Why Pastors Shouldn’t Teach Tithing

Were you taught the tithing system?

I was. I believed it, practiced it, and even preached it myself. But no more.

image of coins

The tithing system is what I call the modern teaching that if you tithe, God will bless you; if you don’t, He won’t. You know the Pastor is going to preach the system if the sermon text is this passage from the the Prophet Malachi:

“Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, “How have we robbed you?” In your tithes and contributions. You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you. Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need.” — Malachi 3:8-11

The system goes like this:

  1. Tithing is commanded by God.
  2. Therefore, Christians should give 10% of their income to their “storehouse” (i.e. the church you attend).
  3. God promises to bless people who tithe.
  4. Failing to tithe is disobedient to God, robs Him of His due, and shows that you don’t trust Him to provide for your needs with the remaining 90% of your income.
  5. God withholds His blessing from non-tithers, and they forfeit the peace of mind and security which tithers alone enjoy.

The system could be heard from thousands of church pulpits on any given Sunday, making it a dominant view of Christian giving. Here’s an example sermon from well-known Southern Baptist pastor, Dr. Charles Stanley. This quote from the sermon illustrates the tithing system in a nutshell:

“God gives us a plan for our finances [in which, tithing is the key component]…I’ve practiced it for 64 years. And it works… I’ve met many people who have not practiced the plan… who have all kinds of troubles.”

Now, as far as I know, Dr. Stanley is an honest man, and a generous giver. He is not a false teacher where the gospel is concerned, and has never been involved in any scandal. But does the Bible really teach that Christians must give 10% of their income to their local church or risk “all kinds of troubles?”

Here’s four reasons I think Pastors should not teach tithing.

1. The tithing system doesn’t have an answer for why the Apostles never taught Gentile Christians to tithe.

You will search the New Testament in vain looking for any teaching on tithing, though there are plenty of passages about giving, generosity, and care for the needy. Even when the Apostles debated whether Gentile believers must keep the Law of Moses (of which tithing was a part) to be considered full-fledged members of the church, the answer was no. (see Acts 15, especially verses 28-29).

In one of our most popular posts, I offer a full explanation for how God intended tithing to work in the life of Israel, and why Jesus and the Apostles never taught tithing.

2. The tithing system distorts God’s purpose for giving and encourages works-oriented self-righteousness.

Notice the motivation Dr. Stanley cites: “it works” and you’ll avoid “all kinds of troubles.” That’s a very tit-for-tat, put-the-quarter-in-the-machine, works-oriented theology: Put in a tithe; pull out a blessing.

It is true that it is more blessed to give than receive. It is also true that God blesses those who are generous to those in need. But to tithe primarily to earn God’s blessing is an attempt to manipulate God. And theologically speaking, it is akin to modern prosperity teaching: Put in a tithe; pull out a big blessing. Nor is it far from from medieval Catholic indulgences: put in a coin; pull out forgiveness of a few sins.

God is not our gum ball machine.

3. The tithing system can mislead people into thinking that God’s blessings are received as a result of what they do.

The New Testament is very clear that every blessing a Christian receives from God is received on account of Christ, in Him, through Him, for His sake, and for His glory. (see Ephesians 1:3-14).

You can never earn one ounce of God’s favor, and yet His favor is abundantly provided to you for the sake of Christ. We read that Jesus is enthroned at the right hand of the Father interceding for us. Does he pray, “Oh Father, accept them because they are faithful and obedient tithers?” No! He points to the scars in His hands, feet and side and says, “Father, accept them for the sake of these wounds.”

4. The tithing system misses the real reasons Christians should give.

If you make giving about receiving blessings, then you’ve reduced it to a way to manipulate God into owing you. If you make giving about personal stewardship, then you’ve reduced it to a technique for financial management. If you make giving about supporting your local church (mortgage, utilities, salaries, events, etc), then you’ve reduced it to club dues. If you make giving about obedience to God’s tithing command to Israel, then you’ve missed the real reasons Christians should give.

Instead, Pastors should teach this:

Give as much as you can — and you alone decide what that is — to support the mission to preach Christ to the ends of the earth, and to care for those in need.

These are the only biblical motives for giving.

If you’ve grasped the magnitude of what God has done for you in Christ, if you’ve seen that in receiving God’s grace He has made you an ambassador of it, this will be enough to inspire you to give generously, joyfully, and increasingly without regard to the tithe.

You’ll give less than a tithe without feeling guilty, or a lot more than a tithe without thinking it’s enough. You’ll support ministries that pursue the mission and meet people’s needs. And you’ll simply give because you want to feed someone, clothe someone, rescue someone, and ensure that they hear how God has loved them.

[Here’s a follow-up post: Why Pastors Shouldn’t Teach Tithing — One Pastor’s Gracious Response].

Please share a comment about how you think Christians should give.

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64 thoughts on “Why Pastors Shouldn’t Teach Tithing

  1. I have tithed for several years – it’s a beautiful experince that teaches you to depend on God for you needs. Tithing is bibiical but the key is not to get hung up on a few things.

    1 – God loves a cheerful giver. He wants us to give. It not about the 10% – that’s something to shoot for but he more concerned about the attitude of your heart.

    2- on the robbing of blessing – when we have a bad attitude – we do rob ourselves from blessing. We are not it tune with God . This what Dr. Stanley is referring to. Bad things happen to all of us- our attitude helps define how we respond.

    3 – the prosperity gospel is a lie. We don’t get more because we give- however I ve experienced that God will increase in us such that we can give more- this includes talent, resources and wealth. It’s all his and the increase is such that we are enabled to give more.

    • Thanks for your comment! I truly appreciate it. You are right that God loves a cheerful, generous giver — someone who is concerned about the needy and the Great Commission. If 10% is generous for you, then I encourage you to give it joyfully. Thanks again.

    • Tithing is NOT biblical-as preached often it is a misrepresentation of what God demanded of the Jews. If you look at the actual ins and outs of what the different groups within the Jewish people were supposed to store away for themselves, give away at a particular time of year, or contribute to the “storehouse,” it is clear that it was not a blanket system for everyone- and just like we do not usually sacrifice animals, grain, etc, it is a big stretch ( a lie?) that it applies to Christians as a “rule” from God. At best it is an oversimplification and old testament passages taken out of context, at worst is it a purposeful “end justifies the means” in modern Christianity. I grew up Catholic, and while they have their own issues, I do not recall hearing sermons repeatedly claiming tithing as “Biblical” – they took offerings and asked people to help out. Perhaps part of the problem is the anti-intellectual vein in current evangelical Christianity, something completely opposite Jewish tradition.

  2. What are your thoughts on giving of your time and talents in lieu of money when finances are tight for a season? My husband and I have struggled with the tithe command for years. We do tithe 10%, but it’s not of abundance from our hearts, it’s because we’ve been taught it’s an obedience issue. We are now entering a season where our income will be diminished for a while. We are trusting in God to provide for us during this time, but those several hundred dollars a month we currently tithe would sure come in handy. We are generous with our time and serving people who need us to be “Jesus with skin on.”

  3. In the New Covenant, believers are “in Christ” and are to be led by the Spirit not under the supervision of the law of Moses.(Galatians) We are to give cheerfully not under compulsion.(2 Corinthians) A threat of a “curse”, sounds like compulsion to me.
    Though a curse may have belonged to the Old Covenant system, Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us. (Galatians 3:13)

  4. I’m not a religious person by any means. In fact, I’m what you would call an Atheist. I was raised in a Protestant home, and sent to church and Sunday school every week with what ever small offering for the collection plate that my parents could afford. If I believed in a God, I would like to believe that he or she would not want his followers to create hardship for their families by feeling they had to give an amount that was beyond their means. I have never seen a Christian blogger agree with me on this particular point. I must say it is refreshing. No, I do not believe in a god, but I share many of the same values that are taught through religion, and it is very nice to share some common ground. Gives me hope that believers and non believers can coexist peacefully and not only tolerate, but understand and respect each other.

    • Thank you! It means a lot that you would stop by here to comment. I think we do share a bit of common ground here. I’ll be the first to own up to the fact that Christians like me, often make the faith we hold repulsive by our self-righteousness. Too often, we repeat the same self-righteous sins Jesus criticized the Pharisees for. It’s our own fault for giving people the impression that Christianity is about religious rules or feelings, rather than the historical announcement of God’s grace toward us in Christ. Thanks again, Lon

  5. God doesnt need our money… never has, never will except the fact remains the bible mentions money as much as it speaks of Love…So, a tenth is a tenth no mater how much you have… time, food, animals, talents, other resources. Old testimate Law and New testament Grace are still in the same bible I have. One does not overide the other. I am not a Christian theologian, I consider myself a Christian practicioner… much like a country Dr. of days gone by that wears many hats. We must not try to put God in a box but allow ourselves to be guided along the straight and narrow road. not the wide and winding road. I personally believe a pastor would be doing a diservice to those in his flock by not teaching what God breathed into man to write about in the Bible. Most definately the great commission and love. Much of which cannot be done without the likes of money, time , food, animals. talents and other resources. And besides most everybody fudges the actual amount they claim on their taxes anyway… like God doesnt see that. HE KNOWS OUR HEARTS better than we do. Thanks for the interesting subject matter.

    • Thanks for sharing your perspective. We know that law and grace are present in both covenants (old and new), but the terms of the covenants are notably different, I’m sure we’d agree. I think the covenants differ in this detail as well. In any case, lets give with joy to pursue the mission Jesus charged us with.

    • I beg to differ that one Covenant does not over-ride the other. New means new as in New Covenant. Jesus said Old wine and new wine do not mix. Old and New are different as day and night!

      Romans 10:4
      Christ is the End of the law for everyone who believes.

      Hebrews 8:7
      If the first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no need for a second covenant to replace it.

  6. Obviously you must have overlooked these statements by Jesus and especially when he said, “these ought you to have done (referring to paying tithes)

    Matthew 23:23
    Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.
    Matthew 23:22-24 (in Context) Matthew 23 (Whole Chapter) Other Translations
    Luke 11:42
    But woe unto you, Pharisees! for ye tithe mint and rue and all manner of herbs, and pass over judgment and the love of God: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.

    • Thank you for pointing this out. I addressed this passage in the post I referred to above, Why the Apostles Didn’t Teach Tithing. Though you may not agree with my perspective feel free to comment on it there. I hope you understood from these posts that I’m not arguing that Christians should give less than 10%, just that the 10% tithe is not taught in the New Testament as a way to measure giving. If you have time to read my full series on tithing, I’m interested in your comments on it. Thanks again, Lon

  7. I feel like this is a post written with tunnel vision. The way you write makes it seem as if all pastors that teach tithing also teach the blessing and the curse with it. This is not true. I believe in tithing. And I believe God has called us as Christians to tithe. But I also know that through Christ I am not subject to any curses because Christ has taken on my punishment. I am not under a curse whether or not I tithe. I also do not give so that God will bless me. I give because I enjoy giving to support my church and its ministerial outreaches to the community. And I also give because I believe God has called us to do so. But I think a pastor can teach on tithing without teaching your “system”. The two do not necessarily go hand-in-hand.

    • Well said and point taken. I suppose I have also heard the (rare) sermon that taught tithing you way you have represented it here. I’m glad you give joyfully for the reasons you mentioned.

      Though you may not agree with my perspective, I argue in Why the Apostles Didn’t Teach Tithing not that you should give less than 10%, but that the 10% tithe is not taught in the New Testament as a way to measure giving. I think if pastors were more focused on inspiring their churches to focus on the Great Commission, we would find a lot more given. Thanks for your comment, Lon

      • I wholeheartedly agreed your point on tithing here, Lon. I also concord with Ryan Cunningham. I do see and hear many pastors preaches on tithing as a “must” base on condition of more blessing, or cursing, etc. But I do believe that God is gracious, and through out the last 2000+ years, the “true church” within Christianity circle is always obedient and faithful to God. I just can’t say that “all pastors” or messages on “tithing” is preach with an attachment to human conditions. If that were the case, the whole 2000+ plus years of church would have been wrong until “now.” I do believe that there are many wrong teachings past and present in the church throughout history, including tithing, but now I think there are an “awakening” through the “true body” to set the true church in “line” with God’s word, because of strong teaching on “prosperity gospel” and other teachings that tweak God’s word to satisfy the ear of many “church-goers.” I believe that God use people like you, DA Carson, John Piper, Ravi Z, etc. to remind the church because of this current preaching of twisted theology….I don’t know if I make sense here but thank you.

  8. Am saddened by the information given above. First Jesus said that he did not come to abolish the law of Moses but to fulfill it. Tithing was one of the laws. Just like do not steal, kill or covet… May the Lord help us. Paul said there shall arise many false prophets among us.

    • Thank you for your gracious disagreement (even if you did imply that I’m a false prophet). I am familiar with the passage you referred to. I’m sorry my perspective hit the wrong chord with you. But I wish you joy as you give to support the gospel mission Jesus gave to His followers.

    • Hi, I think you missed the mark, this passage does not exactly nullify the importance of tithing, it only reveals some fundamental truths about the reasons for tithing especially in the new testament dispensation. From where I come from in Africa, many preachers (the false ones you just mentioned!) do preach tithing and sowing a seed as the prime way of getting God to open His floodgates and bless you. So they collect alot of money from believers and spend them on lavish lifestyles. Well, I dont mean to judge them, but if people gave for the reasons above, that’s not the entire truth, coz they are giving so as to be justified to receive the blessing of God, and this the bible says we already merited from our association with Christ Jesus.

      Now with this in mind, we should remain cheerful givers, with the right mindset; not exactly to call for God’s Blessing but as a means to fulfilling the commission of love. As for the blessings, Jesus got them for us. That’s my humble opinion.
      Thank you

      • Thank you for commenting. I think that’s basically my point: give joyfully for the great commission without reference to the old covenant system for financing priests and Levites (tithe).

  9. I agree whole heartedly. I have tried to express this similarly in some of my sermons.sadly most Christians believe they gave in some way persuade the blessings of God.

    • Thanks for the comment. My view has changed somewhat over the years: The Apostles taught that giving honors God. Give as much as you decide. The amount is a matter of conscience between you and God. I’m glad you believe the gospel enough to give whatever you decide to give. Thanks again, Lon

  10. What commandment in Hebrews 7:18 is being disannulled? It seems from the rest of the chapter that its talking about tithing.

    • I’m not sure I understand the point you want to make, but the simple answer to your question is that the law regarding Aaronic priesthood was annulled. That is, Jesus was from the tribe of Judah, not from Levi, the tribe from which the Old Covenant priests came.

  11. Word of Faith, Seed Faith, blab it and grab it – these are not sound biblical teachings. There will always be wolves in sheep clothing – a lack of discernment, false teachers, BUT GOD.

    We give not to get because we have already gotten the only thing that matters – Eternal Life. We give so that others can preach, teach, witness, evangelize, become missionaries sharing the good news of Eternal Life.

    All else is clanging bells and noisy cymbles.

    • Good article Lon. You speak of this because God has revealed this aspect to you. Not everyone has had this revelation yet. So try not to let some of these comments be a discouragement to you. I tithe because 1) it honors God, and 2) i want to see the Gospel shared with the world. God has truly given me compassion for the lost so that I want to see it preached all over the world, and, unfortunately, we live in a world with a “worldly economic system”, and it takes money to do this. So I give cheerfully, knowing that my God is able to use my tithe to further His Kingdom here on earth. It took me several years of tithing “religiously” before my heart was changed so that i could do it cheerfully. As people get a revelation of this, God will make them cheerful givers, and not do it to try to get His blessings. Thanks for your insight and for being courageous enough to handle such a controversial subject. Keep it up. I enjoy the way you think outside the box.

      • Thanks for the encouragement Stephanie. I believe with the heart-felt attitude you express here, you are free to give way more than 10% if you choose (and God won’t approve of you more than He does now), or if hardship strikes you could give less than 10% (and God won’t approve of you less than He does now). My goal is to help Christians realize that the “How much should I give?” question isn’t answered by a percentage.

  12. This is true..It is not scriptural at all. Before we learnt this, my husband and I had such a hard time supporting our friends in mission work and other ministries. Here is why: we would give 10% of our income to the church as tithe, pay for expenses such as house rent, food etc and we’d be left with so little or nothing to give to those we felt really needed our help.
    About 5 months ago we stopped tithing. Now we are able to give to our friends involved in campus ministry, we support our former universities whenever they go for missions etc..It’s been so liberating!!
    The church we were giving to was buying land to build our own sanctuary and other “projects” like that which essentially is not as important as mission work.
    Give into things you believe in-when there is a mission in church, we give!

  13. In my opinion, tithing demonstrates how your priorities are aligned when it comes to God’s work/House – but definitely it is foolish to think one can ‘bribe’ God. Otherwise, how else will God’s work progress? Tithe and Give not because you want to receive, out of gratitude for what you have received – and we have received both physical and more importantly spiritual blessings.

    • Thanks for your comment Dan. The only suggestion I’d make is that we give freely and joyfully in reference to the Great Commission and Great Commandment, without reference to the Old Testament system of financing priests and Levites. Thanks again, Lon

  14. Fabulous post, Lon. Once again I appreciate your attention to tithing, as I think it is an important topic, and one that is commonly misunderstood.

    • Thanks for reading! (And thanks for the question that forced me to study and think and pray and write on this topic. I hope it’s been beneficial to a few folks.)

  15. Be ye aware of False teachers! The word of God is true and I will be true to the word of God and Not man. God says in his word to “study to show thyself approved” read it for yourself then you’ll know what God has said and whether what man is preaching & teaching lines up with God’s word. Man gets so caught up in trying to analyze God they. miss thepoint. God says in in word he requires 10% of what he’s blessed us with and an offering. God doesn’t need our money. This is a command of obedience!!! Lord I pray you open the eyes of those who are being misled and that they follow your word and not mans, for man will lead people astray due to their lack of knowledge and ignorance. You said in your word to add nothing to nor take away.

    • Sorry Taylor, God owns it all and demands it all. Im sorry you missed the point. Feel free to disagree, but please don’t assume you have studied the Scriptures more than everyone else, and love them more than everyone else.

  16. 1) Abraham gave tithes before the Law. He was saved by faith without the Law, and he gave the tenth before the Law (Genesis 14:20).
    2) Most of the churches Paul started began with Jews and Gentiles (God-fearers) who were attending synagogues (i.e. the Corinthian church and the Thessalonian church). When these churches began, they already knew about tithing and were already practicing it. Hence Paul did not need to teach it in his epistles. Lon, your conclusion about Paul not teaching it to Gentiles is only an assumption you are making.
    3) People who never have to pastor a church and be responsible for its financial survival are always quick to throw out the tithe. Yet, every other organization has prescribed amounts for its citizens or members (i.e. tax rates, membership dues). There is even what we call the msrp (manufacturers suggested retail price). So in everything else there are precise percentages and numbers, but yet the church is supposed to survive without any objective system of giving? I don’t think so. The tenth is God’s suggested number, and New Testament Christian giving should start there.
    I have to lovingly disagree with Lon’s argumentation here. It doesn’t hold any greater weight than the long-held traditional Christian teaching of the tithe.
    Pastor Tom
    Community Baptist Church
    Norwalk, CA

    • Thank you for your comment Pastor Tom. I really appreciate your thoughtful disagreement, and I think it deserves a thoughtful response. Would you be willing to let me quote your comment and respond in a new blog post? I’d like to write it from the angle of “how to disagree like a Christian.”

  17. Wow – I loved this. In all of the writings and sermons I’ve encountered on tithing, few have been as spot on. Great post, Lon!

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  22. Rob you are spot on! I’m partial to the non -threatening approach you take on this subject. Sunday Morning Stickup what your pastor doesn’t want you to know about tithes was 14 years in the making. It’s just been recently released and we are aligned on this subject. I’ve been licensed to preach and teach the Gospel for nearly 30 years now and I used to tithe above % 10. I love God with ALL my heart, no wavering there. Tithing is taught by men but many have not considered that Jesus, none of the Apostles nor any church ever tithed. They understood something then that many are misunderstanding today….. tithing is no longer required of us praise God. I have since learned to yield my heart to giving God %100

    • Fair enough. I’ve written other posts on why the Apostles never talked about the tithe. Read them if you like. Your answer may differ from mine. Follow your conscience, but don’t bind others to your conscience. Grace and peace to you. Lon

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  24. Thank you so much for this. I am sharing this on my FB and keeping a copy for myself. I have felt so guilty and like God will not love me because I can barely pay my basic bills. This means rent, food, gas, for work and medical bills not cable, fancy food or clothes. I was sort of in this catch 22 of how will God heal me from this devastating illness if I can’t afford to give 10% of what I earn. Even though I don’t have 10% to give. I haven’t bought clothes in 5 years or new shoes. I wash my clothes in the sink bc I can’t afford to go to the laundromat. I had to cut my food bill down to $40 a week. I tried $25 but I was really getting sicker. My medical bills take all my expendable cash. I haven’t been in a restaurant or bought anyone a birthday present since I got sick. I am alone lonely sick and scared and I felt like God was a loan shark telling me to give him $200 or I will die. THANK you Thank You Thank you, I know my rational mind kept saying this is not true but my heart kept hearing this from preachers so I stopped going to church because I’m a good Catholic girl and guilt is well entrenched in me. So thank you. I will re read this as many times as I have to.

    • Cammie, Dawn and I really appreciate your comment. We’re so glad you found something helpful here. I want to remind you that if you trust in Christ, then you belong to him, and every good gift and blessing God promises you is yours because because of Christ Jesus (Ephesians 1), not because of your faithfulness or obedience or sacrifice. Tithing or not tithing has nothing to do with whether God will heal you or not. The gospel is good news for poor, broken, sinful people like us. I encourage you to look at some of our other posts on prayer or emotional health to give your more understanding of how/why God answers prayer and helps us through our weaknesses, whether physical, emotional or spiritual.

      Thanks again. God bless, Lon

  25. Hello Lon, I have did study on tithing. The Livitical Priest were the ones God was saying “will a man rob Gos..yet you have robbed me with tithes and offerings.”. It was the preist job once every 3 years. to gather the Israel tithes(which was animals, stock etc) and put in a store house for the Needy and widows.

    The Levitical priest were to all the tithe in that store house and offering and take out for themselves for working 10 percent. THEN….they were toput back in the kitty 10 percent of what they made for doing this job.

    BUT NO!!!!!They got gready and decided not to give that tithe and THAT’S WHEN GOD SAID ” WILL A MAN ROB GOD YET YOU HAVE ROBBED ME IN TITHE AND OFFERINGS”. God was not talking to israel or the christians!!!! PLUS….this was a once every 3 year thing. NOT every Sunday.

    I thank God for his revelation…..My wife still pays tithes and USE to be up set because I dont….but she chilled out…LOL.

    i give cheerfully…..now these pastor got folk hoodwinked and bamboosled..LOL

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