Why We Tithe–Or Why We Don’t

I was a sophomore in college when God began doing a special work in my life. I joined West End Baptist Church in Birmingham and jumped into all the activities I could work into my schedule. That’s when the minister of education made a false assumption about me.

Ron Palmer stopped me in a church hallway one day and said, “I’d like you to give your tithing testimony in church.” I said, “What is that?” He said, “Tell us your story, why you tithe your income to the Lord through the church.” I said, “What is this word ‘tithe’?” I could not remember ever hearing it before.

Ron explained that to tithe is to give one dollar out of every ten to the Lord through our church. I said, “Well, in that case, I can’t tell my story because I don’t do that.” At the time, I had almost no income–I worked Saturdays selling men’s clothing at the National Shirt Shop downtown. What little giving I did in church was infrequent and miniscule.

It was several years before I started tithing, and even then I struggled with it for the next decade. Part of the struggle was just doing it–when you’re in seminary or getting started in those early poor-paying pastorates, every bill that arrives in the mail is a challenge–and the other part was coming to terms with the doctrine itself. Is this something God expects of us? Where is this taught in the Bible? Since most all the references are Old Testament, wasn’t that Jewish and not Christian?

Recently on my website I reported talks given by two ministers to a small group of pastors and seminary students in which both happened to mention tithing. One church is in Texas and the other Georgia, but both require their teachers and staffers to tithe. One speaker had said his accountant does the tax returns of 600 ministers and had found that only one-fourth of them were tithers. The pastor had concluded a lot of ministers are not living up to what they preach.

In the “comments” section of our website, where readers can register their opinions and reactions to articles, one fellow exploded in anger, accusing me of hypocrisy of the worst sort. When I tried to respond, I found that his website was all about promoting his book against tithing and that his computer blocked my message. I also discovered some of my friends wanted to weigh in on the subject of tithing.

That’s the purpose of this little article. At the end, you are invited to tell us why you tithe or why you don’t. Disagreements and differences are welcome. Just be respectful.

It’s only fair that I go public with my own convictions on this subject. I am a tither, and I’ll be happy for anyone who knows my accountant, Larry Holmes, of Bourgeois and Bennett in New Orleans, to ask him. Larry reads this and I hereby grant him permission to answer anyone’s question about my tithing.

I could list dozens of points and insights on this–and you know that I am not a man of few words–but let me confine it to just a brief few, in no particular order.

1. Tithing is not “Old Testament law.” A long time before God gave the Law to Moses commanding tithing, Abraham was giving a tithe to God, via Melchizedek. (Genesis 14:18ff) (That’s not a major thing, but it’s worth noting.)

2. Personally, I do not “tithe legalistically.” I try to give more than a tithe, but when someone gives me a gift for a wedding or a funeral or a banquet or whatever, I do not get out my calculator and figure the tithe to the exact cent and make sure I get that into the church bank account asap. I usually write a monthly check to my church and make it large enough that it surely covers all the income I have received. In addition, I give to my seminary, to Billy Graham, to my college, and frequently to other pastors I know or to those in full-time ministry who depend on the generosity of God’s people.

3. Tithing is most definitely not just for rich people, as our internet critic claimed. The beauty of tithing is that everyone can do it, even the struggling seminary students or poor beginning pastors, or welfare recipients for that matter, and this system makes them giving the “same” as the richest in the church. It must really enrage our critic that Jesus applauded the sacrificial giving of the little widow lady in the temple treasury.

4. My college pastor–Rev. W. G. Burkett, now retired and living in Lexington, KY–used to teach tithing. He would say that most of those who oppose it are just looking for excuses to get out of giving. He taught that in the New Testament, we are expected to do far better than the Pharisees and Sadducees–they were tithers of the strictest sort–and that if anything, we should give far more than a tithe to the church. Tithing should be the bare minimum for Christians.

And yet, no pastor I know makes it a test of one’s Christianity. It might be a test of one’s growth and maturity–although not necessarily, because you can get saved today and tithe tomorrow and still be a baby in the Lord. So it’s only one element in the total picture.

5. The Christians I know who tithe never talk about it and would shy away from doing as my friend Ron Palmer suggested, giving a public talk about it. There is no pride in it, and I would surmise that many have done what I have, tithed for so long and tried to go beyond that standard, that they rarely give it a thought any more. They just do it as regularly as they read their Bibles in the morning.

Normally, we just “invite” readers to leave their comments at the end of these articles. But in this case, we are “urging” it.

Why do you tithe? What started you? What scripture on this subject means the most to you? Are you legalistic about it?

Or, why do you not tithe? And if you believe tithing is legalistic, do you have a different system? Do you personally give more than a tithe or less or does that not matter?

Let the discussion begin.

21 thoughts on “Why We Tithe–Or Why We Don’t

  1. Steve and I started tithing from the start of our marriage. Early on, Steve told me that we would be tithing on the gross and not the net. When I asked why he said, “How do you want to be blessed, gross or net”? That was simplistic, I know. However, I understood what he meant. As you know Joe, we are not “wealthy” people in terms of materialistic wealth. We are in the ministry, enough said. We tithe because of what Christ has done for us. The amount that we give back to Him is nothing compared to what He gave up for us. How could we not tithe? God has provided for us time and time again. I could literally write a book of miracles how He has provided for us, as I am sure many others can who practice the principle of tithing. Tithing is a matter of trust. I may be stepping out on a limb but I venture to say that why people struggle with this issue so much is that they don’t truly trust God, at least not with their finances. I can say that because I was one of those people. Is it hard at times? Absolutely. However, I have personally seen God work in the most impossible situations and seeing that helps propel me through the fear of letting the money go.

  2. Tithing is a principle of taught throughout scripture. It’s not an iron clad gurantee to “blessings” as we see them. After all,many things we thought were a curse turned out to be a blessing from God.

    We give more than a tithe through our church.It’s all his and we are responsible for how we use everything he gives us.Ponder this: “How can I use resources God has loaned me to change the world for Jesus”.

    The man who railed at your post about tithing obviously held his billfold out of the water when he was baptized. Of course in his way of intrepreting scripture baptism is probably legalism as well.

  3. Bro. Joe

    My wife and I committed to tithe before we got married. I’ve never considered it as legalism, rather as a way to honor the Lord with the first fruits with which HE blessed US! After all, He owns it all anyway, doesn’t he?

    Certainly, tithing is challenging. It is easy to justify not tithing if we only look at our circumstances (too much month at the end of the money!) But scripture teaches us to “walk by faith, not by sight.” My family may not be rich, monetarily, but I can truly say that God has never failed to meet a single need (not necessarily wants) that we have ever had. In that since, we are rich indeed! I apologize for the cliche’, but it is true: “You can’t out-give God!”

  4. Brother Joe — I love to talk about why I tithe — thanks for giving me the chance.

    My granddaddy made his profession of faith when his youngest daughter asked him if she could “go down to the front.” He realized at that point that he had never done that, and if his youngest daughter was going to do it, he’d better. He had given his life to Jesus at 18 — in the middle of a field of something or other that he was plowing. He had just never made that whole “profession of faith” thing.

    The same thing happened with tithing. When my mother (his oldest daughter) and father married, they were struggling to make ends meet on what my dad made teaching school. My grandfather, the business man, sat down with them to help them budget. He questioned their gifts to the church, given how little they made — and they told him their tithe was non-negotiable. That got him to thinking — again, if his little girl was going to do it, he probably should.

    He became a dedicated tither right then, and never looked back. He was never a deacon (he hated meetings), but was the man in charge of bringing in the budget for as long as I can remember. I started going to the “tithing dinners” he hosted early in my life — and never questioned that I was to follow in his footsteps. When I received a dollar allowance, 10 cents of it went into my offering envelope.

    I wish I could say I was always a cheerful tither — but that would be untrue. I even went through times when I didn’t tithe — but I always felt I was holding something back from God that was rightfully His.

    Now, what goes to my church, both tithes and gifts, goes freely and with a grateful heart — because I have truly experienced being on the receiving end of others giving. I’ve always known that everything I had came from God — but since Katrina, I really believe it.

  5. Tithing…few other subjects get “good folks” so riled up!

    Here is something to chew on:

    1) God does not need our money.

    2) He doesn’t need it, because he owns everything in heaven and in earth, all wealth included.

    3) The act of tithing isn’t a question of paying God what we owe. We owe more than we have the power, or the means, to repay…rather, it’s a question of faithfulness.

    The Bible plainly states that we are to give God the first 10%. He doesn’t come and knock on our door for it, as we’re on the “honor system”.

    Though it’s sometimes a struggle, we choose to honor God with our finances.

    Keep up the good work, Joe!

    -Joe Cooke

    p.s. If it’s not inappropriate to do so here, let me invite you to my new Blog, “It’s no sin to be rich…” look for it on Blogger.

  6. We cannot afford not to tithe. When I was a little girl, my Mother was struggling as a single Mom, to raise me. I remember hearing the older people talk – “If you don’t give God His due, then He will get it out of you somehow.” What they meant was some ‘crisis’ expenditure would invariably come along and we had to live without that money anyway. Well, maybe, but I do know our 90% goes a lot further if we give God His tithe. I have been awakened to giving beyond our tithe

    for a long time with the special mission offerings given in the SBC. It’s even more real now as my neice is serving in Isreal for 6 weeks training to be a missionary. That brings me to another type of tithe – when churches have budget problems the “Finance committee” looks to the Cooperative Program and Missions to cut expenditures. Churches who do that are missing out on God’s best. I believe that is the church’s tithe.

  7. This is one I have to comment on. When I was just a small child I had an allowance of 50 cents a week. Even before I became a Christian at age 9, I tithed my allowance with a nickle every Sunday. It cost 10 cents then to go to the movies on Saturday and I was there every Saturday to see The Little Rascals and whatever the western of the day would be.

    Then the price of the movie increased to 50 cents.

    I could not go because if I spent my whole allowance to go to the movie I could not tithe. So I saved for a couple of weeks and then I went to the movie again. The lady who took the money came to our church. She asked me where I had been and I explained to her that I only got 50 cents a week and 5 cents was for church so I couldn’t come every week.

    She said the most amazing thing. Honey, you come every week and don’t worry about the 50 cents. You just walk right in.

    So if you want to try to convince me that God does not honor the tithe, well, don’t waste your time. I think I learned that lesson really early.

    A lot of nice things like that happened to me and to my family. My father was my pastor but people in town were always generous to us even those who were not members of our church.

    God is good. All the time.

  8. If one tithes ONLY because they believe it is required, they have totally missed the point. Deut 8:18 says “But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth…” NIV

    Assuming that is true, we have a “partner” who supplies all our needs and only asks for 10% and allows us to keep the remaining 90%. What a deal!

  9. When I was a boy I began to notice that when dad cashed his paycheck from International Nickel Company every Friday, he counted out ten percent of it and placed that in a special envelope from the church. Seeing that to be a regular occurance each Friday, I asked the purpose of it. Mom expained that God’s money comes out first, before we pay any of our other bills. I remember asking “What if we don’t have enough left to pay all the bills?” Mom replied that God would see to it that that would never happen. You know – that NEVER DID happen! We went through many a tough time financially but the Lord ALWAYS provided.

    Linda and I practice tithing because “The Tithe is the Lord’s”. Simple as that. I would never dream of holding up a convenience store or a bank. That being the case, why would I possibly consider robbing Almighty God (Malachi 3)? We do not do it in a legalistic manner, but practice giving “tithes and offerings”. We struggled with the concept in the early years of our marriage, but once we nailed it down in our own hearts, it has never been difficult to give more than the tithe. That’s not giving till it hurts. That’s giving till it feels good!

  10. Ever since I read about Cain killing Able over “offering jealousy” I have tried to please God with my offering. I tithe because He said to and I give because I love Him more and more for what He gave me. He keeps on giving, so I will too.

  11. It has done my heart good to hear all the comments about tithing. It has renewed the spirit in me as to why my wife and I have tithed. We quite one time in the 25 years we have been married because we were having financial problems and guess what? Things did not get any better. Only after we started tithing again, even though we thought we couldn’t afford it, everything worked out. We just need faith in Jesus and he will see us through. God Bless you Brother Joe.

  12. One of the first of many good things my Pastor Smith did for me as a new believer was to preach on tithing during the main Sunday service. I was young (28) and impressionable then. All I knew was that the Bible gave me the words I needed to find salvation so it was probably worth following on other matters too. I knew exactly what I earned that week, so I wrote a check.

    Since then Janet and I have seen financial downs and ups just like most people do. We went to seminary, served in small, poor churches, served as missionaries, lost and found jobs, bought braces, helped out family and friends, got audited, made and lost money in real estate and the stock market–the whole bit. We even lost our stuff to Katrina water and mold, and received the love offering of Southern Baptists to replace the replaceable.

    We’ve never regretted giving, and we’ve never once lacked anything we needed. Not once.

    Just a few other thoughts on the subject…

    – Someone with better words than me said that, “Christians don’t give to get (the world does that); we get to give.”

    – 2 Cor 9:6 says we harvest what we plant. If I plant selfishness, guess what I get to harvest. (Works with church budgets too. I appreciate Miz Johnson’s comments on that one.)

    – There is a nerve between a guy’s wallet and his brain. A man has to let God sever that nerve to do much in this life.

    – I don’t know about you, but next time I want to go to the movies, I want to go with Miz Brooks.

  13. I tithe because God said to. Sometimes I can get legalistic about it, but I do that because I want to make sure I give Him everything He told me to. God gave me a heart for those in need so I try to give when called to do so. It’s all about Him. Doesn’t He deserve it?

  14. My father taught me to tithe from the time I was little…one dime from every dollar I received. As an adult, money is one of my biggest trust issues…there never seems to be enough. My favorite verse on tithing is the one that says, “Trust, Try, Prove Me, saith the Lord”…I write it on every tithe check/envelope. God is faithful. I have never been late on any of my bills. My desire and prayer is to be a cheerful, generous giver and I find great joy in doing so.

  15. It was interesting to read your article and it is clear that you are a sincere and generous person who seeks to honour God with your finances. I must however, disagree with your position. I have published a response on my blog

  16. Dear Joe,

    Thanks for your blog. Of course, I found you because I am curious about tithing and so you were in my Google results. I learned about tithing from Dr. Catherine Ponder’s books on the subject. Back in the 1980s my first husband and I were struggling to make ends meet and so I tried tithing – which was so very difficult! Things eased up over the next couple of years with my regular contributions. Then I skipped a tithe – was lazy or just put it off then spent the money. Within a week – before my next payday – my grandmother got a stroke. I am really not sure if one had to do with the other but it seemed beyond coincidence at the time.

    I still tithe – have had ups and downs financially when I tightened up my hold of the money.

    As of now I tithe the full 10% of gross and round up to the next $5 increment. Since I do not belong to any organized church, I send my tithes to a church and only once in awhile to Dr. Ponder’s organization.

    Instead, part goes to a Christian church that has an African orphanage. I sponser one 16 year old girl so she can finish school. Her parents died of aids – she had to miss school to care for her mother – there was no one else. I send money to that organization regularly for Chengetai.

    I believe that our income needs to circulate around the world and do good for others in need. The other part is given to organizations that help bring peace and prosperity to our world in our own country but most likely in 3rd world countries.

    A large part of me wants to see the golden rule take hold and turn around the ugly deeds that the Bush Administration has punished the world with. My gifts are just drops of water in the huge sea of need, though.

    I find it interesting that Oprah – a self-made billionaire – has a lifelong habit of tithing. It must feel good for her to be able to give so much!

    Take care.

  17. Thank you Joe for the kind words. I don’t tithe as a matter of principle. I do believe the word of God. If He says tithe of the corn, oil and wine, He means just that.

    There is so much to say on this, I will give just a brief summary of my research on this topic. God is testing us in this. Know that! Those who teach tithing (the monetary kind) are mis-representing God to the people. They are not seeing the warnings.

    Does the tithe of the land have a twin in the tithe of the manna? If you replace the corn, oil and wine with money you must also be willing to replace the bread of heaven (manna) with money also.

    The money collected as a tithe represents the thirty pieces of silver that Christ was exchanged for. The prophecy says, “If you think good give price (wage) if not, forbear (leave it alone). The corn, oil and wine is in the storehouse, leave it alone, the manna is in the pot, leave it alone.

    The mate to Deut 14 is the parable of Jesus on the tares and the wheat. Those who exchange the tithe for money are to bind the money in their hand. In the parable, there are those who are gathered into the barn (storehouse) but the tares are bound and thrown in the fire. Are tithe collectors the tares?

    This is just part of my findings on this. Hope to share more in the future.

  18. Joshua 5:12

    And the manna ceased on the morrow after they had eaten of the old corn of the land; neither had the children of Israel manna any more; but they did eat of the fruit of the land of Canaan that year.

    Did the prophetic value within the manna pass on to the fruit of the land? If it did, you are faced with the notion of putting money into the manna pot. Replacing the bread of heaven with money? I do not think so.

    How about making Jesus a receiver of tithes as well as an offerer of blood. Hebrews has the question and answer to that question; as a priest this man had something to offer (Heb. 8:3)

    That something could only be His body and blood. This is the basis for his priesthood. Not the giving of money. Danger danger danger!!

  19. The logic of this doctrine of the collecting of monetary tithes says this: if New Testament ministers are in error in teaching this, they are guilty of the sin of extortion. On the one side of the argument is the belief in Christian liberty. This line of thought follows Paul’s teaching. Saying that we are not under bondage to the law. We do not need to go there for monetary tithes are illegal. Tithe came before law? The word ‘tithe’ came before law. That is far as it goes. Abraham gave the remaining spoils to king of Sodom. Sodom and Jerusalem (spiritual Sodom)had tithes taken of their goods. Both were destroyed. There is a greater tie of the tithe of the spoils to Sodom than to Abraham who said “I will not take to a shoe.” The prophet Amos covers this oath of Abraham pointing to the future tithe collectors of our time.

  20. Stephen, obviously this “not tithing as a matter of principle” is very important to you.

    Care to tell us why?

  21. Can I give a brief ten reasons why tithes should not be collected.

    1. The first use of the Hebrew word for ‘strong drink’ is found in Deut 14:25. You are to purchase this drink with the money that you exchange the tithe with. Isaiah 56:9- speaks of the greed of the shepherds who look for their own gain (betsa).

    2. The robbing of God and the second curse of ‘curse with a curse’ are linked in the Hebrew to two verses in Proverbs speaking of the abuse of the poor.

    3. After telling the people to bring the tithe into the storehouse, God records the complaint of some that say ‘there is no profit (gain, betsa) in serving God. Is this what Judas said when he left the Lord’s supper?

    4. In both chapters of Amos (2 and 8) that speak of Abraham’s oath to not ‘take to a shoe’, the poor are spoken of as being bought and sold for silver.

    5. In Isaiah 33:15 God gives a promise of certain bread, water, and safety for those who ‘despise the gain (betsa) of oppressions (ma’ashaqqah)’ You spell tithe in the Hebrew as ma’aser. The ‘ma’ and the ‘betsa’ surely point to the monetary tithe.

    6. “And now we call the proud happy…” Mal. 3:15

    This is also translated as presumption. “Keep thy servant from presumptuous sins” says the Psalmist. “They that work wickedness are set up (builded).” These words, gain, presumption, builded pretty much describe the works of Christian empire building. Presumption brings the gain that builds the empire. All on the backs of the poor.

    7. In Isaiah 55:1-2 God asks why some weigh(shaqal) silver for bread and water that are free. In King James this word (shaqal) is traslated as “Wherefore do you spend”. This word is also used in Zech.11 as “They weigh (shaqal) for price (wage) thirty pieces of silver.” In the balance with the tithe of the land should be the manna or Jesus, not silver.

    8. After they tithed the manna into the pot (Ex 16 and 17), they tempted God for water. This is the challenge in Malachi 3, to “prove me now” for the windows of heaven (water). Also in Malachi 3 and Psalms 95 God is not pleased with those who ‘prove’ Him. Remember, the water comes without silver or money (Isa 55).

    9. The vine of Sodom is found in the storehouse (owtsar) Deut. 32:32-34 How did that poisonous vine get into the storehouse. If you keep the oath of Abraham to not take, then there is no worry about this vine getting into the storehouse. What does the wine (yayin) and strong drink (shekar) of Deut 14 have to do with this vine?

    10. The tail of the serpent grabs a third of the stars of heaven and throws them to the earth. This follows the same pattern as the going out of Judas from the last supper. Tail of serpent and vine of Sodom could be the same. The forbidden fruit that Eve (the church) took was with covetous hands.

    I call those shepherds that rejoice in the strong drink and the profit that it brings, the fellowship of the dime. Didn’t Jesus warn of those who ‘drink with the drunken’ at the time of His coming?

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