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Christianity and Tithing

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Question: Should Christians tithe? What does the Bible say about Christians tithing?

The word tithe originally means "a tenth," which is where the idea of tithing ten percent (10%) originates. Beginning in the Old Testament, all of Israel was supposed to give a tenth of everything to God through the priests. "All the tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land, or of the fruit of the tree, is Yahweh's: it is holy to Yahweh." (Leviticus 27:30 WEB)

In the above verse, we are reminded that everything belongs to God.

"They indeed of the sons of Levi who receive the priest's office have a commandment to take tithes of the people according to the law..." (Hebrews 7:5 WEB)

However, such instructions are not plainly stated in the New Testament. Instead, the overall theme is generosity. When Paul was collecting an offering for the persecuted saints in Jerusalem, he instructed the believers in Corinth, "On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made." (1 Corinthians 16:2 NIV)

Rather than give a simple 10%, Paul instructs them to save up as much as they can afford in order to be given as an offering. Part of his reasoning is found in his second letter to the Corinthians, "Remember this: he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly. He who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully." (2 Corinthians 9:6 WEB)

He further tells them to be cheerful about giving, saying, "Let each man give according as he has determined in his heart; not grudgingly, or under compulsion; for God loves a cheerful giver." (2 Corinthians 9:7 WEB)

Sowing and Reaping: Financial or Spiritual?

Paul is not referring to financial sowing and financial reaping (as in sow 10% and financially reap 100%), which isn't biblical. He is speaking in spiritual terms, as Jesus also said, "Sell that which you have, and give gifts to the needy. Make for yourselves purses which don't grow old, a treasure in the heavens that doesn't fail, where no thief approaches, neither moth destroys." (Luke 12:33 WEB)

Jesus is making this point to his audience that sowing material wealth sows spiritual seeds that produce spiritual fruit leading to eternal life.

Jesus makes a similar comment to a questioning man, saying, "If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me." (Matthew 19:21 WEB)

Jesus is making the same point to this man, explaining that when we donate our physical wealth, we plant spiritual seeds that produce spiritual fruit (leading to our own eternal life).

This concept is also covered by James when he says, "And if a brother or sister is naked and in lack of daily food, and one of you tells them, 'Go in peace, be warmed and filled;' and yet you didn't give them the things the body needs, what good is it? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead in itself. " (James 2:15-17 WEB)

A Higher Standard: Generosity

Generosity is a higher standard than a basic 10%, although it is also a more flexible standard. For example, if you are experiencing financial hardship, you are not obligated to tithe ten percent. There may be times when you may give nothing, while there may be times when you give a lot.

Let's consider some examples of tithing. If one person donates $10 every week for a month, while another person donates $100 one time and didn't donate for three weeks, who has given more? It partially depends on how much each person can afford to donate, but overall the person who didn't give anything for three out of four weeks actually gave more ($100) than the person who donated every week (only $40 – frequency isn't what counts).

On the other side, if someone donates $100 every week, while someone else gives $10 one time, the person who gave $10 one time may have given the greater tithe if that $10 was half of what they had to live on (actual amount doesn't truly measure the sacrifice).

These two reasons are why Jesus praised a widow who gave a very small amount of money, but it was 100% of her income. "He looked up, and saw the rich people who were putting their gifts into the treasury. He saw a certain poor widow casting in two lepta. He said, 'Truly I tell you, this poor widow put in more than all of them, for all these put in gifts for God from their abundance, but she, out of her lack, put in all that she had to live on.'" (Luke 21:1-4 WEB)

So generosity is the standard. It is both a higher standard than 10% and a more flexible standard.

It is also important to remember that tithing is not the most important thing. Jesus criticizes the Pharisees for having the wrong priorities. "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cumin, and have left undone the weightier matters of the law – justice, mercy, and faith. But you ought to have done these, and not to have left the other undone." (Matthew 23:23 WEB)

These Pharisees tithed out of their abundant wealth, but neglected what really mattered – righteousness.

So Why Tithe Ten Percent?

You may be wondering why tithe ten percent if it is not mandated in the Bible for Christians. The reason why ten percent is a good number is because it simplifies tithing. Most churches need to collect money to operate, as well as to donate to the poor and needy. Thus, churches make it easy for believers by simply suggesting they strive for 10%, which is the Old Testament mandate.

Ten percent is generally feasible for most people, and they are free to give more if they can afford it, while others are free to give less if they are experiencing financial hardship.

However, the best aspect of tithing 10% is that it adjusts with your income. If you make $10, then you are only donating $1. If you make $100, then you are donating $10, so everyone should be able to strive for 10% even if they don't earn much.

The foundation for tithing is that God already owns everything we have. Giving him back 10% is a way to acknowledge this fact.

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