The Lord said to Moses, “Speak to the people of Israel, that they take for me a contribution. From every man whose heart moves him you shall receive the contribution for me.
— Exodus 25:1–2 —
But who am I, and what is my people, that we should be able thus to offer willingly? For all things come from you, and of your own have we given you.
— 1 Chronicles 29:14 —
Old Covenant Giving: A Legal Requirement in the Land
From the opening pages of Scripture God has called his saints to give. Providing the first sacrifice when he made skins to clothe Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:21), God modeled for his children the kind of animal sacrifice that would please him. Abel followed in faith (Genesis 4:4; Hebrews 11:4), as did Noah (Genesis 8:20–22), Abraham (22:16–18), Moses (24:4–5; 40:29), and the priests of Levi (when they kept the Law). Throughout the Old Testament, God’s people were called to give.
Echoed in every other world religion, giving is a necessary part of worship. In Israel, tithes, offerings, and sacrifices—atoning and festive—were a normal part of worship. Likewise, the Old Testament testifies that every demon-inspired deity demanded gifts and every culture offered sacrifices—sometimes even giving up their children to the flames of Molech (Leviticus 18:21; Jeremiah 32:35). In short, from a cursory reading of Scripture or a survey of the world, mankind is people who worship, and giving is a necessary part of that worship. Still, in that worship there are right and wrong ways to worship, which means there are right ways and wrong ways to give.
In Israel, Moses gave repeated instructions on how to give (see instructions on the “tithe” in Leviticus 27:30–32; Numbers 18:21–32; Deuteronomy 12:5–7, 11–12, 17–18). The Old Testament also records offerings for the tabernacle under Moses (Exodus 25:2–7; 35:4–9), the Jerusalem temple under David (1 Chronicles 29:1–29), and the second temple under Nehemiah (Nehemiah 7:70–72; Ezra 2:68–69). In short, from the Old Testament we see how important giving is to the right worship of Yahweh. As we learn from the idolatry of the Golden Calf (Exodus 32), God does not simply want to be worshiped; he requires we worship him in the right way. Hence, how we give to him is a matter of his concern and ours.
New Covenant Giving: A New Motivation with a New Mission
That being said, there is no gift we can give that ultimately meets his standards. Since Abel offered his first sacrifice, the blood of bulls and goats have pointed to the need for a greater gift (Hebrews 10:4). The entire system of sacrifice is designed to show the insufficiency of animal blood. Ultimately, what is needed is the perfect sacrifice of Jesus Christ. What man could not muster in all his religiosity (Psalm 49:7–9), God provided himself (49:15) through the preparation and offering of his own Son (Psalm 40:6–8; Hebrews 10:5–10). Thus, in what we could never give, Christ gave in our place.
Still, such a gift does not eliminate the need for giving. It redesigns giving, but it does not replace it. Whereas the Old Testament saints gave from a place of poverty and indebtedness, Christians give from a profound sense of spiritual riches. Listen to the bounty Paul sees in 2 Corinthians 9:8, when he instructs the Corinthians to give generously.
The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. 7 Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8 And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work
“All grace . . . all sufficiency . . . all things . . . all times . . . and every good work,” testify to the riches we receive in Jesus Christ. Therefore, while the command to give does not change between the Old Testament and the New, the motivation and mission does. Whereas fear and guilt drove Israelites to offer sacrifices, followers of Christ give out of thankfulness and love. Simultaneously, we give so that others who don’t know Christ might come to a saving knowledge of him. While Israelites gave so that the God’s temple might be furnished, Christians give today so that God’s spiritual temple might continue to quarry living stones from all over the earth. To say it differently Christians whose chief duty is to worship God give sacrificially because they long for others to join their joyful assembly. It is this prospect of this joy that motivates giving, or at least that should motivate giving.
Thus, while the New Testament doesn’t prescribe a law of tithing; it speaks to those who have the law of God written on their heart. Interestingly, Paul says each follower of Christ must “give as he has decided in his heart.” In this way, he doesn’t reissue a legal command for ten percent, but if the law is training the heart one wonders how Paul might counsel a new believer to give? Would it be less than ten percent? Surely, if the covenantal position of the New Testament Christian is greater than the Old Testament saints, then his or her giving might also be greater.
At the same time, the law commanding a tithe was given to a people who were promised material blessings for covenantal obedience (see Leviticus 26:1–13). Under the new covenant—in this age, at least—we are not promised material blessings. Rather, Paul regularly says the people blessed by God’s spiritual blessings (Ephesians 1:3) will face many tribulations (e.g., Acts 14:22). Therefore, it is conceivable that the persecuted believer, the Christian refugee, or the homeless convert is unable to give a tithe like the Israelites when they enjoyed the Lord’s blessing. Accordingly, Paul’s unspecified counsel stands—give without reluctance of compulsion.
Motivation to give is not, therefore, legislated by stricter laws and pastors who beat the pulpit for funds. Rather, it is impelled by greater desire for God’s glory, an awareness of the world’s ‘lostness,’ and overwhelming thankfulness for God’s grace in our lives. Accordingly, brother-pastors, let us preach the gospel more fully and pray for God to open our people’s heart to give (cf. 1 Chronicles 29:14). Church members, meditate on Christ’s infinite sacrifice, and ponder how God would have you join him in his temple-building work. For all of us, let us fix our eyes on Christ and look for ways to share his bounty.
As we do that, may God open our hearts to give, just like he did the Israelites in the days of Moses and David. Indeed, may he do even more by the Spirit that dwells in his churches, so that as we pray and pursue strategies of evangelism we will give in order to further the advance of the gospel.
Soli Deo Gloria, ds
[photo credit: City Gate Church]
 This principle of giving was first seen when Abraham gave “a tenth of everything” he possessed to Melchizedek (Genesis 14:21; cf. 28:22). In the Law of Moses, this percentage continued (see Leviticus 27:30–32; Numbers 18:21–32; Deuteronomy 12:5–7, 11–12, 17–18). While Deuteronomy only mentions a vegetable offering, 2 Chronicles 31:6 speaks of cattle. In short, ten percent is the rule of giving in Israel. “Tithe,” in Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary (ed. Ronald F. Youngblood, et al.; Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1995), 1257–58.
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