But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.
So I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to go on ahead to you and arrange in advance for the gift you have promised, so that it may be ready as a willing gift, not as an exaction. The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.
2 Corinthians 9:5-7
Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, "You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain," and, "The laborer deserves his wages." 1 Timothy 5:17-18
Giving is often an odd subject to talk about as a pastor. There is a potential conflict of interest that makes it this way. It is also odd because in the normal preaching schedule of the church, there are not many instances to teach on it, yet it is necessary that it happens and that it happens well both for the maintenance of the ministry of the church and so that people don’t become hard-hearted because of giving. When people forget the principles of giving, it is easy to view giving negatively.
As we consider the scriptures, the first instance of any sort of tithe (giving 1/10) and offering is in Genesis 14 where Abraham gives a tenth of the spoils of a battle to the priest king, Melchizedek, of Jerusalem. Then the Lord commands the Israelites to do something similar: they were to give a portion of their wealth to the priesthood whose livelihood depended on something that wasn’t inherently wealth-producing. They managed the various work at the tabernacle, and the priests offered the sacrifices in the temple. So the tithe supported the ministry of the Old Testament. This then brings us to the New Testament. In the gospel of Luke, Jesus condemns the Pharisees for following this law so strictly when they didn’t care about the most important of the laws. In other words, they did what was easily praised (giving their tithe), but neglected the fundamental issues of the law. They should have pursued justice and should have cultivated their love for God. This is odd in one sense because the Pharisees were probably a part of the Sanhedrin which was the supreme religious court of Israel. How is it that this court didn’t provide justice? We know the greatest injustice in the world happened in part at the hands of the Sanhedrin when they crucified the Lord of glory. But Jesus is condemning their previous actions. They have already broken justice. Again, this is odd, because at this point in Israelite history, the Jewish leaders are especially concerned with keeping Torah, which is to say keeping justice. The whole host of past Jewish generations had neglected the law and even had lost it. But here Jesus reveals not their outward actions, but their heartward inclinations. The Pharisees had hard hearts against doing true justice. They didn’t seek to support the widows and orphans and sojourners when they should have, and they should have tithed rightly. This is the end of the pre-Christian understanding of tithing.
The New Testament has a different concern for giving. On the one hand, there is no explicit teaching on a tithe. However, the New Testament is still concerned that the people of God support God’s ministry. Where the Old Testament’s ministry revolved around offering sacrifices at the temple, the New Testament’s ministry revolves around the teaching of the word of God. So in 2 Timothy 5.17-18 Paul explicitly says that of all the elders in each church, we should especially be concerned to financially support the ministry of preaching. He says, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain and the laborer deserves his wages.’ Implied in this is that teaching the congregation on Sundays is actually work, and preparing to teach and doing the teaching is work worthy to be compensated and doubly so. So it isn’t odd, biblically speaking, if a local congregation actually spends a substantial part of its budget on a teaching elder.
The second thing we should note from the instruction in the New Testament is that giving ought to be done generously. In 2 Corinthians 9.5-7, Paul is shaming the Corinthians to keep their commitment to give to the Jerusalem church. They said they would do it, so they should do it, and they should do it with joy. The attitude of the giver is essential. We must cultivate our hearts so that we give joyfully. Whatever we give should be a gift from the overflow of a Christian heart cultivated with an attitude of gratitude and love.
Now there are a few more practical matters that would be helpful to consider. The first is this: in the 2 Corinthians passage, giving goes beyond just supporting the pastor. The Corinthian church was asked to support the poor church in Jerusalem. It seems that charitable giving is very good when it is given to other congregations who are in need. Second, a professor of mine suggested that it can be helpful to consider the specific context as we seek to support our ministers. So, we would want to provide financially so that the pastor can live in the area around the church, or if one pastor has 6 children and the senior pastor has 1, it might be wise to consider increasing the financial compensation to the family with 6 because of the need even if it means paying him more than the senior pastor. Third, it isn’t wrong to pay for buildings. For the church to be a church, buildings have proven a regular necessity since the 100’s. Once the church spread past the apostolic age, there were church buildings because of the nature of our gathering and our needs. This also means though that we must take care of whatever property we have.
So as we give, may we cultivate a heart of overflowing gratitude and love. Whether we are supporting the regular work of the ministry or we are caring for our building or supporting those in need.