The word “tithe” means tenth. To tithe means to give a tenth of your earnings to God. This is the minimum amount of giving required by God from believers. The Bible has much to say on the subject of tithing. Proverbs 3:9-10 says, “Honor the Lord with your wealth and with the best part of everything you produce. Then he will fill your barns with grain and your vats will overflow with good wine.”
When the Israelites were stealing from God, He called them on it. Malachi 3:8-12 says, “‘Should people cheat God? Yet you have cheated me!’ But you ask, ‘What do you mean? When did we ever cheat you?’ ‘You have cheated me of the tithes and offerings due to me. You are under a curse, for your whole nation has been cheating me. Bring all the tithes into the storehouse so there will be enough food in my Temple. If you do,’ says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, ‘I will open the windows of heaven for you. I will pour out a blessing so great you won’t have enough room to take it in! Try it! Put me to the test! Your crops will be abundant, for I will guard them from insects and disease. Your grapes will not fall from the vine before they are ripe,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. ‘Then all nations will call you blessed, for your land will be such a delight,’ says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.”
One of the longest passages on tithing is in Hebrews 7:1-10 in the New Testament, but it refers back to the Old Testament roots of tithing for its example. “This Melchizedek was king of the city of Salem and also a priest of God Most High. When Abraham was returning home after winning a great battle against the kings, Melchizedek met him and blessed him. Then Abraham took a tenth of all he had captured in battle and gave it to Melchizedek. The name Melchizedek means ‘king of justice,’ and king of Salem means ‘king of peace.’ There is no record of his father or mother or any of his ancestors—no beginning or end to his life. He remains a priest forever, resembling the Son of God. Consider then how great this Melchizedek was. Even Abraham, the great patriarch of Israel, recognized this by giving him a tenth of what he had taken in battle. Now the law of Moses required that the priests, who are descendants of Levi, must collect a tithe from the rest of the people of Israel, who are also descendants of Abraham. But Melchizedek, who was not a descendant of Levi, collected a tenth from Abraham. And Melchizedek placed a blessing upon Abraham, the one who had already received the promises of God. And without question, the person who has the power to give a blessing is greater than the one who is blessed. The priests who collect tithes are men who die, so Melchizedek is greater than they are, because we are told that he lives on. In addition, we might even say that these Levites—the ones who collect the tithe—paid a tithe to Melchizedek when their ancestor Abraham paid a tithe to him. For although Levi wasn’t born yet, the seed from which he came was in Abraham’s body when Melchizedek collected the tithe from him.”
The Bible even tells us when we should give all of this. The Apostle Paul was writing to the believers at Corinth when he had this to say about their giving in 1 Corinthians 16:2. “On the first day of each week, you should each put aside a portion of the money you have earned. Don’t wait until I get there and then try to collect it all at once.” The first day of the week is Sunday, the day Christians gathered together for worship and teaching to commemorate the day of the week that Jesus rose from the dead.
Offerings differ from tithes in that offerings are generous gifts given in addition to tithes. They are anything given above the 10% required in tithing. For those who might think God is expecting too much, I would point you to the words of the Apostle Paul in Romans 12:1. “And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him.” If we are commanded to give our bodies, our very physical lives, in sacrifice to God, surely portions of our income are not too much to ask by comparison and would even be included in the command.
God doesn’t just take however. He generously gives back proportionately to how we give to Him and others. We have this promise from Jesus in Luke 6:38. “Give, and you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full—pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, running over, and poured into your lap. The amount you give will determine the amount you get back.”
2 Corinthians 9:6-8 shares the same principle as Luke 6:38. In this passage, Paul compares the giver to the farmer who plants seed and later harvests according to what he plants. “Remember this—a farmer who plants only a few seeds will get a small crop. But the one who plants generously will get a generous crop. You must each decide in your heart how much to give. And don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure. ‘For God loves a person who gives cheerfully.’ And God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others.”
There are a couple of important things to remember here. First is that having more is not bad or sinful. If it were, God would not promise to give us more when we give to Him and His work. Second, the primary reason for giving is not to be blessed (even though He promises we will be) but so that we can be a blessing to others. Then when we give to bless others, we are blessed even more in return. So it is a cycle that continues if we are faithful and faith-filled. 1 Timothy 6:17-19 says, “Teach those who are rich in this world not to be proud and not to trust in their money, which is so unreliable. Their trust should be in God, who richly gives us all we need for our enjoyment. Tell them to use their money to do good. They should be rich in good works and generous to those in need, always being ready to share with others. By doing this they will be storing up their treasure as a good foundation for the future so that they may experience true life.”
We are not rolling the dice when we give to God. We are making an investment in His work that will matter in all eternity. Thus, we are storing up for ourselves treasures in Heaven that will last forever. As Jesus said in Matthew 6:19-21, “Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.”
We are also commanded to give to the poor in many places throughout Scripture. Perhaps the best passage for this command can be found from the words of Jesus in Matthew 6:1-4. “Watch out! Don’t do your good deeds publicly, to be admired by others, for you will lose the reward from your Father in heaven. When you give to someone in need, don’t do as the hypocrites do—blowing trumpets in the synagogues and streets to call attention to their acts of charity! I tell you the truth, they have received all the reward they will ever get. But when you give to someone in need, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. Give your gifts in private, and your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.”
When we keep a giving spirit and allow that to rule our attitude, we are opening ourselves up for the life God wants us to have. He does not want us to live selfish, greedy lives, but He wants us to be reservoirs of blessing to bless those around us. When we allow God to use us in that way, He promises to take care of us. So we don’t need to worry about ourselves because He has us covered when we live His way. The Apostle Paul--who wrote half of the New Testament--said in Philippians 4:19, “And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus.”