For many Christians, tithing smacks of legalism. Wasn’t it part of the Old Covenant Law, which no longer applies to us? And in all the many passages on money and giving in the New Testament, tithing is never even suggested, let alone commanded.
However, tithing pre-dates the Law. It is first mentioned when Abram gives to Melchizedek (who is God’s representative) a tenth of the spoils that he has just won in battle (Genesis 14:20). Two generations later, Jacob vows to give to God a tenth of everything he acquires (Genesis 28:22). So it is an ancient principle, later incorporated into the Law in order to finance worship in the Tabernacle and support the priests and Levites.
But when Paul writes to the Corinthians about giving, he carefully avoids prescribing either a set amount or a fixed proportion. “Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (II Corinthians 9:7)
So tithing is not compulsory; but we should not therefore dismiss it altogether. For how do we decide how much of our income to give away? At least the 10% figure gives us something to work from. It suggests that we should be giving a significant amount, not just the few coins left in our purses at the end of the week. We should probably be giving away enough for us to notice a dent in our weekly or monthly budget. For the less well off, this might be only 5% (or even less); but for the richer ones among us, it should probably be 20% (or even more).
My personal experience
I became a Christian at the age of 17, just before going up to university. In those days (the mid-1970s) the British Government gave university students a grant that was supposed to just about cover their living expenses. In the course of my first year, I spent the whole of that grant and all but £10 of my savings. And then God started to nag me about tithing…
Neither my home church nor my university church made much of an issue about financial giving at the time, but it seemed that every Christian book I read (even the one on boy-girl relationships!) had a chapter on tithing. Eventually, by the beginning of the summer holidays, I gave in and decided that I would begin to tithe with my summer job. But it was quite a frightening commitment: instead of putting 20p in the church offering every Sunday, I would be giving about £2.
I then discovered, as many other people have, that God honours tithing. “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse… Test Me in this, and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.” (Malachi 3:10) The first thing that happened was that I was offered a better summer job – paying twice as much as the one I had done the previous year! And when I went back to university, the money from my grant just seemed to stretch further… Without needing to be particularly careful, I always had enough – and at the end of the year had £20 left over, enabling me to treat myself to a new camera! By the end of my fourth year, I had enough money saved to be able to run a car in my final year. I have tithed ever since, and my bank account has never been overdrawn (even when my first pay cheque bounced).
But as time went on, my financial situation changed. Money was very tight when we first got married, but as the years went by our income increased and the mortgage got paid off – and suddenly tithing didn’t seem so generous any more. So although we continued to give 10% to our church, we steadily increased our charity giving until the total reached 20%. Now that we have retired, we may find that we need to review the budget again. But God continues to be faithful to His promise…