Jonathan Leeman and John Onwuchekwa discuss what the Bible says about tithing and what it means for us as Christians to give cheerfully, according to our means.
Leeman begins the discussion by outlining four biblical observations about tithing and says that tithing was required of Old Testament Israel in a certain way. Tithing means “tenth.” Leeman says we are now not required to give a tenth of our income in the same way since we are no longer under the mosaic covenant law. So tithing doesn’t necessarily refer to a particular percentage, but rather, an attitude of generosity. Second, Leeman says when giving, the Christian should do so not reluctantly or under compulsion, but cheerfully, as Paul says in 2 Corinthians 9:7. Third, Leeman says Christians are called to give cheerfully, generously, and according to their means (1 Cor. 16:2). The fourth biblical observation Leeman makes is that Christians should prioritize one’s church when giving (1 Tim. 5, Gal. 6:6).
Onwuchekwa talks about how the Scriptures implicitly outline how tithing and giving to one’s church is for the support of the pastor, the relief of the poor, for the advancement of gospel works. He says as we give, the church is the primary place that we give to. Onwuchekwa also highlights how Jesus, when it came to tithing, celebrated a widow who gave it all and then told a rich man to give it all. So Christ is talking about the attitudes of our hearts when giving, that we know all of our means belong to him and when we have a vision of what he did for us, then we become a generous group of people.
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This episode was produced by Heather Calvillo and Steven Morales.
John Onwuchekwa: Tithing.
Jonathan Leeman: Yup.
John Onwuchekwa: What do we do with it? Do we have to tithe? Are we obligated to tithe? If we do tithe, where does it go? What do you think? Somebody asked you about tithing, what do you tell them?
Jonathan Leeman: Yeah. Great question. Common question, I think. Four biblical observations. Number one, tithing is required of Old Testament Israel. The word “tithe” actually means tenth. And, no, I don’t think we are required to give a tenth of our income in the same way Old Testament Israel did. We’re not under the Mosaic Covenant Law in the same way. In fact, they had more than just the tithe. They had a number of things that was required of them. But, no, I don’t think it applies to us directly. So, observation one, not a particular percentage.
Observation number two, not compelled. So I think of 2 Corinthians 9:7, which says people should give “not reluctantly or under compulsion, but cheerfully.” Not under compulsion. We cannot compel them.
Observation number three, I would say Christians are called to give cheerfully, generously, and according to their means. Ok, so, again, some New Testament texts, I think of 1 Corinthians 6:2, which says, “In keeping with your income.” I think of 2 Corinthians 8:3, which says, “according to their means.” So, point one, “according to your means, according to your income.” Second, “but generously.” So 2 Corinthians 8:2 and 3, and 7 say “the Macedonians were rich in their generosity beyond their ability.” And he’s calling the Corinthians to also excel in this grace of giving. And then third, of course, “cheerfully.” So on the one hand, no, I don’t think we can give Christians a particular percentage, but I think, one, “according to your means,” two, “generously,” three, “cheerfully.”
And then the fourth biblical observation I would make is that I think you should prioritize one’s church. So 1 Timothy 5, “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching.” The Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle the ox when it treads out the grain, and the laborer deserves his wages.” And then, of course, Galatians 6:6 says, “Let the one who is taught the Word share all good things with the one who teaches.” So, yeah, I think whatever percentage I have as a Christian, the first of it should go to my church. What do you think, brother?
John Onwuchekwa: Yeah. I think that, to that point, I think what we see implicit in the text is that the Christian’s life is really centered in the church. And so all the instructions about where we are to give, I mean, we see things like, for the support of the pastors, right, for the relief of the poor that are among us in the church, for the advancement of gospel works that go on through the world, and we see the church as the home base where all that stuff takes place. So it does make sense that as we give, I do think that the church is that home base, that primary place that we give to, and, yeah, still money flows from.
Jonathan Leeman: Now, when somebody is joining my church, I’ll often give the counsel, “Hey, look, the Bible doesn’t restrict you to a certain percentage, but I would suggest 10%.” I’m cheating a little bit because I just said it applies only to Old Testament Israel, but I think 10% is an advisable, the prudential place to start to be giving to your church. Do you say anything like that?
John Onwuchekwa: So we start off…and so what I do is I say, you know, I think the Bible is going to address our attitude more than the amount.
Jonathan Leeman: Cheerfully. Generously.
John Onwuchekwa: Yeah. And so when Paul tells them to give, Paul’s gonna say, “You all remember Christ,” and then he’s gonna put Christ’s gift in a monetary word, “Who was rich, but for your sake, he became poor so that you might become rich.” And that’s how Paul’s going to compel them. And it’s funny, when you see Christ talk about the amounts, he celebrates a widow that gave it all, and then he tells a rich man, “Give it all.” So it’s like, Yeah, all is a lot. Know what I’m saying?
Christ ain’t saying, “Give it all,” but he’s trying to talk about an attitude where we just know that it’s all his. And I think when we know that and have a vision for what he did for us, then I do think that, yeah, when we do talk about trying to give according to our means, we create a generous group of people, and not folks who just kind of grin and bear it, and give under compulsion.
Jonathan Leeman: Okay. So not compelled, according to our means, cheerfully, generously. Brother, you’re a full-time preacher?
John Onwuchekwa: Yeah.
Jonathan Leeman: Do you exhort the whole congregation in this direction in your sermons? Do you talk about this?
John Onwuchekwa: Yes. So, what we’ll do is…so we’ve been a church for four years, and to this date, we haven’t done a stewardship series because what we do is when we get to the text, it’s just…we apply it. And there’s so many places to apply generosity. And so we’re constantly just trying to call our folks to be like that with their time, with their…
Jonathan Leeman: So you don’t need a stewardship series because you’re just kind of regularly applying in the direction…
John Onwuchekwa: All the way. Yeah.
Jonathan Leeman: Okay. How about this? What about in one-on-one discipling? Will you ever ask a guy, “Hey, how’s your giving going?”
John Onwuchekwa: Yes.
Jonathan Leeman: How does that conversation go?
John Onwuchekwa: We’ve actually had folks in our home, college students, or young adults spend three weeks with us when we had a home that could fit them, and throughout that time, we’re teaching them how to study the Bible, how to share their faith, how to manage their money. And so we sit down and do a budget with all of them. And within that, we talk about what they give to the church, and just say, “Hey, this is a part of it, right? We don’t want to shy away from it. We don’t want to make it the main thing, but it is a thing that you need to be instructed on.” So, as a pastor, I do not know the amount that anybody in the church gives.
Jonathan Leeman: That wouldn’t be good for your heart?
John Onwuchekwa: No, no. Yeah. It’s good for my heart, my soul.
Jonathan Leeman: Yours sounds like an awesome church. Can I join it?
John Onwuchekwa: Come on. All right, Jonathan. Thanks again, man.
Jonathan Leeman: You, too.