No, It’s Robbing Yourself
My husband and I were newly Christian and in seminary when a friend told us about tithing. She stressed the importance of giving a full 10 percent before taxes, before anything else, so that we would be giving God the first fruits of our labor.
We recoiled at the thought, but she said this practice had given God room to work miracles in her life. She and her husband had once put their last dollar in the offering plate, only to have the pastor turn around and give them the whole collection. My husband and I began this plan right away and never even considered making our tithe after taxes. It seemed petty to make such calculations when giving to a God who gave us everything, including his Son.
Soon, we had settled into a pattern of giving 5 percent to our local church and 5 percent to charity. But one year, when it was time to renew our annual pledge to the church, I was convicted that a radical increase was necessary. God says, “Bring the full tithe into the storehouse” (Mal. 3:10, ESV). For our family, that means the local church. So the full 10 percent should go to our church, while charitable gifts (alms) were to be an additional offering.
When I began sharing this with my husband, we were in for a surprise. He had separately come to the same conviction. The problem was that we had just promised 5 percent of our income to a missionary. Overnight, we went from giving 10 percent of our income to giving 15 percent.
Yet we never suffered. We saw God meet our needs in ways that bordered on the miraculous. People were always giving us things we needed but couldn’t afford: a sewing machine, a lawn mower, a new refrigerator. More than once, we found an inexplicable extra $50 in our savings account.
Over the years, our total giving (including alms) has ranged from 15 to 20 percent. We found, like others before us, that once we determined to make our tithe the first payment each month and this habit became routine, all other expenses fell into place.
God uses strong language about tithing (Mal. 3:8–9). We live in a time that is offended by that strong language, and resents any implication that we ought to do or not do something. We regard ourselves as customers, even in church, and expect to be treated with deference, for the customer is always right.
This kind of exhortation has a way of backfiring. So the best I can say is: At least try. Aim to give a percentage of your income. Start with whatever percentage you give now, and raise it a little each year. In time, you will reach the tithe.
Then you will be giving as generously as the people of the Bible, who lived in conditions we would see as abject poverty. Like them, pay God before you pay Caesar, for there is no better indication of your priorities.
Frederica Mathewes-Green, author of ten books, blogs on Christian spirituality and Eastern Orthodoxy at frederica.com.
No, Put Away the Calculator
David A. Croteau
The question here assumes that tithing in some way is required for Christians. The word tithe means 10 percent, not necessarily “a tenth of my income.” The biblical definition of a tithe is “giving 10 percent of one’s increase from crops grown in the land of Israel or cattle that feed off the land of Israel.” It was consistently connected to the land of Israel. A tithe was done multiple times a year, probably equaling more than 20 percent of crops. No one was ever commanded to give 10 percent from their general income (just crops and cattle). So unless you are under the Old Covenant and have crops based in the land of Israel or cattle that feed off the land of Israel, you do not qualify to tithe (Lev. 27:30–33; Num. 18:21–24; Deut. 14:22–29).
Does the Bible teach that neglecting to tithe is robbing God? Sort of. The question refers to Malachi 3:8–11. But the word for tithe in Malachi 3 refers to the definition noted above. Christians live under the New Covenant, so our standard for giving has changed. It’s not necessarily a higher or lower standard, but it is different.
Some people may hear, “Christians aren’t required to tithe,” and think it means, “Christians aren’t required to give.” Nothing could be further from the truth. The New Testament gives many principles for giving, but it never mandates a specific percentage or addresses after-tax or gross income.
For many prosperous US Christians, giving 10 percent could be considered “robbing God” (in a sense) because it does not meet the standard of generous giving. For those who make a more meager income, giving less than 10 percent could be generous and sacrificial. If I’m asking the question with the intent to decipher how little I can get away with giving, then a serious heart issue is exposed. When we are driven by the principles of giving from the New Testament, the after-tax question becomes irrelevant. God’s people should try to find ways to give more, not less.
What are some of those biblical principles?
There are three driving forces for Christian giving in 2 Corinthians 8. First, it is grace-driven. Our giving is a response to the grace that God has shown to us through Jesus Christ. The more we recognize that we have done nothing to deserve salvation, the more likely we are to respond to God’s grace by giving generously.
Second, Christian giving is relationship-driven (v. 5). Much Christian giving today is taught in such a way as to drive the Christian to a calculator. You type in your income, multiply that by 10 percent, and give the total, rounding up to include an offering. But God wants you to seek a relationship with him, not with your calculator.
Third, Christian giving is love-driven. In verses 8–9, Paul provides an example of this type of giving: Jesus’ death on the cross, the ultimate demonstration of love. In this way, our giving is a barometer of the genuineness of our love for God.
David A. Croteau, author of Tithing after the Cross, is professor of New Testament and Greek at Columbia International University.
Yes, God’s Word Is Clear
There is no way to sugarcoat Malachi 3:8: “Will a mere mortal rob God? Yet you rob me. But you ask, ‘How are we robbing you?’ In tithes and offerings.” Bible-based tithing does not fit comfortably into an era of complex payroll deductions.
To be sure, before-tax or after-tax giving of a tithe is not a salvation issue. Tithing is not in the Ten Commandments. God does not love us more or less because we adhere to an Old Testament mandate of giving a tenth of our first fruits.
Millions of Americans have jobs at companies that withhold Social Security, Medicare, and federal and state income taxes. This is done to assist individuals by placing money aside throughout the year so they don’t have to come up with all the money at tax time. If we are to base our tithe on after-tax income, are givers in states with income taxes robbing God more than income tax–free states?
There is a joke that goes, “If you want only net blessings, pay on the net. If you want gross blessings, by all means, pay on the gross.” But even while the joke encourages tithing on before-tax income, it approaches the topic in the wrong way. Tithing, based on any amount, is not about what we get but rather what we give.
I challenge Christians to consider off-the-top tithing another way to become more like Jesus. Giving is taking our eyes off ourselves. Giving with the right mindset steers our behaviors in a new direction. When we consider giving a tenth of our net versus our gross, we are really asking, “How much can I give without giving too much?” This is the spirit behind my daughter’s heavy sighs when I remind her to give a dime out of each precious dollar she earns. This kind of nonverbal response is rooted in our selfish nature that resists God’s request that we help build his kingdom by giving to our local church.
The definition of a tithe is a tenth of our first fruits (Prov. 3:9)—our income. And we are to pay Caesar what is Caesar’s. So the answer to our plight becomes clear.
By giving 10 percent off the top—the whole top—I came to grips with my selfish desires and challenges. Once I changed my heart, I was able to let go and began giving 10 percent of our gross income. We were blessed before we started giving off the gross, and I believe we are more blessed today. It’s not a quantifiable blessing or something I can show you. Erasing this debate from my mind allows me to focus more intensely on serving God.
Malachi is provoking our total dependence upon a loving, covenantal God, not an everlasting guilt trip. When we tithe off the top, we rely more on God and less on our wallets.
Steve Stewart is founder of MoneyPlan SOS, a Christian coaching ministry.
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