Difference between Tithe and Offering
Biblical commandments, much like our modern-day laws, are subject to different interpretations. But while a judge can decide on how a law should be interpreted, God’s responses to questions about His commands are not as easy to obtain. The same is true on the subject of tithe and offering.
The term “tithe” simply means “tenth” in old English. When it comes to Christian giving, a tithe is one-tenths of a person’s income.
Bible scholars and pastors are categorized into two on the discussion of tithes: those who believe that Christians should continue giving their tithes to the church and those who think that believers should give only what they have decided in their hearts to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion.(1)
In the Old Testament, various Scripture verses show God’s commands about tithing.(2) The Mosaic Law, which was given to the Israelites on Mount Sinai, requires every Jew to give a tenth of their income to the temple. This amount supported the priests and was used to pay for the costs associated with the performance of temple duties. The Levites or the priests who had no inheritance from God relied on the tithes given by the people. This principle is the same even today.
What benefit would a believer get from giving his tithes? In the Old Testament, one way for a believer to receive “so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it” is to “bring the whole tithe into the storehouse….”(3)The New Testament, however, does not command or recommend that Christians give a specific amount to the church. It is at this point where the two schools of thought on tithing differ.
The ones who believe that Christians no longer need to give a tenth of their income to the church are basing their belief on the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. Paul tells the believers to “set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made.”(4)This amount, nevertheless, is considered to be an offering and not a tithe because while God expected believers to honor Him by giving the first fruits or the tenth of what He gave to them(5), this obligation is no longer necessary when Jesus Christ died on the cross, which is a fulfillment of all the requirements of the Law including the giving of the 10 percent. Therefore, to continue requiring believers to give tithes is a way of nullifying, to a certain degree, Christ’s sacrifice as this effectively brings back the idea of law-keeping or justification by works. In other words, Jesus’s death already fulfilled the requirement of offering the first fruits.(6)
On the other hand, many Christians also believe that tithes should continually be given as a way of obeying God’s commands(3)and a means of honoring Him by giving back a portion of the blessings one has received. The basis for this belief is that Christ’s sacrifice on the cross has put believers under grace. This means that although you are no longer under obligation to give a tenth of your first fruits or income, you have the freedom to give and to give even more than a tenth because of the overflowing gratitude for being redeemed by Christ. Despite the New Testament’s silence on tithing, giving to the church has a corresponding blessing from God, which means the blessing you receive is proportionate to what you give.(7)
No matter which belief you subscribe to, the thing to keep in mind is that tithing is a heart thing. God is not concerned about whether you give 1 percent, 10 percent, or even the whole value of your first fruits or income. After all, He owns the world “and everything in it.”(8) He doesn’t need your resources to fulfill his plans and purposes. When God commanded believers to give, He wanted to see people who have the heart to follow His decree. This means that when giving, Christians need to do it with cheerfulness(9) and with hearts that is full of thanksgiving and gratitude.
In the Old Testament, the Mosaic Law commanded the Israelites to give their offerings, but these offerings were essentially sacrifices. Animal sacrifices were the most common because they are a blood sacrifice that was meant to atone for the sins of the people.(10) Blood sacrifices were commanded because without the shedding of the blood, the sins remained.(11)Apart from animal sacrifices, there were others forms of offering, but they were not required. A grain offering, for example, is a tribute or a gift to God to recognize His sovereignty. On the other hand, a thanksgiving offering is given as a pleasing aroma to God.(12)
In the New Testament, the meaning of offering is somewhat changed. For one, animal or blood sacrifices are no longer required because of the death of Jesus Christ, the perfect Lamb of God. When in the past animals were sacrificed to shed blood that would cover the sins of the people, the bloodshed when Christ died on the cross cleansed the guilt(13) and the sins were completely taken away.
Present-day Christians who believe in the giving of a tenth of one’s income to the church view tithes and offering as two separate things. An offering is something given freely and may take the form of money, time, service, and other resources. A believer can choose the recipient of the offering, also called “generous giving,” which means the offering can go to the local church, mission organizations, or anyone whom God is moving you to give to.
More than resources, though, the New Testament exhorts believers to offer themselves “as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God”(14)and the reason for this is that believers are “those who have been brought from death to life” and because of that you are to “offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness.”(15)
If you still have doubts about whether you should give tithes and offering, ask God for clarity and enlightenment. You may also talk to the pastor of your local church for help and guidance.
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(1) 2 CORINTHIANS 9:7a
(2) LEVITICUS 27:30, NUMBERS 18:26, DEUTERONOMY 14:24, 2 CHRONICLES 31:5
(3) MALACHI 3:10
(4) 1 CORINTHIANS 16:2
(5) LEVITICUS 27:30
(6) 1 CORINTHIANS 15:20
(7) 2 CORINTHIANS 9:6
(8) PSALMS 50:12b
(9) 2 CORINTHIANS 9:7b
(10) LEVITICUS 17:11
(11) HEBREWS 9:11-18
(12) LEVITICUS 3:5, 16
(13) HEBREWS 10:22
(14) ROMANS 12:1
(15) ROMANS 6:13