In the Old Testament, tithing - the giving of a tenth of what someone owned - was part of God’s 611 commands that His people would follow. This was, in part, to follow the example made by their leaders (Gen 14:19-20, Gen 28:20-22) and to support the ministry of the Levites (Lev 27:30–34, Num 18:21, Num 18:26, Deut 12:5-6). On top of the tithe, the Israelites were also expected to give to religious festivals as a way of acknowledging God’s generosity and abundance (Deut 14:22) as well as to give to anyone in need as an act of worship (Lev 25:35-37, Deut 15:7-8, Deut 14:28-29, Ps 41:1-3, 119:36, Prov 11:24-25, 19:17, 21:13, 22:9). One scholar estimated after tithing, giving to their religious festivals, and giving to those in need, the average Israelite gave upwards of 20%.
Tithing isn’t required for New Testament believers in the same way it was for Old Testament believers since we are no longer under the law, however, the principle of generosity is still in place. Generosity, as in the Old Testament, is seen as an act of worship, to support those in ministry, to fund the ministry of the church, and to give to those in need (Matt 6:19-21, 10:42, Luke 6:37-38, 21:1-4, Acts 20:32-35, 2 Cor 8:12-15, 9:6-8, 1 John 3:16-18, 1 Tim 6:17-19).
While there’s no exact number in the Bible to follow as the Israelites did with the 10% tithe, followers of Jesus are still called to give sacrificially because Jesus sacrificially gave Himself for us.
This is what we’re striving for in our covenant practices - to be a compelling people that look like Jesus in everything we do. So the question becomes: How do we know what that looks like? What steps can we agree to do together to practice obedience? What markers or guidelines can we set in place to help each other look more like Jesus?
For our church, giving 10% is the agreed-upon starting point to gauge our generosity. (We often say that 10% is the floor, not the ceiling.) It’s not required to be a Christian, and we’re not required by any law, but it is one of the many diagnostics we use to help lead one another in being a generous people.
Having this tangible marker for a biblical principle is similar to the other covenant practices we commit to doing together. For example, we want people to be in deeply-connected Jesus-centered relationships; a marker for this is to commit to a LifeGroup. We want people to be sacrificially giving their lives away for Jesus; a marker is to serve on Sundays. You won’t see “get into a LifeGroup” or “sign up for a Sunday role” as a requirement or law for New Testament believers, but they are tangible agreed-upon markers of biblical principles that we are called to obey. Similarly, you won’t see “give 10%” for the New Testament believer, but the principle of generosity is found throughout.
Why do we make this a priority of ours? Jesus puts it bluntly in Matthew 6:21, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” In the words of Jesus, following Him requires an aligning of our hearts - and that includes our finances. When we give, we find ourselves literally and spiritually more invested in the things of God than we were before. We are naturally more inclined to care about God’s mission because we are moving our finances that way.
Therefore, we see 10% as the starting point not as “I have to,” but as “I get to.” We get to give back to the mission of God. We get to financially help those in need. We get to create resources for people to be equipped. We get to partner with non-profit organizations all over the city. We get to teach middle and high schoolers about Jesus every week. We get to coach up new parents on how to follow Jesus and love their kids. We get to provide pizza to college students who may not know Jesus. We get to keep the lights on each Sunday so people have a space to gather and worship together.
Through our committing to give 10%, we get to see our city look more like Heaven each day through our generosity.