Many Christians seem to think that the church today is under some sort of obligation to tithe, but where did that understanding come from?
When you read the New Testament, tithing isn’t really mentioned, much less prescribed, but let’s explore this issue a little further.
What Is a Tithe?
A tithe is simply “one tenth” of one’s earnings.
In biblical times, crops where considered one’s earnings. They were used to sell, buy, and trade other goods. The more crops or livestock you had, the wealthier you were considered.
Prior to the Law of Moses, patriarchs in the Old Testament frequently gave tithes to God.
Here’s an example of Jacob giving “one tenth” back to God:
“and this stone that I have set up as a pillar will be God’s house, and of all that you give me I will give you a tenth.”” – Genesis 28:22
Once the Law was given to Moses, you see the tithe become an official practice of Israel (Deuteronomy 12, 14, and 26).
The tithe was taken from crops and livestock since that was one’s earnings:
“Be sure to set aside a tenth of all that your fields produce each year. Eat the tithe of your grain, new wine and olive oil, and the firstborn of your herds and flocks in the presence of the Lord your God at the place he will choose as a dwelling for his Name, so that you may learn to revere the Lord your God always.” – Deuteronomy 14:22-23
This wasn’t the only “tithe,” by the way. There were apparently two tithes every year and three tithes every third year, so it was actually more than ten percent in some cases.
However, a single tithe has always had the idea of “one tenth” in mind.
Tithing in the Old Testament
Tithing is most certainly an Old Testament practice. It was practiced by the patriarchs throughout Genesis and was instituted into the Law of Moses.
In the Old Testament, this was a sort of obligatory requirement, and it was even criticized if it wasn’t followed:
““Will a mere mortal rob God? Yet you rob me. “But you ask, ‘How are we robbing you?’ “In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse—your whole nation—because you are robbing me. Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.” – Malachi 3:8-10
Tithing in the New Testament
If you want to get technical, there is no tithing in the New Testament. There isn’t even a prescription for tithing in the New Testament. Rather, what the Bible tells us is that God loves a cheerful giver, and we should give according to what we have purposed in our heart.
“Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” – 2 Corinthians 9:7
It’s not a matter of a specified amount, so there is no percentage, or “tithe.”
Moreover, God doesn’t want us to give reluctantly or as a matter of work or duty, so the tithe was not prescribed in the New Testament.
However, Jesus did mention the tithe in the New Testament, but He did it in order to condemn the self-righteous Pharisees:
““Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.” – Matthew 23:23-24
That’s really all the New Testament has to say about a tithe . . .
Why Do Pastors Encourage a Tithe?
If tithing is not prescribed in the New Testament, then why do pastors still encourage a tithe?
The answer is pretty simple: They fear their earnings might suffer as a result.
Now, I don’t know this for certain, but I do have a strange feeling this is the case.
After all, the church depends on these monies to function. It requires money to keep the lights on, pay the pastor a reasonable salary, and fund other ministries the church might be involved in.
At our church, we support mission work all over the world, and that can be a very costly expense.
There are many things the church does that cost money, and that’s why churches have a budget. If it weren’t for the revenue brought in from tithes and offerings, a lot of things would simply not be possible.
It seems to me, that the last thing a pastor would want to do is impact these monies negatively.
It might be the case that some people are giving more than ten percent, and that’s great! But it might also be the case that some would stop giving as much if they thought a tenth wasn’t required.
In fear of monies dropping off, I don’t think you’re gonna hear a pastor say, “You don’t really need to give ten percent.” You might hear them say you can give more, but I don’t think you’ll ever hear them allude to less. And that’s understandable.
Should Christians Tithe?
First of all, Christians are not under the Old Testament law, so there really is no obligation for Christians to tithe.
But . . .
If by “tithe” you mean “give to the church,” then, yes, I think Christians should give to the church, just like the New Testament suggests.
Should you give ten percent?
While I think ten percent is a good rule of thumb – it’s a good place to start if you’re looking for a number – I don’t think we necessarily have to, especially since the New Testament gives no command here.
Some might be able to give more than ten percent; others not so much. But, there is no “tithe” to determine how much we should be giving.
That said, I think we should be giving as much as we want, and at least something if we can. You can never give too much, so I definitely wouldn’t be worried about that.
Remember – God loves a cheerful giver, so give according to what you’ve purposed in your heart: that’s the only prescription for giving in the New Testament.