How to teach people to tithe (and why some will resent it)

“Give and it shall be given unto you….” (Luke 6:38).  “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).

A cartoon shows a fellow in the cemetery holding flowers. The epitaph on the stone before him reads: “Eternally peeved at those who never showed me how to tithe.”

That may well happen.

Since our Lord said giving as He taught means laying up treasure in Heaven (Matthew 6:19-21), it follows that some in Heaven are going to be poorer for not having done that.

What does it mean to “be poorer in Heaven”? I don’t have a clue.

But there it is.

The bottom line is simply that some spiritual leaders (pastors and teachers) are failing to teach stewardship and will be in trouble when they stand before the Lord.  That should matter to us.

The ministries of the Lord Jesus here on earth are weaker and fewer because of the failure of the Lord’s people to give faithfully, generously, and regularly.

Malachi 3:10’s command to “bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse” gave as its reason “that there might be provisions (literally, bread) in my house.”  This clearly refers to funding the work of the Lord.

(Explanation: God’s Word clearly teaches the disciples of the Lord Jesus are to be givers in all areas of life–to the poor, to the needy, to one another as necessary, and to support the work of the Lord. Here, we primarily refer to contributing to the work of Jesus through the church.)

At judgement, will non-giving Christians point the finger of blame at their shepherds and mentors for not teaching them the blessings of sacrificial giving? Will both the non-givers and the teachers who failed them be poorer (somehow, don’t ask me how) in the afterlife as a result?

I wouldn’t be surprised.

Some spiritual disciplines we teach not because they are enjoyable but because they are extremely necessary and eternally profitable, no matter how painful some may find them in the short run.

So, let’s admit the obvious here: The carnally minded in every congregation will reject teachings on sacrificial giving and resent anyone teaching it.

Know this going in, young minister.

If you fail to teach God’s call to generous giving, you disobey the Lord and abandon His people.  If you do it well, you strengthen the work of everyone dependent on the pipeline of God’s resources flowing to the world from our churches, you will bless the Lord, you will help your people to lay up treasures in heaven, and–here it comes–you will be verbally attacked by those who resent any reference of money from the pulpit.

The typical congregation will expect you to raise money mysteriously.  That is, they expect that if you teach the Bible well and preach inspiring sermons, by some unknown way, people will automatically put money in the offering plate and the work of the Lord will go forward. To actually mention money by teaching what Scripture says about it is to fail in some way.

Do not expect the fearful flock to be consistent on this. You will be criticized, pastor, if the money does not come in and will be criticized if you speak on it.

Know this going in. Do not be blind-sided.

Only the courageous should ever pastor churches.

Now, a courageous shepherd will inform the flock up front that some are going to hate this.  Then, if he’s really brave, he will tell them why: “The mind set on the flesh is hostile to God because it does not submit itself to the things of God” (Romans 8:7).

People whose minds are set on the flesh resent being called to make sacrifices for anything.  They have other uses for the Lord’s money.

And, people whose mind is set on the flesh resent being told their mind is set on the flesh. (They can think of a hundred possible explanations why they want no sermons on money, many of which are legitimate. But the bottom line is always there: faithful givers love teachings on money; the rebellious hate them.)

All right now.

“How then,” you ask, “would one go about teaching God’s people to tithe?”

I’m glad you asked.

(What follows is not “10 steps to mastering the tithe,” no matter how many points we end up with.  It all boils down to a single step. Just one. Please stay with me.)

Here is the plan….

1) Teach the Lord’s people that tithing does not make sense humanly speaking.

It’s counter-intuitive, as they say.

That means simply, “It may not look like it is the smartest thing you’ll ever do, but it is.”  It may even feel scary as you divert money from some due bills and place in the church offering plate. Faith is always scary.

2) Tithing is a faith enterprise from start to finish.

Now, only people of faith–strong confidence in Jesus Christ–are interested in doing anything without immediate payoffs.  Only people of faith can pray for years and years without seeing the results of their requests, can give a large hunk of their income into the offerings of the church over a long lifetime with very little feedback on what it is accomplishing, or can minister to the down and out–the truly needy–without seeing evidence that they are doing anything more than “pouring water down a rathole.” .

Only people of faith can (ahem) live by faith.  The rest will complain about the preacher always harping on money because they just don’t get it.

Tithing one’s income (to the Lord through His church) is all about faith.  And here is what that means….

3) Plenty of church members would give, if they “could only afford it.”

The young couple is genuinely sincere when they say (mostly to themselves) that “Just as soon as we get on top of our school debts and pay off the car and some bills, we’re going to begin tithing.”  Almost invariably, they will add, “Just as soon as we can get a few bucks ahead.”

What they are actually saying is, “As soon as we do not have to do this by faith, we’re going to start tithing.”

That’s why we say it’s not going to happen.

Why not?

4) The devil will see to it you always have plenty of debt. Furthermore, the Lord does not want us tithing “when we can afford it.”

Stay with me here.

The Lord is not interested in His people waiting for excess money to begin tithing. Those who insist they will begin tithing as soon as they get a little ahead will never tithe.

They. Will. Never. Tithe.

Satan (and our own flesh!) will make sure we always have debts aplentyAnyone thinking they will someday get extra money with which to tithe is fooling only themselves.

God wants us to live by faith. “Without faith, it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11:6).  “The just shall live by faith” (found three times in the Word, in Habakkuk 2:4, Romans 1:17, and Galatians 3:11).

5.  The Lord has actually planned for tithing to be a painful decision at first.

It’s good to struggle with faith decisions.  We have to come to terms with whether we believe Jesus Christ and to what extent we do.

Make up your mind: Tithing is a struggle at first.

I’ve known thousands of tithers over a long ministry. But I never knew anyone who started tithing when they could afford it. They all had to bite the bullet and come to terms with their own faith.  How much does the Lord Jesus Christ mean to them?  Are they willing to entrust themselves to Him even when they cannot see how this is going to work?  After all, that’s how they got saved in the first place. No one knows when they first open their hearts to Him what He will do with them. Yet, they step forward and receive Him by faith.

That, incidentally, is why many people will never get saved and die without Christ.  They were unable to make that tough faith decision.  “For by grace are you saved through faith….” (Ephesians 2:8-9).

Typically, the husband and wife will sit down at a table with their financial records spread out before them and have a long painful discussion on this.  Nothing about this is fun, they need to know going in.  It’s hard.

They see before them evidence of unrestrained and undisciplined desires, foolish decisions, and longterm commitments.  Some of their financial obligations are necessary (food, clothing, shelter, insurance, schooling, etc) and many do not meet that standard.  But the bills come due, and must be paid.

Eventually, almost every one sitting at that table will come to this impasse: “We cannot afford to set aside one-tenth of our income and give to the church.  We need the money for other things.  So, what are we willing to push back if we do start to tithe?”

Painful, to be sure. And tough.  But–and we must not miss this–this is where the faith comes to play. Doing this is what faith looks like.

6. To give by faith means we put obedience to God above all other considerations and trust Him to work it out.

Does Scripture teach tithing?  The Old Testament sure does (Leviticus 27:30; Malachi 3:10 are two starting places).  What about the New Testament?  We have Matthew 23:23 (easy to remember!) and also I Corinthians 16:2.  We have 2 Corinthians chapters 8 and 9.  Those are not talking about tithing as such, but something far stronger: sacrificial giving.  The Macedonians were amazing, Paul said. “During a severe testing by affliction, their abundance of joy and their deep poverty overflowed into the wealth of their generosity”

Paul continues, “On their own, according to their ability and beyond their ability, they begged us insistently for the privilege of sharing in the ministry to the saints. And (they did this) not just as we had hoped.  Instead, they gave themselves especially to the Lord, then to us by God’s will” (2 Corinthians 8:2-5).

Clearly, the early Christians tithed or their critics would have pointed it out. But having said all the above, the real point is sacrificial giving to the Lord’s work, whatever that means in your situation.

I have no idea what anyone else gives and do not want to know. When I was pastoring, I never knew who was tithing or exceeding it or failing to give regularly at all.

So, we are not talking about a legalism to satisfy some church board somewhere.

Those quibbling over the tithe–I’m amazed to find serious disciples of Jesus who get angry about this, as though we are encouraging legalism–will want to adopt the Macedonian standard above, no doubt.

7) Faith means there will always be obstacles.  To wait until there are none before serving the Lord is to play into the hand of the enemy.

“We walk by faith and not by sight,” says 2 Corinthians 5:7.  To walk “by sight” would mean all our questions are answered, all information is in, the money is in hand, all our doubts are satisfied, our fears are gone, our friends are on board, and our family is supportive.

That is not going to happen. We live in a fallen world which “is no friend to grace,” as the old hymn puts it.

Our friend Carol was a new believer and struggling to raise three small children as a single mom.  She told my wife one day, “I know God wants me to tithe my income.  And you know I don’t make enough to live on as it is. But I’ve decided. I’m just going to do it regardless.”

That’s how it’s done.

Every tither I’ve ever met came to a point in life where they had to decide that “regardless” of their debts and fears and a hundred other factors, they would obey the Lord.

8. Then, after a year or two of consistent tithing (or sacrifically giving, however you define it), your priorities will have evened out and the practice should be less painful. 

I promise that you will never regret the money you contribute to the cause of the Lord Jesus Christ.  And the feeling of accomplishment the Lord gives you as a result is worth its weight in gold.

“Anyone who gives just a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is a disciple–I assure you: he will never lose his reward” (Matthew 10:42). 

If you are a disciple of Jesus, you will want to get started giving.


1 thought on “How to teach people to tithe (and why some will resent it)

  1. Joe — Thank you for taking the time to share all of the “stuff” you have learned over the years with us younger folks. (I’m 58 & it made me feel good to say that!) Seriously — blessings on you for your faithfulness.

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