Contribution - Giving First to the Lord

Introduction

My experience has been that the subject of giving is not discussed as much today as in the past. That may not be the case in all churches, but it seems preachers are more reluctant to preach on this subject. It may be because they do not want people to feel they are seeking more funds personally, or it may be because they know people are uncomfortable hearing this subject discussed. Surveys do show that the percent people gave of their income did decline in the last half of the 20th century. There are a number of issues involved in this subject that will be addressed in this article.

Ancient Giving

V. P. Black wrote a booklet entitled “My God and My Money” in 1964 in which he shows the ancient Egyptians, Babylonians, Greeks and Romans gave 10% of their income. It appears their reasons for doing so was to avert or appease the divine anger, or to secure the divine favor. The question is why did they choose 10% rather than some other percent? It probably goes all the way back to the family of Adam. We read in Genesis 4:3-4:

“And in the process of time it came to pass that Cain brought an offering of the fruit of the ground to the Lord. Abel also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat. And the Lord respected Abel and his offering.” (Genesis 4:3-4)

While we don’t have a percent mentioned in Cain and Abel’s case, we do have 10% mentioned as early as Genesis 14:20 where Abraham gave to Melchizedek a tenth of the spoils he received when he rescued Lot from the five kings who had taken him captive. See also Hebrews 7:4:

Now consider how great this man was, to whom even the patriarch Abraham gave a tenth of the spoils.” (Hebrews 7:4)

Then we read concerning Jacob, the grandson of Abraham, that he made a vow to give a tenth back to God of all he received, Genesis 28:20-22:

“Then Jacob made a vow, saying, ‘If God will be with me, and keep me in this way that I am going, and give me bread to eat and clothing to put on, so that I come back to my father’s house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God. And this stone which I have set as a pillar shall be God’s house, and of all that You give me I will surely give a tenth to You’.” (Genesis 28:20-22)

Giving in the Jewish Age

We often hear the Jews were to tithe and thus we conclude they were to give 10% of their income. A closer look at the Law of Moses indicates the faithful Jew gave well more than 10%. They were to give to the poor and needy.

“When you reap the harvest of your land you shall not wholly reap the corners of your field, nor shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest. And you shall not glean your vineyard, nor shall you gather every grape of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger; I am the Lord your God.” (Leviticus 19:9-10)

“When you reap your harvest in your field, and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it; it shall be for the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. When you beat your olive trees, you shall not go over the boughs again; it shall be for the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow.” (Deuteronomy 24:19-20)

We read of other annual giving requirements placed upon the children of Israel.

“You shall not delay to offer the first of your ripe produce and your juices. The first-born of your sons you shall give to Me.” (Exodus 22:29)

“that you set apart to the Lord all that open the womb, that is, every firstling that comes from an animal which you have; the males shall be the Lord’s.” (Exodus 13:12)

From these verses we learn they were to give:

  1. First of the fruits
  2. First of the cattle
  3. First born of their children — redeemed by money payment (Numbers 3:46-48)

Then there were freewill offerings where the amount was not specified such as the Feast of Weeks in Deuteronomy 16:10-11:

“Then you shall keep the Feast of Weeks to the Lord your God with the tribute of a freewill offering from your hand, which you shall give as the Lord your God blesses you. You shall rejoice before the Lord your God, you and your son and your daughter, your manservant and your maidservant, the Levite who is within your gates, the stranger and the fatherless and the widow who are among you, at the place where the Lord your God chooses to make His name abide.” (Deuteronomy 16:10-11)

Israel had three tithes, two annual and one every third year. The first tithe was for the priests and is recorded in Leviticus 27:30-33:

“And all the tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land or of the fruit of the tree, is the Lord’s. It is holy to the Lord. If a man wants at all to redeem any of his tithes, he shall add one-fifth to it. And concerning the tithe of the herd or the flock, of whatever passes under the rod, the tenth one shall be holy to the Lord. He shall not inquire whether it is good or bad, nor shall he exchange it; and if he exchanges it at all, then both it and the one exchanged for it shall be holy; it shall not be redeemed.” (Leviticus 27:30-33)

The second annual tithe recorded in Deuteronomy 14:22-27 consisted of the yearly increase of the Lord. It was to be eaten by the offerer, his household and the Levite with the firstlings of the herd and the flock in the place the Lord would choose. This tithe might be converted into money at home to be expended at the place for sacrifice and feasting. It involved a stay of at least a week each at the Passover and the Feast of Tabernacles, as well as a shorter period at the Feast of Weeks.

The third tithe required every three years is recorded in Deuteronomy 14:28-29. One tenth of every third year’s increase was to be laid up at home and was to be shared by the local Levite, the stranger, the fatherless and the widow.

V. P. Black estimates that a devout Jew gave at least one third of his total earnings to God. This is far greater than the 10% we always hear.

Giving in the Christian Age

Since we are no longer living under the Law of Moses, today I hear people say we don’t have to give 10% anymore which is code for we can give less than 10% and still be pleasing to God. We will briefly look at what the New Testament teaches concerning giving.

In the beginning of the New Testament, we hear this from Jesus in His sermon on the mount:

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19-21)

A summary of Jesus’ teachings on the subject of material possessions is quite revealing. About one half of His parables dealt with money such as the parable of the rich fool in Luke 12:13-21. One out of every six verses in the gospels concerns man and his possessions. There is 16 times more about stewardship than about baptism, and 32 times as much about stewardship as about the Lord’s Supper.

Paul wrote much about possessions in his epistles. He wrote to Timothy about the love of money and how he should instruct the rich:

“For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.” (I Timothy 6:10)

“Command those who are rich in this present age not to be haughty, nor to trust in uncertain riches but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy. Let them do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to give, willing to share, storing up for themselves a good foundation for the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life.” (I Timothy 6:17-19)

One of the greatest hindrances to being liberal in our giving is covetousness. God thought it was such a problem He included it as one of the “thou shalt nots” in the 10 commandments. Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary defines covetous as “marked by inordinate desire for wealth or possessions or for another’s possessions”. Covetousness is mentioned numerous times in both the Old and New Testaments: Exodus 18:21; Psalm 119:36; Isaiah 57:17; Mark 7:22; Luke 12:15; Romans 1:29; Ephesians 5:3; Colossians 3:5; Hebrews 13:5; II Peter 2:3.

How should the Christian give?

I have heard it said the only person who can get into one’s pocketbook is the Lord. Thus, before one will give as the Lord expects he must first give himself to the Lord. When Paul was encouraging the Corinthians to give for the poor saints, he used the churches of Macedonia as examples and said about them in II Corinthians 8:5:

“And this they did, not as we had hoped, but first gave themselves to the Lord, and then to us by the will of God.” (II Corinthians 8:5)

We read in II Corinthians that our giving should be willingly, purposely, cheerfully and liberally. Note the following scriptures:

For if there is first a willing mind, it is accepted according to what one has, and not according to what he does not have.” (II Corinthians 8:12)

“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.” (II Corinthians 9:6-7)

“while, through the proof of this ministry, they glorify God for the obedience of your confession to the gospel of Christ, and for your liberal sharing with them and all men.” (II Corinthians 9:13)

When should a Christian give?

The church should be a Christian’s first consideration when giving. The only statement we have in the New Testament as to when they were told to give into the church treasury is recorded in I Corinthians 16:2:

On the first day of the week let each one of you lay something aside, storing up as he may prosper, that there be no collections when I come.” (I Corinthians 16:2)

Of course, Christians are taught to give on other occasions. We are taught to give to and take care of our family members:

“But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” (I Timothy 5:8)

If any believing man or woman has widows, let them relieve them, and do not let the church be burdened, that it may relieve those who are really widows. (I Timothy 5:16)

Christians are to also help fellow Christians in need as well as other people whenever the need arises.

“Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith. (Galatians 6:10)

Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep one-self unspotted from the world. (James 1:27)

“Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need. (Ephesians 4:28)

How much should a Christian give?

Now to the final question which is the big one. ... My concern is that most people want to know the absolute minimum one can give and still please the Lord. The New Testament does not give a percent. It says to give as one prospers.

“On the first day of the week let each one of you lay something aside, storing up as he may prosper, that there be no collections when I come.” (I Corinthians 16:2)

“If there is first a willing mind, it is accepted according to what one has, and not according to what he does not have.” (II Corinthians 8:12)

So, the Lord has left it up to us based on our evaluation of how well we have prospered and the kind of heart we have.

Conclusion

When we consider that the ancients gave 10%, the devout Jews gave up to as much as one third, and we have the greatest blessings of those in any age, it would be hard to conclude that we could give less than 10% and be pleasing to the Lord. How much we may give that exceeds 10% would depend on our situation and the needs that exist in our realm of knowledge. Those who love the Lord “with all their heart, soul and mind” (Matthew 22:37), will be generous in their giving.

Remember what Jesus said:

“It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35)

-- Larry R. Coffey

Unless otherwise noted, all quotations are from the New King James Version, copyright © 1994 by Thomas Nelson Publishers.

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