How Much Should We Give?
Many Christians understand that giving is a basic part of their walk with Christ. The love of Jesus compels us to give our money and resources to further his kingdom and build his church. But many of us do not know where to start. The question of how much a Christian should give has been debated for centuries. The best treatment I have found comes from a little book by Randy Alcorn called The Treasure Principle. Because many of you do not own this book, I think that it is worth quoting Alcorn’s answer to this question at length. Read carefully, ask questions, and pray for God to grow in you a joy-filled discipline of giving!
You may understand that the Christian life is inseparable from giving. But you might be wondering, Where do I start? A logical place is where God started His Old Covenant children: “A tithe of everything from the land, whether grain from the soil or fruit from the trees, belongs to the Lord; it is holy to the Lord” (Leviticus 27:30).
The meaning of the word tithe is “a tenth part.” Ten percent was to be given back to God. There were freewill offerings, too, but the 10 percent was mandatory.
Proverbs 3:9 says, “Honor the Lord with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops.” God’s children give to Him first, not last.
When His children weren’t giving as they should, He said, “Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me. But you ask, ‘How do we rob you?’ In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse – the whole nation of you – because you are robbing me. Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house” (Malachi 3:8-10).
Jesus validated the mandatory tithe, even on small things (Matthew 23:23). But there’s no mention of tithing after the Gospels. It’s neither commanded nor rescinded, and there’s heated debate among Christians about whether tithing is still a starting place for giving.
I have mixed feelings on this issue. I detest legalism. I certainly don’t want to try to pour new wine into old wineskins, imposing superseded First Covenant restrictions on Christians. Every New Testament example of giving goes far beyond the tithe. However, none falls short of it.
There’s a timeless truth behind the concept of giving God our firstfruits. Whether or not the tithe is still the minimal measure of those firstfruits, I ask myself, Does God expect His New Covenant children to give less or more? Jesus raised the spiritual bar; He never lowered it (Matthew 5:27-28).
Maybe you believe exclusively in “grace giving” and disagree with the church fathers Origen, Jerome, and Augustine, who taught that the tithe was the minimum giving requirement for Christians. But it seems fair to ask, “God, do You really expect less of me – who has Your Holy Spirit within and lives in the wealthiest society in human history – than You demanded of the poorest Israelite?”
Nearly every study indicates that American Christians give on average between 2 and 3 percent of their income…Isn’t it troubling that in this wealthiest society, “grace giving” amounts to a small fraction of the First Covenant standard? Whatever we’re teaching about giving today, either it’s not true to Scripture, the message isn’t getting through, or we’re being disobedient.
The tithe is God’s historical method to get us on the path of giving. In that sense, it can serve as a gateway to the joy of grace giving. It’s unhealthy to view tithing as a place to stop, but it can still be a good place to start. (Even under the First Covenant it wasn’t a stopping place – don’t forget the freewill offerings.)
Tithing isn’t the ceiling of giving; it’s the floor. It’s not the finish line of giving; it’s just the starting blocks. Tithes can be the training wheels to launch us into the mind-set, skills, and habits of grace giving.
Malachi says that the Israelites robbed God by withholding not only their mandatory tithes but also their voluntary “offerings.” By giving less in their freewill offerings than He expected of them, they were robbing God. If they could rob God with insufficient freewill offerings, can’t we do the same today?
Paul encouraged voluntary giving, yet also described such giving as “obedience” (2 Corinthians 9:13). God has expectations of us, even when our offerings are voluntary. To give less than
He expects of us is to rob Him.
Of course, God doesn’t expect us all to give the same amount. We’re to give in proportion to how He’s blessed us (Deuteronomy 16:10, 16-17).
Some say, “We’ll take this gradually. We’re starting with 5 percent.” But that’s like saying, “I used to rob six convenience stores a year. This year, by His grace, I’m going to rob only three.”
The point is not to rob God less – it’s not to rob God at all.
True, some would be sacrificing more by giving 5 percent of their income than others would be by tithing or even giving 50 or 90 percent. Certainly the affluent should never “check off the box,” as if giving 10 percent automatically fulfills their obligation. The 90 percent belongs to God, too. He doesn’t look at just what we give. He also looks at what we keep.
I’ve had the privilege of interviewing many givers. In the great majority of cases they mention tithing as the practice that first stretched them to give more. They tithed and then watched God provide. They saw their hearts move deeper into His kingdom. Now, years later, they’re giving 60, 80, or even 95 percent of their incomes! But it was tithing that set them on the road to giving.
When God’s people were robbing Him by withholding tithes and offerings, He said, “Test me in this…and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it” (Malachi 3:10).
Ironically, many people can’t afford to give precisely because they’re not giving (Haggai 1:9-11). If we pay our debt to God first, then we will incur His blessing to help us pay our debts to men. But when we rob God to pay men, we rob ourselves of God’s blessing. No wonder we don’t have enough. It’s a vicious cycle, and it takes obedient faith to break out of it.
When people tell me they can’t afford to tithe, I ask them, “If your income was reduced by 10 percent would you die?” They say, “No.” And I say, “Then you’ve admitted that you can afford to tithe. It’s just that you don’t want to.”
I’m not saying that it’s easy to give. I’m saying – and there are thousands who will agree – that it’s much easier to live on 90 percent or 50 percent or 10 percent of your income inside the will of God than it is to live on 100 percent outside it.
Tithing is like a toddler’s first steps: They aren’t his last or his best steps, but they’re a good start. Once you learn to ride a bike, you don’t need the training wheels. Once you learn to give, tithing becomes irrelevant. And if you can ride the bike without ever using training wheels, good for you.
I have no problem with people who say “we’re not under the tithe,” just as long as they’re not using that as justification for giving less. But in my mind the current giving statistics among Christians clearly indicate most of us need a giving jump- start. If you find a gateway to giving that’s better than the tithe, wonderful. But if not, why not start where God started His First Covenant Children?
Randy Alcorn, The Treasure Principle: Unlocking the Secret of Joyful Giving (Colorado Springs: Multnomah Publishers, 2001), 61-‐67.