Stewardship vs. Tithing

The purpose of this paper is to answer a question that I’ve encountered numerous times.  In private discussions, I’m often asked; “What’s your opinion about tithing?”  Like many of those who ask, I was taught that the Bible requires all believers to give a tithe (10%) of their income to God.  During my early years of following Jesus, I accepted that and was careful to give a tithe on my income.  However, within a few years, the example of the Bereans inspired me to see if the Bible supported what I’d been taught.  Acts 17:11 says they received the Apostle Paul’s teaching and then; “examined the Scriptures daily to see if Paul and Silas were teaching the truth.”  My examination of the Scriptures led me to a different conclusion about tithing, and I will give you my reasons.  Some people, in fact, many of them my friends, will disagree with me because they have a sincere and strongly held conviction about tithing.  I respect that and make no judgment about their belief, but there are others, who like me, simply accepted it because it’s so frequently expressed in the church.  I encourage them to search the Scriptures and come to their own independent decision.  I’ve done that, so this will be a short overview of my thoughts on Stewardship versus Tithing.

The Tithe:  The law of Moses also known as the Old Covenant, required people to give a tithe (10%) to God.  However, as believers, it’s crucial for us to remember that the Old Covenant was canceled when Jesus fulfilled it and instituted the New Covenant.  Hebrews 8:13 says that the New Covenant made the Old Covenant obsolete.  Therefore, it’s totally inconsistent to proclaim the grace of the New Covenant while reminding people of the requirement to tithe from the Old Covenant.  Those who teach this often support their position by quoting Malachi 3:8-10.  “Will a man rob God?  Yet you are robbing me.  But you say, How have we robbed you?  In your tithes and contributions.  You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you.  Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house.  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.”  They use these verses to show that God owns 10% of your income and you own 90%, so you are robbing Him if you don’t give Him His 10%.  If you choose to live by this interpretation, you had better give the entire 10% plus offerings, or according to the Prophet Malachi, you are under the curse of God.  That’s a scary thought for the church at large because if those verses do apply to believers (I don’t think they do), then it means that 94% of them are under the curse of God.  (George Barna reports that only 6% are faithful Tithers)  His and other religious surveys confirm that even after years of emphasis on tithing, the vast majority of believers do not comply.  That tells me that privately they hold a different view of tithing than their leadership.  Actually, that’s a good thing if it means that most of them are not living by a legalistic view of giving.  However, I wish they could be released from the guilt that many of them live with.  To be consistent, those who promote tithing should also promote the other Old Testament concepts about money, and there are many.  It would mean another 10% every third year, and every seventh year you must cancel the debt of those who owe you money.  Additionally, there are many other things that are mandatory under the law, but those who advocate “tithing” are selective in which Old Covenant laws they endorse.

Here is some additional support from two early church fathers who considered the tithe to be canceled by the New Covenant.  1. The first is Justin Martyr, (100-165 AD) a first-century theologian.  He said; “Every Sunday those who prosper and so wish, contribute, each one as much as he chooses.”  2. The second is Irenaeus (130-202 AD) the most important theologian of the second century.  He said; “Tithing is a Jewish law NOT required of believers because they have received liberty and should give without external constraint.”  In spite of what the Church fathers were saying, Constantine the first Christian Emperor reintroduced tithing in the third century, to support the priesthood and build cathedrals.  However, people didn’t fully comply so in the 8th century Charlemagne, King of the Holy Roman Empire made it a law, which meant that if you did not tithe, you went to jail.  The average believer should thank God that is no longer in effect.

Financial Stewardship:  Churches often use the word “Stewardship” as a synonym for “Tithing,” but that is incorrect.  The dictionary defines a steward as; “a person who manages another person’s property or affairs.”  That correctly defines the believer’s relationship to money because, under the New Covenant, God owns 100%, not just 10%.  He doesn’t just own the “cattle on a thousand hills,” He owns everything, including our next breath.  In the world of investments, some people are known as “good money managers,” and that should describe the believer.  As a steward of God’s assets we manage not only His money but also everything, He’s entrusted to us, like our time, talents, health, etc.  It’s as if everything is “held in trust” for someone we respect very much and to whom we must give an account.

As beneficiaries of the New Covenant, the following verses and others instruct us how to think about our giving.  1. On the first day of every week let each one of you put aside and save, as he may prosper, that no collections be made when I come.”(1 Cor. 16:2)  2. “For I testify that according to their ability, and beyond their ability they gave of their own accord”(2 Cor. 8:3); 3.  “Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.  (2 Cor. 9:7)  So you can see, Paul the Apostle taught that giving is voluntary, not based on a fixed percentage, and should be what we have “decided in our heart to give.”  We should consider how God has prospered us, but in the end, we like the Corinthians are free to give the amount we choose, “of our own accord.”  For our regular giving, we don’t know how much God wants us to give until we ask Him.  Then based on what we believe He’s saying, we give the amount He’s prompted us to give.  When a special need is presented, Scripture calls us to live as Jesus did. (1 John 2:6)  Jesus himself did not meet every need but only did the will of the Father.  That meant not every paralytic was healed, or every person who died was raised to life.  With Jesus as our example, we should not give based on an emotional appeal.  We should ask God if He wants us to be part of meeting that need and then respond as He directs.

It’s true that the New Testament does not require a believer to give 10% of their income, but it does have a lot to say about giving and giving generously.  Most people are surprised to learn how much the Scriptures have to say about it.  Money and possessions are mentioned four times more than prayer and faith combined.  (500 verses on prayer and faith but over 2,000 about money and possessions.)  There’s more said about money in the New Testament than about heaven and hell combined.  So you can see that money is a very important subject, in fact almost half of the parables Jesus told, dealt with money. (42%)  By the way, He never taught what the prosperity gospel preachers teach.  They promote the un-Biblical idea that “Seed Faith” will bring you financial success or will cause God to answer your prayers.  This is a twisted and perverted use of Scripture in order to persuade people to give to their organization.

Conclusion:  God knows our current financial situation and future better than we do and has our best interest at heart.  Therefore, we can trust His guidance if He prompts us to give less than 10% or if He asks us to give more.  Whatever the amount, it’s likely to change from time to time so stay close to Jesus and be ready to respond to His leading.  God is fully aware of our personal circumstances and at times asks us to give sacrificially but not always.  There was a time in my life when we felt that 3% was the appropriate amount and then in other periods it was 30%.  During the last 60 years, our giving has varied but never our inner peace and joy.  Each person must come to their own conscientious decision about giving, by asking The Lord to guide them.  If the body of Christ was motivated by the idea of stewardship, there would be enough money for what God wants to accomplish.  If it produced more than needed, I’m sure He would let us know what to do with it.

Caveat:  The Bible is our only standard, and my prayer is that everyone would use Acts 17:11 as a guide to evaluate the teaching of any man and that includes this one.