I am starting a new series called “What it is, what it isn’t” where I will take any given topic and list a few items describing what that topic is and isn’t. Hopefully this will be both informative and fun.
What It Is:
- a word that specifically means a one-tenth part of something, typically income.
- a word used to describe the amount of income given to a local church, regardless of whether or not the contribution is actually ten percent.
- a sacrificial contribution that is given cheerfully for what God has done in Jesus Christ.
- the duty of every Christian.
- the premise on which the promise of Philippians 4:19 stands.
What It Isn’t:
- a donation to a special fund, purchasing food for the church kitchen, sponsoring a youth for camp, contributing to a specific ministry, or supporting a missionary. As wonderful as those things are, they aren’t a tithe. In other words, when a Christian says, “I’ll just let this be my tithe” in reference to giving money to something, it almost never is.
- a binding Old Covenant law for New Covenant Christians. Remember, we are no longer under the law, but are under grace. The issue is no longer about a rigid one-tenth percentage of our income, but is rather about our gracious, loving, and sacrificial gift. For many American Christians, one-tenth is not nearly enough.
- Optional. Excuses abound (sometimes very good ones) for why Sister Smith and Brother Jones can’t tithe in their current situation. Debt, family issues, health, and vacation all are common excuses. My hunch is that Christ had much better excuses as to why he shouldn’t have willingly gone to the cross.
- Easy. Most of the important spiritual disciplines are rather difficult. Consistent, sacrificial giving to the church is certainly among them.
In summary, there are some who suggest we stop using the language of “tithe” in our churches because it evokes the essence of the OT law, a burden we are no longer under as New Covenant Christians. As noble of a pursuit as this might be, it would be futile and unnecessary. The word “tithe” is still a fine word to use so long as we teach our people what it means today for Christians. The NT makes clear that giving is not optional. The nature of that giving is paramount, not merely a 10 percent box to check on a list of mandated duties, but rather a deep probing into our hearts for what is sacrificial in both the way we spend and the way we give.