David says in Psalm 24:1-2 “The earth is the Lord’s and all it contains, the world, and those who dwell in it. For He has founded it upon the seas and established it upon the rivers” (NASB). Everything in this world is transient, which is why we should treat it as such by not becoming dependent on it. We do not truly own our possessions or our money, we simply take care of what we are loaned. Thus, a tithe is ultimately giving to God ten percent of what He already owns.
And there is no requisite that you tithe, like the mandate your government poses on you to pay your taxes. No one will come to you questioning why you skipped a month or are not giving your full ten percent (at least no one should). But if a tithe is giving back ten percent of what we are loaned, an offering is giving back the rest.
Before you start thinking this means you should give away all your money, we need to look at the differences between a tithe and an offering. There are two primary differences between a tithe and offering.
- A tithe is a fixed percentage of your income or monetary possessions. An offering is not a set amount and is not restricted to your income or monetary possessions.
- A tithe (in the Seventh-day Adventist church) is governed by a set of church guidelines that determine how and where it is used. An offering is not. If the offering is a monetary gift, it can be put toward many different purposes. Or it could be something other than a monetary gift. In the Seventh-day Adventist church’s official statements is a list of 24 principles and guidelines for what should and should not be done with tithe money. At the very end of this list is a short statement that says, “NOTE: The foregoing policies do not apply to offerings. Members make the decision as to where their offerings are directed” (Official Statements: Guidelines: Use of Tithe).
Giving away all your money is not offering everything to God unless your money is a barrier between you and God. When the rich young ruler in Mark 10:17-23 asked Jesus how to be saved, Jesus did not start by telling him to sell all that he owned. Instead Jesus told him, “You know the commandments, ‘do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not bear false witness, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.’” But Jesus knew what was a barrier between Him and the rich young ruler. “Looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him and said to him, ‘One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor’” (Mark 10:19, 21 NASB). The rich young ruler lacked one thing: the willingness to give.
An offering is much more than simply a portion of your income or following a list of commands. It is a willingness to give. It is a sacrifice of what you haven’t already given back to God. This includes your money, but it is much more than your money. It is your time, your talents, your body and your money.
If we really believe everything we possess is God’s, then our most valuable asset is His as well: our time. We use our time for thousands of purposes that benefit us. Benefiting ourselves is not wrong – education, careers and friendships all benefit us – but we should also offer our time to God by benefiting others.
Your talents and abilities
Our talents and abilities are gifts to us. Paul says in 1 Cor. 12:4-6 “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are varieties of ministries, but the same Lord. There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons” (NASB). The Seventh-day Adventist church’s list of fundamental beliefs includes the following statement: “God bestows upon all members of His church in every age spiritual gifts that each member is to employ in loving ministry for the common good of the church and of humanity” (28 Fundamental Beliefs of the Seventh-day Adventist Church).
Again, our talents and abilities are not our own, they are simply gifts to be used by us. The use of these talents and abilities for God is an offering to Him.
Your body and mind
The Seventh-day Adventist church puts an emphasis on caring for our bodies and minds according to God’s instructions. Health and well-being are considered spiritual matters rather than simply personal matters. Fundamental belief 22 of the Seventh-day Adventist church includes the statement, “Along with adequate exercise and rest, we are to adopt the most healthful diet possible” (28 Fundamental Beliefs of the Seventh-day Adventist Church). The spirit of offering must include our bodies and minds just as much as it includes our time, abilities and money.
Offerings most commonly refer to financial offerings. Financial offerings are what we give above and beyond our tithes. Gifts to the church, money we put in the offering plate, donations to church causes and gifts to your nephew’s mission trip can all be considered offerings.
Another way to view the difference between a tithe and a financial offering is a tithe is given out of trust, an offering is given out of love. If we believe that we don’t actually own our possessions, including our money, then giving a tithe is trusting God will care for us with or without our money, an offering is showing God gratitude for doing just that.