Tithing – How Much Should a Christian Give? Part 1

by Jason on April 19, 2010


Recently, Lakita from Personal Finance Journey had a great post asking the question if we should tithe off of our income tax refund.   

There were some great comments on this post and led to a good discussion of giving in general.

Another good post on giving in the last couple of weeks was from Free Money Finance who asked, “Where Did All the Givers Go?”

In that post he quotes Randy Alcorn who says that although American Christians control 70% of the world’s Christian wealth, they only give about 2.6%.

He says it’s a sad indictment that people following a religion that teaches so much about giving actually give so little!

At the same time these posts were being written, I had just finished teaching a series at our Young Adults group at church on money, giving and missional living so the topics were fresh in my mind.

So I thought it’d be good to have a discussion on R2 regarding  Christian giving, generosity and tithing.

Over the course of this next week, I want to answer three main questions:

  • How much should a Christian give?
  • Who should a Christian give to?
  • Should we give even if we don’t have the money?

So today we want to look at how much should a Christian give? 

Tithing in the Old Testament

Tithing, or “tenth”, is a Hebrew word that described giving a tenth of your crops, herds etc.

It was actually first mentioned in Genesis 14 regarding Abraham bringing a “tenth” to Melchizidek, but was more defined in the law -

God had some very specific commands in the Old Testament as to how much and when people of God should give.

In fact, the tithe only represented one part of the sacrificial giving system in that day – most Israelites were giving upwards of 20-30% of their goods and “income” at that time if you factored in all the giving requirements.

But things aren’t so clear in the New Testament – or are they?

Don’t miss another post!  Get Redeeming Riches delivered straight to your inbox!

Tithing in the New Testament

The word “tithe” in the New Testament is only mentioned in regards to statements of what somebody did – for example, Jesus says in Luke 11:42:

But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.

So Jesus is stating a fact that the Pharisees were tithing.

Nowhere does the New Testament define how much a Christian should give in terms of percentages, tithes etc. 

Does that mean we should throw out the Old Testament tithing idea?

What Jesus Does With the Law

Jesus says He did not come to abolish the law, but rather fulfill it.

What I love about Jesus is that He is so radical, so counter-cultural, yet he reaches and penetrates the hearts of the people around him.

But one of the main things He does is He pokes holes in the organized religion of the day by bringing matters back to the heart.

He always takes the law, magnifies it and brings it right back to a heart issue

For example, he talks about how we shouldn’t commit adultery, but says that if you even look at a person with lust you’ve committed adultery in your heart.

It’s doubtful many of us have murdered anyone, but Jesus says if you get ticked off at your brother and call him some not-so-nice names that you’ve murdered him in your heart!

And of course with giving, He isn’t concerned with the size of the gift as much as He’s concerned with the heart motive and the sacrifice behind it.  Take a look at Luke 21:1-4:

Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box, and he saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. And he said, “Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”

And so by doing this, Jesus ironically makes it easier for us so we don’t have a list of rules to live by – and yet – it is also harder because dealing with heart issues is never easy.

Setting the Stage

In this post, I’m really just setting the stage for some deeper discussion in tomorrow’s post about how much we should give - so come back for some further thoughts on tithing and Christian giving.

Question to Consider

Should we throw out the concept of the Old Testament tithing because the New Testament doesn’t mention it? I’d love to hear your thoughts below!

Related Posts

{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

Lakita (PFJourney) April 19, 2010 at 8:07 am

First of all, thanks for the mention! I’m really looking forward to reading the rest of your series. I LOVE this statement:

“What I love about Jesus is that He is so radical, so counter-cultural, yet he reaches and penetrates the hearts of the people around him.”

YES!!!!

Paul, from Provident Plan and I have been having a very productive discussion via email on this very topic (in fact, I think I owe him a reply).

To answer your question:
I do not think we should throw out the concept of tithing, but I don’t think we should be restricted to it either.

Kevin@OutOfYourRut April 19, 2010 at 8:38 am

I sometimes think that here in America, Christians have become obsessed with the tithe. Our culture tends to consider money as the measure of all things, and therefore the tithe becomes almost unnaturally important–perhaps even critical as an act of faith.

In the NT we have “So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7). I somehow think that’s a more reasonable standard.

Think about it, if I earn $200,000/year how hard is it for me to give 10%? It may not even be sacrificial. But if I make $35,000 and have three children, it’s an entirely different story.

Perhaps the people in the second category give up when they realize that 10% is out of range for them. Maybe we should follow 2 Cor 9:7 and not agonize so much.

The tithe should be sacrificial, but it shouldn’t put us in conflict with God. There are other ways to give that are just as beneficial as money–we can give time, effort, expertise and possessions. The Kingdom needs all of these in addition to money. In fact Jesus said, “the harvest is ripe, but the workers are few” (Mt 9:7)so maybe that’s an even more critical need.
.-= Kevin@OutOfYourRut´s last blog ..How to Buy Health Insurance Without Paying Too Much =-.

Paul Williams April 19, 2010 at 9:47 am

I think I’ll wait to see tomorrow’s post for more details, but there were a few things I liked here.

You’re exactly right in noting that Jesus calls us to look at our hearts and motives when giving. This becomes clear in his admonition about giving to be seen by others.

Kevin made some excellent points and highlighted one of the reasons I don’t like to hear Christians teaching tithing. We can put an undue burden on the poor – the very people we’re to be helping with our giving. Jesus warned against the yeast of the Pharisees & scribes who were known for creating burdens the people could not bear and doing nothing to help.

P.S. Lakita – I’m looking forward to your reply. :)
.-= Paul Williams´s last blog ..How to Get Out of Debt: Step 5 – Build a Starter Emergency Fund =-.

Carrie...On The Cheap April 19, 2010 at 3:07 pm

I’ve often struggled with this issue, but I think, like you mentioned, that Jesus knows our heart. My goal will always be 10%, but if I don’t make it, I’m not going to beat myself up over it. Instead, I will try to donate more of my time. Great post!! :)

Jason April 19, 2010 at 8:40 pm

Lakita, no problem – I’m glad you like that statement. The more I read the gospels, the more I’m amazed at Jesus’ ability to cut through all the junk and just go straight to the heart with grace and love.

Jason April 19, 2010 at 8:47 pm

Kevin, I agree with you to a point, but I think we need to be careful in saying that the tithe becomes almost unnaturally important. I think it is very important in terms of an application of our faith. What I mean is that the response to the generosity of the gospel should be a wellspring of generosity in relation to our money, time and energies.

I do agree with you that 10% for someone making big coin is totally different than someone barely getting by. I wonder how many of us truly give sacrificially though! I wrestle with the same thing.

Joseph ! kickdebtoff April 19, 2010 at 9:06 pm

I have to admit that i did not realize that tithing was such a polarizing subject until last week. I talked to a friend and he believes that tithing was abolished in the Old Testament.

Lakita put it wel -It is a guideline but it should not restrict us.
Another thing that sometimes is not mentioned- Tithing cannot earn salvation, neither lack thereof deny salvation. Salvation is by Grace alone.
I like what you said that Jesus is “concerned with the heart motive and the sacrifice behind it” and so He says that He loves a cheerful giver.
.-= Joseph ! kickdebtoff´s last blog ..Medical Identity Theft Rising =-.

Craig Ford April 20, 2010 at 4:35 am

C.S. Lewis is off his rocker. He says we should give until it hurts. Till we feel it and it impacts us. How many people in North America could every try that? I know I don’t.

I wonder why no one in the NT asked that question – how much should we give? I wonder why no one in the NT answered that question.

We can say for sure that many of the examples we have in the NT seem to be more in line with what CS Lewis is talking about – people giving more than they should.
.-= Craig Ford´s last blog ..Please Put Down the Pitch Fork | Exploring Credit Card Fanaticism =-.

Dano Cherison April 20, 2010 at 8:36 am

I believe the 10% tithing is an old testament concept. To the best of my knowledge, 10% tithing is not mentioned anywhere in the new testament (expect as a reference to old testament law). What is mentioned many times though is the principle of ‘Giving’. How much do you give? To the best of your ability. Who knows your ability best? God. So before you give, ask God how much you should give and then give whole heartedly and cheerfully. But if you keep hearing small amounts when you ask, check again if its God… coz our God is a generous God and if we have Christ in us, then we should naturally display that generosity too. So to summarise, I would say Christ amplified the ‘tithing concept’ and brought it to its fullness and wholeness in the ‘Giving’ principle.

Jason April 20, 2010 at 9:10 am

Paul & Kevin – I do agree that we can put an undue burden on the poor with tithing, but generally speaking the poor are usually pretty good at giving – it’s the mass affluent – the middle class and up that stinks at it. It’s those that are comfortable it seems have the most trouble with giving. But either way – undue burdens are not good!

Jason April 20, 2010 at 9:16 am

Carrie – thanks for checkin’ in. I think it’s a struggle for a lot of us. I also think we need to probe our hearts to see why we struggle with it too.

Jason April 20, 2010 at 9:22 am

Joe – you’re right, tithing is a polarizing topic. I think it’s because it really tugs at our desire to hold on to what we have compared to being willing to give it all up for Him!

Thanks for bringing up the fact that it doesn’t earn salvation! That cannot be stressed enough!

There is nothing we can do to earn favor in God’s sight for salvation. No amount of money will ever do!

Jason April 20, 2010 at 9:24 am

Craig – yeah, CS Lewis really makes you think with that statement. It’s hard to go there, because it’s uncomfortable.

I love your point about why this question was never asked in the NT and never answered either! Check out Part 2 for my thoughts on that!

Jason April 20, 2010 at 9:26 am

Dano, great point about naturally displaying the generosity of God through our giving – I think that was a huge part of NT giving of the early believers!

Moses April 20, 2010 at 5:38 pm

I wrote this email to a friend just now, before reading this post, and thought I’d cut and paste it below. We were talking about money and stewardship. Here is the email:

*********
Quote:
Here’s something for you to ponder.

Since we are talking about money, the issue of tithing has often come up to mind.

I think it’s unbiblical for believers.

The reason is this passage: Matt 17

24 ¶And when they were come to Capernaum, they that received tribute money came to Peter, and said, Doth not your master pay tribute?
25 He saith, Yes. And when he was come into the house, Jesus prevented him, saying,What thinkest thou, Simon? of whom do the kings of the earth take custom or tribute? of their own children, or of strangers?
26 Peter saith unto him, Of strangers. Jesus saith unto him, Then are the children free.
27 Notwithstanding, lest we should offend them, go thou to the sea, and cast an hook, and take up the fish that first cometh up; and when thou hast opened his mouth, thou shalt find a piece of money: that take, and give unto them for me and thee.

Now… who pays tribute? Sons or strangers?

Peter said strangers.

Then… what does that mean about sons? Do the kings of the earth, take custom from their own sons?
The answer would be no. They take it from strangers.

Now here is the question: Since God is our Father, and we are of his household… would God take custom or tributes from us?
If we are sons, then the answer is no.

God doesn’t require tribute from his sons.

As sons, we are heirs. All things are ours, because all things are Christs.
So then… we are not “under obligation” to give tithe. Only strangers do.

Ah… but will people give? that is to miss the point. Sons will give. Why? because of paying tribute? no. Because they are sons.
THey do what pleases the father and besides, everything they own – belong to God. They give – as a matter of …and here we go… wise stewardship.

It does change the whole burden on tithing which I think is no less than the law being enforced on people.

We are free. We don’t have to tithe. But we are to be stewards of what we have. And so, all our money isn’t ours. God wants to see how wise we are with it, and depeding on how well we fare here, he will give us greater tasks up there.

THAT, I think, is the true motivation for giving.

*****

That’s the way I look at it right now. Besides, it isn’t the money God is after. He’s after us. He wants all of us. *We* are the offering. I think that’s why were are to be holy. Because God is pleased with holy sacrifices.

Mo

Jason April 21, 2010 at 8:34 pm

Moses – I like what you say here:

Sons will give. Why? because of paying tribute? no. Because they are sons.

I would go a little further and say that sons don’t just give because it’s wise stewardship, but they give because they worship! giving is a matter of worship when it comes down to it. As with other forms of worship, it gives praise and glory to the One who deserves all! You hint at that with “We are the offering” – you’re right, God wants our surrender – and our giving is a demonstration of our surrender.

R May 11, 2010 at 4:38 pm

I think the one thing that was not mentioned here in the post is that people tend to have a tendency to live beyond their means. Although someone might be making say, 60k, they live like they make 70k. So there is no room to give.

Perhaps many people don’t budget for giving, and instead end up giving leftovers to God. If God considers the heart, then we should consider what we give to God in our heart first, before we think about all the things we want to consume for ourselves.

Leave a Comment


2 − = zero

{ 6 trackbacks }