There are a lot of questions around the subject of giving to the church:
- What percent of my income do I give?
- Do I use my gross income or my net income to calculate what I should give?
- Does giving to other ministries count towards my tithe?
- Is 10% really mandated by the Bible?
There are many really wonderful articles and sermons about this topic, and I will link some of which at the bottom of this post. What I hope to offer is a concise Biblical basis for approaching and refuting some of these questions.
Where Do We Get 10% From and Where is it in the Bible?
A lot of people don’t know that the word for “tithe” in Hebrew and Greek both simply mean “a tenth.”
We see mentions of this concept of tithing scattered all throughout the Old Testament in Leviticus 27:30, Numbers 18:26, Deuteronomy 14:24, 2 Chronicles 31:5, Nehemiah 10:35-39, Malachi 3:8-10, etc. Tithes in the Old Testament were often the first portions of a harvest or even livestock.
The New Testament only directly references tithing in three or four instances. Its first reference is that of the Pharisees and their self-righteous adherence to the law, including the tithe (Matthew 23:23). Jesus had a harsh rebuke for these Pharisees that prided themselves in their obedience to the law, but were blind to justice, mercy, and faithfulness. Jesus even goes as far to compare these Pharisees to “white-washed tombs which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness” (v. 27). However, Jesus does not speak against the tithe, in fact, he upholds it by saying, “but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others” ( v.23).
The next New Testament instance we see that mentions the tithe is in a parable about a Pharisee (yes, another Pharisee), and a tax collector (Luke 18:9-14). The illustration is prefaced with, “to some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable.” The story is a simple comparison of two men: a Pharisee who is prideful that he is ‘better’ than other men because of his good deeds, including his tithe (v. 12), and a tax collector who knew that no matter what he did, he would always be a sinful man. The Pharisee was prideful in his works, and I imagine that he felt that God was lucky to have him, while the tax collector was humbled at the feet of a mighty God and knew that he could accomplish nothing apart from God’s mercy.
Freedom From the Law
The New Testament provides the introduction and fulfillment of what is called the New Covenant and ushers in a freedom from the law for those who have faith in Christ (for those who want more information on the difference between the Old and New Covenants, here is a great place to start).
So what does this mean for the tithe?
We are no longer constrained to a specific percentage or number that the Bible sets forth as the requirement for what a Christian must give, but that doesn’t mean that the Bible is void of guidance as to why and how we should give.
Why We Should Give
Steven Cole, a pastor in Flagstaff, Arizona gave a sermon series on “God, Money, and You” back in 1993, and if you’re looking for a more comprehensive understanding of the tithe and giving, it’s a wonderful resource. In this series, Cole covers the wrong and the right motivations for giving.
Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.
-2 Corinthians 9:7
So what are the right motives for giving?
Just as we freely love because God so lavishly loves us (1 John 4:19), we generously give because God has given us everything (James 1:17). We are not truly owners of any earthly possession, but rather stewards of God’s resources that he has entrusted us with. Our giving and tithing are not a transfer of ownership, but rather an acknowledgment that it all belongs to God. We also give because it is an act of faith (2 Corinthians 9:8-11), worship (Hebrews 13:16), compassion (1 John 3:17), and support for our local church and pastors (1 Timothy 5:17-18).
“Thus because God has given so abundantly to me, and because I want to please Him, I am motivated to give cheerfully and generously to His work” – Steven Cole.
How We Should Give
- We Systematically Give Our Firstfruits– As we see in the Old Testament, the offerings and tithes that they gave to the Lord were the first thing that they did. The first portion of the harvest, livestock, or money was given freely and cheerfully to the Lord. 1 Corinthians 16:2 shows us that a person’s giving should be a regular and systematic act.
- In Secret– “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” -Matthew 6:1-4
- Sacrificially– At times, we are called to give sacrificially, beyond our regular giving. In 2 Corinthians 8:2-3, Paul speaks of the churches in Macedonia that sacrificially gave in a way that was “according to their means, as I [Paul] can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord.” This is not the same as our regular, fixed giving, but rather at certain times that God places on our hearts.
- Prayerfully– “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” -2 Corinthians 9:7. This is where the freedom from the Law comes in. Sometimes, this is the Old Testament principle of the 10%. Sometimes, it means you regularly go above and beyond that. And in some circumstances, it means you do less. If you’re looking for inspiration for your giving, look no further than the life of John Wesley, or the widow’s offering in Mark 12.
We are no longer constrained to the 10% offering mandate of the Old Testament Law. However, how much more reason do we have to give generously in the immeasurable eternal blessings that we possess through Christ Jesus?
As base a thing as money often is, yet it can be transmuted into everlasting treasure. It can be converted into food for the hungry and clothing for the poor. It can keep a missionary actively winning lost men to the light of the gospel and thus transmute itself into heavenly values. Any temporal possession can be turned into everlasting wealth. Whatever is given to Christ is immediately touched with immortality.