This is a great question: Should Christians use tithing as a basis for giving?
Christian tithing refers to giving a minimum of 10% of one’s income to the Lord through one’s local church. The Church has debated the concept of tithing throughout its history, yet overall, has affirmed the Old Testament tithe as the basis of Christian giving.
A Brief Biblical Argument in Favor
The Christian tithing discussion has focused upon the Lord’s tithe in the Old Testament, not festival giving, giving to the poor, or other tithing, or even freewill offerings above and beyond the Lord’s tithe.
The concept of tithing itself permeated ancient near eastern cultures prior to the giving of the Law to Moses. Pagans would offer tithes from their property, produce, and currency to their gods. The first recorded example in the bible of a follower of Yahweh offering tithes is that of Abraham:
After his return from the defeat of Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him, the king of Sodom went out to meet him at the Valley of Shaveh, that is, the King’s Valley. And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High. And he blessed him and said, ‘Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand!’ And Abram gave him a tenth of everything. (Genesis 14:17–20 ESV)
Jacob, in Genesis 28:18-22, offered to give the Lord a full tenth out of all that the Lord would give him. Tithing actually pre-dates the Mosaic Law and both of the examples of Abraham and Jacob are examples of voluntary giving motivated by grace.
This reality served as the background for when God gave the Law to Moses. In the Law, God systematized tithing for his worship and maintenance of his new nation of Israel (Leviticus 27:30-32; Numbers 18:21-32; Deuteronomy 12:5-19; 14:22-27). Later, the prophets would frequently exhort the people of God regarding the practice of tithing, often due to their neglect of it (e.g., Amos 4:4-5; Malachi 3:7-12). The historical writings recorded the renewal of the practice of tithing after returning from exile (e.g., 2 Chronicles 31:4-12; Nehemiah 10:34-39).
In the New Testament, the Gospels have recorded a few discussions of tithing, for example in Matthew 23:23-24. But, overall there remains an absence of instruction on tithing in the rest of the New Testament because of the impact of the New Covenant. Instead, the Apostles put forward other reasons for giving (see 2 Corinthians 8-9; Hebrews 7-8): (a) personal motivations, such as giving sacrificially, voluntarily, joyfully, thankfully, generously, and the list goes on; and (b) New Covenant considerations, because of the greater covenant including the Holy Spirit and the need to support churches on mission.
We Still Have to Answer the Question
The question of whether or not Christians should use tithing as a basis for their giving will likely continue to be debated and discussed, which gratefully should advance our understanding together. However, Christians still need to answer the question, in practice, somehow. Giving remains an important issue in Christian discipleship and maturity in the faith. Under both the Old Covenant and the New Covenant, giving has been presented as a matter of grace, though administered differently.
At what level of giving would you suggest starting? Would you dare suggest less than 10%? Shouldn’t believers under the full blessings of the New Covenant in Christ give more than those under the Old Covenant? And prior to the Law, even the pagans in Abraham’s day who worshipped false gods gave their gods 10%; but, Christians worship the One True God!
Our Personal Journey of Christian Tithing
When growing up, I observed people putting a token $20 in the offering plate each week. I thought that was a lot of money being a young child. When I became a true Christian in my high school years, I don’t recall receiving instructions or guidelines on tithing of giving (maybe I wasn’t listening). Anyway, I kept all the money I earned; actually, I foolishly spent it all on myself. During my college years, I didn’t earn much of an income at all, but I occasionally gave what I could afford and was learning about giving at the church I attended. After getting married and starting to earn a living, we started to tithe—it was a delight and served as a key to our Christian growth together at our new church.
However, when we entered full-time Christian ministry finances become challenging due to minimal income, babies, and student loan payments. We struggled to tithe, live, and not default on our loans. Tithing became something we felt we could only do every other month; as a result, it became an agonizing commitment, contributing to weekly sadness and daily tension. So, we decided not to tithe, but taking someone’s advice, we decided to give 2-3% and work hard to change our situation. This was a painful decision because we didn’t fully believe it was the right decision. At first, we kept track of what we owed God, but eventually gave up on this. Anyway, it wasn’t too much longer, and the Lord provided a little more income, so we sought good counsel, consolidated our loans, and began to increase our giving to 10% as fast as we could.
Soon after that decision, our church’s interim preacher at that time preached a three-week series on giving. He covered information we already knew, but the Lord used it to encourage us in our renewed commitment to giving 10%. He told the story of his own journey of not only tithing, but for a number of years increasing his giving by 1% a year until he felt the joy of sacrifice—wow! We continued to tithe, but tithing was still a real struggle for us, but was also a real joy for us. We understood in a new way, so many things about giving financially as an act of worship to the Lord and mature responsible commitment to his mission. Ever since that time, our favorite check to write is our check to our church!
Christians, especially Christian leaders, should prioritize their lives in order to position themselves to honor the Lord in the matter of tithing. Don’t make excuses, such as, being in debt, going through hard times, giving elsewhere or in other ways, or hoping to get to that level of giving soon. Learn to tithe early in your Christian walk and make the commitment to tithe for the sake of your spiritual health. In addition, making and keeping a budget that includes tithing will provide even greater freedom and cash flow for further generosity.
Christian tithing shows that we really believe: (a) all that we have belongs to the Lord, (b) he is faithful to us in meeting our needs, and (c) our lifestyle should be different than the world because we prioritize worship and service to God.
What further questions do you need to explore to strengthen your understanding of a biblical view of giving? What stories of blessing do you have that you could tell to encourage others?