God’s old covenant people had to give at least 10 percent of their income, plus offerings on other occasions. In contrast, the new covenant does not specify a certain percentage. However, the underlying principle is still valid: Humans ought to honor God by returning some of the blessings he gives them. Here are three reasons: 1) God blesses those who give. 2) God commands his people to give. 3) The church needs money to serve the members.
God could supply all our needs miraculously, if money were the only need we had. Instead, he supplies our needs through the contributions of his people. That’s because he is not only working in the church as an organization, he is also working in the hearts of his people. By making the church dependent on the members, he is addressing the most important need we have: that each of us become more closely conformed to the love shown to us by Jesus Christ.
Until Christ returns, the church will always need money. Sometimes the needs will be urgent, sometimes more predictable. There will always be more work to do. However, even if the church did not need money, God’s people should still give — at the least, simply because God commands it. God’s commands are given to us for our own good. Our generosity does not enrich God at all — but it does enrich us (Acts 20:35).
Those who are generous from the heart are becoming more like Christ, putting treasures in heaven for eternity. God often blesses us in this life, too, for the sacrifices we make in his service (Luke 18:29-30). It takes faith and trust — trust not so much in the people to whom the money is given, but trust in the living Jesus Christ to follow through on the promises he has made. That’s where our faith needs to be — and our actions need to be consistent with our faith.
Paul asks for generosity
The apostle Paul encourages us in 2 Corinthians 8. He was encouraging the Corinthian Christians to give an offering. Although this particular offering was not for himself, what he says is relevant to our need to be generous with the church that is teaching us the gospel of salvation.
Paul mentioned the example of the Macedonian churches, who gave even to the point of self-sacrifice (2 Corinthians 8:1-5). Paul is implying that the Corinthians needed to make some sacrifices themselves. But Paul did not command this (verse 8). Instead, he wanted a change of heart — this is the result that he wanted most of all. He wanted the Corinthians to give themselves to the Lord first, and then to others. He wanted their gift to be done in love, not grudgingly (verses 5, 8). Paul reminded them that Christ had become poor for their sakes; the implication is that the Corinthians should be willing to make some financial sacrifices of their own.
The Corinthians could not give more than they had, and they did not have to impoverish themselves to enrich others. But the rich should share with the poor (verses 12-14). Since some of the Corinthian members were wealthy, Paul was confident that they would give generously (verse 14). He asked them to prove their love (verse 24) and to do as well as he had told the Macedonians that they would (2 Corinthians 9:2-5).
Paul again said that the offering should come from the heart (verses 5-7). He reminded them that God rewards generosity (verses 6-11), and that a good example causes people to praise God and puts the gospel in a favorable setting (verses 12-14). These are good reasons to be generous. Christ has made many sacrifices for us, willingly, not grudgingly, so we also ought to be willing to give to help others, to share significant portions of our blessings with others.
This collection was for the poor saints in Judea; it was not designed to support Paul. This gave Paul an extra reason to be confident that the Corinthians would be generous. He was not asking for something in addition to ministerial support, but a substitute for it. Paul had not asked for any financial support from Corinth (2 Corinthians 11:7-11; 12:13-16). Instead, he had been supported by the Macedonians (11:9).
Paul had a right to financial support
However, Paul had a right to be supported by the Corinthians, even though he did not use it (1 Corinthians 9:3-15). This passage tells us more about our Christian duty to give financial support to the gospel. Workers should be able to receive benefits of their work (verse 7). Priests, soldiers, vineyard workers, herdsmen, oxen, plowers and threshers all receive pay from their work. Jesus said, “The worker deserves his wages” (Luke 10:7). Paul mentioned these principles again in 1 Timothy 5:17-18. Elders, especially those who preach and teach, should be honored financially as well as with respect.
Jesus also commanded, “Those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel” (1 Corinthians 9:14). This implies that those who believe the gospel must contribute toward the living expenses of those who preach. There is a financial duty, and there is a promised reward.
Jesus had much to say about our use of money. For example: “Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me,” said Jesus to a rich man (Luke 18:22). He said the same thing to his disciples (Luke 12:33). He praised a widow who put two coins into the temple treasury, because she gave “all she had” (Luke 21:2). The new covenant makes astonishing demands on us — it demands all that we have. This is fair, since Jesus gave all he had for us, and he paid for our entire lives.
Jesus warns us about the dangers of greed and about the danger of storing up wealth for self without being “rich toward God” (Luke 12:15-21). When we use wealth to help others, however, we gain “treasure in heaven” (verse 33). Generosity helps put our heart in heavenly things instead of earthly, temporary things (verse 34).
In summary, Christians have a spiritual need to give, to share their resources and blessings with others. They have a duty to support the preaching of the gospel and give financial support to their leaders.
The old covenant was glorious, but the new has a much greater glory. The old covenant required 10 percent; the new covenant commands us to give as we are able. How shall we respond to the better blessings we are given in the covenant of liberty? Each of us must examine our hearts before the Lamb of God, realizing he gave everything he had for us.
Although the new covenant does not specify a percentage for giving, it does not tell us to give less. Instead, it tells us to give what we can. The new covenant requires more soul-searching, more training for the conscience, more selfless love for others, more faith, more voluntary sacrifice and less compulsion. It tests our values, what we treasure most, and where our hearts really are.
Christians should examine their circumstances and the blessings they have been given in the new covenant — blessings such as the forgiveness of sins, the gift of the Holy Spirit and the promise of eternal life. I believe that when we understand how much has been given to us, we will respond with greater generosity to support the church in its collective work of preaching the gospel and for the expenses involved in the congregations and pastors.
The church does have financial needs. Members do have financial responsibilities toward the church. And God does bless the cheerful giver.