ABOUT TITHING

© Rosemary Bardsley

Question: Should Christians tithe?

Answer:

TITHING IN THE OLD TESTAMENT

[1] There are two reports of tithing that was spontaneous, that is, it was not commanded.

Genesis 14:20: Abram gave Melchizedek, a priest of the Most High God, a tenth of all he had. There is no prior commandment requiring this. It appears to have been in response to Melchizedek blessing Abram.

Genesis 28:20-22: Jacob commits to give God a tenth of all God gives him, if God watches over him and brings him back to Bethel . This was in response to God reaffirming to Jacob the covenant he made with Abraham and Isaac. Again, there does not appear to be any commandment requiring this.

[2] In the Law of Moses there are clear commands to the Israelites that they are to tithe as a part of their covenant responsibility:

Leviticus 27:30-33. A tenth of all crops and animals belongs to the Lord. If this tenth is redeemed with cash, one fifth of its value must be added to the redemption price. This is the first commandment concerning tithes.

Numbers 18:21-24. These tithes [see previous reference] were to be given to the tribe of Levi who served in the tabernacle and had no tribal lands within Israel .

Numbers 18:26-32 . When receiving this tithe from the rest of Israel , the Levites were to present a tithe of that to the Lord; this portion, which was to be the best portion, was for the use Aaron, the high priest.

Deuteronomy 12:6,11. Burnt offerings, sacrifices, tithes, special gifts, promised gifts and freewill offerings are to be brought to a central place of worship. It appears from verses 7 and 12 that at least some of these, including the tithe, were used for a great party of rejoicing before the Lord. This is verified in verses 17-19.

Deuteronomy 14:22-29. Tithes of everything produced by the land were to be set aside. These were to be eaten in the presence of the Lord, at a central place of worship. If it is too far to carry the tithe, the tithes can be exchanged for silver, then any produce could be purchased and eaten before the Lord. At the end of every three years the tithes were to be taken to a store in the towns for the Levites and the poor to eat.

Deuteronomy 26:12 . The three-yearly tithe is to be given to the Levites and the poor.

From the above we learn:

      • The tithe was to be brought into the central worship centre every three years.
      • The tithe could be taken to and stored in a local town for distribution
      • The tithe was one tenth of all crops and all increase in flocks
      • The tithe was to be distributed to the Levites and the poor [fatherless, widows, aliens]
      • The tithe was to be used for a huge rejoicing/party
      • The tithe received by the Levites was to be tithed by the Levites
      • The tithe could be exchanged for money and the money used to buy whatever produce/food the giver wanted to donate.
      • Tithes were mandatory requirements, not freewill offerings

[3] Samuel warned that kings would demand tithes:

1 Samuel 8:15,17 . In response to Israel ’s demand for a king Samuel warns them that a king will take a tenth of their grain and wine and flocks.

[4] In the history of Israel we learn that as the people rejected God tithing ceased. National reform included a reinstitution of the tithe:

2 Chronicles 31:4-21. Under Hezekiah’s reform the tithe is gathered and distributed to the priests and Levites.

Nehemiah 10:37-39. In Nehemiah’s reform a commitment is made to tithe, including the tenth of the tithe to be brought by the Levites.

Nehemiah 12:44-47. Tithes for the priests, Levites, singers and gatekeepers. [also 13:12]

Amos 4:4. Sarcastic reference to tithes being brought by a godless Israel .

Malachi 3:8-11 . Withholding tithes and offerings is robbing God.

Summary: It is obvious also that tithing is only a part of the total giving expected of the Israelites. In some of the above references, and many others, we find reference to a range of giving practices. In fact, there are 623 references to ‘offering’ and ‘offerings’ alone.

Old Testament giving included:

      • Tithes of crops
      • Tithes of flocks and herds [that is a tenth of all animals born in a given year, in addition to the first born which was already dedicated to the Lord]
      • Cash instead of tithes [which had to have one fifth of the value of the tithe added]
      • Dedication to God of the first-born of the flocks and herds
      • Free will offerings
      • Burnt offerings
      • Sacrifices
      • Special gifts
      • Gifts promised by oath
      • Thank offerings
      • Fellowship offerings

An analysis of Old Testament indicates that the tithe was an extremely practical donation: its intended use was food for the Levites, the poor, and for joyous celebrations of God.

Its spiritual significance existed primarily in two aspects:

      • The significance of the tithe was related to the reality or otherwise of one’s faith claims: it could be given out of a sincere heart, in which case it was pleasing to God, or out of an insincere heart, in which case it was objectionable to God. In extreme of rejection of God, it was not given at all.
      • Because of the impact of the tithe on the physical well-being of the Levites and the poor [fatherless, widows and alien] its absence expressed the heartlessness and social injustice that prevailed whenever the people turned away from God to idols.

Other offerings had a more intimate and direct spiritual connection; for example, they were involved in obtaining personal or national forgiveness and atonement; they were involved in procuring ceremonial cleansing; they were expressions of personal or national thanksgiving; they were fulfilments of vows made to God.

 

GIVING IN THE NEW TESTAMENT

[1] The only references to tithing in the New Testament are:

[1] Jesus rebuked some of the Jews for being meticulous about tithing small things such as herbs, while at the same time lacking moral virtues - Matthew 23:23; Luke 11:42. This does not mean that he rejected tithing, indeed he affirmed tithing, but it does mean that Jesus exposed the wrongness of tithing done apart from any real love for God or man.

[2] In Luke 18:12 the Pharisee included tithing in his religious resume, and trusted in his own spiritual performance, including his tithing, for salvation rather than admitting he was a sinner and casting himself on God’s mercy.

[3] In Hebrews 7 the writer refers to Abraham giving tithes to Melchizedek as an indication that Jesus, whose priesthood is in the order of Melchizedek, is greater than the Levitical priests.

Apart from Jesus' comment to the Jews in Matthew 23:23 and Luke 11:42 'you should have practised the latter without neglecting the former' there is no command or encouragement to tithe in the New Testament.

[2] The apostles never tell their readers to tithe, nor do they refer to tithing in relation to Christian believers. They do, however, make it clear that God expects us to give and loves us to give cheerfully, and that we should give sacrificially to meet the needs of others in desperate circumstances.

Acts

      • At the beginning of the church Christians in Jerusalem shared their possessions; there was no needy person among them [ 4:32 , 34]
      • Money from sales of possessions given to the apostles, who shared it among the needy [ 4:34 -36]
      • One deliberate lie about giving was immediately punished [5:1-11]. The issue was not the amount or proportion given, but the lie told about it.
      • Deacons appointed to oversee the daily distribution of food to the needy [6:1-4]

Romans 15:

      • A contribution sent from Macedonia and Achaia for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem [26]
      • This is seen as ‘a service’ for the saints in Jerusalem [25]
      • They were pleased to do this [26,27]
      • Paul comments that the Gentiles, who have shared in the Jews’ spiritual blessings, ‘owe it’ to the Jews to share their [the Gentiles’] physical blessings with the Jews [27]

1Corinthians 9

      • It is the right of the apostle to be paid for his ministry [7-14]
      • Paul and his companions did not exercise this right [12,15,18]

1Corinthians 13

      • Giving without love is worthless

1Corinthians 16

      • Instructions to set apart a sum of money for the collection on the first day of the week to be saved up till Paul came to collect it [1,2]
      • Give in keeping with size of income [2]
      • Approved men chosen to carry the gift [3]
      • [Note, this was for God’s people in Jerusalem ; not for the local churches whose members were collecting it.]

2Corinthians 8

      • Giving seen as the grace of God [1]
      • Giving in the context of severe trial and extreme poverty of the givers [2]
      • Giving and joy [2]
      • Giving beyond their ability [3]
      • Anxiousness to give to other believers [4]
      • Giving an act of grace [6]
      • See that you excel in the grace of giving [7]
      • Not a command, but a demonstration of the sincerity of love [8]
      • Giving an indication of sincerity and earnestness [8]
      • Example of Christ – though he was rich he became poor for us – a motivation/measure of giving [9]
      • Commitments should be followed through [10-11]
      • Giving according to your means [11]
      • Willingness of heart makes the gift acceptable, not size of the gift one is able to give [12]
      • The gift is acceptable according to what you have, not according to what you do not have [12]
      • Equality is the goal – not the enrichment of the receiver at the expense of the impoverishment of the giver [13-15]
      • Offerings entrusted to reliable/trustworthy men [16-19]
      • The administration/use of the offering is to honour God [19-21]

2Corinthians 9

      • Giving is a service to the saints [1]
      • Eagerness to help by giving [2]
      • Readiness to give, enthusiasm in giving [2]
      • Corinthians urged to keep their promise about giving generously [5]
      • Generous, not grudging, giving [5]
      • Generously, not sparingly [6]
      • Decide in your own heart what to give, not reluctantly, not under compulsion [7]
      • God loves a cheerful giver [7]
      • God is able to supply your needs etc [8-9]
      • God will supply what you need to be generous [10-11]
      • Giving as service [12]
      • Giving generates praise to God by those who receive [12-13]
      • Giving a service by which one proves oneself [13]
      • Giving is an expression of obedience that accompanies faith [13]
      • Giving motivates the recipients to pray for the givers [14]

Galatians 2:10

      • The Jerusalem Council asked that the Gentile Christians would remember the poor

Ephesians 4:28

      • Work so that you will have something to share with those in need

Philippians 4

      • Paul rejoices because of the Philippians’ gift [10]
      • It is good to share [financially] in another’s troubles [14]
      • Aid given when in need [16]
      • Giving is ‘credited’ to the giver’s ‘account’ [17]
      • Giving is a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God [18]

1Thessalonians 2

      • Paul and his companions did not expect or demand payment from those to whom they ministered; rather they worked hard day and night so as not to burden the people in this way [6-9]

2Thessalonians 3

      • Same as previous [7-8]

1Timothy 5

      • Older widows in the church without family to support them were looked after by the church [3,9,16]
      • Families should provide for their relatives [4,7,16]
      • Elders [especially preaching/teaching elders] should be given some recompense [17,18]

James

      • Mistreatment of, discrimination against, failure to supply the needs of, the poor, is out of keeping with a claim to have faith in Christ [2:1-17]

TITHING AND CHRISTIANS

In response to questions about Christians and tithing the following comments are relevant:

      • The Old Testament tithing command is never once laid upon Christians in the New Testament.
      • Tithing in the Old Testament comprised only a part of total giving. To give Christians the impression that tithing is God’s standard for giving is therefore inaccurate. God’s standard for giving embraces far more than tithing. To constantly urge Christians to tithe can have a negative effect of limiting their giving to the tithe, and giving them the false perception that if they have tithed they have given all God requires. Such giving is not what the New Testament calls ‘generous’, rather it is giving through a sense of obligation. ‘Generous’ giving is not so much the size or proportion of the gift but the spirit in which the gift is made.
      • Because the tithes provided for the sustenance of the Levites/priests and also for the poor it is obvious that present day taxes that we pay to the government fill in part the function and purpose of the tithe in the Old Testament economy. The ‘government’ structure when the tithing command was given was the religious leaders [all from the tribe of Levi, who represented the other tribes before the Lord], and who, under Moses, were the administrators of a theocratic system of religious/political government which was an intrinsic part of the Law of Moses. Governments today use our tax money, in part, to support the poor and needy. [They also use our tax money to pay themselves incomes generally far greater than ours. In the tithing set up in the Law of Moses, however, the maths equations reveal a significant general approximation of equality in the final ‘incomes’ of the givers and the Levites, the recipients.]
      • Whether or not an individual chooses to practice tithing [giving one tenth of one’s ‘income’ – produce or money] would appear to be the same kind of choice as those addressed by Paul regarding individual choices about eating meat or keeping holy days [Romans 14:1-23; 1Corinthians 8:1-13; 10:14-11:1; Colossians 2:16-23]. It’s okay to do it; it’s also okay not to do it. The important thing is that it shouldn’t be made a point of judgement by either side. In fact to make it a point of acceptance or judgement is wrong.
      • The ‘as you are able’ principle of the New Testament encourages the rich to give considerably more than a tithe. For example, a man who has earned only $100 may be able to give only a tithe or less than a tithe, for he needs $90 or more to feed his family; however, a man with the same sized family, but with earnings of $1000 does not need $900 to feed his family for the same period of time. He may well be able to feed his family on one tenth and give nine-tenths away – to the needy or to the Lord’s servants.
      • The New Testament expects Christians to contribute to the support of those who preach and teach the Gospel, to provide for their own relatives in need, to contribute to the support of Christians who have no relatives of their own, and to help the poor and needy generally. While in some countries most of the poor are supported through taxes paid to the government, Christians should always be ready and willing to help some one in need, as they are able, both in their own country and abroad. In our global community we cannot avoid seeing and being challenged by the poor and needy in developing countries on a massive scale. If it were left to Christians, who are a minority group on earth, to support them, few would survive. Because of the size of the need, God, by his sovereign grace, moves the ungodly to supply a great portion of the humanitarian aid that is actually given.

The contrast between the rich ruler [Luke 18] and Zacchaeus [Luke 19] is instructive:

The rich ruler, in his self-centred quest for spiritual blessedness, cared little for either Christ or the poor. He cared far more for his possessions.

Zacchaeus, in his quest to find out who Jesus is, when he found out immediately loved not only Jesus but also the poor, and, seeing clearly the implications of his faith in Christ, spontaneously, without being asked, chose to do what the rich ruler had refused to do when commanded by Jesus. He paid back what he had stolen, multiplied by four, and he also gave half of all he had to the poor.

Zacchaeus’ new found knowledge of Christ as Lord made it immediately obvious what his attitude to his money, to the poor and to giving to the poor and needy should be. His resultant giving, flowing out of his knowledge of Christ, was not measured by or limited to the tithing concept.

Such was also the heart of Job, so many millennia earlier: out of his knowledge of God had come a deliberate, and yet spontaneous, compassion for the poor and needy, again, unlimited and unrestricted by the concept of tithing [Job 29:12-17; 31:13-23].