Is giving different in the New Testament than it was in the Old? In previous writings, I’ve talked about the fact that Christians are no longer required to tithe, as they were under the Old Testament Levitical law. Not just tithing, but other areas of religious practice differ, as well, such as keeping the Sabbath, practicing circumcision as the mark of the covenant, and attending Jewish feasts, just to name a few. Those things were never taught in the New Testament, nor were they practiced in the early Church. Yet, throughout history, those teachings, or variations of them, seem to keep creeping back into the Church.
It was several centuries after the inception of the Church that tithing was first taught as a means of Church support. Initially taught and debated during the early Christian Ecumenical Councils (such as the Council of Tours in 567), and then later developed as a mandatory system of support for bishops and clergy under Charlemagne, “Charles the Great” in 771, tithing actually became a legal tax during that time.
It all sort of makes sense. After all, the Church certainly needs money to operate – at least the way we do it today. So why not require Church members to tithe? After all, does God not encourage us to give? He does but not as a legal requirement under law. The New Testament/New Covenant never mandated tithing – and there was a reason for that. Simply put, tithing places people back under the Old Testament Law and nullifies the grace of God. Let me explain…
In the Old Testament, the tithe was God’s way of supporting the tribe of Levi and the nation of Israel. The Levities were not only called to minister to the Lord, but to govern and regulate the life of Israel. They served as lawyers, judges, physicians, law enforcers, arbitrators, peace makers, and of course, butchers at the temple. Today, most of those duties are performed through various levels of government, supported by our tax dollars.
The Church was never directed to support those types of services. Also, as far as ministering to the Lord goes, every born again believer is called to serve as a priest in the kingdom of God. (See 1 Peter 2:9.) Contrast that to the Old Testament, where an entire tribe of Israel (one of twelve) was commissioned to minister unto the Lord and to carry out the other duties mentioned above. The old system of having one person or a select group of people paid to minister to the Lord was never taught nor directed in the Church. Every Christian was (and is) called to minister to the Lord, not just pastors and Church leaders. So tithing, as a way of supporting a religious order of worship, was eliminated in the New Testament. Instead, the New Covenant establishes new guidelines for giving. I think of these as the “Grace of Giving.”
Because we are no longer required to give, that doesn’t mean we should stop. That is not the message of the New Testament, but pastors who teach on tithing have found that if they stop teaching on tithing, people quite giving. When we stop giving, these pastors tell us, we are robbing God, according to Malachi 3:8. From a New Testament perspective, however, we are robbing ourselves of His blessing. Jesus said in Luke 6:38, “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.” Giving is a spiritual law of the universe that applies to everyone. It doesn’t matter if you are a Jew, a Greek, a Christians, or even a non-Christians, the principle of giving applies to all of us.
As believers, we are directed to give generously to the work of the Lord. The question is, how much should we give and for what? The New Testament addresses three areas that Christians are encouraged to support financially through their giving. Let’s take a look at what they are…
Christian workers. “So also the Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel.” (1 Cor. 9:14 NASB) Every believer is called to serve the Lord, but not every believer is called into full-time service. The apostle Paul wrote those instructions, even though he himself worked as a bi-vocational minister of the gospel. He often made tents to provide for personal needs, so he could preach the gospel free of charge. My wife and I have served in both full-time and by-vocational ministry. I can tell you from experience, bi-vocational ministry can be difficult and challenging. It’s like working two jobs at once. The demand can be pretty difficult. When it comes to being paid for full-time ministry, a lot depends on the individual circumstances, the ability of the person to work outside of the ministry, and the demand of time and responsibility placed on them by the ministry. Often young pastors want to be supported full-time while beginning a church or some other type of ministry. That, however, is usually an unrealistic goal. An elderly pastor once told me that his advice to young ministers was to stay gainfully employed – until such time that the demand from ministry made it impossible. Having said that, there does come a time when financial support is needed to carry out the call to ministry. None of us would go to work every day for a “pat on the back.” Again, the laborer is worth of his hire. (I suggest you read 1 Corinthians 9 for further instructions in this area.)
Missionary support. Money is vital to the spread of the gospel. Jesus commissioned His followers to “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen. (Matthew 28:18-20) That commission still applies to us today – and by the way, not just to those who feel called to go. Every Christian is called to participate in the Great Commission, and one way we can do so is by giving. I haven’t met any wealthy missionaries. Most of them live a sacrificial lifestyle depending upon the support of others to continue the work of pioneering the kingdom.
Care for the poor, needy, widows and orphans. In 2 Corinthians 8 and 9, the apostle Paul writes about giving to the needs of the saints in Jerusalem. The believers in Jerusalem had suffered great hardships for the sake of the gospel. Many were ostracized from the Jewish community for believing in Jesus. Paul and others sought to raise financial help for those believers by taking up offerings from believers in other locations. As the body of Christ, we are all asked to share in caring for the needs of one another, as well as the poor. The believers in Corinth were challenged to give and to help provide financial support for the needs of their brothers and sisters in Jerusalem. These were people they never met and probably would never meet this side of heaven. Yet, they were asked to share their burden through giving. Today, the Church has often shirked this responsibility, expecting the government to supply those needs. Instead, offerings are often used to pay for buildings, maintenance costs, and additional staff – with little left to care for the needs of others. Yet, the Bible has always stressed the importance of caring for the poor and those in need, along with widows and orphans.
The early Church was all about people – reaching the lost, making disciples, and caring for the needy – while extending the kingdom of God. Learning to love and care for one another was an important theme among the early Christians. To support the gospel and those who are set apart to proclaim it, we need to learn to give generously to God’s work.
When my wife and I first became Christians, deacons visited our home and challenged us to give a tenth of our income to the local church. I thought those men were crazy. After all, we were barely getting by with what we were earning. However, their visit launched me into searching the Scriptures to see what God said about money. Through that, I learned about the importance of giving and the rewards of doing so. God loves cheerful givers who understand that blessing comes in proportion to our generosity. (As a man sows, so will he reap…) Over the years, we have been obedient to give as we are led. This has meant giving a minimum of ten percent, but often much more. In doing so, we have experienced the blessing of sowing and reaping. Pat Robertson, CEO of Regent University and founder of the Christian Broadcast Network says it this way. “Give only the amount that you want to be blessed.” When it comes to giving, we can never out give the Lord!