How Much Should I Give?
This is a question that many of us would like a clear answer to. How much am I expected to give back to God? Whenever this question arises, someone will often chime in “we should give everything to God because He has given us everything.” Of course, this is true, but it fails to answer the more practical intentions of the original question. Generally when people ask “how much should I give?”, they are referring to how much money they should give on a monthly or yearly basis to the church and charities. This is a more difficult question to answer because the New Testament never commands Christians to give a certain percentage amount. Because there is no clearly given magic number, Christians tend to fall into two types of answering categories: (1) Tithing or (2) Grace-Giving.
Tithing Vs. Grace-Giving
Unfortunately, these two options are often played off each other as if they are mutually exclusive. Tithing is the Old Testament principles of giving 10% back to God. The Jewish people were commanded to give back to God 10% as a way of acknowledging that everything they had come from God ultimately (Leviticus 27:30-34). Grace-Giving is what many consider to be the New Testament model for giving (2 Cor. 8:9 & I Tim. 6:18). This says that Christians should give generously back to the Lord’s work and give out of a heart filled with grace for all the generous grace that God has shown to His children. The idea is that our hearts should overflow in gracious giving. Oftentimes, proponents of Grace-Giving are rather negative on tithe and vice versa.
But it seems that both positions suffer from a lack of Biblical understanding, at least the way in which they are often expressed by the average Christian. The assumption by many who follow the tithing model is that one only ever has to give 10%. No more, no less. The beauty of this principle is that it is clear and easily understood. A person can quickly assess whether or not they are following the “tithe” principle. The problem with this position, and many of the critiques as well, is that it makes a big assumption. It assumes a Christian is to give 10% because that is all that the Old Testament Jewish people were required to give. But if one reads through the Old Testament, it quickly becomes clear that the Jewish people were required to give far more than only 10% back to God. When one adds up the initial tithe and all the other required offerings and commands, the total would come to something much closer to 20% of their total “income”. But tithing was never meant to be the finish line. Rather, it was the starting place for the Jewish people. But what about Grace-Giving?
How much is Grace-Giving Worth?
Grace-Giving says that we have been given everything in Christ, so we should give generously in proportion to all that God has given us. Of course, this is clearly what the New Testament teaches (2 Cor. 8). But there comes a problem in practice. The difficulty with this position is that it is often disparaging of the Old Testament tithe, but is also rather vague for believers who are wondering how they should begin giving back to the Lord. Imagine a new Christian who hears a sermon about giving back to God within the first six months of his conversion. He is told to practice Grace-Giving and be generous. But while those claims are true, they are nebulous in practice. What exactly do they mean for how he should practically split up his paycheck?
Here is where the two systems could be far more complimentary than they are generally considered to be. The data is clear: the average Western Christian only gives 2-3% of their income to the church and charities. So it seems that the proponents of both systems are failing to practice what they are teaching. Although there are certainly examples of those who do practice their positions consistently, the data suggests the majority are not.
Where To Go From Here?
Perhaps the best way forward is first, to recognize that the majority of church-going people give very little to the Lord’s work. Second, instead of trying to play these two ideas off of each other as if they are mutually exclusive, why not combine them? When properly understood, the idea of giving 10% was only a starting place. It was never meant to be the cap of giving. Although we are no longer in the Old Testament system, it seems reasonable that Christians who have received so much more spiritually should at least try to start their giving where God’s Old Testament people began. Furthermore, if New Testament Grace-Giving proponents were being consistent, they would be required to give more than 20% of their income as that was approximately the sum total of what an Old Testament Jewish family was to give. It seems that all too often, “Grace-Giving” is a term used to excuse giving even the starting amount of 10%.
By combining the best of these two systems and understanding them in context, it would solve the difficulties of both systems. Those who think you must only ever give 10% and then your obligation is fulfilled would be challenged to give generously and not stay immature in their spiritual understanding regarding generosity. And those who would push back on ever mentioning a figure or percentage when it comes to giving would be challenged to at least begin where God’s Old Testament children did. Such an arrangement would be exceedingly helpful for a new Christian or an immature Christian as they seek to have a practical starting place in their giving.
Of course, in such a combination of systems, no one would have to give only 10%. But also, it would be hard for people to feel as if they are superior for giving 10% when that is only the bare minimum starting place.
Regardless of whether or not you think this combination suggestion is compelling, the data makes clear that Christians in the Western World are far from being truly “generous” on average. I am fully aware of many of my own acquaintance where this is not the case, but the average giving among Christians is far below the bare minimum level of even 10%. I think some apt words from C. S. Lewis are helpful at this point:
“Charity . . . is an essential part of Christian morality. . . I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare. In other words, if our expenditure on comforts, luxuries, amusements, etc., is up to the standard common among those with the same income as our own, we are probably giving away too little. If our charities do not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say they are too small. There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot do because our charitable expenditure excludes them.” (Mere Christianity, 81-2)
 Although several have pointed out the studies that show this, I find Randy Alcorn’s work to be the most helpful when thinking through some of these things. His book, The Treasury Principle is excellent as is his website: https://www.epm.org/