For today’s article I will be combining the money and religion topics for a discussion on tithing. If you are not familiar with the term, tithing is the practice of giving away the first 10% of your financial increase/income. The usual recipient of the tithe is a religious organization, minister, or charity. Tithing is a very old practice going back to the Ancient Near East and the patriarch Abraham is probably the most famous tither.
Tithing is often a controversial topic which is why I am interested in discussing it. Within the past couple of weeks the topic came up several times in casual conversation so it is obviously on the minds of more than just a few. If you are not a religious person you are probably not one of those people. In fact, you are probably shocked to find out that there is a significant number of people who give away the first 10% of their gross income. Even though the religious component of tithing won’t interest you, this article may still be of use because there are some very practical benefits to tithing that I will elucidate shortly.
As I mentioned, tithing is sometimes controversial because money is powerful and anytime that you suggest that somebody should willingly part from their power, for a religious purpose, you are bound to stir up a hornets nest. What usually happens is that a great doctrinal debate ensues and in the end nobody is listening to anyone as they spout scripture after scripture at each other as though they are invoking magical incantations. I have no interest in that so I am going to share with you MY OPINION and MY PERSONAL experiences with tithing.
If you are Jewish then tithing is a no-brainer if you are interested in obeying the Torah. Orthodox Jews commonly practice ma’aser kesafim (tithing to charity). In modern Israel, Jews continue to follow the laws of agricultural tithing: ma’aser rishon, terumat ma’aser, and ma’aser sheni.
If you are a Muslim, Zakat, the practice of alms-giving is one of the five pillars of Islam. The Zakat can range anywhere from 2.5% up to 20% depending on the nature of the financial increase. As a result, the Zakat cannot be strictly considered a tithe since to tithe is to give a hard 10%. Regardless, the giving of the Zakat is “tithe-ish” and so I mention it here.
If you are a Sikh then tithing is also a no-brainer. Sikhism doesn’t call it a “tithe” but rather the Dasvandh, which is the tenth part of a person’s income that should be donated in the name of God.
None of that is controversial. Where tithing becomes controversial is in Christianity because there are very wide and varied opinions on the subject. As a result, I would like to focus the rest of this article on tithing from a Christian perspective.
There are three main camps concerning tithing in Christianity: 1) Tithing is a required component of the Christian life, 2) Tithing is a function of Jewish Law and therefore a legalistic practice that Christians are not bound to, 3) Tithing transcends Judaism.
If you are not familiar with the history of Christianity beyond the life of its founder, Jesus of Nazareth, I would like to “catch you up” so what I write later will have some context. In the beginning Christianity was not known by that name. All of its adherents were Jewish and we were considered a heretical sect of Judaism known as the Nazarenes. What distinguished these Jews from the other dominant sects of their day, the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the Essenes, was their belief that they were no longer waiting for a coming Messiah, but rather that person had already come in the form of Jesus of Nazareth. The popular view of Messiah at that time was that he would be a conqueror that would free the Jewish people from the rule of Rome and restore the kingdom of David to Israel. The Nazarenes came to accept a very different view of Messiah as a suffering servant, based on Isaiah 53, a sort of sacrificial Passover lamb that would free people not from enslavement to human governments but enslavement to sin. Christianity continued to be a strictly Jewish religion until the apostle Peter received a revelation from God, by way of a dream, that forgiveness of sin via the sacrifice of Jesus was for all of humanity not just the Jews. This really rocked the boat as you can imagine because now all of these pagans were converting to this new quasi-Jewish religion. One of the main points of debate was whether or not these gentile converts were required to be circumcised and obey the Law of Moses as all Jews are and all of the Nazarenes were at that time. The end result of this debate was the conclusion that the Law of Moses was not able to work salvation; that forgiveness of sin is the gift of God freely given to all who turn away from ungodliness and trust in the sacrifice of Jesus. At this point the Nazarenes ceased to be a Jewish sect and became their own separate religion based not on Mosaic Law but on the belief that humans are saved by grace through faith, that it is a gift from God that cannot be earned through behavior because if it could, then humans would have something to brag about as religious people sometimes do. This is the history of the strong connection between Christianity and Judaism and the foundation for the controversy of the practice of tithing among Christians.
Before I specifically address the three camps of Christian thought on tithing I would like to tell you where my head is at. I was raised in a semi-Christian home, my mother being a devout believer and my father an agnostic science teacher. I attended Sunday school against my protest and occasionally church. I was not a Christian any more than a spectator at a football game is a quarterback. The best description of my religious beliefs would be “hedonist” because I lived for the purpose of self-gratification. In 1985, at the age of 21, I became spiritually hungry and read the Bible from cover to cover. Half way through the Old Testament I was convinced that the Jews were the people of God and I wanted to convert. I continued to read into the New Testament based on the encouragement of some Christians who I was living with at the time. I am glad that I did because I came to believe that Jesus of Nazareth was in fact the long awaited Messiah and I turned away from my hedonistic lifestyle and gave the rest of my life to him. From the very beginning of my life as a Christian I have tithed and continue to do so to this day. I will explain why later.
The first camp of thought on Christian tithing believes that all Christians should tithe. They believe that it is an integral part of Christian living and an important component of faithfulness. I have found no scriptural basis for this belief. All of the directions to tithe are found in the Old Testament and are a function of the Law of Moses. Remember that Christians reject the idea that we are subject to that Law; that we are not saved from our sins based on our religious actions but rather by the grace of God. You have to do some special scriptural gymnastics to purport that the New Testament requires tithing. In the gospel of Luke, Jesus is recorded to have said “But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and herbs of all kinds, and neglect justice and the love of God; it is these you ought to have practiced, without neglecting the others.” Some ministers cite this as evidence that Jesus requires us to tithe but the problem with this view is that this statement was made to Jews by a Jew under the Law of Moses. There was no Christianity at the time and this is not a forward thinking statement. The context makes his point clear. You had these Jewish leaders who were very careful not to break the law of tithing but were neglecting justice and a true love of God. Jesus was telling them that it was good that they should observe the Mosaic Law of tithing but they shouldn’t do so at the expense of things that are more important to God.
The other popular section of New Testament scripture that is used to advocate a tithing requirement for Christians is the seventh chapter of Hebrews. In that section the person Melchizedek is discussed as having received tithes from Abraham and by extension the Levites who are descended from Abraham. The entire point of that chapter is that perfection cannot be obtained through adherence to the Law of Moses so the idea that Paul (the writer) was supporting a Christian practice of tithing is absurd in my view.
The second camp of thought on Christian tithing holds to the belief that tithing is a function of Jewish Law and therefore a legalistic practice that Christians are not bound to. As I mentioned earlier, I have found no New Testament scriptures that overtly direct believers to tithe. Instead, I find scriptures that encourage Christians to give money on the basis of freewill. 2 Corinthians 9:7 is a perfect example.
“Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”
Law by nature is compulsory behavior. If Christians tithe because the Old Testament commands it then clearly they are giving out of compulsion. If Christians tithe because they think the New Testament requires it, even though it doesn’t, then they are still giving out of compulsion. People are generally not happy when they are doing things that they are required to do rather than things that they want to do. God wants us to give cheerfully and on the basis of our own free will. I believe the sad truth concerning ministers who preach tithing as an essential component of Christian living is that they know that people are more likely to consistently give into the ministry if they believe that they have to. “If you love God and want to be a faithful believer, then you have to tithe.” I completely disagree with this thinking because it is legalism at some of its worst.
If you have been paying attention hopefully you are yelling at me through your computer, “Hey Barry! How can you say that tithing is legalistic if you yourself tithe?” I will try to explain. The third major camp of thought on Christian tithing is that it is a practice that transcends Judaism and the Law of Moses. I belong to this camp.
Abraham was told that even though he was childless at the time, his descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the sky or grains of sand on the seashore. There are about 9,000 stars visible with the naked eye and about 7 billion billion grains of sand on the seashores of the Earth. I think it is safe to say that the Lord wasn’t being literal. His point to Abraham was that he was not only going to have offspring at a very old age but they would multiply into a family tree that was virtually innumerable. Christians are part of that family tree whether we have any of Abraham’s DNA in us or not. The New Testament teaches that Christians have been grafted into the lineage of Israel, a sort of adoption, and a partial discussion of that can be found in the eleventh chapter of the book of Romans and is further referenced at the end of the sixth chapter of Galatians. In our Sunday School classes we teach our children to sing, “Father Abraham had many sons, and many sons had Father Abraham. I am one of them and so are you, so let’s all praise the Lord.” This is a testament to our belief that through Jesus Christ we have become a part of Abraham’s lineage.
Abraham was a tither as witnessed by the fourteenth chapter of Genesis. His grandson Jacob, who would later be renamed Israel, was also a tither as witnessed by the twenty-eighth chapter of Genesis. All of this pre-dates the Law of Moses. One way of thinking of tithing is that it is a family tradition. My very great grandfather Abraham was a tither and my almost as great grandfather Jacob was also a tither and all down through the lineage I can cite ancestors who were tithers. I tithe because I want to be a part of that heritage NOT because I think that it will cause me to be more righteous in the eyes of God.
It is true that tithing is an act of faith and I also belief that there are blessings associated with tithing. However, tithing is an art form and if you don’t do it right it can quickly become a legalistic prison that saps you of the joy of giving. Here is how I practice this family art…
1) I don’t tithe because I think that I have to. I tithe because it is a privilege to be a part of this Abrahamic tradition. It connects me to my ancestors and is a positive confession of that connection just like the wearing of my Irish Claddaugh. I have a crazy habit of holding my credit card to my forehead before paying for any bill. While I do so, I raise my eyes as though looking up into my own head to discern whether the card is going to work or not. I started doing this for the shear joke of it but it has become a personal tradition. Not too long ago I caught one of my children doing the same thing meaning that it has become more than personal. It is now a family tradition no matter how silly. If you tithe because you think that you have to, you’re doing it wrong and missing the blessing. It’s a voluntary family tradition.
2) I separate 10% of my gross pay every paycheck in the form of cash and I remit it to my church. I am not under law but the Law of Moses is a teacher. It teaches that that portion is holy (set apart) to God and I immediately separate it from the rest of my finances so that I know how much money I have left to conduct my personal business including other charitable giving and freewill offerings. I do this first before spending any money out of the paycheck which is why I don’t write a check. I used to write checks but would end up getting behind because I delayed in giving it to the church or the treasurer delayed depositing it which would blow up my bank account. That destroyed the joy of tithing. (Chuckle) By removing the first 10% in cash this is no longer an issue. Please notice the use of the word “remit.” I don’t “give” my tithe to the church because in my mind it’s not my money. It’s money that is holy to God and I am separating and remitting that part to those who I think are doing the work of God. My wife doesn’t remit all of her tithe to our local church and I don’t think it matters. One paycheck she remits her tithe to our church and the next she remits to a Christian charity; Same God, different organizations, so who cares. Do what you believe God wants you to. The scriptures are not specific on this point. If you are tithing and you think that you are giving God your money, you’re doing it wrong. You are just remitting to him what already belongs to him which is how Malachi 3:8 came into being for the nation of Israel, which was required to tithe.
3) I have fun tithing. The New Testament teaches that God loves a cheerful giver and that we shouldn’t be grudging. Whenever I feel the temptation to regret parting with all of that cash I resist my “flesh” and pile a healthy offering on top of that while I chuckle at my stupid stinginess. Will a man who has been forgiven an eternal death penalty play cheap with the Judge who forgave him? (Chuckle) Moron. (Chuckle) If you are tithing grudgingly then you are doing it wrong. There is no such thing as not being able to afford to tithe. If that’s your mindset then I can assure you that you are misspending your money. You’ve bought too nice a car, or you live in too expensive an apartment or house. Perhaps you are blowing money on junk that you don’t need. The New Testament teaches that God has given each of us seed for sowing. If you don’t have enough seed it’s because you are consuming seed that was meant for replanting the fields. Eventually you will max out your finances and you won’t have any extra seed at all.
4) I am mostly free from the love of money. Money isn’t the root of all evil but rather the love of it. I like money as much as the next American but I don’t love it. I love God. Tithing is a ridiculous practice. What kind of nutjob “throws away” the first 10% gross of every paycheck? This practice divorces me from the love of money and helps keep me free because nobody “throws away” what they love. People who are tight with their money live in a form of enslavement. They are mostly dead by now but if you have ever known anyone who lived through the Great Depression they are often deeply scarred and cheap with a penny. They live in the constant fear of future poverty. God loves a generous human because the generous human reflects the nature of his Creator who is generous. The generous human is also full of faith because in their generosity they are confessing that there is “more where that came from.” God wants us to be free from the love of money and tithing is financially liberating. If you are not religious and you have made it through this article this far, this is the main reason for a non-religious person to tithe; it protects you from becoming a slave to the love of your own money. The end result is that you will enjoy what you have more than if you cling tightly to everything you have.
5) I don’t tithe in order to be blessed but what about the blessings of tithing? I’m not going to speak of them apart from inoculation to the love of money. If you tithe because you want to be blessed, you are doing it wrong. You’re already blessed if you are a child of God. Your name is written down in heaven and your sins are forgiven. What more could you want? God is not a stock market. You insult him by treating him as such because you are confessing that he is stingy and won’t bless you unless you grease his palm with some ching. He is a good father who pours out constant blessings on his children. You can’t earn that. In America we equate the word “blessings” with “money” because we are perhaps living in future Babylon. I have peace in my marriage. No amount of money can purchase that. It is a real blessing that you can’t fully appreciate unless you have experienced a marriage without peace. Given the choice between money and peace, the blessing of peace wins every time in my world.
In conclusion let me sum up how not to tithe:
1) If you tithe because you think that you have to, you’re doing it wrong.
2) If you are tithing and you think that you are giving God money that isn’t already his, you’re doing it wrong.
3) If you are tithing grudgingly then you are doing it wrong.
4) If you are tithing but are still in love with money then you are doing it wrong.
5) If you tithe because you want to be blessed, you are doing it wrong.
And now for the positives of tithing…
1) Tithe for the sheer joy of being a part of the tradition of your very great grandfather Abraham, the friend of God.
2) Separate 10% of your gross pay in the form of cash FIRST THING before you spend any other money and then remit it to an organization or individual who is doing the work of God.
3) Have fun tithing. It’s a crazy practice especially if your finances are tight! Use it as a guide to reorganize your finances and appropriately downsize.
4) Enjoy freedom from the love of money as you part with ridiculous sums of cash that you could have spent on yourself.
5) Tithe knowing you are already blessed NOT because you want to become blessed but don’t be surprised if God gets excited by your act of faith.
I hope you have enjoyed this article on the art of tithing because that’s what it really is, an art form. So many people do it but too few are artists. Just as artists differ from one another in their style so do tithers. You may feel Papa God directing you a bit differently than he has directed me. There is no law of tithing for Christians so cast off any notions that what I have laid out here is the ONLY RIGHT WAY to tithe. The Holy Spirit is your teacher and he will lead you into all truth as Jesus promised. I’m just a sign post on your way down the road. Be blessed and happy tithing because God loves a cheerful giver !!
A friend of mine dubbed me “The voice of reason in a very unreasonable world” which I am flattered by because I am less than that. Having said that, if you enjoyed my writing I invite you to scroll to the very bottom of this page where there is a button labeled “Follow”. If you press that button you will receive a notification whenever this blog is updated with new posts. Thank you for reading.