A man named Robert Hastings once told the following story:
One rainy Sunday afternoon, a little brother and sister were playing Noah and the Ark. An old cardboard box was the ark, the bath tub their flood. After the flood was over, they decided to make a burnt offering to God. Noah (the brother) said to Mrs. Noah (the sister), “Here, let’s take one of your toy animals as a sacrifice.” “No,” she replied, “let’s use one of your animals instead.” When he did not agree to this either, she ran to the attic.
In a moment she was back with a toy lamb. It was dirty, its head smashed, its tail missing. “Here,” she cried, “let’s give this to God. We will never want it again!” Her brother agreed, and they made their “sacrifice.” The broken lamb they did not want was given to God.
Let’s contrastthis with another scene. God is watching the people on Earth and He sees that they are all sinful. He knows that, without a perfect sacrifice, they have no hope, no escape from the consequences of their sin. God then demonstrates how much He loves the world by deciding to send the best that He has – His Son – to be the perfect sacrifice for people’s sin.
Unfortunately, some Christians act similarly to the children in the story by Robert Hastings. Despite having accepted the best gift that God could offer to them, they are not willing to give their best to God, and this includes a tithe of their income. Instead, their contributions to Christian ministries consist primarily of “leftovers” – money they have left over after satisfying their personal wants and desires, in addition to their needs.
As Christians, we should welcome opportunities to contribute financially to Christian ministries. Our financial contributions to minister to others in the name of Jesus Christ provide us with not only a means of expressing our thankfulness to God for all that He has done for us, but also the satisfaction of knowing that we are being obedient to biblical teachings to help meet the needs of other people, spiritually or otherwise. And, giving at least a tithe indicates to some degree the extent of our thankfulness and obedience.
Larry Burkett, a Christian writer and lecturer on family financial matters, has stated, “The tithe serves as an external, material testimony of God’s ownership of both the material and spiritual things of our lives.” On page 440 of his book entitled The Complete Guide to Managing Your Money, Burkett asserts,
Tithing is an important principle for a Christian because it demonstrates a commitment to God in the most visible area of our lives: the area of money. . . . One part of your long-term plan should be to reduce your monthly expenses so that you can give God His portion too. . . . God will honor the commitment of your heart. He doesn’t care about the money nearly as much as He cares about your heart’s attitude.
Several Bible scriptures, including the following, specifically mention tithing:
Leviticus 27:30 tells us, “[A]ll the tithe of the land . . . is the Lord’s. It is holy to the Lord.”
Deuteronomy 14:22 instructs us that, “You shall truly tithe all the increase of your grain that the field produces year by year.”
Malachi 3:10 not only instructs us to tithe, but also offers us a promise by God: “‘Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in My house, and prove Me now in this,’ says the Lord of hosts, ‘if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you such blessing that there will not be room enough to receive it.’”
[Note: When we quote Scripture in this article, we use the wording in the New King James Version of the Bible, except when we quote a non-biblical source that is using Scripture from a different version of the Bible.]
The word “tithe” means “tenth,” but many Christians are unsure of whether the tenth should be calculated on the basis of their gross income before any deductions or their net income after deductions for all withheld taxes. Proverbs 3:9-10 not only tells us the answer to this question, but also confirms the promise of Malachi 3:10, stating, “Honor the Lord with your possessions, and with the firstfruits of all your increase, so your barns will be filled with plenty. . . .” Therefore, if we give of our “firstfruits,” our tithe should be calculated on the basis of our gross income (i.e., before any deductions).
However, with the possible exceptions of Matthew 23:23 and Luke 11:42, the New Testament does not specifically teach tithing. In these two scriptures, Jesus Christ declares that the teachers of the law and the Pharisees should continue to practice tithing, but they should not neglect virtues such as justice, mercy, and faith. If teachers of the law and Pharisees are expected to tithe, it can be inferred that Christians should also tithe.
First Corinthians 16:2 suggests a different standard for making donations (i.e., charitable contributions). This verse of Scripture states, “On the first day of the week let each one of you lay something aside, storing up as he may prosper, that there be no collections when I come.” With regard to this passage, the KJV Bible Commentary says,
The New Testament teaching of giving is that it is to be regular (“Upon the first day of the week”), all-inclusive (“let every one of you”), systematic (“lay by him in store”), and proportionate (“as God hath prospered him”). Nowhere in the New Testament is it suggested that the believer is to give 10 percent of his income, though in view of the Old Testament example that is probably a good place to begin. The measure is “as God hath prospered him.” It is possible that one could give 10 percent and still rob God, if God had prospered him greatly. The New Testament is more concerned with the motive in giving.
If you are not currently tithing (i.e., contributing at least 10% of your gross income to Christian ministries), you may want to consider increasing the amount that you are giving. God understands that it will be difficult for some people to tithe if they have not been doing so in the past. Although the Bible indicates that God wants us to tithe, there is reason to believe that He will be at least somewhat pleased to observe an increasing percentage of giving in this area of a Christian’s life.
Admittedly, the financial circumstances of some people make it extremely difficult for them to donate more than a small percentage of their earnings. However, if they sincerely desire to give more, they can take some degree of comfort from 2 Corinthians 8:12, which states, “[I]f there is first a willing mind, it is accepted according to what one has, and not according to what he does not have.” With regard to this verse, Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible states, “God accepts the will for the deed. He judges not according to what a man has the opportunity to do, but according to what he would do if he had the opportunity. . . .”
The challenge and the opportunity for those who have been tithing is to give more than the tithe to Christian ministries. If you are paying lower income taxes as a result of being able to deduct the amount of your contributions from your taxable income, perhaps you could increase your giving by the amount of your income tax savings. Or, if you have been saving a higher percentage of your income than the percentage you have been giving to Christian ministries, you may want to think about reducing the percentage of your savings and increasing the percentage of your giving.
If you are among the most fortunate people who already have reached the level of savings that should meet their long-term financial goals, ask yourself if it is necessary for you to continue to accumulate additional savings. If it is not necessary to continue to add to your savings, you can share your good fortune with other people by giving your surplus money to Christian ministries. If instead you wait until you die to make generous donations, you are unlikely to experience the same joy and satisfaction now that can come with knowing that your surplus is already benefiting others.
Whether or not you tithe, your attitude about giving is of utmost importance, as indicated by 2 Corinthians 9:7, which says, “[L]et each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver.” It is arguably better to give less than a tithe with a positive attitude than to tithe with a negative attitude. [Note: The Appendix that immediately follows addresses the question of whether or not any portion of a tithe should be given to an organization other than a church.]
Should the Entire Tithe of Christians Be Given to a Church?
Many Christian churches assert that their members should make all their financial contributions to the church where they have their membership, up to at least 10% of their income. These churches do not generally oppose members giving donations in excess of the tithe to other worthy causes to which the members want to contribute. The position of these churches is usually based primarily upon Malachi 3:10, which we previously quoted, and, perhaps, to Nehemiah 10:35-37.
What is particularly significant about Malachi 3:10 is where tithes should be given, since this scripture says, “Bring all the tithes into the storehouse.” [Note: Nehemiah 13:12 also mentions bringing tithes to the storehouse, but there is no indication in the context of this verse that God commanded the people to do so.]
In comparison, Nehemiah 10:35-37 mentions bringing tithes to the house of the Lord or the house of God, not to the storehouse, as follows:
And we made ordinances to bring the firstfruits of our ground and the firstfruits of all fruit of all trees, year by year, to the house of the Lord; to bring the firstborn of our sons and our cattle, as it is written in the Law, and the firstborn of our herds and our flocks, to the house of our God, to the priests who minister in the house of our God; to bring the firstfruits of our dough, our offerings, the fruit from all kinds of trees, the new wine and oil, to the priests, to the storerooms of the house of our God; and to bring the tithes of our land to the Levites, for the Levites should receive the tithes in all our farming communities.
When considered together, Nehemiah 10:35-37 and Malachi 3:10 indicate that the storehouse was part of the facilities where the Hebrews worshipped God. Evidently, many Christian churches believe that the storehouse of the house of God in which the Hebrews worshipped has been succeeded by the facilities occupied by the church, since it is the place where their members (and visitors) worship God. This explains why many of these churches take the position that we mentioned previously (i.e., members of the church should make all their donations to the church, up to at least 10% of their income).
However, we believe the position taken by these churches is too legalistic, because it reflects the letter of the law, not the spirit of the law, which is to seek to do what is best for the kingdom of God. Although church members certainly should help to support the church to which they belong, there are a number of other worthy Christian organizations that are as effectively, if not more effectively, spreading the Gospel and helping people who need assistance with basic needs. Organizations similar to these were apparently not in existence during biblical times, so the Scriptures that were written for the people living during those times did not offer any alternatives for donations.
Furthermore, consider Deuteronomy 26:12-13, which says:
When you have finished laying aside all the tithe of your increase in the third year—the year of tithing—and have given it to the Levite, the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, so that they may eat within your gates and be filled, then you shall say before the Lord your God: “I have removed the holy tithe from my house, and also have given them to the Levite, the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, according to all Your commandments which You have commanded me; I have not transgressed Your commandments, nor have I forgotten them.”
Notice that in certain years the tithes were to be given to the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, as well as to the Levite, who, according to Unger’s Bible Dictionary, was “set apart for the service of the sanctuary,”. In other words, the scripture passage indicates that a portion of the tithes during those years was to be given to ministries for the needy, in addition to the sanctuary services.
Although some Bible commentaries express the belief that Deuteronomy 26:12-13 pertains to a second tithe that was to be given in certain years, other Bible commentaries do not mention that the tithe discussed in this scripture was a second tithe, and the passage itself does not provide any reason to believe that the tithe to which the scripture pertains was a second tithe.
Given the foregoing considerations, we do not think God unequivocally wants Christians to always donate their entire tithe to a Christian church., but even if He does, we do not believe He would reprimand, much less punish, Christians who donate part of their tithe to one or more Christian ministries other than a church. In fact, God may prefer that Christians do so if it will result in the donations being used more effectively. However, we are reluctant to draw the same conclusion for ministries administered by organizations that are not Christian-oriented.