Tithing is a controversial subject. I am part of the generation that struggles with the concept of tithing because, as we all know, most people in our generation and younger are over extended in both time and money. So, to tithe or not to tithe becomes the question.
I grew up in a family that values tithing as an important Christian practice. However, like many people in my generation, we don’t like to do things blindly just because it is a tradition. So, every now and then, I spent some time researching on the importance and spiritual implication of it to find out the benefits and risks of tithing or not tithing.
What is tithing? Simply put, tithing is offering the first tenth of our income to God. By the “first tenth,” it means tithing is not about giving God the leftovers, but the first fruits and the best part of the batch—the cream of the crops. Obviously, giving God the leftover is deemed a great insult according our faith ancestors. So, in our modern way of life, tithing is the first item in our budget, but not the last.
Tithing was widely practiced in ancient cultures from Rome, to Middle East, to China. It has been an integral practice of Judeo-Christian spiritual tradition, but it is less appreciated by recent generations which tend to be more self-centered.
The core question of our generation is “How about me?” or “What’s in it for me?” However, tithing makes a counter culture statement: “Life is not about me but about God.” This is a hard pill to swallow for the “about me” generation.
The truth is that the moment we grasp the concept of “Life is not about me but about God,” we are set free from all kinds of human stresses and worries caused by the idolatry of mammon. For example, if you get frustrated with a family member and you feel stressed out or angry, at that very moment you remember “life is not about me, but about God,” you get immediate relief from the frustration and stress.
In terms of finance, our faith fathers and mothers put this concept into practice by tithing. When you tithe, you realize this money doesn’t belong to me, but it belongs to God. Even though I worked hard for it, the opportunity is given to me by God. From a ancient farmer’s perspective, since the earth belongs to God, the crop that grew out of the earth naturally belongs to God. I get to keep 90% of it for my labor, but the first 10% is given to God for the expression of gratitude. The moment the attitude of gratitude kicks in, all the stresses, frustrations, and worries disappear because you cannot be grateful and stressful at the same time.
Then the question is why a tenth and not any other numbers. It was established by our faith father Jacob:
Genesis 28:21–22 NRSV
so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God, and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God’s house; and of all that you give me I will surely give one-tenth to you.”
In other words, tithing is a statement of faith that says, “the Lord shall be my God,” and I have no idols in my life. It’s a statement of belonging and covenant.
The next question we have is, “Does the tithe cover everything we give, including the part that goes to charity?” To our surprise, the people in Old Testament actually gave three tithes, meaning they spent as much as 30% of their income for this matter.
First, they gave a tithe of their income to take care of God’s House, which is the equivalent of the church today. (Dt 26:10–15).
Second, they gave another tithe for sacred celebrations. (Dt 14:22-26). A modern example would be using another tenth of their income to celebrate Christmas, Easter, New Year, and other Holy Days, with fellowship, gifts, and fun.
Third, they gave a third tithe to the poor every third year.
Deuteronomy 14:28–29 NRSV
Every third year you shall bring out the full tithe of your produce for that year, and store it within your towns; the Levites, because they have no allotment or inheritance with you, as well as the resident aliens, the orphans, and the widows in your towns, may come and eat their fill so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work that you undertake.
It may seem overwhelming to go beyond 10% for our generation, but we have many examples of great givers in our modern world. For example, William Colgate was taught by his mother to tithe his income since he was young working at a soap factory and he practiced it faithfully. Later, he became the owner of the soap factory and gradually increased his tithing to more than 30%.
What does Jesus say about tithing?
We know that Jesus was against legalism, but he said that he did not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it. (Mat 5:17). How does he fulfill it? He does it by redirecting people to the spirituality behind the law.
Seeing the Pharisees practicing tithing legalistically, he said,
Matthew 23:23 NRSV
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practiced without neglecting the others.
Jesus is saying that we must focus on justice, mercy, and faith without neglecting the practice of tithing. He always redirects people from transactional attitude to transformational attitude. He wants us to focus on the life changing nature of the Great Commandment on which the spirituality of tithing is founded.
Let us look at Luke’s record of this teaching,
Luke 11:42 NRSV
“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.”
This explains that “justice and mercy” is part of loving people and “faith” is loving God. In other words, tithing is the Great Commandment in action. According to Jesus, “why” we practice is more important than “how” we practice.
Looking at the three tithes of the Old Testament from the perspective of the Great Commandment, we can see that the first tithe is to show our love for God, and the second and third tithes are to show our love for people—spending on fellowship among believers, and on helping out the poor.
This understanding also gives us a framework for accountability. We can keep the church or any organization accountable by checking out whether our offering is spent either for the love of God or for the love of people. If they are not doing it, we must take our tithe to another place that does it.
Is there still something about me?
Yes, there is something wonderful for the “about me” generation. If we must know the benefits of tithing in order to to practice, we can look at Malachi 3. There is good news and bad news though, which one do you hear first?
Let’s look at the benefits (the good news) first because the bad news is a little too scary.
Malachi 3:10 NRSV
Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in my house, and thus put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts; see if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you an overflowing blessing.
God gives you a challenge by asking you to put him to the test with tithing. Give him your tithe and see his overflowing blessing pour down from heaven. It is the blessing of happiness and delight.
Then the Lord said,
“Then all nations will count you happy, for you will be a land of delight, says the LORD of hosts.” (Mal 3:12).
United States is the most generous nation in the world and you wonder why the world counts us happy and a land of delight.
Now, here is the bad news or risk.
“Will anyone rob God? Yet you are robbing me! But you say, ‘How are we robbing you?’ In your tithes and offerings! You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me—the whole nation of you!” (Mal 3:8–9).
Nobody dares to rob God if we understand how we are robbing God. However, this is not to frighten us to tithe. It’s not a scare tactic. If we look at the context, and based on Jesus’ interpretation, the Lord was angry about the justice, mercy, and faith not being done due to our withholding the tithe. By not tithing, we end us withholding the resources needed for justice, mercy, and faith. It’s like, by withholding our taxes, we chock our country from developing.
Let us conclude with Paul’s teaching in …
2 Corinthians 9:6–9 NRSV
The point is this: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work. As it is written,
“He scatters abroad, he gives to the poor;
his righteousness endures forever.”
God loves a cheerful giver because God Himself is a cheerful giver. Just like a father who smiles when he sees his child behaving like him, God smiles when we are a cheerful giver like Him.
Remember, it does not matter how we give, but it matters why we give. The why behind our giving must be to love God with all our being, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. On these two commandments hang all the laws, including the law of tithing, and the wisdom of the spiritual people of the ages.
Until we meet again, be fruitful. Amen!