generosity, joy, goodness, love (Gal. 5:22-23).

The very character of Christ takes shape in us when we allow the Spirit to come to abide in us and with us!

It’s why we cannot force generosity!  A church is generous not because it forces giving but because it teaches and invites people to relate more fully to God, allowing the Holy Spirit to convict./2/

A generous heart is really a heart under conviction, responding to the need while trusting God to provide.

Without conviction, there is little awareness of need, let alone God’s grace!  In fact, the two go hand-in-hand:  once convicted to give we trust God to supply to meet the need. 

That’s the mark of health and vitality:  freely giving, always trusting, without compulsion.

And it’s why generosity is always a matter of the heart.  There is no law that can command a person to be generous (Gal. 5:23).

When the Holy Spirit wakes us up out of our sinful self-centeredness, out of our lack of trust, out of our fear of the difference God can make, generosity can become a reality!


As some of you know I try to do a great deal of reading, and lately, I have been following a debate about giving and tithing.

In fact, some of the books I have read over the last few weeks have the following titles:  Why Christians Should Not Tithe, Tithes: The Exhortation of the Body of Christ, and Should the Church Teach Tithing?/3/

It is really an interesting debate about the relationship between the Old Testament teaching on tithing and the New Testament teachings on generosity.  What I would like to share with you is what these authors are not saying:  they are not saying we should not tithe or give 10% of our income to the Lord’s work’; rather, what they are saying is that as Christians we, of all people, should not let the tithe limit our giving to God!/4/  In other words, generosity does not have a 10% cap! 

Now, I am sure someone is saying, “Yes, but if everyone tithed, we would have more than we needed.”  No argument here!  I would love to see it!   

But given that roughly 7% of Christians in this country practice tithing I am going to assume that there is always more we all can give!/5/ 

I am going to I assume, with the apostle Paul, that there is no limit to what we can give, that we cannot out-give God.

In fact, I am going to assume that a generous person, convicted by the Spirit, will always try to give all he or she can – to whom he or she can, in all the places he or she can, in all the ways he or she can, at all the times he or she can, as long as he or she ever can! 

I am going to assume that a generous heart is a grateful heart, and that it does not get caught up in calculating outcomes or making excuses or putting limits on God, but instead gets caught up in giving what is needed when it is needed; that it gets caught up in sowing generously, abundantly.

To be sure, there is always confusion about giving and tithing and about the motivations of giving, but the following clip, I believe, can help us recognize how the law of God’s abundance gets twisted beyond all recognition when giving and tithing get disconnected from the spirit of generosity, when it loses sight of who God is and what God’s requires!  Funny, but true!  Watch!

The Skinny of Tithing

Boom, tithe!  I think I recognized a few of those characters!

The practice of giving generously is not so much about giving a certain amount (though the tithe is a biblical marker) as it is about giving according to what we have been given (II Cor. 9:8).  Jesus said, “To whom much is given much is required” (Lk. 12:48).

Therefore, the question we need to ask is, “Are we truly being generous with all that God has given us?  In what ways are we being a blessing to others?”

Extravagant Generosity

In the past, we have spoken about being a church that demonstrates “extravagant generosity.”/6/  We have spoken about how giving extravagantly is the way to attain a wonderful, richer life.  

I know as a pastor I have never known a giver who was not somehow blessed or better off for it in every way.  Have you?

Now, as God as my witness, I will not stand here and tell you that giving to God will automatically and instantly bring you health and wealth.  That’s a different gospel
(Gal. 1:6).   

But I will stand here and tell you that God’s promises are true:  that what we reap what we sow – and that those who sow sparingly will reap sparingly (II Cor. 9:6).

And I will stand here and tell you that our God is a giving God and that what God supplies is far greater than what we can ever ask or imagine (Eph. 3:20).

And I will stand here and tell you that God does love “cheerful givers” – “cheerful congregations” – those who give freely and willingly to Christ’s work.

I will stand on those promises!  And I will share with a grateful heart what I know:  that our God is able to make all grace abound in our lives and that because of this grace we can give in ways that we didn’t think possible!

O Church of Christ:  Thanks be to God for this indescribable gift of grace (II Cor. 9:16).


1.     See James D. Quiggle, Why Christians Should Not Tithe: A History of Tithing and Biblical Paradigm for Christian Giving (Eugene, Oregon:  Wipf & Stock Publishing, 2009), p. 87.

2.     Ibid., p. 147. 

3.     See James D. Quiggle, Why Christians Should Not Tithe (Eugene, Oregon: Wipf & Stock Publishing, 2009), B. Ann Nichols, Tithes: The Exhortion of the Body of Christ (Mustang, OK: Tate Publishing & Enterprises, 2006), and Russell Earl Kelly, Should the Church Teach Tithing: A Theologian’s Conclusions about a Taboo Doctrine (Writers Club Press:  New York: 2007).           

4.     See James D. Quiggle, p. vii. 

5.     See the Barna Report: “New Study Shows Trends in Tithing and Giving” (April 13, 2008).  Go to www.barna.org.

6.     Robert Schnase, Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2005).

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