Tithes and offerings.  We always use this phrase, with these two words together.  We do that (at least partially) because God himself uses that phrase in Malachi 3:8 when he said, “You have cheated me of the tithes and offerings due to me.”

But what constitutes a tithe, and what exactly is an offering?  What’s the difference between the two, and why do they often appear together but distinct from each other?

Both relate to giving money away, a practice that is very important for us as individuals and brings numerous benefits to our lives.

The word “tithe” literally means a tenth, ten percent.  If you’re giving three percent or five percent, that’s great; but it’s not technically tithing since it’s not 10%.  A tithe is often referred to as “first fruits,” meaning it is the first thing that you do with your money.

There is a lot of  in-depth research and thought about the tithe and if the command to tithe applies to us now.  The first time we see the tithe in Scripture is in Genesis 14, where a priest named Melchizedek, a somewhat mysterious figure who is a priest of God meets Abraham (then Abram) in the desert.  Melchizedek blesses Abraham, and Abraham tithes to him out of the livestock he had just won in battle.

Jesus himself actually affirmed tithing in Matthew 23:23.  Though the entire passage is a condemnation of the Pharisees, he still clearly says, “You should tithe, yes,” before imploring them not to neglect the more important things – justice, mercy, and faith.

Another aspect of the tithe that we see clearly is that it goes to the local church.  It always has.  People didn’t send their tithe to another church hundreds of miles away, or to a missionary across the border.  There are examples of churches giving money to support other churches or missionaries, but that’s organized by the local church.

So if tithing is giving ten percent of your income off the top given to the local church, I think of an offering as anything outside of that.  “The Widow’s Mite” in Luke 21:1-4 is an example of an offering.  Other than that, offerings always come out of surplus that the Lord gives.

I love the imagery that Jewish culture provides us.  To describe offerings, it uses the imagery of a wine glass and a saucer.  At a feast, whoever was leading the meal would take the wine and begin to pour into the glass, sitting on the saucer.  This represents God’s provision in our own lives.

When the glass was full, he would not stop pouring the wine, but continue until the wine overflowed the glass, running into the saucer.  This represented God providing more than enough for our needs, so we are blessed to be a blessing to others.   The tithe is not represented in this imagery, because it was already implied in Jewish culture as ongoing and before any of this happened.

In summary, the tithe is ten percent of your income, off the top, given to the local church.  Offerings are anything else – missions offerings, nonprofit support, other ministries, etc. – and generally come out of your surplus of what the Lord gives.

The good thing to note is that if you do this differently, it’s not a sin or a salvation issue.  You’re an adult and can make your own giving choices, but I thought it would be good to clarify some of the differences in giving types.  The important thing to be doing is giving, period.  We do that out of obedience and because it changes us!

Happy giving!