Why Our Church Should Be a Tithing Church

Why Our Church Should be a Giving/Tithing Church

By: Stephen Johnson

 

Old Testament Teaching on Tithing and Giving

One Consistent Message

The Old Testament includes some form of tithe or offering from the very first pages.  God placed Adam and Eve in the garden as stewards over his creation.[1]  God owned it, but people were made to work and manage it.  Thus, we do not own anything in creation.[2]  We are only stewards.  This idea is reiterated in Psalm 50, where God declares that he does not need the sacrifices and offerings of people since he owns the cattle on a thousand hills.  All that moves in the field and all the birds are his.  If he needed anything, he would not ask us because he owns it all.[3]  The tithe is not our gift to God, but God’s invitation to participate in the creation he made and owns. 

Genesis 4 tells us about how Cain and Abel gave to God from the fruit of their labor.[4]  Each brother wanted to honor God by giving up something to God from all that they had received from God.  From the beginning, however, it was clear that some sacrifices or offerings were acceptable and some were not.  Cain, who gave some of his profit, is contrasted with Abel, who gave the firstborn of his flock and especially their fat portions.  One gave some of what he had; the other gave the best and first of what he had.[5]  Noah also sacrificed a burnt animal offering after the flood.[6]  Abraham and Jacob were familiar with and offered the same offerings.[7]  Job also committed daily offerings to God for his children.[8]

The firstfruit principle is an ongoing teaching and example related to tithing and giving.  The idea is that God deserves the best of what we have, and he expects us to give the first of what we have.  This, of course, takes great faith.  When you are a farmer or herder, you never know how much will come to you in the harvest or how many animals might make it through the season.  By giving to God first, you show that you trust him to provide for you. 

In Proverbs 3.9-10 we read, “Honor the LORD with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops; then your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine.”  The first of the meal, grain, and fruit was to be collected by the Israelites for the tithe.[9]  When the Israelites entered the Promised Land, all the gold, silver, bronze, and iron from the first city were consecrated to God.[10]  Abraham was tested by God to see if he would sacrifice his first born son.[11]  God raised the bar even higher when he said in Exodus 23.19, “Bring the best of the firstfruits of your soil to the house of the LORD your God.”  God knows that if he is first in our lives, everything else will come into order.  One way we illustrate that he is first is by giving the first of what we have back to him.  God cares about order and priority.  He is a jealous God.[12]

 

Abraham gave the first recorded tithe to Melchizedek, priest of “God Most High” and the king of Salem, which is Jerusalem.[13]  Tithe means tenth, and Abraham gave a tenth of all the spoils of war to the king of Salem for blessing him in the name of God Most High.  We’re never told why Abraham does this, but it does show that tithing was in practice by God’s people before the Law of Moses took effect, which illustrates that it is not simply a principle of law.

When Jacob meets with God at Luz[14], he vows that out of all that God gives him he will return a tithe, or a tenth, back to God.  It was here that God reiterated the covenant he made with Abraham and promised to continue it in the life of Jacob.  Tithing seemed to Jacob to be the correct response to an encounter with God and a blessing from God.  Jacob’s response is the appropriate reply for those who establish themselves in a covenant relationship with a sovereign or greater authority.  In some ways, it is not unlike a lesser king paying fealty to a stronger king, shown by his gifts, in return for his continued favor and protection.[15]  This covenant response should not be viewed as either coercive nor as an attempt to buy love.  Although in some cases it could become that, it is designed to be the loving response by the lesser party to the greater party’s benevolence.  Once again, the tithe principle shown here predates the giving of the Mosaic Law.

Most of the subsequent examples of tithing in the Old Testament are either laws presented to God’s people through the Mosaic covenant or refer in some way back to those laws.  From Leviticus to Deuteronomy, the clear teaching is consistent.  The people are instructed to give a tithe of the land (seed and fruit), the wine, the oil, the herd, and flock.[16]  From everything a person has, a tenth is required in return.  After the tithe had been given, the people were also required to give an offering for their sin and at the various festivals and holy days.  There were additional tithes that were not required every year.  When it is all said and done, the required offerings far exceed ten percent of the wealth of Israel.  Various scholars who have calculated the entire amount required by God have concluded that the Israelites gave between 22%-33% of their increase each year.

Beyond the tithe, freewill offerings were established for the people.[17]  There are also offerings that are required, but are not strictly a tithe.  Every firstborn male born in Israel, whether an animal or a son, belongs to God and must be killed (an animal) or redeemed by a sacrifice from the herd (a son or some animals).[18]  Other offerings include animals, grain, wine, and gold, silver, bronze, fabric, etc. that the people are obligated to present to God as a sign of love, thanksgiving, and honor. 

The Levites are themselves an offering of sort, as they are set aside for the Lord among the people. God gives them no inheritance in the Promised Land, save himself.  One way in which God provided for them was that they received all the tithes and offerings of Israel and were sustained by the grain, seed, oil, wine, and animals that were given to God.  This is the group that received all the tithes, but it should be noted that they, too, must tithe.  God calls this a tithe of a tithe. [19]

 

Blessing and Curse from the Tithe/Giving

To those who honor the tithe and the offerings that God requires, he promises to bless them.  Generically, God promised that if the people would obey him, it would “go well with you”.[20]  In Psalm 50, God says that those who bring their offerings and keep their vows will be able to call on him in trouble and he will deliver them.[21]  Malachi contains the strongest rebuke from God to those who did not honor the tithe and offering requirements.  The priests were offering defiled animals as sacrifices to God on the altar (blind, crippled, and diseased animals), thus showing contempt for God and his requirements.[22]  God then declares that he will curse those who bring such unworthy offerings and will curse their blessings.[23]  Then God asks why the people rob him by withholding their tithe.  He invites the people to test him.  If they will bring the whole tithe (ten percent of everything), he will open the floodgates of heaven and pour out such a blessing that they will not have room for it.  He specifically says that he will prevent pests from devouring their crop and the vines will not fail to bear fruit.[24]  God is challenging them, openly inviting them to test him and see if they will not receive more in physical blessing (he says they will not have room for it, connoting the need for physical space) than they have given.

It should be noted that the Old Testament teaching of tithing and giving is not isolated.  Deuteronomy 5.33 says if the people walk in the way of the Lord they will live and prosper and prolong their days in the land they possessed.  Tithing is certainly a part of the “way of the Lord”, but is by no means the whole of it.  When Malachi presents God’s test, it cannot be looked upon as isolated from other areas of obedience.  Evidence of this is found in the writings of the prophets.  Isaiah and Hosea both record God’s anger over those who bring sacrifices but whose heart is in the wrong place.[25] 

We cannot, therefore, look to tithing as a panacea for financial problems.  By itself, giving to God is unacceptable.  It must be coupled with obedience.  While obedience is impossible without tithing (since God did command it), tithing is possible without full obedience.  In the context of overall faithfulness, though, tithing and giving brings with it a powerful promise of provision.  The land will produce fruit, the heavens will open up, and the people of God will be called blessed by the world.  Proverbs tells us that while one man gives freely, yet grows richer, another man is stingy and comes to poverty.[26]

An example of this provision is found in the life of the widow at Zarephath.  This woman was desperate from the drought conditions in the land.  God sent Elijah to her so that she could feed him, since he also was desperate due to the drought conditions.  God told Elijah that the widow there would feed him, so when Elijah found her he asked her for food.  She told him that she had only enough for her son and herself, and that after she ate the food she had, she was resigned to death because there was nothing else for her.  She had no more oil and flour.  But Elijah told her to feed him first, and she did.  Once she fed him, she found that her oil and flour were not gone, so she made some for herself.  Even then, the oil and flour was not used up but rather sustained them for many days.  While Elijah was still living there with them, the woman’s son died and Elijah raised him back to life.[27]

One might be tempted to think that God sent Elijah to the widow so that he could be saved from starvation.  But God, who had been providing Elijah food by sending birds to provide for him, could have given him food in any way he wanted to.  God sent Elijah to the widow not for Elijah’s sake (at least nor primarily), but for the widow’s sake and her son’s sake.  God chose to provide life to her through her faithful generosity.  He knew her son would die and wanted to save him.  Both were possible because she had faith to give through faith.

The woman only had a small amount of oil and flour to offer, but in return she received enough oil and flour to provide for her family and Elijah for an extended period of time.  In addition, her son was saved from death because Elijah stayed with her.  The point is that when God calls on a person to give beyond their means (whether a tithe or otherwise), he will provide for the needs of the person.  It is consistent with Scripture in both its promises and its examples that what is provided will be more than what is offered. 

 

Conclusions from the Old Testament

There is an established principle of both tithing and giving in the Old Testament.  Both precede Moses, and thus precede the Mosaic Law.  As such, these principles are not dependent upon the Law for their validity nor are they dependent upon the Law for their obedience.  Tithing is for our benefit.  The tithe is recognition that God owns it all; it is his creation.  The Bible shows that God causes this creation of his to work more in our favor when we show proper recognition of his rights to it.

God requires that his people give one tenth of all they have to him by giving it to the people who represent him in ministry (whether Melchizedek, the priests of Israel, or the entire tribe of the Levites).  God demands that they give other offerings in addition to the tithe.  The required offerings for the Israelites were much greater than ten percent.  God also made provision for gifts above and beyond what was required in freewill offerings.  The poor have some provision made to prevent them from becoming destitute due to the tithe and offering.  Only the tenth animal passing the staff is given, and alternate avian sacrifices are available for those who cannot afford bulls and rams.[28]

God expects the first of what the people have, and he expects the best of the first.  God cares about the order.  He cares about priority.  People need to show that God is first in their life, and if they seek God first he will take care of them and bless them.[29]

God promises to provide for and bless physically all those who tithe and give, but not outside of the context of overall obedience.  Giving with impure motives, while ignoring others in need, or in an attempt to keep the best for yourself will result in God’s anger and is an unacceptable practice.  For those who give with a right heart and are generally obedient to his will, God will give back more than what is given.  The blessings of God are not limited to physical blessings, but there does seem to be a correlation between faithful giving of resources and a blessing from God that manifests itself partially in the physical realm, though not necessarily exclusively.

If anyone gives an unworthy offering or if they withhold the tithe from God, he will not bless them physically, and will even curse them.[30]  Turning back to God will result in the blessing of God being restored, and the offerings and tithes will be accepted.  This is not a once and done type of disobedience.  God offers the offender a chance to repent.

 

New Testament Teaching on Tithing and Giving

Jesus’ Teachings

Jesus basically taught the same things as the Old Testament.  This makes sense given that Jesus came to minister among the Jews who remained under the Law, he did not abolish the Law, and his entire ministry was completed before the establishment of the Church.[31]  As such, Jesus affirmed tithing to the Temple.  Jesus challenged the Pharisees when they were neglecting justice, mercy, and faithfulness but still tithing to the Temple of their spices.[32]  But Jesus doesn’t say they should have neglected the mint and dill to focus on justice and mercy.  Rather, Jesus says they should have done both.  He affirmed their need to tithe.  This is exactly the same message that is presented in the Old Testament.

Jesus paid the two-drachma temple tax, though as the Son of God, he clearly did not need to pay the tax.[33]  He also watched other people putting their offerings into the boxes outside the Temple.  When a poor woman came and put two small coins in, Jesus commended her for giving.[34]  She gave out of her poverty (all she had to live on), rather than out of her abundance.  Presumably, Jesus commended her because she was faithful (she gave no matter what), and she was full of faith (like the widow of Zerapheth, she trusted that God would provide for her).  It is worth noting that just before she gave her last two coins, Jesus blasted the scribes for devouring the houses of widows.  It is likely that he had this very thing in mind.  The scribes were the teachers of the day, and the passage suggests that they loaded even the poor and helpless with an unbearable teaching on tithing.  Jesus could be saying that these men destroyed widows by using their knowledge of Scripture to burden them more than the Scriptures required.  Interestingly, Jesus still affirms the woman for giving, even if she was potentially being pressured by the scribes.

When Jesus was questioned by a rich man who wanted to enter eternal life, Jesus instructed him to obey all the commandments and to give away all his money to the poor.  The man was downcast because he was not willing to give up his possessions.  Jesus made clear that we must hold our possessions lightly and be willing, whenever God calls, to give them away to another.  Since these things do not belong to us anyway, there is no room for gripping our possessions tightly.  Furthermore, Jesus told his disciples (who had given up all their possessions and even their family) that anyone who gives up these things for the Kingdom will receive many times more, both in this life and the life to come. [35]  Ultimately, Jesus shows that whether one has much or has little, God has the right to call all of it for his purposes, and we should trust God to provide for us.  That provision is for this life and in eternity.

Jesus affirmed tithing for the Jews, and upheld it as a principle of God.  He blessed those who gave beyond what they seemingly could afford.  He also confirmed the idea that it is God who provides everything for us.  We do not need to worry about our future.  If we put him first, all of our physical needs will be provided for.[36]

 

The Early Church Example

In the book of Acts, people were operating under the impression that the Kingdom of God was so close that their earthly possessions were unimportant.  Or, they believed that the new community established by Jesus was so different and powerful that their possessions were nothing when compared to this new community.  Either way, the people began to sell their possessions and give them away in a form of radical giving.  In Acts 4.32-5.11 we read that the people sold their land and gave all the proceeds to the Church.  No one was in need at any time.  But one couple, Ananias and Sapphira, sold land and only gave a portion of it to the Church.  God struck them dead, not for withholding some of the money but for lying to the Church about it.

In Acts 11.27-30, the disciples in Antioch took a collection to help the believers living in Judea to provide for them in a famine.  The Body of Christ is one family, and there is no distinction made between different churches.  If one is in need, the Church is to rally around them to help.

 

Paul’s Teachings

Paul spoke about two types of giving.  The Church is instructed to give for special needs as they arise.  The Philippians gave to Paul when he was in need.  Paul is clear that he doesn’t need the gift himself.  His primary concern was the benefit to the Philippians, who would receive a credit in their account.[37]  He also took a collection for the needy in Jerusalem.  In both First and Second Corinthians he challenges the people of Corinth to give just as the people in Macedonia gave.[38]  He tells the people to gather from their income each week and store it until he can come and take it to Jerusalem.  Later (in Second Corinthians), he reminds them of their obligation and commitment, and tells the Corinthians that the Macedonians gave out of their poverty for others in need.  Paul instructs the Corinthians to give cheerfully, because God is able to make grace abound to them.  God will make sure they have all they need at all times.  He teaches this as a sowing and reaping principle.  It they give sparingly, they can expect to reap sparingly.  If they sow generously, they can expect to reap generously.  This is directly related to money and material increase.[39]  In addition to the material blessings, God will enlarge your righteousness and make you rich in every way.[40]  It’s physical and spiritual.

This giving would be an additional gift on top of each church’s obligation to provide for those who instruct them in the matters of faith.  Galatians 6.6 informs us that those who receive instruction should share all good things with their instructor.  That may seem vague, but Paul also tells us in 1 Timothy that an elder who teaches is worthy of double honor.[41]  He illustrates this by quoting Deuteronomy 25.4 and Leviticus 19.13, both of which discuss the need to pay those who have earned their wages.  Even more clearly, Paul states in First Corinthians 9 that he has the right to receive support from the believers that he ministers to. [42]  Paul did not take advantage of this right, for the sake of the Gospel, but he makes it clear that those who sow spiritual seeds into the Church of Jesus have the right and expectation to harvest material benefit.

Paul discusses both the temporary, special needs of others in the greater Body, and the ongoing needs and rights of the minister as worthy of people’s financial support.  This support is expected by those in want and those with plenty.  God will take care of all of our needs, so everyone can give freely.  The more we give, the more we can expect in return.

 

Conclusions

The New Testament includes both a specific teaching of tithing from Jesus as he talks to the Jews and also includes a teaching of generous giving for the church.  The New Testament does not lay down a definitive amount that Christians should give, such as ten percent.  However, Jesus affirms the “right-ness” of the tithe principle and Paul says that if the people give more, they can expect to get more in return.  This is the seed principle. 

Since a strict tithe is never explicitly taught to the Church, there is no way for us to know if that was the standard practice or understanding.  We do know that in every place where the early Church practice is specified, it is much more than a tithe.  In addition, the Scripture is uniform in its presentation of a minimum of ten percent being the appropriate response to our loving Creator-God who has established himself in covenant with us.  Therefore, Christians should view the tithe as a minimum expectation, though we are certainly encouraged to give more whether we find ourselves with plenty or little.  This may not be a legal requirement, but it is a good standard by which we can gauge our generosity.  Christians should expect that God will provide for them and take care of them as they honor him in this principle (again, keeping in mind that giving is not isolated from other areas of obedience). 

 

A Word on Prosperity/Health and Wealth

In recent years, there has been a movement among some leaders to teach a warped view of giving and of God’s blessing.  The teaching is, at its core, a dangerous and hurtful manipulation of God’s truth.  Health and Wealth/Prosperity proponents teach that if a person wants to be blessed by God, they have to give the “man of God” (preacher or minister) money.  The way a person knows if he or she is blessed is based primarily on whether they have a lot of money or not.  The idea is that God wants every person to prosper, by which most people mean be rich.  Here is the assertion: If God wants you to be rich and you are not rich, it is because God is withholding your blessing.  God is not blessing you because you are not giving money to the man of God.  If you give money, you are planting a seed that will inevitably lead to a harvest.  God promises that the harvest will be many times greater than the seed.  So give, and God must return to you multiple times over the amount of the gift.  Then you will be rich.

There are a few striking problems with this type of reasoning.  First of all, this view holds tightly to all the texts in the Bible (mostly Old Testament) where God speaks of material blessings.  But it wholly ignores all of the warnings in the Bible about wealth and riches as they relate to spiritual health.  God, biblically speaking, is more interested in the wealthy being like the poor than he is in the poor being like the wealthy.  Additionally, this teaching presents a very skewed view of being rich.  In the world today, anyone earning $10,000 a year is in the top 15% of all earners.  Anyone earning $45,000 a year falls into the top 1% of income earners worldwide.  Even factoring in cost of living variation, most of the people in this world have just enough to meet their daily needs.  Most people in the world cannot afford the luxuries that we consider basic, and some even consider as needs. 

Historically speaking, just having cable, a mobile phone, a car, running water, and an uninterrupted food supply means that we live like kings.  By any international or historical standard most of us are rich already.  Even so, God never promises that we will be rich.  He certainly does not promise that we will be so wealthy that we fall into the top 0.1 percent of the world in wealth.  He promises to provide for our needs.  His blessings can come in many forms, including material, relational, emotional, and spiritual. 

To make wealth the standard for blessing is unbiblical and erroneous.  This is the second problem.  Just because you are not wealthy by your own standards does not mean that you are not blessed.  Equating blessing and wealth is a mistake.  God makes clear that some forms of blessing come from giving all your wealth away.  Wealth can also be a deterrent to spiritual growth or obedience (such as with the rich young ruler).  Additionally, God’s blessing for giving financially can come in the form of spiritual blessing, not simply material blessing.  While God promises that the finances will be OK, he may choose to pour out his blessing in some other area than finances.  This does not mean that God will not bless materially (the other pendulum swing).  God promises that we will have our material needs met, even while we give (or because we give).  Provision is the key term.  Our needs will be met, but we are not guaranteed riches.

The third problem with the Prosperity teaching is that it diagnoses all lack of blessing as a problem with giving.  The biblical teachings on giving do not divorce the issue of giving from other types of obedience.  God says he will not accept offerings given by people who ignore the other areas of obedience such as justice and mercy.  God sees the whole person.  He knows our heart.  If a person is not experiencing God’s blessing, financial giving is only one area of obedience to look at.  Likewise, if one is giving of their material provision, but not experiencing blessing, it does not mean that the principles of giving are untrue.  The first thing to do is to examine the whole life and see what areas of disobedience remain.  The promise of provision is enacted when the finances and the heart are united in allegiance to God.

The “man of God” concept is way overblown among Prosperity teachers.  This is the fourth problem.  Though the Bible does show people giving their offerings and gifts to those who minister to God and for God, the idea that it has to be some flashy, international leader or some specific person is an aberration.  The Bible records groups and categories of people that were designated to receive the tithe and offering, or it was given to a place where those people ministered, such as the Temple.  If a gift comes to the local church, a missionary friend, or a homeless person on the street corner, our gifts are recognized as being given to Jesus.  It’s not about finding the right person to give to, unless God specifically commands you to give to one person.

The fifth problem is with the seed principle, which is also blown out of proportion.  The Bible does teach the seed principle.  The Bible does use the imagery of seed and harvest to discuss financial gifts.  However, every seed teaching does not have to do with money.  Jesus specifically says that his parable about seed and harvest is about the spread of the Gospel, not sowing money.  This principle has been used to manipulate people into giving what they do not have.  A farmer would rightly put his last bit of seed into the ground rather than hoard it.  If he hoards it, he has no hope for growing food.  But the seed Paul mentions is not the last bit of money a person has.  It is not like Jack’s magic beans in the story with the beanstalk.  Paul speaks of planting both material and spiritual seed, and the harvest he reaps is both material and spiritual.  Forcing a one-to-one connection between giving a preacher money and having all your needs provided for makes a mockery of the nuanced biblical teaching of sowing and reaping.  It is a valid teaching, but not the way it is used by the Prosperity teachers.

The final problem is that God is not obligated and forced to give a person more money back than they give.  God often does this.  He often provides more than the person gives.  But the absolute standard of Scripture, in all places, is that God will provide what a person needs.  An additional aspect of this teaching is that it puts a person in the place of dictating to God what he must do.  The giver is attempting to gain leverage over God.  In contrast, the real paradigm of biblical giving is that God is first.  God is over all.  God owns it all.  Tithing and giving serve as a recognition that we are not greater than God, but rather lesser than God.  Biblical giving is always humble, while much Prosperity giving is prideful.  The attitude is important.  God cares about order and priority.  If he is not first, we have failed to give with a right attitude.  We are never encouraged to give in order to force God to give us what we want.  God knows what we need, and he will provide it.

As a final thought, it is important that those who recognize the failures of Prosperity teachings do not dismiss the biblical truths that the Prosperity teachers abuse.  It would be wrong to reject the sowing and reaping principle (seed principle), or the promise of a return blessing (including material blessing), or the promise that we will not be in need simply because others amplify and pervert these teachings.  God does discuss these realities.  He does promote them.  Even the idea of laying up treasure in Heaven does not mean that we should not receive material blessings now.  This is a false option.  We can reject the Prosperity teaching, with its underlying greed, and still accept the biblical teachings regarding provision when we honor God through our tithes and gifts.

What Then Should We Do?

Christians should give cheerfully and faithfully.  In all times, creation is God’s to own.  He is the rightful owner of all that we have, so we are never really giving to God.  We are acknowledging his ownership and our role as stewards.  We also give as a response to God’s covenant love towards us, as a sign of appreciation and honor.  We give generously for our benefit, not specifically for God’s.  We do recognize, however, that there are practical needs of the humans in ministry.  God does not need the money, but people do.

Tithing is a helpful rule of thumb to gauge our generosity.  It is not necessarily a law, but it is a standard.  God has always expected his people to give at least ten percent, and there is no reason to believe that this has changed with the coming of Christ.  In every case, Jesus increases the standards of the law; he never decreases them.[43]  In the early church, people were giving all they had, so clearly there was a sense that God owned it all, anyway.  Today, we should always be striving to give more than ten percent.  God promises that he will take care of us and provide for us, so we should not let fear limit our giving.  The key is to give what God is calling us to give.  What he calls us to give, he will provide for.

The tithe should go primarily to the local church.  It is the local ministers, we are told, who have a right to earn their living from the ministry of the Word.  In our modern setting, we also recognize the practical need to take care of our resources.  We also know that, in our modern setting, most forms of ministry require money.  So, as we seek to be Kingdom minded in our churches, we must be willing to support our churches financially in order to allow them to function healthily.  If the people were to tithe, most churches would be able to sustain their ministers and their ministries.

Based on this reasoning, some have suggested that Christians have a responsibility to tithe to their church, and then should give anything else to other worthwhile causes.  The New Testament does not address this issue, though we do have some precedent here.  Whether under the Law, or before the Law, the tithe was given to the local people ministering before God.  From Melchizedek to the Levites, it was the people serving before God who received the tithe on behalf of God from the people.  In our local settings, this is the church.[44] 

Above and beyond this, we are expected to support those in need.  Both under the Law and in the New Testament, there is the expectation that God’s people will support those in need.  We may do this in many ways.  One way is to address those needs as they come up on a personal basis.  In fact, this is probably unavoidable for most of us.  A need will present itself to us.  As Christians, if we can do something about it, we should probably operate out of generosity and give, whether it is a meal or a few dollars to a homeless person or maybe something more costly to those we are close to and can help.  An additional way to help is for the church to have a fund specifically set up to help those in need. 

Our churches should be Kingdom minded.  In other words, it is not only the health of the local church that matters, but also the health of the worldwide Church that matters to God and should matter to God’s people.  As such, churches should be giving churches.  Churches that tithe are following the principle from the Old Testament regarding the “tithe on the tithe”.  Those who receive the tithe from the people also tithe to God by giving to others in ministry.  Unlike simply suggesting that the pastor tithe (which he should), having the church tithe better mirrors the Old Testament practice.  When the pastor tithes, he gives back to the church that paid him.  It goes right back into the whole tithe.  Also, since the pastor’s salary does not represent an entirety of the tithe received by the church, it is not a true “tithe on the tithe”. 

Churches who give a tithe acknowledge that what they receive from God is not theirs, but still God’s.  They also are able to put into practice the call to be Kingdom minded.  They support missionaries, benevolence ministries, and other groups who are operating as the hands and feet of Christ in places that the local church cannot be.  This allows the local church to be involved locally, regionally, and internationally in the work that God is doing without spreading themselves too thin.  Just as God provided fully for the individuals and the groups who tithed in ages past, God will provide for churches that tithe.  Again, if God calls them, he will provide all they need.  He can even use it as an opportunity to bless churches.

Another benefit to churches is that it allows the local church to model for the individuals in the church what it means to surrender their finances to God and to recognize him as the true provider.  Individuals who see that their church is tithing will see them “putting their money where their mouth is”.  If you truly believe in tithing, you illustrate it by tithing.  The leaders in the church should also be tithing.  They cannot expect the people to do something that they are not doing.  When the leaders and the church model tithing, it gives them great authority to ask others in the community to follow them.  Again, this is not simply for the benefit of the institution of the church.  Tithing was created as a means of blessing those who give.  It is to the congregants benefit to tithe.  Otherwise, they miss out on many spiritual and material blessings that God offers to those who give with generous hearts.

Three things may prevent tithing.  A person may be rebellious.  He may not believe that tithing is required.  He may be afraid to tithe.

The rebellious person (whether rebellious out of greed or general disobedience) needs to be challenged to submit to God.  Money is a touchy area for people.  It will not be easy for churches to teach boldly on this subject since it seems self-serving.  But this does not eliminate the responsibility that the church has to teach the whole counsel of God.  Generous giving, with a minimum of tithing being a helpful gauge, should be proclaimed and taught so that all have the opportunity to repent and align their lives with the biblical mandates.

Those who do not believe that tithing is required are right.  It does not seem that the New Testament requires people to give ten percent.  However, based on the principles and teachings of the entire Bible, it becomes evident that Christians are expected to give more than ten percent.  The heart of a cheerful giver is most evident against the standard of the tithe.  Christians must be taught so they can respond in faith to the message.

Those who are afraid that if they tithe they will not have enough for themselves should be encouraged to have faith.  People should be challenged to be both faithful and be full of faith.  God promises to provide for us.  Our jobs are not guaranteed.  Our income is not sure.  The only thing in life we can be completely sure of is the faithfulness of God.  One (important) way that we show our faith is by our tithe.  We show by our actions that we trust God and that we put him first.  It may also be that we are living in want, in part, because God is challenging us to trust him.  When we respond in faith, he will respond by supplying our need.  When we step out to test him, God is overjoyed at the opportunity to show himself faithful.  Without stepping out in faith, God cannot show us that he can be trusted.  This is not God withholding himself.  This is simply the nature of faith.

Though money is always a touchy subject, the churches of God have both a responsibility and an opportunity to help their members gain a godly perspective on their money.  By tithing and giving to God, people are able to orient their hearts to their money in ways that prevents idolatry and puts into perspective the great call to be stewards of all God puts under our care.  Giving ten percent, for example, helps us orient the other ninety percent in God-honoring ways.  We invite the blessing of God on our entire life, materially and spiritually.  When churches tithe, the same is true.  Obedience breeds obedience.  Getting this one area of our lives in conformity with God’s expectations also reminds us to devote ourselves wholly to obedience and faith.  In many ways, tithing reminds us who God is, who we are, and where we stand before him.

 

 

[1] Genesis 2.15

[2] Psalm 24.1

[3] Psalm 50.8-12

[4] Genesis 4.1-5

[5] Some believe this is a fruit versus meat situation, i.e. an animal is required by God for a sacrifice.  However, there is no evidence from the text that these offerings were sin offerings.  Many times God accepts fruit and grain offerings, as well as drink offerings.  The text does make clear that Abel in particular gave the best he had.

[6] Genesis 8.20

[7] Genesis 22; 35.14

[8] Job 1.5 It is generally understood that Job lived sometime after the Flood but before Moses, possibly when the Hebrews were still in Egypt.

[9] Nehemiah 10.37

[10] Joshua 6.17-20

[11] Genesis 22

[12] Exodus 20.5

[13] Genesis 14.18-20

[14] Genesis 28.11-22

[15] The covenant God makes with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is very similar to a Suzerain-vassal covenant.  This ancient form of covenant unites a sovereign (or lord) to an individual or community in a relationship of protector and honoring subject.  The relationship is often based on forming some type of family relationship such as those made through marriage or adoption.  For basic information, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suzerainty.

[16] Leviticus 27.30-32; Deuteronomy 14.22-26.  It is interesting that provision is given for the poor in that it is every tenth animal to pass under the herdsman’s staff, not the first of each ten.  In practice, if a man has only 9 sheep he will not have to give any to God, though he certainly is allowed to.

[17] Leviticus 7.16; Ezra 8.28

[18] Exodus 13

[19] Numbers 18.26

[20] This phrase is used both with specific laws and in general in Deuteronomy nine times.

[21] Psalm 50.14

[22] Malachi 1

[23] Malachi 2.1-9.  This is fascinating description, which probably means that the priests, as the blessed and called out of God, are in danger of losing their status with God.  This would include their right to perform the work of the sanctuary, their right to live off the gifts and offerings presented, and their spiritual covering and inheritance.

[24] Malachi 3.6-12

[25] Isaiah 1.11-17; Hosea 6.6

[26] Proverbs 11.24

[27] 1 Kings 17.8-16

[28] Leviticus 1.14-17

[29] Cf. Matthew 6.25-34

[30] Some questions arise regarding whether a Christian believer can be under God’s curse.  It should be noted that the curse, like the blessing, related to very physical things.   This would not necessarily prevent any of the people from turning, trusting in God, and being blessed.  It also would not prevent a believer from attaining salvation.  If anything, it might indicate that God will not bless the person in the physical realm and may hold them back.  This is analogous to God’s discipline in Hebrews 12.  God disciplines sons as a corrective measure.

[31] An oft overlooked attribute of the ministry of Jesus is that he stood at the crossroads of Judaism and Christianity.  He was speaking in and to a Jewish world about what was coming, but he still inhabited the old system.  It can be challenging to know exactly what applies directly to Christians (without accounting for the changes to come).

[32] Matthew 23.23; Luke 11.42

[33] Matthew 17.24-27

[34] Mark 12.38-44; Luke 21.1-5

[35] Matthew 19.16-30; Mark 10.17-31; Luke 18.18-30

[36] Matthew 6.25-34

[37] Philippians 4.17

[38] 1 Corinthians 16.1-4; 2 Corinthians 8-9

[39] 2 Corinthians 9.6-9

[40] 2 Corinthians 9.10-11

[41] 1 Timothy 5.17-18

[42] 1 Corinthians 9.1-12

[43] Consider the increased standards found in Matthew 5 related to murder (anger is like murder), adultery (lust is like adultery), divorce (the law allows it, Jesus does not), oaths (Jesus says don’t swear an oath, just uphold your word), eye for an eye (turn the other cheek), love your neighbor (love your enemy).  Jesus never decreases the standard.  It is always raised.  Even the Sabbath laws were not eradicated, but enhanced in Hebrews 4 to encompass our entire life.  Instead of resting one day, we live in a state of spiritual rest at all times.

[44] Under the Law, the entire tithe did not go to the Temple.  Much went to the local priests living in the towns and cities around the country.  We know this is true because the tithe is all the Levites had to live on, since they did not own property, and since even some of the people’s sacrifices were allowed to be burnt in the towns rather than at the Tabernacle or Temple.

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