What is a Tithe?
Simply put, a tithe is 10% of your income given to your local church. The word “tithe” in Hebrew means “a tenth.” And the repeated instructions in Scripture are for us to bring our tithes to the place where we worship. Many people like to give of their time and energy to the Lord’s work, and these are important things. But these acts of service are not tithes. The word “tithe” refers to giving finances or material resources as an act of faith and devotion to God.
Is the Tithe Abolished Since We Are Not Under the Law?
Tithing was a significant part of how Old Testament believers expressed their faith. But the concept of the tithe being a divine portion that belongs only to God both predates the Law (through Abraham’s example in Genesis 14:20), and post-dates the Law (through the words of Jesus who declared in Matthew 23:23 that we should not neglect the tithe). According to Leviticus 27:30 (TLB), “A tenth of the produce of the land, whether grain or fruit, is the Lord’s, and is holy.” And Proverbs 3:9 (NIV) says, “Honor the Lord with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops.” The gardening metaphors may sound a bit odd to us today, but these verses are simply saying we should give a tenth of whatever we make back to God. And firstfruits is just a biblical way of saying that we should give first—before we do anything else with our money. So tithing is still one of the vital ways that New Testament Christians today express their faith in God.
What Is the Difference Between Tithes and Offerings?
Like “peanut butter and jelly,” we say these words together, but they are not the same thing. A tithe is a specific amount (10% of our income) that we give first in the place where we worship. But an offering is any amount that we choose to give beyond this initial, defined “divine portion.” And an offering may be given to our local church or to any other Kingdom-advancing ministry that we choose. Put simply, a tithe is the non-negotiable first 10% of what we earn that automatically goes back to God through the local church. An offering is whatever amount that I choose to give from the remaining 90% of my income.
Why Should I Tithe or Give an Offering?
Tithing is a practical, biblical way that we express our love for, and trust in, God with our lives and our resources. We don’t tithe because God needs our money. He already created and owns everything, so he certainly doesn’t need our financial help. On the contrary, tithing is for our benefit and to help strengthen the impact of the local church.
When we sacrifice by giving back a tenth or more of our income, it actively defeats greed and selfishness within us as we learn to look outward and become aware of the needs of others and of the call of the church to reach and serve the world. Tithes and offerings also enable the local church to pay its bills, support its staff, provide weekly ministry options, care for the poor, plant new churches, and support other ministries both locally and globally.
Tithing helps us to get our thinking straight when it comes to our priorities. It teaches us that we don’t own anything. God is the owner of everything, and we are His managers of the resources that He has put into our hands. And good managers tend to become better people. Have you ever noticed how generous people tend to make great bosses, employees, friends and spouses? That’s the beauty of giving. It changes us on the inside, and it provides resources to help change the world around us.
Do I Give 10% of My Income Before or After Taxes?
The Bible never specifically answers this question, so to some extent it is up to you. The point is for us to be faithful in giving and to learn to be generous. The Bible repeatedly refers to our tithes as the firstfruits of what we earn. That would seem to suggest that we give off of the top, rather than after we pay Uncle Sam. But that is not specifically spelled out in the Bible. One simple question that is asked in regard to this discussion is: Would you rather receive a “net blessing” or a “gross blessing”? Of course, we are not giving so that we can get something back. But there is a clear pattern in Scripture that God loves to abundantly resource those people who are more generous with what they have. Jesus said in Luke 6:38 (NLT), “Give, and you will receive…. The amount you give will determine the amount that you get back.” So the goal is for us to constantly grow in our generosity.
Is It Right to Report My Giving on My Tax Return?
Some people fear that they will rob themselves of a blessing if they report their giving on their taxes. And while the amount of our giving to the local church is something that we should not announce to our friends and neighbors, taking a tax deduction does not violate what Jesus says about doing our giving in secret. Jesus taught that we should be shrewd in how we handle money. So if taking a tax deduction will help you to better manage the other 90% of your income, it makes good sense to do so.
Do I Have to Tithe?
Tithing is biblical and has been a foundational part of the lives of many Christians for countless generations. But this doesn’t make you a bad Christian if you don’t tithe. God loves us, when we give and when we don’t. Tithing is not a way to earn God’s love, since we already have it. Jesus even warned us about focusing on tithing so much that we fail to practice other important things like mercy, justice and faithfulness.
We should all be giving at some level. And if the thought of giving 10% overwhelms you, start where you can and seek to grow in generosity over time. The issue is one of the heart. God is a generous giver, and He is seeking to help each of us discover the joy and freedom of becoming generous givers. 2 Corinthians 9:7 says: “Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” That means that we do it out of obedience and joy, not legalistically or for what we will get in return. Giving creates a more grateful and unselfish attitude in us, steering us away from greed and the love of money. Plus, giving ends up being a lot of FUN as we see people helped and the Kingdom of God advanced!