Simply put, tithing is the act of donating 10% of income specifically to God through the church. The word “tithe” translates to one-tenth. It’s a tradition that goes far back into the Old Testament, first mentioned in the book of Leviticus:
This practice was essential for the early Israelites as a form of tax to build, maintain, and expand the church. It also acted as a constant reminder not to get too attached to earthly possessions. If all good things come from God, then everything we have is ultimately His. When you remember that, it becomes easier to hold our possessions loosely and be more generous with them.
Does tithing still apply today?
The word “tithe” is used primarily in the Old Testament; however, it is also mentioned in the New Testament. In Matthew 23, Jesus calls out the Pharisees for following the law of tithing while ignoring justice, mercy, and faithfulness. We no longer live in the days of sacrifices with hundreds of laws to follow. When Jesus came and died for our sins, He brought with him a new set of guidelines and a new covenant. Jesus calls us to first love God above all else and to love others as ourselves.
The New Testament church was built on the idea of extravagant generosity. Generosity is one way we can actively follow Jesus’ call to love God and each other. It is a reminder and a way to declare that all things come from God. As followers of Jesus in America, it is especially important to combat the call of culture to associate an excess of material wealth with a successful life. Ultimately the act of giving exposes the condition of our heart. Generosity cannot earn us salvation. Instead, our love and commitment to Jesus inspire us to give generously.
God calls us not to ask, “How much am I required to give?” but rather, “How much can I give?” True generosity comes from a fullness of spirit and a joyful gratitude. It’s a natural outpouring of love that comes by the grace of being redeemed through Jesus.
This is beautifully illustrated in a story from the Book of Mark where Jesus sees a widow give all that she has:
41 Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. 42 But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.
43 Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. 44 They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”
Do I have to give all my tithe to the church?
The verse from Malachi has been interpreted by many to indicate that all tithes should first go to the local church. However, there is much debate regarding the accuracy of that interpretation. Some have read that verse to speak directly toward the nation of Israel, calling them back to a focus on God, who will bless the nation based on their dedication to Him. This interpretation would suggest that it is more descriptive and not prescriptive in how we are to live today.
Ultimately, your gifts should align with your heart, how God is leading you and what your local church recommends. The money you give to a church is used for a variety of impactful programs such as community outreach, mission trips, special ministries, and of course, the necessities of keeping the lights on and the bills paid. A church that follows God does a lot of good in the world, and your generosity helps make that happen.
Having said that, if there are ministries you believe in or causes you are passionate about, then make giving to them a part of your routine along with your gifts to the church. Blessing those who are helping others is always a good decision, and the gift is ultimately in the act of giving.
How do I know what to give?
The reality is there are many people for whom giving 10% may cause severe financial distress. There are others for whom 10% would hardly count as sacrificial at all. While we can’t tell you what is right for your situation, here is some advice you can use.
First, pray about it. If God wants something specific from you, He will let you know. Second, examine your own heart. If the concept of giving 10% gives you anxiety, it might be time to evaluate what you are holding onto. The idea of a sacrificial gift requires there to be some sacrifice in making the gift. Give enough to stir your heart, and trust that God will have the rest.
After all, God wants your heart far more than any amount of money. Through generosity, we can release our grasp on money and instead draw near to Him.
Giving generously is just one small aspect of what it means to live as God called us to. To learn more about how we can enrich our lives through the teachings of Jesus, visit the Exploring Faith section of our blog.