By Dolores Smyth, Crosswalk.com
It wasn’t until I was in my 20s when I gave the tradition of tithing any real consideration. Prior to that, I viewed giving money to the church simply as something people did whether or not they actually knew why they were doing it.
But once I started examining the history behind tithing, I discovered how important tithing truly is. Tithing shows our appreciation for our loving God, and also allows those who serve Him to keep spreading His message of hope and love far and wide.
Let’s briefly explore 5 common questions people have about tithing.
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1. What Does the Bible Say about Tithing?
The practice of tithing has ancient roots. The first instance of tithing in the Bible is when Abraham gave a tenth of his war spoils to Melchizedek, the king of Salem and a priest of God (Genesis 14:16-20). The word “tithe” itself means one-tenth.
From this instance arose the Biblical command to the ancient Israelites to give a tenth of their valued possessions to support the Levite priests. The Levites were the temple priests and this support was given for their service to the temple and the congregation (Numbers 18:21).
In the Old Testament, tithing came hand-in-hand with blessings. Proverbs tells us to be sure to honor God with the “first fruits” of our wealth so that God may bless us in return (Proverbs 3:9-10).
The Old Testament declares that “a tithe of everything from the land” belongs to the Lord and is holy to the Lord (Leviticus 27:30-32). Originally, people fulfilled their tithing obligation by giving their religious institution livestock or crops, since such was the means of wealth in ancient society. Once society shifted to a system of currency, tithing became more commonly practiced through monetary donations.
In the New Testament, the practice of tithing our first fruits has less prominence. Importantly, Jesus turned the concept of tithing inward by highlighting its purpose. Jesus condemned people who followed the letter of the law by tithing their possessions yet discarded the spirit of the law by not showing their fellow man justice, mercy, and faithfulness (Matthew 23:23).
2. Are We Required to Tithe? If So, Does it Have to Be 10 Percent?
Although this question is hotly debated among Christian denominations, the author believes that the short answer is this: the New Testament does not set forth a specific requirement as to tithing. However, the New Testament does instruct us to use our finances to care for one another, without specifying amounts.
In particular, the faithful are to support pastors and others who devote themselves to preaching the gospel so that these men and women can continue to preach (1 Corinthians 9:14). Likewise, believers are to provide aid to the poor (Galatians 2:10), especially to widows and orphans (James 1:27).
With regard to how much support we should provide, the Apostle Paul sheds light by recommending that each of us be guided by our own heart—not a percentage—when choosing how much to give. Paul counsels that giving should be done voluntarily and joyfully, for “God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7).
On the other hand, there are those who believe that Scripture does, indeed, require the faithful to tithe a full ten percent (at least) of their income. These believers point to the prophet Malachi’s warning against robbing God “in tithes and offerings” (Malachi 3:8).
More specifically, Malachi speaks of a curse that believers will suffer unless they “bring the whole tithe into the storehouse” so that there may be the proper amount of food in the Lord’s house (Malachi 3:9-10). In return for the believer’s sacrifice of the full tenth, the Lord promises “so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it” (Malachi 3:10-11).
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3. Why Should You Tithe?
Simply put, you should tithe because the Bible tells you to. If you need a further reason to open your wallet, consider that tithing shows appreciation for God’s blessings, and tithing shows trust in God’s plan.
Tithing is a gift to God in appreciation for the many blessings He has bestowed on the giver, the greatest of which is the hope of eternal salvation. Since everything belongs to God anyway (Psalm 24:1), many see tithing not as an Old Testament requirement but as a New Testament response to Christ’s ultimate sacrifice for his followers.
Tithing also demonstrates our trust in God’s plan to ultimately prosper us (Jeremiah 29:11). One way that tithing does this is by strengthening our financial discipline as we learn to live and thrive with less. Learning to do with less causes a shift in our spending habits to a more frugal—and usually more prudent—way of living. Specifically, we learn to set aside a portion of our income and live within the means of the remainder.
Tithing can also be contagious in a good way, in that your generosity may inspire others in your congregation to give generously as well. Conversely, for those with no income, ways to “tithe” include serving the less fortunate and volunteering to help with church services and activities.
4. What If You’re Afraid That Your Money Won’t Be Put to Good Use?
If you’ve ever wondered what exactly your church does with the money in the weekly collection plates, rest assured that you’re not alone. The question of what churches do with donations has crossed the mind of many a Christian and non-Christian alike.
A sage piece of advice I received during my own struggles with this question is that what’s done with the money you donate rests on the person receiving it.
In other words, when you give money to your church with pure intentions, you are giving to God, not man. The way in which someone later uses those donations, whether for the good of the church or for self-gain, is something that person, not you, will have to explain before God in the end.
5. What Impact Could Well-Funded Churches Have?
Statistics show that the highest share of donations in the United States goes to religious organizations. Despite this, tithers represent only a small portion of church attendees.
Now imagine a world where every believer faithfully tithed some amount to his or her church. With such a dramatic increase in donations, churches could do even more than they already do to help those in need not only locally, but globally.
Aside from having to cover their own operating costs, churches run shelters for the homeless and soup kitchens for the hungry. Churches provide substance abuse treatment. Churches hold clothing drives for the poor, especially at the start of the colder months when churches collect coats, jackets, and other winter items for those in need.
Churches run adoption agencies, facilitate foster care, and offer day care programs and youth groups. Importantly, churches protect the most vulnerable in our society—unborn children—by funding maternity services for pregnant women, which services include counseling, medical care, housing assistance, and parenting education.
With all of the good that many churches presently do, the opportunity for churches to spread God’s message of love and salvation would only be magnified by more people donating whatever amount their heart moved them to give.
When we tithe, we learn to detach ourselves from a fragment of our worldly possessions and store up treasures in Heaven instead. In particular, we learn how to put God first in our lives by sharing our blessings with the less fortunate, all for the glory of His name.
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