Some churches teach that Christians are required to tithe. Tithing is giving one-tenth of your income to God’s work. I have personally heard tithing taught in Baptist, Full Faith, Assembly of God, and Pentecostal churches. Most of these churches teach that not tithing is robbing God. And I have sat and heard those warnings.
In contrast, Catholic and mainstream protestant churches may or may not mention tithing to their congregations, but they ask for support. Some evangelical and other protestant denominations may teach the tithe (10%) as an example of what is good to give back to God in recognition of God’s provision.
Both groups may teach that God does not want your gift if it is given begrudgingly. Both groups may teach the attitude of cheerful giving. They teach that the law of sowing and reaping; you reap according to how much you sow is the key factor. And that God loves a cheerful giver.
I have been in Bible Churches, Evangelical Churches, mainstream protestant, and Catholic churches among others that teach the attitude of cheerful giving liberally without requiring tithing.
2007 research revealed that only 5% of adults tithed.i The inference is that even if the church teaches tithing that there is not compliance. In other words, the church may teach tithing, but the attendees don’t necessarily follow or agree.
Most preachers of tithing emphasize the teaching in Malachi 3.
Even from the days of your fathers ye are gone away from mine ordinances, and have not kept them. Return unto me, and I will return unto you, saith the LORD of hosts. But ye said, Wherein shall we return? Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings. Ye are cursed with a curse: for ye have robbed me, even this whole nation. Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the LORD of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it. And I will rebuke the devourer for your sakes, and he shall not destroy the fruits of your ground; neither shall your vine cast her fruit before the time in the field, saith the LORD of hosts. And all nations shall call you blessed: for ye shall be a delightsome land, saith the LORD of hosts.Mal 3:7-12
This is a powerful section of scripture. The first verses start with a reproof for Israel to return to God’s ordinances which is, of course, the Law. So we are talking about Israel under the Law not doing at least this part of the Law. The text says that it is referring to this nation which is Israel. Then we read about robbing God, and the curse that follows for not tithing to God. Then we read about testing the promise of tithing to see if there isn’t an incredible blessing. It is important to recognize that tithing was part of the law for Israel and also that as a theocracy tithing was how Israel received its income to function.
Proponents of tithing cite that Abraham tithed to Melchizedek and Jacob vowed to tithe previous to the giving of the Law. Thus, by their logic, tithing was instituted as a standard before the law, and so Malachi’s guidance on not tithing being robbing God is the standard not just for Israel under the Law but for all believers for all time.
However, tithing appears as a one-time event in Abraham’s life, not a regular practice and it has a specification that it was a tenth of the spoils of war that Abraham received in fighting under Melchizadec. It was not a tenth of all, just of the spoils and that makes it a unique circumstance different from the requirements of the Law.
The other example of tithing prior to the Law is Jacob who makes a vow to tithe “If God will be with me and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, so that I come again to my father’s house in peace” appears conditional and voluntary by Jacob. While there are numerous men of God mentioned in Genesis there are no other examples of tithing until the law. The argument that tithing was the norm prior to the Law is weak at best. Not that people can’t tithe if they choose to like Jacob, I agree with the many that say tithing was not the norm prior to the Law.
Furthermore, Jesus Christ fulfilled the law, we are no longer under it. Therefore, since we no longer practice the dietary laws, use the priests to offer sacrifices, or even support a Levitical priesthood, why should we continue to be required to give tithes to support the operations of Israel under the law? Also, the tithe was paid to the temple and was not paid to synagogues when there was no temple. As we have no temple, we wouldn’t be required to tithe even if we were still under the law.
And critical to those endeavoring to understand the apostle’s doctrine the apostles taught giving without any discussion of the tithe. In fact, the Corinthian epistles are full of reproof and correction on a number of matters, and 2 Corinthians chapter 8 is an example of that. There the Corinthian believers were reproved for their giving practices without any mention of the tithe.
The alternative to tithing biblically is giving liberally. Teachers of giving or sharing liberally focus on 2 Corinthians chapter 8 where Paul notes how the believers “overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part.”:
We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints— and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us. Accordingly, we urged Titus that as he had started, so he should complete among you this act of grace. But as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you—see that you excel in this act of grace also. I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine. (2Co 8:1-8 ESV)
This first section gives important teaching on the attitude of giving. We are instructed to excel in this grace (charis, describing giving as grace) just as we abound in believing, speaking the truth, in zeal, and in love (agapeo, the love of God). And excel in this grace is exactly what the Macedonian church did. They set an excellent example, giving “beyond their means.” Whenever we do something that is beyond our ability, then the power must come from God.
For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might become rich.2Co 8:9
Here the example of Christ is given, that he exemplified the right attitude.
And herein I give my judgment: for this is expedient for you, who were the first to make a beginning a year ago, not only to do, but also to will. But now complete the doing also; that as there was the readiness to will, so there may be the completion also out of your ability.2Co 8:10-11
The Corinthians are reproved here because they started to collect an offering a year ago, now they are told to complete the offering and send it.
For if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according as a man hath, not according as he hath not. For I say not this, that others may be eased, and ye distressed: but by equality; your abundance being a supply at this present time for their want, that their abundance also may become a supply for your want; that there may be equality: as it is written, He that gathered much had nothing over; and he that gathered little had no lack.2Co 8:12-15
This section says that having the right attitude, the attitude of giving to support God’s work is what is important. In this section, there is a point that I have never heard taught in a church that it expressly says that if someone doesn’t have any money, then they shouldn’t give thus resulting in them being distressed so that others could have their life eased. Giving should be according to your capacity to give. So, if a person is truly poor, living, for example, in inexpensive housing and not purchasing more than the basic necessities and maybe not even all of those, they shouldn’t give up eating or medical care so that someone else in the church should have their life eased. On the other hand, if you can afford better things, go on vacations, buy nice gifts at Christmas time, but feel your income is too tight to give very much or at all, then where is your attitude? Where is your love of God?
There is, of course, the parable of the widow’s mite, which is sometimes used to teach people to give even of their necessities:
Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box, and he saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. And he said, “Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.” (Luk 21:1-4 ESV)
This is a powerful example. What I see is this: this was an example of faith that the woman gave and still believed that she would be taken care of. This is an example of commitment because the woman gave all she had. I don’t believe that she would have done that if she didn’t believe in the function of the temple and that it was a vital part of her life.
On the other hand, while Jesus praises the greatness and sacrificial giving of her gift I do not believe that it is teaching a requirement to give all your funds for basic living away. First of all, the widow was under the Law where a certain amount was required whether it looked like it was within your means or not. And she would have been aware of the promise from Malachi which says “Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the LORD of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.” The text doesn’t specify whether this was the required offering or not.
Jesus praised the fact that the rich people gave and still were rich but the poor woman gave when it was all she had thus making her the greater giver.
In contrast to the Law, and the story of the widow’s mite, 2 Corinthians 8:12-15 is telling the Corinthians to collect whatever they could according to their ability to give. Concerning the right attitude and the ability to give we have this following section from 1 Timothy 6:
Charge them that are rich in this present world, that they be not highminded, nor have their hope set on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy; that they do good, that they be rich in good works, that they be ready to distribute, willing to communicate; laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold on the life which is life indeed.1Ti 6:17-19
Statistically, the more money people have, the less they give percentage-wise. (I did accounting and tax work for a number of years and can personally testify to that fact.) These verses in 1 Timothy exhort those with money to do just the opposite. “To be ready to distribute, willing to communicate” is to have an attitude of giving. Importantly, this giving is important in living a life that is truly abundant.
Budgeting is a concept many of us are familiar with and from a budgeting standpoint, the charge to them that are rich to give more, it is perfectly reasonable for any rich individual to personally decide to tithe, that is, give ten percent, or double tithe, twenty percent, or triple tithe, 30 percent in their financial planning. In First Timothy chapter six the rich are charged to give a lot so that they “may lay hold on the life which is life indeed”, in other words, so that they may lay hold on the truly abundant life in the spirit. The more well off you are, the more are called to share of that wealth.
Flaws of Requiring Tithing After Pentecost
So, putting it together, what’s the problem with requiring tithing? The first problem is that it says that the non-tither is gone away from God’s ordinances. What ordinances are they? They are the law. We are not under the law. We are under grace. Malachi does not explain grace; grace, as it pertains to giving, is explained in 2 Corinthians chapter 8. This puts tithing in the category of a covenantal requirement. In the Old Testament with the coming of the Law tithing became a requirement. With the fulfillment of the Law in Christ that requirement went away. There is teaching to the Christian church to give liberally, financially, and otherwise while the charge to tithe is conspicuously absent. To excel in giving liberally is the charge to the body of Christ.
Summary and Conclusion
From this study, we can determine that it is not a function of giving a specified percentage or amount of money that is the important principle to Christians. There is no retirement to tithe in the body of Christ. The attitude of giving is what is important. In that vein, if you can’t give money because it is all you can do to have the bare necessities, then give time if you can, or support. On the other hand, if you have resources, and can’t see to share very much this is an important signal that your Christian walk is more focused on the material that the spiritual. If so you are especially included in those to whom Paul, by the Holy Spirit, is directing to follow the example of the Macedonians who so excelled in giving that they gave beyond their power to give and so participated in the abundant life that Christ came to give to us all.
The charge to believers in original Christianity is to excel in the grace of giving financially as well as other areas with a cheerful heart and the love of God.
This is another example where Christians don’t agree. Furthermore, it can be very divisive when Christians who don’t believe that Christians are commanded to tithe are told they are robbing God because they aren’t obeying this law.
(c) copyright 2009-2020 Mark W Smith, All rights reserved. Revised and re-published 7/2020