When trying to distinguish between tithes and offerings, it is important to first understand the concept of tithing. Christians today often think that what they give to their local church is a tithe, when in reality it is an offering. Christian tithing is a misnomer because Christians are under no obligation to fulfill the command to tithe as given to the Israelites as part of the Mosaic Law. The tithe was a requirement of the Law in which all Israelites were to give 10 percent of everything they earned and grew to the tabernacle/temple (Leviticus 27:30; Numbers 18:26; Deuteronomy 14:24; 2 Chronicles 31:5). The New Testament nowhere commands, or even recommends, that Christians submit to a legalistic tithe system. Paul states that believers should set aside a portion of their income as an offering, but this is not a tithe (1 Corinthians 16:1–2).
God expected the Israelites to honor Him by giving the first fruits of what He gave to them. Leviticus 27:30 states, “And all the tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land, or of the fruit of the tree, is the LORD’S: it is holy unto the LORD.” Giving the 10 percent tithe was commanded of the Israelites and was therefore an obligation. When Christ died on the cross, He fulfilled the requirements of the Law and made the mandatory 10 percent tithe obsolete. To continue to insist that it is still in effect is to nullify, at least in part, the sacrifice of Christ and return to the idea of justification by works and law-keeping. The first fruits offering found its fulfillment in Jesus. “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Corinthians 15:20).
An offering is that which is freely given by Christians to the work of the Lord, the local church, and/or ministries and missions. But offerings are far more than simply the check we write on Sunday. We are to offer much more to God than our monetary resources. Romans 12:1 exhorts us to offer our bodies “as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God” as part of our worship. Romans 6:13 gives the reason for offering ourselves: because we are “those who have been brought from death to life,” and, as such, we are to “offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness.” God is not nearly as interested in our monetary offerings as He is in our submission and obedience. The truth is that He doesn’t need our resources to accomplish His plans and purposes. After all, He owns the cattle on a thousand hills (Psalm 50:10) and needs nothing from us. What He desires, however, and what He values, is the heart that overflows with gratitude and thanksgiving to the God who saved us and who gives us all things, knowing our needs before we even ask (Matthew 6:8). Such a heart gives generously, willingly, and cheerfully in response to the love and grace that abound in Christ (2 Corinthians 9:6–8).