What Is Tithing?

Mention tithing to anyone, and you’ll quickly realize all the controversy around this subject: Should Christians tithe today? Isn’t it just an Old Testament thing? Did Jesus even say anything about tithing? If you’re skeptical and on the fence about tithing or just not sure where to begin, let’s look at what the Bible says.

Tithing in the Old Testament

The first recorded tithe in history is in Genesis 14 where Abraham gives a tenth of his spoil to the King of Salem, who was a priest and some say Jesus himself.

Tithing was a means of worship that was carried down through Jewish tradition and ultimately put in the Mosaic law. Leviticus says, “A tithe”—which means tenth—”of everything from the land, whether grain from the soil or fruit from the trees, belongs to the Lord; it is holy to the Lord” (Lev. 27.30). The tithe itself is ten percent of your income.

Trivia question for you: Did the Israelites give only a tenth? Actually, the answer is no. They were giving over and above that amount, if you include offerings and special giving at the festivals. Biblical scholars calculate that the Israelites gave as much as 23% of their income and resources.

Tithing in the New Testament

Many Christians believe that once Jesus arrived on the scene, he abolished the law, so tithing is no longer mandatory. But this couldn’t be further from the truth. As we know, Jesus came to not abolish the law but to fulfill it.

Jesus mentions tithing when he accuses the Pharisees of tithing out of legalism and obeying the letter of the law while neglecting the spirit of the law. Matthew 23.23 says, “For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens, but you ignore the more important aspects of the law—justice, mercy, and faith. You should tithe, yes, but do not neglect the more important things” (NLT). Jesus turns our understanding of giving on its head and makes it a heart issue.

Fast forward a few years, and in first-century Rome, many members of the Early Church lived in what we would consider abject poverty, yet the book of Acts tells us how the first Christians took the tithe a step further and sacrificially gave to the needy and to spreading the Gospel. They gave out of the overflow of their changed hearts.

This is in marked contrast to today, the twenty-first century, where many historians believe we have more excess and abundance than ever before in history, yet many Christians are more reluctant to give than even people were in the Great Depression. If anything, we should be more giving than the early church! Given these scriptures, we could go so far as to say that a tenth is the minimum you should be giving. The tenth is just a start.

So why tithe? Not because 10% is God’s, but because 100% is God’s, and you’re accountable to him for how you spend his money. Check out this blog for more on the why.

I challenge you to step out in faith because that’s what it will require: faith and obedience to tithe the full 10% of your gross income to your local church. You can give this as a weekly, monthly, or yearly gift—but start giving today.

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