How much of my income should I give to God?
Recently I was asked by someone not from our church, “How much of my income should I give to God?”
This is a wonderful question - and by the way, it is the right question to ask. It also demonstrates spiritual growth and a heart to please and honour the Lord.
I did my best to address their "tithing" question with the following comments:
All about the heart
Firstly, the idea of tithing is probably less of a concern to God than the motive in your heart when you give. In times past, much emphasis was placed upon 10% as the figure we should give to God and to His work of ministry. That was certainly true with respect to the Old Testament Law - when people were expected to tithe their income, crops, livestock, property (blessings), and to give God a percentage of all they had. In principle, that is appropriate and good.
God empowers us to be generous
Secondly, when you read the New Testament, you find that the emphasis has moved from a legalistic commitment to 10%, to an altogether different approach with respect to giving. When Paul writes to the church in Corinth (in 2 Corinthians 9:5), he puts it this way: "Therefore I thought it necessary to exhort the brethren to go to you ahead of time, and before your generous gift beforehand, which you had previously promised, that it may be ready as a matter of generosity and not a grudging obligation."
Paul puts the emphasis on generosity. At the end of verse 6 he says that "God loves a cheerful giver" - but notice he makes no reference to any kind of percentage. He writes: "But this I say: 'He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work."
In other words, God loves a cheerful giver who is generous - and God loves it when He sees that we give generously out of what He has blessed us with.
Blessed to be a blessing
But not only so: In the third place, Paul makes it clear that the very reason God blesses us with income is so that we can bless others – so we will have enough for "every good work" - that is, enough to give in helping/for the benefit of others.
Now of-course we have to live. So I am not saying that we give all of our income to the Lord and leave our children starving. The Bible makes it clear that he who does not provide for his family is worse than an unbeliever (1 Timothy 5:8). Clearly that is not what Paul is saying in Second Corinthians chapter nine. What he is saying is that we are to think of everything we have as belonging to God. It has been entrusted to us. But we are to also look at what we have and give generously out of what we have, trusting God to provide all of our needs because He is faithful.
In fact, 10% is simply a starting point - because we are actually expected to give everything to God. That is, all that we have and all that we are belong to Him. So I tell Christians that, yes, God does expect us to be faithful and consistent is our giving: when you make money, you give generously to God out of what you make (that is, to His work of ministry locally and globally).
The biblical principle seems to be one of generosity (sacrifice) and gratitude (thanksgiving): we give out of loving gratitude to God for His most wonderful gift. Paul states: "Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!" What is that gift? The gift of Christ and the salvation He purchased for each of us through His sacrificial death on the cross.
So, what am I saying with respect to the question that was asked?
God wants willing generosity from the heart (compare these helpful verses which speak to a heart attitude: Exodus 35:5; 1 Chronicles 29:9; Deuteronomy 16:17). He is less interested in the size of the check and more interested in the balance. He looks on the heart and measures the gift by the willing sacrifice being made from a generous heart rather than by the amount given.
Generosity has nothing to do with the amount given; it has everything to do with the proportion. The Pharisees who gave large sums of money were considered stingy because their gifts represented a small proportion of what God had blessed them with. They also often loved to be seen to give.
By way of contrast, remember the humble widow in the temple who gave so little in terms of an amount of money. She gave the equivalent of a couple of cents. But what did Jesus say concerning her gift? “He looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the treasury, and He saw also a certain poor widow putting in two mites. So He said, ‘Truly I say unto you that this poor widow has put in more than all; for all these out of their abundance have put in offerings for God, but she out of her poverty put in all the livelihood that she had.’” Her gift was a generous, costly sacrifice.
There are certain things you and I have seen proven over and over again throughout our lifetime as Christians:
- God is a good, gracious and giving God. The word agape, which describes God’s love, means “self-giving.” His love toward us is a self-giving Love, which is the kind of love we are called upon to express in our giving – both to God and to others.
- You can never out-give God. In Psalm 50, the Psalmist makes it clear that he would not tell his need to anyone but God – afterall, God is the One Who “owns the cattle on a thousand hills.” The apostle asks, “Who has ever given to God that God should repay him?” (Romans 11:35). God will never be in your debt or mine. He has given us all good things to enjoy and does not rob His children.
- God is always faithful to provide our needs. Even when things have been “on the edge” and seemingly desperate at times, God has never failed to bring us through it with food enough, clothes to wear and a roof over our heads.
Suffering loss and going without is certainly part of life and sometimes a chosen way of life for Christians serving God in various contexts across the world.
The “wealth-health” teaching of some is false teaching. The motive of “giving to get” contradicts the biblical principle and pattern for giving. We give out of gratitude to God for His grace and mercy and out of love for all that He has done for us. And God takes care of His children.
One additional thought: the opposite of generosity is greed and the opposite of worship is idolatry. Greed leads to idolatry. Indeed, greed is idolatry (see Colossians 3:5), which simply means that the love of money becomes the source of our comfort, taking the rightful place of God Who is intended to be our Source of total comfort and security. Any object (or even a person) in which we find our true comfort other than God, is a substitute (counterfeit) for God. That is why the scriptures constantly encourage us to avoid counterfeit gods – and to find our joy and security in God alone. Jesus Himself told us that we could never serve (worship) both God and man. Many try, but our hearts are such that it is impossible. We can only love one.
Giving is actually a gift!
God has blessed us so that we can give and by so doing, reveal the heart of God in an expression of sacrifice – that is, an act of generosity from the heart. It cost God everything to send His Son and Jesus everything to go to the cross in obedience to God the Father. When we give from the heart, we are demonstrating our likeness to the heart of God because our God is a giving God.
So, all that to say, there is no set amount required – you must decide in your heart what to give, remembering that all you have is His and all you have you owe to Him.
While the tithe is passé as a concept because it is not endorsed in the New Testament and the teachings of Jesus, you could think of it as a guideline. For example, Robert Gilmour LeTourneau who is famous for designing and making earth- moving equipment, began by giving 10% of his income to the Lord. Then later in his life, when his business was successful, he gave 90% and lived off the remaining 10%.
Some Christians choose to give a percentage of their gross income to the Lord’s work. Others may decide to give out of their net earnings. Then, when their tax return comes at the end of the financial year, they give back to the Lord once again out of the refunded money. They may even decide to give the entire tax refund to the Lord.
Regardless of the approach you decide to take, God’s Word challenges us to give out of a generous, cheerful, sacrificial heart of devotion. That is the kind of heart He loves – and when it becomes the pattern of your life and mine to give in this way, it will bring glory to God and fill us with the kind of joy that comes from giving back to God.