Tithes & Taxes
Should I claim my tithes on my tax returns?
Some of us may think, “Why is this even a question?” But, the response to that may surprise you depending on whom you ask. Some may say “why the question” because it is clear to them that we should claim our gifts to God as a deduction on our tax returns. “Get back all you can get!” would be the words of this circle. Others would say that it is clear that we should not include our financial church contributions when itemizing our federal income tax deductions. “If I claim it on my taxes and get a larger refund, it’s just like not giving it in the first place.”
Many steadfast believers in the body of Christ hold to this latter view. Motivated by an earnest desire to be honest before God (Acts 5:4) and to be a cheerful giver (2 Cor. 9:7), many brothers and sisters in Christ believe that claiming one’s gifts to God as a tax deduction is the equivalent of tying a string on their money and pulling it back out of the offering plate. Scripture directs us to give generously, willingly, and happily. We should not give out of self-serving motives (Acts 8:18, 19) seeking to gain something from God. Our giving, when done rightly, is an act of worship. So, we should each procure the right intentions for our giving. Our motivation should be worship; our attitude should be willing.
Furthermore, those who hold to the “no refund” mindset might also point to Jesus’ teaching as confirmation of their practice. In one of their attempts to trap Jesus, the Pharisees asked Jesus his opinion on whether it is right to pay taxes to Caesar. Jesus responded to their question saying, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” (Matthew 22:21) The Pharisees apparently thought that if they could get Jesus to say that it was right to pay taxes to Caesar, they could cause dissension among the Jewish people by telling them what Jesus said. The Jews resented Roman rule and its concomitant tax. If Jesus sided with the tax, he would appear to be in conflict with his people.
Yet, in Jesus’ response, He made it clear that it was possible to meet one’s civic duties without taking away from his or her duties to God. Refusing to pay taxes was not the proof of one’s relationship to God. The former does not infringe upon the latter. In fact, Paul later wrote to the believers in Rome saying, “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God…This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants…” (Romans 13:1, 6a). Paul says that a Christian should submit to governing authorities – including paying taxes – as an act of submission to God Himself! (This would not change the fact that Acts 6:28, 29 teaches against submitting to authorities who would require an ungodly or sinful act.)
With that in mind, let us reconsider the original question: should I claim my tithes on my taxes? My understanding of Jesus’ words brought me to the aforementioned conclusion – one’s civic duties do not diminish one’s duties to God. Other scriptures such as Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2:13-17 also indicate that the reverse is true as well – one’s duties to God do not reduce one’s responsibilities as a citizen. However, if we chose to believe that our financial gifts to the church are not eligible to be included on our tax returns, we have not clearly heard what Jesus said.
If we listen to his words again, Jesus says, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” He does not say to give Caesar more than what is Caesar’s. In other words, if the government only requires a certain percentage of taxes from you, why should we give more than what is required by not taking all of our deductions? If our desire is to give as much to God financially as we can, then we should claim those deductions and give an extra portion to God from our larger tax rebate.
Take a look at a hypothetical example. (I am using all round numbers for clarity.):
Derrick & Deborah Doright’s adjusted gross income is $57,300 in 2010. Their total itemized deductions are $10,000 not including their church offerings. After subtracting the $10,000 in deductions and their standard exemption of $7,300, they would have $40,000 of taxable income. In the 15% tax bracket, they would owe $6,000 in federal taxes. Through the year, their employers have withheld $6,500 for federal taxes. Therefore, they will receive a $500 federal tax refund.
The Dorights also gave $7,000 in offerings to God in 2010. If they include this amount, they will have a total of $17,000 in itemized deductions. This would give them $33,000 of taxable income. In the 15% tax bracket, their total tax for the year is $4,950. Having paid $6,500 through regular withholding, they will receive a $1,550 federal tax refund.
If the Dorights include their church offerings in their deductions, they will receive an additional $1,050 in their tax refund!
Now, if they so desire, they can give back to God as much of this additional $1,050 as they desire. Why leave this money in the government’s coffers when it can be given to support God’s mission for the church – making disciples?
God approves of those who give liberally and sacrificially out of a true heart of worship to Him. We saw this as Jesus applauded the widow who gave all she had (Luke 21:1-4). However, in spite of our sincere motive to give without regard for what we get in return, we should not surrender the opportunity to give even more to God by excluding our tithes and offerings from being deducted on our tax returns.
Your motivation for giving to God should never be, “This will be a good tax deduction!” Nevertheless, when you give with the right spirit, I suggest you take that tax deduction and use the rebate to the glory of God!
Here are just a few principles to keep in mind regarding tithes and taxes:
- Be honest on your taxes and in your financial worship.
- Keep good records of all of your giving.
- If you wish, do one tax return without including your offerings. Then, do a second return with your offerings included as a deduction. Calculate the difference between your rebate on the first return and your rebate on the second return. Then, give the difference to God in an additional offering.
- Visit the IRS’s website, www.irs.gov, for helpful tax information.
One last thing… If you tithe from your gross income (before taxes), then you will technically have already tithed from any tax rebate that you receive in the following year. Nevertheless, if you have decided in your heart to give generously, don’t penny-pinch. Go ahead and give again! You can’t beat God giving!
Dallas Lenear, Executive Pastor