Are There Times when We Are Not Expected to Tithe?

Article by R. Joseph Ritter, Jr. CFP® EA

Our tithes and offerings are used to support the work of the church and to support the stranger, fatherless and widow among us (Deuteronomy 14:29). When we tithe, we share our resources to provide for the needs of those who commit their lives to Christian service and those who are vulnerable and cannot provide for themselves. The Biblical model for the care and support of ministers, the work of the church, and the needy among us (orphans, fatherless, widows, disabled, etc.) is that those who had plenty were to tithe, then provide for themselves, then help to provide for the support of the poor and needy, and then enjoy their profits, in that order.

In modern times, the government has largely assumed the role of caring for the disabled, destitute and defenseless through supplemental assistance (SNAP, WIC, TANF, Social Security Disability, Social Security retirement, Medicaid, Medicare, etc.). This seems to have resulted in confusion over whether this money is subject to tithing. The government’s role can be traced back to 1 Samuel 8:5-20 when the people rebelled against the theocracy the Lord established for their well-being. The role of the kingdom in taxation, armies, laws, eminent domain, etc. was outlined clearly in 1 Samuel 8. This does not, however, excuse the church’s obligation to be a source of support for those who have needs. The church is still obligated to lead this effort.

In the Old Testament where tithing began, orphans, children, widows and single women did not have property rights. Instead, they received their support from the generosity of those who had plenty or directly from the hand of God. If they labored, it was either in slavery, employment or gleaning from someone else’s property (with permission). When we bring tithing into our modern society with property rights and government benefits, it’s easy to lose the original principles and purposes of tithing.

Scripture does not obligate tithing by those who are unable to labor. This might be you if you are retired, disabled, legitimately unemployed, living off your savings, etc. If you are receiving government benefits for a legitimate purpose, such as legitimate unemployment, inability to work, or working to your full ability and unable to make ends meet, the benefits you receive are a form of the Lord’s providence during your time of need. The same goes for a person living off savings or retirement income saved over the years.

Again, you need to give more than the recipient needs your money. If God is calling you to give, then by all means give. No hard and fast rules should be applied here, except that giving may be an offering rather than a tithe. The purpose of this article is to free you from bondage to the rote behavior of giving 10% of your income. This article should not be used as an excuse not to give. If your income is unrelated to labor, then is your giving a tithe or an offering? If it is an offering, then we are not called to give 10%. Instead, we are called to give according to our ability.

Are you able to give? If your needs are met, and you have excess funds, then you are able to give. Whether you should be giving is a matter of prayer and study of Scripture. There is no one-size-fits-all answer. If you have needs that are not being met, such as if your obligations to creditors are unpaid, then your ability to give is in serious question. In that case, you do not have the authority to give to the Lord expecting a blessing. There is a danger here that giving is viewed as a means to receive blessings from God. God does love a cheerful giver, however, He is not interested in being tempted or baited. We see no Scriptural support for God responding to presumption and a prideful heart (1 Corinthians 10:12, Psalm 19:13). If the Lord has provided, He is giving you what you need to meet your obligations. Giving should only occur after your needs are met. It is not your place to deprive your creditors, give to God, and expect God to bless you. 2 Kings 4:1-7 is an example of how God’s providence was used to relieve a family of insolvency. We are not told God expected a tithe or offering from the providence.

So much focus in the pulpit is placed on tithing and giving that those in need may be afraid to come forward and ask for help. Requests for assistance often come from outside the church rather than within its membership. We should make our own feel loved, not on the wrong end of judgment.

“From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more,” Luke 12:48b. Give abundantly according to your ability. The Lord has no need of your money, but He uses your money as a test of your allegiance to Him and uses your generosity to be the hands and feet of Christ to others. As you draw close to the Lord, He will guide you on giving, especially if you are in a situation where your resources are not abundant.

© 2015, 2018 Zacchaeus Financial Counseling, Inc.

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