Gospel Generosity: Why I don't tithe.
You read that correctly. I don’t tithe. I’m a pastor who doesn't bother with tithing to the local church. I do however give a crazy amount to the local church whenever our finances allow it. Currently, we give more than a tithe because our finances allow us to. I know it sounds like I’m splitting hairs but, Paul leads and teaches us what New Testament Gospel giving looks like - and it doesn't look like the tithing you may have grown up with or hear taught from some pulpits still today.
Giving of our treasures is both important to us as a church and controversial with folks everywhere, so as you read this position we take, please lay it against the Scripture and let God show you His heart for our treasures and increase. An overwhelming amount of Jesus’ own words contend with our treasures, and as we see the church develop in the New Testament, we are given even more detail.
Since the time of Adam our first father our default factory setting regarding our collective treasure (savings, equity, inheritance, possessions, etc…) is “It’s my money and I have plans for it.” This is understandable being that our culture’s high value of comfort, security, and identity is defined by how much “stuff” we can accumulate and what that “stuff” can give us. We are brought up in this culture and without the Gospel leading us, there’s no real good logical reason to give our treasures away.
For you parents, I’d love for this to serve you on how to explain this to your kids, because without good Biblical teaching, they will grow up understanding what the world tells them regarding treasure. It’s actually your job as a parent to lead them in this way more than it is ours as a church leadership. I didn't understand Gospel fueled giving until later in my adult life, but hope that as our own kids develop they see money and stuff through the grid of what God has done for us.
How you handle your treasure is a key indicator of your spiritual life. You cannot separate your heart from your money, no matter how hard you try (Matthew 6:21). Our temptation is to detach treasure from worship. Even the world at large knows this to not be possible. The rapper 50 Cent’s movie and album “Get Rich Or Die Tryin’” sums up mankind’s desire to worship various idols by throwing our treasure at their feet. Whether we idolize identity, comfort, power, security or something else, we feed those monsters with our treasures. The world at large understands this. We however as God’s church struggle here. Our hearts contend with us, “You can chase riches and chase God at the same time.” But Jesus never says this, and in fact says the exact opposite (Matthew 6:24). You either worship God with your money or you worship your money as God.
Nearly 25% of Jesus’ sermons dealt with our treasures and the New Testament has many warnings for the rich. Now, I already know what some of you are thinking, “Luke, I’m not rich and I don’t want to be rich – I’m just trying to get by.” Some of you feel poverty excludes you from generosity so you are quick to exit a teaching like this, but I want to caution you.
According to CARE International who is involved with global poverty, most of us are in the top wealthiest among global people. The average income per household in Knoxville, TN is $33,188, which places us in the top 0.94% of the world. Congratulations, many of us are 1%ers. Your monthly income could pay the monthly salaries of 203 doctors in Malawi. If you make $18,000/year in salary you are in the top 5% of the world. If you make $6,000/year you’ll find yourself in the top 21% of the world. It would take the average laborer in Ghana more than 37 years to earn the same amount of money as most college students. The reality is that none of us think we’re rich because the rich are always above us - right? Wrong. When Jesus is talking to the rich he’s talking to you and me.
Even if you find yourself impoverished there is real good news; poverty can’t ruin generosity. We have all heard the story of the poverty stricken widow giving from her lack of wealth and treasure to show beautiful worship before the wealthy and elite (Mark 12:41–44). Do you feel poor? It only postures you for deep and beautiful worship. Your lack of treasure places you in the perfect place to worship extravagantly. Being generous from a place of poverty glorifies God because sacrificial giving glorifies God. It paints a realistic picture of what God has done for us. Our King knew poverty in order for us to know royalty (2 Corinthians 8:1–5).
Paul displays the effects of giving extravagantly while impoverished: “for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints— and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us.” (2 Corinthians 8:1–5) This was extreme generosity. They were not giving in moderation, but experienced sacrifice as they gave at a jaw-dropping rate.
This extravagant giving is expressed most thoroughly through what God has done for us, the Gospel which we thrive in. As Paul goes on to say, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich (2 Corinthians 8:8-15). This brilliant retelling of God’s good news for us was seated firmly in Paul’s submission that the Corinthian church be generous. God meant for this to be our motivation for giving.
Conversely, giving out of abundance isn’t sacrificial giving. In other words, if your giving level means you never have to say “no” to the stuff you really want, it’s not sacrificial. Many givers give 10% of their treasures consistently and joyfully, but there is no sacrifice in their giving and therefore their giving isn’t emblematic of God’s gift to us. To pose it as a question, “What did you have to say “no” to in order to worship God with your treasure?”
Not only does Paul show us that our giving ought to be sacrificial, but he explains how it is to be joyful. “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” 2 Corinthians 9:5–11 I’m so glad Paul says this because it’s easy to manipulate people to give money.
One reason people give is from guilt. Guilt gets the job done. Thinking of real skinny and malnourished kids overseas or the fact you have air conditioning when they don’t is never a good gospel level motivation for giving. What ends up happening is we give a gift to ourselves. We’re paying off our discomfort and attempting to bring peace to our souls by writing a check. It still ends up being about our glory and not Jesus’. There’s nothing wrong with compassion being in the equation, but relying on our compassion can be flighty and depends on our emotions at the moment.
It can be even worse when we try to give our treasures from a place of greed. Many give to ministries and churches for no other reason than to get something back or not lose what they have. Bad teaching puts the believer in the drivers seat regarding how big their bank account is. “If you want to have a lot of money - you must give a lot of money.” This too feeds an idol. - the idol of greed manifesting in our desire for entertainment, comfort, and security.
Giving from joy comes from a deep understanding and thankful acknowledgment of what God has done for us in the person of Jesus. When we see the elaborate expenditure for us, we are free from desiring what the world can give us through our treasures. In other words, a fracture in our joyful giving is truly a fracture in our gospel comprehension.
Paul shows us in his letter to the Corinthians that the singular motivation for us handing over our treasure is the freedom we have in the Gospel. “I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine. 9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” (2 Corinthians 8:8–15) Again, this is the Biblical motor behind giving. All other options have nothing to do with Jesus or his Glory. God the Father gave his deepest treasure, his own Son, so that we might be rescued from our spiritual poverty/bankruptcy. Jesus (God the Son) who experienced absolute wealth and treasure impoverished himself and made himself poor. Jesus didn’t simply vacate his treasure by becoming man, but also by becoming sin on the cross.
I love how Paul describes a joyful posture of the Macedonian church in his letter to the Corinthians, “for I know your readiness, of which I boast about you to the people of Macedonia, saying that Achaia has been ready since last year. And your zeal has stirred up most of them.” (2 Corinthians 9:1–2) They were zealous and ready to the point where Paul was bragging on them. They displayed a joy in giving that is truly emblematic of God’s desire to give to us.
Manager on duty
God refers to us as stewards and managers of his possessions. Very simply, God owns everything and you own nothing. As He says, “all the cattle, birds, silver, gold, everything - is mine!” (Psalm 50:10-11, Haggai 2:8) God is very clear that it is by His effort that we receive wealth and we are not to claim credit for that. (Deuteronomy 8:17–18) He also sees what he entrusts to us as a “gift” to be received with gratitude (James 1:16-17). An owner has rights over possessions whereas a manager merely administrates those possessions. I know it sounds like I’m being overly simplistic, but too many consider another’s possessions their own. We like to pretend to be owners, and that friends is called theft. When a manager takes possessions and fails in administration (theft) it lands them in judgement. My father (who owned restaurants) was always firing managers who were confused and thought they owned the place. They helped themselves to what did not belong to them. When we rearrange the order of the owner/manager relationship, we get theft.
This is strong language I know, but it is truly how God sees it.“Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How have we robbed you?’ In your tithes and contributions. 9 You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you. 10 Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house.” God is virtually saying, “I gave resources to you with instructions on how to apply them and you stole from me.” (Malachi. 3:8–10) Many of us in here are stealing from God – we are ripping him off and then praying for God to help us financially. It’s just goofy.
“OK, Luke, how much do I give then?” Let’s think about rephrasing that question because it’s not about how much of God’s money we give, but how much we keep. Remember, it all belongs to Him. As for an amount, I’ll leave that between you and God. I won’t give you an amount. We don’t teach a tithe here, which literally means ten percent. In the Old Testament the tithe was actually a trio of tithes that hashed out between 25-30%. We also don’t teach that the NT resurrects this standard. I know why pastors are tempted to teach a tithe however. The average percentage of those who give to the church is between 2.3 and 2.5% according to the most recent figures. We see the call to be sacrificially generous and rich in our giving, and this might mean different percentages to different people. God isn’t asking you to be generous with what you don’t have but with what you do have. Statistically for many of us, 10% should be the floor, not the standard. Most of us can give that much with minimal sacrifice.
“Am I supposed to give everything to the church?” I don’t think so. I can’t find anywhere in the Bible where we are commanded to do that. There are some real cool operations and endeavors in the world we should be generous to. I will say the greater bulk of what my family gives as a family goes to the local church. It’s where we do life and it’s our city. Our heart is here and our treasure chases after it. (Matthew 6:21) I will submit that the people I have run into over time that have stolen God’s money and have not been generous with time, talent, or treasure are typically renting the local church.and care little for the city.
We also see God command his people to bring their treasures into the “storehouse” (Malachi 3:8-10) which was where they kept all the funds and treasures they used to help the poor, fund the overhead of the Temple, and pay their priests. It was where the Jews of the day received their ministry. I’m not suggesting that people aren’t ministered to by entities other than the local church, but it is the local church’s role to care and serve the people who are partnered with that church. To starve the local church that is caring for you is to miss the underlying thought of this part of what God is saying.
“How often and when do I give?” Well, how often do you have an increase (paycheck, dividends, etc…). I know some people that give once a year, because they make their money once per year. I know others that do it every other week. My kids do it when they get an allowance once a week even. I guess it depends: When does God allocate more for your to administrate?
I will contend that when we give of our increase we do it as a priority, and not as a last thought. If the giving you leverage back to God’s work is the last check you cut, I’d say that you’re struggling in your perspective of whose money you’re managing. Remember, when you cash your check, that is money God has allocated to you as a gift, how you approach it - even down to the order and amount - reveals your understanding and worship.
Being consistent and honorable to an amount you have agreed to give is also commented on by Paul. “And in this matter I give my judgment: this benefits you, who a year ago started not only to do this work but also to desire to do it. 11 So now finish doing it as well, so that your readiness in desiring it may be matched by your completing it out of what you have.” (2 Corinthians 8:10-11) Some churches do pledges for big projects and others do pledges for the simple reason of developing a budget, but deciding in our heart is something God leads us to do. (2 Corinthians 9:5–11) Deciding in your heart, and then sticking to it is a form of consistency that will be tested from time to time, but will yield opportunities of both testing in growth in our trust of God.
Gospel Giving is Evangelistic & Worshipful
It might sound odd for our giving to point to Jesus’ work, but it truly does. Not only does our stewardship of treasure show a glorious King stewarding his treasure to us, but God’s abundance to supply our need is echoed as we bring treasure when others have need (2 Corinthians 8:13-15). God has distributed freely, giving to the poor (2 Corinthians 9:8-9) - this is the Gospel - so we distribute freely as well to reflect God’s righteousness.
Paul says in 2 Corinthians 9:12-15 12 For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God. 13 By their approval of this service, they will glorify God because of your submission that comes from your confession of the gospel of Christ, and the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others, 14 while they long for you and pray for you, because of the surpassing grace of God upon you. 15 Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!
In God’s discourse with those robbing him in Malachi, he reveals his heart to us…”And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need. 11 I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it will not destroy the fruits of your soil, and your vine in the field shall not fail to bear, says the Lord of hosts. 12 Then all nations will call you blessed, for you will be a land of delight, says the Lord of hosts.” (Malachi 3:10b-12) God, in Jesus has already rebuked the devourer for his kids. He has already opened the windows of heaven upon us. He is already unloading blessing on us until there is no more need - and he did this through our salvation. Our King has given us grace, and our worship through finances mirrors extravagant expenditure.