The second principle Paul presents concerning Christian giving is regular giving on the first day of every week. I do not think that means that in every single instance for every single person, giving has to be once a week. But it is saying that giving should be regular because it is built into the fabric of the Christian life. As a matter of fact, if someone in need comes along, regardless of when that is, the Christian has an obligation to help out. It is not simply to be a thing that is done at whim as if it does not enter our thinking most of the time. It is not only when somebody is pressing a certain deplorable situation in the church, that we should say, “Well, maybe I ought to respond to that.”
Paul is saying that giving should be the essence of Christianity. We have received abundantly from God, and, therefore, as Christian people, we should give naturally and regularly. He says one practical way to do that is to do it on the first day of the week, when Christians gather together to worship.
Paul also writes that every Christian should participate in giving. All believers should set aside a sum of money. Therefore, giving is not just for the rich, nor is it merely for certain saints who have reached a certain high level of spirituality. Giving is for every Christian. We know because we have been reading this letter finding that some of these people were not terribly spiritual at all. They had all kinds of battles going on there in their midst.
The fourth principle refers to “proportionate giving.” Paul says that each believer should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his or her income. Whenever there is talk about proportionate giving, the matter of tithing surfaces. A tithe was an Old Testament pattern. A tithe is a tenth, the literal meaning of the word tithe. The question is sometimes raised in Christianity, “Are Christians bound to the Old Testament tithe?” So far as I can see, the tithe is not established as a legal thing in the New Testament. That is understandable because in the Old Testament the tithe was really a tax. It is the money that was given to support the government and support the temple worship, which went together in a theocracy. It is quite understandable how that would function.
In Christianity, the life of the Spirit is to be the life of the heart. We do not find the same kind of legalistic guidelines laid down in the New Testament that are presented in the Old Testament. So as I read the New Testament I do not see it saying anywhere that Christians are to give one tenth of all they possess to the Lord’s work. That does not lower the standard for giving, however. In fact, with the New Testament emphasis on heart ethics over law, the New Testament standard is actually higher. The Lord seemed to express this when he was talking about the Law. In the fifth chapter of Matthew, Jesus began many of his points by first interpreting the Old Testament Law; then he went on to expand it by showing that it had to do with the heart. It was a much higher and grander thing than anybody had previously known. So, if the Old Testament principle was a tenth, we are not bound to a tenth; rather, we can give even more of our income.
I wonder, also, when I look at Paul’s words about setting aside a sum of money in keeping with one’s income, if he is not suggesting that those who have more should give proportionately more. Someone who has a small amount of money and is trying to get by on that might say, “In the Old Testament they gave ten percent. I want that to be at least my minimum.” So, they give ten percent of their money and they struggle to get by on the small amount that is left.On the other hand, there are those who have a great deal of money–ten, twenty, one hundred times what the poorer person has–and they say, “The Old Testament principle is ten percent. I’m going to give ten percent.” So they give ten percent because ten percent is the law. It looks like a lot, so they take pride in what they have given. Yet, they still have an enormous amount left to live on. I would suggest that proportionate giving should be something like the graduated income tax. The more we have, the more we ought to be able to give. And fortunately, I know, in many cases that this is precisely the way Christian people operate. At any rate, here we have a very practical suggestion.