Tithing or Giving?

An outline for a lively discussion in a home group or Bible School

"I went to a conference on financial liberty and I have felt very challenged. I have been giving to church, to an orphanage and to a rehabilitation centre which all together is 10% of my NET income. I was told that this is not tithing at all. I never look at my GROSS income and I have to admit it to do so scares me. How I could afford to give 10% of GROSS? Do I need to include the maintenance and child benefit that I receive in my calculation as this is paid for the children? I want to make sure that I get it exactly right in my obedience, then I'll take a big breath and a huge step of faith!"

OK, it is a difficult question, the kind that has more than one answer and all of them by and large are right, depending on which preacher or teacher you hear. I know what many teachers and pastors say about gross or net tithing and it is very good. They simply ask whether you want to be blessed Net or Gross? The School of Economics section on this web site says very similar things and goes more than few steps further, and what is more the author lives what he says.

Just between you and I  . . .

Unofficially and just between you and I, and this is not "the word of the Lord" I am not quite such an enthusiast for tithing and I will tell you why. It is definitely an Old Testament practice right up to Jesus' time, no doubt at all. The only doubt is how many people other than the Pharisees actually did it, hence the rebuke from the Lord in Malachi 3.8 that He was being robbed.

Read Malachi 3 if only to receive the very real promises for people that do what they should do. Tithing is no doubt a New Testament principle that was carried over into the new churches but there is very little scripture in the New Testament to tell us any more about what the early believers actually did. Was it a forgotten practice so no one bothers to mention it, or was it so common that it was not worth mentioning it ?

The problem for me is that if you get into the questions of gross versus net, and meticulously add in Child Benefit, Moneyback from Visa cards, points from supermarkets, vouchers from the petrol stations and all the rest of it then you quickly run into the danger of turning the joy of tithing into a carefully calculated ecclesiastical tax that somehow is meant to please the Lord. Whereupon you find yourself right back with the Pharisees who tithed on every last seed but forgot the really important issues of mercy, love and justice.

In my humble opinion, which can easily be wrong, the New Testament model promotes the following:

1. The fact that everything belongs to Jesus

Not 10%, not 20%, not 90% He has the sovereign right to ask for the lot. (1 Cor. 6.19) So it may as well be surrendered to Him in prayer from the beginning and then often, and then go along with any tested conviction to give that comes from the Holy Spirit (not necessarily from visiting preachers, see 2 Corinthians 9.7 in The Message.)

I will never forget one of the more well-known TV preachers in an unguarded moment telling Miguel Diez, the founder of Remar with 36,000 people being cared for free of charge in 52 nations, how he gave 10% of his income to the church and 10% to missions, his own and others. Miguel Diez simply asked him why it was that he held so much back from the Lord, to which there was no answer at all. He was speechless.

2. Joyful, extravagant giving to the cause of Christ

Whether for mission, for the poor or for the maintenance of the church and it's workers (2 Corinthians 9, 6-15). Now I see tithing as a part of joyful giving but giving surely does not begin and end with a 10% gift to the local church out of duty or under pressure from membership demands, not by any means.

"Even out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints. And they did not do as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us in keeping with God's will." (2 Corinthians chapters 8 and 9)

Personally I feel that tithing as an obligatory part of following Jesus is not good news to the world's poor who literally count every last penny. On the other hand tithing is very good news indeed for the rich who pay up and do not even miss for a moment a 10% of a $100,000+ salary especially if they get a tax advantage for giving.

I equally know that when we give Jesus promises that it will be given back to us and more so, and in that promise is the seed that brings the harvest for the poor man, but nevertheless I feel that something is missing here. It is somehow not like Jesus to demand a rigid 10%, somehow to me that lacks the unforced rhythms of grace and joy.

You do well to start your giving with the tithe…

If you are going to tithe meticulously, obviously you do well provided it is part of a bigger picture, and that you do not fall into the trap of legalistic thinking and just pay a 10% tax to the church. That is joyless, onerous and disastrous. Go before the Lord with all your facts and figures and see how He leads you, then you can take a deep breath and go His way. Mary got it right in John 2.5 when she said, “Do whatever he tells you.

Les Norman

The founder of the DCI Trust

Global Support for the world of mission since 1985

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