Whenever the topic of stewardship and giving comes up, the conversation inevitably turns to the question: “How much should I give?” Answers will vary because the motive behind such questions also vary.
Sometimes the motive behind asking this question is for self-justification. Even though, as Lutherans, we know we are not saved by our works but by grace through faith because of Jesus’ substitutionary atonement, the natural religion of fallen man is to earn God’s favor by what we do.
Take, for example, the response of our Lord to the rich young ruler who asked, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus first tells him to keep the commandments. The rich young ruler responds by indicating that all this he has kept from his youth. But Jesus tells him that he lacks one thing: He must sell all he has and give it to the poor and then follow Him.
This rich young ruler went away sad because he was quite wealthy and could not part with his possessions. Here we see that those who seek to justify themselves by their giving will hear a response that intensifies the duty that God places upon them. Indeed, they will hear a response that makes it impossible to win God’s favor by their works.
But to those who genuinely desire to know their duty as Christians in the arena of giving, we look to the Bible for our answer. We believe the Bible is the Word of God. And we know that the Word of God has been “breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16–17).
So, we begin to answer the question, “What should I give?” with the question, “What does the Bible say about how much we should give and to whom?”
The Old Testament is explicit. The expectation is that the people of God would give a tithe – 10 percent – of the first fruits of their labor to support the full-time ministry of the Levites. This is what the Lord gave Moses to teach the people:
“You shall tithe all the yield of your seed that comes from the field year by year. And before the Lord your God, in the place that he will choose, to make his name dwell there, you shall eat the tithe of your grain, of your wine, and of your oil, and the firstborn of your herd and flock, that you may learn to fear the Lord your God always.
“And if the way is too long for you, so that you are not able to carry the tithe, when the Lord your God blesses you, because the place is too far from you, which the Lord your God chooses, to set his name there, then you shall turn it into money and bind up the money in your hand and go to the place that the Lord your God chooses and spend the money for whatever you desire – oxen or sheep or wine or strong drink, whatever your appetite craves.
“And you shall eat there before the Lord your God and rejoice, you and your household. And you shall not neglect the Levite who is within your towns, for he has no portion or inheritance with you.
“At the end of every three years you shall bring out all the tithe of your produce in the same year and lay it up within your towns. And the Levite, because he has no portion or inheritance with you, and the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, who are within your towns, shall come and eat and be filled, that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands that you do.” (Deut. 14:22–29)
This principle of tithing is carried over into the New Testament, though not explicitly by calling it a tithe. St. Paul teaches the Church at Corinth the following:
We are to give to the church regularly (1 Cor. 16:1–2), proportionally (1 Cor. 16:1–2; 2 Cor. 8:12), and generously (2 Cor. 8:20) of our first fruits (1 Cor. 16:1–2; Gen. 4:4; Prov. 3:9; Lev. 27:30) with a spirit of eagerness (2 Cor. 9:2), earnestness (2 Cor. 8:7), cheerfulness (2 Cor. 9:7), and love (2 Cor. 8:23). And all of this is because the “Lord has ordained that those who preach the Gospel should make their living by the Gospel” (1 Cor. 9:14), just as the Levites did.
This is our New Testament standard. Since Christ became poor for us in order to make us rich in Him – blessing us with the riches of heaven – so we have also been so blessed to follow the example of our Lord and Savior and give of ourselves and the work of our hands to bless others with the same.
If we have been lax in this, let us, like our Lord, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross and scorned its shame, likewise begin to work toward this goal of regular giving of a generous proportion of the first fruits of God’s giving to us.
And let us do so not begrudgingly, but for the joy set before us – with a spirit of eagerness, cheerfulness, and love – to share the blessings of God with those placed into our care.
LCMS Stewardship Ministry