Understanding Tithes And Offerings

Old Testament

The first and the best.

The idea of “first and best” is key when we talk about tithing. All giving is meant to be a joyful response to the gracious provision and love of God. We first read about “offering” in the Old Testament story of Cain and Abel (Genesis 4). The motivation to give isn’t a result of a command from God, but an existing impulse between the two boys. Both feel like they owe God something, but only one chooses to give God the first and best he has to offer.

It isn’t until Leviticus 27:30-33 and Numbers 18 that we get a clear sense of how tithing (the word means “tenth”) works. People willingly give God their “first fruits,” the first and best of the fruits of their labor.  Tithing and this idea of “first and best” are connected. In ancient Israel, the economic exchange was livestock and birds and grain. Modern economies operate with money; present day Christians don’t choose the best cattle or bread to tithe, but the principle translates easily – the first 10% of a paycheck represents our “first fruits.”

We can see the opposite of giving the “first and best” in the book of Malachi, which is about Israel not tithing the way it should.  It reminds us of the temptation to give God our “mediocre” fruit (Mal. 1:6-9) and turning what should be a grateful response (Mal. 2:5, see also 2 Corinthians 9:6-8) into an empty ritual (Mal. 1:12-13).  It reminds us that God knows our hearts and minds when it comes to giving and that not tithing is the equivalent of robbing the gracious God who has blessed us with so much. (3:8).

A 10% tithe is the baseline.

This should be our “first and best” 10%, i.e. before taxes and any other bills.  We are to tithe first and trust that the Lord can meet our needs. In other words, as a baseline, Christians count 90% of their gross income and plan the rest of their lives accordingly. That said, if this hasn’t been a habit for you, you may need to come up with a plan that will allow you to build up to this.

The full tithe is for the ministry of the church. God’s complaint in Malachi 3:10 is that the people are not bringing the “full tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in my house”.  In ancient Israel the tithe went to support the Levites, who took care of the running of the temple. In addition to paying (today’s equivalent of) their salaries and the costs of running the temple, the poor and marginalized were also cared for using the full tithe. That has always been part of the ministry of God’s people. When tithes went unpaid, the Levites and priests couldn’t continue to work in the temple (see where Nehemiah had to correct the people and get them again bringing the full tithe because in His absence, they had neglected it and “the house of God” had been “forsaken,” Neh. 13:10-13); and also, when tithes went unpaid the widow, the orphan, and the homeless were among those who suffered, not to mention the priests/pastors.

New Testament

 In the New Testament, the book of Acts takes the Old Testament idea and gives us a similar model of giving to the local church.  Money that comes into the church is under the stewardship of elders and pastors.

 This basic idea is from Acts 2:42-47. Christians tithe so that the church might:

• provide for members who are in need,

• take care of the leaders who take care of the members,

• provide for the work of the Kingdom of God, which must always include attentiveness to helping the poor and marginalized.  

In the words of Bill Hybels, the local church is the hope of the world.  Even with all its flaws and failures, the church is the bride of Christ, His beloved, and the body through whom He has chosen to advance the mission of His Kingdom.

Fewer tithes = less ministry done by the church. Full tithe= more ministry done by the church

Historically, because Christians tithed, churches were able to create hospitals, schools, universities, food banks; churches were able to support missionaries and homes for the elderly and ministries that stretched the arms of the church far and wide. We, as a congregation give tithes and offerings from the tithe you give.  Currently, we give 12% away, and we dream of a day we can increase that dramatically.  As more and more members of The Spring tithe, we can give more generously to local & global ministries; we can help individuals who are in need (which we do on a regular basis – both members and non-members); and we will have more for salaries to support our staff and a facility in which to worship and do ministry.

Are there people who are unable to tithe?

Yes.  Even in America there are truly poor people who need the support of the church and struggle to contribute financially.

Not legalistic.

We can assume that Jesus and the disciples would have given tithes and offerings, since they would have been raised to do so, as faithful Jews. That said, Jesus was not a legalist, and He often took on people who were. (Mark 2:27). We can assume that tithing “because we have to” would be against the spirit in which Jesus taught. He praised the poor widow who gave everything she had (Luke 21:1-4), but He didn’t require it.

At the same time, we should be wary of a reverse legalism, making the tithe the maximum of our giving, rather than the minimum.

Giving continues beyond the tithe with “offerings”.

In addition to the tithe, God’s people give offerings.  Offerings, in the Old Testament, were set apart for the priests, but there were also voluntary gifts above and beyond the tithe, as well (Ex. 25:2-7). This continues in the New Testament (2 Cor. 9).  As Americans we are not poor, but are among the world’s rich.  To be faithful disciples, we need to ask ourselves, “How much is enough for me and my family to live on, and how much can we challenge ourselves to give away.” How can we enter into the joy of giving in the same way the Lord enjoys giving abundantly to us?  Our giving is meant to be a joyful response to a God who is generous.  (2 Cor. 9:7) For most American Christians, although not all, that will mean not only tithing, but giving offerings, as well.

This is where, biblically and historically, giving to other ministries and organizations, comes into play.  With the ministry of the church being fully supported, we give to other ministries as God leads and calls us.  We look to “seek and save the lost” just as Jesus did (Luke 19:10); we are to “remember the poor” (Gal. 2:10) also the widow, the orphan, and the oppressed (the most needy and those on the margins).  This “remembering” isn’t merely an intellectual exercise (Heb. 13:3). We are to remember them and do something about their situation.

The Goal is generosity.

In the New Testament, the goal is always that giving would be joyful, sacrificial and generous. Because God is joyful and generous, those who follow Him and are filled with His Spirit become like Him. Both joy and generosity are named among the fruit of the Spirit.  (Gal. 5:22)  Our God also demonstrates sacrifice by giving up His own Son, and His Son Jesus giving himself up willingly for us. We too are called to live generously sacrificial lives. Our desire is to be like Him.  After all, we are “being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.” (2 Cor. 3:18)

 Early Christians were outrageously generous, they even sold their possessions to meet the needs of the church (Acts 2:42-47).  In Luke 18:18-25 Jesus tells a rich man to “Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”  This is typical of Jesus and the church in the New Testament.

Living Generous lives

Following God is a radical call when it comes to our whole lives, and possessions are no exception.  No longer are we asked for merely 10%, now we are asked for our whole lives (Rom. 12:1).  Tithing from a New Testament perspective is the minimum we are asked for; Generosity is the goal.  (2 Cor. 9:10-15).

The practice of tithing teaches us how to keep God first in our lives and it helps us practice living as unselfish people.  Unselfish people make better friends, relatives, husbands, wives, employees, employers, neighbors and citizens.  Living generously sets us free to enter into the joy of sacrificial giving.  Join us in bringing the full tithe into God’s house; it will change your life (Mal. 3:10-11)