Giving That Brings Joy
GENIVAL, who lives in a shantytown in northeastern Brazil, supported his wife and children on the meager wages he earned as a hospital security guard. Despite his hardship, Genival gave the tithe conscientiously. “Sometimes my family went hungry,” he recalls while rubbing his belly, “but I wanted to give God my best, no matter what sacrifice was necessary.”
After losing his job, Genival kept up his tithing. His minister urged him to put God to the test by making a large donation. The clergyman guaranteed that God was certain to pour out a blessing. So Genival decided to sell his home and give the proceeds to the church.
Genival is not the only one who has such sincerity in giving. Many desperately poor people dutifully give the tithe because they are being taught by their churches that tithing is a Biblical requirement. Is that true?
Tithing and the Law
The commandment to tithe was part of the Law that Jehovah God gave to the 12 tribes of ancient Israel more than 3,500 years ago. That Law decreed that a tenth of the produce of the land and fruit trees and a tenth of the increase of the herds be given to the tribe of Levi in support of their services at the tabernacle.
Jehovah assured the Israelites that the Law ‘would not be too difficult for them.’ (Deuteronomy 30:11) As long as they faithfully observed Jehovah’s commandments, including tithing, they had his promise of abundant harvests. And as a protection, an additional yearly tithe, normally consumed when the nation met for its religious festivities, was regularly set aside. Thus ‘the alien resident, the fatherless boy, and the widow’ could be satisfied.
The Law did not specify a penalty for failing to tithe, but each Israelite was under a strong moral obligation to support true worship in this way. In fact, Jehovah accused Israelites who neglected tithing in Malachi’s day of ‘robbing him in tithes and offerings.’ (Malachi 3:8, New International Version) Could the same charge be leveled at Christians who do not tithe?
Well, consider. National laws are not normally valid outside a country’s borders. For example, the law that obliges motorists in Britain to drive on the left does not apply to drivers in France. Similarly, the law requiring tithing was part of an exclusive covenant between God and the nation of Israel. (Exodus 19:3-8; Psalm 147:19, 20) Only the Israelites were bound by that law.
In addition, although it is true that God never changes, his requirements sometimes do. (Malachi 3:6) The Bible states categorically that the sacrificial death of Jesus, in 33 C.E., “blotted out,” or “abolished,” the Law and with it the “commandment to collect tithes.”
However, contributions to support true worship were still needed. Jesus had commissioned his disciples ‘to be witnesses to the most distant part of the earth.’ (Acts 1:8) As the number of believers grew, so did the need for Christian teachers and overseers to visit and strengthen the congregations. Widows, orphans, and other needy ones had to be cared for at times. How did the first-century Christians cover the costs involved?
About 55 C.E., an appeal went out to Gentile Christians in Europe and Asia Minor in behalf of the impoverished congregation in Judea. In his letters to the congregation in Corinth, the apostle Paul describes how this ‘collection for the holy ones’ was organized. (1 Corinthians 16:1) You may be surprised at what Paul’s words reveal about Christian giving.
The apostle Paul did not cajole fellow believers to give. In fact, Macedonian Christians who were “under affliction” and in “deep poverty” had to ‘keep begging him with much entreaty for the privilege of kindly giving and for a share in the ministry destined for the holy ones.’
True, Paul encouraged the more affluent Corinthians to imitate their generous brothers in Macedonia. Even so, observes one reference work, he ‘declined to issue directives, preferring rather to request, suggest, encourage, or appeal. Spontaneity and warmth would be absent from the Corinthians’ giving if coercion were present.’ Paul knew that “God loves a cheerful giver,” not one who gives “grudgingly or under compulsion.”
Abundant faith and knowledge together with genuine love for fellow Christians would have impelled the Corinthians to give spontaneously.
‘As He Has Resolved in His Own Heart’
Rather than specifying an amount or a percentage, Paul merely suggested that “on the first day of every week, each one . . . should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income.” (Italics ours; 1 Corinthians 16:2, NIV) By planning and reserving an amount on a regular basis, the Corinthians would not feel pressured into giving begrudgingly or on emotional impulse when Paul arrived. For each Christian, the decision of how much to give was to be a private matter, one that ‘he had resolved in his own heart.’
In order to reap generously, the Corinthians had to sow generously. No suggestion of giving until it hurts was ever made. ‘I do not mean for it to be hard on you,’ Paul assured them. Contributions were ‘especially acceptable according to what a person had, not according to what a person did not have.’ (2 Corinthians 8:12, 13; 9:6) In a later letter, the apostle warned: “If anyone does not provide for those . . . who are members of his household, he has disowned the faith and is worse than a person without faith.” (1 Timothy 5:8) Paul did not encourage giving that violated this principle.
It is significant that Paul supervised a ‘collection for the holy ones’ who were in need. We do not read in the Scriptures about Paul or the other apostles organizing collections or receiving tithes to finance their own ministries. (Acts 3:6) Always grateful to receive the gifts that the congregations sent him, Paul conscientiously avoided imposing “an expensive burden” on his brothers.
Voluntary Giving Today
Clearly, during the first century, followers of Christ practiced voluntary giving, not tithing. However, you may wonder if this is still an effective way to finance the preaching of the good news and to care for Christians who are in need.
Consider the following. In 1879 the editors of this magazine stated openly that they would “never beg nor petition men for support.” Has that decision hindered the efforts of Jehovah’s Witnesses to spread Bible truth?
Currently, the Witnesses distribute Bibles, Christian books, and other publications in 235 lands. The Watchtower, a Bible educational magazine, initially had a monthly distribution of 6,000 copies printed in one language. It has since become a semimonthly magazine with a printing of more than 24,000,000 copies available in 146 languages. To organize their global Bible education work, the Witnesses have built or acquired administrative centers in 110 countries. In addition, they have constructed thousands of local meeting places as well as large assembly halls to accommodate those interested in receiving further Bible instruction.
While caring for people’s spiritual needs is a priority, Jehovah’s Witnesses do not neglect the material needs of fellow believers. When their brothers suffer the effects of wars, earthquakes, droughts, and storms, they are quick to provide medical supplies, food, clothing, and other necessities. These are financed by donations made by individual Christians and by congregations.
As well as being effective, contributing on a voluntary basis takes a load off the shoulders of those with limited means, such as Genival, mentioned earlier. Fortunately, before he could sell his home, Genival was visited by Maria, a full-time minister of Jehovah’s Witnesses. “That conversation saved my family a lot of unnecessary hardship,” recalls Genival.
Genival discovered that the Lord’s work does not depend on tithes. In fact, tithing is no longer a Scriptural requirement. He learned that Christians are blessed when they give generously but that they are not obliged to give beyond their means.
Practicing voluntary giving has brought Genival true joy. He expresses it this way: “I may or may not give 10 percent, but I am happy with my contribution, and I am sure that Jehovah is happy too.”
[Box/Pictures on page 6]
Did the Early Church Fathers Teach Tithing?
“The wealthy among us help the needy . . . They who are well to do, and willing, give what each thinks fit.”
“The Jews had indeed the tithes of their goods consecrated to Him, but those who have received liberty set aside all their possessions for the Lord’s purposes, . . . as that poor widow acted who cast all her living into the treasury of God.”
“Though we have our treasure-chest, it is not made up of purchase-money, as of a religion that has its price. On the monthly day, if he likes, each puts in a small donation; but only if it be his pleasure, and only if he be able: for there is no compulsion; all is voluntary.”
“As the Church expanded and various institutions arose, it became necessary to make laws which would insure the proper and permanent support of the clergy. The payment of tithes was adopted from the Old Law . . . The earliest positive legislation on the subject seems to be contained in the letter of the bishops assembled at Tours in 567 and the [canons] of the Council of Macon in 585.”
Coin, top left: Pictorial Archive (Near Eastern History) Est.
[Picture on page 4, 5]
Voluntary giving brings joy
[Pictures on page 7]
Voluntary contributions finance the preaching work, emergency relief, and the construction of meeting places