Translations: 简体中文 繁體中文

Christian Generosity

God teaches us that we have certain personal rights. I'll just mention a couple of these

1. We have the right to private property. (Ex 20:15; Matt 20:15; Acts 5:4)

2. We have the right to receive payment from those to whom we minister.(1Cor 9:4-14)

But Generosity is when we give up personal rights to serve better.

Now before I get into an extensive dialogue on generosity, I would like to mention one thing which generosity is not. And this is a major misconception in the Christian community, particularly among professional Christians. Tithing is not an act of Generosity. Tithing, according to the law of Moses was a legal obligation.


In their "Fleece the flock" sermons, the mainstay of many full-time Christian ministers who rely upon fund raising, ministers will often preach that Christians are obligated to  tithe in accordance with the Law of Moses, a tithe being 1/10 of a person's increase in a given year. I have concluded that the Bible does not teach that Christians are obligated to tithe. In the New Testament letters Christians are never instructed to tithe. And the examples where giving of one's resources is spoken of, the principles advocated ignore the issue of tithing. However the "Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel." 1Cor 9:14 And thus everyone who preaches the gospel - whether a full-time Christian minister, or a part-time minster like the apostle Paul who earned a living making tents - has a right to receive payment for their services. In such a case, Generosity is a minister giving up that right to get paid, as Paul spoke of his own example of such generosity in 1Cor 9:15-18, a practice of which he advocated when he spoke to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20:33-35, a topic of which I'll elaborate upon later. Paying ministers of the gospel for their ministry to you is an obligation, as the Lord has commanded, and as such is not an act of generosity, nor is it tithing in accordance with the Law of Moses. But as Tithing often comes under the subject of generosity let me mention some facts about Biblical tithing - facts that may differ from what you may have heard from fund-raising ministers.

First of all let me mention that while some make a big deal about 10%, they are often very unclear on 10% of what. Is it 10% of what you list on you tax return form as your gross income, or as your after-tax net income? What about the charitable deduction you get on your tax return? Does that count against your tithe such that you have to give more than 10% so that what you receive back is cancelled out to make 10%? What about expenses? If you have rental property and take in $5000 a month and pay out $4000 a month do you pay a tithe on the $5000 or on the $1000 difference? And if business expenses should be taken into account, then what about living expenses? For what if after living expenses you have no increase in your assets? Is your tithe then suppose to be 10% of nothing? What if your house value increases by $10,000 in a given year? Do you pay a tithe on that increase, even though it's not a liquid asset? Or what if your house price or investment lose money? 10% of a negative increase is a negative number. Do you then go to your institutional church and demand they pay you 10% of your loss in order to pay your negative tithe? Given all these practical issues which arise for anyone serious about making sure that he gives the proper 10%, I find it interesting that while fund-raising Christians preach 10% as if with conviction, they never clarify these issues. Why is that?

Secondly is the issue of where the 10% is suppose to be directed. Some preach that the 10% is to be exclusively to the local institutional church of which it is assumed the given Christian is a member, and that other money given directly to the poor, to sponsored children, or to mission organizations, is not part of the tithe. Generally, as liitle is left of a person's increased assets after giving 10%, preaching such tithing helps to maximize minister's salaries and building funds for the local institutional church, and some of which actually gets into the hands of the needy and missions, but as tithing is an obligation and not an act of generosity,  the individual Christian is left with little to actually practice generosity with. But let me get into what the actual practice of tithing was according to the Law of Moses.

Tithing according to the Law of Moses

What was it?
The tithe was 10% of your annual increase.
Deut 14:22  "You shall truly tithe all the increase of your grain that the field produces year by year."

Lev 27:32  "And concerning the tithe of the herd or the flock, of whatever passes under the rod, the tenth one shall be holy to the LORD."

How was it used?
For two out of three years you would party with it. You would "eat" it.

Deut 14:23-26 Eat the tithe of your grain, new wine and oil, and the firstborn of your herds and flocks in the presence of the LORD your God at the place he will choose as a dwelling for his Name, so that you may learn to revere the LORD your God always. But if that place is too distant and you have been blessed by the LORD your God and cannot carry your tithe (because the place where the LORD will choose to put his Name is so far away),  then exchange your tithe for silver, and take the silver with you and go to the place the LORD your God will choose. Use the silver to buy whatever you like: cattle, sheep, wine or other fermented drink, or anything you wish. Then you and your household shall eat there in the presence of the LORD your God and rejoice.

Every third year the tithe would be divided among the Levites, strangers, fatherless and widows

Deut 14:28-29 At the end of every three years, bring all the tithes of that year’s produce and store it in your towns,  so that the Levites (who have no allotment or inheritance of their own) and the aliens, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns may come and eat and be satisfied, and so that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands.

Deut 26:12  "When you have finished laying aside all the tithe of your increase in the third year--the year of tithing--and have given it to the Levite, the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, so that they may eat within your gates and be filled"

Amos 4:4 "Bring your sacrifices every morning, your tithes every three years."

Application of Tithing

Given these facts, what might we infer by way of application of these principles? Here's one of many possibilities:
1. Every year set apart 10% of your increase. (How ever you constitute that increase with a good conscience)
2. Every two out of three years spend the tithe on things you enjoy and rejoice in the name of the Lord.
3. Every third year distribute your tithe among Christian ministers and the poor and needy.
Or if you prefer to do the same thing every year, then you could combine these and each year spend 6.66% on fun stuff and rejoicing in the Lord in those things, and let's say 1.66% on Christian ministers and 1.66% on the poor and needy. That would fulfill your obligation for the tithe as might be inferred from the Law of Moses, if indeed tithing is a Christian's duty.

Now that seems to me to be significantly different than what tithing fund-raisers preach. Why is that?

Actually there are a number of different interpretations concerning what constituted tithing under the Law of Moses, according to the The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, especially when it comes to the issue of the Levites. I just gave my interpretation based upon the verses I pointed out, which agrees with modern scholars according to the Encyclopedia. It does note a conflict between Deut 14:23-26 and Numbers 18:21 of which rabbis tried to resolve by claiming multiple tithes were being taken which may be found in some Jewish writings. But the Encyclopedia goes on to say, "It is not necessary to assume this. It was the same tithe but used differently in the third year." And this in accordance with different circumstances between the nomad society of Numbers and that of entering the Promised Land of Deuteronomy. However I would not be surprised if such multiple tithes were impose. For it would not be out of character of the religious elite to try and grab more than their fair share.

The Bibliographies the Encyclopedia gives for it's sources are the following: J. A. MacCulloch and W. H. D. Rouse, "Tithes," HERE, XII, 347-351; H. H. Guthrie, Jr., "Tithe," IDB, IV, 654,655; Jew Enc XII, 150-152; EBi, IV, 5102-5105; H. Landsell, The Sacred Tenth or Studies in Tithe-Giving Ancient and Modern (1906), 45-109l 119-185; J. Reider, Deuteronomy with Commentary (1937), 144,145; C. Carmichael, "New View of the Origin of the Deuteronimic Credo [Deut 26]" Vet Test 19: 273-289, July 1969

A Message to Christian Ministers 
(or potential Ministers of the Gospel)

Much as Christian ministers preach that others should be generous (especially when giving to their particular church from which they draw a salary) I thought it would be most appropriate to give a message for such minsters as to what the Bible teaches how they can practice generosity, and what benefits may result from doing so.

The Bible teaches that Christian Ministers have an opportunity to practice generosity by giving up their personal right to get paid for their ministy and earning a living in the manner as most other Christians do.

Paul's Personal Rights: 1Cor 9:5-7 "Don't we have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles and the Lord's brothers and Cephas? Or is it only I and Barnabas who must work for a living? Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat of its grapes? Who tends a flock and does not drink of the milk?" and 1Cor 9:14 "the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel."

Paul's reliquishing of his personal rights: 1Cor 9:12 "But we did not use this right. On the contrary, we put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ."

But why would exercising one's personal rights, such as marriage and getting paid for ministry, hinder the gospel?

Paul mentions the hinderance of marriage in 1Cor 7:26 "Because of the present crisis (What I mean, brothers, is that the time is short. vs 29 (For this world in its present form is passing away. vs 31)), I think that it is good for you to remain as you are (single)." 1Cor 7:33-35 "A married man is concerned about the affairs of this world- how he can please his wife- and his interests are divided .. I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord."

Consider also the financial aspects of this. For even if you retain the right to get paid for ministry, you are exercising a degree of generosity by abstaining from marriage. For then your people don't have to pay for your whole family, but just for you individually, and you have more time available for ministry as well. In this way you also free of the resources of others to be used for acts of generosity.
And concerning getting paid for ministry there are a number of issues.

Firstly is the problem that people may question one's motives when money is involved, which may hinder the reception of the gospel. Acts 20:33-35 "I have coveted no one's silver or gold or apparel. Yes, you yourselves know that these hands have provided for my necessities." Furthermore offering the gospel free of charge helps to eliminate the question of motives, as Paul as mentions in 1Cor 9:12 But we did not use this right. On the contrary, we put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ." and 2Co 11:7  "Was it a sin for me to lower myself in order to elevate you by preaching the gospel of God to you free of charge?" In doing Bible study with youths in a detention center at times they ask me whether I get paid. And when they find out I do it for free they seem more receptive and appreciative.

Secondly is the example Paul set which he urged the Christians of his day to follow, 2Thess 3:7-12 "For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example.  We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone's food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to make ourselves a model for you to follow. For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: "If a man will not work, he shall not eat." We hear that some among you are idle. They are not busy; they are busybodies. Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the bread they eat." And while Paul mentioned in 1Cor that people have a right to get paid for ministry, he didn't seem to think that merely getting paid for ministry would provide a suitable example to follow for lay Christians.

Thirdly is not being a burden to others: 1Th 2:9  "Surely you remember, brothers, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you."

Fourthly is the issue of having resources to exercise generosity. For it is more blessed to give than to receive: Acts 20:33-35 "I have coveted no one's silver or gold or apparel. Yes, you yourselves know that these hands have provided for my necessities, and for those who were with me. I have shown you in every way, by laboring like this, that you must support the weak. And remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He said, 'It is more blessed to give than to receive.'"

The Corinthian's Generosity

One of the most extensive passages where Paul taught concerning the principles of Christian generosity is found in 2Corinthians chapters 8 and 9.

2Corinthians 8:7-9:15

But just as you excel in everything-- in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in your love for us--see that you also excel in this grace of givingI am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others.
Paul is going to instruct, but not command them concerning giving, else it would not be generosity, but obligation and compulsion. But note that as I mentioned above, the sincerity of a person's love may be indicated by the degree of their generosity.
 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.
Christ is the example of generosity
And here is my advice about what is best for you in this matter: Last year you were the first not only to give but also to have the desire to do so.  Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means.  For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what he does not have.
Pledging is not the same as generosity. If you've made a pledge, then see to it that you fulfill that pledge.
Pr 25:14  Like clouds and wind without rain is a man who boasts of gifts he does not give.
Pr 3:28  Do not say to your neighbor, "Come back later; I’ll give it tomorrow"-- when you now have it with you.
Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality.  At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. Then there will be equality,  as it is written: "He who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little did not have too little."
Gifts should be directed according to the need. For example is it really appropriate to waste money on elaborate buildings and comfortable seats while the Christian community elsewhere is starving? Compare to Third World Christians or Christian ministries to such people, do you perhaps have too much? And if so, what are you going to do about that? Notice also the example in Acts about equality
Acts 4:32 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.

Acts 4:34 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.

Acts 2:44,45 All the believers were together and had everything in common.  Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.

I thank God, who put into the heart of Titus the same concern I have for you.  For Titus not only welcomed our appeal, but he is coming to you with much enthusiasm and on his own initiative.  And we are sending along with him the brother who is praised by all the churches for his service to the gospel. What is more, he was chosen by the churches to accompany us as we carry the offering, which we administer in order to honor the Lord himself and to show our eagerness to help. We want to avoid any criticism of the way we administer this liberal gift.  For we are taking pains to do what is right, not only in the eyes of the Lord but also in the eyes of men. In addition, we are sending with them our brother who has often proved to us in many ways that he is zealous, and now even more so because of his great confidence in you.  As for Titus, he is my partner and fellow worker among you; as for our brothers, they are representatives of the churches and an honor to Christ.  Therefore show these men the proof of your love and the reason for our pride in you, so that the churches can see it.
Give to those who are trustworthy to utilize the resources effectively. For example it may be more prudent to give to a reputable minstry to the homeless rather than giving directly to a homeless person, unless you know that person well enough.
There is no need for me to write to you about this service to the saints. For I know your eagerness to help, and I have been boasting about it to the Macedonians, telling them that since last year you in Achaia were ready to give; and your enthusiasm has stirred most of them to action. But I am sending the brothers in order that our boasting about you in this matter should not prove hollow, but that you may be ready, as I said you would be. For if any Macedonians come with me and find you unprepared, we-- not to say anything about you-- would be ashamed of having been so confident. So I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to visit you in advance and finish the arrangements for the generous gift you had promised. Then it will be ready as a generous gift, not as one grudgingly given.
Generosity is meant to be exercised with an attitude of enthusiasm rather than reluctance. For it is blessed to give. Enthusiasm is also contagious. And thus your generosity may stir up a generous spirit in others.
Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.
How much should you give? Well contrary to the idea of "tithing" which legalistically calls for a set amount, the practice of generosity involves you deciding in your own heart what to give. Remember that generosity is not to be that which is done reluctantly or under compulsion. In fact I would say that if you feel reluctant to give, then DON'T GIVE. When I determine to give out some money I try to discern in my heart an amount above which I would feel reluctant to give. Remember God has freely given you personal property rights partly so that generosity would not be an obligation, but a practice of grace. But if you want to impress God, realize that God may be looking less at the amount you gave, or the percentage you gave, and looking more at the amount you have left.
"I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything-- all she had to live on." Mk 12:43,44
Secondly is noted here in Corinthians one of the benefits of generosity and the principle of amount. The more the generosity, the more effect it has.
And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. As it is written: "He has scattered abroad his gifts to the poor; his righteousness endures forever."  Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness.  You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.
And thirdly we note here that God takes care of his "givers" so that they may continue to be channels of generosity.
This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of God’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God.  Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, men will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else.
Forthly is the fact that the effect of generosity goes beyond just meeting the need. For here we see it results in thanksgiving and praise to God.
And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!
Fifthly it results in the receivers praying for you, and that with a degree of wholeheartedness. And consider also that God pays special attention to his righteous ones in need, who better to have pray for you. So you want someone to pray for you regularly, then practice generosity.

Isaiah 58:10,11 If you extend your soul to the hungry And satisfy the afflicted soul, Then your light shall dawn in the darkness, And your darkness shall be as the noonday. The LORD will guide you continually, And satisfy your soul in drought, And strengthen your bones; You shall be like a watered garden, And like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.

Other New Testament Principles of Generosity

Don't Let the Left Hand Know What the Right One is Doing
Mt 6:2-4 When you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.  But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
God desires you try to keep your giving a secret. While there may be appropriate times for testimonials, it seems too often Christians try to announce how generous they've been, in the name of encouraging others to give. But "The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it?" Jer 17:9 And thus we must beware of the motivations of our sinful flesh. Also not letting your left hand know what your right hand is doing may at times be necessary to practice generosity. I have a friend who, behind his wife's back, channels money through me to a missionary because she is too stingy to practice generosity.

Public Generosity Can Be Motivated By Or Provoke Envy

Another reason to keep giving secret is because generosity can stimulate envy in people and lead to sin and even death as I will show. First is the example of The Workers in the Vineyard in which the owner was being more gracious to some than others, and they complained, to which he replied, "Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?" Mt 20:15 But if he kept the wages private he may not have provoked their envious nature. In fact may companies today have the policy that you are to keep your wage a private matter so as to not provoke unnecessary envy between employees, which hinders a team environment.

A more serious example of envy being provoked is what happened in Acts 4 and 5

Acts 4:34-37 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.  Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means Son of Encouragement),  sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet.
While this public record of Barnabas' contribution was an honor, making the offering public may have been the impetus for what led to the death of Ananias and Sapphira in the next chapter. For they did likewise publically, but apparently in vanity and not from a spirit of generosity. For they lied about how much they gave. The issue was not that they were required to give the full amount of the sale. Or whether even to give any of the money at all. For Peter says to them, "Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal?" Acts 5:4 But I would infer that they lied from envy wanting to get honor as Barnabus had without paying the price for it. So also is the case for all Christians who boast of serving God more than they actually do. God killed them for it.
Generosity Gets God's Attention

There are many benefits to generosity some of which I further note in Investing in a Heavenly Retirement Account, but one I'll mention here from the example of Cornelius is that it get's God's attention.

Acts 10:2-5  He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly. One day at about three in the afternoon he had a vision. He distinctly saw an angel of God, who came to him and said, "Cornelius!" Cornelius stared at him in fear. "What is it, Lord?" he asked. The angel answered, "Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God." Now send men to Joppa to bring back a man named Simon who is called Peter.
Peter then came and preached the gospel and Cornelius became the first Gentile Christian. But why did God chose him first? Because of his prayers and generosity.

World Missions Should Also Be About Providing For The Poor

Gal 2:9.10 James, Peter and John, those reputed to be pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me. They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the Jews.  All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.
If anyone were model for missionaries it was Jesus and Paul. Yet we note in their examples they not only preached the message, but also showed concern for the poor and afflicted.

Beyond Money

This dialogue concerning generosity has focussed on money as the primary resource we practice generosity with. But of course there are other resources with which we can practice generosity. "Availability" is being generous with our time, as is spending time listening to others. (And if you've gotten this far on this page, then thanks for your generosity). Or our skills and abilities may be the resource we also practice generosity with. There's also an emotional generosity whereby we give of ourselves emotionally for someone else's benefit. And one can imagine other categories of generosity. But in common is a spirit of grace which enjoys seeing needs met and the response which comes from it.

The Berean Christian Bible Study Resources