The Challenge of Answering Technical Tithe Questions

Print Friendly

I get technical tithe questions and I want to take a moment and explain to you why I’m not very good at answering them.

Here at MH4C, I like to focus on generous giving, and I think that is best portrayed through something called proportionate giving.  I’m not sure I’d say that I’m anti-tithe (some people turn red in the face as soon as they hear that word – I don’t).  I certainly have no problem with people who give 10% to the church, yet I don’t feel comfortable with the legal understanding of the tithe.

I’m not sure how detailed and technical God is willing to get with his conditions for giving.

Imagine I wanted to give my wife the best birthday present ever.  (If you hear snickers in the background, that is because I’m a horrible gift giver). 

Let’s say I decided to ask her what she wanted and she said she wanted a book by a particular author. She gives me a list of the books she has read by that author.

I head out on the hunt, and I realize that there are so many books by that author.  There are more than twenty books. 

“Could you just tell me which book you want?  There are so many choices.”  My wife sighs and tells me which of the books she’s most interested in.

I finally decide on the book and then I come to realize there are two cover styles – one with a nature picture and another with a family in a house.

“Honey, could you tell me which cover you would prefer to have?”  My wife sighs and tells me to just make a choice.

Getting Bogged Down With the Technical

The reason I have difficulty answering some technical tithe questions is because I think giving is more of a relational activity than a legal one.

What is a Legal Activity & Legal Giving?

If I had a court order not to go visit someone, I would need to ask permission from the judge if I was going to go somewhere that might be a violation of the judge’s decision. 

Thus, a legal activity means there are stipulations, boundaries, and conditions.

Most tithing questions come from this perspective.

  • Should I tithe from my gross or net income?
  • Can I use part of my tithe to help my dad who is sick in the hospital?
  • Should I tithe on my business income the same way as my personal income?
  • What about an inheritance? Should I tithe on that?
  • Should I give all my tithe to the local church?
  • Should I tithe if I’m in debt?

Please understand.  I’m not trying to judge or condemn anyone who has asked any of these questions.  However, I’m simply trying to point out that these questions do tend to lean towards a more legal understanding of giving.  They mean you believe the gift will or won’t be acceptable based on number, percentage, or compliance to certain regulations.

We do have biblical principles to help us answer those questions, but perhaps the answer would become more clear if we focused on a more relational form of giving.  What people need is help with discernment.  Discernment is hard and legal is easy.  Legal answers mean that there are no exceptions; you simply do what you’re told.  Discernment means there might be times when another approach is appropriate.

As an example, take my answer to the question – should I tithe if I’m in debt?

I don’t approach that question from a legal standpoint.  I approach it from the standpoint of spiritual health.  I pray that my answer is informed by the question, What honors God, not just the question, What does God require?

What is a Relational Activity & Relational Giving?

Relational giving means you give in response to your relationship.

In the illustration I give about my wife’s gift, I found that my wife would have accepted any gift if she knew that’s what I bought because I really wanted to show my love for her.  Part of the gift is the desire to give what’s best.

There’s a story in John 14 where a woman pours perfume on Jesus.  There are a lot of technical reasons why that was a bad idea.  The disciples, in fact, point out that the money could have been given to the poor.

Perhaps the woman made a technical error (and perhaps she didn’t).  However, she was doing something to honor Jesus, and he looks right past her potential oversight and accepts her gift because of the heart that motivated her gift.

As an example, I believe that it is a healthy practice for Christians to give to the local church.  However, I don’t give all of my giving money to the local church.  While you may or may not understand this, I feel like it would be inappropriate for me to give a full 10% to my local church.  My 10% monthly contribution would literally double the church’s monthly contribution.  As a result, others would not be challenged to give if the local needs (and more) were always provided.  I want to avoid dependence of the church on my gift.

From a legal standpoint, my actions are not excusable.  However, from a relational standpoint, my actions (I believe) are justified.

Relational giving recognizes that there are exceptions to every rule.  And God can be pleased with those exceptions.  Thus, relational givers discern the will of God in the midst of complex situations.


I guess all I’m saying is this: I’m not sure how much God is concerned about all the technicalities of giving.  Sometimes (not always) the technicalities show we’re trying to do the minimum to please God.  We think his approval of our gift will be based on what we give, not how we give it.

Remember, giving is not an act of justification.  We are not justified through our giving.  However, giving is an act of the sanctified.  We are not saved by good works, but we are saved for good works. 

For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:10 NIV)

We give because HE gave first.



  1. says

    I think that’s an excellent way of explaining the problems with getting caught up in how to give “just right”, Craig. Your example of giving a gift to your wife is helpful for seeing why asking all these technical questions really takes away the relational component of giving to God.

    I think you’re getting to the heart of why Jesus criticized the Pharisees so much. Their concern with following the Law was not so much motivated by love for God and others as much as making sure it was just right and that they appeared holy to other people. I’m learning more and more that really following Jesus and loving people like He taught us to might actually make people think we’re quite “unholy” or “unchristian” because it doesn’t fit in their conception of right and wrong. And that’s why so many rejected Jesus – His teachings just didn’t fit with the way they saw the world and they weren’t willing to repent and be transformed.

    • says

      Sometimes our paranoia about technicalities does show that we need to revisit the nature of our relationship. There will, of course, always be a time and place for technical questions as God does have standards and requirements for Christian living. I do a agree with you that giving is not one of those areas.

      • says

        Well, I wouldn’t say that giving is not an area where God has standards. It’s more that His standards for Christian giving are not technical in nature. Jesus showed us that God is more concerned about our heart than rules. Are we giving because of love or to be seen by others? Are we giving generously? Are we giving sacrificially? Are we giving joyously? There’s no way to define those with technicalities because it will differ for each situation, BUT they are still general guidelines that can be discussed and measured to some extent.

        This is why I think it’s dangerous to assume that living it up just because “you earned it” is acceptable for Christians. I can’t say exactly what a wealthy Christian’s finances should look like, but I’m quite confident that Jesus was clear about opulence and extravagance not being the way of those who want to follow Him.

        • says

          Good call. Saying God does not have standards for giving is an incorrect statement. I agree that we can say they are not technical in nature. I.e. There’s not a set number or percentage that applies to all people in every setting.
          Thanks for the followup.

  2. says


    Thanks for opening up the question. For me the tithe is a duty I am happy to perform. 10% of my bi-weekly paycheck goes directly to my church automatically. I also like to give in other ways.. of my time, my talents, and of course other donations (offerings) to various causes and people. I tip generously and I feel like I bless others all the time.

    I really don’t concern myself with gross or net.. because it’s not the amount.. it’s the attitude. By giving this way… I’m reminded that I am to live my life for God and in His will, and He in turn, opens doors for me to work in His purposes. I love giving. There is so much Joy in giving of the heart. There isn’t joy, however, being burdened by technical questions regarding the amount or frequency in giving.

    To this I ask the giver – “how do you feel?” Does it feel good to give the amount you’re giving? Do you feel like you should give more? Do you feel like you should give less? Whatever the answer is that comes up in your heart is the right answer. Go with that and experience the joy of giving.


  3. says

    I believe that tithing was a part of the Law that Jesus fulfilled with his death and resurrection. Believing that giving 10% justifies one with the Father negates the sacrifice that Jesus made on the cross. The subject of tithing is not mentioned in the Bible following His resurrection. Even more compelling is 2 Cor 9:6 which says that “you must each decide in your heart how much to give” (NLT). That pretty much rules out a compulsory percentage. We should all give (and want to do so) – just not be hung up on a certain amount.

    • says

      Thanks for sharing.
      I don’t think there are many people who give to be justified (I hope I’m right). However, your right that giving is very personal and cannot be mandated.

  4. Jason says

    What about giving to earn eternal rewards. Is that a biblical motivation? I believe it is based upon scriptures like Matthew 6:20 where Jesus tells us (you might even say commands us) to “store up for yourselves treasures”. He knows our heart will follow that. However, this seems to be a somewhat offensive concept to some in the church as it seems to be viewed as a selfish motivation. I see it as what is in our best interest (eternal rewards vs. earthly rewards) as well as what has the greatest impact on the Kingdom of God. Eternal rewards seem like the ultimate delayed gratification, and I’ve found that God also provides earthly peace/joy (inward not circumstantial) as we follow this command. If I really get that concept (not claiming I do, but I’m starting to see it clearer), I would think I would be doing everthing possible to give as much as possible to Kingdom purposes, which would be well above any 10% requirement. Enjoyed the post Craig!

    • says

      You’re right that there is definitely a biblical theme of giving for an eternal reward. That is a topic I’d love to explore more fully in a future post.

      • Jason says

        That’d be great!

        BTY, my comment should have said “store up for yourselves treasures IN HEAVEN”, which most probably figured out:).

  5. Lance says

    I wish my wife had the same feelings about giving the way you all do. My wife wants to give 10% of the income not matter what! But you need to understand that we don’t have much money and she rather not eat or bounce rent cheques than give up the 10%. She is so obseesed about it. I have talk to many pastors and friends and she think they are all wrong and she is right. She even open up seperate accounts to deposit her income so that it the monies will be their for the church. It seems there is no hope for her to really understand about giving. It all has to deal with the fact that scripture in malachi and what a tithe is. Any thoughts!

  6. says


    From a money perspective… you may be right. I don’t believe that God would want you to bounce rent checks and sacrifice your house in order to tithe.

    From a marriage perspective… I don’t think it’s wise to try to change her or “convince” her that her view on things are wrong. In fact… she’s done the best thing for you by opening up her own account so that SHE can do what she feels is right between her and God.

    Now.. if she insists that YOU pay 10% of your income like she does… then you’d have a problem. You would want to then let her know that you have YOUR way of giving… and she has HER way of giving.

    Now… I AM a 10%-er. My wife and I give automatically and systematically. I am still very happy to do it and God is blessing and prospering us each year. This year, we gave more than the last 2 years combined. We are living just fine without that 10% and our savings and investing is still growing.

    The way I see it… you should give the way you want to give… and let her give the way SHE wants to give…

    Do you want to be “right” or “married”?

    By the way… God provides solutions to your problems without you giving up your tithes… look for those opportunities and make this a non-issue.

  7. Lance says

    It seems that the best way is to find other opportunites to bring more money….which I am working currently, but it isn’t the tithe issue it is the: a) The amount which we cannot afford, b) her being dishonest by open up bank account and not tell me; c) Her attitude about bounce cheques and not really caring about if we pay our rent or not. She feels that God will provide by a magical cheque every month to cover everthing!

    I also want to point out that to give and be joyous about giving is great, but to give to get back isn’t really giving! My wife has this attitude thinking if we give our 10% he will give us something back. I believe giving comes from your heart and because you want give not because we should or have to give or we will get something in return. I find many christians get so hung up on the “getting back part” they forget what true meaning of giving is because they believe in “prosperity teaching” so much; which has be preached by Benny Hin, Joyce Myers and many others. Benny Hin, Joyce Myers are or have been under investigation by the US Goverment for mis-handling of funds…etc.

    • says

      It’s difficult to know the wisest thing to say in a situation like this. Honestly, the biggest need is for the two of you to sit down with a counselor and talk through this together.
      Obviously, it is very important for her to give 10%. The further you go to respect that the great blessing it will be. However, she does need to know if she wants to give 10% she MUST sacrifice in other areas of expenses. You cannot give 10% and bounce checks. That absolutely does not honor God. Explore ways where she can give in a way where she feels good and where you don’t feel like your household is financially threatened.
      I agree that the idea of setting up a private account is not health in marriage.
      Focus on exploring options that open up the lines of communication.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *