Stewardship is the careful and responsible management of resources that belong to someone else. For the Christian, stewardship acknowledges that all we have belongs to the LORD. While we may give the first ten percent of our earnings to the church, we are to honor Christ will all that we have (even the 90%). On occasion, I am asked questions about tithing versus generosity. The questions are often couched in these terms… “Isn’t tithing an Old Testament teaching that doesn’t apply to us?” and “Didn’t Jesus teach us to give generously instead of a legalistic tithe of 10 percent?” To answer these questions we must first have a biblical understanding of tithing. Then we must have a biblical understanding of what Jesus would have meant by generosity.
Where is tithing supported in the New Testament?
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone” (Matthew 23:23). Jesus commended the Pharisees for their obedience to the law concerning the practice of tithing. It was their failure to show love for others that Jesus condemns. They neglected God’s desire for His people to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly (cf. Micah 6:8). Jesus is making it clear when He says “These you ought to have done” is in reference to their practice of tithing, but it should not be “without leaving the others undone” (e.g. things such as justice, love kindness, and walk humbly). Giving a tithe (10% of your gross income) is only part of what Jesus desires, it must be matched with an attitude of love, kindness, and humility.
In addition to Jesus’ comments on tithing, the author of Hebrews acknowledges that Christ is the proper recipient of our tithes. “Here mortal men receive tithes, but there He receives them, of whom it is witnessed that He lives” (Hebrews 7:8). This passage makes it abundantly clear that tithing is an act of worship in which Jesus is the recipient of our tithes.
What does it mean to give generously?
I once heard someone say, “The New Testament doesn’t demand 10%, Jesus taught us to be generous and I feel like I can be generous and give less than 10%.” Let’s look at how Jesus would define “generous.”
Jesus said, “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill” Matthew 5:17. Since Jesus did not come to destroy the Law or the Prophets, we must examine what Jesus did. A brief examination will reveal that Jesus raised the standard!
What is the standard? How did Jesus raise the standard?
Jesus identified the standard with the statement, “You have heard…” and then He raised the standard by saying, “but I say…” For example, “You have heard ‘don’t murder,’ but I say ‘don’t be angry'” (Matt. 5:21-22). “You have heard ‘don’t commit adultery,’ but I say ‘don’t look upon a woman in lust'” (Matt. 5:27-28). Other examples include: swear only to God –> don’t swear at all, eye for an eye –> turn the other check, compelled to go one mile –> go two, love neighbor and hate enemy –> bless those who curse you.
Scripture is abundantly clear that Jesus never lowers the standard! He always raised the standard. When Jesus instructed His followers to be generous, this was not a “loop hole” to “give less,” but a command to raise the standard. There is no doubt that the accepted standard was a tithe and Jesus raised the standard to generosity! You cannot be generous and give less than the standard.
What are the results of generosity?
We must be careful that our next conclusion is not “prosperity gospel.” That is “we give in order to receive.” After all, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” Acts 20:35. Giving with a proper heart strengthens our own faith. Our generous giving teaches us to always put God first in our lives. The tithe was the first 10%. Generous giving is a reminder that God is the source of everything we have. Generous giving is an act of worship to God. Generous giving helps the church accomplish God’s mission in the world. Generous giving shows we acknowledge that everything is the Lord’s (not just 10% but 100%). Generous giving keeps us from becoming materialistic. Generous giving comes from a heart of gratitude and a reflection of the mercy and grace we’ve been shown.
Whatever amount we give, it should be given because of a thankful heart not because of obligation. “So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7).
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Dr. Chris Dortch has been in vocational ministry since 1993. His blog is aimed to "equip the saints for the work of ministry."