Can You Give Tithes to the Poor According to the Bible?

Can I give my tithe to the poor instead of church
Jay D'Ambrosio
Jay D'Ambrosio

Pastor at Sound of Heaven

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Can I give my tithe to the poor instead of church?

Generous giving is a key component of Christian faith. However, understanding the true biblical purpose of giving isn’t always clear, leading many Christians to question “can I give my tithe to the poor instead of the church.” In this article, we delve into this question from a biblical perspective to shed light on God’s intentions for our giving practices.

For starters, here is the quick answer to the question at hand but I hope you’ll keep reading. 

Tithing to the poor instead of the church requires careful consideration. In the Old Testament, believers tithed to priests who aided the needy. In the New Testament, giving supported missions addressing both physical and spiritual needs. Thus, giving through the church, which preaches the Gospel while helping the poor, aligns best with biblical principles.

First and foremost, thank God for you and your willingness to share your resources with others.  It’s in giving that we emulate the very essence of our Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave everything for us.

Our world is often consumed by self-interest, so a desire to give selflessly is a beacon of light, shining brightly in the darkness. In church we often hear of the standard set early in the Old Testament surrounding tithes and offerings.  Let’s start by examining tithing and its application according to the Bible. 

What is tithing?

The word “tithe” originates from the Old English “teogotha,” meaning “tenth,” and in Hebrew, it is known as “ma’aser.” This term encapsulates a sacred commitment to allocate a specific portion, traditionally a tenth, of one’s income or resources for religious purposes.

Tithing, deeply ingrained in the fabric of both Jewish and Christian traditions for thousands of years, embodies a sacred commitment to set aside a specific portion, traditionally a tenth, of one’s income or resources for religious purposes.

Across generations, tithes and offerings have served as a testament to the enduring bond between humanity and the divine, requiring disciplined stewardship while promising abundant blessings for those who faithfully honor this sacred act.

Tithing had its roots in the Old Covenant and we see a transition in the New Covenant to a similar, yet enhanced, approach to giving by the early church.  Understanding the progression of giving throughout the Bible will serve you will in deciding whether to tithe to the poor instead of church or allocate your giving to the organized efforts of the local assembly.

Tithing in the Old Testament - The 10% Mandate

The concept of tithing begins in ancient biblical history. One of the earliest recorded instances of tithing is found in the story of Abraham and Melchizedek in Genesis 14:18-20. After Abraham’s victory in battle, he gave a tenth of all his spoils to Melchizedek, who was both a priest and king. This act symbolized reverence and acknowledgment of God’s provision and authority.

However, the formal establishment of tithing as a religious practice came later with the Mosaic Law. In the book of Leviticus, God commanded the Israelites to give a tenth of their produce, flocks, and herds to support the Levitical priests, who served as mediators between the people and God (Leviticus 27:30-33). 

This tithe, or “ma’aser,” served as a means of providing for the priests’ needs and the upkeep of the Tabernacle, the central place of worship for the Israelites.  Tithing was a mandate for all believers with the Bible even equating non-participation as theft in Malachi 3:8-18.

Even though tithing was a strict obligation, take note of the underlying purpose here.  God desired for the Israelites to have a place to worship, unhindered by the worries of lacking resources.  Tithing to the temple provided that because the Levitical priests could focus solely on honoring Him and creating that environment of worship.  

Tithing to the temple

Tithing to the Priesthood Helped the Poor

The tithe, or “ma’aser,” was also intended to support the broader community, including orphans, widows, and foreigners (Deuteronomy 14:28-29). It was a tangible expression of Israel’s commitment to God and their responsibility to care for both those who were in charge of the temple as well as the poor among them.

At the end of every three years, bring all the tithes of that year’s produce and store it in your towns, so that the Levites (who have no allotment or inheritance of their own) and the foreigners, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns may come and eat and be satisfied, and so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands.

In ancient times, tithes primarily consisted of agricultural produce and livestock, representing a tangible portion of the fruits of one’s labor. These offerings were considered sacred and were designated first to support the Levitical priests and their service in the temple.

Once received, the Levitical priests played a pivotal role in the distribution and utilization of these tithes. Beyond their religious duties, the priests acted as mediators between the people and God, ensuring that the offerings were used in accordance with God’s commands.

Their role included allocating a portion of the tithes to support the priests and their families, but also meeting the needs of the poor, widows, orphans, and foreigners within the community.

In this way, the practice of tithing served not only as a means of supporting the religious institutions but also as a powerful form of social welfare, ensuring that the most vulnerable members of society were cared for. 

Since the priesthood took on the lead role of caring for the needy, to give a tithe to the poor directly instead of the church (temple) was not normal practice.  The collective tithe served the needs of the poor, therefore fulfilling God’s will to see that all people benefitted from the assembly of believers.

The principles of giving and support for the God’s mission on earth continue to resonate in the modern-day context. This absolutely includes giving to the poor.

As Christians, we are called to honor God with our finances, recognizing that all we have ultimately belongs to Him.

In the next section, we’ll explore the significance of tithing in the New Testament and its relevance for believers today.

Tithing in the New Testament - Whatever it Takes for the Mission at Hand

In the New Testament, we witness a new standard in the concept of giving driven by the teachings of Jesus Christ and the example of the early Christian community. In Jesus’ earthly ministry, He emphasized the importance of generosity and sacrificial giving.

The Savior challenged His followers by example, with words and deeds, to go beyond mere compliance with the law to embody a spirit of selfless devotion.  But, did Jesus say to tithe?

An interesting fact is that the word “tithe” is not explicitly mentioned in the New Testament.  This does not mean in any way that giving is less important.  It’s quite the opposite.  We are called to give even more freely!

The New Covenant ushered in a new era of giving, characterized not by strict adherence to a tithe but by a willingness to give freely and sacrificially, with a mindset of “whatever it takes.” This giving goes beyond meeting physical needs; it’s about spreading the Good News and helping others achieve spiritual victories. God’s desire is not only to provide for our physical needs but also to empower us to impact lives for eternity.

 

can I give my tithe to the poor instead of church

Giving in the Early Apostolic Church

The first-century church pioneered the new standard of giving continuing the example set by Jesus.  We see a move from the obligatory tithing to a radical commitment to advancing the Kingdom of God at any cost.

In the Book of Acts, we see a community of believers united in the calling of spreading the Gospel and fulfilling the Great Commission.  They were passionate about seeing people set free by the Gospel.

It wasn’t all teaching and preaching though.  Their resources went to ensure that not one among them was in need. Acts 2 describes how they sold their possessions and goods, and distributed the proceeds to anyone who had need. This wasn’t just about meeting basic needs; it was about sacrificially giving whatever it took to advance the mission of  building God’s Kingdom on earth.

Here are some examples from the New Testament where the tithes and offerings given to the Apostles and early church helped the poor:

  1. Acts 2:44-45: Describes how the believers in the early church shared everything they had, selling their possessions and goods to give to anyone in need.

  2. Acts 4:32-35: Presents a similar picture of communal sharing among the believers, with those who owned land or houses selling them and bringing the proceeds to the Apostles to distribute to anyone in need.

  3. Acts 6:1-7: Narrates the appointment of the first deacons in response to a complaint that widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. This highlights the church’s commitment to ensuring that even the most vulnerable members of society were cared for.

  4. Galatians 2:10: Mentions how the Apostle Paul and others were encouraged to remember the poor, which Paul himself was eager to do.

  5. 1 Corinthians 16:1-4: Instructs the Corinthian church to set aside money for the collection for the Lord’s people, particularly for those in need.

This new movement of radical generosity wasn’t mandated by law but was driven by a deep conviction of the importance of supporting one another in the ever expanding faith community.

To ask, “can I give my tithe to the poor instead of church?” is a noble inquiry but the truth of the matter is that this is not how the early Christians operated.  They contributed above and beyond the 10% mandate and gave to the mission of spreading  the Gospel and in the process the the poor were cared for both physically and spiritually.

Jesus often expressed that there was something far more important than temporary relief from physical needs.  Although it’s not directly related to giving a tithe to the poor instead of a church, one example from John 6 comes to mind.  We see Jesus rebuke those seeking more bread after the miracle of the loaves and fish where He fed several thousand. He emphasizes only looking to satisfy fleshly desires is short sided.

Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.”

Jesus never dismissed the needs of the poor and outcast.  No-one was more compassionate than Him when it came to loving and providing for societies last, least, and lost. Jesus, however, clearly taught He offers something far greater.  The knowledge of God, which leads to eternal salvation needs to be the first priority.

He also tells us in Matthew 6:33 that by seeking the Kingdom first will ensure that everything else is added to our lives.  So, there are promises for physical provision when we focus on spiritual growth and advancing God’s will on earth.

Is Tithing for Today? Do I Have to Tithe?

You may have read earlier that the word “tithe” is not in the new testament?  Now you may be wondering “Do I have to tithe?”.

Giving is for today and you and I live under the same standard that we see in the early church.  Why? Because, we share the same Jesus and His Gospel of the Kingdom of God.   So, even though the term “tithe” is not expressed as a new covenant mandate, it would be reasonable to consider 10% giving as a minimum standard as we strive to reach the “whatever it takes” mindset.  

Think about it.  We have a better covenant with a better promise.  Why would we seek to give less than they did in the Old Testament?  

The bottom line is that God loves you no matter what you give.  There are significant blessings that come from giving because there are spiritual laws around the subject.  Luke 6 tells us by the same measure we give, it comes back to us.  So why are so many hesitant to at least tithe to the church?

The church has not always done the best job of teaching the purpose of giving and its role in the lives of believers.  In fact, it’s often the church that tries to promote giving with unhealthy approaches like fear of punishment or loss or even the promise for immense physical blessing. 

Let’s also be honest, some ministries have set a bad example by investing the tithes and offerings of congregations into lavish purchases while there are legitimate needs in the community.  This is not what Jesus taught and also why many ask “Can I give my tithe to the poor instead of church?”  

The question on the surface makes sense.  If you and I give tithes to the poor then at least we know where the money goes, right?  

Is it OK to Tithe Outside the Church?

Some will be quick to say, you must give your tithe or offerings to the church.  Let’s consider the question “Who and what is the church, according to the Bible?”

The church described in the Bible is not merely a physical building or a nonprofit organization but the Greek word ekklesia, translated to the called-out assembly of believers. We individually and together are “the church”. That’s you and me. 

Our primary role according to the Bible is to work together on the Great Commission, leading people ultimately to eternal salvation through Jesus.  Yes, we are to use our resources to provide for the needy and reduce suffering in this world and a meal to someone who is hungry is a blessing.  Its however, a gift that is temporary.  A relationship with Jesus is forever!

So, with that in mind, allocating a portion of your giving, like a tithe (tenth) to care for the poor instead of giving directly to a church organization can align biblically if it is also contributing to leading them closer to the Christ.

This is not to say that every good deed must come with an invitation to become a Christian.  But remember, this article looks to answer the question “Can I give my tithe to the poor instead of church?”.  Tithes and offerings in the Old Testament and New Testament were to create an opportunity for God’s people to worship Him.  As Christians, making a decision on where to give should align with the same goal. 

Therefore, if you have a passion to help the poor, go for it!  So did Jesus!  Just keep in mind that beyond the food and shelter, they also have deep spiritual needs that only Jesus can meet.  

Religious organizations often have programs that go beyond the initial offering of meeting physical needs.  For this reason, you may prayerfully consider partnering with a Gospel driven, faith based, organization, that places a strong emphasis on the needy in this world.  There are many out there. 

Tithing to Help the Poor | A Personal Testimony

Can I give my tithe to the poor instead of church?

As someone who has spent over 15 years in ministry, this question has been a recurring theme throughout my journey—a journey deeply rooted in a lifelong passion for serving the needy. It’s a question that I have heard from others and asked myself, especially early on in my Christian walk when I didn’t have a church to sow into.

From a young age, I felt a calling to extend compassion to those less fortunate, a calling that led me to save my elementary school lunch money to provide for a homeless couple in our neighborhood. However, it wasn’t until I fully surrendered my heart to Jesus at the age of 25 that my desire to help others, both physically and spiritually, truly flourished.

One significant chapter in my journey unfolded when I connected with a church in Atlanta that had a profound focus on serving the homeless communities living under the bridges. It was there that I witnessed firsthand the transformative power of the Gospel. In the midst of serving alongside dedicated believers, I saw lives not only nourished with food, clothing, and shelter but also transformed by the saving grace of Jesus Christ. Men and women that were once broken, drug addicted, homeless, and suffering with mental illness were set free by the knowledge that God loves them.  I immediately shifted my tithes and offerings to this church once I saw the impact they were having.  Eventually, I was ordained as a Pastor.

Sharing this testimony is crucial because it serves as a testament to the incredible transformation that occurs when individuals unite for God’s glory and actively engage in fulfilling the Great Commission. I reflect on the powerful words of Jesus.

“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me… whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
Matthew 25:34-36,40

These words are a reminder of two important truths.

1. There is a profound impact in demonstrating God’s love through tangible acts of kindness and compassion.

2. What we do for others, we do directly for God.  

This journey has taught me that tithing is not merely about financial transactions or sacred obligations but about embodying the love and compassion of Christ in all aspects of our lives. Whether we give to the poor directly or support churches and ministries that serve the marginalized, our ultimate goal is to extend the transformative power of leading with the Gospel to those in need, fulfilling God’s mission of love and redemption in the world.

I want to close out offering some ideas on how help the poor directly and an equal amount of points on why partnering with churches may be a great consideration.

Engage, Serve, and Share: 5 Ways to Directly Help the Poor and Share the Gospel

As followers of Christ, we’re called not only to give to the poor but also to engage with them, share the Gospel, and meet their needs in tangible ways. By combining our resources with intentional acts of service, we have the opportunity to make a lasting impact on individuals and communities. Here are five ideas to consider as you seek to directly help the poor with your time and your tithe:

  1. Start a Food Drive: Organize a food drive in your community to collect essential items for those in need. As you distribute food packages, take the opportunity to engage in conversations about Jesus with both recipients and donors. Sharing the love of Christ through acts of kindness can open hearts and lead to transformative encounters.

  2. Pack Blessing Bags and Hit the Streets: Prepare blessing bags filled with food, socks, toiletries, and other necessities, and distribute them to individuals experiencing homelessness. Use these encounters as opportunities to build relationships and share the hope of the Gospel. A simple act of kindness can pave the way for meaningful conversations and connections.

  3. Connect with Local Providers: Partner with local organizations that provide housing assistance, job placement services, or drug abuse treatment programs. When you encounter someone in need, learn about them and pray with them and refer to the right organization. In doing so, you can help individuals in need access vital support systems and take positive steps toward rebuilding their lives. Establishing connections with these programs equips you to offer practical assistance and spiritual guidance to those seeking help.

  4. Provide Clothing Assistance: Consider donating clothing items or organizing clothing drives to meet the basic needs of individuals and families. Clothing not only offers protection from the elements but also plays a significant role in fostering dignity and self-esteem. Additionally, providing professional attire can empower individuals to pursue job opportunities and achieve financial stability.

  5. Support Local Seniors in Need: Reach out to your local township or community center to inquire about opportunities to assist seniors in need. Whether it’s delivering food supplies, running errands, or offering companionship, your time and resources can make a meaningful difference in the lives of elderly individuals facing challenges. Extend the love of Christ to the elderly population by showing care and compassion in practical ways.

 

You don’t have to do this alone.  There are many groups of believers that will lock arms with you and may already have successful processes in place.

Church Group Street Evangelism

5 Reasons to Tithe to a Church that Helps the Poor

As stewards of God’s blessings, we’re called not only to support those in need but also to spread the transformative message of the Gospel. Tithing to a church that passionately serves the poor while faithfully preaching the Good News is more than a financial commitment; it’s an investment in both temporal and eternal impact. 

  1. Comprehensive Support Programs: Churches that focus on helping the poor often have comprehensive support programs in place, addressing not only immediate needs like food and shelter but also providing long-term assistance such as job training, counseling, and educational opportunities. By tithing to such churches, you’re supporting these holistic programs that empower individuals to break the cycle of poverty.

  2. Community Outreach Initiatives: Tithing to a church that helps the poor enables them to engage in meaningful community outreach initiatives. These initiatives may include soup kitchens, homeless shelters, medical clinics, after-school programs, and outreach events that provide resources and support to those in need. Your tithe contributes directly to the success of these outreach efforts, making a tangible difference in the lives of individuals and families in the community.

  3. Spiritual Guidance and Support: Churches that help the poor often offer more than just material assistance; they also provide spiritual guidance and support. Tithing to such churches allows them to continue offering spiritual resources such as counseling, prayer support, and discipleship programs, helping individuals find hope, purpose, and healing beyond their immediate physical needs.

  4. Stewardship of Resources: Tithing to a church that helps the poor demonstrates good stewardship of your resources. These churches typically have systems in place to ensure that funds are used wisely and effectively to meet the most pressing needs in the community. By entrusting your tithe to a reputable church with a proven track record of helping the poor, you can have confidence that your contributions will make a meaningful impact.

  5. Multiplication of Impact: Tithing to a church that helps the poor allows you to multiply your impact. Churches often leverage tithes and offerings to mobilize volunteers, partner with other organizations, and leverage additional resources to maximize their impact. Your tithe becomes part of a larger effort to address systemic issues of poverty and injustice, amplifying the reach and effectiveness of your giving.

Final Thoughts on Giving Tithes to the Poor Instead of Church

I hope that this article gave you some points to consider around the question “Can I give tithes to the poor instead of church”

In conclusion, the desire to give to the poor reflects a vital aspect of Christian compassion, echoing the teachings of Jesus Himself. However, when we examine the biblical model of tithing, we find that it was directed first to the Temple Priesthood, who then distributed resources to the needy. 

Even in the New Testament, believers pooled their resources under the guidance of the apostles to ensure the well-being of all. The most effective giving through God’s people has always been directed through the church body.  This unified approach to giving supported God’s mission to share His love and truth with humanity, addressing both physical and spiritual needs. 

Therefore, while tithing to the poor directly is noble, it may fall short of the holistic approach to giving outlined in Scripture. Instead, I encourage you to support a church that prioritizes both physical and spiritual care, ensuring that your giving makes a lasting impact on individuals’ lives. 

At Sound of Heaven Church, we are dedicated to serving our community through various initiatives aimed at providing for immediate needs while also sharing the transformative message of the Gospel.

 

Let us emulate Christ’s love in our giving, knowing that every act of generosity has the power to change lives for the better.

Pray With Me

Dear Heavenly Father,

We come before You with hearts filled with gratitude for the blessings You’ve bestowed upon us. We acknowledge that all we have comes from Your gracious hand, and we desire to be faithful stewards of Your provision.

Holy Spirit, we ask for Your guidance and wisdom as we discern where to give our tithes and offerings. Lead us to creative ideas individually or to organizations and ministries that align with Your heart for the poor and marginalized, where our contributions can make a tangible difference in the lives of those in need. Help us to discern whether it’s Your perfect will for us to preach and directly tithe to the poor instead of church or to prioritize supporting organizations that not only meet physical needs but also proclaim the life-transforming message of the Gospel.

We pray this in the Mighty Name of Jesus.

Amen.

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Evangelist of Sound of Heaven Church
Jason D'Ambrosio

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