Thoughts on “Giving” versus “Tithing”

Dear Jack,

I’m not sure I’ve ever been so overwhelmed with thoughts before sitting down to write you a letter.  I feel like I need to give so much context to my thoughts – my full understanding of stewardship, my idea of what it truly means that God owns it all, even my personal hermeneutics in reading the Bible.  But we don’t really have time for all of that, so I’ll fill in the gaps as needed.

What I want to address is the difference, a potentially HUGE difference, between an understanding of “giving” versus “tithing.”  My good friend Daniel brought this up concerning a previous letter I wrote to you.  Specifically, he said:

In one of your replies above, you wrote, “…giving to God is inclusive of anything he’s using to redeem the world around us (including us), of which the Church is a big part of. A distinction between give/tithe is intentionally used in this instance.”

I would be very interested in more of your thoughts on this (perhaps another post sometime?). I find “giving” much easier and more fulfilling than “tithing.” I definitely give more to non-church charities than I do to my church itself.

Also, where does “Christianly” consuming fit in to this? I try to use ALL my money in economically just ways. That’s why (for instance) I don’t shop at Wal-Mart, and support local businesses as much as I can. It’s more expensive to buy things that weren’t made in sweatshops, or have less impact on the environment. But I know plenty of people who save money at Wal-Mart and then can afford larger gifts to the church. Is one more pleasing to God than the other?

Phew… the overwhelming factor hit me again.

Daniel packs a lot into this.  As always, I want to try to simplify and examine.  First, I think we have to actually take a step back and look at the bigger picture.  As a Christian, I believe that God owns everything.  Every.  Thing.  My checking account.  My Jeep.  My student loan.  My wrist watch.  It’s all His – I’m just being a steward of it.  And when I say steward, I mean I’m just taking care of it from a temporary standpoint … figuring out how to best use someone else’s “stuff” the way that I best think they’d prefer it to be used.  This is really where any concept of “stewardship” needs to grow its roots in.

So, instead of asking “How much money should I give to God?  10%?  15%?” we need to say “God, 100% is yours.  What do you want me to do with it?”  There’s no right answer to this question – it’s completely unique to each individual and family.

Now, let’s look at what a “tithe” is.  Without getting too in depth and bringing up all of the verses (I’ll just refer to the website of another good friend and fellow financial planner – Paul) my basic understanding is as follows.  In the Old Testament, where we were under the Law, we were required to tithe (give 10%) (and then tithe on the remaining amount, and then tithe every 3 years on top of that).  Had to.  No questions asked.  It was, literally, the Law.  Fast forward to the New Testament.  Jesus Christ, the savior whispered about in every Old Testament passage, comes and dies for us so that we no longer are enslaved to the Law.  We are free.  We’re no longer required to offer blood sacrifices to cleanse us from our sins – Jesus did that.  All of the laws, the codes, the interpretations, the sacrifices required … they’re all fulfilled because Jesus died for us.  This is the gospel, in its simplicity: grace.  Undeserved, unmerited grace.

Stick with me, Jack.  So now that we’re not required to follow the Law, does that mean that we’re free to sin and to live as we please?  Paul (the apostle Paul, not financial planner Paul) says in Romans 6 “No way!  Are you nuts?  In fact, if anything, if we understand the gospel fully, we should be all the more inspired to live holy lives.” (Loose, very loose, paraphrase).  Jesus even took the Law in several places up to a new level (Think Matthew 5.21-48).  So, what on earth does this have to do with giving?

We’re no longer required to tithe – but instead are urged to do even more, because we know first hand the generosity that Jesus had on the cross.  That is why giving is so much better of a word, and one that I wish the Church would be using exclusively instead of interchangeably with tithe.  A tithe, a literal 10%, is archaic.  It’s Old Testament.  It’s Law-bound.  Is it a sin to give 10%?  No, not at all.  I’d say it’s just as biblical as giving 3% or 50%.  The number isn’t important.  The motivation and generosity portion of it is.

Getting back to Daniel’s question, I loosely defined giving as “inclusive of anything [God]’s using to redeem the world around us (including us).”  I think this is a fair definition of the word – but it’s as good as I can think of right now.  Now we need to link some of my thoughts together: God owns everything, we are stewards of all these “things”, we’re not required to give any fixed amount, and we should be as generous as Jesus.  What does that leave us with?  A lot of freedom, and a lot of responsibility.

I think that we should be generously giving to causes that we feel God is using the redeem the world around us.  If you sense God redeeming the world through your local church that you worship with, give freely to that.  If you sense God redeeming the world through fine charities like HOPE International, donate freely to that.  If you find God redeeming the world through local business owners, purchase freely through them.

Personally, I believe whole heartedly in the leadership at our own local church, and we give a majority of our giving percentage to that.  But I also believe strongly in HOPE, Compassion International, and having designated fellowship money to invite neighbors, friends, and family over for meals.  Is setting $50 a month aside so that we have enough to invite our neighbors over for dinner found in the Bible?  Maybe, maybe not.  I certainly won’t be able to write it off as a tax deduction.  But that’s missing the point.  The point is individualized generosity.  That’s the example that Jesus gave us in the Bible, and that’s the example that we should be setting in our giving.

I’ve written enough – and my head is spinning, so I’m sure yours is as well.  My take away is this, Jack: be generous.  You’re not bound by the Law anymore.  Be a good steward of what God’s entrusted to you – and give as you feel He is directing.  Till next time, Jack.

Sincerely,
J.

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13 thoughts on “Thoughts on “Giving” versus “Tithing””

    1. Ha – and to think that’s all I had to post then.

      I’m in Lancaster Thursday 1/20 and Friday 1/21 next week. Either of them work for you for lunch downtown somewhere?

    1. Thanks, Andrew. I feel it’s one of my life’s mission statements to cleanse the word tithe from the church’s vocabulary (or at least only use it in its proper context).

  1. Jeremy said, “We’re no longer required to tithe – but instead are urged to do even more, because we know first hand the generosity that Jesus had on the cross.”

    Now I realize I am taking just one sentence out of your whole blog, but permit me to give my take on this.

    The ONLY people in the Old Testament that were commanded to tithe were those who INHERITED THE PROMISED LAND WITH EVERYTHING ON IT. They got the land, house, animals, crops, etc. ALL FREE AND CLEAR. No mortgage payment or rent to pay. And THEY were commanded to tithe on the crops and animals and take it to the Levites who INHERITED the tithe INSTEAD OF the promised land with everything on it. No one else tithed. Wage earners did not tithe. Jesus didn’t tithe. Paul didn’t tithe. Peter didn’t tithe.

    So even though we may be under a higher standard, giving did not begin with the tithe for wage earners, or anyone else who didn’t inherit the promised land, and even then, it was ONLY on the crops and animals raised on the Holy land.

    Therefore, we can’t take the tithe and apply it in any way today. It has nothing to do with us.

    The New Testament teaches generous, sacrificial giving, from the heart, according to our means. For some, $1 might be a sacrifice, while for others, even giving 50% of their income might not induce a sacrifice. In the Old Testament, ONLY the farmers tithed, and it was equal percentage (a tenth). The New Testament teaches the principle of equal sacrifice instead of equal percentage. Equal sacrifice is much harder to achieve, if not impossible, than giving ten percent.

    1. Dan-

      Thanks for the comment – but I’m failing to see where exactly we disagree, if you’re suggesting that we do disagree.

      Aside from my understanding of your take on the OT tithe, which I don’t exactly agree with, I’m understanding that your conclusion is simply that the tithe is not for today… which is exactly what I’m saying.

      Maybe I’m just misunderstanding your point, or possibly you’re misunderstanding my point – but I think if you read my entire letter you’ll see the overall gist. The beginning of your last paragraph “The New Testament teaches generous, sacrificial giving, from the heart according to our means” is exactly my point of the letter.

      I appreciate your comments on my letters, but I’d even more appreciate if you’d read the entire post, as this is twice now you’ve not fully read my whole letter, or at least have made comments leading me to believe so. Correct me if I’m wrong though!

      We can all sharpen each other as we strive to teach sound stewardship theology to the Church.

      1. Great – good to hear. I think the important thing is to educate the Church on how it effects them today. They’re not required or obligated to give that fixed 10% that so many seem to think is a biblical number. The real issue is a generous heart, which we definitely both agree on!

  2. Thank you so much for writing this, Jeremy.

    Grace is so hard to accept. Even as what you say here is really good news to me, I find myself struggling to accept it. It’s God being too freeing, too accepting of me, too in love with his creation. It can’t be!

    The older I get, the harder it is to see that “God looks at the heart.” As I get world-weary, I get into habits of thinking that say, “No one can see what’s in someone’s heart! I don’t even know what’s in my own heart! All that we can pay attention to are outward actions.”

    If I’m trying to please God with the material blessings he has given so generously to me, he’ll see that. God is the only objective standard I have to worry about trying to satisfy. And God loves me. That’s so awesome and so hard to accept.

  3. Jeremy,
    Great article 😉

    I was concerned about tithing right out of college and being financially overwhelmed with student loans and rent and taxes and health insurance and all of the other expenses you are responsible for as an adult. A friend of mine explained to me that when he was unable to give the traditional ten percent tithe to the church, he would volunteer more at the church, do handy work,volunteer for all of the events…. I followed his lead and it was more rewarding than putting some money in the collection plate… what is more helpful ? The person that volunteers at the soup kitchen and changes a persons life by helping them find a meaningful relationship with god ? Or the person who works sixty hours a week and can’t commit the time to help,but has the funds to put the money in the collection plate to help buy the ingredients for the soup…I think they are both important…. people should try to do both ….. but I do feel the doing can be a little more rewarding directly than the traditional tithe …. maybe it is because you are directly witnessing the change you can make…. being there in an act and seen how appreciative people are … and if they see the joy and satisfaction you get from giving, it can spread and more people will decide to give as well

  4. I just googled to understand a bit more on the topic and got to this page. I find the discussions above very useful. Thank you all!

    I am not as wise as many of you here on biblical matters /theology and often interpret things in the way I understand what bible is trying to teach me – and what values Jesus would put on things if he was here today as a principle in life. Therefore I am willing to be corrected!

    My understanding so far was (10% is a must and had to be to given to works related to spreading the good news i.e. directly related to expanding the kingdom of God through our own church – no idea where I got this from), and anything else extra ( in cash) to charities , individuals that fall in hardship etc… plus voluntarily giving my time (to church or community work, individuals in need) I define these as ‘giving’ which I see is as important as 10%.

    Now question is, I really value the work of my church and its vision! However, I also know my church is much wealthier compared to some churches and ministries I know of in developing countries and it has a large number of middle class members. I thought (but always feeling uncertain about my decision), that We (my husband and I) should give not all of the 10% in regular donation to our church instead share it and give more generously towards poorer church’s and ministries. Outside of the 10% ‘giving’ to christians or non-Christians falling on hardship, smaller charities, and using my position that gives me direct access to individuals needing support etc. or not always but when possible consuming fairly traded products at least banana, chocolate and coffee.

    However, as I mentioned above I always feel so uncertain and guilty about my decision to give less to our church that is providing for us and question the wisdom whether I am doing the right things with regard to resources God gives me. Particularly thinking that if more people do like I do, how can small church’s survive without their members donation. I would appreciate if anyone would teach me on this topic of ‘about not giving enough to my church’ and instead allocating it to what I see as places with much more need and where I feel much more return (value) to the donation we make. My church is actually fantastic in giving you option to earmark your donation to specific things (so I could have done that too, but this will limit me to give only to established charities or causes not random individuals and ministries that own no bank etc…).

    Thank you

    1. Tigist,

      Thanks for the comment. I think you bring a lot of good thoughts to the table … I’d encourage you to actually not worry so much about where you’re giving, and how much you’re giving to each. The 10% rule to your home church isn’t really found in the NT – it’s just a rule of thumb, in my understanding, to start at. I think Jesus gives us great freedom in deciding how to allocate our giving, whether it’s of our time, treasure, or talent. But especially focusing on treasure – there’s immense freedom. And It’s individualistic … so my giving plan may look drastically different than your giving plan, and that’s completely ok. So rather then worry about what the right allocations are – just take joy in the event and process of giving. God’s much more concerned with our hearts than he is with the actual giving amount.

      My friend Chris just wrote a good blog the other week on panhandling and the issue of giving cash to strangers on the street and I weighed in on the conversation in the comments part. I think you’ll enjoy the insight of Chris into this as well. The link’s here:

      Thanks again for checking in!

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