What percentage of your income do you give away? And does it matter?
For many Christians, the concept of giving starts (and often ends) with a tithe. Church members are often instructed, or perhaps encouraged, to tithe. That’s been the standard for years in the church—give 10% of your income. Of course, it’s a standard that relatively few givers adhere to. More on that later.
For those who take the tithe seriously, you’ll often hear the question of whether that 10% should be of one’s gross income or net income.
You might be surprised at what you find about the tithe in the Bible.
The first time we see a tithe paid is when Abram gives 10% of the spoils of battle to the priest Melchizedek in Genesis 14.18-20. But the idea of a tithe continues to be fleshed out as Moses gives the law to the nation of Israel.
In fact, there are three tithes:
- The Levitical Tithe (Number 18.21-24), which was a tithe to help support the priests;
- The Tithe of the Feasts (Deuteronomy 14.22-27), which was an annual tithe recognizing God’s blessing; and
- The Tithe for the Poor (Deuteronomy 14.28-29), which was a tithe for the poor every three years.
If you add all those up, the percentage would be 23.33% a year. Do you know anyone who tithes at 23.33% per year?
Offerings on top of tithes
But wait, there’s more. What’s amazing is that on top of the tithes, there were also voluntary offerings that were part of worship in the tabernacle (and later, the temple). There were at least five different offerings, including the Burnt Offering, the Grain Offering, the Peace Offering, the Purification Offering, and the Reparation Offering. These were voluntary offerings and represented personal sacrifice and worship all at the same time.
Some of those offerings required, for instance, the sacrifice of a firstborn lamb. And let’s face it, if you were a shepherd that would not have been easy to do. But those offerings were designed to be the reflection of gratitude and of dependence on God.
Let me pause. I’m not trying to drive to a result here. I’m merely raising questions. You likely know that most Americans, Christian or not, don’t give 10% of their income. On average, most Americans give something just north of 2% of their income each year.
Despite the 10% standard taught in the church, the government actually allows a far more generous standard. You can actually deduct up to 60% of your income each year. Of that 60%, you can actually deduct up to 30% of your income using noncash assets.
In the New Testament, Jesus didn’t offer such formulas. He told the rich young ruler to sell all that he had and give it to the poor. Zacchaeus, after repenting, told Jesus that he’d make restitution and give half. By his own example, Jesus, wherever he went, whatever he did, always seemed to be giving, healing, teaching. His message: give as you’ve been blessed.
I’ve heard it said that your checkbook register, even your electronic one, is a reflection of what you value. How we spend our money and time are true reflections of what we consider most valuable.
So I’m not opposed to the idea of giving as a percentage of income, as it allows us some opportunity for accountability in this area of our lives.
How do you measure your own generosity?
Photo by Fritz Benning on Unsplash
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Published March 6, 2020