Much confusion swirls around the topic of Christian giving. A majority of the problem rests in our understanding of God’s law. Some view the tithe as a religious relic belonging to the bygone era in which Israel was the focal point of God’s plan. As a result, they maintain that Christians are “free” and that they have no obligation to practice acts of charity. However, when one studies the whole of Scripture, and when one analyzes the teaching of Jesus, one will discover that giving has always been a practice that God desires of His people. In human history, our Lord has dealt with man according to three different forms of law. In each of these, He has desired that His people honor Him with a portion of their income.
The Moral Law
Some are hung-up on the idea that giving was only mandated under the Law God gave to Israel. They fail to see that God gave commands and instructions long before His chosen nation was established (Genesis 1:28-30 and 2:16-17). The Bible teaches that our Lord has a general, moral law that hangs over all of creation (Romans 2:15). Common sense and human conscience teach us that things like murder, adultery, stealing, and greed are off limits. We don’t need the law that the Jews received to know that these things are wrong. Giving and generosity are affected by this principle (Proverbs 3:9-10). Because He is a giving God, our God wants us to give. Stories from the life of Cain and Abel (Genesis 4:1-6), and Abraham too (Genesis 14:20), teach us that God wants people to be generous. The aforementioned people lived before the Mosaic Law, but they gave offerings. Some even practiced tithing!
The Mosaic Law
Under the Law of Moses, the law specially given to the nation of Israel, Jews were expected to tithe. Deuteronomy 14:22-23 instructed them, “Each year you are to set aside a tenth of all the produce grown in your fields. You are to eat a tenth of your grain, new wine, and fresh oil, and the firstborn of your herd and flock, in the presence of the Lord your God at the place where he chooses to have his name dwell, so that you will always learn to fear the Lord your God.” The top ten percent of an Israelite’s earnings were to go to the Lord. At times, the prophets had to rebuke the people for their failure in this area (Malachi 3:7-10).
The Master’s Law
Christians aren’t bound by the Mosaic Law, and they aren’t necessarily called to observe the Moral Law. They are told to live by the Great Commandment (Matthew 22:37-39), a commandment I like to call “the Master’s Law.” In this law, Jesus taught that we will naturally do what the Moral Law requires if we are faithful to set our affections on God and others (Matthew 22:40). Considering this reality makes us see that giving has a place in the Christian life. If Cain knew he was to give an offering to the Lord, and if Abraham tithed a tenth, shouldn’t we practice systematic generosity? Jesus taught that giving is a direct indicator of what we love (Matthew 6:21). He also flatly instructed His disciples to be generous givers (Luke 6:38 and Acts 20:35). If we really love Jesus as we ought, we will be compelled to practice charity. Make it your aim to be a giver!
Dr. Patrick Latham