There are few things in the Christian faith more misunderstood than tithing. Money has been the source of much manipulation and abuse by religious institutions. Yet, The Bible says explicitly that sharing the resources we have been blessed with is essential for living a meaningful life. In this episode, we will talk about how to tithe and how to think about tithing well. We will discuss three tenets of tithing and how they can alter our perspective from reluctant obligation to joyful obedience.


What is tithing?

Mark: So, if you’re talking about the will of God, there are a lot of specific questions that come up around the will of God, especially for new Christians. One of the things that came up for Patty and I is, you go to Sunday service at a church and there’s always an opportunity to give money. The word that’s used often is “tithe.” So I want to talk about what it means to tithe. But also, I got to be honest, at first, it’s a little weird and uncomfortable. I’m going to church that’s where I’m supposed to worship the Lord and they want in my wallet. It’s like immediate and it’s every church in a different way. And it feels strange at first, I have to admit, after years now I like it. I want to give, I feel good about giving. But at first it’s just kind of a weird thing. So can you talk about tithing and the role of tithing in being a Christian?

Tim: You bet. So the word tithe means tenth. That’s all it means, it’s tenth. It comes from the Old Testament and God set up a covenant with Israel. “I’m the superior king, you’re the people.” Unlike the Suzerain-Vassal treaties, they call them that in the ancient day. Which was usually a superior king and an inferior king, and the people were like property. God made it with the people as His self-governing nation, with all the people, and very much broke the mold. And and then He says, “You’re like my wife.” And the Sinai is looked at by the Jews as a marriage ceremony, which I think it was. And so in that law, he set up a taxation system, all voluntary. So the rules are voluntary. Like, I’m giving you the path that’s for your best interest. You can follow it or not. I’m going to tell you what the consequences are, a completely self-governing structure. So was the giving, it was self-governing. You have a volunteer to do that. And there were three different tenths that were given. One was that you give every year a tenth of your produce. It was an agricultural economy. So it was really more of a, we would think of it as a sales tax or a severance tax.

Giving to the Levites

M: 100 cattle. You give ten.

T: You give ten. Yeah. So as a produce, if you had 100 calves, you’d give ten of the calves type of thing. And so there were three of them. One was, you give it to the Levites because they didn’t have a land allocation. So you got an extra 10% land that the Levites didn’t get.

M: And the Levites were the priests.

T: They’re the priests and the ones that did the corporate worship stuff with the tabernacle and that sort of thing. And we talked about this in a previous episode. The corporate worship stuff has a long tradition and is very important. It’s very important to do the big gatherings. And that was the support and that was part of the national identity. Who are we as a people? So when you go to the big gathering as a part of “Who are we as a people?” That’s actually, I think, a very important thing. The actual church, the equipping stuff, happens in smaller groups. And in Israel it was the big festivals and the families. Okay, so you support the Levites that was 1/10.

M: So it’s very similar to giving to the church now.

Giving to festivals

T: Very similar. Okay. Then there was another tenth that was to be given, a second tenth. So now you’re up to 20%. The second tenth was, you’re supposed to take it to the festivals and use it to celebrate with your friends and families. It was kind of interesting. Like, so this is to set aside for holidays.

M: It’s a potluck.

T: It was potluck, but it’s bigger than potluck. These festivals would last weeks.

M: So you’re going to feed a whole bunch of other people. 

T: Well, but everybody’s doing it.

M: Right. They’re going to feed you, you’re going to feed them.

T: Yeah. I would think of it more like a Christmas holiday. Where there’s presents and big festivals and stuff like that. So part of it is for you together with your friends, to fellowship in and around the nation, celebrating who you are as a people and celebrating this gathering. And part of that is they would sacrifice these things to God and then barbecue it and share part it with the Levites. So that’s the second tenth. 

Giving to the poor

And then the third tenth was given once every seven years. It was every third year. But as I understand it from some of my Jewish friends, that the seventh year was the Sabbath year and you skipped that. So it was every three years. Once every seven years you would set aside one of those tenths to give to the poor. And I can’t remember how that works. Maybe it was the the celebration tenths instead of celebrating with your friends, you would give it to the poor. I don’t actually remember which that was, but that was one of the principles. So  it was, support these people who are doing the ministry of God, and then it was celebrate, and then it was a care for the poor. All right. And part of this was national and part of it was sort of like church. So that’s the principle. Now, in the New Testament, the tithe is never commanded. It’s mentioned. Usually in a negative sense. Like Jesus said to the Pharisees, “You guys tithe like mint seeds. You take all your poppy seeds out and count them up and then take 10% off, like, you know, straining gnats. But you don’t follow the main point, which is love your neighbor and give mercy and justice.” I don’t care about the ten poppy seeds. I care about mercy and justice. So that’s usually where it’s taught and it’s actually not a principle that carries in the New Testament. The principle in New Testament is not 10%, it’s 100%.  So the principle in the New Testament is stewardship. 100% of what we have is God’s. And if you really want all there is to get out of life, be like the rich young ruler if he would have said yes. Give everything to God. And to do that, take everything you have and manage it for him as a great steward. And now the principle of “what part of that do I give to others?” is however much you want to turn into eternal blessings. If you don’t want any eternal blessings, don’t give anything. If you don’t want massive amount of returns in your spiritual IRA, don’t give any. Just do zero, and then you’ll get nothing. And if you want to be incredibly rich in eternity, then be really generous because God loves a cheerful giver. And I’ll read it right here out of 2 Corinthians 9:6, “But this I say, he who sows sparingly will reap sparingly.” So you put a few seeds in, you will reap sparingly. You plant a little, you get a little. “He who sows bountifully will reap bountifully.” And He’s talking here about generous giving. And He said “So let each one gives as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of a necessity.” God doesn’t need your money, He’s plenty rich. And He doesn’t want money. If you don’t want to give it,. “For God loves a cheerful giver and God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you always having all sufficiency in all things, have abundance for every good work.” So if God finds a great conduit that loves to give, He’s likely to say, “I’m going to start shoveling the resources into that.” So if you say, “Oh, I’m going to give so I can get rich and spend it on myself,” that’s not what He’s talking about. But if he finds a good steward, what do you do when you find somebody that’s really good at managing something?

M: You give them more to manage.

Tithing outside of church and within community

T: More to manage. And that’s what this is saying. Like, I give more to manage. Now, what does that talk about? Well, this is talking about money, but that principle applies to everything.

Joey: One of the things that I read–I can’t remember where, I think this is an article or something that I read–it had done some interviews with children of wealthy parents who inherited money. And they followed them into adulthood and stuff and asked a lot of questions. And the study showed that basically half of them were basket cases and the other half were very well-adjusted, productive members of society. And they backtracked and looked at their research to see what the difference was. And without discrepancy, it was the ones that were doing well were the ones whose parents talked about money as a resource and an opportunity to help others. And the ones who had fallen off the rails were taught this is something we need to hoard or need to protect and that we’re afraid of losing and we need to do whatever we can to make sure we keep in the family and make sure we keep it in the bank account. And that was really huge for me to discover, because it helped me to think about our apartment, the space that we have in New York. You’ve got someone staying there right now. Like, I get tickets to sporting events and it’s like, “How do I use that to invite friends of mine to have some fellowship together at that event?” Or sometimes I give them away to our college students just as a way to help them get away from campus. And it’s just reorienting my mind and thinking, about what I’m supposed to. Begrudgingly, I gotta hand over 10% of my check to the church that meets on Sunday morning vs. how do I steward everything that we have in our lives in a way that’s intentionally trying to elevate the kingdom of God?

No matter how much you hoard

M: One of the things that’s so interesting about this that ties into so much other stuff we’re talking about. You already know this. I’ve never talked to anybody who said, “Yeah, I gave this gift and it made me feel so bad.” People love to give. It feels great when you give and you serve. And so I think all this stuff’s written on our hearts by God. We actually know this inside. There’s our sinful nature that can cover that up. This is a fight we talk about between the flesh and the spirit. The flesh is saying, “I gotta hold and I need more for myself.” But, by the way, that instinct never makes us feel good.

T: It doesn’t. And it’s not even rational, because we are all going to die and leave everything behind. 

M: No matter how much you hoard.

T: It’s all passing through your hands one way or the other. Why not have some agency about what happens to it rather than just letting it all pile up and let someone else decide? It doesn’t even make any sense, the hoard.

J: Well, I think it goes back to the question that we started with God’s will. You know, I think we think of tithing or how we give our money as like “where am I supposed to send my money?” And we think of it too mechanically. It’s like, “Alright fine, I’ll give 10% or 20% or whatever I have to to the poor so I can check that off my list and I can, you know, not have to feel guilty about it anymore.” But that’s not what God wants. God’s will is cheerfulness. God’s will is for us to steward our resources for our own betterment, which again is one of these paradoxes. We get the most joy in life by giving things away. And so he wants us to do it for our own betterment and for the betterment of the people around us. Steward our resources to those ends.

T: And that actually connects to a whole other subject. I don’t know if you want to get into this now, but if we are a strategic giver–a purposeful, let’s call it just purposeful giver–then we need to think about “What am I cheerful about?” And generally, what we’re going to be is cheerful about something we care about, right? And we usually care about things that we are really good at.

M: Right. That makes sense.

T: Or we get good at things we care about. And so our giftedness should make a big impact and influence on where we put our resources, time, money, and focus. Those are all resources. Where do we put those? And so if if we are, in my case, you know, I’m more of a visionary person and I want to make big influences on very upstream things that have a lot of leverage for making impact–

M: Right.

Where to put our resources

T: And I do that in politics. I do that ministry and churches and things like that. And so I like to put money into new vision stuff because I think I’m gifted at that. And so I try not to do much in the way of sustaining donations. Because most people do that. I do not think everybody ought to follow me. That’s my giftedness and how I’m employing that giftedness. So the question for anyone else is “What are you gifted at?” Maybe you’re a super empathetic person and you’re really good at seeing needs and you need to be in the benevolence world. Although, I guess if you’re empathetic, you don’t want to be in the benevolence world because you would be an enabler possibly. So maybe not benevolence so much but like visiting the sick and things like that, comforting people that are in duress and you might put your resources into that.