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The Truth About Tithing
By Keith Rawlinson
Volunteer Budget Counselor

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The most common question.

Tithing is the practice of donating a regular percentage of one's income to support God's work and one's church.  The word "tithe" literally means ten percent, which was the traditional amount required in Old Testament times.  Whenever people ask me about tithing, they usually start with the question:  "Why do I have to tithe?"  The answer is a simple one--you don't have to tithe!  The Bible makes it very clear that tithing is neither a commandment nor a requirement.  Tithing does not affect your salvation either way.  You are not more saved if you do tithe or less saved if you don't.  God does not love you more if you tithe and less if you don't.  Since the Holy Bible is basically an instruction manual for life, in fact when counseling or teaching I actually refer to it as the instruction manual, let's see what it has to say about tithing:

Let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity, for God loves a cheerful giver.  2 Cor. 9:7

When this verse says "give as he purposes in his heart," that means that he gives what he himself has decided to give.  "Not grudgingly or of necessity" means that he gives it without hesitation or resentment, and he gives it because he wants to, not because he feels like he is required to.  The last part says it all: "for God loves a cheerful giver."  This does not mean that God doesn't love you if you don't give, it means that He loves it when you give cheerfully.

So, according to 2 Cor. 9:7, if you aren't willing to decide on an amount to give, and if you can't give it happily and because you want to, then just keep it--God doesn't want it.  

God doesn't need your money.

I have, on occasion, had church administrators become angry with me for teaching that we are not required to tithe.  Some churches and denominations, in fact, teach the opposite.  They want people to feel guilty and obligated when it comes to giving so that the church can bring in more money.  Sorry, but 2 Cor. 9:7 proves that my position is the biblically correct one.  Yes, in Old Testament times, sacrifice and giving were a required part of salvation; but, that was before Jesus Christ died to serve as the final sacrifice.  Since no sacrifice could ever be as precious or perfect as God's own Son, we are no longer required to give or to sacrifice.

There is no place in the Bible, that I can find, where God held off on doing His work because He needed more money.  God is faithful and will put what we give for His work to good purpose, but He doesn't require it in order to accomplish His goals.  If God wants something to happen, then it will happen--He does not have to hold back while waiting for enough money to fund it.

If God doesn't need our money, then why does He want us to give?

God does not require us to tithe or to give, but He does want us to.  If tithing is not required, then why does God want us to do it?  Well, for one thing, growing and maturing as Christians means become more like God.  His light and His qualities should show through us.  As the well-known Christian financial counselor and radio show host Dave Ramsey says:  "God is a giver, so He wants to make us givers too."  The more we give and help others, the easier it becomes for us to do so.  After a while, it becomes such a part of who we are, that giving up some of our wealth to help others becomes a regular part of life.  We learn to give naturally, willingly and cheerfully.  When other people see this quality in us, they are seeing one of God's qualities through us.

Another reason God wants us to give some of our money to support our church and to help others, is because it opens the door to being able to tell others about salvation through Jesus Christ.  Go through the Bible and read the accounts of Jesus spreading His Gospel.  Many, many times He met someone's need before telling them about salvation.  He healed people, He fed people, He encouraged people and He emotionally built people up.  In so doing, He demonstrated to them that He cared; thus, they were much more willing to listen to what He had to say.  It is no less with us.  When we support our church, or help people directly, we are meeting needs and showing others that we care.  We are opening the door to telling others about Christ.  There have been many times that, after helping people financially, they ask me why I did it.  I would then tell them about Christ.  If I hadn't helped them first, I doubt many of them would have willingly listened to me tell them about salvation through Jesus Christ, let alone actually ask me to tell them.

God also wants us to give because He knows that wealth can have a powerful effect on people.  The prospect of large amounts of money can make people do things they know aren't right.  Money is probably the one thing in this world that has the greatest potential for taking the place of a relationship with God.  I have actually heard people say "I've got all of this money, why do I need God?"  If we are willing to give money away, it helps us to keep its importance in perspective.  Money is necessary in life, but it still has to be handled God's way.  We are to use money to take care of ourselves and our families, but are also to help others in need and to support our church. If we are not willing to do these things, then we are not following God's direction.  God wants to make sure that holding on to money too tightly does not interfere with what He wants us to do and who He wants us to be.  Learning to give helps us to follow Him instead of our own wealth.

Finally, God wants us to give so that He can bless us for it.

What's in it for me?

That is a fair question.  If we are not required to tithe, then why should we do it?  What's in it for us?  Well for one thing, for the reasons given above, we get a closer relationship with God.  Our understanding of God grows, our maturity in our Christian faith grows, our discipline grows and our effectiveness in bringing others to Christ grows.  Those are probably the most important things that are in it for us, but they are not the only ones.

God promised us that He would bless us for giving and tithing.  It may be with material wealth, or it may not, but He did promise that He would, in some way, bless us.  

Bring all of the tithes into the storehouse that there may be food in my house.  And test me now in this, says the Lord of hosts, and see if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out such blessing that there will not be room enough to receive it.  Malachi 3:10
Honor the Lord with your possessions and with the first fruits of all your increases; so your barns will be filled with plenty and your vats will overflow with new wine.  Prov. 3:9,10

Look at what these two verses are saying.  If we tithe, God will pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to contain it.  He will, metaphorically, overflow our barns and our wine vats, which is to say that He will bless us to overflowing in some way.  Remember, it may not be with actual money, but He will bless us in some way and will do so to overflowing.

Is it all right to tithe so that God will bless us?  Isn't that selfish?  Shouldn't we just tithe because He wants us to?  Well, yes, we should do it just because He wants us to, but it is very much all right to do it for the blessings as well.  There is nothing wrong with that.  God wants us to tithe and offered to bless us for doing so--His idea, not ours.  It is not selfish to accept blessings that God has freely offered.  If it were, then it would be selfish to want to go to Heaven since it is a reward for belonging to Christ.  

How to tithe.

As already discussed, God wants us to tithe willingly and with joy.  We should enjoy that we are following God's direction, supporting our church and helping others.  Tithing should be done as part of worship.  It is a demonstration of our faith in God.  We believe that He will put our giving to good use and will bless us for it.  So there's the first part of how God wants us to tithe--"cheerfully."

Next, God told us to tithe from "first fruits."  That means that we give God our tithe off the top, not from what's left over.  He wants the first and the best.  We should take care of our tithe first, then address the rest of our financial lives.  And be very careful about what I call "substitution tithing."  I have had people ask me if I think it's all right to tithe their time instead of their money.  I first ask if it's because they have no money to give.  If you're tithing your time because you literally have no money to give, then that might be all right as long as you tithe ten percent of your time and you do tithe money if a time comes when there is money.  Tithing ten percent of your time would mean donating 2.4 hours of time each and every day.  In other words, 16.8 hours per week.  Anything less than that would probably be an attempt to get off easy while keeping your money.

Most of the time, when people want to tithe something other than money, it's because the money is more important to them, thus they don't want to give it up.  They would rather tithe with something less valuable to them.  Remember, God said "first fruits," not leftovers.  We are to tithe what is most important to us.  For most people, that will be money.  If you are trying to justify tithing something other than money even though you do have some money, then you need to take a really close, honest look at your life and your relationship with Christ.  Also, remember that if you can't tithe what is most important to you, and you can't do it willingly and happily, then God doesn't want it.

God said to tithe "as one purposes in his heart."   If you, for whatever reason, can't tithe a full ten percent and do it cheerfully, then choose a percentage that you can give cheerfully and start with that.  There is nothing magical about the ten percent--that's just the amount mentioned in the Bible as a starting point.  If you can cheerfully and willingly give more than that, then do so.  If, however, you can only give a smaller percentage willingly and cheerfully, then do that instead.  Pray about it and earnestly ask God what He wants you to give.

Whatever you decide to do, know this:

Think about it, pray about it, and seriously consider what God wants you to do when it comes to giving and tithing.

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