When the Bible talks about "tithing", what does it mean?
The word “tithe” literally means “a tenth.” Both in the Old and New Testaments, the original Hebrew and Greek words carry the same meaning: “to take out, to set aside, or to receive one tenth of a whole.” It is the practice of regularly setting aside and devoting to God the first tenth of our income, whether in money or some other form. It is given to meet the general needs of the church.
Is tithing any different from what the Bible calls giving "offerings"?
Yes. Offerings are what we give to God over and above the tithe; and, for the most part, they are left to the discretion of each worshiper. They are distinguished from tithes as they are given to meet a special or specific need, usually accompanied by some personal sacrifice on the part of the giver (11 Sam. 24:24). An example of this might be in giving to a special fund or ministry. Scripture exhorts us to bring our offerings to the Lord with a right attitude toward both God and our fellow man. (Mt. 5:23-24)
Isn't tithing just Old Testament legalism?
The answer is no. For one thing, the practice of tithing predated the Law of Moses. The first mention of it in Scripture is that of Abraham tithing to Melchizedek more than 400 years before the giving of the Law (Gen. 14:18-20). Jacob also vowed to give to the Lord a tenth of all he would receive from the Lord. This was also long before the Law. Tithing was not a response to some legalistic demand, but a free expression of love and trust in God. The grace of God is at work in our hearts making us cheerful givers (11 Cor. 9:7).
Do alms differ from both tithes and offerings?
Alms are gifts that we give to meet those in need. Scripture encourages us to give in a quiet manner as unto God (Mt. 6:1-4). Alms are given over and above the tithe, and don't need be in the form of money. Acts 9:36 talks about “alms-deeds", which are activities or work done for others in need. It could be giving a helping hand, an article of clothing, or even a “cup of cold water (Mk. 9:41).”
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