Whenever the subject of giving comes up, tithing usually surfaces; and while I do not see anything wrong or sinful with giving a tenth of your income to God, I do not believe that there is really anything special about a tenth of all that you earn or own. I also do not believe that giving a tenth of your income frees you from other guidelines given in the Scriptures concerning giving. For example, you must give “as [you have] purposed in [your] heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion” (2 Cor. 9:7). Tithing is not the automatic ticket into Heaven’s record book of true, faithful givers.
When I refer to tithing, I mean the giving of a tenth of one’s income to the advancement of God’s Kingdom on the earth. This is not to be confused with the tithing mandated in the Law of Moses which wasn’t really 10% once you took into account the levitical tithe (Lev. 27:30, Num. 18:21-32), the festival tithe (Deut. 12:10-28), and the poor tithe (Deut. 14:28-29), which could pretty much be summed up to about 23%.
The Bible’s guidelines on giving, clearly seen when we take to heart the entire Bible narrative on the subject, urge Christians to practice a personal pattern of regular and proportionate giving based on God’s ownership of all we have. The idea that 10% of one’s income belongs to God, while not false, is not the complete truth. If God gives only a tenth, then He owns only a tenth; but He owns all if He gives all. The way we view our money has real implications on how we live as Christians, and I have observed a few common mistakes that accompany tithing today.
Giving the 10% grudgingly because you have to. Many Christians have lost the joy that accompanies giving because they are forced to give, compelled to give regardless of how they feel about it. But God loves a cheerful giver. I wonder if that doesn’t also mean that giving without the right feeling is a wrong way to give. Many ill-informed believers give because they are scared of the curse of Malachi 3, robbing themselves of the joy of giving to advance God’s Kingdom. The heart that gives is also important, probably more important than the amount given.
Spending the remaining nine-tenths however you please because God has been paid. God, to many Christians, is like an eternal, unforgetful taxmaster who denies His debtors any form of peace until they clear all outstanding debts. A strange preacher once said to his people, “Give your tenth and enjoy the rest!” But giving a tenth does not automatically give you a free pass to live as materialistic as you wish. That would only be possible if God were concerned with just a tenth of your income. But He is not. God isn’t only interested in what you give to Him; He’s also interested in what’s left after you drop your offering/tithe/gift into the box.
Stopping at 10% because it’s the special percentage. I believe this happens because of the way certain believers have come to understand the subject of tithing today—”God commands us to give a tenth and no more!” But the tenth was never fixed as a limit or a standard for giving in the New Testament, and it shouldn’t be today. If anything, a tenth of our earnings could be the starting point. We are not to assume that the same structure governing tithing under the Law of Moses still exists today. The tenth could be a starting point for us, but never the standard.
Failing to understand that we all are not mandated to give the same percentage. In commending the giving done by the church in Macedonia, Paul informed the Corinthian church that the believers in Macedonia gave, “according to their ability and even beyond their ability, of their own accord” (2 Cor. 8:3). I believe that the true ability of every Christian to give differs. If your ability to give is above 10%, why do you limit yourself to 10%? God would have you give according to your abilities (and even beyond your ability), not according to any fixed percentage.
Next time you choose to tithe, ask if you’re giving according to your ability (or if you are actually robbing God with that tithe), if your giving is done cheerfully and willingly, and if what’s left after your gift has left your purse is for you to use as you wish, or as He wills—to the glory of His name.