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Giving in God’s Economy: What’s the Tithe Got to Do With It?

February 12, 2012 ()

Bible Text: 2 Corinthians 8:1-15 |

For the last 3 weeks we have been looking at how the Gospel relates to wealth and possessions. We have seen the connection between money and our hearts and even how money can easily become a rival to God as we put our love and trust in it. This week, we touched on how we should actually use our money—how giving functions in God’s economy.

The Context of Giving: To have a correct understand of giving, one must set it within the context of creation and covenant. Creation reminds us that everything we have is a gift from God, and even the things God gives us, he still owns. Thus we are to see ourselves as God’s money-managers, accountable to God for how we use his money. If we are not investing God’s money in a way that is in keeping with his values and goals, and that includes our giving, then we are committing cosmic fraud, robbing him (Mal 3:8).

But God not only relates to us as creator, he relates to his people as redeemer. Which is why giving is equated with returning to God (3:7, 10). Giving is thus an expression of a relationship. The giving and receiving of gifts is what binds relationships together. God promises that if we pursue him in generosity, he will reciprocate (3:10).

Practical Principles about Giving:  Verse 10 instructs the people to “bring the tithe into the storehouse that there may be food for God’s house.” This hints at the practical purpose of giving. From texts like Deut 14 and Num 18, it becomes clear that God desired for his people’s giving to go toward three purposes. First, money was given to support those who staff the sanctuary (Num 18:21). Second, the money was also given for the resources used in worship (Deut 14: 22–23; Mal 3:10). Third, a portion of the people’s giving was to be used for diaconal needs, for “the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow” (Deut 14:29). Moreover, there is a local priority to the giving: you are to make sure you take care of the one “who is within your town” (vv27, 29).

Of course, at some point the question is asked: How much are we supposed to give? And the only standard the Bible gives is the tithe. A baseline (not a ceiling) that God required of all Israelites was a tenth of their annual income. Christians have puzzled over the fact that the New Testament is relatively ambiguous about the tithe. While Jesus clearly affirms it for those under the old dispensation (Matt 23:23), there is no explicit reiteration of it for his disciples. Why is that? Perhaps the best answer is that without abrogating the tithe, the New Testament reveals a far more powerful calculator for giving: The cross of Christ. Thus, Tim Keller says: “when you consider how much to give, don’t sit down with the calculator, sit down with the cross.”

The Motivation for Giving: If the cross is the paradigm for Christian giving, then we have a tall order on our hands. Where does one get the motivation for such sacrificial giving? Paul shows us in 2 Cor 8–9, where he motivates not with guilt, nor willpower, but with grace—our gratitude for grace and our participation in grace. Paul has been urging the Corinthians to give to the needy Church in Jerusalem. And the key verse in his appeal is 8:9: For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich. What is to motivate the Corinthian giving is their experience of the grace of God. But Paul wants this experience to be worked out in their lives, as they participate in God’s generosity. And so he urges them to give, because he knows that God’s grace flows to people through people. Thus God intentionally gives his people the opportunity to give, because in giving they get to participate in, by being a conduit of, God’s grace.

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