By Dave Holten, Senior Legacy Advisor
Tithing is one subject that is most likely to evoke a range of passions amongst Christians. Christians do profess the Bible as their own rule of faith and practices, and yet when it comes to financial matters, a vast number either ignore the Bible or do not understand its teachings.
This paper is an attempt to help those that sit in the pews in a CBWC church to have a greater understanding of the origins of the word “tithe,” and what it means for us today. There are many fine articles by eminent theologians that will do greater justice to the learning process than I ever could; however, this is an attempt to bring it to earth, so the average person can understand it and what God has in mind for us.
We are aware that the ‘tithe’ was well incorporated into Mosaic Law. Leviticus 27:30-32 states:
“A tithe of everything from the land, whether grain from the soil or fruit from the trees belongs to the Lord; it is holy to the Lord. If a man redeems any of his tithe, he must add a fifth of the value to it. The entire tithe of the herd and flock every tenth animal that passes under the shepherd’s rod – will be holy to the Lord.”
We should also be aware that it is recorded in Genesis 14:20 that Abraham gave tithes to Melchizedek, the High Priest. There is no evidence as to why, but, the fact that he did so denotes that he must have been acting in accordance with God’s will.
Also in Genesis 28:20-22, when Jacob was fleeing from Esau and during the night he had a vision:
“Then Jacob made a vow, saying, ‘If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear so that I return safely to my father’s house, then the Lord will be my God and this stone that I have set up as a pillar will be God’s house, and of all that you give me I will give you a tenth.’”
We do not know the reason why this percentage was selected, or why he should give a tenth, but he did so and therefore can we conclude that there may have been a previous
Revelation to His people, that one-tenth of their income should be devoted back to God.
In Numbers 18: 24-26, we read where God tells Moses to speak to the Levites:
“Instead, I give to the Levites as their inheritance the tithes that the Israelites present as an offering to the Lord. That is why I said concerning them: ‘They will have no inheritance among the Israelites.’ The Lord said to Moses, ‘Speak to the Levites and say to them, When you receive from the Israelites the tithe I give you as your inheritance, you must present a tenth of that tithe as the Lord’s offering.’”
When we read through the Bible, we become truly aware how miserably Israel failed to obey this law, as well as almost everything else that God instructed them to do. However, whenever God decided to undertake a revival in Israel, tithing was one of the things that was mentioned as being renewed and restored amongst them. See 2 Chronicles 30 and 31:4- 6, where tithing is again highlighted—and they tithed abundantly. Then God blessed them. How many times has God revived the Israelites and then restored them?
The Old Testament is a story of a people’s communal experience. The practice of tithing served a few important functions:
- It makes a statement of faith acknowledging God’s ultimate ownership of everything.
- It provides needed resources for the support of religious institutions that were essential to the life of the community.
- It provides resources for charitable works and the concern for justice.
As we move to the New Testament from the Old, there is a major shift in focus. The story is now about one person: God’s anointed one, His Son, Jesus Christ—and then all the people He impacted.
What does Jesus say about tithing? In Matthew 23:23, Jesus states,
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices – mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law – justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.”
Is Jesus saying to us that the tithe is important; however, the observance of justice and mercy is more important? He does not set aside the tithe but seems to make justice and mercy into more “weightier matters.” After Jesus was crucified, the Apostles went out to preach the Gospel, and in particular we look at Paul’s ministry. In 1 Corinthians 9: 11-14, we read:
“If we have sown spiritual seed among you, is it too much if we reap a material harvest from you? If others have this right of support from you, shouldn’t we have it all the more? But we did not use this right. On the contrary, we put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ. Don’t you know that those that work in the temple get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in what is offered on the altar? In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel?”
Paul is stating that he is in favour of giving, and he accepts being a servant to the point of not receiving financial reward or other support. Paul trusted God to look after his needs, and He did. The Bible contains a number of letters of instructions that Paul wrote to various cities that he visited to spread the Gospel, and to those that he greatly impacted as he spread the faith, such as Titus and Timothy.
In 1 Timothy 3, we read that as the early church grew, they needed to appoint Overseers and Deacons. This is the first signs that the early church began to need a structure in order to undertake the Ministry the Lord had called them to do. At this time, most of their gathering would have been in people’s homes. At what point in time in the church’s history did they now need a larger meeting space in order to meet as one body? We can surmise that the contributions from the people also went to meet some administrative needs.
As we review where we are at in today’s society, has much changed? We still need to take care of those that care and serve us, and provide a facility where we can meet. We also need to ensure that resources are available to continue to spread the gospel and to help those around us that are in need.
What is Jesus calling us to do now, in the 21stCentury, that, in principle, is different from the previous 20 centuries? We can comment on the rich young ruler in Matthew 19:16 who did not want to give up his wealth. Was his wealth the issue or was it where his heart was?
2 Corinthians 9:7 reads:
“Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”
A mature, disciplined Christian will be able to give freely, knowing that God will reward his or her faith, that God will provide for every need and that God will allow him or her greater responsibility to serve. God wants us to give for our sake, not His. Can we trust Him to meet our needs and then bless us when we are obedient to His desire for each one of us?
In Rueben P. Job’s book, A Weslyan Spiritual Reader, he comments that “one of the few things John Wesley feared was the accumulation of wealth. As a biblical scholar and a practical theologian, he was convinced that to follow Jesus Christ meant involvement with, and ministry to, the poor. This conviction led him to live on a modest income even when his writing was producing significant return.” John Wesley had a motto that was to earn all you can, save all you can and give all you can.
This article was published as the May edition of Treasurer’s Corner, a monthly newsletters for treasurers. Click here to subscribe.