December 14, 2022
I have shown you in every way, by laboring like this, that you must support the weak. And remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ”Acts 20:35 NKJV
Recently, I had a conversation with a man relatively new to the pastoral ministry. We were sharing some of the frustrations that come with the territory. He was honest enough to admit that he found himself getting irritated with parishioners who didn’t tithe. He had to guard his heart in this area lest he find himself trying to browbeat people to give out of guilt or fear, not faith. He knew this was wrong and wanted to learn to adjust his attitude. This is not an unusual occurrence. For many pastors their own livelihood, the upkeep of their facilities, and their ability to do important work in their community all seem tied to the giving of the people.
Having been there myself, I was empathetic. For me, it all comes down to remembering what my job is and Who is my source. My job is to teach people how to follow the Lord, which includes handling finances. I am there to help them enjoy the benefits of God’s Kingdom financial plan. When they do that, all needs are met, theirs and the church’s. As a Pastor, I am an under-shepherd who works for the Chief Shepherd. He is my source of supply. The tithes and offerings of the flock belong to their Owner. He pays me. (1 Peter 2:25; 5:1-4; Acts 20:28)
In order to keep our hearts where they need to be, it’s important to be clear on New Testament attitudes about finances. We looked at what Jesus had to say, and found that He addressed all three general areas of giving: tithes, offerings, and alms. In all three areas, He emphasized the attitude of the heart: money is not my motive, love is. He specifically told His audience to “beware of covetousness.” The Greek language uses a compound word meaning “to want more.” Greed is never content.
The New Testament epistles pick up where Jesus left off with similar advice on giving in general. Being generous and helping the poor is a consistent theme from Acts all the way to “keep yourselves in the love of God” in Jude 1:21. As Jesus did, the Apostles drew on the Old Testament to inspire the New. Here are a few nuggets from Paul on giving:
- Covetousness is still the enemy. Paul puts it in the same list with sexual sin. Like Jesus, he equates it with idolatry (Matthew 6:24) That’s tough language, indeed. “For this you know, that no fornicator, unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. (Ephesians 5:5 NKJV)” (see also 1 Corinthians 6:10/ Colossians 3:5)
- Our goal cannot be riches. It’s easy to slip from believing God’s promises about the blessings of giving, into making riches the goal of giving. That is the love of money, it is ungodly, and it leads to pain. The world measures success by wealth, God measures success by obedience with excellence. (1 Timothy 6:6-10)
- God doesn’t mind if you’re rich. He does indicate that it will make following Jesus harder for you. You will be tempted to trust your riches instead of trusting Him. Paul said to tell you rich folks, “do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to give, willing to share.” (1 Timothy 6:17-19)
- Money is seed that multiplies. This is a principle that began in the garden of Eden and continued after the flood (Genesis 1:11-12; 8:22) Isaac prospered by sowing in famine, and God included crop protection in the promises to the tither (Genesis 26:12-13; Malachi 3:11). Jesus declared that the whole Kingdom works on this principle (Mark 4:26-29), and Paul specifically applied the idea to giving, “He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully (2 Corinthians 9:6).”
- God provides for the ministry through the giving of His people. What began in the Old Covenant is continued into the New with repeated appeals to the Torah telling the churches to support their shepherds. “Even so the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should live from the gospel (1 Corinthians 9:14 NKJV).” He appeals to the upkeep of the Old Covenant priests and Levites, and even to the feeding of oxen to emphasize the point. (1 Corinthians 9:6-14; 1 Timothy 5:17-18; Galatians 6:6-10)
- New Testament giving is a heart conviction. Just as Jesus taught, so Paul confirms, the heart of one who has the nature of the Father will give generously. He will not need to be manipulated or threatened. He will give joyfully. God will supply both seed and harvest, and his generosity will cause thanksgiving to God. (2 Corinthians 9:5-14)
- God supplies the needs of givers. We all quote the Philippians 4:19 promise of provision, but we often fail to note that Paul made this bold statement to those who had given to support him in his mission. The one who gives to support God’s work can be confident that his own needs will be supplied. (Philippians 4:10-20)
Here’s the point: We have only scratched the surface of New Testament teaching on giving. The epistles are full of promises, principles, and promptings concerning finances. It seems clear that God wants us generous to all. He wants our needs to be met. He wants the Gospel to be financed. These ideas all have their roots in the Old Covenant but are now being manifested in and through the newly constituted people of God, followers of the risen Messiah, the Church.
God wants our giving to be:
- Motivated by Love. Love wants only the best for its object. Our giving is never to be seen or to impress anyone else. It’s also not done to get someone else’s approval. Paul said that giving was the proof of love and that love is the fulfillment of the Law. Let love compel your giving. (2 Corinthians 8:8-11 / Romans 13:8)
- Marked by Joy. Generosity is a joyous thing. Never let yourself be shamed or browbeaten into giving. As ministers we must fight any temptation to threaten or shame people to give. They must always give from the conviction of their own heart, Spirit-led and not compelled. Manipulation using either fear or guilt is not ministry, it’s extortion. Live free, give free. (2 Corinthians 8:1-8 / 9:7-8)
- Founded on Faith. Hebrews 11:6 says that “without faith it is impossible to please Him.” I want to please God, and I want the people in my church to please Him as well. Faith begins where the will of God is known. His Word is His will. As a Pastor, I teach people the Word and let faith rise in their hearts. Without that, I am reduced to depending on human reasoning and emotion to move them, and they are robbed of their reward.
You may have noticed that the tithe is not specifically addressed in any of these passages. While the sentiments expressed may apply to the tithe, the only place in the epistles where tithing is mentioned is in Hebrews chapter 7. In that passage, we find that we have a High Priest, the Lord Jesus Christ, who is from the order of Melchizedek, the one who received tithes from Abraham in Genesis 14. We will save that powerful passage for a later date.
For now, take time to review the scriptures in the epistles on giving. The process of renewing the mind as new creatures in Christ will move us steadily away from the covetousness of the old man and toward the generosity of the Father in whose image we are created.
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For more on the pastor’s role in the local church, try “How to Run a Sheep Shed.”
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