The tithe is certainly something that’s articulated in the Old Testament. So let’s just talk about what exactly the tithe is. The Hebrew word for ‘tithe’ basically means a tenth part, which just means 10%. For the people of Israel, a tithe meant 10% of God’s provision to the people.
Now, it’s important to understand that there were three tithes in the Old Testament. There were two tithes that were annual, or perpetual, that people were to give every year. That was 20% — not 10% that they gave. And then there was a third tithe which was to be given once every three years. So if you divide that by three, it’s about three per cent. So, every year, the children of Israel actually had to give not 10%, but 23% of what they received from the Lord. Whether it was the harvest or money or whatever God blessed them with, they had to give 23% of it to the Lord. And this was a requirement.
Now, in addition to that, there were also these things that were known as the voluntary free will offering. So if you recall, if you go back and read in the five books of Moses, you’ll find that at the time of the building of the temple, the people were called to give a free will offering that was on top of the 23% that they were giving as a tithe. And that was to be done out of the willingness of the heart.
So, the tithe was somewhat legalistic, but the free will offering was voluntary. It was above and beyond the tithe. It was out of the willingness of the heart. And it was given for special needs, like the building of the tabernacle or the temple. There was no amount specified. The people gave as they were able, as they were led in their hearts to give, and they gave it voluntarily, and out of their own free will.
It’s important to understand that there were three tithes in the Old Testament: two that were annual and a third which was to be given once in three years
So, having looked at what the tithe was in the Old Testament, with that background, let me just articulate a few principles for deciding how much we, as Christians, are to give in this New Testament age. And basically, here are six principles that we can apply.
Number one: The New Testament does not explicitly recommend the tithe, nor does it reject the tithe. It really is quite silent on whether or not the tithe applies to us as believers.
Second principle is, again, a broad principle, that there is ongoing value to certain aspects of the Law. So, just because something is in the Law, it doesn’t mean that we just throw it away in this New Testament age of grace. We need to look at those elements of the law and glean from them the core principles that still apply to us.
If you look at the tithe, for example, it really didn’t have anything to do with, or it wasn’t specific to, the Law. The tithe existed before the Law. So, Abraham gave a tithe to Melchizedek. Jacob promised a tithe to the Lord if he was brought back to his land. So, this principle of tithing or giving to the Lord was there long before the Law. And all God did with the law of Moses was that He codified that and regulated it for the children of Israel. So, there is ongoing value in certain aspects of the Law and we are not to just throw it away entirely.
Third, the tithe in the Old Testament was a minimum. As I said, they were actually three tithes and beyond the tithe that was required, there was the freewill offering that people could give voluntarily. So, tithe was just a minimum.
The fourth principle is that the New Testament teaches giving in proportion to your material blessing that the Lord has blessed you with. So, if you look at Acts 11:20, for example, it says that each one gave according to his own ability. So, everyone might have a different ability to give, and each gave according to the blessing that he had received. According to the ability that he or she had to give. If you look at 1 Corinthians 16:2, it says that when you come together, every man should give in keeping with his income. So, again, that principle of giving in proportion to the material blessing that the Lord has blessed you with.
The fifth principle is that the New Testament commends sacrificial giving. So, again, if you look at the example of the believers in Macedonia, that Paul commends, that they gave out of extreme poverty. They gave sacrificially, to the point that it hurt them. You look at the example the Lord gave of the widow who gave the two mites. He said that she gave far more than all the others because, for her, those two mites was sacrificial. It was all that she had.
There is ongoing value to certain aspects of the Law. So, it doesn’t mean that we can just throw it away in this New Testament age of grace
And then, finally, the principle of tithing or the practice of tithing itself has many practical benefits. For example, it’s very simple. Ten per cent is easy to calculate. It can be habit-forming if you do it on a regular basis. And so there’s some practical benefits to using it at least as a starting point.
So there are these six principles. Number one, the New Testament does not commend or reject tithing. Number two, there is an ongoing value to carrying on certain aspects of the Law. Number three, the tithe in the Old Testament was a minimum. There was much more than the tithe that was required and that was given. Number four, the New Testament teaches that giving should be in proportion to material blessing. Number five, the New Testament also commends sacrificial giving. And number six, the tithe has many practical benefits in its simplicity, in the fact that it’s easy to remember, it’s easy to implement, and so it can have certain practical benefits in terms of forming the habit of being a giver.
So, these are just some principles for deciding how much to give and we’ll use these principles, now, to apply to how we should give.
So, now that we’ve talked about some principles for how we should give, let me just give you some guidelines. And again, these are guidelines based on those principles. You’re not necessarily going to find these guidelines exactly stated this way in Scripture. But they’re all aligned with the principles that we talked about, with that understanding of what the Old Testament tithe was, with the principles from the Old and the New Testaments. So, let me give you five guidelines that we, as Christians, can use to determine how much we should give or how we should give.
First of all, the tithe is a good starting point and it should be the minimum. I would say that, given everything we’ve talked about, it should be a good, a minimum to start with. And it is a very good starting point. And by that, I mean, 10% of your income. It’s easy to calculate. It’s easy to understand. It’s very easy to implement on an ongoing basis. So, guideline number one is that the tithe is a good starting point and should be the minimum that we give.
Guideline number one is that the tithe is a good starting point and should be the minimum that we give
The second is that our goal should be to increase our giving beyond the tithe. So, as the Lord blesses us, as He increases our income, as we get those salary increases, rather than having more of it, keeping more of it to spend on ourselves and increase our lifestyle by a lot, we can increase— so, you can go from 10 to 11 to 15 to 20, or the Lord leads you, so that more and more of that increase is going to the Lord and less of it is being kept for yourself. So, our goal should be to increase our giving beyond the tithe. So that’s guideline number two.
Guideline number three is to determine a fixed percentage. So it doesn’t have to be 10. Now, maybe when you start out, things are tough. You might even start a little lower than 10, but keep to that fixed percentage. This leads to consistency and it leads to discipline. So, if I decide that, you know, the Lord has blessed me significantly, and I want to make that 10 to be 15, you need to stick to that 15. Until the Lord perhaps blesses me more and I decide that I want to be more sacrificial. And I decide to increase the 15 to 20, then I stick with the 20. So, guideline number three is to determine a fixed percentage and stick to it, which leads to consistency and discipline.
Guideline number four is, as I said, try to increase that percentage or that proportion of your income, as your income continues to grow. So the more you make, the more you’re giving as a proportion. So, if you take, you know, a person who makes a lot of money, you know, 10% is very little to him. It’s nowhere near sacrificial. A person who makes very little, 10% might be immensely sacrificial. So, as the Lord blesses you more and more, increase the percentage of your income that you give.
And then finally, the fifth guideline is to give of all your income. You know, sometimes, we only give of our salary or we only give of the take-home pay. We don’t give from commissions and bonuses. We don’t give from, say the gain on our investments, right? We need to give whatever we decide is that percentage of all of the increase that the Lord blesses us with. So, whatever source of income we have, we need to give of that to the Lord.
So, again, just to summarise these five guidelines. Number one, the tithe is a good starting point and it should be a minimum, which would be the starting point. Number two, our goal should be to increase our giving beyond the tithe. Number three, determine a fixed percentage, which leads to consistency and discipline. Number four, increase that percentage as the Lord blesses you, and as your income grows. Number five, give of all the income you have — your salaries, your bonuses, your commissions, your investment gains. Whatever income the Lord blesses you with, in whatever way He increases your income, you give of all of that. You apply that percentage that you decide on to all of the income that you have.
So, I believe that, if we follow these guidelines, we can be the kind of givers, do the kind of giving that really pleases the Lord, and is worshipful and is glorifying to God. I trust that the Lord will enable us all to do this.
(Video courtesy: Philip Prabhakaran)
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