10 June 2010

TITHING: God’s Way of Managing Church Budgets

Here's an article that first appeared in the April edition of my congregation's newsletter, The Hope Lutheran. I hope it will be beneficial, instructive, and edifying for others as well.
People like to dream of possibilities. Here are two questions to help us dream of possibilities when it comes to our congregational work and finances:
  • What could we at Hope do to proclaim the Gospel, do works of mercy, and teach our children if we had no budget deficit? 
  • What could we at Hope do to proclaim the Gospel, do works of mercy, and teach our children if we actually had a budget surplus?
“But, Pastor, how on earth could that be possible?” you ask. I’m glad you asked. :)

Believe it or not, we don’t have to wring our hands over the church’s finances. We don’t have to fret that our offerings won’t be sufficient to pay for church staff salaries or the heating and light bills or needed maintenance and repairs on the building. We don’t have to live in continual anxiety that tuition income won’t be able to cover teachers’ salaries and benefits or buy textbooks. There is a simple and Biblical solution to our so-called money problems. But it does involve some sanctified sacrifice.

   That solution is called tithing. What is tithing? Where does it come from in the Bible? How can we possibly do it?

Defining Terms
   Before we can understand what the Bible teaches on tithing, we need to define some terms. Tithing is not just any old offering or pledge of giving money in the offering. Here are the key terms:
  • Tithe = a tenth (10% or 1/10) of one’s income, off the top (“first fruits”).
  • Offering = a gift of any other amount, a gift above and beyond the tithe.
  • Pledge = a promise to give a certain amount to a certain cause or purpose.
Based on these definitions, “tithing” is the practice of giving 10% (or 1/10) of one’s income—for Christians, usually to their local congregation.

Biblical Examples of Tithing
The Bible teaches tithing more as an example than a command. Yes, God did command His Old Testament people to tithe, but we do not see the same kind of command in the New Testament. In fact, as Christians we can view tithing not only as an example, but also as a minimum for God’s New Testament people.

We find the first Scriptural example of tithing with the patriarch Abram (later named Abraham) in Genesis 14. After Abram conquered some kings and rescued his nephew Lot, he “gave [Melchizedek, priest of God Most High,] a tenth of everything.” What was that “everything”? All of the spoils, or income, from his battle against the kings.

We next see tithing when God commands His redeemed people—rescued from slavery in Egypt—to tithe from their crops in the Promised Land. Deuteronomy 14:22 says, “You shall tithe all the yield of your seed that comes from the field year by year.” The seed of their field was their increase, or income.

In Deuteronomy we discover more details attached to tithing. In chapter 26:2 God instructs His people: “take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from your land that the LORD your God is giving you, and you shall put it in a basket, and you shall go to the place that the LORD your God will choose, to make his name to dwell there.” God instructed His people 1) to give their offerings off the top (“first of all the fruit”), that is, before doing anything else with their income, and 2) to bring them to the place where God dwelt, that is, His house.

Later in Deuteronomy 26 the story of God rescuing His people from Egypt is recounted (verses 5-11), and then God gives more instruction:
When you have finished paying all the tithe of your produce in the third year, which is the year of tithing, giving it to the Levite, the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, so that they may eat within your towns and be fulfilled, then you shall say before the Lord your God, ‘I have removed the sacred portion out of my house, and moreover, I have given it to the Levite, the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, according to all your commandment that you have commanded me.’ (Deut. 26:12-13)
Notice three things about the tithe. First, it is called “the sacred portion.” That means it is set apart and devoted to God and His purposes. Second, God wants the tithe to be used to support two kinds of people: workers in His house (“the Levites”) and people in need (“the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow”). Third, the tithe is given so that these people “may eat within your towns.” That is, the tithes that come into the Lord’s house provide for the physical needs of those called into His service and those who have specific physical needs.

Malachi 3:8-10 rounds out our look at Biblical tithing. In this passage God catches His people in the sin of their stinginess, and then He challenges them to trust Him for His blessings:
Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How have we robbed you?’ In your tithes and contributions. You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you. Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need. (Mal. 3:8-10)
According to this passage, people were robbing God by not tithing! Perhaps they were giving “a little something,” or perhaps they only gave what was left after all other expenses were paid, or perhaps many just weren’t giving at all.  Whatever happened, they were robbing God … and God confronted them.

But God also gives a pretty bold dare. He says, “Put me to the test…if I will not pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need.” God promises to bless those who tithe. It may not necessarily be a monetary blessing; it could be the blessing of giving to help the needy, or the joy of helping a fellow Christian and becoming better friends with him or her, or the blessing of not having “more need” (Can you say, “No more money crunch”?)

Basically, then, for Christians tithing means giving 10% (1/10) of one’s income off the top (also intentional, planned) to the local church (God’s house; storehouse).
How Can We Do That?
God does not teach us to tithe in order that we make Him love us. He already loves us! (See Eph. 2:8-9) We don’t tithe because God somehow needs it. He already owns it all! (See Ps. 24:1) No, we tithe – and give in general – because God has already given to us. “You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” (2 Cor. 8:9)

The reason God teaches us to tithe is so that we may become more and more like Him, that is, so that by His grace we may become givers. God Himself is the supreme Giver. (See John 3:16 & James 1:17) God has made us in His image (Genesis 1:26-27), and He has also re-created us in His likeness (Ephesians 4:24). That means that God makes us GIVERS, people who, like our heavenly Father, give and give and give, and thus help other people.

More specifically and practically, how do we tithe? It’s quite simple. Whether you are married or single, write down the amount of income you take in each month or each pay period. Figure out 10% (one tenth) of that amount. Then make out the first check for that budget period for that 10% figure and give it in the offering. It’s that simple! It comes off the top (“first fruits”) and it’s intentional as you set apart and give that amount to provide for the needs of others, namely, God’s workers, God’s house, and those in need.

Here’s some good “food for thought” for how tithing can help us manage the church’s finances:
It is self-evident that the Church needs money, this convenient means of exchange, to carry on its work. The financial needs of the Church do not exceed the financial possibilities of its members; the Lord does not expect that Christians give more than they are able to give. If the Christians of our day would give ten per cent. of their income, as the Jews did in the Old Testament (in the New Testament this is not obligatory), or if the Christians of our day would support the Church to the extent of their power and even beyond their power, as did the poor Macedonian Christians, 2 Cor. 8, 3, the treasuries of the churches would always be filled to overflowing, and there would no longer be the proverbial church deficit. (John H. C. Fritz, Pastoral Theology, 259-260, emphasis added)


  1. Well, on the subject of "gross income," I would think (assume) that it is all income from whatever source(s). But then again I haven't had the benefit of training in accounting and I can only go from what I have to figure for my own budget and "sparring" with Uncle Sam's KGB, er, I mean, IRS. :-)

    Since I'm probably not quite accurate in my understanding and definition, I sure wouldn't mind learning the proper definition of "gross income."

  2. Question for both Gary and for Pr. Asburry, asked in a very ignorant way as only a seminarian can: so is this law or gospel?

  3. Or as one of my sermon titles hints:

    "Not a Tax, not a Tip, but a Testimony"

  4. I have practiced and taught tithing for most of my adult life and ministry (ordained 1986)and have experienced great financial peace and blessings thereby. Before he married, my father gave a double tithe (at least) and taught me by example the blessings of giving and generosity. However terms are defined seems relatively inconsequential in light of our Lord's dictum that He has not come to abolish but to fulfill the Law.

  5. Thanks, Paul, and very good points. And since He has come to fulfill the law, He also frees us to delight in things such as tithing, not as tax or tip (Thanks, exegete77!), but as testimony that we give because He first gave to us.