Kh. Fredrica Mathewes-Green
Q. Is it robbing God to tithe on your after-tax (not gross) income?
A. My husband and I were in seminary and still newly-Christian when a friend told us about tithing. She stressed the importance of giving the full 10% before taxes, before anything else, so that we would be giving God the “first fruits” of our labor. We recoiled at the thought of such an unexpected expense, but she said that, in her experience, it had given God room to work miracles in her life; once she and her husband had put their last dollar in the plate, only to have the pastor turn around and give them the whole collection.
We began right away, and never even considered making our tithe an after-taxes thing. It seemed petty to make such calculations when giving to a God who gave us everything, including his Son.
Before long we had settled into a pattern of giving 5% to our local church and 5% to charity. But one year, when it was time to renew our annual pledge to the church, I was convicted that a radical increase was necessary. God says, “Bring the full tithes into the storehouse” (Mal. 3:10), and for us that “storehouse” must be the local church. So the full 10% should go to our church, while charitable giving, which the Bible distinguishes by the term of “alms,” was to be an additional offering.
When I tentatively began this conversation with my husband, we were both in for a surprise; he had separately come to the same conviction. We were of one mind, and the only problem was that we had just promised 5% of our income to a missionary. Overnight, we went from giving 10% of our income to 15%.
And yet we never suffered, then or over the following decades. We never went hungry. We saw God meet our needs over and over, in ways that bordered on the miraculous. People were always giving us things we needed but couldn’t afford: a sewing machine, a lawn mower, a new refrigerator. Back in those pre-computer days, you checked the total in your savings account by handing over your passbook and having the bank teller stamp it with the correct amount. More than once we found an unexplainable extra $50 appearing there.
As we approach retirement age, we are still giving 10% to the church, and over the years our total giving (including alms) has ranged from 15-20%. It has been a joy to go from receiving miraculous gifts to being able to help supply them to others. We found, like others before us, that once we determined to make our tithe the first payment each month, once this habit became routine, all our other expenses fell into place.
God uses strong language when he speaks of the necessity of tithing: “Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How are we robbing thee?’ In your tithes and offerings. You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me” (Mal 3:8-9 RSV). We live in a time that is offended by that strong directive language, and resents any implication that we ought to do or not do something. We regard ourselves as customers, even in church, and expect to be treated with deference, for the customer is always right. This kind of exhortation backfires. So perhaps the best I can say is: at least try. Aim to give a percentage of your income. Start with whatever percentage you give now, and raise it a little each year. In time you will reach the tithe. Then you will be giving as generously as the people of the bible, who lived in conditions we would see as abject poverty. Like them, pay God before you pay Caesar, for there is no better index of your priorities.