1. What is a tithe?
A tithe means literally “a tenth.” The tithe was 10 percent of whatever was made or produced; it was the first 10 percent and it always belonged to the Lord. (By the way, Jesus reaffirmed the tithe in his own teaching! Matthew 23:23, for those who say that tithing is Old Testament.) Remember, this was not a primarily cash society. It was agrarian which means that the tithe was of produce or livestock. Notice, this is proportional giving, not a set amount. This is merciful! It means that if someone has hit a hard patch—maybe they are unemployed or making very little—then their tithe will obviously be small or nothing. But as they are blessed, the giving grows.
2. What is an offering?
The offering was any gift beyond the Lord’s tithe. When you add up all the offerings they were required to make, the actual figure amounts to about 25 percent! And of course, in the New Testament, the standard was everything…everything laid before the Lord. It’s really important to understand that these were “first fruit” offerings. You gave of your first, not your last, which was a supreme act of faith because you began giving as soon as you had received—not knowing how well the rest of your crop would come in, your herds would produce, etc. Another thing, it was expected to be the very best offered to God. Malachi criticizes the people because they were literally offering the lame, diseased and blind animals in sacrifice. In other words, they were giving God the scuzzy leftovers instead of entrusting him with the first and best.
3. What about someone on a very fixed income (Social Security, retirement, etc.)?
When the income doesn’t go up, but expenses do—remember regarding the tithe, it is a tenth of your income, whatever that might be. But if you view this only as a legal obligation to God, you might miss the point. The Lord’s invitation in Malachi 3 is “Test me! Give me the whole tithe, and just see if I don’t open up the heavens and pour out blessings on you.” The tithe is not like our obligatory IRS payment. It is a grateful act of faith and worship. And frankly, it is the only place in the Bible where we are invited to test God. Think about that. God is saying, “If you will just try this—just trust me with your first 10 percent of whatever I give—I will give you more and more and more. Just test me!” I would think that’s a pretty attractive offer to a person on a fixed income!
4. What if I give to other organizations (sponsor a child, etc.)? How does this factor into my giving?
Good for you if you do. Cyndi and I do, as well. But we believe that the teaching of scripture is that the first tenth goes to “the temple”—i.e. the home church, the place where you are ministered to. We have always tithed, and then we provide our offerings beyond the tithe to other places. We are trying to grow our percentage each year.
5. When do I give (each month, weekly, annual)?
First-fruit giving would suggest that you give as soon as you get. In our case, we have our tithe and offerings (we give more than a tithe to Chapel Hill Church) taken out of our paycheck; I never see it, which is good since I do not even consider it “my” money; it belongs to the Lord.
6. As a church staff member, can my “lower, non-profit salary”—compared to what I could earn at a school district, public company, government, etc.—be considered part of my giving, since I don’t earn as much as I could at other employers?
Two thoughts. God didn’t say, “Everyone tithe, except for church-workers; you can give 8 percent.” The fact is, most of us view our work at the church as a calling, and many of us could do better elsewhere, financially speaking. But the call of God includes sacrifice as well as blessing. Furthermore, if you were making the same wage elsewhere, would you tithe that? Be honest with yourself. And again, it misses the larger points of faith, gratitude, and blessing. If you are trying to fulfill this as a legal obligation, you are going to look for loopholes. If you are trying to learn to give more generously and joyfully—and are expecting God’s promised blessing on whatever you give—then you will approach your giving more enthusiastically rather than suspiciously.
7. Strategies on how to move from “giving what is left” to “first fruits”:
Start right now. Set up an automatic deduction from your paycheck. Take the plunge at 10 percent…or make a plan to stage up to that amount over 3 years. Decide right now that every raise you get will immediately go toward reaching your tithe. Take a steely-eyed look at your budget. What can you sacrifice—and our giving should represent a sacrifice—that could go to the Lord. Do you really need that $100 cable bill; would $50 suffice? A few less lattes? Cheaper phone plan? The fact is, every one of us has areas where we could save if fulfilling our worship to God were the most important thing. It’s mostly a matter of will, and frankly, priority. Does God deserve our first and best… or our last and least?
8. Is tithe on net or gross?
My simple answer: do you want to be blessed on the net or the gross? But truly, if that is the level of concern, it means that you are already trying to give sacrificially—and it’s a matter of increment, not of sweeping change. But if we view the tithe as a baseline and not the end line, then we are going to try to grow our giving as we become more mature in the Lord. I know that’s what Cyndi and I are trying to do. We give dutifully; always have. I want to learn to give joyfully and extravagantly.