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Tithing - What it Isn't

By David Flowers | 30 October 2020 | Comments (2)

"Ugh, you’re not going to tell us we should give our money to the church?” said the guest at our newcomers’ dinner as he tucked into his second helping of apple pie and ice cream. His features tussled between the sweet delight of dessert and the unsavoury thought of tithing.

Tithing is the Jewish/Christian tradition of giving back to God the ‘first fruits’ of our income or profit as a happy act of worship. It is usually calculated as 10% (tithe comes from an old English word for tenth) and is given to your local church. Sometimes we mistakenly think of tithing as something which it is not. For example:

It’s not a membership fee

I used to be a member at the now defunct Headingley Rugby Union Football Club (its demise had nothing to do with me!). Membership consisted of turning up to train on a Tuesday evening, playing on Saturday afternoon and paying a membership fee each week. Being a Christian might involve attending a house group on Tuesday night and going to church on Sunday – but it doesn’t require a membership fee.

It’s not a coin in the vending machine

How often have you resorted to banging a drinks machine because although you put in the right money, it hasn’t dispensed the can of drink you were desperate for? Sometimes it is tempting to think, “If I just give this money there will be a spiritual quid pro quo.” But there simply is no mechanism in church for ordering a refreshing reward, slotting in your tithe and expecting it to coming rolling down the aisle for you.

It’s not an insurance premium

If you have ever missed a premium on an insurance policy you’ll have experienced that moment of panic when you realise that if something were to happen right now, you’re not covered. Must get on the phone, pay that premium, just-in-case. Missing a tithe can feel like that too – except that God is not like that. You can’t buy the protection of the commander of heaven’s armies, and his grace isn’t dependent on your tithe – it’s free (which is why it is called grace).

It’s not a tax

We are, rightly, annoyed when businesses or people don’t pay their fair share of tax. We understand that the schools that educate us, the NHS and police that look after us, the roads we drive on and legal framework we live within – all justify our contribution. Whereas God’s blessings, and the church family to which we belong, bestow forgiveness, liberation, purpose, comfort, healing, support, friendship, the presence of Holy Spirit, inspiration for this life and, amazingly, eternal life – none of which is subject to any excise duty.

It’s not buying favour

If you are in a romantic mood and seeking a receptive audience, a gift of something that ‘smells nice, looks nice or tastes nice’ (as I was once advised by a wise woman in my office when I sought some tips) is a great strategy. If you have upset someone it is a good idea to send them a gift to say sorry (a gift given in secret soothes anger… Proverbs 21:14). But indulgences don’t work with the Lord Almighty – the price has already been paid and there is nothing we can do that will make God love us more, or less. Your tithe won’t buy forgiveness from God and shouldn’t buy favour with anyone else.

No, tithing isn’t: a membership fee; a coin in the vending machine; an insurance premium; a tax or way to buy favour. All these are outcomes we think we can buy and control.

Tithing is a response to something someone has done for us. That’s why it is a happy act of worship. We stand in the glow of a supremely, extravagantly, generous God and our response is: “Thank you, I love you, here’s my gift.”


Giving, When the Church is Poor

The Fear of Loss

FAQ: Why Should I Give?


Posted by David Flowers

David Flowers is the pastor of Leeds Vineyard and a director of Flowers McEwan Ltd, a financial planning firm in Leeds. He is learning generosity despite being a Yorkshireman. 


Elizabeth Grint

November 26, 2020 6:21 AM
During this unprecedented time my tithing has gone not to church but to the local food bank and to help a family of 8 children have milk delivered to their doorstep.

Kevan Royle

November 26, 2020 11:32 AM
Delight. Tithing is a delight when it comes from a heart filled with gratitude to God. But sometimes we don't feel full of gratitude, even if we should, that's when the other two "d"s matter, Duty and Discipline.
Once we are committed to God in this covenant relationship of love that cost Him the cross, it becomes foundational. It's not dependant on how rich we're feeling, we do it because it's our Duty. and we don't take a week off.
Giving to God comes first, so it's a Discipline that reqquires us to trust the Lord even when we can't see where the next £1 is coming from.
It's a principle I won't leave, unlike the Chancellor who decided we can have a year off giving 0.7% of GDP to the Overseas Aid budget because we're suffering economically. God will bless us if we stick to our principles and tithing is a good one.

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