Why Tithing May Not Be as Generous as You Think

Not sure if the title of this blog is shocking to a reader or not, but let’s dive into the topic of tithing and generosity. We’ll define our terms, then we will look into a few Scriptures, and conclude with some applications.

Defining Generosity & Tithing

By definition, a tithe is a tenth part of something paid as a voluntary contribution or as a tax — especially for the support of a religious establishment. Meanwhile, generous is characterized by being liberal in giving. A tithe is considered a small portion. A generous person is considered to be magnanimous. A tithe can be viewed as obligation. A generous person gives out of genuine desire. Simply by definition alone, these two words would not be considered interchangeable in common use. As a matter of fact, if I had to choose between being named a “tithing person” or a “generous person” I’m taking “generous” hands down.

Biblical Generosity & Tithing

Now I know what you’re thinking. But, Todd, doesn’t the very concept of tithing come from Scripture? You’re right. Let’s look at the Scriptures:

““Every tenth of the land’s produce, grain from the soil or fruit from the trees, belongs to the Lord; it is holy to the Lord.” Leviticus‬ ‭27:30‬ ‭CSB‬‬

““Will a man rob God? Yet you are robbing me!” “How do we rob you?” you ask. “By not making the payments of the tenth and the contributions.” ‭Malachi‬ ‭3:8‬ ‭CSB‬‬

Technically speaking, it appears that God feels as if one tenth of our resources actually belong to Him. We don’t truly own it at all. He gives us ownership temporarily in exchange for the opportunity to prove our faith in giving Him a portion of our resources. This test of faith includes a promise of continued provision, so it’s a foolproof test. God takes all the risk in the responsibility for providing.

But the Bible also speaks on being generous:

“One person gives freely, yet gains more; another withholds what is right, only to become poor. A generous person will be enriched, and the one who gives a drink of water will receive water.” Proverbs‬ ‭11:24-25‬ ‭CSB‬‬

“And whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is a disciple, truly I tell you, he will never lose his reward.”” Matthew‬ ‭10:42‬ ‭CSB‬‬

It is actually kind of hard to find a verse about living generously with an open-hand that does not include some kind of promise or reward. Generosity is also pretty consistently tied to a heart motive toward the hurting, young, or poor. The measurement isn’t one tenth or another math formula, but the willingness to be moved to surrender a resource to someone who needs it more or to a mission that is bigger than the individual.

Living Generously

So tithing and generous living are similar in that God rewards both, the Bible encourages both, and the resources go towards a human impact. But there is one pretty big difference. Tithing doesn’t take discernment. It is really a choice of ownership. If the tithe belongs to God then it belongs to God. Generosity is taking what belongs to us and willingly giving it away when it is needed.

I know we could have the Old Testament vs. New Testament argument on the validity of tithing. We could also talk about the biblical principle of God owning all our resources — all 100%. However, if you are a pastor, I would encourage you not to consider tithing to be the same as living generously. If you are a believer, I would not encourage you to consider yourself generous when you tithe. Generosity is a pursuit of the heart while tithing is an allocated command. Generosity prompts prayer, fasting, and open-hearted and open-handed living. Tithing can be pretty easy. Living generously is a whole other ball game.