What It Means to Tithe

By: G. Ernest Thomas

A decision to tithe immediately suggests a number of practical problems. For example: What constitutes a tithe? Upon what basis is the tithe figured? Is gross income or net income the right figure to use in deciding
what to give? Can taxes reasonably be deducted from total income before taking out the tithe? How should a Christian divide his tithe? Is the total amount to be used for the support of the Church at home and abroad? Or can other charitable causes be included?

Such questions are raised in every group of Christians which includes those who have made a decision to tithe. Generally speaking, every individual must, by prayerful thought, seek for himself the answer to his questions.

An earnest desire to recognize partnership with God by the practice of tithing will result in divine guidance sufficient to resolve most of the problems. The person who is legalistic in his approach will lose much of
the joy which so often follows a decision to tithe.

Yet certain principles are worthy of consideration. They row out of the shared experience of those who have tested tithing as a method of acknowledgment, and who have found it a full and satisfying approach to
Christian duty.

Let us consider the matter of the income upon which a Christian may be expected to figure his tithe. Many questions arise out of a sincere desire to be fair with God in recognizing His goodness, but sometimes the
questions grow out of an understandable though selfish desire to avoid the payment of more than is necessary.

A certain pastor suggested a good answer to such questions when he replied to a query as follows: “Suppose God were to change the plan for one year and, instead of asking for a tenth, were to give you an extra ten percent based upon the income which you received last year. What figure would you suggest to Him to describe your income? That is the amount upon which you can reasonably be expected to tithe.” No individual would encounter difficulties if he had that point of view when he came to decide what figure represented his income.

The worker who receives a pay envelope each week has a simple way to arrive at his tithe. He merely takes ten percent from the total which comes to him and sets that aside as the acknowledgment of his gratitude for God’s blessings.

Men in business or professional life who have no steady income encounter a more difficult problem. The simplest approach is for the tither to set aside ten percent of every amount which he transfers to his personal credit from his business or professional account.

Sometimes tithers inquire whether the tenth which they propose to give should be figured after their personal income taxes have been paid. No definite rule can be suggested. It is probable that, in many cases, such a conclusion is justifiable. Certainly the salaried person who takes ten percent from his monthly or weekly pay envelope is basing his tenth upon a figure from which withholding taxes have been removed. It should be no less fair for the merchant or doctor to follow the same procedure.

A milk dealer asked for guidance in deciding how he might figure the amount of his tithe. He explained that his margin of profit is small, and several times there has been a year which ended with a deficit. He said that a tithe his profits would not be enough to pay what he felt was his share of the support of his church. I inquired whether he had a weekly allowance from his business which could be regarded as income. He explained that his household and business expenses were in one account and were handled by a bookkeeper. I admitted that he had a problem, and suggested that I could not offer a legalistic solution to the matter. “You have decided to begin tithing,” I concluded. “Estimate what your personal and household expenses are, and use that as a basis to set aside the tithe.”

The farmer has a special problem when he joins the tithing fellowship. His income in cash is often comparatively small. He has large expenses for replacement of machinery or for livestock. Manifestly it is not possible for him to give ten percent of every dollar which he receives as payment for his produce. He must figure the amount which he uses for his personal and household needs, and set aside his tenth from that total.

The farmer, merchant, physician, lawyer, and other professional or businessmen often decide that their tithe is ten percent of the total net income which is left after they have deducted their income taxes. Such a
conclusion may seem a reasonable and practical approach to the problem.

Retired people or widows who are living on a small pension, or upon income from invested funds, often desire to tithe. Sometimes their total income is hardly enough to cover living expenses. To set aside a tithe would, in many cases, not leave enough to pay for the minimum cost of upkeep. In such instances the person may conceivably be justified in taking the tithe from that which is left after paying the sum necessary for sustenance. But it is important that the amount, however small, be set aside as a specific
acknowledgment of God’s goodness. Further than that, the persons who are living on the interest from invested funds could tithe by making a will to designate at least ten percent of their estate to go to Christian causes.

In deciding the amount of his giving the tither should endeavor to be as fair with God as he expects the Heavenly Father to be with him. It is better not to begin tithing as a regular practice if the individual funds
it necessary to argue with himself or with others in order to avoid the obligation which he honestly feels he owes to God. Unless the money is set aside gladly, the satisfactions which so often come to the tither will be

Separate Unto the Lord

It is an important factor in tithing to keep a separate account, or a special box or receptable to hold the tithe, The tithe is easily lost if it becomes merely one more bill which must be paid regularly out of a
pocketbook or a checking account. If it is not lost entirely, it tends to become a heavy burden which looks disproportionately large when the pressure of current bills is upon the individual. Such a difficulty is
avoided if the tithe is kept in a separate place where it becomes a recognized part of God’s treasure, the acknowledgment of the gratitude and devotion to God which is felt by the individual or the family.

Recently there has come to light a bank balance carried by Abraham Lincoln during the years while he was in the White House. It was named “the Hospital Account.” Mr. Lincoln paid his pledge to the Church out of that account. From it he drew amounts to aid emergency cases in hospitals, or to care for special entertainment for wounded victims of war. Mr. Lincoln did not endeavor to pay for those acts of charity out of his regular checking account. He used the special hospital fund for that purpose.

It is wise procedure for every tither to follow such a course. The tithe will have greater meaning if it is set apart from the rest of an individual’s budget. William E. Gladstone, one of the great prime ministers
of England, tithed his income regularly. He, like Mr. Lincoln, set aside a special account for that purpose. After advocating that the practice be started in childhood, he went on to say, “The greatest advantage of making a little fund of this kind is that when we are asked to give, the competition is not between self on the one hand and charity on the other, but between the different purposes of religion and charity with one
another, among which we ought to make the most careful choice. It is desirable that the fund thus devoted should not be less than one-tenth of our means; and it tends to bring a blessing on the rest.”

Mr. Gladstone suggested an important factor which should be considered in relation to tithing. The demands for assistance for needy causes, both within and without the Church, are often a source of tension for the individual. Each demand which is made for assistance results in a battle with his more generous nature. He speculates whether he can conceivably get by with a minimum amount as a gift, and still maintain his place in the community. Many people are troubled by continued tensions because of such
struggles with regard to their giving.

Tithing helps to avoid every such situation. If the tithe has been set aside in a separate account, the tither can weigh the varied requests, not by the amount of money he is expected to give, but by the amount which is available in the Lord’s account. He becomes a trustee of the acknowledged sum which he has set aside as his tithe. Instead of tension he feels release and satisfaction.

A minister who was temporarily incapacitated by illness was forced to resign from his pulpit. Eighteen months later he received a letter from a business acquaintance. The man said that he had been thinking of his pastor friend, and, knowing that his pastor was faced with mounting obligations arising from his illness, he was enclosing a check for two hundred and fifty dollars. He wrote: “In looking over my tithing account I find that the enclosed amount is available for your use. I can’t tell you what happiness it gives me to have it in God’s fund to share with you.”

Many tithers have similar experiences. Their regular custom of setting aside a tenth makes funds available which bring not only a release from the pressure of demands for needy causes, but a joyous experience in sharing.

Begin Early

Tithing ought to begin in childhood. If boys and girls have the example of their parents to encourage them the decision to tithe will not be a difficult one to make. Even if parents do not tithe, children readily
respond to the suggestion that God has given us so much that it is only right that we should set aside a portion of all we receive and bring it as an offering to the church, or use it to help those in need. This is one way of thanking God for His goodness.

The pattern of a lifetime can best be set by challenging a young person to begin tithing with the first money he earns.

An American financier now deceased, related the story of how he began the habit of tithing. He was one of four boys, about twelve years of age, who were received into the membership of the church. At the conclusion of the service the young pastor remarked to one of the leading officials, “Wasn’t it a great service this morning?”

“I didn’t see anything particularly great about the service,” the man replied. “To what do you refer?”

“Why, those four boys giving themselves to Jesus Christ and uniting with the Church,” the pastor replied.

“They did not add anything to the collection plate,” the man replied as he walked away.

This particular boy overheard the conversation between the minister and the church official. When he was able to talk to his pastor alone, he inquired what he would be expected to give for the support of the church. The pastor asked how much he was earning. He replied that his wage was $2.50 each week. The pastor then explained that every Christian is privileged to give at least one-tenth of his income to God in appreciation of His blessings. He suggested that the lad think of twenty-five cents a week as his
contribution to the church. The suggestion was gladly adopted and the boy began the life-long habit of setting aside at least one-tenth of this income for God’s work. When old, he declared that he never ceased to tithe. He felt that he had been helped personally more by tithing than by any other habit which he had observed throughout his life.

It is important to notice that this financier began tithing as a boy. Many of the men who tithe in this generation say that they, also, began the practice in their early youth.

Give Regularly

Tithing includes not only the putting aside of a specified amount, but also the idea of regularity in giving. Many Christians have never learned to give systematically. They follow no plan in facing their responsibility to the church and the community. Tithing means the regular setting aside of at least one-tenth of one’s income, and the systematic sharing of that sum with the church and its program.

Some people give if they are specifically asked for a contribution. Others give if they hear the church needs an extra amount to pay a deficit. Many such persons feel virtuous if they are enabled to pull the church out of what they think is “a hole.” They fail to consider that the deficit would not have been necessary if they, and others, had regularly contributed their share. Some people give if they like the minister, or if they approve of some phase of the program.

I was acquainted with a negligent Christian in a New England community who never failed to boast about how he helped to erect the church building. He had not attended for many years, and his contributions had been so small and so irregular that they had been of little help. Yet he often boasted that he had helped to build the church. I came to believe that he had given the major amount for the building. He had left such an impression with many people, but when the books came to light which told of the financing of the
church it was discovered that the man had contributed the magnificent total of $35.00! He had avoided his responsibilities to God and to the church for many years by the false assumption that, having made one gift, he should not be expected to pay any more during the rest of his life.

Because of his carelessness in giving, that man had lost the vital power which is available through faith. He actually thought he had given a magnificent sum, but his lack of system in sharing had distorted his
values. In blinding him to the true nature of sharing, it caused him to lose vast opportunities for joy in his religious experience.

The tither is one who sets aside a portion of his earnings regularly, and who gives systematically of that tithe to the work of God in the world.

How to Distribute the Tithe?

A further question must be faced here. What shall the tithe be used for? Is it all to be given to the church? Or can such enterprises as the Community Chest, Red Cross, and Boy and Girl Scouts be supported from the tithe? These are only a few of the pertinent, personal questions which are often raised in connection with the use of the tithe.

The answer to such questions must, after earnest prayer, be answered by the individual. If each Christian will regard his tithe as belonging to God, and if he will distribute the money in the light of the conviction that he is sharing God’s treasure, not his own, he will undoubtedly be led to make the right decisions.

Such a general statement concerning the problem of what to do with the tithe should be followed by several observations which need to be taken into consideration.

First, a large portion of the tithe will of necessity be given directly to the church as the foremost agent by which God’s work in the world is being accomplished. No specific amount can be named, but certainly a goodly share of all of the tenth should find its way into the treasury of the church, to be used at home and abroad.

Secondly, the Protestant idea of the Christian society should be kept in mind. In that concept all of life is held to be sacred. The area between the sacred and the secular is banished, and all of me is looked upon as
related directly to God, and within the scope of His will. With that principle in mind, the Christian does not endeavor to escape from the evils of society, but seeks to transform them. He holds that all of me must
conform finally to the will and purpose of God. It was out of that interpretation of God’s world that schools and hospitals were established; orphan homes and homes for the aged became a common and accepted part of the work of the church. Recreation and character-building activities for boys and girls were undertaken in the hope that youth might be led into useful and creative citizenship.

Such a responsibility for society makes the Community Chest and kindred organizations of vital interest to the Christian. Indeed, they are the arm of the church, endeavoring to do some of the work which the church has pledged itself to accomplish. Gifts to such organizations become a part of the duty of every faithful Christian, and may certainly be regarded as a proper place to use a portion of the tithe.

There should be no legalistic argument about this matter. If a Christian feels that his tithe ought to go entirely to the support of the church then let him keep faith with his personal convictions. No other course is open for him, and he will find joy as he follows the leading of the Holy Spirit. As God’s will comes to be understood and followed in our lives, we will receive a true blessing from laying all the tithe upon the altar, or using part of it for the work of helping and healing those who are in need.

A More Careful Steward

The important fact to keep in mind is that tithing is an acknowledgment of gratitude to God. When the tithe is set aside with regularity, and is distributed with a sense of sacred responsibility, great joy comes into the life of the tither. He feels his partnership with God in the work of the Kingdom. He finds release from the usual tensions of giving. The Christian life takes on a radiant hue which is often missed by those who do not know what it means to tithe.

Many tithers testify that something akin to a miracle happens to the nine-tenths which remain after the tithe is set aside. As one earnest Christian explained it, “When I began tithing the nine-tenths which remained seemed to go further than the ten-tenths which I formerly spent.” That is not strange. It means that setting aside the tithe made him a more careful steward of the rest of his income. It was blessed by God as it was put to more fruitful uses. The desires of a tither become refined, and his demands for material possessions become less numerous and insistent, and do not put such a strain upon his budget.

Looked upon as an acknowledgment of God’s continued goodness the tithe lays an urgent claim upon the loyalty of every follower of Jesus Christ. The Christian needs no reward for tithing beyond the satisfaction which he feels from doing what he considers to be his privilege and duty. But the tither comes to know that his giving brings more than that. It becomes a means of happiness in his daily living which cannot be measured or described, but which leads him to testify that tithing is a dependable road to a triumphant life.

(The above material was taken from the book Spiritual Life Through Tithing.)

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