Which Income Should Be Used as the Basis of Biblical Tithing?

Christians Differ on Interpretations of Biblical Tithing

Christians may hold different opinions on what income sources should be used as the basis of biblical tithing. Some Christians feel that our current tax burden justifies tithing on income after taxes.  Others believe that the bible teaches tithing on gross income, before any taxes.

Complicating the situation even further are a number of alternative sources of income. For example, many Christians wonder if they should tithe on non-wage sources of income such as Social Security, alimony, welfare benefits or life insurance payments.

The purpose of this article is not to bring guilt, judgement or condemnation, but to explore a biblical view of tithing. Ultimately, this is an issue to be brought before the Lord in prayer, between Him and the individual believer.

Larry Burkett, founder of Crown financial ministries responded to these seemingly difficult questions with his usual sound advice from a biblical perspective.  (The following questions and Larry's responses originally appeared on the Focus on the Family Web site):

Q: Should I tithe on alimony or child support from my ex-husband?

A: Alimony is part of your “increase” or personal financial gain, and you should tithe on that increase. But child support belongs to your children and isn't part of your increase. If you desire to tithe on the child support, it would be good for you to tell your ex-spouse, not only to prevent legal ramifications but also as a personal testimony about your Christian commitment.

If your ex-spouse strongly objects to your tithing on the child support, I believe you need to respect those objections. Since tithing is a matter of the heart, God will honor your desire to tithe even if you are not able to give.

Q: Should I tithe on my welfare benefits?

A: The Bible says, “Honor the Lord from your wealth and from the first of all your produce” (Proverbs 3:9). This includes income from sources like paychecks, welfare benefits, investment returns, and so on. A tithe on your welfare benefits may not represent much, but it is your love for God and your commitment to honor Him that counts.

Q: What about insurance payments received after the death of a spouse? Should I tithe on the lump sum or the interest earned—or both?

A: This question takes us back to the principle of tithing on our increase, which includes infrequent sources of income like insurance payments, inheritances and income from the sale of a house.

If insurance proceeds are paid in a lump sum, a tithe should first be paid on the entire amount received. Afterward, a tithe should be paid on any increase received (interest, dividends) from the investment of those funds. If the proceeds are held in trust and distributed periodically, then a tithe should be paid on each distribution.

Larry also beautifully illustrates the principle behind giving with the right heart in discussion tithing on Social Security:

Some people say that during their working years, they gave God a portion of the paychecks from which their Social Security deductions were taken. Therefore, they think they've already satisfied the giving requirement on their Social Security benefits.

If these people were average givers, they gave God about 3 percent of their income, according to research by Empty Tomb, Inc. Some may have given 10 percent. But regardless of what they gave, God still owned what was left. Bottom line, we can't argue from a "your share, my share" perspective when dealing with God, because His share is 100 percent.

Also, consider that the money contributed to Social Security is quickly exhausted. In my book, Whatever Happened to the American Dream, I noted that “the average Social Security recipient draws out all his or her contributions in the first four years of retirement.”

To illustrate this point, we created a fictional character named Jim, who plans to retire on his 66th birthday, December 31, 2003. Jim began his working life in 1960, after college. We based his annual salary each year on median income figures from the U.S. Census Bureau. In 1960, Jim's annual income was $5,434. In 2001, it was $40,136, and so on.

During his working years, Jim earned a total of $926,153. A certain percentage of his income was deducted for Social Security. We'll use the current deduction of 6.2 percent, giving him a total employee contribution of $57,235.

Based on payment calculators at Social Security's Web site, Jim will receive a monthly benefit payment of $1,501.90. At this rate, he'll get back his entire contribution in 39 months, or three years and three months. Beyond that, he's receiving money deducted from someone else's paycheck—money that he has not given to the Lord.

Jim could withhold tithing until 39 months have passed and deprive himself of the joy of giving and its attendant blessings. Or he could recognize God as owner and provider, and tithe on his Social Security income from the start.

Without a doubt, the latter option is best.