As we dig into 1 Timothy 6:17-19, and explore what it means to be generous in our current sermon series ‘Be Rich,’ maybe some of you are wondering about tithing? Maybe you are wondering how tithing fits in, or even whether tithing is expected of God’s people today?
The word ‘tithe’ literally means a ‘tenth part.’ In the Old Testament, God required his people to give a tithe, that is, 10% of their grain (Lev. 27:30), and of their “herds and flocks, every tenth animal” (Lev. 27:32), to support the work of God’s institution, the Temple. As such, the tithe was an important feature in how the Israelites worshiped God, and, in fact, in Malachi 3:8-10, the Israelites are said to be robbing God for failing to tithe!
But what about the New Testament? Is this still the case? Is 10% still required and expected? Or has Jesus clarified how we are to think about giving? Well, besides a few allusions (Luke 18:12; Heb. 7:3-10; cf. Matt. 23:23; Luke 11:42), nowhere in the New Testament, or even on the lips of Jesus, is the requirement to give a tithe or a tenth of one’s income imposed on Christian’s. But silence does not mean obsolescence. In fact, we must remember Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:17-20, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets (of which tithing is a part); I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”
In other words, Jesus is saying He has not abolished tithing, He has, rather, magnified it! In the same way that Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matthew 5:27-28) We can almost hear Jesus saying, “You have heard it said, ‘give a tithe of 10%,’ but I say to you…”
This is why, in light of what Jesus has done for us on the cross, the New Testament places the emphasis on generous, abundant, cheerful, giving (2 Cor. 9:6-11). Because in Christ, God has been abundantly, sacrificially, extravagantly, generous to us and so our only response is to be abundantly, sacrificially, extravagantly, generous to His people and to others! So, while the New Testament does not stipulate a fixed percentage or amount, it is hard to imagine, especially on this side of the cross, that God expects us to give any less than the 10% tithe of the Old Testament law. Rather, we are commanded to overflow in sacrificial, cheerful, disciplined, generosity to the local church (Acts 4:32-37; 1 Tim. 5:17-18; 1 Cor. 9:3-12; Gal. 6:6), to the poor (Matt. 25:35-45; Gal. 2:10; Jms. 2:15-17), to each other (Gal. 6:10; 1 John 3:17), even to our enemies (Luke 6:35)!
What this means is, as always, Jesus changes everything. Because of Christ, we should not think of giving as a mere duty, but as a glorious opportunity. In view of this reality, 10% should not be the goal or the ceiling of our giving, but rather we should continue to think through and plan out how we can afford to do more and give more with what God has entrusted to us. For the good of His people and the glory of His name.