Must Christians Tithe?

In a word, “no”, but qualifications to follow!

“Tithe” means “tenth,” and it was the portion of crops and livestock God commanded the Israelites to give to the Levites to support their labors at the tabernacle/temple (Lev. 27:30 – 33; Nu. 18:20 – 24). Being bound up with the entire Levitical priesthood, an old covenant institution made obsolete with the coming of Christ and the new covenant (Heb. 8:13), in my view the commandment to tithe does not directly apply to Christians.

Of course God could have continued the tithe as a new covenant requirement. However, the New Testament never lays down such a law. We might expect a clear command for Christians to tithe especially in a passage like 2 Corinthians 8 – 9, in which Paul instructs the Corinthians on giving to the church. Though he encourages generous giving (8:7), he doesn’t mention 10% as the rule for their offerings. Especially since he was writing to at least some Gentile believers who might be unaware of this Old Testament standard, it’s significant that Paul doesn’t instruct or remind them of the need to give a tithe. Rather, his standard of giving is non-numerical: generous and joyful (8:7; 9:7).

I realize some Christians do believe the tithe applies to believers today. R.C. Sproul defends this view here. I also understand some people will use the abrogation of the tithe commandment to justify their woeful lack of giving. Nevertheless I am persuaded that the coming of Christ has effectively abrogated the strict ten percent law for God’s people. (Out of custom we do refer to the offerings during our worship service as “Tithes and Offerings”).

But now the qualifications! Though I believe Christians are not strictly bound to give a tithe of their income to the church as Israel was commanded to tithe, God certainly wills that Christians should give robustly to the work of Christ’s Kingdom. Our giving should be regular (1 Cor. 16:2). We should give sacrificially (Luke 21:4; 2 Cor. 8:2, 3). If your giving to the church does not require you to curtail some of your consumption, or if it does not crimp your lifestyle at least a little, it’s not sacrificial giving. Our giving should also be done in a spirit of joy and gratitude: “God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor. 9:7). God is not a celestial IRS to whom giving is a grim duty! Rather, we should rejoice in the privilege of taking part in Christ’s work by contributing to it our resources (which after all, are a gift from God).

The ultimate standard for giving is not a percentage but the greatest offering ever made: Jesus Christ, who was rich beyond measure, making himself poor for our sake that we might be rich in him (2 Cor. 8:9). This is the key to your giving as a Christian. Out of gratitude and joy for the riches of God’s mercy he has poured out on you in saving you from sin and death and giving you eternal life, you seek to devote as much as you can of your resources (and time!) to the advancement of the gospel on earth. The best place to ask how much you should give is not in front of your checkbook staring at your balance, but at the foot of the cross, beholding the generosity and grace of such a Savior.

Of course everyone’s circumstances vary. Some Christians may have perfectly good reasons why they can’t give a tithe of their income (lost job, unexpected expenses, etc). But I daresay most believers could give at least 10 percent. I’ve read that on average Christians give between 2 to 3 percent of their income to the church. Surely that does not meet the biblical standard of generous and joyful giving!

I do believe ten percent is a good rule of thumb for Christian giving. But why not give more if you reasonably can? Scripture says, “… whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully” (1 Cor. 9:6).

Pastor Scott