Giving to God (first, last, or not at all?)

14 02 2011

“Honor the LORD with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops.”
–Proverbs 3:9

This is my third post in a short series on financial discipline.  You may want to read through Training Your Children to be Financially Disciplined and Budgeting for Beginners before proceeding on this post about giving.

Excerpt from Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller (pages 196-197):  a conversation between the author and his friend Rick.

Rick:  “Part of the benefit of giving a portion of your money is it makes you think about where your money goes.  God does not want us to be sloppy with our finances, Don.”

Don:  “But I need money for rent.”

Rick:  “You also need to trust God.”

Don:  “I know.  I just think it would be easier to trust God if I had extra money to trust him with.”

Rick:  “That wouldn’t be faith, then, would it?”

Don:  “No.”

Rick:  “Well [ . . . ] I want to tell you that you are missing out on so much, Don.”

Don:  “So much what?”

Rick:  “The fruit of obedience.  When we do what God wants us to do, we are blessed, we are spiritually healthy.  God wants us to give a portion of our money to his work on earth.  By setting aside money from every check, you are trusting God to provide.  He wants you to get over that fear, the fear of trusting Him.  It is a scary place, but that is where you have to go as a follower of Christ.”

I love what this passage says about our relationship to money and our relationship to God.  The two are very intimately intertwined.  What we do with our money is a mirror image of our relationship with the One who gave us our financial resources to begin with.

Every American dollar and coin has the phrase “In God We Trust” on it.  Do we really trust God enough to follow his commands on giving?

(There is a difference between giving and tithing.  Does the New Testament command us to tithe?  No.  Does the New Testament command us to give?  I believe so, and I’ll address this a little later.  First, I’ll address tithing.)

The Bible has much to say on the topic of tithing.  A tithe simply means tenth.

The tithe first appears in Genesis 14:20 where Abram gave to Melchizedek a tithe (10%) of all he owned.  Later in Genesis 28:22, Jacob made a promise to give God a tithe of all he owned if He brought him back to the land.  The tithe appears time and again in the Levitical law exhorting the Israelites to give of their firstfruits back to the Lord.

“A tithe of everything from the land,
whether grain from the soil or fruit from the trees,
belongs to the Lord; it is holy to the Lord.”
-Leviticus 27:30

“You are to give them the firstfruits of your grain, new wine and olive oil,
and the first wool from the shearing of your sheep.”
-Deuteronomy 18:4

See also Exodus 23:19, Numbers 18:12, and Nehemiah 10:35 for more on tithing.

While the New Testament is strangely silent on tithing, it has plenty to say on giving.

“Share with the Lord’s people who are in need.”
-Romans 12:13

“On the first day of every week,
each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income.”
-1 Corinthians 16:2

“In the midst of a very severe trial,
their overflowing joy and extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity.
For I testify that they gave as much as they were able
and even beyond their ability. . .
See also that you excel in this grace of giving.”
-2 Corinthians 8:2-3, 7

“Remember this:
Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly,
and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.
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.”
-2 Corinthians 9:6-7

We are called to give generously, cheerfully, and with intentionality, but how much you give and to whom you give is entirely up to you. 

Sometime within our first year of marriage, my husband and I made the commitment to give 10% of our income with the goal of increasing that number 1% each year.  We’ve made good progress overall, only having to backtrack with pay cuts and new babies. 

In our monthly budget, we give to God first.  Some may disagree, but I am personally convicted that God set up a very simple system of determining how much we are to give, and the tithe is the place to start.

So then, since my husband and I are convicted to tithe, the question becomes: pre-tax or post-tax tithing?  This is a sensitive area for some, and I have been asked by many over the past years about my thoughts on this.  Simply stated, I am convcited that we are to tithe from our total income, pre-tax.

My conviction on this comes from two main sources.  First, I cannot ignore all the scripture that talks about giving of your firstfruits.  I believe the contemporary phrasing for “firstfruit” would simply be “gross income” (or pre-tax income).

Secondly, when you base how much you give on your net income (post-tax and other deductions), things get complicated.  In America, we have a tiered tax system.  The rich give a higher percentage of their total income in tax, the poor give less.

Some examples (keeping the numbers basic and simple).

  • Wealthy Family’s household income is $1,000,000.  After taxes, they bring in approximately $650,000 per year.  If they commit to giving 10% of their net income (take-home pay), they are giving $65,000 per year which amounts to 6.5% of their gross (total) income.
  • Poor Family’s household income is $10,000.  This family is in the 10% tax bracket.  They too, commit to giving 10% of their net income, amounting to $900 for the year.  However, this equals 9% of their gross (total) income.
  • Middle Class Family’s household income is $100,000.  After taxes, they earn around $75,000.  Committing 10% of their net income to giving equals $7,500 for the year, or 7.5% of their gross (total) income.

Under this sysem, the very wealthy family gives 6.5% of their total income while the family living below the line of poverty in America gives 9%.  Something to consider. 

After I became a Christian as an adult, I was convicted that my lack of giving was a lack of faith on my part to trust God to provide for me as He promises.

“And God is able to bless you abundantly
 so that in all things at all times,
having all that you need,
you will abound in every good work.”
-2 Corinthians 9:8

“Command those who are rich in this present world
not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain,
but to put their hope in God,
who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.
Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds,
and to be generous and willing to share.
In this way, they will lay up treasure for themselves
as a firm foundation for the coming age,
so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.”
-1 Timothy 6:17-19

“Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse,
that there may be food in my house.
Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty,
“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

Our job is to be wise stewards of our finances, to trust God with our money, and to give to him and his work generously.  God’s job is to provide for us abundantly.  That is his promise if we trust him.




4 responses

14 02 2011
Gary Arnold

You are mixing firstfruits with the tithe and they have nothing to do with each other. The first-fruit was a very small amount of the first crop harvest and was small enough to fit into a hand-held basket (Deut. 26:1-4.)

In Nehemiah 10:37 we learn that the firstfruits were taken to the temple for the priests, and the tithes were taken to the Levites who lived in the Levitical cities. That proves they can’t be the same thing.

In EVERY instance of firstfruits offerings mentioned in the Old Testament, firstfruits is referring to the first of the crops and NEVER the first of income.

OLD TESTAMENT – Proverbs 3:9 (KJV) “Honour the LORD with thy substance, and with the firstfruits of all thine increase:”

NEW TESTAMENT – 2 Timothy 2:6 (KJV) “The husbandman that laboureth must be first partaker of the fruits.”

1 Timothy 5:8 (KJV) “But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.”

The New Testament makes it clear that we are to use the FIRST of our income to take care of ourselves and our family. We are talking about needs, here, not just anything we want. Then we should give generously from what is left.

The New Testament teaches generous, sacrificial giving, from the heart, according to our means. For some, $1 might be a sacrifice, while for others, even giving 50% of their income might not induce a sacrifice. In the Old Testament, ONLY the farmers tithed, and it was equal percentage (a tenth). The New Testament teaches the principle of equal sacrifice instead of equal percentage. Equal sacrifice is much harder to achieve, if not impossible, than giving ten percent.

The ONLY people in the Old Testament that were commanded to tithe were those who INHERITED THE PROMISED LAND WITH EVERYTHING ON IT. They got the land, house, animals, crops, etc. ALL FREE AND CLEAR. No mortgage payment or rent to pay. And THEY were commanded to tithe on the crops and animals and take it to the Levites who INHERITED the tithe INSTEAD OF the promised land with everything on it. No one else tithed. Wage earners did not tithe. Jesus didn’t tithe. Paul didn’t tithe. Peter didn’t tithe.

If the Spirit leads one to give a tenth of their income, fine. But the tithe is neither a command, guideline, or minimum in the New Testament.

14 02 2011

Thanks for your comments, Gary. I was simply sharing my convictions on the topic and where they come from. This post was directed to the many families I know who give very little, often nothing, because they are undisciplined with their finances. These people are not Bible scholars, nor am I. I do agree that we are not commanded to tithe, and I apologize if my wording was confusing on that point. I have edited a small portion of the post to hopefully make that clear. I do believe it’s a good starting point, though. However, I respectfully disagree with some of your other points, namely whether or not Jesus, Paul, and Peter tithed. I have read the Gospels and they are silent on this matter. Maybe they did tithe, maybe they didn’t. (I’ve heard good arguments to point to the presumption that they would have tithed.) Regardless, we simply don’t know. I think it’s unwise to put it out there as a “fact” that they “did not tithe.”

14 02 2011
Gary Arnold

Unless Jesus, Paul, and/or Peter inherited the promised land, they could not have paid the Biblical tithe was had to come from crops and animals raised on the Holy land.

I am a Money & Finance Minister and teach the following:
The New Testament teaches generous, sacrificial giving, from the heart, according to our means. For some, $1 might be a sacrifice, while for others, even giving 50% of their income might not induce a sacrifice. In the Old Testament, ONLY the farmers tithed, and it was equal percentage (a tenth). The New Testament teaches the principle of equal sacrifice instead of equal percentage. Equal sacrifice is much harder to achieve, if not impossible, than giving ten percent.

Over all, I do think your blog is on the right track and I do agree with most all of it, if that even matters. But I do believe that proportional giving has nothing to do with a flat percentage giving. Proportional giving should be more like the progressive income tax where the higher the income, the higher the percentage.

15 02 2011

I welcome your comments, Gary. They have caused to me examine scripture, and I always appreciate anything that has that affect. However, I still disagree with your “only farmers tithed” idea.

Also, scripture does not expressly say whether or not Jesus and his disciples tithe. We can make all sorts of presumptions, but to claim either they did or did not as a “fact” when we simply don’t know, is dangerous.

I stand by what I wrote. We will have to agree to disagree on this one.

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