Many Christians today have very specific opinions about what tithing means, how much to give, when to give, and to whom one should give. Some churches place a huge emphasis on tithing (along with a serving of guilt), which puts unnecessarily hard pressure on individuals and families who may be struggling financially. Then we have wealthier Christians who may refuse to give offerings to the church or Christian organizations for a variety of reasons. If you can give money, does it have to go to your local church? Does it count as a tithe if you're donating to a humanitarian organization?
Who is right? With so many differing opinions, how can we know what we should be doing with our own personal money? And why does God need our money anyway? Thankfully, the Bible can help us clear up all these questions.
Tithing is a way for Christians to support God's work in the world. Followers of God have been giving to God's work since the beginning, starting out in the Old Testament, when God commanded that His people support their ministers. Today, what it comes down to is sacrificing personal resources to the glory of God. Whether it is through donating to the local church on Sunday, sending monthly support to a missionary, providing goods and finances to a food bank, or supporting any other work of compassion and mercy, Christians may give from their resources to benefit others for God's glory.
"In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, 'It is more blessed to give than to receive.'" —Acts 20:35
"Tithe" is an Old English word translated from the Hebrew word ma`aser, which means "tenth." God's law for the Israelites was that they should give a tenth, or 10 percent, of their crops and livestock to the tabernacle/temple (Leviticus 27:30; Numbers 18:26; Deuteronomy 14:24; 2 Chronicles 31:5).
The fact that "tithe" means 10 percent may make the answer seem easy: We're supposed to give 10 percent of our income to the church, right? Well, if we want to go full on Old Testament, those laws actually required multiple tithes—one for Levites, one for the temple and feasts, and one for the poor—which made the total of their donations actually closer to 24 percent. Some view this as an Old Testament method of taxation, which helped support the Levites and Priests.
The New Testament did away with the legalistic tithe system, rather Christians are encouraged to give gifts "in keeping with income" (1 Corinthians 16:2)—not as a set monetary value. That said, many Christians still use the 10 percent tithe as a guide or baseline for their giving, which is perfectly okay. But ultimately, the decision to tithe or not to tithe and the amount you give to God's work is between you and God (James 1:5).
Okay, that's sort of a trick question. It's true: God doesn't need your money to do His work. He's God; He can do what He wills. However, two big parts of growing in Christlikeness are loving God and loving people. Giving sacrificially of our resources is one way we can worship God and serve others. Our hearts will benefit from the practice of helping further His Kingdom with personal provisions. Whether we tithe from our time, money, or material goods, our attitude of giving should be one of cheerful willingness and not due to guilt or coercion (2 Corinthians 9:7).
Maybe you don't have money or you don't have much or your funds are so tightly budgeted that you can't find a way to give monetarily. Ask God what you could do. Perhaps there something you could sacrifice (like a fancy coffee or movie ticket) so you could free up a few dollars of your income for a good cause on a regular basis.
The amount doesn't matter as much as your attitude of giving. Remember the widow’s offering that Jesus talked about in Mark 12:41-44, when everyone was throwing in all kinds of money to show off but a poor woman came by and gave just two coins. Jesus said, "Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on."
If you have zero monetary funds at all, you still have something to offer! Tithe your time to volunteer at a homeless shelter or the local pregnancy center. Tithe your gently used clothes to a charitable organization. That sacrifice means something and has intrinsic, eternal value.
Two big parts of growing in Christlikeness are loving God and loving people. Giving sacrificially of our resources is one way we can worship God and serve others. Our hearts will benefit from the practice of helping further His Kingdom with personal provisions. Whether we tithe from our time, money, or material goods, our attitude in giving should be one of cheerful willingness and not due to guilt or coercion (2 Corinthians 9:7). Ultimately, the decision to tithe or not to tithe and the amount you give to God's work is between you and God (James 1:5).
Cat is the web producer and editor of 412teens.org. She loves audiobooks, feeding the people she cares about, and using Christmas lights to illuminate a room. When Catiana is not writing, cooking, or drawing, she enjoys spending time with her two teenage kids, five socially-awkward cats, and her amazing friend-amily.