Tithes, Gifts, and Offerings Oh! My!

money

The United States as a country that consistently ranks at the top of the list of most generous countries and rightfully so since America is also one of the most wealthy countries in the world. Americans give freely for all kinds of causes and plights the world over.

The city of Corinth was an economic hub and a wealthy city so it should be expected then that this church would be called upon to support their brothers and sisters in other less prosperous areas like Jerusalem. Christians in Israel when the church was founded faced an enormous personal cost to conversion. They could be removed from the Jewish Synagogue as well as from the marketplace. The other Churches had an obligation to support their fellow church members. Paul at the end of his letter to the Corinthians organizes a fundraiser and envoy to present the donation to the hurting members of the fellow church.

Regarding the relief offering for poor Christians that is being collected, you get the same instructions I gave the churches in Galatia. Every Sunday each of you make an offering and put it in safekeeping. Be as generous as you can. When I get there you’ll have it ready, and I won’t have to make a special appeal. Then after I arrive, I’ll write letters authorizing whomever you delegate, and send them off to Jerusalem to deliver your gift. If you think it best that I go along, I’ll be glad to travel with them. 1 Corinthians 16:1-4 MSG

So what is the obligation of a believer in regard to “being as generous” as one can? I will first speak on perspective when giving and then follow up by defining tithes and offerings.

Offerings are gifts that an individual decides to give that are completely personal between themselves and God. Rick Warren a pastor of a large church wrote a bestselling book. This book made him rich. So between himself and God he felt led to do something bold. He paid his church back every dollar of salary he had ever taken and then decided that he only wanted or needed to keep 10% of the income from his book sales. Rick Warren in effect gave away more than 90% of his income. There is no law, rule, expectation, or biblical mandate that he do such a thing but he meets the challenge of Paul to be as generous as one can be. But most importantly he did this with humbleness, gratefulness, and joy. It was not imposed on him and he did not do this out of some sense of duty. He did it simply because he wanted to do it. While that is an extreme example there are many everyday people who give generously in this way but keep quiet because it is a personal offering between them and God.

7 Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 2 Corinthians 9:7 ESV

The second thing we must know about the collection Paul was asking for is that this was an offering above and beyond the individual’s duty to support the local church. Typically in current Christian culture this support is called a tithe and it is the first 10% given to the church to support the local community of believers. So how is the tithe different than a gift and offering? The Tithe is an Old Testament law that demanded 10% of the first fruit of, income, crop, or cattle. God asked for the first and best of whatever was earned. (God is right to ask for this since it is by his grace and mercy that there is any crop at all. Giving back in this way is a formal way to honor and acknowledge that God is in control of all things)

“Every tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land or of the fruit of the trees, is the Lord’s; it is holy to the Lord. Leviticus 27:30 ESV

The tithe was given to the priestly cast of the Jewish community and so today Christian Churches operate in similar fashion by asking for a tithe that would be given to the local church where a believer has membership. The tithe is in that regard the first phase of giving within the church. Anything above the tithe would be a gift and offering. Rick Warren arrived at his 90% give away number by calling it a reverse tithe. He “tithed” 90% and kept 10% for himself.

Now shockingly there is nowhere in the New Testament that prescribes a church to collect or receive a tithe. Ultimately like a gift this is between the believer and God. A mainstream biblically based Church will not deny membership and fellowship to someone who does not give.

In regard to giving, the tithe is a normal and accepted starting point, but ultimately that amount is based on ability and the relationship that the individual has with God. God wants that gift given freely and out of love toward him. Jesus expected and encouraged his followers to be generous to everyone around them.

38 give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.” Luke 6:38 ESV

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