Should You Tithe or Give What You Feel Led to Give?

Should You Tithe or Give What You Feel Led to Give? October 15, 2012

Have you ever considered that there might be more than one interpretation of the tithe? I think there are at least three. I don’t claim any “expert” status on the topic of tithing, but here goes. And feel free to disagree!

The tithe is a requirement.

The Bible discusses the tithe in several places, and it is clear that it was a requirement in the Israel of the Old Testament. The most common source cited is in the book of Malachi where God tells us:

”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 3:10

Many people are of the opinion that we are required to follow Old Testament law today just as had been the case in pre-Christian times. In Matthew 5:17, Jesus tells us:

”Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”

We have the requirement for the tithe spelled out in the Old Testament, and Jesus’ reaffirmation of the collective OT law. In our own time, many people who tithe report amazing blessings which they attribute directly to the practice of tithing faithfully.

Now let’s take a look at the counter argument.

The tithe is no longer a requirement, give what you feel led to give.

If we read the very next verse in Matthew 5, we can draw a very different conclusion as to what Jesus meant. In Matthew 5:18, Jesus tells us more:

”For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.” (emphasis mine)

The last four words of the verse are critical; “everything” refers to Jesus himself. He is the fulfillment of the law, and thus his life, death and resurrection are the culmination of “until everything is accomplished”. Salvation is through Jesus Christ alone (John 14:6).

In addition, the New Testament never mentions the tithe as a requirement—giving, yes (and often), but not the tithe. Thus the Apostle Paul tell us:

”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. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.”—2 Corinthians 9:7-8

Notice that in the second part of this passage, we have God blessing us “abundantly”, not unlike the promise in Malachi 3:10—only this time there’s no mention of “tithes”.

Still, maybe tithing isn’t an either/or situation, but a mix of both…

While the tithe is not a requirement it’s still desirable.

As you might have guessed from the flow of this article, I’m in the “not required” camp on tithing. But that doesn’t mean that tithing is without merit. Even if tithing is no longer a requirement—and I confess that it may still be—it still has a place in the life of the believer. With that in mind, let’s look at some additional considerations.

10% may be the wrong percentage. Tithing is commonly thought to be 10%; the Old English word “tithe” translates into one-tenth, or 10%, so it’s easy to see how that figure was arrived at. However, in the Old Testament there were several tithes that didn’t combine neatly into 10%.

You can be a percentage giver, but it doesn’t need to be 10%. Some people can’t afford to give 10%, and others can easily give more. In the early Church, there was no mention of tithing, however many groups of believers combined all of their money for the common good of the church family (Acts 2:44-45). All, as in 100%.

Poor attitude when giving will invalidate the sacrifice. Referring back to 2 Corinthians 9:7-8, we need to give cheerfully. If we don’t, we invalidate our giving as a sacrifice before God. Giving 10% or any other percentage can have us giving out of a sense of obligation which is hardly likely to result in us being cheerful in any way.

Ability to give. Every one of us are in a position give something, whether it’s money, time and effort or with specific skills and talent. The ability to give however varies from one person to another.

An established mid-career professional may have no trouble faithfully giving 10% (or some other percentage), while a person who’s in college or struggling in retirement may not. And as we know, there are “seasons” in life (Ecclesiastes 3) that complicate tithing even more. A job loss, financial troubles, or health and family problems could make tithing difficult or even impossible.

This is just my own opinion, but I think we can use the traditional view of tithing—10%–as a benchmark, but we also need to add New Testament directives into the giving equation.

Where do you stand on tithing?

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  • An another great article on this blog. I always read your blog and it’s always a fun reading your articles. Thanks for sharing.

    • Tim

      Thanks for reading the blog!

  • Tom

    Interesting topic; it seems this is one of those areas of scripture we allow ourselves to almost come to our own conclusion and believe whatever suits us. What does this say about where our hearts and treasure is?

    Money seems to be the area of our christian lives where we have the greatest difficulty in allowing God to rule.

    I agree with your statement that Jesus is the fulfillment of the law, but wonder if we miss what Jesus was saying in Matthew 5. In a sense, Jesus raised the bar concerning the law. The law says “do not murder” – I think I can manage that, but Jesus says if I am angry with my brother, I am in danger of the same judgement – not so easy!

    The law says “do not commit adultery” – ok, seems doable. But Jesus says if I look at someone lustfully, I have committed the act in my heart – much harder.

    Can we not apply this same logic to giving? Instead of worrying about a fixed amount, shouldn’t it go way beyond this to a matter of the heart? If Jesus raised the bar on every point of the law, should we not as well raise the bar on tithing (giving)?

    I have found that for myself, I look at the tithe as a starting point, the minimum I can (should?) do and go from there. We should be looking to go above and beyond what the law spelled out – isn’t that what Jesus did?

    • Hi Tom–I completely agree that Jesus raised the bar. Just compare the Sermon on the Mount to the Ten Commandments!

      But if we’re going to say that Jesus raised the bar on giving–and I think you’re right on this–we have to also consider non-monetary giving. Jesus wanted us to give of our time, efforts, compassion and mercy. So we could be expanding our giving even if it isn’t monetary.

      One danger zone we have as humans and in a heavily monetized world is that we can easily overempasize monetary giving, because money is the lense through which we see life. That’s a corruption by itself!

  • This is a great article on giving/tithing and I very much agree with the interpretation of scripture and the conclusions.

    In regards to tithing & giving, we should really aim to take Jesus at his word in regards to storing up treasures in heaven, which to me translates into giving as much as possible.

    In life, we make sacrifices to save for retirement, go on vacation, buy that new iPad (or whatever) – but not many of us (myself included) make sacrifices in order to give and tithe more. I think this is because we forget that “joy” is found in giving and substitute that joy for earthly things.

    • Hi Jason–Your point on joy is well taken. Better a small gift given with joy, than a larger one given in misery.

      But your point about sacrifice is equally valid. Giving has to be sacrificial, meaning at least a little beyond our comfort zone. The key is balancing sacrifice with joy. That may be an idea for another article!

  • AMEN! That’s what I am talking about!

  • I always consider tithing even to my smallest income. But i am the person who doesn’t follow the tithing percentage, i just found it unreasonable these days. If i get an extra and more than enough i give a 10 percent but most of the time i don’t since we are not that well-off. I just give heartfully and sincerely. I think that’s the true essence of giving.

    • Hi Falcon–In Mark 12:41-44 Jesus pointed out the poor woman who gave two coins, which was all she had. He exalted her gift. Just a guess, but I think sacrificial giving is what God honors above all else. Giving what you can is that kind of giving, and it seems to be the course you’re following.

  • Kevin, like you said at the end, I think the tithe is a good benchmark and a great starting point, but a poor place to stay. Sadly, the average American Christian gives 2-3% of their income. So we have a long way to go to reach the 10% benchmark. My wife and I have committed to giving 10% to our church plus we give beyond that to several missionaries and causes that we care about. We’ve just decided to set some giving goals of things we’d love to do with our giving in the future, and now we’re going to focus our prayers around those giving goals. We’re excited to see how God will provide to help meet those goals.

    • Hi Rich–there’s another disturbing statistic but it applies not just to Christians. As income rises, giving declines!

      You’d think that if would increase with income but that’s not the case. Apparently we tend to hold money closer to us the more of it we have.

      Who says we don’t need a Savior???

  • Abraham

    Thank you for sharing. May God richly bless you.