What is a “tithe”?

A few years ago, one of my former church members told me that he knew about the “tithe” (or the giving of 10% of one’s income to the Church and/or other charitable groups or projects), but that the Bible had very little, if anything, to offer on that subject. I begged to differ with him, offering him some Scriptural evidence that the tithe was, and still is, required of us who believe in God. I started in the Book of Genesis with the sacrifice that Abram (or Abraham) gave to God through the priest Melchizedek, a sacrifice of one-tenth of his earnings from battle. Melchizedek, in turn, blessed Abram. And I gave him further references in the Old and New Testaments.

My purpose here is not to give you a “biblical exposition” of the tithe, as I did to my former parishioner.  I want to simply tell you about how we look at our world in terms of us being God’s children and “stewards” of His creation.

I feel that many people believe that their time, their talents, and their earthly possessions are entirely theirs to keep because they either “earned” or “inherited” these things. In God’s world, however, we understand that everything we have and own is ultimately God’s gift to us, to share with those in need. So, when we put money in the collection plate on Sunday, donate nonperishable foods for CCM (Cooperative Christian Ministry), or donate our time or talent to various church or community projects, we might feel that we’re giving up a little more of ourselves than we normally do. But in God’s world, we are merely giving back a portion of what God has given us.

In addition to God being our loving Father/Parent/Caregiver, God is the owner of everything we own, have, and possess. When you and I die, Jesus will not ask us how much money we had, or how much power or talent we achieved. Jesus will ask us, “When I was hungry, did you feed me? When I was thirsty, did you give me something to drink? When I was naked, did you clothe me? When I was sick or in prison, did you visit me?” (See Matthew, Chapter 25.)  For when we take care of the “least” of our brothers or sisters, we do so for Jesus, our Risen Lord, who still identifies and loves those who are in need.

As we look at the tithe, the question shouldn’t be “Can I afford to give or work toward giving 10% of my time, talent, and treasure to the Lord?” It should be “Can I live on 90% of what our generous and loving God has given me?”

If we understand that our material and spiritual gifts are really God’s gifts “on loan to us,” we can learn to use them to help others for the sake of Jesus, who “gave his all” to show us how to live for God and one another. 

So, how much should we give back to God? 5%? 10%? 15% or more? If we can prayerfully answer the question in terms of “Can I live on 95%, or 90%, or 85% or less of those great treasures our wonderful God has given us?,” then we’re on the right path to accepting what a great and generous God we do have – and how that generosity is meant to be shared for the sake of those in need.

Thank you for reflecting with me. My prayer is for us to be good sharers of God’s overwhelming generosity to us.

In Christ, and through the Holy Spirit whom God our Parent has given us,
Jim Bernacki+, Priest Associate