Written by: Blythe Freshwater
For students who grew up in the church, tithing is a fairly recognizable idea. Maybe your parents taught you how to do it, or perhaps you observed them doing it in your childhood. But I think even for committed Christians, we don’t practice tithing enough.
First, what is tithing? Tithing is a practice God designed, and examples of it pop up all over Scripture. Tithing is giving back the first tenth of a crop to God—this tenth is supposed to be the firstfruits of the harvest, the firstborn of a herd, the best a person could offer. God commanded His people to “[b]e sure to set aside a tenth of all that your fields produce each year” (Deuteronomy 14:22).
In the Old Testament era, these tithes went to the tabernacle and the temple to help feed the Levites who served the nation of Israel as priests. The Levites couldn’t go out and grow their own food or raise their own animals, so they depended on the tithe offerings of the other tribes of Israel to survive. Numbers says, “Instead, I [the Lord] give to the Levites as their inheritance the tithes that the Israelites present as an offering to the Lord. That is why I said concerning them: ‘They will have no inheritance among the Israelites’” (18:24).
But tithing isn’t just a ceremonial Jewish law that has been fulfilled by the work of Christ on the cross. Luke writes, “But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others” (11:42, ESV). Tithing is a heart issue—it’s an act of faith.
God doesn’t just want your firstfruits given to Him solely out of a begrudged obligation. He wants heart change–that you would love Him with everything you have and love others as yourself, which are the two greatest commandments (Matthew 22:36–37). He wants it done for the right reason–the reason being that you love Him and want to obey Him out of holy reverence and fear. 1 Corinthians puts it this way: “If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing” (13:3).
So, God wants us to give a tenth of what we have, to set it aside for His holy work. In this day and age, instead of giving our tithes to the temple, we give them to our local churches to support our pastors and the church’s mission. But you might be thinking, “I’m a broke college student. I can’t even afford a coffee from Doc’s, much less a tenth of everything I make!”
I get it, man. I’m in the same boat. Sometimes we don’t tithe because we’re afraid we won’t have enough for what we need (or what we want) if we do. Sometimes we don’t tithe because we spend too much on other things and when it comes time to tithe, we run out of money. Sometimes we don’t tithe because we just don’t care.
Whatever your reason is for not tithing, it’s time to do a serious heart-check. If you are going to be following Christ and loving God and others as the Bible commands, you need to make God and His work a priority in your life. If it means making a budget and taking out your 10% before you even spend a nickel, do it. If it means trusting God to provide with only 90%, do it. If it means surrendering your wants and needs to Him to put him first, do it. If it means finding a local church or mission to support, do it.
Remember the widow in the temple, who gave only two copper coins? Her faith was rewarded because even though it wasn’t much in the world’s eyes, it was everything she had. Jesus says, “‘Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on’” (Mark 12:43–44). Can we live with that kind of radical faith? The faith that gives it all? I say we can, because our faith is rooted in the faithfulness of God. It’s grounded in His character.
Here’s what I’m getting at. Malachi 3:10 says, “‘Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,’ says the Lord Almighty, ‘and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.’” It’s not often that God says “Test me on this.” But when He does, you can bet your bottom dollar that He’ll keep His promise. God will be faithful to bless your obedience in tithing if you have the faith to trust that He will. God will do much more with 90% of money He has blessed than 100% of money (or time or other things you are giving) that He hasn’t blessed. You just have to be willing to test God’s faithfulness. He will bless you for your obedience.
If you’re like me and currently don’t have a job or income, you might feel like you’re off the hook for tithing. I disagree. A tithe is not simply money. In the Old Testament era, the tithes were actually the first and best of anything—whether it was a crop, monetary wealth, or other things. One simple way an actually broke college student can tithe is with his or her time.
I know, I know—time is even more scarce than money for a college student. We’re pulled 450 ways, and a lot of time we barely have time to sleep. But if you’re serious about following Christ, tithing is something you ought to prayerfully consider. Give what you can—but don’t skimp.
One thing I’m trying this semester is tithing a whole day each week. I will not be doing homework, working out, or going to work on Sundays. I believe this is how God designed the Sabbath to be, but we often don’t take the Sabbath seriously. Because time is so rare in college, this is one way I’m giving it back to God, and I believe that He will bless my faithfulness in keeping the Sabbath holy by multiplying my time. I believe He will use Sundays to rest me and rejuvenate me so that I can more efficiently do homework the rest of the week.
Sometimes we don’t think we can afford to give God any time or any money, but I challenge you to test Him in this. Test His faithfulness, test His goodness, test His blessing. He will multiply the 90% if you are faithful to surrender the 10% to Him. Maybe for you, it’s money. Maybe it’s time, either in meditation and worship, volunteering, or ministry. Maybe it’s your things—sharing with those who have less than you. Maybe it’s giving someone a ride to work instead of hanging out. Whatever it is, give it to God. Give God your first and best, and trust Him to bless the rest.
All references from the New International Version, unless otherwise stated.