The central chapters in the New Testament about giving are 2 Corinthians 8–9. In these chapters, Paul provides his suggestions on who should give, how much they should give, where they should give to, why they should give, and how the church should use what they give.
Giving is not about Tithing
Note first of all that not once in these chapters do we read about tithing. Paul is not writing about the Christian tithe. He is no interest in resurrecting or reworking the instructions about tithing from the Mosaic Law. He recognized, as we have seen above, that the laws about tithing were for Jewish people living in a covenant relationship with the God of Israel, and with the Temple and the priestly Levitical system as one of the central symbols of that covenant. There was no command from Paul for the Corinthian believers to give. He explicitly states that what he writes is “not by commandment” (2 Cor 8:9). Instead, he was urging them to finish what they had already started.
Giving is to Help the Poor
What was it they had started? There were several Macedonian churches in deep poverty, and the Corinthian church offered to help these other churches out financially (2 Cor 8:2). Being in deep poverty does not mean that these churches were unable to pay their pastor, or were falling behind on their mortgage. No, remember that such things did not exist at that time. When Paul says that these churches were facing affliction and were in deep poverty, he means that the people themselves could not afford food and clothing. Many of them had probably lost their jobs as a result of becoming Christians. Some of the men had probably been imprisoned, or even killed, leaving their wives and children without income and support.
And so now, Paul is exhorting some of the churches who were not experiencing similar difficulties, to give from their excess to the churches which were facing such dire need. When a church in one area faced persecution and poverty, churches in another area not only prayed for them and sent people to support these other churches, but also sent gifts of money to provide food and clothing for those who could not afford it (cf. Acts 11:27-30; 1 Cor 16:1-4; Gal 2:10).
Jesus’ Poverty is our Riches
As an example, Paul points to Jesus Christ who gave up the riches of heaven to become poor for the sake of the earth, so that through His poverty, we might become rich (2 Cor 8:9). Paul encourages the Corinthian believers to follow the same example, to give from their riches so that those who are poor might have their needs met. Paul does not want the Corinthians to be burdened, but wants them to share out of their abundance to provide for those who are lacking so that there is equality (2 Cor 8:13-15).
Give Generously and Joyfully (to the Poor)
So in exhorting the Corinthians to give, he tells them to give freely, to give joyfully, and to give generously (2 Cor 9). Each person can give what they have decided in their own heart to give. There is no recommended percentage or suggested donation amount. But through their giving, they will sow seeds of righteousness that will multiply and produce fruit of thanksgiving and glory to God. Followers of Jesus are encouraged to give, but to give in such a way that supports the poor and the needy.