Q: “What’s the deal with tithing? Does it really say in the bible that we are supposed to give a tenth of our income to the church, or is that something churches made up in order to get money?” - Jill R.
The concept of tithing comes from the Old Testament where the Israelites were told to give a tenth of everything they had to God. In fact the word “tithe” literally means a “tenth”. The early church taught AGAINST the practice of tithing because they believed it to be a part of the old law, and since Jesus fulfilled the old law and we are no longer under it, continuing to tithe must be an unwillingness to give up the old law.
But, the early church was very different than our churches today. They were very adamant that the pastors and church leaders not be paid by the church, so instead they had full time jobs outside the church.
Churches today rely almost completely on the tithes and offerings of the congregation. So, obviously, tithing is a practice that they feel needs to be embraced and preached.
But, what does the bible say about it?
Well, other than the writer of Hebrews mentioning stories from the Old Testament, it’s really only mentioned once in the New Testament and it takes place before Jesus died on the cross and thus the old law was still in effect.
Jesus was talking to the pharisees and pointing out that they followed the tiny parts of the law like tithing the herbs they grew, but neglected the most important parts of the law. He called them hypocrites and said they should have followed all of the law instead of just parts.
Remember, at that time, they were still under the old law and thus Jesus didn’t have a problem with them taking the law seriously enough to tithe even their herbs. But, they were missing the point. The point of the law was to show them that it was impossible to earn their own salvation and thus had to rely completely on Jesus’s sacrifice. Jesus wasn’t reprimanding the pharisees for breaking the law, everyone but Jesus has broken the law. He was getting on to them for being hypocrites.
The rest of the references to tithe are in the Old Testament.
Even before the old law was given to Moses and the Israelites, there are stories of how both Abraham and Jacob voluntarily gave a tenth of what they had. Abraham gave a tenth of what he had one time to the king of Salem who was also the priest of God most high. Jacob made a promise to God to always give him a tenth of what he was given.
Both of these were voluntary acts, but when the old law was given there were very detailed and complicated instructions about how the Israelites were to tithe. I won’t go into all the details, because it’s really boring, but if you go take a look at it you’ll see that it changes by the year and that it looks nothing like tithing as we know it now.
Jacob’s promise to tithe is very important. God had just promised he and his descendants the “promised land” and Jacob in return vowed to give 10% of everything the land produced back to God. However, he died before the land was given so he couldn’t fulfill his vow. The vow was then fulfilled by his descendants, the Israelites. That’s why they were commanded to tithe 10% of everything the promised land produced. It was to fulfill Jacob’s vow.
It’s also why the Israelites weren’t required to tithe anything that wasn’t produced or increased by the promised land (no money or precious metals were tithed). During the times when they weren’t in possession of the promised land they weren’t required to tithe.
The other OT reference to tithe that is used by tithing supporters is in the book of Malachi where God tells the Israelites that they were robbing Him because they weren’t giving their tithe like they were commanded to in the law. He commanded them to bring all their tithe and put it in the storehouse. God then promised that if they did this He would pour out blessings upon them.
Remember, everything in the bible has a context and was said by a specific person to a specific audience at a specific time about a specific thing. In this case, God was talking to His people who had been disobeying. He gave them a specific command and promised that if they obeyed, He in return would bless them.
All throughout the Old Testament we see cycles of God blessing them when they were obedient and cursing them when they didn’t. God loved Israel, they were His chosen people.
As we talked about before, there are different ways God speaks to us through the bible. Direct revelation, where the scripture is meant to be universal truth or is meant as a direct command for all of us today, and INdirect revelation where the scripture may not be meant for us, but we can draw concepts from it.
The passage in Malachi about bringing the tithe into the storehouse obviously isn’t a direct revelation, even though it can sound like it when taken out of context. That was spoken to the Israelites at that time about a law that we are no longer under.
However, many church leaders today believe that the church is the modern equivalent of the storehouse and that God’s promise of blessing is universal. But the Israelites were more than just a church, they were people in need of government. The Old Law was like their constitution. The tithe was like a tax, and that tax was very important. By putting their tithe in a storehouse there would be enough food to take care of each other.
The early New Testament church didn’t follow the old law, but they did combine their resources. The early church was more than just a place to worship, it was more of a commune where they lived and brought ALL of their income and pooled it together and shared everything equally. They weren’t forced to do this, they did it out of love for each other. Fishermen brought all their catch, farmers brought all their harvest.
Now, in the Old law, some of that tithe went to support the priests and some went to take care of the orphans and widows. So, it has been argued that this is now the church’s role and that we should bring our tithe to the church and the church will use it to support the pastors, the widows, orphans, and those in need.
The problem is that while the church has taken that role, it doesn’t mean that that’s the way it should be. The church is doing it because we Christians aren’t. We want the church to do it so that we can live our lives and not worry about any of that.
So, should we tithe or not?
Okay, so what should we do? Should we tithe or not? Well, we are actually called to a higher standard. Instead of being required to give 10%, we are told to give 100%.
God wants 100% control over not just our money, but our entire lives! When you receive money, it’s important to realize that it isn’t yours. It’s a gift from God and God has a plan to use it. Give control of it to Him and seek instructions as to what God wants you to do with it. He may want you to give your entire paycheck to someone you just met, or He may want you to use it to pay off your car. Whatever you feel God is leading you to do, take a leap of faith and obey. Remember, even if it seems crazy or irresponsible to give away money that you desperately need, God will provide for you and you are safest in the center of His will!
Now, if you don’t feel any specific leading, I would advise you give 10% to your church as a default. And remember, just because you aren’t seeking His instruction doesn’t mean you aren’t held responsible for obeying it.
There are two different dangers that are important to avoid.
One is the temptation to use tithe as a way to only give 10% and feel like you can keep control over the 90%. We humans love to cling to rules in place of giving up control.
The other danger is to use the fact that we aren’t required to tithe as justification for keeping control of our money. It’s easy to say, “God didn’t knock me over the head and tell me otherwise, so I’m just going to do whatever I want with my money” instead of actively seeking God’s will and taking leaps of faith.
While we may not be required to give 10%, the concept of giving a tenth is all throughout the Old Testament. There are many of these concepts that are very powerful and it’s very wise to learn them and make use of them.
One of the instructions the Israelites were given was to give their first fruits to God. In other words, their first harvest was to be given to Him. The idea is that farming was the lifeblood of civilization back then, and there was never any guarantee that there would be more than one harvest in a year. Giving the entire first harvest was a huge sacrifice! It required an immense amount of faith that God would provide another one.
We aren’t required to give our first fruits, but the principle behind it still works. If you start a new business venture and give your entire first paycheck to the church or wherever God wants you to give it, you will be blessed for your faith.
And similarly, while we may not be required to tithe, the principle behind it is very powerful. The idea is that God can do more with 90% than you can with 100%. It not only applies to money, but other things as well. Like time.
For example, you may not have any time in the morning to spare, and are habitually late anyway, but if you give 10% of that time to reading the bible and spending time with God, God will be able to do more in the 90% of the time you have left than you could do with 100% of it. So, you might find that even though you have 10% less time, you actually are able to get more done!
It’s very counter-intuitive, but it works. It works because God can do impossible things. You may not have enough money to pay your bills, but if you faithfully give 10% or more away, God will be able to do more with just 90% of your paycheck than you could do with 100%. You’ll find that even though you give more, there will always be enough to provide for what you need. And you will experience many blessings!
We know these principles are true because of experience. But, you don’t have to take my word for it. Try it and see for yourself!