This is a topic that deserves much more attention than I am going to be able to give it in a single article, but I trust that the few Biblical considerations offered here will be helpful. First, I never use the word, “tithe,” to describe the believers’ giving, because of its association with the Old Testament law. The word essentially means, “the tenth part,” and it was commanded in the Old Testament law that the tenth part was to be held holy unto the Lord.
Leviticus 27:30 And all the tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land, or of the fruit of the tree, is the LORD’S: it is holy unto the LORD.
31 And if a man will at all redeem ought of his tithes, he shall add thereto the fifth part thereof.
32 And concerning the tithe of the herd, or of the flock, even of whatsoever cheer under the rod, the tenth shall be holy unto the LORD.
Tithing (paying one tenth) is based on the Old Testament law which we are no longer under.
Romans 3:21 But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets;
Romans 10:4 For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth.
Galatians 2:16 Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.
Galatians 5:18 But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law.
But what about today in this administration of grace in which we live? Believers can certainly give one tenth of their incomes if they want to and even correctly call it their tithes since “a tenth part” is all the word “tithe” means, but there is no commandment in effect today to do so. Giving is encouraged in the New Testament, but there is no statement as to how much. The closest is in Corinthians.
2 Corinthians 9:5 Therefore I thought it necessary to exhort the brethren, that they would go before unto you, and make up beforehand your bounty, whereof ye had notice before, that the same might be ready, as a matter of bounty, and not as of covetousness.
6 But this I say, He which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully.
7 Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver.
8 And God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work:
God’s will, as expressed by the apostle Paul, was that the Corinthians give as a matter of “bounty,” a generous blessing, not of “covetousness,” something that would have to be squeezed out of them and given grudgingly. Ministers today would do their congregations a greater service if they would consistently keep this in mind. People should never be put on the spot, made to feel guilty, etc. as a means of wringing more “giving” out of them. Paul told the Corinthians, however, that God would bless them for their giving in accordance with how “sparingly” or “bountifully” they gave. This begs the question, “How much is sparing and how much is bountiful?” The record does not say, nor does God’s Word address this question anywhere else. Jesus commented that the widow who gave her two mites had given more than others because she had given all she had.
Mark 12:41 And Jesus sat over against the treasury, and beheld how the people cast money into the treasury: and many that were rich cast in much.
42 And there came a certain poor widow, and she threw in two mites, which make a farthing.
43 And he called unto him his disciples, and saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That this poor widow hath cast more in, than all they which have cast into the treasury:
44 For all they did cast in of their abundance; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living.
This tells us that “sparing” or “bountiful” is relative to one’s ability to give, not just a matter of the amount given, but it still does not tell us what portion might be considered sparing or bountiful. When God’s Word does not say, then the matter is between you and God. If you are being honest with God, I think you will know if you are being cheap or generous. (By the way, you are not required to be generous. You’ll just get more of a blessing if you are.) This is strictly an individual matter.
The above Corinthians record indicates that it is better to give sparingly with a cheerful heart than it is to give more but do so grudgingly. It is better yet to give bountifully with a cheerful heart. So how much should a believer give? As much as he wants to, as he purposes in his heart (v. 7). It is best to give bountifully if you can do so cheerfully. “Cheerfully,” however, is the defining limit. Don’t give out of guilt or nervously out of a sense of obligation. It is better to give just a little and be happy about it. Either way, whether you give little or much, God is able to make all grace abound toward you that you always have all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work (v. 8).
Is it better to give than to receive? I have heard it “quoted” many times that it is better to give than to receive, but God’s Word doesn’t actually say that.
Acts 20:35 I have shewed you all things, how that so labouring ye ought to support the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive.
It isn’t necessarily always better to give than to receive, but it is more blessed, happier. If you are in dire financial need, is it not better for you to receive and have that financial need met rather than give when you don’t really have it to give? You would be much happier, however, if you were not in that situation to begin with, if due to your labors you had enough substance to be on the giving end. You would be more blessed giving than receiving. Right?
Who should the giving be given to? One of the outlets is given in Acts 20: 35 above, “support the weak.” The “weak” in this context are people who are unable to adequately provide for themselves. They don’t have to be permanently weak to be weak. Perhaps they have just lost a job and need a tide-over on their way to finding another one. Maybe there was some unexpected expense that they were unable to cover. They found themselves weak in these situations. They are deserving of help.
There is no indication here that this giving must be given to some church for them to carry out the mission of supporting the weak (rather than giving it directly to the individual), though that would be one means of doing so. Acts 2 and Acts 4 would seem to indicate each approach.
Acts 2:44 And all that believed were together, and had all things common;
45 And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need.
46 And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart,
Acts 4:34 Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold,
35 And laid them down at the apostles’ feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need.
Widows are named specifically as deserving of being cared for. The first responsibility for that rests with their families. If there is no family to do so, then the “church” takes on the responsibility.
1 Timothy 5:16 If any man or woman that believeth have widows, let them relieve them, and let not the church be charged; that it may relieve them that are widows indeed.
Of course, the church cannot do this if no one gives to it. There is a cultural difference between now and then relative to this. The widows referred to here were culturally in no position to provide for themselves. Widows today may or not be in such a position. They might need the help or they might be independently wealthy. The answer to the question of whether or not to provide assistance is a matter of need, not category.
The Greek word translated “church” is a very broad term, having nothing to do with any particular organizational structure. It refers here to the general body of believers. They did not have at that time the plethora of churches, different denominations, that we have today. There were just believers and unbelievers, though there was at least some structure among the believers. There were certain people who were recognized as being “elders” within the body of believers. These people, assuming they were doing a good job, were also to be recipients of the giving of others.
1 Timothy 5:17 Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine.
18 For the scripture saith, Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn. And, The labourer is worthy of his reward.
These elders who ruled well may have been accountable for the distribution of funds for the widows or others of the “weak.” They may have been responsible for other matters in fulfilling the purposes of the body of believers. Whatever it was they were doing, they were to be paid for their labor. Among these elders were people who labored in “the word and doctrine.” These were people who dedicated themselves to learning God’s Word “rightly divided” and teaching it to others. They, especially, were to be provided for. Other elders were to be counted worthy of “double honor” but especially they who “labor in the word and doctrine.”
The bottom line is that the giving is all up to you. There are no rules about how much and how often etc. There are people who should be helped, and believers are encouraged to do so. God even promises to bless those who give, but it is still a gift, not a payment of a debt.