God speaks a lot about money in the Bible and especially about giving to the poor. God says it is “more blessed to give than to receive” Acts 20:35. But, who should a Christian give to? The early churches distributed to the poor around them and the poorer in the church:
“Distributing to the necessity of saints; given to hospitality.” Romans 12:1
It was not about extravagance or high wages. 1 Timothy 3 says that pastors and leaders must not be covetous, lovers of money:
“A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach; Not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous…”.
Many pastors lay “a necessity” on their church members to give 10% of their entire income to the church, directly against what Jesus commands – that we must not “give out of necessity” and there should never be coercion, manipulation or trickery involved:
“Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver.” 2 Cor. 9:7
Other pastors go so far as to say that if you don’t give to their church then God will curse you (twisting the verse in Malachi 3:10 into a different meaning and entirely out of its context). This is an outright lie! The Bible does encourage generosity to the poor:
“The liberal soul shall be made rich: and he that waters shall be watered also himself.” Proverbs 11:25
Jesus said it is more blessed to give than to receive, however, what are the churches doing with the money that they receive? Are they giving back to the poor or needy among them or deceptively keeping it for themselves to purchase luxuries? “In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’” (Acts 20:35 NIV).
Surely, many leaders today are coercing others to give their money or even holding entire presentations on the “tithe” at the beginning of each church service. “Jesus said unto him, If you will be perfect, go and sell what you have, and give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me” Matthew 19:21. Jesus says here that we get “heavenly treasure” when we “give to the poor”. Where does church giving fall into the New Testament pattern? 1 Corinthians 16 says:
Collection for the Saints: “Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given orders to the churches of Galatia, so you must do also: On the first day of the week let each one of you lay something aside, storing up as he may prosper, that there be no collections when I come. And when I come, whomever you approve by your letters I will send to bear your gift to Jerusalem. But if it is fitting that I go also, they will go with me.”
It appears to me here that the collections were first of all “collected”, but not only collected – then they were “given as a gift”. What were they doing with that money collected? Does this say anything about 10% or a tithe (tithe means a tenth)? Acts 4:32 makes it clear that one goal of the early Christian church was to meet the financial needs of the poorerChristians among them! Also, meeting the needs of the pastor who gave up his life for the work of the gospel (not being able to make his own income because of his work for God) might be a Biblical concept (1 Cor. 9:18) though I am still researching this – even though the Apostle Paul did not do it. Remember, Paul was a tentmaker – he had a trade. Paul was very busy preaching and teaching but he still had his own income as a tentmaker:
“After these things he left Athens and went to Corinth. And he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, having recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome. He came to them, and because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them and they were working, for by trade they were tent-makers. And he was reasoning in the synagogue every Sabbath and trying to persuade Jews and Greeks.” Acts 18 (NASB)
“And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that any of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common” Acts 4. The financial contributions were not used to take on huge debt, by cars, planes or any other luxury item like supplying the pastor with a massive paycheck that was way beyond what was necessary or that was meant to contribute to the poorer Christians. Even “St. Paul” preached free of charge – he was not doing it for the money. However, how many churches are there today named “St. Paul” or “St. Peter”, etc….that command a “tithe” from their members using coercion, trickery and twisted scriptures – directly against the very words of St. Paul himself!!??
“What is my reward then? Verily that, when I preach the gospel, I may make the gospel of Christ without charge, that I abuse not my right in the gospel. For though I am free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more.” 1 Cor. 9:18,19.
The Apostle Paul was a servant. He preached out of love for people and not for financial gain. His heart was for people to get saved and to come to know Jesus! He did not have any greed in mind!
“Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit. On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, like men sent from God.” 2 Cor. 2:17 (NIV).
Paul loved people and was not thinking of himself: “We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves” Romans 15:1. Paul fed the people of God the truths of God at no charge: “And the Lord said, Who then is that faithful and wise steward, whom his lord shall make ruler over his household, to give them their portion of food at the proper time?” Luke 12:42. The apostles travelled around and preached everywhere: “And they, when they had testified and preached the word of the Lord, returned to Jerusalem, and preached the gospel in many villages of the Samaritans” Acts 8:25. They were busy for God, but not doing it for the money.
The Bible warns of greedy teachers and preachers in the last days who will lie (perhaps about the tithe! Or, tell you lies about God) to get your paycheck: “And through covetousness shall they with false words exploit you: whose judgment of old now lingers not, and their destruction slumbers not” 2 Peter 2:3. Verse 14 says, “Having eyes full of adultery, and that cannot cease from sin; beguiling unstable souls: a heart they have exercised with covetous practices; cursed children”.
Is the Old Testament “tithe” law for the New Testament Christian? Generosity is a New Testament principle – but who are we to give to?
Challenge: Search all the scriptures that say “tithe”. You will see that the “tithe” was food, herbs, oil, corn, etc. How many times is “tithe” mentioned in the New Testament?
A video on tithing manipulation:
The following is a three-part article on tithing:
- PART 1 – Origins & Development
- PART 2 – Principles of Christian giving
- PART 3 – Who should a Christian give to?
PART 1 – Origins & Development
By Rick Porritt
Tithing, or the giving of exactly one tenth of one’s increase to God in some manner, is certainly found in the Bible. But, as always, as Christians, our question shouldn’t be solely “Is it in the Bible?” but rather, “Is it something that is intended to be a practice of this New Covenant era?”
There are many things found in the Bible that have absolutely nothing to do with the age we now live in. For instance, in Leviticus, chapter 1, verses 14–17 we read an instruction of how to prepare a bird for a burnt offering. I personally do not doubt for one moment that this is a ‘biblical’ practice, so why don’t either you or I do it? Answer, because we understand that this was an instruction given to a particular group of people at a particular phase in God’s dealings with man but it has no place in this Covenant.
I do not wish to overlabour this topic so without further ado I will simply give a summary of the origin and development of ‘the tithe’ below. Afterward we can move on to look at much more relevant questions that concern the Spirit-born child of God living in the New Covenant era: “How should a Christian give?” & “Who should a Christian give to?” These will be considered in PARTS 2 and 3 of this article.
The first mention of tithing in the Bible comes in the book of Genesis (as do so many ‘first mentions’). The book of Genesis covers many centuries of human history and can itself be broken down into several distinct eras, but the most relevant point to our subject is simply this: it deals with a time before the Mosaic (Old) Covenant came into being. The first mention of tithing had nothing to do with any special ‘covenant’ (agreement) that God had made with anyone. It was an entirely spontaneous, willing gesture on the part of a godly man (Abraham), which came out of a pure desire to express his, love, devotion and thankfulness to God for a mighty deliverance.
“And Melchizedek king of Salem brought forth bread and wine: and he was the priest of the most high God. And he blessed him, and said, Blessed be Abram of the most high God, possessor of heaven and earth: And blessed be the most high God, which hath delivered thine enemies into thy hand. And he gave him tithes of all.” (Gen 14:18-20)
No one told Abraham he had to do this or how much to give to Melchizedek. He decided himself that that was what he wanted to do. He never asked for anything in return or stated that he was making a new rule for his descendants. Whether or not Melchizedek even had any practical need of the offering is not mentioned. Being as he was ‘king’ as well as ‘priest’ of Salem I some how doubt it. It seems that ‘need’ was not the uppermost factor but rather Abraham did this simply because he wanted to express how thankful he was to the Lord.
The next mention
In stark contrast to Abraham’s spontaneous and generous gesture the next person who is mentioned in relation to the subject of tithing is Jacob. He had a very different approach to that of his grandfather Abraham.
“And Jacob vowed a vow, saying, If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat, and raiment to put on, So that I come again to my father’s house in peace; then shall the LORD be my God: And this stone, which I have set for a pillar, shall be God’s house: and of all that thou shalt give me I will surely give the tenth unto thee.” (Gen 28:20 – 22)
What a cheek! Fancy saying to God, the Lord God Almighty, Maker and Owner of the entire universe… “If you do your bit God I’ll give you a cut – how’s ten percent suit you!?” Jacob may have been chosen and elect according to God’s purposes but that didn’t mean that he didn’t have an awful lot to learn about his Maker at this particular juncture of his life. Jacob, descendant of Abraham and Isaac, a man destined to become ‘Israel’, the embodiment of a nation, may well have set a precedent here. What we shall see next is that when God made a covenant with Israel (the nation) He insisted that they keep to the bargain made by their father.
Tithing becomes an established law in Israel
Following the establishment of the Mosaic covenant right through to the final book of the Old Testament there are many references to tithing. It was established by God as one of the commandments, along with many others, for the duration of the Old Covenant period.
“And all the tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land, or of the fruit of the tree, is the LORD’S: it is holy unto the LORD…. These are the commandments, which the LORD commanded Moses for the children of Israel in mount Sinai.” (Lev 27:30 & 34)
We know that at times the nation failed to fulfil its obligations in this, which resulted in God holding back His blessings to them (e.g. see Malachi 3:7-11). This certainly makes me think once again of Jacob’s ‘bargain’ with God. It seems that the Lord took it seriously.
Is it confirmed in the New?
The above is the briefest of surveys of the origins and development of tithing in the Bible. Now we come to the important question for Christians (not Old Covenant Jews) living in today’s age; are we expected to continue to tithe? The New Testament mentions the subject of tithing in just two contexts. I’ll refer to them both:
1. Mat 23:23 & Lu 11:42 – the same context
The above two references both relate to an occasion (probably the same occasion) when Jesus was upbraiding some religious hypocrites. The Pharisees and Scribes loved to pay close attention to all manner of little rules and observances in a pedantic way and yet at the same time they had bypassed things as important as justice, mercy and faith. Jesus didn’t tell them not to pay their tithes but that they should get things in perspective. The important thing that we must realise is that this was still the Old Covenant period. Never think that the gospel records are recounting a period in time that belongs to the New Covenant. The New Covenant hadn’t yet been made. The New Testament testifies that this covenant was made in Jesus’ blood and Jesus hadn’t at that time died. It was quite right for these folk to continue to observe the tithing laws (though I am not sure that they were intended to go as far as tithing from their kitchen herb garden!). Jesus Himself kept all the Law of Moses but we are not under that covenant and not under that law.
2. Heb 7:5 -9
The only other mention of ‘tithes’ and ‘tithing’ in the New Testament is a retrospective explanation, in the seventh chapter of the book of Hebrews, concerning things that belonged to the Old Covenant. I’ll leave you to read the passage but it is quite simply a teaching about priesthood and relates to Abraham, Melchizedek and the Levites. It has nothing at all to do with instructions to New Testament believers.
Hence, there is no ‘commandment’ to tithe in the New Testament, no example of any Christian tithing and the only mention of the subject is in the clear context of Old Covenant people and practices.
In summary thus far
- Abraham first gave a tithe offering as a spontaneous thank you to God.
- Jacob (who no doubt had heard of this occasion) decided to try to ‘strike a deal’ with God on this basis.
- God, when giving the Old Covenant law to Jacob’s descendants included tithing as a part of that covenant.
- Coming to the New Testament we do not find any command, or even hint, that this is what God is wanting from His people today.
Let not the reader think therefore that there is no expectation of Christians giving of their substance (in some manner) to God. The systematic offering of a given ‘percentage’ is indeed nowhere to be found in the pages of the New Testament but it none-the-less has plenty to say about the subject of ‘giving’. I don’t just mean our time, our efforts etc. it is clear that we are to give of our material goods, but we need to see what are the principles that govern New Testament Christian giving.
The Tithe – 10% of one’s income – A command from God or manipulation from man?
Part II = Principals of Christian Giving
We saw in Part one of this article that tithing, in the strictest sense of having to give one tenth of our ‘increase’ (that means monetary earnings for most of us), is not an obligation that anyone is under in this New Testament era. However, giving of our substance and increase in some way is most certainly an expected standard practice for all Christians. Jesus said, “When you give…” not “if”. The difference between tithing and Christian giving is not merely one of percentages; rather it is all a question of heart. In the second part of this article I want to answer this simple question: “How should a Christian give?” In other words, what is the heart of this matter all about?
How should a Christian give?
All New Testament references (and there are many) that in any way mention the topic of Christian giving never specify actual amounts. When we read such passages we find that instead the focus is consistently placed upon the heart with which we give. The reason for this should be obvious to those who know and love God. The New Covenant is a covenant whereby we are made sons (and daughters in a broad sense) of the living and loving heavenly Father. He wants us to be living, loving, caring and committed sons who are ever growing in His likeness. For this is His will and desire. God does not find any pleasure in mere mathematical devotees. The very idea of bringing into a life of sonship (for that is what this Covenant is all about) formal rules concerning our giving is the exact opposite of a relationship founded and built upon love. Love by very definition has to be expressed in some way spontaneously from the heart. It cannot be properly expressed by mechanical fulfilment of obligations. So what does our Father want from his sons who love him? To be like Him of course, in all His goodness and character; the Lord is kind, He is gracious, He is giving, generous and often surprises us with His so perfect gifts. I suggest that this is what God wants us to be like in our giving.
I realise of course that there are more things we can all give than simply money and goods. We can give of our time, our strength and prayers etc. Much of the heart principles I am about to mention can equally be applied to our giving in these other ways. However, we must not be turned from the fact that one of the ways in which we should be giving is quite basically of our material goods/money. The New Testament mentions this topic in many instances. Six ‘hows’ of our giving have emerged as I have briefly thought on some of these passages. No doubt the list could be lengthened but we will just look at these six.
“Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver.” (2Cor 9:7)
‘Willingness’ and ‘cheerfulness’ are clearly linked together. If I give something solely because I feel pressured into doing so it is unlikely that I am going to be overly cheerful about such an act. Genuine obligation is one thing, and every one who names the name of Christ should fulfil his necessary obligations in all areas of life, but being pressurized into doing something will not cause people to feel great joy in their giving. The Christian who walks after the Spirit and not after the flesh will never coerce people into giving their money for anything. Never allow your will to be subject to men’s persuasions on this matter. It is not the place of any man or woman to endeavour to bend your will in this way. We must be subject to the Will of God and when He Wills that we should give this or that and we do so in obedience to the promptings of the Holy Spirit we will find there a great deal of cheerfulness. I am not saying that we must always experience some ‘special’ prompting from the Lord before ever we give anything. Giving in this sense is a general command. Therefore each one that is born of God should find an inborn ‘willingness’ and desire just to give.
Much is preached about giving our all, and I say Amen to that, but if you do not find an honest willingness and joy in giving much then I think it is better to either give a little or even not at all. Such would be better than to render oneself miserable thinking it to be the more spiritual thing to do. Of course, if you do not find it within you to give willingly and cheerfully in any instance then it is time to question whether you really have the Spirit of the Father dwelling in you!
“Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven. Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth: That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly.” (Mat 6:1-4)
I realise that there are occasions when for purely practical reasons we can’t always give anonymously, but God sees our hearts. I would suggest that as far is sensibly possible we should try to give in absolute secret but where we cannot for some practical or security reason (e.g. cash in the mail is not always a good idea) then just make it as low key as possible. No great fuss, no great announcement that you’re going to do such and such, just pass it on in as quiet a way as possible. Never take a thought for whether such and such knows about your generous contribution. Never be concerned with pleasing or impressing men. If you act out of this motive you will lose all heavenly reward. The approval of our heavenly Father alone is all we need seek. One day the Lord will make plainly known all those whom He takes pleasure in. It is interesting to note from Matthew 6 how that prayer, fasting and giving are all governed by some common principles. In summary of those principles it is: without fuss, from the hidden depths of the heart, unto God alone.
Generously & Unselfishly
“But this I say, He which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully.” (2 Cor 9:6)
Here we have one of the most twisted and abused Scriptures on the subject of Christian giving. The above quote (and similar) being made out by some to be saying, “If you want to be rich in this world’s goods this is the way to do it!” Thus reversing the principle of Christian giving from a heart of love and selflessness and making it a formula for looking out for one’s self! This is ghastly!
However, let’s be wary of ‘the law of reaction’. Every twisted and perverted use of Scripture usually contains some element (greater or lesser) of truth. If it didn’t the devil would have a more difficult time getting a foothold in the minds of the saints with such ideas. There is a ‘law’ in God’s universe that “that which a man sows he shall also reap.” This law applies to many things and should be understood first and foremost in the context of our either walking after the Spirit or walking after the flesh but that does not mean that this same principle does not come down even into the realms of very natural things, it does. Without doubt you and I will never out-give God in our generosity. As I once heard it put “he is embarrassingly generous to us.” Just never think that a valid reason for ‘giving’ is just so that you can receive more in the realm of material wealth. Such a thought is perverse.
There is another aspect here, which is ‘under the surface’ so to speak. Excuse the pun but I am referring to the reference in the above quotation to sowing and therefore to ‘seed’. Jesus said, “Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.” (John 12:24). When we act in an unselfish way it brings forth life in others. The seed dies (gives itself completely) but something far greater comes forth from it. Your $10 gift, which was a real pinch to give, may seem more like a thousand to the recipient. I don’t just mean in monetary value. There can be inestimable fruit in someone’s spiritual blessing when they are the recipients of God’s provision through another believer. The ‘sowing’ and ‘seed’ principle are wholly opposite to the idea of giving in order to reap for ourselves an increased harvest of this world’s goods!
“So likewise ye, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do.” (Luke 17:10)
“We are unprofitable servants!” As we have just seen, we do not ‘do’ in order to be rewarded. We do not give to receive. We are bought with a price. We are not our own but the Lord’s and so is everything that He has richly blessed us with. When we give we give of our Master’s possessions not our own. We are stewards of everything that God puts in our charge. “As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.” (1Pe 4:10). In view of the associations with stewardship in this matter we could add to our list of words ‘cautiously’. We do need to be wise with what we do with our Master’s belongings. But we have more than just a servant/Master relationship with our God, “He has given us all things richly to enjoy.” We therefore may enjoy what God has given us but always with recognition that we are also stewards of it but when we give it must always be without any expectation to receive again.
Last but not least in this article we must answer the intensely practical question of “to whom do we give?” Or, “to what?” This will be answered in the third and final part of this series.
Part III – Who should a Christian give to? The poor? The church?
Our considerations in this series couldn’t be complete without seeking to answer the obvious question of who/what should we give our money to? Looking into the pages of the New Testament it seems to me that there are three categories into which our giving falls.
1. The poor – generally
“Therefore when thou doest thine alms…” (Mat 6:2)
“Now after many years I came to bring alms to my nation…” (Acts 24:17)
The word ‘alms’ by very definition means to give help to the poor. I think we all know what qualifies essentially as ‘poor’. We all need food, water, clothing and shelter whatever our country, culture, religious and political beliefs. I think that this area of our giving should be ‘without partiality’. In the Old Testament there was a particular obligation to look out for the stranger (foreigner). Such would not have necessarily been ‘Jews’ religiously speaking. I don’t think it matters what ‘persuasion’ someone is of; if they haven’t got the absolute basics of life then they qualify for our care. Showing such care and compassion in this way is as good a way as any to ‘preach’ the Gospel too. Who knows how much eternal good as well as temporal may come from simply giving to those who have basic human need?
Jesus said, “the poor you will have with you always.” We mustn’t become fixated on the idea of saving the world from poverty. That will not happen in a complete way until the Lord returns when He will put all things in their proper order but we can do something of good in this realm. Also, we do need to be wise about distinguishing between the genuine poor and the fraudsters! Some of the people who beg for help are sometimes better off than the people they hope to receive from. In some cases (often through the Internet) those who are soliciting help are involved in serious organised crime. (Beware if you receive emails from unknown persons asking for your assistance in some financial matter – no matter how plausible the story!). We must try to make our best judgement between the genuine poor and those who are mere abusers of people’s consciences. But don’t worry if you think you may have got it wrong – God knows our hearts. “Be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.”
2. Christian need – specifically
“As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith.” (Gal 6:10)
“…distributing to the necessity of saints…” (Romans 12:13)
The Church is a family. As much as the love of God is in us for all our fellow man there is also something more we have for our families. This is not ungodly partiality, we are told plainly in the New Testament to especially look out for our brothers and sisters in Christ. When we become Christians, for many people, (for various reasons humanly speaking) there is a weakening of natural family ties and in some cases the Christian is completely disowned by his family. For this reason there is a compensation factor in God’s heavenly economy here on earth. “There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake, and the gospel’s, but he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands…” (Mark 10:29,30). How can we receive a hundredfold the amount of brothers or sisters we lost? How do we become owners of so many houses? Simply by being a part of a new family, one that shares all that it has amongst its own and through the hospitality which all of the saints of God are called to – a ministry for all. Of course our Heavenly Father could provide all these things for us individually but what delight He has in seeing His children care for one another in such a way.
Acts 2:44 and 4:32 speak of believers having all things “in common.” Read these passages carefully and you will see that it is not talking of ‘communal living’, as in all living permanently in one big house together, but it is showing us plainly that we must treat our possessions as the communal belongings of the household of faith. When you were baptised into His Body, the Church, (by a spiritual baptism – 1 Cor 12:13) you became married to a million and more people all at once! Blood may be ‘thicker than water’ but ‘spirit is thicker than blood!’ – Hallelujah, I love this family of God! We have a family responsibility to look out for one another in every respect.
3. The work of the Gospel / The local church
“Have I committed an offence in abasing myself that ye might be exalted, because I have preached to you the gospel of God freely? I robbed other churches, taking wages of them, to do you service. And when I was present with you, and wanted, I was chargeable to no man: for that which was lacking to me the brethren which came from Macedonia supplied: and in all things I have kept myself from being burdensome unto you, and so will I keep myself.” (2 Cor. 11:7-9).
First and foremost it must be stated that there are no ‘professionals’ in God’s Church, only bondservants. The use of the word ‘wage’ in the above quote does not literally mean ‘regular salary’ any more than ‘robbed’ can be taken literally! But what we do see here is that those who are appointed by God (here we must learn to discern) to minister in such a way that does not always permit them to be about normal work are worthy of our support. However, we also read that the apostle Paul renounced this support if ever it was liable to hinder the gospel: Acts 18:3, 21:34, 1 Thes 2:5-9
In the above quote we see that this support came from churches and the brethren. I am uncertain as to whether or not the latter (the brethren) is being used in this case synonymously with the churches or if it denotes individual Christians who gave as they were led to the apostle? I’d like to think it is the latter but in either case there is no stated constraint that we must only give in this way via the local church. This brings us to the next consideration within the context of giving for the work of the gospel…
Concerning church collections
The opening portion of 1 Corinthians 16 speaks of a church collection. However, this particular instance would not be a correct foundation for teaching that every local church must have an ongoing collection. It is clear here that the subject here is a specific collection for a specific need. It would though seem quite reasonable to conclude from other Scriptures in the New Testament that each local church did have some sort of fund. The above quote clearly states that various churches had been contributing to Paul’s needs, materially speaking. Also, the fifth chapter of 1 Timothy speaks of two more possible money needs in a local church: widows who were otherwise not provided for and elders who were labouring in such a way that meant they did not have so much time to cater for their own needs. I do not want to commence addressing these issues; I simply mention them as evidence for churches having some funds. (* See footnote below line for more on the subject of elders being paid.)
A church fund therefore implies that the believers gave into it (no New Testament church ever went on a money raising campaign!). I cannot imagine that such monies were gathered by means of passing a collection bowl/plate/whatever. To collect money in this way would to my mind contravene the simple principles that we looked at in the second part of this article. People may feel compelled to give if they are handed some receptacle in the midst of a meeting. I have little doubt, I am sad to say, that that is exactly the plan in many places that people call ‘churches’ the world over! God’s people do not need to ask, beg or compel. A discretely placed receptacle for those who want to find it would allow anyone who wants to give in accordance with the principles of willingness and discretion.
In respect of answering the question, “how should the local churches use their funds?” we have essentially summed this up already: It should be used for the support of those who are called of God for His work in such a manner that detracts from their normal ability to provide for all of their own needs and for essential social need within (e.g. widows without any other provision). No doubt we could include alms giving generally too. There are doubtless many permutations of things that fit roughly into these three categories.
Finally, a thought about what a New Testament church did not consume its money on. I would guess that the vast majority of what is paid into the coffers of most churches these days is used to pay for a ‘church building’ (be it owned or hired) and a salaried ‘minister’ (or more than one even). From long, honest and close study of the pages of the New Testament I am utterly convinced that neither such scenario existed during the 60 years of the Church covered by the Inspired Book we call The New Testament. Churches always met in their homes and never hired ministers. There is no hint anywhere that the established apostolic practices and methods of operating as churches were to be changed. I’m afraid if we step outside of these divinely given examples in one area then we will be immediately en-route to having to change God’s standards elsewhere too in order to accommodate our unbiblical practices. (* See footnote below again for link to ‘His Church’- a study of the New Testament pattern for the Church.)
Conclusions to all 3 parts of this article
Abraham gave a tithe as a willing, spontaneous gesture from his heart. Jacob ‘bargained’ with God in a more calculating way. Tithing, in the proper sense of the word (giving 10% of all increase), later became a ‘legal’ requirement under the Old Testament. It was not carried forward as a condition of the New.
Christians, by virtue of the indwelling Spirit of God, will want to give. It is an anticipated response to the love of God being shed abroad in our hearts. We are never told in the New Testament how much to give. We are told that our giving should be done: willingly, cheerfully, secretly, generously, unselfishly and unconditionally.
We should give to: the poor generally, to the needs of our fellow Christians specifically and the work of the Gospel. The latter being such persons who are the genuine ministers of Christ who live worthy lives of faith. The concept of the salaried ‘church professional’ is unbiblical. We should give to the local church’s collection, which can also be used in support of all three categories above.
A final thought
This series has been looking at the broad principles involved in Christian giving. I have on a few occasions touched very briefly on the subject from the perspective of those who may be the recipients of such gifts. In summary of this I would like to offer the following food for thought. No Christian or church or so-called Christian organisation should ever ask anyone for money to support their ministry. The genuine works of God never require us to beg, borrow or solicit the financial help of men. Paul may have (?) made known that others had need (the poor in Jerusalem) and may have (?) made request on their behalf (such could be thought from reading between the lines of various New Testament passages?) but he did not appeal to anyone for his own needs and he only collected for the poor in Jerusalem from other Christians not the unconverted.
Giving to the work of God is our privilege, we can be partakers of a meaningful ministry in this way but we must never think that God needs the money! The Lord owns “the cattle upon a thousand hills.” If the work is from Him (and all else is eternally worthless) He will somehow, through someone or something provide for the needs.
“God’s work, done in God’s way, never lacks God’s supply.”