Three weeks ago, I wrote that the tithe was not just an Old Testament law but a modern day principle applicable to all Christians. In this post, I'll answer some practical questions about tithing and how the principle is applied today.
Does my whole tithe have to go to the local church?
In Malachi 3:10 we are told to bring the whole tithe into the storehouse. Using Old Testament principles to establish the meaning of the modern storehouse, the storehouse today should do the following: 1) provide for the pastors and staff of the church, 2) support missionaries and evangelists, 3) feed the needy people in the church, and 4) feed the needy outside the church. (In the Old Testament, a special "extra tithe" was taken every third year to accomplish goal #4.) As long as the church accepts the responsibility of being a storehouse, the whole tithe should go to it.
Should I tithe on my gross or net income?
Proverbs 3:9-10 says "honor the Lord with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops; then your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine." In my opinion, these verses make it abundantly clear that the tithe should be on the gross income (firstfruits) for an individual. For a Christian business, the tithe should be on the net income as the business' net income is the gross income for the individual who owns it. Remember, the tithe is a symbol of our thanks to Christ and our allegiance to Him before everything else. As such, our tithe should go to Him before all else as well.
But my tithe isn't very much. Does it really make a difference?
"For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what he does not have." (2 Corinthians 8:12). You have to remember that the tithe is not your contribution to God's income, but a symbol of your love for Him. He doesn't need the money -- He owns the whole world (Psalm 24:1-2). What he does want is a heart-attitude that shows love towards Him and recognition of His lordship in our lives. This is best demonstrated in Mark 12:43-44 (also in Luke 21:3-4) where the poor widow gave all she had to God. Christ said about her, "I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything--all she had to live on." That's the correct attitude -- the amount does not matter.
Should I give more than my tithe?
There are plenty of scriptural references to offerings. Offerings are the amounts we give above our tithes for special needs of others, to support a church project or outside ministry, or just to give to whatever needs exist, maybe even unknown to us, through the guidance and urging of the Holy Spirit. I believe Psalm 50:14-15 says it best: "Sacrifice thank offerings to God, fulfill your vows to the Most High, and call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will honor me."
Are you saved if you do not tithe?
This is a tough one as no person knows when another person is saved, but I will address it with the best understanding the Lord has given me. The tithe, and finances in general, are not measures of salvation, spirituality, or favor with God. Finances (including the tithe) are an outside indicator of what is spiritually going on inside of a person. If a person has not surrendered their finances to God and cannot trust Him with their money, then how can they sacrifice their lives for Him and trust Him with their eternal salvation? The way a person handles their finances does reflect what they believe about Christ and how committed they are to Him and His teachings.
As far as salvation, I believe you can be saved and not tithe. When a person accepts Christ, he does so by faith and receives immediate salvation. He does not yet tithe (he probably doesn't know what it is), has not been baptized, and is unfamiliar with prayer -- nevertheless, he is saved. He will learn about these things later as the Holy Spirit leads him closer to the likeness of Christ. Therefore, I believe you can be saved and not tithe.
However, I have two qualifications. First, if you have been a Christian for a period of time (say a year or longer), and do not tithe, I would say this is an indication that your walk with Christ is not all it should/can be. Remember, your finances are an outside indicator of your inside spiritual condition. I suggest you ask the Holy Spirit to confirm this in your life. Second, just because you do tithe does not mean that you are saved. Many "Christians" hold on to legalistic habits, including tithing, as a way to "earn" their salvation. These people are not saved as we are only saved by the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ.