A good starting point for understanding biblical teaching about generosity is very simple: We were designed to live generously. The Bible says we were made in God’s image and one of God’s most defining characteristics is his generosity. As perhaps the most famous verse in the entire Bible tells us, “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only son so that everyone who believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
Since that’s how we are intended to live, it’s no surprise that countless secular studies have found that the most generous people are the happiest people. What is surprising, however, is that many Christians give nothing at all, and among those who do give, relatively few give at the level of a tithe or 10 percent of income.
Part of that can be explained by a lack of teaching on the topic of biblical generosity or misunderstandings about what the Bible teaches. Some of it can be explained by the pull of the culture; there’s a lot of tugging on our wallets. And some of it can be explained by a lack of intentionality; there just never seems to be enough money available to give.
That’s why building a tithe into your budget can be so helpful. Here are five factors to consider.
1 – Budgeting a tithe will help us put God first
The Bible teaches a first-priority approach to giving: “Honor the LORD with your possessions, and with the first fruits of all your increase” (Proverbs 3:9, NKJV). Making generosity the first outgo category on our cash flow plan (a.k.a., budget!) will help a lot in orienting our financial life in a generosity-first direction.
2 – Budgeting a tithe will help us find the money
In a very practical sense, putting a tithe on our cash flow plan protects “giving” as an essential part of our financial life. Ideally, a cash flow plan begins with gross income, then it lists a tithe, then saving and investing, then essential expenses, and lastly discretionary expenses.
If we take care of all of our financial needs and wants and then see if anything is left over for giving, saving, and investing, chances are good that little, if anything, will be left over. But if we prioritize giving, saving, and investing and then see how much we can afford to spend on housing, transportation, vacations, and all the rest, that’ll help us live generously and save and invest adequately.
3 – Budgeting a tithe will help us give consistently
Our church and other ministries that we support will appreciate our consistency in giving. They have salaries and bills to pay each month. Making the tithe a part of our monthly cash flow plan enables us to help them meet those consistent needs.
4 – Budgeting a tithe will help us live within our means
There is something very counter-intuitive and seemingly illogical about this, but person after person reports that it is easier to live on 90 percent of their income than it is to live on 100 percent. This is what some people refer to as “God’s math.”
When spending comes first, there never seems to be enough. The tendency is to spend more than 100 percent of income through debt. Giving the first portion of all that we receive to the Lord reorients our hearts and priorities, enabling us to live just fine on 90 percent.
4 – Budgeting a tithe will free us to give spontaneously.
At first, this, too, seems to make no sense. If giving is in the budget, where is the spontaneity in that?
The Bible teaches about tithes and offerings. Tithing is not taught as a “give-as-you-are-led” practice. The tithe is specific. It means tenth part, or 10 percent. It is intended to be a consistent practice—a discipleship practice, regularly reminding us that God is our provider (1 Chronicles 29:14, Deuteronomy 8:17-18) and enabling us to join with God in meeting consistent needs, such as providing for those who teach us God’s Word (Galatians 6:6), furthering the spread of the Gospel (Matthew 28:16-20), and helping the poor (Proverbs 19:17).
Offerings, on the other hand, are the part of living generously where we can respond to periodic needs God brings to our awareness. Budgeting the tithe and then being attentive to the leadings of the Holy Spirit and giving freewill offerings as we are led creates a best of both worlds scenario.
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Matt Bell is the author of Trusted: Preparing Your Kids for a Lifetime of God-Honoring Money Management. He speaks at churches and conferences throughout the country and writes the MattAboutMoney blog.
This article should not be considered legal, tax, or financial advice. You may wish to consult a tax or financial advisor about your individual financial situation.