I remember at one point in my life I was unsure of what I wanted to do with my tithe. I was not attending any particular church enough to feel like I should be giving all of my tithe to it, and I was evaluating the merit of the practice in my own life. I decided to simply withdraw my tithe from my bank account each month in cash and keep it in a safe place in my bedroom while I determined where to give it.

Several months went by like this, and I still hadn’t come to a decision. I realized I didn’t want to keep such a large amount of cash in my bedroom, so I returned to the bank and deposited it all back into my account. I subsequently forgot about the money and went back to life as usual. I later began paying tithe again, but never paid back the amount I had kept for myself.

Over the years since this happened, I have sometimes wondered whether I should make up for the tithe I never paid. Most of us have probably had similar points in our lives where we have either forgotten to tithe for a period of time, become so broke we cannot afford to tithe, been unsure of what to do with our tithe, or have just stopped tithing because we don’t feel the need to. Later in life, when you reconnect with the practice of tithing and believe it is important again, you may ask yourself if you should pay back-tithes. Should you make up for those months or years of unpaid tithes by paying above 10 percent?

Tithing or taxing

First, you should look at the purpose of tithing. Our government taxes us in order to have enough money to operate. We sometimes look at tithing the same way, as if our church asks for a voluntary taxation in order to keep itself functional. But this is the wrong way of looking at tithe. Yes, your church does use your tithe money for its operational purposes, but that is not why you should tithe. If God wants a church to continue functioning, he doesn’t need your tithe to do it.

The origin of tithe in Genesis 14 is when Abraham gives a gift of gratitude to Melchizedek for God’s blessings in freeing his nephew Lot. Jacob later promises God a tithe as an act of generosity for God’s blessings. These are both gifts of gratitude to God for His blessings. Tithing today should also be a thank you gift or an expression of gratitude to God, not a form of taxation.

Obligation or celebration

Second, you should ask yourself why you would be paying back-tithes. Do you feel obligated to pay them out of fear and because it is the obedient thing to do? If this is the case, you have missed the point of tithing. Saying thank you to God has nothing to do with the dollar amount attached to it, it is about the relationship. A relationship is not something that can be purchased, it is something that must be grown. Tithing is one method that can be used to grow our relationship with God by building our trust and dependence.

If you are deeply thankful to God and simply want to give more because of this thankfulness, then give, but it should not be out of guilt or remorse. Guilt and remorse are often destructive to a relationship, defeating the purpose of tithing and building resentment or anxiety instead of love.

What does the Bible say?

The Bible mentions tithing a number of times, both in positive and negative contexts, but never says anything about making up past tithes. It does, though, talk about starting over, becoming new, and not being concerned with the past. Some of these passages include Isaiah 43:25-26, 2 Corinthians 5:17, Romans 8:1, Philippians 3:13-14, and Hebrews 8:12.