Biblical Truth About Tithing

Biblical Truth About Tithing

If you belong to a Church that teaches and practices the principle of tithing, chances are you know Malachi 3:10 by heart and can very well recite it from memory. It’s because this is what pastors and church leaders are most likely to quote when exhorting their congregation to give their tithes and offerings.

Accordingly, God commands us to give our tithes and when we choose to disobey Him, then we are robbing Him which consequently puts us under a curse. But what does the Bible teach with regard to tithing? What are the biblical principles of tithing?

Biblical Principles of Tithing

The subject of tithing has been an issue of disagreement among Christians, and still is today. Although followers of Christ generally agree on almost every essential or fundamental doctrine, there are certain topics that remain unsettled. No matter how we all try to stick to the Bible and submit to its final authority, we still have differences in as far as minor theology is concerned.

When it comes to the subject of tithing, it is important to see that there are two extremes that Christians must by all means avoid. First is the temptation to conclude that tithing is not for Christians today, and so I am not in any way obligated to give and I can keep all the money to myself. The other is to use Malachi 3:10 and other tithing texts to make people feel obliged to give more than what they’re willing to give, and to feel guilty if they don’t.

Is Tithing a Commandment?

The word tithe means a tenth. It was an ancient form of worship that predates the Mosaic Law. The first explicit reference to the tithe is found in Genesis 14:20, where Abraham paid a tithe to Melchizedek, a priest of God Most High, giving him a tenth of all the spoils from battle (See also Hebrews 7:1-2). Later, we read of Jacob vowing to God “a full tenth” (Genesis 28:22).

However, these tithes were not given in response to any specific laws about tithing. They were simply expressions of gratitude to God for His mercy and grace. Abraham and Jacob were pleased to worship the Lord by offering a tenth of their income.

Later in redemptive history, God commanded His people to give a tenth of their income for the support of His work. As part of the Mosaic Law, God commanded the Israelites to provide for the maintenance of the temple and the Levites.

The Levites were the one tribe of Israel who did not receive a portion of the land which God graciously gave to Israel. For the Levites, the priesthood was their inheritance (Numbers 18:24). As priests, they were to serve the other tribes. In order to provide for their survival, God appointed the tithe (Numbers 18:21).

Tithing, therefore, was an important part of Israel’s covenantal life with God. It was a great sin to withhold tithes, and to do so was to steal from God. That’s why when we go to the book of Malachi 3:8-9, God indicted Israel for the sin of breaking their covenant with Him by withholding their tithes. (Note: If you’re reading from the New International Version, the passage heading reads: “Breaking Covenant by Withholding Tithes.”)

In Malachi 3:7, God starts off with a general charge of disobedience, that is, turning away from His decrees, and then narrows it down to a specific charge of disobedient giving in the next two verses quoted earlier. When God’s people fail to obey His word with regard to giving, they are robbing Him.

Conversely, if Israel would show their trust in the Lord by obeying Him with the tithe, they would have their needs met and be blessed (Malachi 3:10).

Are Christians Commanded to Tithe?

The New Testament gives no explicit command for tithing. We don’t read Jesus and His disciples teaching the necessity of tithing. Neither can we find any statement that they tithed. It is also significant to note that tithing is never mentioned in any instructions to the Church, although much is said about giving.

If the Church is supposed to give ten percent, it seems strange that Paul did not mention this when he wrote to predominately Gentile churches, which would not be familiar with the Law of Moses. So why should we tithe when the early Church did not practice tithing? The strict tithe seems to be linked to the old covenant, that is, God’s covenant with the nation of Israel.

Nevertheless, there is some continuity between the old and new covenants when it comes to giving. Just as Israel was to provide for the priests in the old covenant, the Church is to provide for the ministry of the Gospel in the new covenant. The apostle Paul makes it very clear that the ministry of the Gospel is to be supported with the resources of the Church. Paul gives a very straight-forward teaching on this topic in 1 Corinthians 9:14.

When Paul wrote to Timothy, he quotes some general laws from the Old Testament and applies them to the ministry of the Word. (See 1 Timothy 5:17-18) Also when Paul wrote to the Galatians, he says,Let him who is taught the word share in all good things with him who teaches (Galatians 6:6). To this end, every Christian should be mindful of his responsibilities in supporting the budget of the congregation to which he belongs, so that the aforementioned needs are being met.

No longer under Law but under Grace

Christians who say we do not have to tithe argue that tithing is an Old Testament Law and is applicable only to the nation of Israel. We are not physical Israel and we do not own the land so we are not under the Law. We are living under grace in the new covenant and so tithing does not apply to us.

Christians who are against tithing also argue that using the ten percent measure in our giving to God is limiting what we can give, thereby limiting our blessings. In other words, why limit your giving to a mere ten percent when you can give more? This month you may choose to give fifteen percent, next month twenty five percent or more and the following month perhaps a bit less depending on your financial needs. This seems reasonable and acceptable, don’t you think?

On the other hand, Christians who hold to the view that tithing still applies to believers today often quote Malachi 3:10 where the command to tithe is given by God Himself. They also cite Matthew 23:23 to argue that Jesus affirms tithing when He rebuked the Scribes and Pharisees for neglecting the weightier matters of the law such as grace and mercy, but commended them for tithing in mint, anise and cumin. They believe that the tithe and offerings are two separate things.

Biblical Principles of Tithing

Your tithe is the tent of your income while your offering is any amount that you want to give to God from the remaining ninety percent, on top of your tithe, that is. For your offering, you can give as much as your heart desires. But the tithe is a fixed amount, that is, the tenth of all the blessings you received from God.

The only problem I see with dutifully practicing or imposing tithing is the tendency for it to become ritualistic and mechanical. Legalism would start creeping in, standards might be set up which aren’t necessarily biblical standards and hypocrisy would arise. Take for instance the self-righteous Pharisee in Luke 18:12, boasting about his tithing as proof of his righteousness.

The Standard of Giving in the New Testament

If the compulsory Levitical tithe was particular to the Levitical priesthood and the New Testament does not explicitly command a strict ten percent of one’s income, just how much should the believer give? Paul gives us at least three guidelines. Let us then consider carefully the following three principles.

1) Give freely, generously and cheerfully.

In 2 Corinthians 9:6-7 Paul says that He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver.” There is no prescribed amount that one must give. The amount you give is something that only you can decide but however much you give, do it with joy.

So you say, “Great to hear that. It means I can give what’s left after I have settled all my bills and set aside my budget for this month.” Of course, you’re free to give what you’re willing to give but will it make you joyful knowing that you’re not giving God the best? Are you cheerful to give just two percent or maybe five percent of your income to the Lord?

While ten percent is not a strict requirement for the new covenant, it is nevertheless an excellent guideline. Christians must do well to make ten percent of their income the minimum of their giving as an expression of their joy in the Lord.

2) Give consistently.

In continuation of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian Church, he gives us direction. He says, 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.”

We are to establish the practice of setting aside a certain amount of our resources for God’s work, just as you would anything else in your monthly budget and financial planning. Whatever amount we decide to give, we are to do so consistently on a weekly or monthly basis. We don’t choose to give a certain amount this month and skip it next month or the month after, then give again after that. The support of the local church relies upon the regular giving of the members of the congregation.

3) Give as the Lord prospers you.

Consider Paul’s commands above: as he may prosper. It means our giving should be in proportion to what God has given us. As God increases your income, your giving should increase accordingly. We see how the old covenant practice of tithing can be applied in the new covenant. When we set aside ten percent of our income, whether we make a little or a lot, helps us to give as the Lord prospers us.

Biblical Principles of Tithing

Biblical Principles of Tithing

Tithing is a matter of the heart. The main principle behind tithing is the fact that what we do with our money shows where our heart is (Matthew 6:21). By giving ten percent or more of our income instead of keeping that money for ourselves, we show that our heart isn’t tied to our money and that we love God more than our money.

Always remember that everything we have belongs to God, He just entrusted them under our care. Even though most of us probably work for the money we make each month, even God has a hand there – He has given us the ability to do our jobs (Deuteronomy 8:18).

If we are able to grasp what God has fully given to us, we are certain to agree that ten percent doesn’t even feel like much. If Abraham tithed to Melchizedek whose priesthood was based on the law and the Old Testament saints who were living under the Law practiced tithing, how much more for us today who have been redeemed by Christ and are now living under His covenant of grace?

I believe that it’s a big mistake to use the we’re no longer living under the law but under grace as an excuse for the people of God not to give. It’s very easy for you to say that you are faithfully obeying God. But what if the Lord says, “Oh yeah? Why don’t we get more specific. How is your giving?”

It’s important to realize that giving is one of the litmus tests of your relationship to God. Your Bible knowledge maybe impressive and so as your prayer life and years of service in your Church ministry. But what about your stewardship of the money that God has entrusted to you?

Do you maintain integrity in terms of money matters? Are your priorities and motives for earning, spending, saving, and giving in line with biblical standards and principles?


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22 Replies to “Biblical Truth About Tithing”

  1. Hi Alice 

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading your in depth post about tithing. 

    I was always brought up to believe tithing should be 10% but when it comes to imposing a set percentage, in my heart I agree with your point: “The only problem I see with dutifully practicing or imposing tithing is the tendency for it to become ritualistic and mechanical.”

    I think it has the very real potential to take away giving “freely, generously, cheerfully, consistently and as the Lord prosper us,”the three New Testament principles you highlight. 

    For me I like to think of 10% as a guideline but I have been through phases in my life where this has not been possible and others where I have been able to tithe much more. For me I truly do believe that whatever you give, if you do so with a grateful heart, the amount you give really does not matter. 

    Mark

    1. Hello Mark, thank you for sharing your thoughts in regards to the topic of tithing. Admittedly, this has been and still is until today one of the major disagreements among Christians.

      I was ushered into a spiritual family that strictly follows the principle of giving a tenth of all your income to God as a means to support His work. And for that, our pastors and church leaders have faced criticisms not just from other churches but also from some members of our church as well. This has caused some brethren to leave the church and joined other churches that do not preach tithing.

      When we tithe, we should not do it out of compulsion but rather as an expression of worship and gratitude to God who loves us and gave His life for us. Let us not also limit the amount we give to a mere 10% because I believe that 10% is just the minimum. 10% is a good starting point of our giving but as we grow in our relationship with the Lord, we will learn to give even more as an expression of our love and gratitude.

      Shalom!

  2. I really did enjoy your article on tithing the way I have been taught and the way I am teaching my kids is give 10% of your earnings before taxes. This is a good rule to follow because give Caesar what is his and give God what is his. I have always given my tithing because I believe this is God’s money to begin with and he can do a lot of good with it. And I have always gotten blessed from my tithing, so always give with a cheerful heart.
    Great work,
    JesusB

    1. Hello Jesus,

      Is your name really Jesus? Wow! You must be really blessed for having the name of our Lord and Savior. 

      I have always believed in tithing and I am glad you share the same view. Admittedly, tithing  is a very controversial topic even among Christian churches and denominations. Many do not think this commandment is not binding among Christians today because we are now under grace. However, like what you said, God owns everything to begin with, we are just His stewards and God can do more with our tithe. Many Christians who believe in tithing also say that they have been blessed so much because they choose to give back to God a tenth of all their blessings.

      Thank you for sharing your view regarding tithing, God bless!

  3. Thanks. I agree and appreciate from the article you have posted sis. For me, what made me conclude … about this tithe controversy: is just between you and God, if you keep that commandment in your heart because of your love to God I think it’s not a big deal. But on the other hand, if you don’t feel convicted to do so, and prefer to give what you have purposed in your heart not grudgingly and under compulsion, feel better with yourself, that’s also commendable before God. So, my final conclusion is: God sees what’s in our hearts not what how much we give …. you think so, sis?

    1. I agree brother Jessie, tithing or giving is between you and God. Nobody else should dictate what you must give. When Abraham and Jacob tithed, they did not do it in obedience to any law that was given but they did it as an expression of their love and adoration to God. The amount we give also should be an expression of our love and gratitude and an act of worship to God.

      Can’t still decide how much to give? I believe that the principles of giving that the apostle Paul laid out for the Church are great pointers to consider when we are deciding how much we should give to the Lord and His work.

      Although I do not think that tithing is strictly binding upon Christians today, I do believe that using the 10th as basis is not a bad idea either. We must admit, having some kind of … say standard makes it easier for us to decide how much exactly we must give. Let us not forget that the amount we give is supposed to bring us joy (give cheerfully right?) knowing that we have given to God, not what He deserves because we can’t possibly give what He deserves, but our best.

      Paul also said give according to how the Lord prospers you. I think this is where the tithe is applied. Not everyone receives the same blessings so if we will use 10% as the basis then we are actually giving as the Lord prospers us.

      But then again, this comes down to our individual covenant with God. In the same way that tithing was part of the Israelites’ covenant with God, we can also make a covenant with God when we decide how much to give to Him. Whether that be 10%, less or more, that is between you and God. After all, God knows how much each of us is able to give. And yes, God sees the heart. He sees the motives of each giver. Are we tithing out of fear that we will be cursed if we don’t? Or do we sincerely and cheerfully want to tithe because we are convicted to do so and because we love God?

      Like I said in my blog, my concern about imposing (or enforcing tithing) is that it could become legalistic; meaning, literally adhering to the law which is clearly opposed to grace. Interestingly, this brings us back to our discussion in our group about Law and Grace.

      Shalom!

  4. As for me, because of grace through faith alone in Christ as a requirement for salvation, tithing becomes voluntary and is given according to your pledge to God … or rather give whatever is due to God. More or less 10th parts of our income according to our pledge. As long as it came from our hearts.

    1. Hey Ben, thanks for the emphasis on salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ. Sadly, there are still many Christians who think that doing good works such as tithing have any effect on our salvation.

      So what is it about tithing? In the New Testament, we are exhorted to give cheerfully, generously and without compulsion. You’re right, tithing and giving must be voluntary . We give what we have decided in our hearts to give, without compulsion; it has to come from our hearts, whether that be 10 percent or more.

      But think about it, does giving less than the minimum which is 10% make us happy? Is that the best we can give to God? That’s a question we each have to answer. After all, this is a matter between each of us and God.

  5. I found this to be a very thoughtful and detailed post. I am familiar with tithing within the Catholic church but less so within the Protestant practices. There it seemed more common to skip the tithe and make offerings instead. Have you also found that to be the case? Admittedly I have limited experience with both since I have not bounced from church to church.

    I would particularly like to thank you for the extended Biblical analysis of tithing and what it means – I have not found such a comprehensive reference to the Old Testament or comparison between the Old and New Testaments previously and I learned quite a bit. Thank you for providing so much good information!

    1. Hello Leslie,

      I’m glad to know that you have found great information in my post in reference to tithing in the Old and New Testaments.

      As far as I know, the Catholic Church does not really teach and exhort its members to tithe because they give more emphasis on free-will offerings.

      Among Protestants, tithing is still a hotly-debated topic; they cannot really come to a full agreement as to whether Christians are required to tithe or not. However, I believe that tithing should not be a burden to every follower of Christ who wants to take part in the Great Commission which Jesus has explicitly gave to every one of us.

      But no matter how much you choose to give, whether a tenth or more, or less, that is between you and God and that is your covenant with Him.

      God bless!

  6. Good question Alice. I’m not sure I have the right answer on this one. Although I think that, giving is really important, and even giving to the church so it can be healthy and do what it suppose to do in the community.

    Solomon also encouraged us to give the first part of our revenue. I tend to agree on what you said about what Paul was teaching on this. Giving shouldn’t feel forced, but a joy.

    God like those who freely gives…

    I also like what Jesus said in Matthew 6 when he said that it should be done anonymously. It may not always be possible, but to me, it’s an act of humility and you are not drawing the attention to you with what you give.

    1. Hi guy,

      Giving generously, joyfully and without compulsion is what the apostle Paul encourages every New Testament believer to do because God loves a cheerful giver. Our financial gifts and offerings are really important in order to support and provide the needs of the church. However, if we can give 10% or more of our income aside from our regular offering, that would be commendable. Like Abraham and Jacob who gave their tithes to God as an expression of their love and devotion, or the Israelites who had a covenant with God to give their tithes in support of those who were serving at the temple. As Paul clearly said, those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel (1 Corinthians 9:14).

      May we always have the joy in our hearts to give in support of the works of God.

  7. Tithing has always been a very controversial issue in modern Christianity and within many churches. Many can’t seem to agree whether it’s still relevant today or not. There is always the New Testament/Old Testament argument going on.

    This was a very interesting read. I think in the New Testament era the emphasis is more on giving from the heart rather than being commanded to tithe.

    1. Hi Darren,

      You’re so right, tithing is one very controversial topic today among Christians. I believe it’s okay to have minor doctrinal differences but the problem I see when it comes to this issue is the fact that it’s already causing division within the Body of Christ. Sometimes this even goes to the extremes of criticizing one another just because some believe that tithing still applies today while others don’t or the other way around. 

      I’ve  been hearing all these arguments for so long, but until now nobody actually has come up with new arguments for or against the practice of tithing for New Testament believers, of which we are a part of.

      At the end of the day, regardless of whether we tithe or not, it’s our relationship with God through Christ that determines our eternal destiny. Our salvation does not rest on our stand on tithing but through the finished works of Christ. And as I said, tithing/giving is all a matter of the heart. 

      Shalom and may God bless you!

  8. That is an interesting history of tithing. I grew up in the southern baptist church and never really thought of where the concept came from. I also found it refreshing to read something from someone else that understands the nature of the two testaments and the fact that they are actually covenants between God and people. That knowledge changes the way you read the bible.

    1. Hi Thomas, I truly believe that in order for us to understand the New Testament we have to always go back to the Old Testament. Because as what most theologians quote, “The Old Testament is the New Testament concealed and the New Testament is the Old Testament revealed.” We cannot just jump to the new covenant without taking into consideration the old covenant. By the way, testament is also called covenant so yes, the two testaments, old and new are actually covenants between God and His people.

      When we have a better understanding of the cultural and historical background of the Bible, it really does change the way we read it. The Bible becomes alive and we understand every word in it the same way the people during those times actually understood it. 

  9. I found this to be a valuable read. As a former pastor with a graduate degree in theology, I was intrigued to see where this post would lead the reader. What I see is an easy-to-read summary of the OT and NT with an emphasis on the heart behind the giving, and the love for God and His people that I believe should shape one’s giving. This, alongside the three points, are valuable take-aways. Thank you for such a thorough and balanced article!

    1. Hi Randene.
      I believe that everything we do for the Lord and for others reveal the true condition of our heart, especially where money and resources are concerned. So yes, our giving is one measure of our love for God and our fellowmen.
      Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts, truly appreciate it.

  10. I have to say that is a very interesting article regarding tithing and I really like the guidelines you listed that Paul talked about in 2 Corinthians. I wholeheartedly agree that you should give joyfully and not because you feel you have to. It definitely should be done freely, generously, cheerfully as is stated. It also should not be done boastfully in which it brings attention to you.

    1. Hello Brian, thanks for dropping by. 
      Yes, I believe that the giving of tithes and offerings to God should not be “enforced” but rather a personal choice that each believer makes in response to the love and goodness of God and to how God has blessed them. Every believer should give cheerfully and generously, yes generously, the standard of giving in the New Testament. And I agree with you, whenever we give, no matter how huge an amount it maybe, we should not boast about it because it’s not even ours to begin with, it is God’s as His word says that God owns everything (Psalm 24:1 & 1 Corinthians 10:26). 

  11. Wonderful article! I have always believed in tithing, even before I understood why. To me, it was just a part of what you do. However, there have been times in my life where I was barely making ends meet and tithing seemed like a hardship. God wants us to give with joy, but that was hard to do at the time. I think it is more important to work on having joy in your heart first, and then things like tithing come naturally, along with all other giving. What do you think of this concept?

    1. Hello Irma, thanks for your comment.

      When I first heard about tithing I was convicted right away to obey but no matter how I wanted to, I couldn’t because I was buried in debt and the money I was making was barely enough to pay for my credit. However, the more I heard God’s word and about what Jesus has done for me, my heart was filled with joy and thanksgiving. It’s that joy that I found in Jesus that eventually made me decide to start tithing. You’re right, when our heart is overflowing with joy, tithing, giving and other forms of good works will just come naturally. Even though there are times our finances get tight, we know that we will not experience lack because God will provide. God is not only the source of our joy but also the source and provider of all our needs.

      God bless!

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