Why Do I Tithe and How Much?
It is a personal question. Why do you tithe and how much?
In a five year study by Christianity Today’s sister group, Church Law and Tax, it was discovered, “only 10-25 percent of the families in the church tithe, but they often provide 50 to 80 percent of the funding.” Where do you fall in that statistic? A couple questions every church member should ask themselves is how much should I tithe and why?
This is not a television personality’s plea for money in order to get some special blessing from them or God. Rather, this is a look at tithing in the Bible so we can reflect on our own hearts and plans.
What is A “Tithe”?
It is regularly giving a portion of your income to the ministry of your local church.
- Giving. This means passing on financial gifts to the body of Christ to support achieving the church’s purpose. Its money. The tithe is not your spiritual gift, or your volunteerism, or your teaching Sunday School. There is a distinction in the church regarding everyone’s call to give regularly and the spiritual gifts distributed among the church. Giving means giving financially.
- Regularly. It is a systematic and regular gift to the regular ministry of the church. That is, it is not a once in a while gift that comes on a whim or when you have extra. Its not something you do when there is a “good sermon”. Rather, it is a part of the church member’s regular budget. It is a plan and something that we should obediently do as regularly as we have gain.
- Portion. In the Old Testament the word was a “tithe” or “a tenth”. That was the allotted amount that God had instructed Israel to give of their resources (Numb 18:21-23). The New Testament gives no such command in regards to percentage.
- Local Church. The local church part makes it hard, doesn’t it? We know our local church. We know their problems and struggles. Because of that we often have less romantic feelings about giving to the church. But the tithe is not about supporting the endless charities and causes who afford gripping commercials or online ads. Sometimes, it might not feel like we are “making a difference” as they say. Rather, faithful giving is part of local church membership—it is joining in the local church to achieve the church’s purpose of making disciples.
- Church Ministry. Tithes are not primarily for buildings or sidewalks or screen projectors. They’re for pastoral salaries, for example (1 Cor 9, 1 Tim 3:17). They are for supporting missions through your local church (Phil 4:14-16). They are for benevolence and outreach (Acts 6, 2 Cor 8). All this is for the building up of the body of christ for the glory of God. The church is built up by making and maturing disciples. The church’s regular budget, top to bottom, should be connected somehow to the church’s purpose of making disciples.
So, if tithing is regularly giving a portion of your income to supporting your local church, how should we be thinking about tithing? What questions should we be asking ourselves?
1. Am I Giving in Response to the Gospel?
The gospel is that though mankind was in sin and rebellion against God, he sent his only son, Jesus to die on the cross for our sins, Jesus then raised from the grave, and now he sits in heaven to one day return for the church. That gospel is the reason and example for our giving. When Paul encouraged the church in Corinth to give he said, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty would become rich” (2 Cor 8:9). In other words, as we consider giving we consider the grace that we have received from God—our salvation. Consider what Christ did with his riches when he saved you. Tithing ought not be some wrote regiment or religious activity. Rather, it should be a heartfelt response to the gospel that saved us when we were poor.
2. Am I Supporting My Local Church?
Tithing isn’t first an individual thing. It is a corporate plan for providing the church’s need to achieve the church’s purpose. In Acts, when the church is overwhelmed by the Spirit of God they all come and give to the ministry of the church. Part of the point is that it was not merely a few individuals being praised. But giving was a description of the whole body.
Also, am I involved in what is going on in my local church? Am I being discipled and/or discipling others? Am I serving somewhere in the church? Am I there on a regular basis with the congregation in the life of the church? These go hand-in-hand with tithing. All those things are ultimately what we are tithing towards.
3. And I Giving Reluctantly or by Compulsion?
Giving is not first a matter of money. It is a matter of the heart. Paul tells the church, “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion….” (2 Cor 9:7). If we give a hug amount but we do with reluctance we’re missing the point, “for God loves a cheerful giver” Paul continues. God loves the cheerful giving more than the gift given. He gives the example of the churches in Macedonia who were just begging for the opportunity to help (2 Cor 8:4).
4. Am I Giving to Get Praise?
If you are giving to get praise, you’re missing the point BIG TIME. If when you give you imagine that God is thanking you or the church should be thanking you then you are way off and God does not love your gift. Rather, our giving is an opportunity to give more thanks to God. “For the ministry of the this service (giving) is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God” ( 2 Cor 8:12). The more that is given the more praise is given to God. See that? Our gifts to the church are opportunities to thank God! We always say with Paul, “Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!” (2 Cor 8:15).
5. Am I Only Obeying a Law?
The Pharisees were some of the most meticulous tithers in the Bible. They counted every last penny. But not in a good way. Jesus said to them, “Woe to you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe in mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness”. Don’t think for a second that you are in good with God just because you regularly tithe 10% or even more. Jesus said their giving according to the law was not pleasing to him because their lives were not being offered to the Lord in worship. One great way to fail at tithing is to think that tithing is the consummation of faithfulness. Did you see that? Jesus told them, “You tithe….and neglect faithfulness”. So faithfulness is more than tithing.
That said, what law are you following? The old 10% law? Well, as it it turns out, when all the offerings and tithes were considered in the Old Testament it really added up to about 23%. So, to obey the 10% law may more or less be a religious law we've created in order to try to follow the real command God gave us. Which is exactly what the Pharisees did.
6. Am I Giving Something?
Your participation in the local church is not contingent on your being able to make any certain financial contribution. The poorest of poor are as welcome in the body of Christ as the richest. We’re not identified as poor or rich in the church. We are together in Christ. When we exercise congregationalism, each vote counts as one. That said, if you think, “I really can’t afford to give a dollar to the church” you should talk with your pastor or an elder. If that is the case it is likely that you may need assistance from your church! They are there for you. They love you and want to help you.
That said, low income is not an excuse to give no tithe. Do you tithe at all? Paul tells the church in Corinth about the church in Macedonia to motivate them to give no matter what their economic situation was. He tells them about, “the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity” (2 Cor 8:1-2). Wow. Tease that out. What did God’s grace look like in the churches there? God’s grace led to their giving even in the midst of their poverty. What did they give? A lot of money? Not really. They were in poverty. They did not have a lot to give! But they had a wealth of generosity. Meaning, “they were really generous”. But how much did they give? Paul just says next, “For they gave according to their means” (2 Cor 8:3). We don’t know how much they gave. But we know two things 1) they were poor people and 2) they were wealthy in generosity.
The work of the Holy Spirit at pentecost led the church to give. They were even selling their possessions and giving to the church. We have to ask ourselves, “Does my giving plan come from the work of the Holy Spirit or from my own plan?”
Whatever your financial situation, you can give. We’ve all heard of the woman who gave the one single mite but gave more than anyone else. Start by giving something. Give 1% of your income. Start with 5%. Pray about this and settle this in your heart as you reflect on the gospel. Don’t give nothing.
7. Am I Giving First?
When it comes to planning we have biblical instruction to give to God and his work from our “first fruits”. In the Old Testament that meant giving God your first and best in the offering and feast system. In other words, we don’t bring scraps from animals or left overs from our harvest. Rather, God said to bring “the best of the first fruits” to the altar and to the feasts. Paul, in a similar fashion, calls on the church in Corinth to “set something aside on the first day of the week” (1 Cor 16:2). Just a brief biblical overview shows us that giving was to be a regular and orderly priority. What does that mean for us? It should be at the top of our budget—the first plan we make with out money. Are you saying, “Well, I’ve got this left over so I can give that to the church?” Or are you saying, “I am determined to tithe first no matter what”? When it comes to our financial planning it should be the matter we are concerned with first.
Questions for Reflection
- Why do I tithe as often and as much as I do?
- Is my tithing a result of reflecting on the gospel and what Jesus did for me?
- How do I need to change my tithing habits based on God’s word?
- Are there things that I should forgo in order to make tithing the thing I do first?