How Much Should I Give?

Giving is an important part of being a good steward of what God has entrusted to us. When most Christians think about the topic of giving, they immediately think of tithing. Though that is an important point to consider, there are other points that should be considered as well. As giving is discussed at great length in the Bible, we will only be able to scratch the surface. But I hope this will challenge you as you seek to honor the Lord.


What is a Tithe?

A tithe means one tenth, or 10% of something. In the Bible, the tithe represented 10% of what God had provided during the year, and was one part of the giving that God instructed for the Israelites.

The tithe belonged to God. Leviticus 27:30 “Every tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land or of the fruit of the trees, is the Lord’s; it is holy to the Lord”

Tithing predated the Law. Abraham tithed to the High Priest Melchizidek, Genesis 14:20 and Jacob promised a tithe to the Lord in Genesis 28:22. It does not appear that it was a regular practice before the Law, but the tithe was instituted as part of the Law (Leviticus 27:30-33) and became a regular practice for Israel thereafter.

Yet, the tithe was not the full giving that Old Testament Israel was to do, it was merely a starting point…


Old Testament Giving

In the Old Testament, here is how Israel was instructed to give:

  1. 10% to support the priests and Levites (Numbers 18:21,24). This is what we think of when we refer to tithing today.
  2. 10% provided for a sacred festival (Deuteronomy 12:17-18; 14:22-27)
  3. 10% supported orphans, widows and the poor (Deuteronomy 14:28-29; 26:12-14) and was collected one time every three years

This means that on an annual basis, the average Israelite would have given approximately 23% of their income. Some of this amount would be what we pay for taxes (as Israel was a theocracy), but it implies that giving was not meant to stop at 10%.

The list above does not take into account any freewill offerings (Leviticus 22:18-23; Numbers 15:3; Deuteronomy 12:6,17; Exodus 35:29) or sacrifices/giving made during religious festivals. As this type of giving was left up to the individual, the percentage would vary.

During Old Testament times the tithe was not meant to be the end of giving, the ceiling was always much higher.


Giving in the New Testament

The New Testament spells out in more detail giving principles that are consistent with the patterns of Old Testament giving.

Interestingly, the tithe is not rescinded anywhere in the New Testament. Jesus assumes that the Pharisees and Saducees were tithing (Matthew 23:23), indicating that the tithe did not end in the Old Testament.

There is no percentage that is specified to be given in the New Testament. Rather the principles laid forth in the Bible give us the opportunity to apply them to our lives in various ways.


Key Biblical Principles of Giving

1. Give of the firstfruits

Proverbs 3:9 “Honor the Lord with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your produce…”

As a primarily agricultural economy in Biblical times this was not easy. By giving the firstfruits, they tended to be the best of the crop, and signified a reliance upon the Lord for provision through the remainder of the harvest. As bad weather, war etc could ruin the crop, it was a test of faith to give the firstfruits.

2. Be purposeful

2 Corinthians 9:7 “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”

Giving should be thought through in advance, not done when the offering plate is being passed. When we give a gift to a loved one, we think about it in advance and plan accordingly. How much more should we do that for the Lord?

3. Give regularly

1 Corinthians 16:2 “On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come.”

Our giving should be done on a regular basis, as we receive income. If we are to give of the firstfruits, that means it should be the first check or payment we make after getting paid.

4. Give cheerfully

2 Corinthians 9:7  Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”

Because of what the Lord has done for us, giving back a portion of what He has provided to us, is a blessing and a privilege. If it doesn’t seem that way, there may be something off in our relationship with God.

5. Give Sacrificially

Mark 12:41-44 “And he (Jesus) sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny. And he called his disciples to him and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”

For many in our current culture, sacrificial giving is a foreign concept. We view a sacrifice as giving up a cup of coffee or a special treat. As Jesus points out, it is not the dollar amount that matters, but rather our heart’s attitude. This widow gave everything she had (which was a pittance compared to what others gave), but it was everything. She was willing to trust God to provide for her needs. God does not recommend or require we give everything back to him, but are we giving out of our abundance or giving sacrificially?

6. Quietly Give

Matthew 6:1-4 “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. “Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

Many wealthy donors will have hospital wings named after them, and the Bible is clear that they have received their reward in full. We need to be careful to not bring attention to our giving.


Giving Today

When most Christians think about giving, their mind immediately turns to the tithe. So are Christians actually tithing?

According to the most recent data that Barna has published on giving in America, only 12% of evangelical Christians actually tithe (defined in the study as “giving 10% or more of their annual income to a church or non-profit organizations”), and that number has stayed steady for some time.

Many other surveys put the average total annual giving by a Christian at less than $1,000 a year. This means that many Christians spend more on coffee, lawn care/services, personal grooming/beauty products or their hobbies than supporting the Lord’s work.


A Heart Issue

In Matthew 6:19-21 Jesus said, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

In these verses, Jesus makes two points. First, we have a unique opportunity to convert something that won’t last (money and possessions) into something that will last for eternity. As Randy Alcorn illustrated in his book The Treasure Principle it is a bit like living in the Confederacy at the end of the Civil War. You know the war will end soon and your Confederate money will be worthless. You would be foolish not to convert it into something else that would last (like the Union dollar, gold etc). Are we living for all the world has to offer, though we know it is ultimately worthless, or are we living our lives in light of eternity?

Jesus’s second point is that our hearts will follow what we treasure. In our culture, the two things that are treasured are time and money. As Christians, we should treasure the Lord above all else. This would be reflected very clearly in our life’s choices regarding how we spend our time and God’s money.

God doesn’t need or want our money, but He does want our hearts.

History has many examples of people understanding this concept and applying it in their lives with dramatic results. One such example is the life of R.G. LeTourneau. He invented giant earth moving equipment and founded what is currently known as LeTourneau University. As God blessed him financially, he and his wife committed to living on 10% of what God provided, and gave the other 90% to support the Lord’s work. Though we are not asked to give that much, LeTourneau’s actions reflect a deep gratitude to the Lord and a reordering of the priorities of his life.


What Should I Do?

The best advice I have heard about giving is that the tithe is a great starting point. If you aren’t currently tithing, it would be a good goal to have. If you are already tithing, perhaps setting a giving goal of 15% or 20% would be a good challenge to start at. As time goes by, you can adjust your giving, but I would encourage you to evaluate it periodically.

Whatever amount is ultimately given, it should be calculated on the gross income God has provided. Gross income is what you receive before taxes, retirement, health insurance etc are deducted.

Why? Because the gross is the total amount that God has provided to you.

Where should it be given? The local church you attend should be a recipient of at least some of your giving. Malachi 3:10 talks about bringing the tithe into God’s storehouse, the Temple. As the church is the New Testament equivalent of the Temple, it seems wise to give the tithe to your local church to support their ministry.

Any giving above the tithe, would be called an offering and can be given to other organizations.

One area to seriously consider is giving to Gospel focused organizations. There are many organizations who work with the poor, sick etc, but never share the Gospel with them. Ultimately, they are helping them with an immediate need, but not their eternal need. Focusing on organizations that do both, helps deal with their more important eternity problem while also tending to their more immediate physical needs.

Ultimately your giving decision is between you and the Lord. There is no right answer for all of us. For some, giving 10% is sacrificial, generous and faith stretching, but for others that may be 90% or more.    


Why Is Giving Important?

Living in the most materialistic society that has ever existed, giving is the antidote to greed and materialism. If we are able to freely give away money, greed loses its hold on our lives.

Our giving is an indication of what we truly think about God. When we give, we are choosing to give up something we value (money) because God has given us so much more. It provides a way to express our gratitude for what God has done in our lives. Giving also causes us to trust God to provide, thereby helping our faith to grow.

Giving is a barometer of our relationship with God. When we are not generous towards God, we may have forgotten how much God has blessed us.

Giving is a privilege and a blessing, and an opportunity to grow in our faith and love to the Lord. It is my hope that you will find the joy of giving as you walk this path of stewardship


Parting Thoughts

  1. How we give and how much we give is a reflection of how we view God. If we give generously and cheerfully, it is because of what God has done for us, and what He means to us. What does your giving tell you about how you view God?
  2. Are you giving out of your abundance? Does your giving impact your lifestyle at all?
  3. There should be a tension between your saving and giving. If you do not ever ask should I be giving more, then your financial life is out of balance.
  4. R.G. LeTourneau said, ”It’s not how much of my money I give to God, but how much of God’s money I keep for myself.” Is that your philosophy of giving?
  5. Are you living for eternity (and the money and possessions God has entrusted to you reflects this) or for the here and now?

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