Does it Count as Tithing if You Don’t Give Directly to the Church?

Needs abound today among the body of Christ and elsewhere. And because of that, everywhere we turn, people or organizations seem to be asking for our money.

How can we know where we are supposed to give? And does it count as tithing if we don’t give directly to our church?

Jesus taught that our heart’s condition when we give is far more important than how much we give and where. But that doesn’t mean He left us clueless when it comes to giving biblically. Scripture abounds with instruction on practical, God-pleasing ways we can give our tithes and offerings today, and they aren’t confined within the walls of your local church.

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What Is a Tithe?

To tithe is to literally give a tenth of one’s income. In the Old Testament Law God told the Israelites to give a tithe (or tenth) of what they owned to the Lord for the support of the priesthood (Leviticus 27:30-33). Tithing as an Old Testament obligation is not specifically carried over into the New Testament Covenant. But it does serve as a baseline of giving that has Old Testament precedence. And since the first Christian converts were Jewish, this level of giving was probably inherent and most easily understood in their practice. Many Christians today practice tithing (giving a tenth of their income) as a way of paralleling God’s Old Covenant command for us to financially support our pastors, spiritual leaders, and those who work for the kingdom of God.

How Much Should We Actually Give?

Under the New Covenant, Jesus didn’t command specifically that we give a tenth of our income to God or His church. Instead, He instructed His followers to give generously in proportion to how we would like God to be generous toward us (Luke 6:38). He also wanted us to give out of a grateful response to what we’ve been given. When we’ve been given salvation, haven’t we been given everything? In that regard, Jesus didn’t teach us to give just a tenth…He taught us, in some ways, to give our all.

Jesus taught that everything we have belongs to God and we are stewards of that. So the question under the New Covenant is not how much do I give? But, how much do I keep for myself?

Where Should We Give?

Where Should We Give?

The Apostle Paul told the Corinthians: “If we have sown spiritual things among you, is it too much if we reap material things from you? … Do you not know that those who are employed in the temple service [today’s equivalent of church staff] get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in the sacrificial offerings? In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel” (1 Corinthians 9:11, 13-14).

Furthermore, 1 Timothy 5:17-18 instructs: “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages.”

Therefore, it is biblical for believers to first financially support the church where they attend and are being spiritually fed or ministered to. That would be their "tithe – the first of their giving. Wherever you are reaping a spiritual harvest (learning from the Word and growing as a believer), you should be financially supporting, as to reward those laborers who are investing in your spiritual growth.

Does that mean our tithes and offerings should only be given to the church? The word church represents the body of believers in Christ and that extends beyond your local church where you attend, and includes the universal, worldwide church. The body of Christ throughout the world that is evangelizing, discipling believers, promoting a biblical worldview, and providing resources for individual churches is also considered “the church.” Thus, supporting para-church organizations or anyone in the service of God is another way of giving biblically.

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Giving to Individual Believers Among the Church

Giving your tithes and offerings to the “church at large” can also lead to praying for – and finding – opportunities to help and support other believers.

About four years into our marriage, my husband (who for many years has served as a lead pastor) became convicted about passive giving, which, for us, consisted of dropping a check into the church offering plate and depending on someone else to distribute the money. We realized we were missing out on the joy of seeing how our tithe and offerings could bless someone else. So we began to look for ways to actively give in addition to (and in some rare cases in place of) our monthly support to our local church. We looked at how we could impact God’s kingdom on a national and worldwide basis, not just in our community. That led to sponsoring a number of impoverished children overseas through the Christian organization, Compassion International, and daily praying for opportunities to give to other believers in need.

To this day, we find more joy, blessing, and evidence of God’s work when we ask Him to open our eyes to the financial needs around us. Sometimes those needs are expressed through the staff of our local church. Sometimes they are expressed by those within our church. Sometimes they are expressed by those who are a part of the extended body of Christ. In addition to giving to our local church – which can then put money into the hands of people it ministers to –we ask God to show us monthly who in our sphere of influence or among the body of Christ needs affirmation that God is supplying their every need. Every time God has answered that prayer by placing someone in our path who has just lost a job, just lost a house, just had a baby, just started attending our church, or just prayed for a miracle. We are always blessed to see how God provides specifically for other believers at precisely the right time and in return, does the same for us. We learned the important principle that as we are generous with others, God is generous with us. And most of the time so that we can continue to be generous with others.

Jesus said, “Give, and you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full—pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, running over, and poured into your lap. The amount you give will determine the amount you get back” (Luke 6:38, NLT). Furthermore, 2 Corinthians 9:6 says, “Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.” Verse 8 adds: “And God is able to bless you abundantly so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work” (emphasis added). That is a promise of abundance to those who abundantly give. Instead of focusing on how much (or how little) we can give, and where that giving should be, our aim should be to see how very much we can give and where we can continue to find ways to give, so God will keep supplying more in order for us to keep blessing others.

Scripture also encourages us with this promise as we are financially generous with others: “He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God. For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God. By their approval of this service, they will glorify God because of your submission that comes from your confession of the gospel of Christ, and the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others” (2 Corinthians 9:10-13).

What Kind of Giving Pleases God?

What Kind of Giving Pleases God?

In keeping with how Jesus came to fulfill the Old Covenant Law, rather than obliterate it, Jesus emphasized the importance of our heart’s condition when we give.

It’s sacrificial giving He wants – giving that moves our heart, giving that is a stretch and requires faith.

In Mark 12, we read that Jesus observed people putting money into the temple’s offering box and instead of being impressed at the many rich people putting in large amounts, Jesus was moved, instead, by a poor widow who gave two small copper coins – the equivalent of a single penny in today’s economy. Scripture tells us: “And [Jesus] called his disciples to him and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on” (verses 43-44).

Jesus wanted to see people give sacrificially, not ceremoniously. He saw a cent from a poor widow as more of a gift than a full 10 percent or more from a wealthy person. My husband and I tithe as a matter of discipline and as a guideline of a good starting point and then add to that as we can. We have chosen to do this because giving a tenth is, in our case, a huge financial stretch. Therefore, giving a tithe is, for us, a matter of sacrifice and trust. And trust in Him grows our faith and reaps many rewards.

Furthermore, Second Corinthians 9:7 instructs, “Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” It would seem that it’s difficult to give cheerfully when giving sacrificially, but the joy comes when we repeatedly see and understand how faithful God is when we give obediently, according to how we’ve determined in our hearts.

Can you give cheerfully, confident that the work you are giving toward is being done for God’s glory? Then give freely and generously. If you have doubts about whether giving to a certain church or organization or believer will truly glorify God, pray that His Holy Spirit will direct your giving according to where you are learning and being fed spiritually through the Word of God, and where the genuine needs are among His body of believers.

For more on trusting God with your finances, and principles for giving generously, see the book Cindi and her husband, Hugh, co-authored: When Couples Walk Together: 31 Days to a Closer Connection.

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