The Tithe Within Christian Giving

By: Dr. Gregory S. Neal

Giving is an exceedingly important component of the Christian’s spiritual life. To be blunt, Christians must be givers; if the spirit of Christ resides in you, you will be a giver – you can’t avoid giving any more than you can avoid breathing. Giving is a means of grace through which God’s unmerited favor is conveyed to the believer. In short, giving is an act of faith which flows from us as an expression of God’s grace.

Some Christians will oppose the practice of tithing, claiming that it is a part of the Law; they rightly recognize that the Law ended with Christ (Romans 10:4). Jesus is the completion of the Law, the culmination of the Law, the Perfect Man to whom the Law pointed. From the Law we learn God’s standard of righteousness, how far we fall short of that standard, and how much we are in need of God’s grace. While we are not made righteous, nor are we saved, by keeping the Law, its role as the "school master" (Galatians 3:24) must not be undervalued ... especially not given that this is precisely where the validity of the tithe as a component of the Law is seated. To put this simply, the tithe serves as a guiding limitation on our giving. "How," you ask? Simply put, Christian giving should be:

  • "Cheerful" as an expression of the Holy Spirit.
  • An indispensable component of faithful life
  • A Sacrificial expression of thanksgiving for all that we have received.
  • "Methodical," in that one’s regular giving should be done according to a plan, or a schedule, or in a consistent way, not haphazardly or inconsistently. (2 Corithians 8 & 9, 1 Corthinans 16:2; Galatians 6:6-10; Philippians 4:15-19; Mark 12:43; Acts 5)
When considering these characteristics it is clear that when a Christian is truly alive in the Spirit and motivated by God’s grace to give, the tendency will be to give beyond any need that the Church might have. This was a serious issue in the 1st Century Jerusalem Church and, based upon what can be gleaned from Paul’s writings concerning the character and generosity of many New Testament Christians, we can surmise that "over-giving" was a tendency elsewhere. In response, the Biblical tithes can actually be understood as a limiting guideline on the giving of Christians. Far from being a demand for a minimum amount, tithing can more rightly be understood – relative to the above characteristics – as setting a pattern of guidance to ensure that Christians do not give too much ... that temporal needs are also met and proper provision is made for other family needs.

Critics of the tithe are correct in that, as a component of the Law of Moses, the tithing regulations are no longer in effect. We are not made righteous by keeping the law but by faith in Jesus Christ. Giving is an act of faith, and as such it will be part of our faith-action which is then accounted to us as righteousness; it’s not a matter of "do this in order to be saved" but, rather, "the saved, empowered by God's grace, deeply desire do this." In short, the saved are givers.

Thus far I haven’t directly addressed the fact that tithing pre-existed the Law. Just because tithing got adopted into the Mosaic covenant does not mean that it no longer has a place in the active life of faith as a means of grace. Just as faith pre-existed the law, being seated in Abraham’s response to God’s promise that he and Sarah would have children "like the stars of the heavens and the sand by the seashore," so also tithing is seated in Abraham’s faith. To make the argument as simple as possible: If the covenant of Moses didn’t abrogate the covenant of Abraham – and it didn’t (see Galatians 3:17) – it also didn’t abrogate Abraham’s faith-action of tithing as a response to God’s grace and as a instrument for receiving further measures of that grace. We see this illustrated in Abraham’s paying tithe to Melchizedek (Genesis 14:20b & Hebrews 7:1-3), which pre-dated the Law and is referenced in direct relation to faith within the New Testament.

I believe that tithing is both an expression of the schoolmaster-function of the Law and a means of grace when exercised as faith-action. As a component of the Law, it teaches us that we are not to give all of our possessions, all of our "good things," all of our money and resources, but that a set amount is sufficient. One may, of course, go beyond this set amount as offerings of thanksgiving, sweet savor, first fruits, and such, but the consistent pattern of giving is based on a set amount as a portion of one's income. As an act of faith, it connects us to God’s grace and, in conjunction with all the other means of grace, it furthers God’s act of sanctification within us.

When we tithe we are returning to God that which is already his. Jesus died for us – we are God's possession – but God graciously gives back to us 90% of ourselves. How can we withhold that 10% of not only our money, but also our prayers, presence, service, and witness? Some might think that they can’t afford to tithe, but in truth none of us can really afford to not tithe. The blessings of God’s grace, which are promised to us when we act in faith, are just too precious to ignore.

© 2005, Dr. Gregory S. Neal
All Rights Reserved

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The Reverend Dr. Gregory S. Neal is the Senior Pastor of the First United Methodist Church in Commerce, Texas, and an ordained Elder in the North Texas Conference of The United Methodist Church. A graduate of Southern Methodist University, Duke University, and Trinity College, Dr. Neal is a scholar of Systematic Theology, New Testament origins, and Biblical Languages. His areas of specialization include the Theology of the Sacraments, in which he did his doctoral dissertation, and the formation and early transmission of the New Testament. Trained as a Christian educator, he has taught classes in these and related fields while also serving for more than 25 years as the pastor of United Methodist churches in North Texas.

As a popular teacher, preacher, and retreat leader, Dr. Neal is known for his ability to translate complex theological concepts into common, everyday terms. HIs preaching and teaching ministry is in demand around the world, and much of his work can be found on this website. He is the author of several books, including
Grace Upon Grace: Sacramental Theology and the Christian Life, which is in its second edition, and Seeking the Shepherd's Arms: Reflections from the Pastoral Side of Life, a work of devotional literature. Both of these books are currently available from Amazon.com.