Paul was Post-Tithing

Many pastors and churches preach and (less so) practice tithing — that is, giving 10% of income to the local church. There is dispute on whether you pay 10% on total income or adjusted income, and some argue that the 10% measures total giving and not just to the local church.

On top of that many also believe in “offerings” or “Christian charity.” Charity is what you give for those in need.

What does your church teach about “giving” or “stewardship”? Does it teach grace or something like the tithe? Does the New Testament ever teach the tithe? Why not?

As I read him,  Rodney Reeves’ in his excellent Spirituality according to Paul: Imitating the Apostle of Christ, would argue otherwise. Reeves would say the apostle Paul believed (and practiced) neither the tithe nor charity.

Why?

Because of one simple word: grace. Grace revolutionizes us from those who tithe and give charity to people who pass the grace

Reeves, who can tell a story in a book if anyone can (and there’s an art form to his chps), begins where no one would begin when it comes to Paul and work and money and giving. He begins with the idle Thessalonians to whom Paul said “anyone unwilling to work should not eat” (2 Thess 3:10). Yes, Paul sounds like an American here but this has nothing to do with us. In fact, what Paul is getting at indicts us. Let me explain.

Some silly Thessalonians had caved in on working and chosen to be idle. We are not sure why. Some say it was because they thought the Lord’s Day had come and they were waiting it out — so enthused were they about the imminent return they had given up working. Others think, because of a recent famine in Macedonia, some had chosen to loan themselves to the wealthy. Some think some in the church had decided they were teachers and, like Peter and James (perhaps), would rely on others for their income. Paul was himself not for that policy. But Reeves thinks the answer is simple: some had ceased working because they presumed on the hospitality, the generous hospitality, of the Thessalonian Christians.

Reeves observes that this grates American Christians. The Thessalonians were so hospitable they were easy to take advantage of. We think that early experiment in Acts is unrepeatable; we are self-sufficient; we aren’t all that hospitable — “the first gift of the church”; and we feel entitled to what we’ve “earned.”

None of this makes sense to Paul because Paul thinks everything we have is the result of God’s grace, that the material and the spiritual are tied together, and that our responsibility is to see that God’s grace is such that our duty is to pass the grace — we get in order to give. God rescues us and we respond materially, and others provide materially and we respond spiritually. It’s tied together.

The fundamental principle of Paul’s theology of money is reciprocity. God gives to us so we can become grace to others.

Paul doesn’t teach the tithe or charity. He teaches grace and grace is more radical and more revolutionary than the tithe and charity. I would say Paul was “post-tithing.” Tithing is pre-gospel.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • Tim

    Grace-
    Recipiency (faith)-
    Thanksgiving-
    Mission (passing in the grace)
    …grace…

  • phil_style

    I don’t think most professed “Christians” are aware of how exacting and revolutionary Paul/ Jesus economics really are.

    Keeping a gun under the pillow to protect our property (mine, mine, mine) just seems to different from this ridiculous grace concept!

  • http://antiitchmeditation.wordpress.com jeff weddle

    Paul tells believers to consent to the words of our Lord Jesus Christ in 1 Timothy 6, which is Paul’s version of Luke 6–going after money destroys faith so listen to Christ who said to give it all away.

    The bottom line is our mistrust of God and His ability to provide for His people. If we gave it all away we wouldn’t have any money! Yup. Blessed are the poor. But, but it’s the poor in spirit not the actual poor. Yup, but if you were poor in spirit you’d give it all away and be poor! On and on. It amazes me how people can deny such clear and repeated teaching just so we can have stuff.

  • Georges Boujakly

    I go to my work and life today with this prayer: Open my eyes that I may see what grace to pass on to those around me without any discrimination. Amen.

  • Bill

    The new covenant intentionally removes the structure of ‘rule’ and invites believers to listen to the Spirit as disciples of Jesus. All that we are and have belongs to God to be directed by the Spirit moment by moment. Our local expression of the ‘church’ operates without ever calling for ‘tithes or offerings’. We simply speak about Jesus and when someone asks about giving we encourage them that is a decision between them and God. Instead of being a ‘tell you’ church, we are trying to be a ‘come and see’ church.

  • Amos Paul

    I certainly don’t think there’s any particular ‘mandate’ in the NT to ‘tithe’. That being said, Paul seemed to call supporting your ministers an ‘obligation’ owed to those who’ve worked hard for the church–whatever that means–and encouraged the churches to give to one another, their leaders, the apostles, the needy and so forth. And that’s not even to speak of the ‘Communist dream’ Acts church model.

    Indeed, Paul’s model looks incredibly similar to what the ancient tithe did for the nation Israel. With this in mind, I think that the model of tithing is simply *useful*. It’s both good for the church and good for the particular individuals giving to discipline themselves in giving unto God. Tithing is one good model to do that through with lots of Scripture, even, utilizing the lnaguage we might encourage people with.

    Tithing –

    Requirement: No, not necessarily. It’s between individuals and their Lord.

    Encouraged: Yes.

    Giving –

    Required: Pretty much. As necessary as telling people to pray.

    Financially: Not required, though encouraged.

    Addendum. I personally hear people arguing for ‘tithing on the gross’ and not the net quite frequently. I don’t agree with it. The gross is not my increase.

    Moreover, some people may be in such financial slavery (slaves are even an OT Law exception to tithing) that they must wisely arrive at a tithe that makes sense for them. Maybe it’s not even always going to be financial. Money is merely an abstract representation of personal wealth and resources–which are actually far more Biblical things to give.

  • http://www.ccada.org Kate Johnson

    Your question was what does my church teach about giving? Well, I have never heard a grace-giving sermon. My husband has, once. But all I have ever heard is tithe to the church, and then the extra give to other ministries if you want. But your first duty (tithe at minimum) is to the church… otherwise how will they pay their bills?

    Another question is how many churches tithe THEIR income to ministries/outreach? Hmmm.

  • Steve

    #6 Amos Paul – LOVE your point about financial slavery and the thought toward the OT Law on tithing. Great stuff.

  • Fr Chris

    Our parishes tithe %10 to the denomination. We also will give to others on occasion (with the bigger churches actually supporting missionaries etc. in addition to the denominational tithe). Pastors will also often times have a discretionary fund that they can use to help folks in need etc.

    There are many, many more ways that churches give out of their operating budget. We usually just do not parade that fact around:)

  • http://www.thefaithlog.com Jeff Doles

    My wife and I have learned to tithe and to honor the Lord with the first and the best (instead of the last and the least — the leftovers). Not as an obligation of law but as an opportunity of grace.

  • http://thesidos.blogspot.com/ Arthur Sido

    We need to get away from the “how much to give” questions because it reduces our finances to a budgetary line item. The model in the New Testament was sharing, a radical sharing of all things. What we see is not a donation on Sunday to support the operations of a local church but open and absolute sharing so that none in the church go without. If we assume that everything I have is mine except what I offer/give/tithe, we lose the mindset of the church as a family.

  • Rick

    “Where your treasure is….”

  • dopderbeck

    I hesitate to comment because this is an area of my spiritual practice in which I rarely if ever live up to what I believe.

    Just a comment: do you really want to put this in a sort of Lutheran law-vs.-grace framework?

    I think I’d prefer to say that Israel’s law concerning tithes and offerings, like the Torah in general, was itself a gracious gift. It was a formal means for Israel to support its mission materially, and thus it was itself part of “gospel.”

    Now in Christ, in the community of the Church, we see even more clearly the principle of grace that underlies the command to support the ekklesia materially. Whatever culturally-conditioned principles we might adopt to support that practice and principle (e.g. whether it’s 10% of gross or net or some other percentage or whatever), I would see it as continuous with the principle inherent in Israel’s Law.

  • michael

    Agree 100%.

    On the other hand, if we define “tithe” as Deut 14 does (beer and barbecue, v. 26; inviting alien, orphan, and widow, v. 29)–I think the church could use more of this :)

  • Amos Paul

    Dopderbeck,

    In response to, “this is an area of my spiritual practice in which I rarely if ever live up to what I believe.”

    So, basically how many of us feel about most other areas of the ideal Christian as well then?

    I’m done for now. Here all week, folks.

  • Karen Spears Zacharias

    Seems to me if you have to split hairs over the amount that’s not really giving, is it? When we give out of the abundance of our lives, the amount is the least of our concerns. Instead we are often asking, how can I give more…

  • scotmcknight

    David, not sure I meant to see it as a Lutheran law-grace, but I would say there’s something new (sure, continuous, but it was law, like taxes for us — that grace?) about how Paul in 2 Cor 8-9 talks about giving. I think that is what Reeves was getting at. Good point I think.

  • Richard

    I teach generosity and stewardship. My wife and I practice 10% to the church and another 12% to other organizations, missionaries, etc. As a congregation we gave away around 12% of our budget to missions, a samaritan fund, and other agencies doing social and evangelistic work in our community.

  • http://cbcpampa.com M. Meurer

    “I would say Paul was “post-tithing.” Tithing is pre-gospel.”

    Whether one agrees or disagrees with the concluding point, the article does nothing to back that point up.

  • Robert

    Jesus’ comments to the Rich Young Man don’t sit very well with tithing. I think John Wesley had it about right. As a young man he found he could live on £28 a year. This was in an age with no inflation; he lived on that much all his life. Everything over and above was given away.

  • scotmcknight

    M Meurer, I would contend that the emphasis on grace in Paul’s teaching, and the way it is presented in Reeves, would support it. Not sure if you are looking for more details (that’s where one has to read the chp).

  • dopderbeck

    Amos (#15) — nope, I’m perfect in every other way! ;-) Yes, isn’t that right. With financial giving, one of the things is that it’s empirically measurable.

  • dopderbeck

    Scot (#17) — yes I see that. I’m still not sure I’d want to see Israel’s law of tithing as a “tax.” I like to think of the Torah’s economic rules as embodying a holistic social / economic structure, which isn’t really analogous to our concept of “private” property ownership. If you held property, you held it sort of in trust for the community (hence the jubilee, gleanings and related laws). So the tithes and offerings simply reflect the fact that everything you had was a gift from Yahweh and everything you produced was a product of community.

    Later, Solomon imposed taxes to support an opulent imperial State, which led to the division of the Kingdom. I’d want to be careful about distinguishing Solomon’s taxes from the Torah’s communitarian economic laws.

  • Tim Seitz-Brown

    As a Lutheran, I put it this way… Blessed people, bless people… because God has been, is being, and will be generous to us, therefore, we are set free to be generous with others, now and in the future

  • http://www.gontroppo.blogspot.com David McKay

    Many people react with glee when told the New Testament doesn’t teach tithing. Their reaction is “Whacko! I can give God less.”
    That reaction shows they’ve completely misunderstood the New Testament.

  • James

    I come from a Restoration Movement tribe that never uses the term “tithe” because we believe that it is an old covenant term never repeated in the new covenant. Generosity, however, is encouraged throughout Paul’s writings, most especially in 2 Corinthians 8-9, where is taught as a cheerful, non-legalistic/law-demanded, act of generosity that is an out-pouring of a spirit-filled people, and that the amount of one’s giving is determined by need and opportunity, along with a commitment you’ve made privately between you and God. As such, we encourage people to consider the collection taken on Sundays at our worship gatherings to be an opportunity to give to meet our congregation’s commitments and endeavors, and encourage people to be generous individually as well as they see fit and are moved to do so, in service to Christ.

  • Alex

    Scot,
    Sounds like Reeves has much in common with Miroslav Volf in his book Free of Charge: Giving and Forgiving in a Culture Stripped of Grace. Volf’s theology of creation, God as Gifter, incarnation, the Spirit, and the nature of stewardship and giving grace(through property, money, forgiveness, time etc) is profound. I am looking forward to reading Reeves.

  • johnman

    I have heard tithing preached at my church, but I think tithing is part of the problem of people not tithing. Many fear what giving less than the 10% means about them and so instead don’t give at all, or give something for a while but feel so guilty because they can’t meet the standard that they stop giving altogether. If people who are committed to a community of faith, are given the freedom to give, and taught and demonstrated to live with a generous heart I believe they will give all that they can, with joyful hearts, and remember that God loves them, not be left thinking God is counting the money they give to see if it is 10%. Also for some very well off 10% is nothing much to give and why would they not be encouraged to give all they can rather than meet some law like requirement?

  • RobS

    Yeah, when people talk “grace giving” in many cases, I have to agree with David in #25 — it’s being used as an excuse to give less than the original tithe concept. For me, it’s really hard to stand in the shadow of a blood stained cross and see that a lot less is the right thing to do.

    But Rick (#12) points out, “where your treasure is…” and many people today spend more on their cell phone data plan than all the giving they’re willing to give to advance God’s kingdom through His church.

    I haven’t seen many cases like #28. We have so many giving 0% that I don’t know many are trying.

  • http://inchristus.wordpress.com Inchristus

    It never ceases to amaze me that 1) pastors are so irresponsible in teaching all that God says re: giving and 2) the gullibility of those who refuse to search the Scriptures for themselves. See my recent post.

  • http://www.sacredmisfit.com Sarah

    So, I’ve gone to a church that has taught that tithing was all about worship – that is why we did it in the music section (don’t ask). Thoughts on this practice?

  • Amos Paul

    @31 Sarah,

    What do you see as inappropriate about this? While I, personally, am not a huge fan of the passing the plate/sack/whatever in the first place–my church does this as well. If we’re going to pass it. When else is more appropriate?

    Or, what is it about giving that doesn’t seem like a part of Worship for you? Although, my view of big ‘W’ Worship is the whole lifestyle of putting Worth in God.

  • Murray

    I personally can’t in good conscience teach people to practice tithing based on the Law or else i would need to teach people to obey the rest of the Law, something that was already decided for us in Acts 15.
    But I think I can teach people that giving 10% back to God is a good model for us to follow based on the example of Abraham. Abraham responded to God’s grace in his life in worship which included giving 10% to Melchizedek, priest of God most High. It doesn’t appear to me that Abraham was obliged to give this 10%, nor was it expected of him, but somehow he knew this was an appropriate gift to give God as an act of worship.


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