How would Jesus tithe?

Published 9:33 pm Friday, February 8, 2019

By Ross Reitz

Tithing is a pretty common sermon topic in our churches. We are repeatedly reminded that we need to give 10 percent of our income to the church. Several churches preach that the entirety of your tithe must go only to the local congregation.

To support the teaching of tithe, several pastors have said that Jesus said we should tithe. Jesus did make one comment about tithing (Matthew 23:23-34), but in context, he said that justice, mercy and faithfulness are more important than tithing. Interestingly, while I have heard multiple sermons about tithing, I have heard almost no comment from the pulpit about Jesus’ views of justice and mercy, which Jesus indicates should be at the forefront of our teaching.

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With the exception of this one comment of Jesus, tithing is a concept almost wholly found in the Old Testament. While it is honorable to give 10 percent of your money to the church, does the church have a responsibility to spend the tithe the way the Bible prescribes?

In two places in Deuteronomy (chapters 14 and 26), God commands the tithe be given to the religious workers, the widows, the fatherless, and the immigrants, so that these groups will have plenty. Nowhere in scripture is the tithe used for a church building, a repair, a sound system, a summer camp or a church program. When Moses constructed the tabernacle, all the money for the materials was given beyond the tithe. When Solomon built the Temple, and also when Josiah repaired the Temple, again money was collected, but the tithe was not used for these projects.

How would it change our church if every church who preached about tithe also directed the tithe money to help widows, the fatherless and immigrants? In one church I attended, meals were served before the Wednesday services to make it easier for people to attend the mid-week service. At the church, a few teenagers came over from a different neighborhood — a poorer neighborhood. To outlay the costs of the Wednesday night meal, there was a charge for the food. The kids from the poorer neighborhood came without their parents, and most often they did not have enough money to pay for the food, so they had to sit and watch the richer kids eat, while none of those teenagers shared with them. When this situation was brought to the leaders of the church, the leaders said that it was good for the poorer kids to feel alienated. Supposedly feeling alienated would make the poorer kids be more responsible with their money so that they would save enough to eat dinner with the richer kids.

While there is a time and place to model responsibility, followers of Christ worship a God who so much wanted to stop our sense of alienation that He sent His own Son to become one of us and live with us. Interestingly, in reading the tithe passages in the Bible, the scripture describes taking your tithe to have a big meal with the immigrants, fatherless and widows. Eating releases hormones that provide a sense of comfort and connection. That is why we hate eating alone, and why picking the right table in the school cafeteria is so important for so many kids. How much more meaningful would it have been for those teenagers if the tithe given to the church had been spent on incorporating them into the community?

For those who follow Jesus, the teaching of giving to the poor may be even more prominent than just tithing. While Jesus once indicated we should tithe, he filled the scriptures telling us to give our money to the poor. Following Jesus’ teaching, when the church formed, they immediately began to take care of the needs of widows, orphans and immigrants.

Throughout this year, we will be bombarded with many opportunities to give our money. Many will be worthwhile and even among those, we have to choose which is best. This year as we give our monies to our churches, we should not only be generous ourselves but should challenge our churches to spend our giving on the same things that Jesus prioritized.


Ross Reitz has been a Suffolk resident since 2009. Prior to that, he taught the Bible in Africa for two years and spent six years as a teacher at a Christian school in Philadelphia, Pa.