“Do you tithe on the gross or net?” “Um . . . well . . . I think . . . usually . . . the gross.” “Good. That means you will be grossly blessed!” That summarized the conversation of a Christian employer with his new worker. It kind of reflects the thinking of a lot of Christians. Many approach tithing with the attitude that they have to give God a certain amount or percentage in order to be blessed. Approaching the question of tithing—the how much, when, how, and why—extends far beyond simply determining a percentage based on gross or net income. Several factors must be considered before we can just sit back and say, “Well, I gave my ten percent on gross, so I’m all set! Go ahead and bless me, God!”
Taking Cues from the Culture
Western culture creates a church-centered stigma that if a person makes an appearance at the church building, puts a check or a few bucks in the plate, and maybe even adds a little something for missions or a charity project now and then, all is well. Life can continue as normal, with little or no thought about sacrificially serving or giving for the cause of Christ. Tithing—the concept of giving ten percent of one’s income—is a big part of this perception.
Looking at the Whole Bible
Thinking about tithing needs to take in the panorama of Scriptural revelation. God provides a lot of information regarding material possessions, especially money. Understanding a couple key principles would probably shake to the core most church-goers who place their obligatory ten percent in the plate each week. Let’s check out those core principles and see what comes up. Specifically, let’s figure out where this idea of the ten percent tithe comes from, then figure out how it squares with New Testament Christianity.
The first appearance of tithing in Scripture occurs when Abraham gives to Melchizedek “a tithe” of spoil from defeating the enemies of Sodom (Genesis 14:20). Abraham’s motive is entirely from gratitude and not obligation. God prescribes tithing throughout the Law. When Israel experiences revival, tithing appears again (Nehemiah 10:38). This constituted an act of worship, but also provided for the tribe of Levi whose sole responsibility was carrying out ceremonial worship.
Moving to the New Testament, the only references to tithing occur in Christ’s rebuke to hypocritical religious leaders (Matthew 23:23; Luke 11:42). When Christ sees the Pharisees openly casting huge cash gifts into the treasury, He commends the widow who gave, not from her excess riches, but from “all she had” (Luke 21:4). This even clues the reader in to what is important when giving to God: one’s heart attitude.
Here’s more on what the Bible says about tithing.
Woah, Not Just Ten Percent?!
Brace yourself for some serious shock…Giving to the church seems to go beyond just a simple ten percent. Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians abounds with instruction, encouragement and exhortation regarding giving in the eight and ninth chapters. Ten percent never appears. Instead, the New Testament revelation focuses on believers who see a needy church and respond by giving. The believers spoken of in 2 Corinthians are people who are giving from their poverty, to meet that need. The emphasis is a willing heart. The result is fellowship in the labor of other brothers and sisters in Christ and the blessing of receiving God’s grace to supply all your needs.
Instead of asking, “How much am I required to give?”, New Testament Christianity should ask, “How much can I give?” Sure, blessing will come. Even “gross blessing”…but just maybe not the way you would expect.