In the Old Testament we see that giving, or the 'tithe' as it is called, was a very exact thing. We see the 10% rule brought in, but the requirement went far beyond just money in these time. The first born male of animals, for example, were a tithe to God - as were grain and first fruits...
There were rules for everything, in fact these were the Law's for which the people needed to live by, their requirements for living good lives, for staying in God's blessing.
The New Testament brought in a different system altogether - Grace. This included giving. Now we see the basis for Christian giving was from the heart, not out of requirement or law, but more around generosity. Jesus's observations in the temple with the old lady who put in all she had to live on (2 small coins) compared to the rich who 'threw' in their amounts for all to see are very interesting. Clearly the amounts are not important, but the heart. But what is also clear was that proportionally the old lady put in well over the '10%' ( it was ALL she had left!) and the rich probably much less.
So in the NT we see a freedom in giving - no longer to be LIMITED to 10%, but a freedom to be free and generous and to see God lead us into exciting things that he has in store for us.
And in this NT period that churches are in, we see two ends of the spectrum when it comes to giving. At one end we see what is called the Prosperity Gospel - you give in order to get rich! At the other end of the spectrum, in reaction to this, we see people so rejecting that teaching that they lose the joy in giving altogether and revert to the OT tithe system for want of something more grounded...and not so prosperity driven. And all churches are somewhere (usually more in the middle!) on this spectrum....
Let me pause now though and introduce you quickly to three members of a new local church;
First up we have Careful Kev. Kev is a cautious man, cautious with money - in fact cautious with everything. He takes the OT 10% tithe model and keeps it very precisely - to the nearest penny in fact! He's obedient, but really it's a 'bill' to him, a 'cost' at being part of a local church. He doesn't have much joy in it though, it's just something he should do...something he must do. Financially speaking, he has some debts, but just about does ok...
Next up we have Stingy Steve. Steve holds back from all people, even family. At birthdays, for example, he'll only spend money on people that have already spent the same amount on him. But he doesn't really like giving many gifts.
Steve really likes the teaching on freedom from the OT tithe because he can give much less & feel good about it. As it is, he gives only loose change that is clogging up his pockets, just to look good on Sunday's, as well as make his wallet feel lighter! He also always feels he never has enough money - he wants more - if he was rich, he tries to tell himself, then he would give more away. Financially, he's always short of money.
Finally we have Generous Jen. Jen is generous with all she has - time, patience and especially money. She has real joy in her spirit. She see's the 10% tithe as a starting point & prays about how much more she can give above that each month. She gives in many ways - it's exciting and she is always amazed at how God uses her. She lives within her means and has many friends around her. Financially, she always has money to share each month, as well as time, emotion and patience of course!
Kev, Steve and Jen have all recently joined a new local church. They continue their beliefs in relation to their giving over the course of a year - we'll come back to them in just a moment.
Local Churches - Very rarely are local churches funded by big business or huge revenues from television stations and other media. No, nearly 100% of the time (there are always of course exceptions, but generally speaking!) churches are financially supplied through the giving of their own people, the local family of believers that make up that church.
It is clear to me, as well as Biblical, that God's overwhelming preference for blessing in the local church is the generous tithes of it's members.
So, in the 'local church' used in the story above, we suddenly see that there is vision for a building project which will cost the church £1,000,000. So on top of all their normal costs, they want to see this extra amount come in. They need faith and they need God to provide the finances.
And we know where God directs, He also provides for.
So lets look at the numbers. Using the 10% tithe as an example, for £1,000,000 to be given in offerings to the local church, that first means God will release £10,000,000 in order for one tenth of the amount, ie a million, to be given to the church.
And how would our three examples deal with it? Well Careful Kev would see a large amount coming in as the perfect time to clear his mortgage and pay back some loans. It's only prudent after all as he doesn't want the worry of debts. Some money would trickle through to the church no doubt, but not the 10% as normal. No, this large amount coming in was surely for his own blessing to take the pressure off himself, for a while.
And Stingy Steve? Well, suddenly a lot of money is too big a temptation. Now he can finally do all the things he's not been able to do. To take that trip he always dreamed about and to live life the way he's seen others live. The money is soon spent and none of it finds it's way to church.
But Generous Jen is different. She's always made the decision to first give God back a huge portion. She's got a good understanding about money and there's no danger of a generous tithe not making it through to the church.....in fact, with a church full of Jen's, maybe God releasing just £5,000,000 would be enough to see £1,000,000 given in tithes (shocking, that's 20% I here Kev say!)
And this is where you see that somewhere in the past the prosperity gospel based themselves on truth. The Bible does say you'll be blessed in giving. And while our motivation should never be to get rich, there is a principle that God is more likely to bless a generous person than someone who gives very little....and as we've seen, if you were God and needed the local church to get a bumper tithe, what type of member of that church would you most likely choose to give a little extra too......of course, Generous Jen. She doesn't give to get rich, but because she knows the spiritual blessing she is storing up for herself, as well as the blessing in many ways she experiences in life now. She loves the fact that she can play a part of outworking the Kingdom financially in her world and see's this as the reason she has money from God in the first place.
She gets that freedom from the tithe means we are free to give more. Not because we have to, or must do, or need to do. But just because its an honour to, no matter how little we have!
God loves a cheerful giver. Not a rule follower, or a reluctant obedient attitude - but JOY! Real joy. The type of joy you only get by giving money away just to bless something, when there is no immediate return for the giver (that would be a transaction).
But the Bible is clear - giving is never without reward.....but the reward might not always be money, nor should the motivation be for what you'll receive.
So, what type of giver do YOU want to be.....?