Last week I preached a sermon on the importance of being generous to our local churches, based on 1 Tim. 6:18. The passage does not mention tithing specifically, but certainly one way to be generous to our churches is in committing ourselves to tithing. This undoubtedly created some questions in people’s minds about this practice, which I will try to anticipate here. What are some common questions or objections that Christians often mention about tithing?
1) What does the word “tithe” mean?
The word simply means “a tenth part.” So when we speak of tithing on one’s income, we mean that a person is giving one-tenth of his/her income.
2) I know many churches who abuse the money they receive, so why should I entrust my money into the hands of church leaders?
Church leaders will have to give an account to God for how they handled the money they received, and church members will have to give an account to God for how they gave to the church. But church members will not have to give an account for how church leaders handled their money. Your responsibility is to give, not to make sure your leaders are flawless in their budgeting. Christians can prepare themselves for this by considering the trustworthiness of church leaders before they decide to join a local congregation.
3) My money belongs to me, and I should have the right to do with it what I want.
Actually, your money belongs to God. Ps. 24:1 says the whole earth belongs to God. 1 Cor. 4:7 says, “What do you have that you did not receive?” When you tithe you are really only giving to God what rightfully belongs to him in the first place.
4) Should I tithe on my net income or my gross income?
There are different opinions on this question, so I believe it is unwise to be too dogmatic about this. However, there are several passages in Scripture that speak of giving the “firstfruits” of our wealth (Prov. 3:9, Lev. 23:10, Ex. 34:26, Deut. 18:3-5), which would suggest that we should tithe on our gross income. Here’s what Randy Alcorn says about the firstfruits:
It’s both the best and the first. As soon as it’s harvested or received, it’s to be given to the Lord. It’s not to be stored up, hidden, hoarded, or distributed in any other way.”
5) I can’t tithe because I have too many other financial obligations right now.
It is important that Christians fulfill their obligations, which include our financial responsibilities. A Christian should not default on a loan, for instance, in order to tithe. So it’s possible that a person could be in a position where he/she needs to ease into the practice of tithing by paying down debts and incrementally increasing the money they give to the church — maybe start giving 2 percent of your income this year, 5 percent next year, and so on, until you’re giving 10 percent. Of course this also means that you might have to cut back on spending to prevent yourself from incurring further debt.
6) Can part or all of my tithe go to other Christian ministries like missionaries and para-church organizations?
One of the responsibilities of being a member of a church is to financially support your local congregation. In the PCA, members take a vow to “support the church in its worship and work to the best of your ability.” This suggests that our first priority in giving should be to the local church, which is the central locale for the building of God’s kingdom (Eph. 1:22). At the same time, Christians should be encouraged to give above and beyond the tithe to other Christian ministries who are dependent upon the generosity of God’s people.
7) Tithing is not commanded in the New Testament.
This is true, but in Luke 11:42-43, Jesus challenges the Pharisees to pursue justice and the love of God, while also not neglecting the tithe. Here Jesus seems to be affirming the continuing relevance of the tithe even in the New Testament era. Besides, given the fact that the New Covenant is a better covenant with better promises (Heb. 8), we might draw the conclusion that we should give more than 10 percent today. The early church father Irenaeus said this:
The Jews were constrained to a regular payment of tithes; Christians, who have liberty, assign all their possessions to the Lord, bestowing freely not the lesser portions of their property, since they have the hope of greater things.”
It was a joy to give out 100 copies of Randy Alcorn’s The Treasure Principle last Sunday. If you didn’t get one, I encourage you to get a copy. If you’re prepared for a much longer treatment of this subject, I also highly recommend Alcorn’s Money, Possessions and Eternity.