10 June 2010

TITHING: God’s Way of Managing Church Budgets

Here's an article that first appeared in the April edition of my congregation's newsletter, The Hope Lutheran. I hope it will be beneficial, instructive, and edifying for others as well.
People like to dream of possibilities. Here are two questions to help us dream of possibilities when it comes to our congregational work and finances:
  • What could we at Hope do to proclaim the Gospel, do works of mercy, and teach our children if we had no budget deficit? 
  • What could we at Hope do to proclaim the Gospel, do works of mercy, and teach our children if we actually had a budget surplus?
“But, Pastor, how on earth could that be possible?” you ask. I’m glad you asked. :)

Believe it or not, we don’t have to wring our hands over the church’s finances. We don’t have to fret that our offerings won’t be sufficient to pay for church staff salaries or the heating and light bills or needed maintenance and repairs on the building. We don’t have to live in continual anxiety that tuition income won’t be able to cover teachers’ salaries and benefits or buy textbooks. There is a simple and Biblical solution to our so-called money problems. But it does involve some sanctified sacrifice.

   That solution is called tithing. What is tithing? Where does it come from in the Bible? How can we possibly do it?

Defining Terms
   Before we can understand what the Bible teaches on tithing, we need to define some terms. Tithing is not just any old offering or pledge of giving money in the offering. Here are the key terms:
  • Tithe = a tenth (10% or 1/10) of one’s income, off the top (“first fruits”).
  • Offering = a gift of any other amount, a gift above and beyond the tithe.
  • Pledge = a promise to give a certain amount to a certain cause or purpose.
Based on these definitions, “tithing” is the practice of giving 10% (or 1/10) of one’s income—for Christians, usually to their local congregation.

Biblical Examples of Tithing
The Bible teaches tithing more as an example than a command. Yes, God did command His Old Testament people to tithe, but we do not see the same kind of command in the New Testament. In fact, as Christians we can view tithing not only as an example, but also as a minimum for God’s New Testament people.

We find the first Scriptural example of tithing with the patriarch Abram (later named Abraham) in Genesis 14. After Abram conquered some kings and rescued his nephew Lot, he “gave [Melchizedek, priest of God Most High,] a tenth of everything.” What was that “everything”? All of the spoils, or income, from his battle against the kings.

We next see tithing when God commands His redeemed people—rescued from slavery in Egypt—to tithe from their crops in the Promised Land. Deuteronomy 14:22 says, “You shall tithe all the yield of your seed that comes from the field year by year.” The seed of their field was their increase, or income.

In Deuteronomy we discover more details attached to tithing. In chapter 26:2 God instructs His people: “take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from your land that the LORD your God is giving you, and you shall put it in a basket, and you shall go to the place that the LORD your God will choose, to make his name to dwell there.” God instructed His people 1) to give their offerings off the top (“first of all the fruit”), that is, before doing anything else with their income, and 2) to bring them to the place where God dwelt, that is, His house.

Later in Deuteronomy 26 the story of God rescuing His people from Egypt is recounted (verses 5-11), and then God gives more instruction:
When you have finished paying all the tithe of your produce in the third year, which is the year of tithing, giving it to the Levite, the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, so that they may eat within your towns and be fulfilled, then you shall say before the Lord your God, ‘I have removed the sacred portion out of my house, and moreover, I have given it to the Levite, the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, according to all your commandment that you have commanded me.’ (Deut. 26:12-13)
Notice three things about the tithe. First, it is called “the sacred portion.” That means it is set apart and devoted to God and His purposes. Second, God wants the tithe to be used to support two kinds of people: workers in His house (“the Levites”) and people in need (“the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow”). Third, the tithe is given so that these people “may eat within your towns.” That is, the tithes that come into the Lord’s house provide for the physical needs of those called into His service and those who have specific physical needs.

Malachi 3:8-10 rounds out our look at Biblical tithing. In this passage God catches His people in the sin of their stinginess, and then He challenges them to trust Him for His blessings:
Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How have we robbed you?’ In your tithes and contributions. You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you. Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need. (Mal. 3:8-10)
According to this passage, people were robbing God by not tithing! Perhaps they were giving “a little something,” or perhaps they only gave what was left after all other expenses were paid, or perhaps many just weren’t giving at all.  Whatever happened, they were robbing God … and God confronted them.

But God also gives a pretty bold dare. He says, “Put me to the test…if I will not pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need.” God promises to bless those who tithe. It may not necessarily be a monetary blessing; it could be the blessing of giving to help the needy, or the joy of helping a fellow Christian and becoming better friends with him or her, or the blessing of not having “more need” (Can you say, “No more money crunch”?)

Basically, then, for Christians tithing means giving 10% (1/10) of one’s income off the top (also intentional, planned) to the local church (God’s house; storehouse).
How Can We Do That?
God does not teach us to tithe in order that we make Him love us. He already loves us! (See Eph. 2:8-9) We don’t tithe because God somehow needs it. He already owns it all! (See Ps. 24:1) No, we tithe – and give in general – because God has already given to us. “You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” (2 Cor. 8:9)

The reason God teaches us to tithe is so that we may become more and more like Him, that is, so that by His grace we may become givers. God Himself is the supreme Giver. (See John 3:16 & James 1:17) God has made us in His image (Genesis 1:26-27), and He has also re-created us in His likeness (Ephesians 4:24). That means that God makes us GIVERS, people who, like our heavenly Father, give and give and give, and thus help other people.

More specifically and practically, how do we tithe? It’s quite simple. Whether you are married or single, write down the amount of income you take in each month or each pay period. Figure out 10% (one tenth) of that amount. Then make out the first check for that budget period for that 10% figure and give it in the offering. It’s that simple! It comes off the top (“first fruits”) and it’s intentional as you set apart and give that amount to provide for the needs of others, namely, God’s workers, God’s house, and those in need.

Here’s some good “food for thought” for how tithing can help us manage the church’s finances:
It is self-evident that the Church needs money, this convenient means of exchange, to carry on its work. The financial needs of the Church do not exceed the financial possibilities of its members; the Lord does not expect that Christians give more than they are able to give. If the Christians of our day would give ten per cent. of their income, as the Jews did in the Old Testament (in the New Testament this is not obligatory), or if the Christians of our day would support the Church to the extent of their power and even beyond their power, as did the poor Macedonian Christians, 2 Cor. 8, 3, the treasuries of the churches would always be filled to overflowing, and there would no longer be the proverbial church deficit. (John H. C. Fritz, Pastoral Theology, 259-260, emphasis added)


Gary Arnold said...

You start your blog with definitions. Now let me give a couple definitions.

Definition of income:
a payment received for the sale or exchange of goods or services, or from other sources, as
rents or investments, interest, salary, wages, etc.

Definition of assets:
items of ownership such as cash, securities, inventories, real estate, farms machinery, etc.

1 - The spoils of war that Abraham had were ASSETS, not his income.
2 - The crops and animals the Israelite farms tithed on were ASSETS, not their income.

God NEVER commanded anyone to tithe on anything that man made or earned. The Lord's tithe was on the miraculous increase from GOD, not the increase from man's labor.

Abraham tithed assets THAT DIDN'T EVEN BELONG TO HIM (Genesis 14:22-24).

The tithe has NOTHING to do with firstfruits. The firstfruits were taken to The Temple for the priests while the tithe was taken to the Levites to go into their cities (Nehemiah 10:37-38).

Malachi 3:8-10 - robbing God. HOW did the people pay their tithe? By taking the tithe to the Levites. Robbing God would be taking the tithe somewhere else, keeping it, or stealing it from the Levites. Nehemiah tells us that THE PRIESTS robbed God of the tithe by stealing a portion from the Levites. Using Malachi today, anyone who takes God's tithe to the church IS robbing God.

You are taking scripture out of context, twisting it, changing definitions, and coming up with something that is not Biblical.

The New Testament teaches GENEROUS, SACRIFICIAL giving, from the heart, according to our means. For some, $1 might be a sacrificed. For others, maybe 50% or more still would not be considered a sacrifice.

Randy Asburry said...

Well, Gary, we do have to deal with the plain words and sense of the Biblical text, and without superimposing our more industrial economic concepts (e.g. assets, investments, wages, salaries, securities) upon the more agrarian economy of the Biblical times in which livelihood (income) was intimately tied to the crops.

That of which Abram gave a tenth comes right after the story of Abram going to battle to rescue Lot (Gen. 14:1-16). The "possessions" mentioned in 14:16 initially belonged to the enemy kings, but were then acquired by Abram as the spoils of war. Thus, the words "increase" or "income" are quite appropriate descriptions. Abram's wealth certainly increased when the spoils came into his possession.

The things that did not belong to Abram in Gen. 14:22-24 are clearly something different. These things are goods that the king of Sodom tried to give to Abram as some kind of gratitude for his victory over the enemy kings. However, Abram did not want to be beholden to the king of Sodom. It must be noted that these "things" were offered to Abram *after* Abram's offering to Melchizedek.

Also, you claim that the tithe has "nothing" to do with firstfruits and that crops were not "income" but assets. These claims certainly do not match with the clear sense of Deuteronomy 26. Verse 12, for example, clearly says, "When you have finished paying all the *tithe* of your *produce* in the third year...." Evidently, the tithe was indeed paid on what they had produced, that is, on their crops--yes, bountiful quite by God's grace even as they did the physical work of sowing and reaping.

Finally, you seem to hold quite the stark division and separation between the Old and New Testaments, insisting that the two worlds really don't "touch," that is, don't or can't relate to each other. However, a more fitting view of the Scriptures views the OT as *fulfilled* in the NT, and especially in the person and work of Christ Jesus. Hence OT narratives and teachings are not to be abandoned lock, stock, and barrel once we get to the NT. Rather, we discover how OT narratives and teachings - including those on tithing and generous giving - are fulfilled in the Gospel message of God's grace and forgiveness in Christ Jesus. Only His complete sacrifice on the cross can liberate us to give generously and sacrificially as we may now freely do when we practice the Biblical teaching on tithing.

Gary Arnold said...

Randy Asburry said, "...upon the more agrarian economy of the Biblical times in which livelihood (income) was intimately tied to the crops."

Many say that in Biblical times they didn’t have money and that the economy was based on bartering of goods and services. That is not so. The Bible shows they not only had money, but that money was used as a common way of doing business.

According to the International Bible Encyclopedia, the days of mere bartering ended before the days of Abraham.

Here are just a few example from The Word to show they did, in fact, use money in Biblical times.

The tithing law itself proves they had both money and a marketing system for buying and selling their crops and animals (Deuteronomy 14:24-26).






THE FOLLOWING VERSES REFER TO WAGES: Genesis 29:15, Genesis 30:28, Genesis 31:7-8, Genesis 31:41, Exodus 2:9, Leviticus 19:13, Malachi 3:5, etc.


There are several places in Scripture indicating that scales were used to weigh metals and other items. The Law of Moses, for example, commands Jews not to use dishonest standards, but instead, to use honest scales and honest weights. (See also Deut. 25:13-15; Job 6:2-3; 31:6; Psa. 62:9; Prov. 11:1; 16:11; 20:10, 23; Isa. 40:12; 46:6; and Jer. 32:10).

Leviticus 19:35-36 – Do not use dishonest standards when measuring length, weight or quantity. Use honest scales and honest weights, an honest ephah and an honest hin. I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt.

In order for money to be an exchangeable equivalent for other commodities in today’s society, there must be a standard in place. Likewise, the Old Testament also had a set standard both prior to the law and during the law. A reference to a pre-law standard is here in Genesis:23:16.

Merchants in biblical times traveled from place to place conducting business. According to the written law, the standard weight for metals was set according to the sanctuary shekel (See also Ex 30:13, 24; 38:24-26; Lev. 5:15; Num. 7:13-86; 18:16).

Leviticus 27:25 – Every value is to be set according to the sanctuary shekel, …

In addition, 2 Samuel 14:26 shows that the weight standard for the shekel was set by the royal standard. No matter which era in history is studied, there existed a standard for the weight of precious metals.

Money was also used throughout the law. For example, God’s people gave money to support the tabernacle (Ex. 30:14-16; 38:24-31). There are many other examples that illustrate money’s place within the written law and indicate that money was indeed a part of everyday life. Exodus 35 provides such an example.

Exodus 35:5, 21-22 – From what you have, take an offering for the LORD. Everyone who is willing is to bring to the LORD an offering of gold, silver and bronze;

And there are many more examples to show that money was used for everyday transactions well before the Levitical tithe.

Gary Arnold said...


Genesis 14:21 (NIV) - The king of Sodom said to Abram, “Give me the people and keep the goods for yourself.”

Notice in verse 21 the king of Sodom didn’t ask Abraham if he would give back to him the people, but rather said GIVE ME the people and keep the goods for yourself. The way that is worded indicates that the king of Sodom was claiming that the people and the goods belonged to him and those he represented.

Genesis 14:22-24 (NIV) - 22But Abram said to the king of Sodom, “I have raised my hand to the LORD, God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth, and have taken an oath 23that I will accept nothing belonging to you, not even a thread or the thong of a sandal, so that you will never be able to say, ‘I made Abram rich.’ 24I will accept nothing but what my men have eaten and the share that belongs to the men who went with me—to Aner, Eshcol and Mamre. Let them have their share.”

Notice in verses 23 and 24 Abraham also acknowledges that the goods belonged to the king of Sodom and those he represented.

Therefore, it is clear that both the king of Sodom and Abraham acknowledged that the spoils of war did NOT belong to Abraham, yet he gave a tenth of the spoils to King Melchizedek. This would seem that Abraham did something wrong, if not even illegal, but Biblical historians agree that it was custom in Abraham's day to give the king a tenth of the war spoils. Had Abraham not given the tenth, he would have gone against custom.

Conclusion: Abraham did NOT give a tenth of his income, or his wealth. Abraham gave a tenth of the spoils of war that didn’t belong to him. To say that Abraham gave from his income is not Biblical.

You said, "These claims certainly do not match with the clear sense of Deuteronomy 26. Verse 12, for example, clearly says, "When you have finished paying all the *tithe* of your *produce* in the third year...." Evidently, the tithe was indeed paid on what they had produced,..."

The Hebrew word translated into the word "produce" means FOOD - produce, as in CROPS, ASSETS, not income.

Having a B.S. Degree in Accounting, and being a retired accountant and tax auditor, my whole career depended on me knowing the difference between assets and income. That is something I wouldn't expect a pastor to know, but then it was the church leaders who INTRODUCED the word INCOME into the teaching of the tithe. I have yet to find a pastor who can give me the correct definition of gross income.

Randy Asburry said...


Please reread my response to your first comment. I didn't say anything of bartering, pro or con, nor did I deny that folks such as Abraham had or used money. I simply said that the economy in Biblical times was tied more to the agrarian culture - crops, animals, etc. - than ours is, and that we cannot just superimpose our "Wall Street" model, terms, and concepts on the Biblical witness.

However, thanks for parts of what I presume are portions of your previous writings. Some interesting stuff, even though I never intended my blog to be a conduit for your writings. :-)

Randy Asburry said...

Well, on the subject of "gross income," I would think (assume) that it is all income from whatever source(s). But then again I haven't had the benefit of training in accounting and I can only go from what I have to figure for my own budget and "sparring" with Uncle Sam's KGB, er, I mean, IRS. :-)

Since I'm probably not quite accurate in my understanding and definition, I sure wouldn't mind learning the proper definition of "gross income."

Gary Arnold said...

Section 61 of Title 26, Subtitle A, Chapter 1, Subchapter B, Part 1 of the Federal Code
includes the following in the definition of gross income:
Gross income means all income from whatever source derived, including (but not limited
to) the following items:
(1) Compensation for services, including fees, commissions, fringe benefits, and similar
(2) Gross income derived from business;
(3) Gains derived from dealings in property;
(4) Interest;
(5) Rents;
(6) Royalties;
(7) Dividends; etc.

Therefore, for the person getting wages or a salary PLUS benefits, gross income includes the benefits - the amount the employer pays for a persons medical, etc. etc.

IF a person were to be taxed on their gross income, they would be double-taxed on certain items. That is why your US Federal Tax Return has NO place to enter your gross income (except for businesses). Also, a form W-2 does NOT include a person's gross income.

I do apologize to you for writing so much on YOUR blog.

Josh Schroeder said...

Question for both Gary and for Pr. Asburry, asked in a very ignorant way as only a seminarian can: so is this law or gospel?

Gary Arnold said...

Josh Schroeder, "Question for both Gary and for Pr. Asburry, asked in a very ignorant way as only a seminarian can: so is this law or gospel?"

Your question is not clear. However, I will answer what I think you might be asking.

Tithing was Old Testament Law but NOT part of the New Testament gospel.

Randy Asburry said...

Gary: Josh's question refers to a doctrinal distinction that we Lutherans use quite often. "Law" is a short hand way of referring to something God commands in Scripture for us to do or not do, something that shows us our sin and our need for a Savior. "Gospel," on the other hand, refers to what God does to save us, forgive us, show us mercy, etc., focusing our attention and our trust on Christ crucified and risen for us.

Of course, as you say, tithing is "Old Testament law," as that's where we chiefly encounter the concept in Holy Writ. It appears though, that Josh is asking his question with this doctrinal framework and distinction in mind.

Josh: Good question. In our doctrinal "short hand" of Law-Gospel, of course, tithing would not be Gospel, because it is not at all about God's works of saving and redeeming us through His Son Jesus Christ. So, I guess that leaves "Law." :-)

And that's clear when we look at the contexts of the Scriptural passages on tithing. Yes, it's the example that Abraham and Jacob give, and, yes, God later commands it for His OT people. At the very least it is the Scriptural example of how to live as God's redeemed people.

It is interesting to note, however, that Jesus does not speak against, or abrogate, the practice of tithing. Look at Matthew 23:23, for example: "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others." Notice that Jesus does *not* speak against tithing; rather, He takes a "both-and" approach. He includes tithing in the holy life that flows from faith. To paraphrase what He says, "Conduct your life with both things: a) the more important matters of justice, mercy, and faithfulness, and b) the lesser matters of tithing.

It seems Jesus treats the practice of tithing as He does praying, fasting, and giving alms in Matt. 6, namely, yes, go ahead and do these things, but keep your focus and your faith on Him. Perhaps we can call to mind Luther's phrase in the Catechism: "Fasting and bodily preparations are certainly fine outward training...." I think tithing would certainly fit under that umbrella as well.

So, is tithing "Law" or "Gospel"? Clearly, it's Law, but it's also something that we can delight in as people redeemed by Christ. After all, the money and possessions that we have do not belong to us anyway. They belong to God (Ps. 24:1). We get to be "asset managers" for Him!

exegete77 said...

Or as one of my sermon titles hints:

"Not a Tax, not a Tip, but a Testimony"

Paul said...

I have practiced and taught tithing for most of my adult life and ministry (ordained 1986)and have experienced great financial peace and blessings thereby. Before he married, my father gave a double tithe (at least) and taught me by example the blessings of giving and generosity. However terms are defined seems relatively inconsequential in light of our Lord's dictum that He has not come to abolish but to fulfill the Law.

Randy Asburry said...

Thanks, Paul, and very good points. And since He has come to fulfill the law, He also frees us to delight in things such as tithing, not as tax or tip (Thanks, exegete77!), but as testimony that we give because He first gave to us.

Tony said...

Excellent dialogue. I would add that the tithe was primarly implemented to take care of those things related to Jewish believers. The context of 10% was more than ample to provide for taking care of the temple, the priest (who did not receive any inheritance of land) and those in need; as explained in Deut 14:29. As NT believers we have been given a commission to the world. 10% is an excellent starting point, but should give as God has prospered us. I teach that we should tithe of all we have that being time, talent and money. I believe 20% is a great NT goal being that we have an entire world to reach. Just think if all Christians gave their talents (accounting, janitorial, computer networking, carpentry, engineering…) to the service of the Lord. Our budgets would shrink and we would be able to further the glorious gospel.

Let me also add that people are graced to be givers just like our savior. Not everyone has surrendered to be givers. I owe God all I am and so I’m not afraid nor ashamed to give liberally. I don’t have the financial wherewithal of some, but such as I have give I unto thee (Jehovah). God bless you brothers and I’ll see you on the other side of life; at peace with our Lord Jesus Christ…

Anonymous said...

Tithing on "all", or tithing on "income" as you and many others suggest is biblical, but not how those teaching this falsehood want to hear about it. Christ referred to a Pharisee in Luke 18, who brags that he "fasts twice a week" and "pays tithes on all he possesses". Clearly fasting twice a week is just for those who "trust in themselves that they are righteous". So is paying tithes "of all that you possess". For me as a father of 7, I can tell you that paying tithes on my income or "all that I possess" which is all that I have every time I get paid, is not possible, not practical, nor mandated by the scripture. And those who teach it are like the Pharisees themselves.

"9 And he spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others:

10 Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican.

11 The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican.

12 I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.

13 And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.

14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.