When I give weekly offerings of ten percent, should I be giving ten percent of my gross earned income or ten percent of my net earned income (after taxes)? I truly am not sure.
James F. Pope
Your question affords the opportunity to review the instructions God once gave his people in Old Testament times and to see what guidance God gives his children today in how they can honor him with their wealth (Proverbs 3:9).
Through the ceremonial laws, God regulated the everyday lives of Old Testament Israel with great detail. Among other things, the ceremonial laws addressed the people’s behavior when it came to worship, diet, and hygiene. Laws concerning the tithe, or giving ten percent of income, belonged to the ceremonial laws.
Today people like you and me can easily have a partial understanding of the Old Testament tithe. That is because the Old Testament speaks of more than one tithe. Perhaps the tithe that we recognize most was the one covering crops and cattle (Leviticus 27:30-32). This tithe supported God’s representatives in the church (Numbers 18:21). But there was more divine direction for his Old Testament people. There was a tithe for the benefit of God’s representatives in the government (1 Samuel 8:15). There also appeared to be a triennial tithe for the aid of the needy (Deuteronomy 14:28,29).
With these tithes in mind, Bible scholars and commentators speak of God directing his Old Testament followers to give back to him, in various ways, in the area of 23 percent of their income. This information puts your question of giving back ten percent of your income to God in a different perspective.
What is, of course, very different for you and me is that God’s directives for tithing are no longer in effect. The tearing of the temple curtain in Jerusalem on Good Friday (Matthew 27:51) served as a powerful visual aid that Jesus abolished all the ceremonial laws—including the commands to give tithes. Christians like you and me are exempt from the ceremonial laws. If people today demand that we follow those laws, such as insisting that we tithe, we need to assert our freedom (Colossians 2:16,17).
What we can certainly do is use the tithe as a pattern for our giving; I personally find that helpful. But remember, there were multiple tithes for God’s Old Testament people.
So, the choice is entirely yours if you wish to give back to God ten percent of your gross or net income. The “should” of your question can safely be eliminated.
With the abolishment of the commands to give tithes, God has not left his New Testament followers without any guidance regarding their giving. He provides general direction through his apostle: “On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income” (1 Corinthians 16:2). Those words encourage us to plan our offerings with a proportionate view toward our income. Essentially, our guidance for giving is to offer a percentage of our income. We have freedom to choose the percentage.
Recognition that our money belongs to God (Psalm 24:1; Haggai 2:8) and gratitude for our salvation (Romans 12:1) provide good reasons for proportionate giving that is generous and cheerful (2 Corinthians 9:7). God bless such management of his blessings!
Contributing editor James Pope, professor at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minnesota, is a member at St. John, New Ulm.
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Author: James F. Pope
Volume 104, Number 6
Issue: June 2017
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