Tithing class

This course is designed to emphasize the importance of tithes and offerings and show that tithing is still a valid practice within the church today.  Furthermore, it is the goal of this course to evaluate typical tithing practices of Christians and understand that many are not in line with what the Bible says.  It is recommended that you write down and/or print out your responses to these questions.  A link at the bottom will take you to our suggested answers.

Getting Started

Please answer the following questions before reading through the rest of the course.

What percent do you believe the average Christian tithes of their income?  

What would you guess the average Christian gives to their church per year in dollars? 

How would you characterize your own giving? 
in % 
in $

In the Beginning

Sacrifice starts all the way at the beginning of the Bible in Genesis with Adam and Eve.  After they sinned, they realized they were naked and they were ashamed.  They tried covering their nakedness on their own and hid from God but it did not help.  God sacrificed an animal to create clothing for them.

The first time we hear of man making a sacrifice is in the story of Cain and Abel.  Genesis 4:2-7 tells us part of the story.  “…Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil.  In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord.  But Abel brought fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock.  The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor.  So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.  Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry?  Why is your face downcast?  If you do what is right, will you not be accepted?  But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you but you must master it.'”

What was the difference between Cain and Abel’s offerings?

 

Why was Cain not doing what was right?

When it comes to tithes, offerings, or even our worship, our attitude is the most important thing.  We can see Cain’s attitude reflected in this passage.  He brought “some of the fruits of the soil.”  He didn’t bring the best, he didn’t bring his first harvest.  Abel brought from the firstborn of his flock.  Abel didn’t even know if he would have any more born into his flock, because these were the first.  He didn’t wait to tally everything up at the end to see if he had anything left that he could bring.

It can also be assumed that Cain knew his sacrifice wasn’t acceptable to God.  The only example we have of sacrifice before this is God sacrificing an animal.  However, when Cain and Abel go to sacrifice, we hear of no specific command.  They must have known, either from God’s earlier example or from previous experience, what God expected of them.

God addresses Cain as one would a child who has done something wrong and the child knows they have done it.  Cain becomes angry and ultimately kills his brother because of jealousy that God accepted Abel’s sacrifice.

Throughout the Old Testament, God institutes numerous types of sacrifices, each one of them being a picture of something- most pointing to Jesus Christ as the ultimate sacrifice for sins.  By offering up his own type of sacrifice, Cain was unknowingly saying that he didn’t need Jesus as a sacrifice and that he could make a sacrifice that was just as good.

Sacrifices were not instituted because God wanted to have a fund raiser.  They were instituted to make a point.

The Law

God gave Israel strict guidelines concerning their tithes.  Deuteronomy 14:22 says, “Be sure to set aside a tenth of all that your fields produce each year.”  Part of the tithe was to go to the Levites (priests) so that they may survive.  God had given them no inheritance or land as he had the other tribes of Israel.  Without land to grow food on, they had to rely on the tithe from the other Israelites.

This correlates with pastors today.  Full time pastors do not work a “real job” and so they must depend on the tithes of the church so that they may survive.   The Levites however, still had to give a tenth of what they received as a tithe.  Numbers 18:26 says, “‘Speak to the Levites and say to them: “When you receive from the Israelites the tithe I give you as your inheritance, you must present a tenth of that tithe as the Lord’s offering.”‘”

The Israelites were not always faithful in giving their tithes or supporting the temple and the priests.  By Malachi’s day, God had had enough and he was very angry with the people.  God calls upon the people to return to tithing and he would be faithful to bless them.

Malachi 3:8-12 – “‘Will a man rob God?  Yet you rob me.  But you ask, “How do we rob you?”  In tithes and offerings.  You are under a curse – the whole nation of you – because you are robbing me.  Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house.  Test me in this,’ says the Lord Almighty, ‘and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.  I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not cast their fruit,’ says the Lord Almighty.  ‘Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land,’ says the Lord Almighty.”

In light of the fact that God says he has placed the entire nation of Israel under a curse for not properly tithing, do you believe that God could/would place a curse upon an entire church or even denomination that has been unfaithful in their giving? 

 

What do you think about God’s promise to bless those who are faithful in tithing?  Is it literal?  Is it a physical blessing or spiritual blessing?  Is it still a promise for today?

Tithing Today

Dr. Elmer Towns teaches a lesson called “Who Owns Your French Fries?”  In it, he tells the story of a father and son who have gone out for dinner at a local fast food restaurant.  As they are eating, the father reaches over to grab one of his sons french fries as fathers so often do.  However, the little boy slaps his father’s hand and says, “Don’t touch my french fries.”  The father is taken aback and considers his son’s selfishness.  He bought the french fries and by right, the fries belong to him.  Furthermore, his son belongs to him.  The father has the right to become angry and never buy his son fries again.  He leaves the restaurant wondering, “Why is my son so selfish?  I gave him a whole package of fries and I only wanted one.

The idea behind the story is that God has given us all that we have.  When he asks us for just a small portion, we often slap his hand and tell him to stay away from our stuff.  God likewise has the ability to prevent us from obtaining anything else.  Or he can shower us with blessings like he promised the Israelites in Malachi 3.  It is his choice.

Numerous people argue that tithing is no longer required in the church age because there is no mention of giving a tenth in the New Testament.  Obviously, many things changed when Jesus came.  But he also told us not to think that he had come to abolish the law, but rather to fulfill it.

Many of the sacrifices that the Israelites made are no longer valid because they pointed to Christ.  For example, we no longer have to sacrifice a lamb for our sins because Christ made that sacrifice one and for all.  However, the reason for tithing was to support the work of the temple.  Today, we still have the work of the church to support.

Jesus tells us in Matthew 6:19-21, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  He continues in verses 31-34, “So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’  For pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.  But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.  Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.  Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

God expects us to put our money where our mouth is.  If we believe that it is important for the church to reach our community, our friends, and the entire world, we need to invest our money in this.  Rest assured, such an investment will pay dividends that will not be lost if the stock market crashes or if a natural disaster takes all that we have on earth.

Many people claim that they would like to give more to the church but they simply cannot because of their bills.  Obviously in some cases this is true, especially involving medical expenses or people on fixed incomes.  However, for many people, this is a simple lack of faith.  People will not trust God enough to take care of them if they give more money to their church.  They’ll have plenty of excuses, but this is what it boils down to.

So are we commanded in the New Testament to give a tenth of our income?  No, there is no direct commandment.  Nor is there any statement saying that the system of tithing was obsolete and unneeded.  Why is there little to be said about tithes and offerings in the New Testament?

My best assumption is that the early church didn’t need to be reminded of it.  They simply did it and did it with the right attitude.  In the Old Testament, we read where God had become angry with the Israelites for not tithing.  The New Testament had no such need to remind.

At the very beginning of the church, we see Christians giving.  Not only is this ten percent of what they own, they give everything.  Acts 4:32-35 tells us, “All the believers were one in heart and mind.  No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had.  With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all.  There were no needy persons among them.  For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need.”

Is it any wonder that the early church grew at such a phenomenal rate?

Five Motivations

After we give our tithes, they are the church’s to do with as it sees fit.  However, each of us has a preference as to where we would like to see the majority of our money spent.  These things become our main motivation for giving.

There are five motivations, as identified by Jerry Falwell.  They are: Light and Heat Bills, Missions, Ivy Walls, Cup of Cold Water, Bricks and Mortar.

Light and Heat Bills – Some people are motivated to take care of the day to day operations of the church – make sure it keeps running smoothly.  These people give to the general fund that pays for the most basic expenses such as electricity and church staff salaries.

Missions – Some are motivated by seeing their money go to work outside the church.  This can be in supporting overseas missionaries, or supporting an outreach project.  These people can even be motivated just to pay for advertising for the church – anything that gets the word out.

Ivy Walls – Some people are motivated most to support education.  These people will give more readily if they know the money will support the Sunday school program, a Christian school, or even a church camp.

Cup of Cold Water – Some are most motivated by the “social gospel” – if you meet the needs of others, they are more likely to be receptive to the gospel.  These people will support food banks, homeless shelters, hospitals, and emergency relief programs.

Bricks and Mortar – Some are motivated best by seeing physical growth in the church.  These people are most likely to give when there is a building project going on and money is needed to physically expand the borders of the church.

 

Which of these five motivates you to give most?

Real Numbers

 

Finally, we come down to real numbers.  What is normal for a Christian?  How much much does the average person give?  What does the average church need to operate?

I will answer the last question first from my own experience.  I have not seen any numbers to actually back this up but it has been true in every church I’ve been associated with.  The church needs about $1,000 per person in attendance per year.  That means, if your church is averages 70 people on Sunday, your operating budget is probably around $70,000.  If the church averages 1,000 on a Sunday, the operating budget is probably around $1,000,000 per year.  Please note however, I’ve only dealt with churches in rural areas.  Churches in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, or Philadelphia will likely require more per member because of a higher price for everything in the area.

I’ve been given two different numbers concerning how much money Christians give per year.  Neither number is reassuring.  George Barna (from barna.org) reports that average giving is $488 per year.  Jerry Falwell reports $520 a year.  Using either number, this means two things.

1) Many churches are not meeting their budget
2) Churches that are meeting budget probably have a couple of people who give way over average

Even taking the higher figure, this means the average Christian gives $10 a week.  If they eliminated going out to eat once a week at $5 a week and instead gave that to the church, offerings would increase 50% in one year.

If an average couple makes $35,000 a year (some places this is high, some way low for two people) and they tithed ($1,750 per person) offerings would triple in a year’s time.

So what percent does the average Christian give?  Only about 2.6% of their total income.  If all these people gave 10% church offerings would increase almost 400%.  Imagine what your church could do with 4 times as much money as what they are currently receiving.

These are all averages.  Your church may be doing much better.  Cost of living may be higher in your area, meaning $520 is a lot less in New York City than it is in the middle of Iowa.  But just think of the implications if everyone was willing to give 10%.

It all comes down to, “Are we willing to give a portion of what we have back to God?”  The New Testament doesn’t give us a number.  The Old Testament gave us 10%.  The New Testament gives us an example of believers who gave everything.  The Old Testament tells us that God will bless us immensely if we are willing to give a tithe.  The New Testament saw a church that grew rapidly because the believers were willing to give.

Are we willing to give and trust God with the investment?

See Tithing class answers

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