Understanding Tithing

Poverty was no stranger to the first century church at Macedonia, yet their generosity was so great that it continues to be a model for giving almost 2,000 years later. The source of that generosity lay in the spiritual wealth of the Macedonians, which overflowed in such abundant giving that the Apostle Paul made note of it repeatedly in his epistles.

Paul says the Macedonians were pleased to give, and God loves a cheerful giver.

They gave of their own accord, not grudgingly or under compulsion. They begged Paul for the opportunity to give, not having to be begged themselves. And they entreated Paul for the favor of helping support the saints. For them, giving was a privilege.

More than anything, however, giving seemed to come naturally to the Macedonians. It is that type of giving which is done in love, requires no audience, and is followed by no reasoning or regrets. It springs from a deep spiritual relationship that puts God in the proper perspective: as owner of all things.

Psalms 24: I declares, “The earth is the Lord’s, and all it contains.” Deuteronomy 8:18 says it is God who gives us power to make wealth, not we ourselves. In I Corinthians 4:7, Paul asks, “And what do you have that you did not receive?”

When we recognize that God owns everything and all blessings come from Him (including our ability to work), our role as managers, or stewards, becomes evident. We also see the multitude of blessings we have to be thankful for.

In response, we should view ourselves as God’s servants, ready always to do His will. That is why we call Him Lord, meaning “ruler,” “owner,” “sovereign,” “king.”

Who’s in Charge?

When we view ourselves as owners and not managers, we’ll look at every other aspect of our lives the same way. Each of us will see himself or herself as the person in charge, but that can change quickly in the face of circumstances beyond our control.

During my early years as a counselor I met several Christians who had learned they had a terminal illness. Their perspective about the future and material things changed the instant they took on a short-range view of this world.

Too often we find ourselves distracted by buildings, cars, investments and retirement plans for 30 years in the future. The very second we cease to breathe, all those concerns are going to be irrelevant.

The Bible story of Job is another reminder that no one, no matter how powerful they are, has a permanent hold on anything in this world. Suddenly stripped of his many possessions, Job confirmed this fact, pointing to his own mortality as the undeniable evidence of God’s controlling ownership:

“Naked 1 came from my mother’s womb, and naked J shall return there. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. ”

Thus, money is not our possession, it is God’s possession which we hold in trust. He allots different amounts to His children based on His plan and purpose for their lives. And someday we’ll be held accountable for the way we managed our allotments.


How Much Do You Give?

Part of being a good manager, or steward, is giving back to God a portion of what He’s entrusted to us. It’s not that God “needs” our money. Rather, giving serves as an external, material testimony that God owns both the material and spiritual things of our lives. It also supports the greatest, most enduring work ever conducted in this world: the Lord’s work.

One of the first standards of giving found in the Bible is the tithe, a word which means “tenth.” Abraham tithed in Genesis 14 after returning from the daring rescue of his nephew Lot from four enemy kings. He encountered the priest Melchizedek and voluntarily surrendered to him one tenth of all the spoils he had taken from his enemies. It’s often said that the tithe is Old Testament “legalism,” but Abraham tithed some 430 years before the Law was given to Moses.

The Promise of the Tithe

Although the tithe is mentioned in the Law, no punishment was indicated for not tithing. Consequences for not tithing included withholding of blessings, but this is not to be construed as punishment. Tithing has been, and always will be, a voluntary act on the part of God’s people.

But while not tithing brings about a withholding of God’s blessings, tithing with proper motives invokes God’s blessings:

“Bring the whole tithe into the store¬house, so that there may be food in My house, and test Me now in this,’ says the Lord of hosts, ‘if I will not open for you the windows of heaven, and pour out for you a blessing until it overflows” (Malachi 3: 10).

During my early years as a counselor I met several Christians who had learned they had a terminal illness. Their perspective about the future and material things changed the instant they took on a short-range view of this world.

Too often we find ourselves distracted by buildings, cars, investments and retirement plans for 30 years in the future. The very second we cease to breathe, all those concerns are going to be irrelevant.

The Bible story of Job is another reminder that no one, no matter how powerful they are, has a permanent hold on anything in this world. Suddenly stripped of his many possessions, Job confirmed this fact, pointing to his own mortality as the undeniable evidence of God’s controlling ownership:

“Naked 1 came from my mother’s womb, and naked J shall return there. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. ”

Thus, money is not our possession, it is God’s possession which we hold in trust. He allots different amounts to His children based on His plan and purpose for their lives. And someday we’ll be held accountable for the way we managed our allotments.

The Storehouse

In order to bring our tithes into the “storehouse,” it is necessary to determine what, exactly, the storehouse is. In biblical time it was a physical place where the Jews would deliver their offerings of grain or animals. A storehouse had specific functions according to God’s Word:

To feed the tribe of Levi (Numbers 18:24-29). The tribe of Levi and the priests would be equivalent to pastors and other church staff, and missionaries and evangelists today.

To feed the Hebrew widows and orphans living within the Hebrew city (Deuteronomy 14:28-29). They would be equivalent to the widows and orphans served in a local church.

To feed the Gentile poor living in the Hebrew city (Deuteronomy 14:28-29). Today’s equivalent would be the unsaved people in the community surrounding a local church.

Ideally, the local church could serve as the storehouse in God’s economy today. Then people’s tithes would simply be given to the church. After all, God has designed the church to carry out vital social functions among Christians and non-Christians, as shown above.

These functions also include ministering to the sick, teaching families to care for themselves and taking the gospel to the lost at home and abroad. Unfortunately, the vast majority of local churches do not minister fully in these areas.

Therefore, to the extent that a church lacks in a specific area of ministry, a portion of the tithe should be given to the individual or para-church organization which is “filling in the gap.” But remember that you can’t sit under the teaching of a local church and not support it financially (I Timothy 5: 17 -18).

If you see possible areas of ministry that are lacking, share your concerns with the church leadership in an open, loving manner. If there’s no response, prayerfully consider whether this is the church that God would have you attend.

Learning to Fear God

During Moses’ time, the tithe was established so that the children of Israel might learn to fear God.

Deuteronomy 14:22-23 says, “You shall surely tithe all the produce from what you sow, which comes out of the field every year. And you shall eat in the presence of the Lord your God, at the place where He chooses to establish His name, the tithe of your grain, your new wine, your oil, and the first-born of your herd and your flock, in order that you may learn to fear the Lord your God always.”

But what about the implications of this statement today? Does it still apply to God’s people? Proverbs 9: 10 says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” If we want to be wise in handling our finances, we must seek wisdom from God. One of the ways God intends for us to do this is to acknowledge His Lordship by tithing to Him.

When we don’t fear God, we discount His Lordship and put His will second to ours. In the midst of this we lose our eternal perspective as temporary, worldly things gain importance. We then shift our attention to material idols, just as the Israelites turned their attention to literal idols before the captivity.

The result for Israel was bondage in a foreign land. For the Christian, it’s bondage to worldly things, which often leads to divorce and ruined lives. Striving after these things also diverts us from works of eternal value.

“For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man builds upon the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each man’s-work will become evident; for the day will show it, because it is to be revealed with fire; and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. If any man’s work which he has built upon it remains, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he shall suffer loss; but he himself shall be saved, yet so as through fire” (I Corinthians 3:11-15).

Imagine staring into eternity with nothing to show for our time here on earth. The length of this life and the things we substituted for God would suddenly appear insignificant.

When Spouses Disagree

Because tithing involves money, it is a prime candidate for controversy between a husband and wife (many marital problems stem from finances). However, if both spouses are Christians, they should have a desire to please the Lord.

It’s important for both spouses to be trained in God’s principles of finance. That way, they’ll understand tithing is God ordained, not just a personal desire that the wife is trying to impose on the husband, or Vice versa.

The problem becomes more complicated when one spouse is an unbeliever. If the wife is an unbeliever, the husband must obey the Lord’s direction. He must realize, however, that the Lord is more concerned about his wife’s soul than his money. If tithing becomes a stumbling block to his wife, he should consider not tithing temporarily in order to win his wife to the Lord.

If the unbelieving spouse is the husband, then the believing wife should submit to his wishes, trusting that her submissive attitude may win him to the Lord (l Peter 3:1-6). But she may still ask him to let her give an amount smaller than the tithe for at least a year.

If, at the end of a year, they are worse off financially as a result of her giving, she will cease to give. But if they are better off, she will be allowed to give more. In Malachi 3: 10 the Lord says to test Him in tithing. Often, this is just the opportunity for God to prove Himself to an unbelieving spouse.

Is the Tithe a Limit?

One excuse for not tithing is that it “limits” the amount a Christian gives to God. But the tithe was never meant to be a limit. In fact, the Jew was admonished to give nearly one-fourth of his income each year.

With such giving today, the church could replace government welfare programs. But most people need a starting point. As best I can tell, God never asked less than a tenth from anyone. But if “10%” bothers someone, there’s no reason why they can’t give 11 %, 12% or twice as much if they so desire.

The law of grace means we’re not compelled to do anything by virtue of a written law. It is unmerited and unearned favor. But grace is not a license to do nothing. As Paul said in Romans 7:7, the law was given to show us sin. We, who are under grace, can surely outdo those who gave according to the law.

Again, the principle of God’s ownership comes into play. God doesn’t own just 10% of our money, he owns 100%. That’s why we should never tithe with the view that the remainder is ours.

After giving our tithe, God may impress us to give an additional amount to a missionary, rescue mission or other work. General guidelines for all types of giving, including that which goes beyond the tithe, are covered in the next section.

Giving With The Right Attitude

Like every other facet of serving God, all giving (including the tithe) should be done with the right attitude. When giving is viewed as a rule and done out of a sense of duty, it becomes legalism. But it is not legalistic to give if we do so in thanksgiving to the Lord. As mentioned at the beginning of this brochure, we have plenty to be thankful for, including our ability to work.

Giving in the hope that you’ll receive two or three times as much is also a wrong attitude. Romans 11:35 says, “Or who has first given to Him that it might be paid back to him again?” If we give only to receive, then we are no better than Simon, described in Acts 8, who offered money to the apostles in hopes of receiving spiritual power.

His offer brought a stem rebuke from Peter, who answered, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money!”

Other wrong attitudes include giving out of fear. Reverence and respect toward God, when tempered with confidence in His love, are signs of spiritual maturity. This is not the kind of fear I refer to. What I warn against is giving because you’ve been told by someone that if you don’t give, God will punish you.

If you give because you feel intimidated, then you are giving under compulsion, which is contrary to what is taught in II Corinthians 9:7. Never support a ministry that uses threats as a fund-raising gimmick.

Finally, we should never give to impress others. In Matthew 6:2-4, Jesus gave us the following warning: “When therefore you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing that your alms may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will repay you.”

People who have a problem with pride need to do their giving in a modest and humble way. This doesn’t mean that all giving must be done entirely in secret. It simply means that we are not to draw attention to ourselves when we give.

It would be very difficult for Christian ministries to prepare yearly budgets if they didn’t have an idea how much to expect from their supporters; therefore, letting a ministry know that you will contribute a certain amount each year is helpful.

Allowing your children to witness your giving, particularly when sacrifice is involved, will teach them the importance of commitment. Giving for applause or approval from others, however, is un scriptural.

Giving Beyond the Tithe

Like tithing, giving beyond the tithe should be an outward material expression of a deeper spiritual commitment, and an indication of a willing and obedient heart.

Just as the Macedonians did, we should give out of a grateful heart and with an attitude of joy. II Corinthians 9:7 says, “Let each one do just as he has purposed in his heart; not grudgingly or under compulsion; for God loves a cheerful giver. This Scripture applies even more in this situation since larger and larger amounts of money are being sacrificed.

Other reasons for giving beyond the tithe include conviction. Perhaps the Holy Spirit is prompting you to give to a special cause. How can you determine if such a desire to give is actually from God or just an emotional response? Read God’s Word and pray. If you are married, include your spouse in the decision to ensure balance in your giving.

Finally, some may have the spiritual gift of giving described by the Apostle Paul in Romans 12:8. These people live very disciplined lives, enabling them to give generously. They are especially sensitive to the needs of others and conscious of the need to check out every cause they give to. Generally, they are very prudent people.

How to Give?

When giving beyond the tithe, give out of your abundance, according to the principle taught in II Corinthians 8:14. God doesn’t want us to give until we are made poor, unless it is to improve our lives spiritually. A balanced attitude toward material “things” can be found in Proverbs 30:8-9. God’s main concern for us is what’s in our heart. Other guidelines for this type of giving include:

Who Deserves My Support?

During the past few years, a number of well-known ministers have come under fire because of deception and lavish lifestyles. Their followers gave millions to support “ministry” activities at home and abroad, but found out later that their contributions had been buying huge homes, extravagant cars and other luxuries for ministry leaders. If we want to be the best stewards possible of the money God has entrusted to us, we should ask at least three fundamental questions before giving the Lord’s money to an organization.

Definitely avoid giving to ministries that use high-pressure fund-raising techniques or questionable gimmicks (examples include special delivery letters, telegrams and “miracle” items).

Insist on a copy of the ministry’s annual budget and an audited financial statement for the previous year if you don’t know the group well. I recommend that you request a form called a “990” that nonprofit organizations file each year with the Internal Revenue Service.

Do not give to ministries whose leaders have rich and lavish lifestyles. The laborer is worthy of his hire, but a true servant of Christ will have a servant’s attitude when it comes to material possessions. The ministry should maintain a high standard of excellence along with freedom from waste.

Misused Gifts

Christians should be familiar with the organizations that receive their donations, but what if you give unknowingly to an organization that misuses the Lord’s money? Does that lessen the importance of your gift?

The answer is no, unless you haven’t properly investigated the organization. We should give wisely, but if we unknowingly give to an organization that misuses funds, in God’s eyes we have still given it to Him.

Although the Temple was greatly misused in Christ’s time, He commended the widow for her two mites. Once again, God is concerned about our heart.

Giving to Secular Causes

Non-Christian causes must be evaluated on an individual basis. There are many secular organizations that make good use of funds and perform much-needed community services.

For instance, if you enjoy watching the public television station in your area, you should support it. By becoming a regular contributor you will acquire more influence regarding the type of programs that are aired.

Many of us are asked to give to the United Way. There is nothing wrong in doing this as long as you reserve the right to select the organizations that will be helped by your donation. Usually, you will be given a card to fill out that contains a long list of nonprofit groups that you can choose from.

Business Tithing

Tithing on the Increase

The principle of tithing from a business is not dramatically different from tithing out of personal income. Actually, most of the Scriptures on giving in the Old Testament deal with business-generated income, since few people were actually employees in the sense they are today.

The vast majority of people in Old Testament times were employed in agriculture, as were most Americans prior to the 1950’s. The precedent for tithing from a business is clear in God’s Word. Proverbs 3:9 says, “Honor the Lord from your wealth, and from the first of all your produce.”

Notice that the reference here is to farming. However, figuring a business tithe is not necessarily as clear-cut as figuring the tithe on one’s personal income. For example, you should tithe on the business’ increase, which may not be the same as gross income.

Dealing With Noncash Assets

Business profits are often tied up in buildings, equipment, vehicles, etc., so it takes some creative thinking (and prayer) to decide how best to “honor the Lord” through your business.

A good example of this can be seen in farming. A farmer may say, “I hardly made anything this year,” when, in fact, he added a combine, a new tractor, and another barn. The return was there, but it was in noncash assets. So how can you give in such a situation?

The answer for many Christians is to give a partial ownership in the business. That way, as the business prospers, so does the Lord’s portion.

Stanley Tamm is a good example of this.

He developed a successful company called U.S. Plastics and deeded a portion of his company stock to a foundation established to do the Lord’s work. If a dividend was declared, the foundation got its share. If the company is ever sold, the foundation will get its equitable portion.

In the case of real property such as buildings, trucks, and so on, tithing may be as simple as assigning the Lord’s portion of the property to your church or other ministry. Through the use of nonvoting stock, a company owner can do this without diluting his or her authority or decision-making ability.

Benefits of Stock Gifts

The gift of stock in a company can be a double benefit to both the ministry and the businessman. Since existing tax laws allow the value of a noncash gift to be claimed at its fair market value, the donor can receive a tax deduction at far above his or her actual cost. For instance, if the donor has a cost basis in his company’s stock of $10 per share, but the current market value is $100 per share, the tax-deductible gift value of the stock is $100.

Since the stock wasn’t actually sold by the donor, there is no capital gains tax due, so the entire gift value is a deduction. If the stock had been sold and the proceeds donated, the donor would have had to include the sale in his income for tax purposes and then deduct the gift. Donating the stock prior to sale, therefore, represents a significant savings. If the ministry is a nonprofit organization, the stock can then be sold by them without incurring the capital gains tax.

Product Gifts

Many Christian business owners have also found that donating some of their products is an excellent way to support the Lord’s work. When we were refurbishing our ministry offices, a Christian who owned a window-blind company donated the blinds for all of our windows.

Other Christians have donated trucks, airplanes, food, and office equipment to ministries. But regardless of what your gift consists of, remember to give only what belongs to you, not what rightfully belongs to your creditors, stockholders, etc.

The Question of Net or Gross

Ron was a new Christian attending a Bible study with a group of other Christian businessmen in his city. He had come out of an agnostic background and knew little about Christ’s teachings except what he had heard as a boy in Sunday school.

One thing that had stuck in his mind was the need to tithe to God from his “first fruits.” So Ron asked the group a question:

“Does God want me to tithe from my net or my gross?”

The answer from most of the men was, “You should always tithe from your gross.” “Do you men tithe from the gross income of your businesses?” he asked with the brutal honesty displayed by most new Christians.

The group went totally silent. John Grey, another businessman in the group, spoke up, “Well, you can’t tithe from your gross income in business. It’s not possible. So you tithe from your net.”

“But why should I tithe from my personal gross income but not from the business?” Ron asked. “Is there a different principle where a business is concerned?”

“You have to be practical about this,” still another member of the group said. “You can’t tithe from your gross sales because most businesses don’t make a 10% gross profit.”

Ron left that meeting totally dissatisfied with the answers he had heard. He could not accept the fact that God’s Word would deal with personal income in one fashion and corporate income in another. So he called me to ask if he could come by to discuss this Issue.

I shared with Ron that we should give voluntarily and cheerfully. I also shared passages on tithing from Genesis and Malachi.

“But how can I give a tenth of my gross income from my business when I don’t make that much profit?” Ron asked.

“Is it that you don’t make that much or that you don’t get to keep it? For example, how much do you pay in taxes a year?”

“Probably about 20% or so,” Ron answered.

“How are you able to pay 20% of your income in taxes?”

“Well, the government requires that I do it,” Ron answered as he began to see the connection.

“And what about interest? What percent of your income is dedicated to paying your creditors for the loan of their money?”

“I don’t know, but r II bet it probably averages about 12%,” he replied.

“Then you already know where the tithe is going. It’s going to fund the government that now provides many of the services that God ordained His people to provide. And the rest is going to pay interest to the devourer. Borrowing is a consequence of ignoring God’s statutes and commandments, according to what the Lord said in Deuteronomy 28:43-45.”

“But what can I do to break out of this snare now that I’m in it?” Ron asked. “I really want to honor the Lord ‘with my life and my finances.”

“It would appear that we can’t do very much about the cost of government right now,” I answered, “so I guess the best we can do is to get ourselves out of debt and give that portion to the Lord.”

“But that may take me several years,” Ron argued. “What can 1 do in the meantime?”

“Just do what you can. If you can’t give a full tithe and still pay your creditors what has been promised, then give what you can. But have a goal to become totally debt free and then use the interest you were paying for the Lord’s work.”

Ron began by giving a small percentage from his business income while maintaining his own personal giving from his salary. It took him almost seven years to become totally debt free. In the process he passed by some good business opportunities that he could have participated in if he ad been willing to go further into debt.

Most of his Christian friends thought he had gone off the deep end in listening to my counsel. The standard argument is almost always the same: “You can make a lot more money to be able to give more later.” But my experience has been that somehow most people never seem to get around to giving more later.

Ron is now totally debt free and gives nearly twice a tithe from the gross income of his company. He may never be listed among the billionaires of our society, but he is probably high on a much more important list.


Giving Is for Everyone

For the majority of Christians, serving God will never lead to worldwide fame, writing best-selling books or singing before thousands of people. But regardless of the work to which we’re called, there’s hardly a Christian who can’t give, and when that giving is done in love, it exemplifies the greatest sacrifice ever made for mankind – the death of Jesus on the cross.

Jesus gave out of love when He laid aside his privileges and left heaven to come to earth. It was because of love that He became a servant and gave His life to save us from our sins. And the Bible tells us that God was also motivated by love when He gave His only begotten Son.

Along this line, Dr. Charles Ryrie made a powerful statement about love and money that lays bare the truth of our devotion.

“How we use our money demonstrates the reality of our love for God,” he said. “In some ways it proves our love more conclusively than depth or knowledge, length of prayers or prominence of service. These things can be feigned, but the use of our possessions shows us up for what we actually are.”

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