I have heard this question many times over the years that I have been a Christian. However, the more important question is how do you decide how much to give and how much to spend on yourself.
Is the tithe all that we are asked to give? What about those who say that we are now free from the Law, so we are no longer under any obligation to tithe?
There are many aspects of Old Testament Law that we no longer follow. However, there are still important principles we can take from the Law to understand how God wants us to live. So what should be the guiding principles for our giving? Paul in his letter to the Corinthians commends the giving of the Macedonians:
“We want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity” (2 Corinthians 8:1-2, NIV).
He then goes on to talk about how we are to give cheerfully. “You must each decide in your heart how much to give. And don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure. For God loves a person who gives cheerfully. (2 Corinthians 9:7 NLT). The original Greek word for cheerful is hilarios, which is translated into the English word hilarious. We are to be hilarious givers.
Paul identifies that a priority for our giving should be to the church. He wrote to Timothy that “Elders who do their work well should be respected and paid well, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching.” (1 Timothy 5:17, NLT)
We can use the Bible as a book of law or as a book that helps us to get to know the author and his plan for his world. The principles in the Bible help to guide our life in many ways but we can load ourselves with a heavy burden if we revert to living life according to a set of rules.
A great sense of freedom and purpose comes when God’s Spirit guides our heart and mind. As we come closer to God we sense what he is passionate about.
Our giving should come from a heart of love for God and our desire to live according to his will and purpose.
The tithe is systematic, and the amount of the gift is easy to compute. The danger of the tithe is that it can be treated as simply another bill to be paid. By not having the correct attitude I do not put myself in a position to receive the blessings God has for me when I give.
Another potential danger of tithing is the assumption that once I have tithed, I have fulfilled all my obligations to give. For many Christians, the tithe should be the beginning of their giving, not the limit.
If you want to become more generous with your giving, where should you start?
- First, commit to spending more time reading the Bible. Find a good study resource to help you make sense of what’s in it.
- Second, start to record everything you spend. It is useful to record your spending for at least three months to get a true picture of where your money is going.
- Third, once you know where your money is going, seek the Holy Spirit’s guidance before writing down a plan for increasing your giving and your savings.
Many people find it useful to record their spending again two or three years later, and are often surprised how much additional spending has crept in.
Coming back to the question in the title, the bible doesn’t use the term net or gross in relation to how to calculate our giving, but the original instruction on the tithe does apply to the total harvest. I personally treat the gross as my income. However, my challenge is that the tithe should be the start of my giving and not the final target.