A common question I get asked a lot is, “Should I tithe on my gross or net income?” Gross income is the total paycheck that you receive from your employer—the total that you earn before taxes and other expenses are taken out. Net income is what you take home after taxes and other deductions.
God has a harsh word for the Israelites in the book of Malachi when he says, “Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How have we robbed you?’” and God responds, “In your tithes and contributions . . .. Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house” (3.8, 10).
Let’s look at the math. You may think you’re tithing 10%, but if you’re tithing on your net income, then it’s probably anywhere from 6% to 8% of your gross income, depending how much your employer is withdrawing for taxes, your 401k, and health insurance.
Let’s look at what the Bible says.
1. Give Your Firstfruits, Not Your Last Fruits
The Bible has a lot of passages on giving God your first and best, otherwise known as your firstfruits. For example, Proverbs 3:9-10 says, “Honor the Lord with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your produce; then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine.”
The Hebrew word for firstfruit is bikkurim—which is literally translated “promise to come.” To the Israelites, the firstfruit was the first and best portion of their harvest. It was a sign that God would provide for their future. It was just the start of what God was doing, and it belonged to him. God told them that if they brought their firstfruits to him, he would bless all that came afterward.
In the Bible, “firstfruits” was commonly used to refer to the tithe. Exodus 23:19 says, “The best of the firstfruits of your ground you shall bring into the house of the Lord your God.” Again, the first and best portion belonged to the Lord—not what was left over after they paid taxes and other expenses. Plus, when God gave the command to tithe, the people in that day and age didn’t distinguish between and net and gross. It wasn’t a thing. They had their firstfruits, and after that came everything else.
2. Which Comes First: God’s Kingdom or Your Own Kingdom?
Tithing on your gross income shows that God is your priority. Someone once said that to see what you really worship, check your bank statement and your calendar. I’d even add the browsing history on your phone—but that’s for another blog.
You might be saying, “I can’t give 10% of my gross income! After taxes are taken out, I won’t have enough left!” I understand taxes are expensive. Taxes are a large percentage of all of our incomes, but nothing compared to the grace that Jesus has poured out for us.
When the Pharisees asked Jesus if they should pay taxes to Rome, Jesus asked for a coin and asked whose inscription was on it. Then he said, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22:21).
So why should we tithe on our gross income? Because Jesus is clear to pay the government what we owe and give to God what belongs to him.
Your “Caesar” is whatever government you are a citizen of. The taxes we pay are the cost of agreeing to be their citizen. In Jesus’ time, Rome was the dominant power and the Jewish people faced a heavy tax burden—not to mention they saw the tax as paying their oppressors! Yet Jesus says to pay it. However, on the flip side, he also says give to God what is God’s. If we claim that we are citizens of the Kingdom of God, yet we don’t pay our fair share to the Kingdom and aren’t even convicted to give towards that Kingdom and its mission, are we truly citizens of the Kingdom?
Jesus was clear when he said, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33). He could have easily said, “Seek secondly after the state.” No, he said seek first his priorities, his principles, and himself. This goes back to the firstfruits—giving God what is first and best. If you start with your priorities in the right order, it makes life and your finances so much easier. Tithing is the foundation of so much more ministry that God wants to do in you, for you, and through you.
I do not want to give God my leftovers. I do not want to give him what’s left in my wallet after my country takes its toll, after my investments are deposited, and after I spend my paycheck on my own needs and desires. The first and best of my paycheck belongs to the Lord—and to me, that means tithing on gross income. Give God your firstfruits, not your leftovers.
How can you apply this practically? Wherever you are with your tithe, your goal should be to level up:
- If you’re not tithing, start with tithing a few percent and gradually increase.
- If you are tithing 10% of your take home income but not 10% of your gross income, reassess your tithing strategy.
- If you’re only tithing 5% of your gross income, think about how to increase it to 7%, then 10%.
- If you are already tithing 10% of your gross income, look out for other ways God is calling you to give and be generous. Tithing is just the start.
Giving is not always convenient, but it is the only place in the Bible God calls us to test him. Malachi 3.10 says, “Bring the full tithe into the storehouse … 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.”
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