Throughout the development of the early Christian church the needs of the church were met by the giving of money or other things by the members of the church. All of the needs of those who had little or nothing were met by sharing from those who had an abundance.
We see discussions of Christian giving in various places in the New Testament and this section of Acts 11 gives us an insight into the state of mind of those who gave their goods, services and financial resources for the benefit of the church.
Unfortunately somewhere along the line these original concepts were lost in some churches (not all) and were replaced with a process of taxation in the church rather than voluntary giving. Tithing as it is practiced in the church today is NOT the true method of giving as practiced in the early Christian church because it is an exaction, not a gift. But the truth of raising funds for the benefit of the church and as it was practiced in the beginning was based on the principle of giving that The Lord taught.
Giving Principles Taught by Jesus
Giving was a principle that Jesus taught to His disciples and it is a reflection of His nature and the nature of the Father. Consider that most famous of scripture: John 3:16.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
One of the key words in this verse is that God “gave” His son. He was “given” to teach us, to provide the example by which we are to live and to die that we may have life. So the principle of giving is embedded as an important part of the nature of God, which makes sense because God is love and love gives, it does not take.
And there are many other scriptures that speak about the nature of giving and the blessing that it is to be a giver rather than a taker. In all of the many references to giving it is shown as being of a voluntary nature and a blessing. Look at each of the following scriptures as examples of this.
In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ (Acts 20:35)
Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you. (Luke 6:38)
9 And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. (Luke 11:9-10)
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. (John 14:27)
6 The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. 7 Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. (2 Corinthians 9:6-7)
Giving as taught in the principles that Jesus showed us and as explained by the apostles was a free will gesture, not based upon compulsion, not as an exaction like a tax but from a joyful heart knowing that by so doing the person giving is serving The Lord by serving His people.
But too often in the churches today we see this blessing distorted and the process of giving turned into a form of taxation by twisting the teachings of tithing and bringing them into the Christian church where they do not belong.
Let me get this straight right now. Tithing is not giving. It was a form of taxation that was levied on the children of Israel as the inheritance to go to the tribe of Levi who managed and maintained the temple and the forms of worship under Judaism.
The Levites under the law had the right to TAKE a tithe from the people. It was not a gift from the people, it was a tax that had to be paid to the Levites for the upkeep of the temple and for the payment to the Levites who served in the temple.
Furthermore, tithing is NOT part of the Christian covenant and it does NOT belong in the modern church. There are many problems with bringing tithing into the modern church and I have written a detailed paper on the seriousness of how tithing actually destroys the work of Christ when it is brought into the church under false pretences and taken by people who have no right to take tithes. I will not go into this in detail here but if you want to know more about this important subject (and everybody should understand these things), you can download the free document here.
Tithing as it was practiced by Judaism was a form of taxation and there was nothing at all wrong with that for it was done in accordance with the laws of God. But tithing as it is practiced in the modern church is completely wrong and it does not even belong in Christian doctrine. Not only is it like a tax it is a form of extortion and guilt is the lever that is used in many churches to enforce it.
Tithing, whether in Judaism or in Christianity is NOT a process of giving, and certainly not the process of giving as taught by Jesus and as described in this section of Acts 11.
Christian giving as I have mentioned already is a voluntary process. If you look at any of the scriptures above you will see that in every case the process of giving brought a blessing and it was not done compulsorily but with a heart of and for service. Giving is done to assist, help and aid those who are in need of the gifts, whatever they may be.
In this scripture in Acts 11:29 we see the process outlined in brief.
So the disciples determined, every one according to his ability, to send relief to the brothers living in Judea.
Note that the disciples themselves determined what and how much they would give. It was not the church that determined how much. There was no arbitrary amount established that had to be met, such as the 10% levied on the members of some churches today as a tithe.
No. Instead they determined for themselves how much they could afford to give and that was what they gave. I am sure that for some it will have amounted to much more than 10%, and for others it would have been less as determined by their personal and family needs first and their ability to provide whatever was left over. They determined for themselves how much they could afford and gave that.
What they gave was indeed a gift. Not a tax, not an exaction, not a tithe but a promised gift according to what they could spare to help out and support others.
And perhaps the best description of the process of giving, apart from the scriptures referenced above, was written by Paul in 2 Corinthians 9. He talks about this promised gift and shows clearly in verse 5 that it is not and never was intended to be a tax or an exaction. He says,
So I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to go on ahead to you and arrange in advance for the gift you have promised, so that it may be ready as a willing gift, not as an exaction.
The people had made a promise to give a certain amount for the support of the church in Jerusalem (note that the people and not the church determined the amount) and Paul was calling for them to make it ready on his arrival. And Paul goes on in that chapter to talk about the process of giving freely and the blessings that will accrue to those who do freely give to others.
It should be no different today. The needs of the church should not have to be met by a tax or a tithe but by the free will offerings of the members of the church according to what they can afford and are willing to give. To go beyond that is to turn a gift given in a spirit of love into a tax that is grudgingly handed over and with no blessing attached to either party.
A gift of love is far greater than a gift given grudgingly or a gift given expecting something in return. And if you noted the scripture above where Jesus spoke of the way He gives in John 14:27 saying, “Not as the world gives do I give to you.”
Jesus gives to us out of love expecting nothing in return. He gives to us in the hope that we will come to Him, praising and worshipping the Father for the blessings that He has given to us, but there is no expectation of anything in return. And besides, who could possibly give The Lord anything in return for the manifold blessing He has bestowed on us, including the opportunity of eternal life with Him!
Giving is an important matter to understand for all Christians. It is important because it is an outpouring of love between the brothers and sisters of the church in the service of The Lord. And it is important that we learn and understand also what it is not, that it is not a taxation, tithe or an exaction. It is a free will offering from the heart for the assistance, service and help for the people of the church who need that help.
(Image sourced from stock.xchng provided by Cecile Graat)
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