After reading through my articles on tithing in the Bible, you might be wondering exactly how you should give. So here are some Biblical guidelines for Christian giving.
1. Provide for Your Family’s Needs First
Giving so much that you neglect your family’s needs can be dangerous unless you have a clear call from God to do so. Your first priority must be to care for the needs of your family. God has made it clear that this is His first priority as well:
But if anyone doesn’t provide for his own, and especially his own household, he has denied the faith, and is worse than an unbeliever.
1 Timothy 5:8 (WEB)
Paul makes is clear that neglecting your family’s needs is a serious offense to God for a Christian – on the order of denying the faith and being worse than an unbeliever. That’s a pretty strong statement! Paul is speaking here about believers who have widows in their family who need help, but the concept would also apply to your own household. Meeting your family’s needs is one way we show the love of God. Giving while ignoring your family’s needs can be detrimental to your witness as a Christian unless you have decided as a family to purposely deny your needs in order to give. This verse makes it obvious that you must be certain it truly is God’s will for you to give if it will prevent you from meeting your family’s needs.
However, the difficulty for Christians – especially those in wealthy countries, like America – is differentiating our wants from our needs. The line between a want and a need is often blurred in America. Is television a family need? Is eating out a family need? Is an expensive car a family need? Be careful that you do not mistake a want as a legitimate need.
This idea should also include reasonably providing for future needs, which would include savings and insurance. Again, remember we’re talking about needs and not wants. Making sure you’ll be able to eat a decent, healthy meal when you can’t work any more is saving for a need. Saving so you can eat at five-star restaurants every night during retirement is not a need – it’s a want. Again, be sure you don’t mistake wants as needs. I can’t emphasize how important it is that we don’t confuse the two in trying to figure out what we can give.
If you are so poor that you truly cannot meet your family’s needs and give at the same time, consider alternative ways to give. Giving your time as a volunteer or simply taking time to show God’s love to someone can actually be much more powerful than giving money.
2. Pay What You Owe
After meeting your family’s needs, your next duty is to pay whatever you owe. Your giving should never put you in a position where you will fail to pay what you owe to others (debts, taxes, etc.). Breaking a vow or promise to pay so that you can give will not honor God.
7 Give therefore to everyone what you owe: taxes to whom taxes are due; customs to whom customs; respect to whom respect; honor to whom honor. 8 Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law.
Romans 13:7-8 (WEB)
Note: “Honor” in verse 7 can also be translated as “money”, as in a debt you owe.
It’s clear that you must first fulfill your obligations to pay anything you have promised to pay. I don’t take this verse to mean that you shouldn’t give at all if you are in debt. Most debt agreements require that you make a certain minimum payment – and that is an obligation you must keep.
If you are deeply in debt but able to meet your family’s needs and make your minimum payments, you will need to seek guidance from the Holy Spirit to determine how much of your extra should be given away and how much should go toward repaying your debt. Debt is not a sin, but it’s not necessarily a good thing either because of the burdens it can create.
Being free of debt can enable you to give even more, but the decision to completely stop giving in order to get out of debt is something you must personally discuss with God through prayer. Scripture is clear that you must at least meet the payments you have agreed to make, but beyond that I can give you no guidelines about such a situation.
3. Give Generously to Anyone in Need (Even Your Enemies)
After you’ve followed those first two guidelines the only instructions we have as Christians are to give generously to anyone in need (even our enemies). We should give willingly, cheerfully, and out of love.
You’re not going to find a specific percentage or amount in the New Covenant that dictates how much a Christian should give. Our example for giving is Jesus, who gave everything generously and sacrificially – even while we were still sinners rejecting God. The only standards we have are to take care of our family’s needs, pay what we owe, and then give generously to the needy with the right motives in our hearts. Here’s what the Bible says:
Give to him who asks you, and don’t turn away him who desires to borrow from you.
Matthew 5:42 (WEB)
He answered them, “He who has two coats, let him give to him who has none. He who has food, let him do likewise.”
Luke 3:11 (WEB)
32 If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33 If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34 If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive back as much. 35 But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing back; and your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind toward the unthankful and evil.
Luke 6:32-35 (WEB)
Therefore, “If your enemy is hungry, feed him. If he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in doing so, you will heap coals of fire on his head.”
Romans 12:20 (WEB)
Let each man give according as he has determined in his heart; not grudgingly, or under compulsion; for God loves a cheerful giver.
2 Corinthians 9:7 (WEB)
But whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and closes his heart of compassion against him, how does the love of God remain in him?
1 John 3:17 (WEB)
1 Be careful that you don’t do your charitable giving before men, to be seen by them, or else you have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. 2 Therefore when you do merciful deeds, don’t sound a trumpet before yourself, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may get glory from men. Most certainly I tell you, they have received their reward. 3 But when you do merciful deeds, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand does, 4 so that your merciful deeds may be in secret, then your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.
Matthew 6:1-4 (WEB)
If I dole out all my goods to feed the poor, and if I give my body to be burned, but don’t have love, it profits me nothing.
1 Corinthians 13:3 (WEB)
While those verses don’t tell you exactly how much you should give, they do make it clear that we, as Christians, are to be extremely generous for the right reasons (giving motivated by love for God or others). It’s also important to remember that just giving money isn’t enough to please God – right relationships are much more important:
23 If therefore you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has anything against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.
Matthew 5:23-24 (WEB)
So what are we to do? How do we know how much to put in our “Giving” category when we make our budget? The answer is to commit yourself (and your money) to God first, then follow His Spirit’s guidance as to how much, to whom, and how often you should give. No, it’s not as simple as just saying give 10% and you’re good. But God’s desire isn’t for people who just follow a set of rules. God desires a personal relationship with each one of us – and good relationships require lots of time and communication.
If you want to do some more in-depth reading about New Covenant giving, check out any of these articles:
- Give Yourself to God First
- Give in Response to Jesus’ Gift
- Give with Sincere Desire and Love
- Give Under Grace Not Commandment
- Give As Much As You Are Able or Even More
- Give So That There May Be Equality
- Give Joyfully and Cheerfully
I pray this gives you a better idea of how Christian giving should look based on God’s Word. Please let me know your thoughts or questions in the comments below!
Your comments are all well stated; however, you omit some important reasons for the tithe (both old and new covenant) and the amount of ten percent:
1. The amount of giving (10 percent) is referenced by Jesus himself when he corrects the Pharasees with the remark that “you tithe mint and rue, and yet ignore the weightier things of the law.” He did not tell them not to tithe, which He knew was 10%, but it had become to them a following of the Law without the Spirit behind it. In other words they tithed for the wrong reasons.
2. The reason for the tithe was also initially set as a test of trust — would one trust in their own abilities to take care of their needs or families needs, or would one trust first and foremost in God to provide their every need? By turning over one tenth of what God had provided them they were trusting in a power they could not see, and they could experience this power in a daily relationship with God. They were putting God first in all of their considerations of taking care of themselves and others like family.
3. By tithing, they were to put the sharing of the spiritual things first over the physical things. The tithe was used to minister to the needs of the Levites and Cohanin who were given the ministration of the Temple.
4. The New Covenant in our Savior’s blood is misunderstood by many believers. While your description correctly describes the incredible gift of salvation offered through His sacrifice for us, a believer needs to also know that the entire meaning of the New Covenant is more far reaching: Ezekiel 36:26 says that He will write His Law (Torah — which means teachings and instructions) on our hear, which are like stone, and He will thus make our hearts into hearts of flesh. This would be done through the atonement of Jesus.
5. Continuing with the above paragraph, the New Covenant is based on the fact that the God came to replace the lamb sacrifice for sins and that He would, because of His sacrifice, now be able to write His laws (Torah) upon our hearts, turning them from a heart of stone to a heart of flesh. This is what is meant to happen as a sinner comes to the understanding that God allowed Himself to become the Kippur, replacing the lamb sacrifice with His sacrifice for us — love that was meant to break our natural hearts of stone into heart of flesh (soft and subtle) eager to listen to and obey God.
6. The Torah, or Law (again, meaning His teachings and instructions), were not done away with as a result of the New Covenant. Jesus said Himself that He did not come to destroy the Law, but to fulfill, (or firmly establish) the Law, but this time through His blood and not the blood of an animal. The only Law that was now nailed to the cross due to His atonement, was the ordinance concerning animal sacrific. The animal sacrifices were established as an atonement for sins.
7. To further establish that the Law and the Prophets, or the Coventant were never nailed to the cross comes from Jesus’ own words when He spoke to two disciples after He was resurrected. It says that when He walked with them He spoke to them about the Law and Prophets and said, these are they WHICH SPEAK OF ME.
Thank you in advance for your consideration of these points made.
Thanks for your comments, Danielle, but there are multiple problems with your ideas. First, if you want to keep the tithe as it is written in the Torah, then you need to reestablish the Levitical priesthood and the Temple and keep all the festivals. This is why the Jews today do not even tithe. Even if they did, it would only be from agricultural produce from the land of Israel because that’s what Torah says the tithe is. And it was never just 10%. Yes, that’s what the word means, but there were three tithes in Torah. And while they were separate in a sense, paying your tithes meant paying all of them – not just 10%.
Second, read all of Galatians, Colossians, and Hebrews and tell me how the only Laws that were nailed to the cross were the Laws concerning animal sacrifice. If you wish to justify yourself by keeping the Law, then you’ve declared that Christ has accomplished nothing by dying on the Cross. If you want to keep one part of the Torah, you’re bound to keep it all. It cannot be separated. And if all the other Laws were still in effect, why did the apostle Paul argue so strongly against circumcision for Gentile believers? That is not an animal sacrifice – it was a mark of belonging. Yet Paul argued again and again against Christians holding to circumcision as the only way to be a “true Christian”.
The Law and the Prophets certainly speak of Jesus Christ. He’s the Messiah. It was the purpose of all things to point toward His coming. But He has come now, He has accomplished all through His life, death, and resurrection. And the Law has been fulfilled completely (satisfied, finished, made complete). It is in living by the Spirit and fulfilling the Law of Christ – the Law of Love – that we have God’s Law written on our hearts.
I found this article so freeing! I do not have any issues with tithes but the problem i have come across continuously is that i give 10% to churches where the pastor seems to be gaining wealth but the congregants are still struggling adn there are NO real charitable activities in the church that redistribute the “wealth” to those that are without. From my very minimal scriptural teachings i understand as you mentioned there were practical reasons for tithing but in today’s era i feel “better” giving offering to the church and helping those i see struggling be it a church friend, homeless, or charitable organization. I do want to “share my wealth”, i use the word wealth VERY loosely, as God would have me to but i just cant seem to get any conviction to do the 10% at “my” current church.
If you feel that i’ve misunderstood your message please let me know but for now i will focus on giving of myself adn my resources to be broadly applicable rather than just throwing a check in a bucket every week and thinking that i’m doing as the Word says. Thank you for this article.
Hi, Elsie. I certainly do not think we’re obligated to give 10% to our local church, especially if it is doing nothing to help the needy. We should give to help support our leaders and teachers, but those people should not use the positions to gain more for themselves while others suffer.
I think your last paragraph illustrates what is wrong with tithing. It’s not about throwing a certain amount of money in an offering plate every week. It’s about making Jesus Lord over every area of your life and serving Him with your wealth (whether that’s a large amount or small).
I appreciated reading these comments. I have a book about to go to print (see website) where I state in the book and on my website that “All proceeds from the sale of the book (after taxes) will be used to benefit the field of and the people struggling with Infection Associated Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.”
Then Malachi 3:10 came to mind, and I wondered if 10% should go to a Christian organization, and 90% to helping those who suffer from Infection Associated CFS.
I’ll think about this today, and would love your comments. I am leaning towards keeping it as it is, with all proceeds going towards those who suffer with this illness (to help pay for labs and doctors visits) and to help with research.
I appreciate the insights you have shared. I do desire to do what God would have me do with the proceeds of this book. And I now feel more free about keeping things as I originally had them, rather than changing them…
I do need to make a final decision asap, since I had OK’d my book for publishing, then emailed them this morning telling them to hold off…. So, if you have any insights, I would enjoy hearing them.
Hi, Tina! Thanks for your comment. I think the way you have things set up now sounds great. I do not believe that money has to go through a “Christian” organization before the help it provides will honor God. Consider the Good Samaritan. He gave directly to the needs of one who was hurting, and his actions clearly honored God.
Do not feel any guilt about how you are doing it. So what if 10% doesn’t go to a specific type of organization? You’re giving 100% to meet others’ needs. I see nothing that would dishonor God about that. Blessings to you!
Thanks Paul so much for your reply. It confirms exactly what 5 wise women at my ladies bible study said to me this morning.
Funny you should mention the Good Samaritan. We have set up a fund in that name to help those who suffer with Infection Associated Chronic Fatigue, and some of the proceeds of the book would go to that fund.
God’s blessings to you and your work. You have helped me and blessed me today!
THE FACT THAT CHRIST FULFILLED THE LAW DOES NOT MEAN WE NO LONGER TAKE RECOGNISANCE OF IT. IF CHRIST IS IN US THE FULFIMENT (INSCIPTION OF THE LAW IN OUR HEARTS) WE BETTER KEEP MORE TESTING IF WE ARE CONTAINING THE PLEASURE OF GOD( HIS SPIRIT). IF WE ARE REAL IN CHRIST THE APOSTLE PAUL PUT IT CLEARLY THAT IT IS NO LONGER WE THAT LIVE BUT CHRIST WHO IS IN US. WE CANOT BE SURE IF WE DO NOT KEEP COMPARING OUR LIFE STLYES, OUR VALUES, OUR ATITUDES AGAINST THE REVEALED CHRIST WHO WHEN IS IN US DOES THOSE THINGS OUR MANUAL TESTIFY HIM TO BE CAPABLE OF DOING WHEN HE IS WITHIN A MAN-IN CONTROL OF THE MAN AND ALL THAT MAKES A MAN A MAN. HE MUST BE GIVEN HIS LORDSHIP FOR WHICH HE CAME.ACCEPTANCE OF HIS LORDSHIP AND THE RECOGNITION OF IT IN OUR TRANSFORMED SELVES ARE PARAMOUNT. THE WORD OF GOD IS A REALITY WE CAN NEVER MISS WHEN WE ENDEAVOUR TO STAY EXPECTANT