Do We Have To Make Up Past Tithes?

Q. My husband and I have been Christians for a long time. We faithfully and gratefully tithed for many years. But when severe financial problems caused partly by life-threatening ill health and the rest by poor financial choices occurred, we waivered. We started frantically trying to pay day to day living expenses that were piling up and tragically abandoned our tithing out of a misguided sense of responsibility. We put our responsibility to our earthly debtors above our responsibility to obey God. We are ashamed.

Some doctrinal confusion from various pastors’ opinions also entered in to the mix and we have remained confused about it ever since. We finally went bankrupt, lost our home and are living with relatives. The ill health in both of us is still present, but stable and we are still earning. We are elderly.

Here is our question. We intend to resume tithing. But is it acceptable to ask forgiveness for having robbed God for several years and start anew from here? Or is it more proper to pay more than 10% in an attempt to repay our tithe debt to God as best we can? Please understand that our motives aren’t intended to sound stingy. We just don’t know whether we are putting ourselves under unnecessary bondage with trying to catch up a huge debt by paying many years of unpaid tithes. Thank you for helping us discover the correct wisdom in this matter.

A. First let’s review the intent behind tithing. Right from the beginning it was designed to be an expression of gratitude for God’s blessings. Abraham was the first to pay a tithe. He paid it to Melchizedek out of gratitude for Gods blessing in defeating Kedorlaomer and freeing Lot. (Genesis 14). Later Jacob promised to pay a tithe on everything God blessed him with (Genesis 28:20-22) In Deut. 12:4-7 God instructed the Israelites to bring their tithes and offerings to the place he would designate (Jerusalem) and use them for a giant celebration in gratitude for His blessings. He expanded on this in Deut. 14:22-26.

So tithing has always been intended as an expression of gratitude. People who tithe only out of obedience do so for the wrong reason and miss the point. Of all people in history we have the most to be thankful for, so if we can’t tithe solely out of gratitude we’re better off not doing it, because tithing out of obligation only builds resentment. God does not need our money, but tithing is the way we say thanks for saving our lives.

That said, I’ve never found a single verse that requires us to make up tithes we’ve failed to pay in the past. God’s mercies are new every morning, (Lamentations 3:22-24) so confess your sin of ingratitude for the past, receive your forgiveness and move on in freedom.

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