June 11, 1995
Is tithing still relevant, or is it merely an Old Testament practice? Who should give, for what purpose, and to whom? How much are we supposed to give? Paul addressed these questions from the early church with practical principles for the collection and management of funds for the Lord’s work. In this message, Alistair Begg walks us through Paul’s guidelines for godly giving. The Bible makes it clear that to worship properly, we must learn to give properly.
Sermon Transcript: Print
I invite you to turn once again to the portion of Scripture that was read for us a moment or two ago in 1 Corinthians 16.
As we come to these precious moments in which we anticipate God speaking to us through his Word, we pause further to seek him:
Be known to us, Lord, in the study of your Word, we pray. Grant to us freedom from every distraction, that our minds may be set on you. May we see you more clearly, love you more dearly, and follow you more nearly as a result of our study. For Jesus’ sake we ask it. Amen.
Well, here we are at the final chapter. For those of you who have staggered all the way through the sixteen chapters, or the fifteen so far, wondering along with me whether we would ever make it to the end of 1 Corinthians, you ought to be fairly encouraged to see that the end is some twenty-four verses in sight. And we look forward to this final chapter as much as to the rest.
Last time, we dealt with the practical expression of the issue of the resurrection, and we made much of the fact that this great issue of what will happen to the believer in the face of death, in calling our thoughts heavenward, is not there in order to leave us in some strange twilight zone but instead is to return us to the fabric and framework of everyday life so that the truth of God’s Word may make an impact and may be seen in our everyday work activities.
It is a reminder to us, which comes with frequency in the New Testament, that if our belief is to be believable, then there will need to be behavior which flows from the belief; that if our doctrine means anything, that it must issue in discipleship. And in 15:58, Paul was calling his readers to focused stability and to purposeful activity.
And now, in coming into these opening verses of chapter 16, he addresses some very practical matters. And he moves with great fluidity and great ease from this essential, high matter of the doctrine of the resurrection down to the concerns of people and personnel, of encouragement and love and fellowship, and, here in these opening four verses, the telling issue of money.
And what we have here is godliness in working clothes. What does it mean to be godly? Well, it has an impact on our wallets. What does it mean to be godly? Well, as we will see this evening in 1 Thessalonians 4, it has an impact on our sex lives. And indeed, for those who think of the expressions of Christianity as some kind of remote, distant, unconnected, disengaged experience, then nothing could be further from the truth. And simply in the course of exposition, we find ourselves, both in the morning and in the evening, dealing with essential issues that our culture continually confronts—namely, “What about my money?” and “What about the matter of sex?”
Now, in what Leon Morris refers to as a “chatty” little section here, these opening verses, Paul provides instructions for a collection of money to be made expressly because of circumstances of poverty. And so it is that we address this matter and discover in it a pattern and also a number of principles for giving money to the Lord’s work. For some of us, this is a refresher course. For others, it may well be new information. But for all of us, it is very, very important.
And I’m glad to be able to address the matter just in the course of exposition, not as a special message in order to try and drum up money from amongst God’s people. We remain thankful for the way he continues to work in this regard within our church family, and the financial figures that are in your bulletin today testify to God’s goodness through you in this place and beyond it. So it’s a good time to address the issue of money, when nobody thinks that it is a special message just in order to stir up further funds. No, it is not that at all.
Now, I would like to ask of the passage a number of obvious and straightforward questions and, in doing so, hopefully get to grips with what is being expressed here.
First of all, the simple question: What was the collection to which Paul refers? “Now about the collection,” he says, “for God’s people.” Well, we know that it was a collection “for God’s people,” for the saints, for those who have been called to a life of holiness. As we saw last time in 1 Thessalonians 4, this is not a unique group of people who graduated top of their class with religious honors, but it is the company of faith who have been called to holy living.
Now, as is often the case when you study the Bible, looking at this verse all on its own, one is hard-pressed to say very much more about it than that it was simply a “collection for God’s people” about which the Galatian churches also knew something. And that is why, in the study of the Bible, it is important to interpret Scripture with Scripture and to look through the New Testament and say, “Now, are there other places where this issue is addressed that would help to shed light on this so that I might understand more fully something about the nature of this collection?” And the answer is yes. And I want just to address a couple of passages with you so that you would see how this is so.
Romans 15:26, Paul speaks to this issue: he says, “I am on my way,” in verse 25, “to Jerusalem in the service of the saints there”—you see this interchangeable use of “saints” and “God’s people,” bearing testimony to this normalcy of what it means to be a saint—“in the service of the saints there. For Macedonia and Achaia were pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem.” So, there is this matter that he is telling the Roman church about as well.
In 2 Corinthians and chapter 8, he refers to the same thing and tells how the believers in the Macedonian churches had “out of [their] most severe trial” and “their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity.” And this is in direct relationship to this question of the needs that were expressed in Jerusalem.
In the history book of the church—and this is my last reference to this—Acts 24:17, Paul in his trial before Felix makes mention of the same thing. He explains why it was that he was showing up in Jerusalem. He says in verse 17, “After an absence of several years, I came to Jerusalem to bring my people gifts for the poor and to present offerings.”
So, in Romans 15, in 2 Corinthians 8, in Acts 24, we have these cross-references which help us to understand the somewhat cryptic expression that is made here in the opening verse of chapter 16. What was this collection? It was a collection for the poor in Jerusalem. Why were the Jerusalem believers poorer than the others? Well, we’re not told, but we can wager a guess—namely, that Jerusalem itself, despite its significance as a religious and cultural center, was at this time a poor city. Indeed, Jerusalem was not sustained by the giving of the people that lived within its borders, within its walls, but Jerusalem was largely sustained by the gifts of Jewish people who lived beyond the environs of Jerusalem, and these prosperous individuals sent money into Jerusalem to make sure that the thing didn’t collapse, didn’t fall apart.
Now, the Jews, then, themselves in Jerusalem were somewhat poor. Those who had come to faith in Jesus Christ out of that Jewish community were poorer yet, because when the funds came in for the Jewish people in Jerusalem, the Jewish people in Jerusalem were so annoyed about the profession of faith that had been made by many of their Jewish counterparts that they weren’t for a moment going to pass any of that money on to these crazy Christian people. And so the Christian people found themselves impoverished as a result of the persecution which broke out upon them. And you can read of that in Acts chapter 8 in relationship to Saul of Tarsus himself, and you can also read of it in 1 Thessalonians 2.
Here you had a group of people who once were doing fairly well, who once were just going through the normal religious orthodox framework of their day. They had encountered Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, their lives had been radically changed in a discovery of his grace and of his goodness, and as a result of that, they were not healthy, wealthy, and wise. As a result of that, they were getting beaten up, they couldn’t get decent jobs, pandemonium was unleashed against them, and they found themselves at the very bottom end of the scale when it came even to the prosperity of the people of God in the then-known world. “Therefore,” says Paul, “given that that is the case, I want to make sure that we pay attention to the need that is expressed in Jerusalem, and I want to make sure that you participate in giving to them.”
Now, those of you who are thinking would realize that the Jerusalem church, of course, had led the way in their participation in one another’s lives, insofar as, following Peter’s preaching on the day of Pentecost, we read that each of the folks that had committed themselves to the church “were together”—Acts 2:44—and they “had everything in common,” and “selling their possessions and [their] goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.”
You say, “Well, my, my! That was a terrific start. What happened?” Well, it’s obvious what happened. You can only keep that going for so long. Eventually, without an inflow, you don’t have any outflow left. And when they had initially come to faith in Jesus Christ, they had all the benefits of their background and their prosperity, and so they sold, and they raised finances, and they made sure that they cared for one another. But now, in light of the persecution, in light of the famine, in light of all of this poverty, they had dipped into this as often as they could, and they now found themselves in dire straits. And so they were a needy people.
That, then, is the answer to the first and obvious question: What was this collection? It was a collection for the poor in Jerusalem. And that is a wee bit of background concerning it.
Secondly, why was Paul so concerned? Why was Paul so concerned? Well, there are a number of fairly straightforward responses to that, I think.
It would never do for the Christians to lag behind their Jewish and pagan counterparts in the care of the poor people amongst them. In other words, if the first-century equivalent of the United Way was working in Jerusalem and the Jewish people and the pagan people were being supplied in their great want and in their poverty, then it is just not right if those who name the name of Jesus Christ and who have brothers and sisters that have resources scattered throughout the world—it is just not right for them not also to benefit from the generosity of those who are in the family of faith. And, of course, that is exactly what Paul was calling for.
Secondly, the collection about which he is so concerned was a tangible expression of the unity and the oneness that existed in the body of Christ. Now, this may not be immediately obvious, but if you think about it, I think you will get it fairly quickly. The believers in Jerusalem were largely Jewish, almost exclusively so. The believers, as a result of Paul’s missionary journeys, were largely gentiles. And some of the most conservative folks within the Jerusalem church actually had real doubts as to the nature of what was going on on these Pauline missionary journeys—and you can read all about that in the opening chapters of Acts. They weren’t prepared to believe that these people could actually come to faith out of a different background other than Judaism. And so Paul sees it as an opportunity to express the unity and the solidarity that exists amongst all who name the name of Jesus Christ.
The issue is not whether you came to Christ from a Jewish background or a gentile background. The issue is not whether we have black skin or white skin or yellow skin. The issue is that we have been united in Jesus Christ, and it is that bond in Jesus Christ which is then to express itself in the most practical and tangible of ways. And there is no more practical expression of that love than when a man or a woman reaches into their pockets and, taking out of their resources, gives to the need of others around them. And Paul was greatly concerned that it should be so.
Indeed—and this would be the third thing that I would say—it is in our giving that we express one of the key evidences of God’s work within our lives. The corollary of that statement, of course, is that it is in our failure in giving that we call in question the work of God within our lives. First John 3:17: “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?” So he says, “You call yourself a Christian, and you have resources, and there’s need in the Jerusalem church? Step up.”
Third question: When was this collection to be taken? When was the collection to be taken? Well, all you need is your Bible and an understanding of the English language: “On the first day of every week…” In the Greek it reads, “On every first day of the week…” These are the same instructions as had been given to the Galatian churches. You can find that in Acts chapter 18. “And now,” says Paul, “I want you to implement these same things in Corinth. And first of all,” he says, “I want you to understand the importance of regular giving.” Regular giving. There is a system about the time of giving here; there is a spontaneity, as we shall see, about the amount of giving. But the regularity is something to which he calls them.
And it is, incidentally, a wonderful illustration of the pattern which was established by the early church of celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ on the first day of the week, on what became known as the Lord’s Day. When we did the Ten Commandments together some time ago now and then they aired on the radio, the most vociferous response that I received was to our study in the fourth commandment concerning the Sabbath day, to keep it holy—and none more so than from Seventh Day Adventists, who, in hearing me begin, thought I was one of them; in hearing me end, knew that I definitely wasn’t; and phoned with frequency and faxed and wrote to tell me how disgusted they were with me since I had obviously and so clearly missed the point.
Now, I was unable to engage in a major dialogue over the phone or even by mail, and I’m not going to unpack it all for you here, but I want you to notice in passing that here is one of the early evidences of the fact that for Christians, despite any lingering Jewish commitment to the temple and Sabbath-day worship—for Christians, they transferred their allegiance and their worship and their giving to the resurrection day. And it was on the day of resurrection that they gathered as a church. And when they gathered as a church, giving was part of their gathering.
You can make your own study of this at your leisure. John chapter 20, on the first post-resurrection appearance of Jesus, it takes place on Easter evening—that is, Easter Sunday night. Jesus waits for another complete week before he reappears; he appears again on the Sunday evening. And you find that it was normal for Christians to worship in this way.
There is one interesting aside that you find in Acts chapter 27 in relation to Paul’s ministry himself—Acts 20, I should say, and verse 7—where, in relationship to their movements through Macedonia and Greece, we’re told in Acts 20:5, “These men went on ahead and waited for us at Troas. But we sailed from Philippi after the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and five days later joined the others at Troas, where we stayed seven days.” And then it says, “On the first day of the week we came together to break bread. Paul spoke to the people and, because he intended to leave the next day, [he] kept on talking until midnight.”
Do you think those people were hungry for the Word of God? What day did it take place? On the first day of the week. Why did they wait? They waited for the first day of the week so that they might have the opportunity to worship in this way. And by the time the apostle John writes the book of Revelation sometime around AD 90, in Revelation 1:10, he is referring to it as “the Lord’s Day.”
So, when was this giving, this collection, to take place? “On the first day of every week.”
Fourth question: Who was to be involved? Well, again, the answer is right in front of you, in the next phrase there in verse 2: “each one of you.” “Each one of you.”
It is clear from Scripture that God has given to certain people special abilities to give, a special gift of giving, in the same way that he has given to some a special gift of leadership, to others a special gift of proclamation. This does not mean that they have the exclusive prerogative over it, but it means they have been uniquely called to this issue. And that is certainly true of giving. You can read of it, for example, in Romans 12:. But those individuals who are called and privileged to take that lead role, if you like, are not supposed to do it so as to compensate for the absence of commitment by the rank and file of the church. Each one who is in the church is called to commitment in relationship to financial giving.
Now, the emerging pattern in the church was very, very clear. Acts 4:35, we find that the people brought their resources, and they put them “at the apostles’ feet.” “There were no needy persons among them,” the reason being that “from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales,” and they “put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need.” In other words, Joe did not sell his field and then go over to Fred’s house and say, “Hey, Fred, I really like you. I don’t really like Sammy, and I don’t like Johnny, and they’re not getting any of the proceeds of my field. But I like you, and you like me and yoo-be-doo-be-doo, and da-da-da-da, so here’s my money. Aren’t I a great guy, and don’t you love me?” There was none of that! The guy sold his field. He didn’t want to let his left hand know what his right hand was doing. He wasn’t doing this in order to curry special favor with an individual. And so he simply brought the proceeds of his sale, he laid it at the feet of the apostles, and he said, “Okay, apostles, you know the church better than anybody else. You give the money as it should be given.”
There is an essential and necessary principle there. You find the same thing at the final verse of Acts chapter 4, where Barnabas, the “Son of Encouragement,” sold one of his fields, and he “brought the money” and he “put it at the apostles’ feet.” Acts 5:2, in relationship to Ananias and Sapphira: again, in the sale of resources, they brought it, and they “put it at the apostles’ feet.”
Now, we don’t want to say more than the Scripture says, but we don’t want to observe less than the Scripture makes clear—namely, that the principle of giving within the framework of God’s people is to be done in such a way that those who have been entrusted with the responsibility of the leadership of God’s people will themselves be godly men of integrity who will be able to determine how those funds should be disbursed. And it is the responsibility of these men to exercise godly wisdom and integrity, and it is the responsibility of the people to exercise godly trust and confidence in those who will answer on the day of judgment for every penny disbursed and every decision made.
That’s the pattern: “Each one of you—no matter how much you’ve got, no matter how little you’ve got. Each one of you.”
Sometimes, in receiving the applications for membership here at Parkside Church, in response to the question “And what is your response to the privileges and opportunities of giving financially to the work of the Lord at Parkside, and what are your intentions there?” the answer is sometimes given, “Well, I don’t give anything now, and I’m not planning to give anything now, but I will, you know, someday, when my circumstances are different.” Now, that’s a genuine cause for concern. Because the issue is not that we have a lot of money out of which we can give. The issue is that since our giving is to the Lord, we want always to be giving, each one of us. And if all that I can give would be the result of no longer taking the Plain Dealer six days a week and saving six times thirty-five cents and put that in the offering plate, that would be absolutely fine. Because each one is to be setting aside, on the first day of every week, their resources.
Now, the word here for “set aside” is the Greek word thēsaurízōn, from which we get our English word thesaurus, which we think of usually in terms of a collection of words, or a compendium, or a treasury of words. It is the same word. And what Paul is addressing here is the fact that in the period in which he is writing, both in pagan environments and also in Jewish environments, in the religious framework, there were literally treasuries within the places of worship. And it was customary for people on a regular basis to bring resources and to put them in those treasuries. “And so,” says Paul, “that’s what I want you to do. On a regular basis—indeed, on a weekly basis—I want you to set aside these resources in the treasury.”
“Oh, but,” says somebody, “don’t you think he’s just talking about setting them aside at home?” No, I don’t think so, because he says, “I want you to do this so that no collections will have to be taken when I come.” If everybody was setting it aside in their home, they’d have to have a collection when he showed up. But if everybody was setting it aside regularly in the treasury there, then when he showed up, there would be no need for collections, because the money would already be in place.
“Oh, but,” says somebody, “this surely doesn’t apply today. Because after all, you’ve got to understand the tax implications of these things. And if I keep the money to December 30 and so on, then it’s far more effective and far more useful,” and so on. Listen, I know about that—a little bit about that. I understand the wisdom of that. So do you. But this is what the Bible says. And there is something about the actual discipline of weekly setting aside money that is imperative for God’s people. Because it is a reminder to us, at least on the first day of every week, that all that I am and all that I have is a result of God’s grace and his goodness to me. Now, if choose to do that once every four months, I don’t have the same benefit of that experience. And furthermore, the resources that accrue accrue, then, in turn to the church, rather than the wealthy trying to make sure that they make sufficient interest off the seed before they finally scrape in before the end of the year with a donation. Something to think about, I can tell by your eyes.
The participation, then, was total. The amount, as we’re going to see in a moment, was personal, but the participation was total.
Let me just make a couple of points of application before I come to the fifth question.
The New Testament—indeed, the Bible itself—says this: learning to give properly is a central part of learning to worship properly. And we have never really learned to worship the Lord until we have learned to give to the Lord. We have never really understood the sacrifice to which he calls us until it has hit us at the level of our wallets, at the level of our resources.
And the other thing to point out is that the local church, while not having the exclusive access to our giving, should nevertheless be the primary place of our giving. Here it is that we support God’s people, that we support God’s servants, that we support God’s ministry as we place our gifts into the custody of those who have been entrusted with the awesome responsibility of dealing with them. Tremendous amount of money is duplicated and reduplicated as a result of a misunderstanding or an unwillingness on the part of God’s people to begin at the point that the New Testament calls us to begin—namely, at the treasury in the central place of the local church.
Now we come to the fifth question, which for many people is perhaps the most significant one: How much was to be given? How much? That’s what everybody wants to know: “Let’s cut through it. We got the Sunday thing. We got the, you know, who’s involved and everything. But let’s get to the heart of the matter: How much? How much?” That’s a very important thing, you see. Because for the Jewish mind, they wanted it buttoned down real tight: “Just tell me how much. ’Cause I don’t want to give any less, but I’m… Blow it if I’m going to give any more. So, just tell me what it is.”
And I have some very good friends with whom I play golf who tell me, say, “You know what? I buy my seat in the synagogue. I pay my thing. I do the High Holy Days. And the rest of it just keep out of my face. I just want to know what my responsibility is. Tell me how much, tell me how often, let me do the deal, and let’s get out of it.”
Paul doesn’t give them any kind of luxury like that. Look at what he says: “Each one of you should set aside a sum of money.” This is not getting real helpful, folks. “A sum of money.” Is there any indication of what it should be? Yes. “In keeping with his income.” In other words, there is some correlation between the sum of money that you set aside and I set aside and the way in which God has prospered me. But there is no specific indication given here. There is no amount. There is no percentage. And indeed, for all of my searching, I can find no amount and no percentage in the whole of the New Testament. Never once, anywhere, can I find in the New Testament anybody who says, “This is exactly what you’re supposed to give. This is the amount. Don’t give any less, and you don’t have to give any more.” Always it is discretionary. And I’m going to show that to you.
Indeed, let me show it to you right now. Let me give to you—old territory for some, new terrain for others—let me give to you a number of biblical pointers in relationship to this “How much?” question. I’m just going to go through them quickly.
Pointer number one: true giving begins with the giving of ourselves to the Lord. Two Corinthians 8:5. If you look there, you will discover: “And they did not do as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us in keeping with God’s will.” So, true giving begins with the giving of myself to the Lord—in the same way as when you get married, in your marriage service, you may have had the line, when you put the ring on your bride or your bridegroom, you’re supposed to put the ring on the fellow’s fourth finger of his left hand and say after the officiant, “With this ring I thee wed. With all my worldly goods I thee endow.” Remember that? In other words, “You get me, you get all this.” And hopefully there is an “all this.” In some cases, it’s like “You get me, you got a problem.” But “You get me, you get all this.” In other words, “First I give myself to you, and then all that I have, it comes to you.” There are no prenuptial agreements. There’s no funny business. There’s no separating of funds and resources. There’s none of that nonsense. “We two are one. You got me, you got the whole show. I get you, I get the whole show.” And I’m not talking now about business and tax dealings, okay? I’m talking philosophically here. I’m talking expressively. And that’s the picture.
When the Lord Jesus gets us, he gets it all. He doesn’t get us and 10 percent of what we own. He gets us and the whole deal—100 percent, the totality, the business, the house, the cars, the vacation home, the resource, the income, the tax benefits. He gets the whole deal. True giving begins with the giving of myself to the Lord. Two Corinthians 8:5.
Secondly, true giving is in response to what Jesus has given for us. Still in 2 Corinthians 8, look at verse 9: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.” He is the creator of the ends of the earth. He is the one who owns the cattle on a thousand hills and the wealth in every mine. He is the Lord of the universe. He is King of heaven. He is sovereign over the whole thing. And he appears as a baby, wriggling his toes, in the ignominy of a Bethlehem straw heap, and he says to his followers, “Foxes have holes and birds … have nests, but the Son of Man has [nowhere] to lay his head.” Why did he do this? In order that we through his poverty might become rich. C. T. Studd says, “If Jesus Christ be God and died for me, then no sacrifice that I could ever make for him could ever be too great.”
Thirdly, true giving will be generous rather than grudging or reluctant. Two Corinthians 9:5: “So I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to visit you in advance and finish the arrangements for the generous gift you had promised. Then it will be ready as a generous gift, [and] not as one grudgingly given.” In other words, he says, “I don’t want to be sending out a collection agency for your funds. I don’t want to be phoning you up and saying, ‘Excuse me, remember you promised a gift for the poor in Jerusalem? I’m just wondering how you’re coming along with that.’” Don’t you love that phrase? “I was just wondering how you’re coming along with that.” The answer is, “I’m not coming along at all! If I’d been coming along, I would have come along. You would have had the jolly stuff!”
“No,” he says, “I warned you, you see. I sent them ahead to finish the arrangements for the generous gift you had promised.” You see, what had happened is God had stirred within their hearts, and they said, “I’m in for that.” Paul says, “When you get to that point, make sure you get in right there. Don’t let it go cold on you, and then someone has to come and relight the fire of enthusiasm underneath you.” He says, “Let your giving be generous rather than grudging or reluctant.”
Verse 7 of 2 Corinthians 9: the amount of our giving is to be personally determined. How much should I give? “Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion”—nobody coming along and saying, “This is what it costs, and this is what you’ve got to give, and blah, blah, blah.” “For God loves a cheerful giver.” A hilarious giver! That’s the word, hilarós. He loves it when people just go nuts giving. “Ha! Why don’t we give this?” “That’s crazy!” “Yeah, I know, isn’t it? Let’s give it!” Rather than putting your thing in your… You’re out some place, and they say they’re taking an offering, and you’ve got these jolly things. At least in Britain they’ve got ’em the right way round: you know the difference between a one and a five and a ten. But here, you folks are in deep trouble, because the notes are all the same size, and they’re all the same color. And so, you’ve got a problem, because if you’ve got hundreds, fifties, twenties, tens, and ones, you can’t just go in there. You’re going to have to be doing a lot of this! But if you want to be hilarious, just grab the whole thing and put it in! “Take it! Terrific! It’s hilarious!”
“How much did you have in your pocket?”
“I don’t know! I think I had about $270.”
“You put the whole thing in?”
Do you realize how much I spent this week on golf? Do you realize how much we spent this week on eating out? Do you realize how much we spent in the last six months on ourselves? Goodness gracious! If I took everything I had in my pockets and put it in, we wouldn’t even come close to what we’ve been doing for ourselves. And we didn’t eke that out. We say, “Shall we drive or shall we fly?” And somebody says, “Let’s fly. It’s kind of crazy, but let’s do it!” Cheerful and personally determined.
You say, “Well, what about tithing?” What about tithing? “Well, don’t you believe in tithing?” Yeah, I believe in tithing when you’re supposed to tithe, and I don’t believe in tithing when you’re not supposed to tithe. So when are you supposed to tithe? In the Old Testament, under the Mosaic law. “Oh! That’s a real problem, because I was feeling really good about my 10 percent. And the 90, I’ve got it stashed beautifully. You’re not going to tell me that 10 percent isn’t the deal?” That’s exactly what I’m going to tell you. It’s not!
You see, when you look at the Old Testament, under the Mosaic law, in the establishing of a tithe… (I’ve got to get this money up, incidentally.) But in the establishing of a tithe… (That’d be hilarious if somebody comes and takes it.) In the establishing of a tithe, there were three elements to it. There was a tithe for the Levites, which—the government. There was a tithe for the national feast, which was the community. And there was a tithe for helping the poor, which was welfare. And when you put it all together, it amounts to some 23 percent of the people’s income.
Israel was a theocracy. In other words, their government was ruled by God. And in order for the structure of the nation to function, they needed these taxes. And these tithes were the taxes so that the nation might function effectively. They were not freewill offerings. They were demanded. They were required. They were necessary. There was a date when they were due—and it’s June 15, this week, for those of you who make quarterly returns. And there is no doubt about it: you have the little voucher, you’ve got the envelope ready, and you’ve got to put the check in it. And whether you feel good about it, bad about it, or whatever, you’ve got to do something about it.
But that’s not about giving today to the Lord’s work. That’s different. And it was different for the people of God. In fact, in Exodus chapter 25, God introduces a freewill offering. And I want just you to notice this, ’cause it’s really quite remarkable. Exodus 25: “The Lord said to Moses, ‘Tell the Israelites to bring me an offering. You[’re] to receive the offering for me from each man whose heart prompts him to give.’” The prompting of his heart to give. If you go forward ten chapters, you find the same emphasis—35:5: “‘This is what the Lord has commanded: From what you have, take an offering for the Lord. [And] everyone who is willing is to bring to the Lord…’” And then he mentions all these different things. And in Exodus 35:21: “And everyone who was willing and whose heart moved him came and brought an offering to the Lord.”
Now, this thing got so out of hand that by the time you get to Exodus 36:6, God has to issue an instruction through his servant Moses, who “gave an order and they sent this word throughout the camp: ‘No man or woman is to make anything else as an offering for the sanctuary.’ And so the people were restrained from bringing more, because what they already had was more than enough to do all the work.” As soon as they were cut free from the legalistic requirements of a tithe, which actually limited them, the thing went nuts! And eventually, the word goes, “Hey, that’s enough! Stop for a while!” No, it wasn’t as a result of having a law laid down.
Now, you say, “Well, does the tithe have no place?” I think it has a place in this respect: that if that principle was important in the old covenant, then it certainly represents a good starting point in the new. It gives us some kind of frame of reference. But I believe the real danger is that we breed a mentality that says, “When you become a Christian, there’s a kind of 10-percent deal kicks in. It’s bad if you’ve only ever been giving half of 1 percent or nothing to the Lord until your Christian experience, because a 10-percent hit in your income will be felt.” But that’s not the deal. The deal is that when we become Christians, the Lord takes over everything. He ultimately owns the title to all that we have and all that we are. And so to get away with 10 percent would be to sneak out.
Well, I’ve said enough on that. I would add to it: true giving is to be sacrificial and yet cheerful. David says, “I won’t offer to the Lord that which costs me nothing”—2 Samuel 24:24. Ultimately, true giving is a matter of the heart. Jesus says in Luke 6:38—a wonderful verse; I’ve always thought it should be some kind of song. I don’t know if it is or not. I don’t know how you’d make it into a song, but it would certainly move along, I’m sure. Jesus says, “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap.” “A good measure, pressed down, shaken together … running over, will be poured into your lap.” “For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” In other words, stingy in, stingy out. You want to be stingy with God? That’s okay. You want to be generous? Then you’ll see the blessing that attends it.
There was a final question in 1 Corinthians 16:3–4. I just mention it, and we will conclude: How will these financial matters be handled? The answer, in verses 3 and 4, is with scrupulous care. You’ll notice that Paul arranged for the collection, but he didn’t plan to touch the money in person at any time. You’ll notice that the Corinthians were to raise it, the Corinthians were to keep it until Paul came, and when it finally went to Jerusalem, he was going to write letters, but they would be given to men that were approved by the people there in Corinth, and these men would take the money there.
Some of the worst things that have ever happened in the framework of Christianity have happened as a result of people in leadership positions having access to the funds and the resources. You read some of the most horrendous things—you know, evangelists counting the offering, pastors putting it in the bank, all that kind of thing.
And I want you to know, just in passing, just as interesting as it is: I can’t sign a check in this church. I can’t draw down funds in this church. I can’t do anything financially in this church except in relationship to my book and conference allowance, which is a minimal amount of money, and it all has to be disbursed to me by the hands of others. And I absolutely love it. I love it! So if we raised two million, five million, ten million, twenty million for the work of the kingdom, that’ll be fine. I might even stand up here and say, “Let’s go!” But you can be sure that I’ll never touch it. It will be put in the hands of godly men who will care for it as those who give an account to God.
What’s this collection? For the poor people. Why’s it so important? Because our money is an expression of our love. When should it be received? First day of every week. How much is involved? In proportion with our income, as God moves our hearts. And how will it be handled? Please God, as in the previous twenty-some years in Parkside Church, it will be handled with the utmost integrity.
Let us pray together:
Father, grant that in these most practical of areas, you will reign supreme within our lives. Glorify your name in the giving of ourselves and in the giving of our resources. For Jesus’ sake we ask it. Amen.
 Leon Morris, The First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians: An Introduction and Commentary, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1985), 231.
 2 Corinthians 8:2 (NIV 1984).
 See Acts 8:1.
 See 1 Thessalonians 2:2.
 Acts 4:33–34 (NIV 1984).
 See Matthew 6:3.
 Acts 4:36–37 (NIV 1984).
 See Psalm 50:10.
 Matthew 8:20 (NIV 1984).
 C. T. Studd, quoted in Norman P. Grubb, C. T. Studd: Athlete and Pioneer (1933; repr., Harrisburg, PA: Evangelical Press, 1943), 145. Paraphrased.
 Exodus 25:1–2 (NIV 1984).
 Exodus 35:4–5 (NIV 1984).
 2 Samuel 24:24 (paraphrased).
Copyright © 2023, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.