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Tithing on Gifts?

QUESTION: Allen in Little Rock received a $5,000 inheritance from his parents. He isn’t sure if he should tithe on the money. Dave explains his interpretation of tithing in this situation.

ANSWER: Obviously you’re dealing from a Christian or Jewish perspective to deal with the word tithe. What we would do as Christians is we’re going to go to the Bible and try to find the answer to your question. The primary Scripture on tithing that seems to give us the best indication is in Deuteronomy 28. It says to give a tithe on your net increase. That’s the English interpretation, and without going back and studying Hebrew and grasping that, there’s a lot of argument about tithing and all these other things all through Christianity and even Judaism as to what a tithe is and what it isn’t and so forth.

Evangelical Christians are pretty well in agreement that our interpretation is that a tithe is a tenth of our income. The word tithe in Hebrew literally means “tenth” if you take that and pull it from an Old Testament in a Christian Bible. We would give a tenth of our increase, which seems to indicate, for instance in a business setting, net profit. Does a gift increase you? I think it does. I think we could agree on that. Is that God’s heart?

Before we go there, though, I think we’ve got to make sure we really go back to your original statement about how you feel dirty about something. You need to really grasp biblically speaking why God asks us to give tithes and/or offerings. It’s not because we’re trying to keep a rule and He likes us better. He likes us regardless. He’s madly in love with you—your Heavenly Father is—regardless. Tithers are equal to non-tithers in God’s love. It’s certainly not a salvation issue. We’re not trying to earn His favor. We’re not trying to earn our salvation. And yet sometimes, the way I’m wired and maybe the way you’re wired, is I’m always looking for a rule, and if I can just do the rule ... I’m a little performance-based sometimes. I want to always back up from that and go, “To start with, if we being evil know how to give our kids good gifts, how much more so our Father in Heaven?” meaning how would I look at it if I gave my kids some money? Would I be worried about the rule? No. That’s the very purpose of a gift, that there would be very few rules on it—like almost none. I want them to get pleasure from the gift rather than feel like they have to follow a rule.

I think there’s probably a biblical argument that could be made either way, and I might accuse someone of legalism by trying to go there and trying to really split the jot and tittle on this thing—split the doctrinal hairs on this thing. A couple of rules I go by is one, I know I can’t out give God, and I never mess up and I never regret giving and doing it wisely. A tithe is to my local church. I love my church, so I’m going to tithe. When in doubt, I give. That’s rule number one because I can’t figure all this out. I don’t know, and when I get up there, if I’m going to be wrong, I want to be wrong on the upside. I can’t out give God, and I never mess up. I never have regrets from giving. When in doubt, I give. But the balance on the other side of the scale of that discussion is I don’t want to put myself in a box where I feel legalistically compelled either. I want to be able to enjoy my Father’s love. That’s the grace side. It’s kind of the justice and mercy scale. You’ve got to have one to have the other, but they’ve both got to be on the scale.

All of that to say that this is a great spiritual discussion, and I still didn’t give you an answer. If I were in your shoes, I would want to give—not out of any compulsion of keeping a rule, only just because I thought it was fun to give because I think that would give my Father pleasure. I think you’re released to do either or neither. I seldom tithe on gifts, and I tithe on every dime of my income. I want to get it out of my checking account before I get emotional ownership. That’s a little performance-based, admitted, but I’ve done that automatically since I got saved 25 years ago. I don’t think you can mess that up.

It’s a great discussion to have at any level of spiritual maturity because it causes you to stop and think about what’s important about money. If I were you, I’d probably tithe on this if I felt like God’s leading me to, but I want to remove any legalistic compulsion from you having to do that, because I can’t tell biblically for sure that this is titheable.