As part of SMI's mission, we want to help you have more so you can give more. This assumes you're already giving on one level, and we want to help you move up to a higher level. As you strengthen your financial foundation, you will be in a better position to do that.
It's common for Christians to hear that they should "tithe," which literally means to give a tenth. That sounds a little ambitious to many new Christians, so they often begin their giving at more modest levels. Unfortunately, too many stay there. Studies have shown for years that the average American church-goer gives roughly 3% of his or her income annually.
For those who set the tithe as the benchmark for an appropriate level of giving, this news is an annual disappointment. But in my experience, you'll always be disappointed in the results whenever you challenge Christians beyond their level of maturity. This is true whether you're talking about a person's prayer life, willingness to share their faith, interest in Bible study…or giving.
So, rather than berate those whose giving seems meager, I suggest trying to help them mature in the area of managing their finances and their stewardship. They need encouragement in getting their financial houses in order, and also in seeing their Father in heaven as One who has promised — and can be trusted — to meet all their needs.
Giving at the level of the tithe is a worthy goal, one that — in my view — every follower of Christ should aspire to as a minimum. But focusing on the tithe raises a few questions.
- Is giving at the 10% level the same as the tithe in the Old Testament?
Actually, anyone trying to follow the OT model would need to give at a much higher level. The Law required three tithes: one annually for the support of the Levites (the priesthood), a second annually to pay for the various religious feasts, and a third tithe every three years to help the poor. If you add them all up, it averages about 23% each year.
It's noteworthy that this giving was mandatory, and was used essentially to support the Jewish forms of worship and governance. That's obviously different than your pastor encouraging you to give a tithe of 10%. Such giving is voluntary, and it's only one tithe (thankfully, you may say!) rather than three.
- Is the tithe binding on Christians today?
I know this is a common debate, but it seems to me it puts the spotlight in the wrong place. It leads to a discussion of "What is the minimum I should give?" rather than "How can I have an undivided heart?" and "How can I magnify His glory through my life?"
We all understand, don't we, that God doesn't need our money? (See 1 Chronicles 29:10-13 and Psalm 50:8-12.) So why would He find pleasure in a gift that was given grudgingly? He doesn't. On the contrary, "Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver" (2 Corinthians 9:7).
This verse suggests to me our Father would take pleasure in our giving at a 3% level if done gladly and willingly, but that He would not take pleasure in someone giving at a 10% level that was done "reluctantly or under compulsion." I don't say this to encourage meager giving but rather to help us see things from God's perspective. He wants giving that's cheerful. The root problem is not that a 3% level of giving is too low; it's that our hearts aren't larger toward the things on God's heart, and as a result we're satisfied to express our love and gratitude to Him in such a restrained way.
We should, therefore, pray. And give God permission to do whatever is needed in our lives to work a change in our hearts so that, more than the things of this life, we want more of Him. What we pray for reveals our desires. If we desire for God to get all the glory possible from our lives, we should pray, among other things, that He makes us cheerfully generous people.
- Assuming one wants to tithe, how is the correct amount calculated?
This leads to many common questions.
"Do I give based on my gross or net income?" My answer is which do you want to give on?
"I receive benefits at work such as health insurance that's worth many thousands. Should I tithe on that?" My answer is do you want to?
"How do I treat my capital gains and losses?" My answer is how do you want to handle them?
"Should I tithe on gifts and inheritances?" My answer is do you want to?
I don't want to lay down rules on these questions because (1) the Scriptures don't, and (2) rules cultivate a "what am I required to give" attitude rather than one of giving with gladness. So for each of those questions and others that may occur to you, my advice is to examine your heart, pray for God's direction and peace, and do what you believe He would have you do. Cheerfully.
As you strengthen your financial foundation, you should be willing, even eager, to increase your giving each year. If you're already giving generously, I appreciate you! If not, I'm trying to encourage you to move decisively in that direction. Under His Spirit's direction, you can increasingly become the kind of cheerful and grateful giver that delights the Father's heart.
He's always been faithful to you. By your generosity, you can be increasingly true to Him.