The Truth About Tithing

Q: “I think we talked about this before, but…This business of giving 10% to the church and then plus, plus etc. Is that why I can’t get my credit card paid off because I don’t give enough?? Probably a stupid question. I know God says give and it shall be given, shaken down and over flowing. I hear so often give more and your problems will be over…it bothers me.”

A: This is a struggle many Christians have when it comes to how much to give to the Lord’s work. Tithing is an Old Testament practice, but the idea of 10 percent was a general figure and the Jews often gave more than a tenth of everything. However, you will not see Christ commanding that believers pay a certain amount for tithing in the New Testament. In fact, the Jews have not paid tithes since 70 A.D. because there is no temple or Levitical priesthood. The tithe was for the upkeep of the temple and the priesthood, but as we will see it was to be an avenue of blessing to others.

      When you study tithing in relationship to the history of the Old Testament, it presents a different picture than the one that is being promoted by the present day religious leaders and churches. Tithing was a well-known practice before it was established in the Law of Moses. We know before tithing was addressed by Moses, Abraham gave Melchizedek a tenth of all the spoils that were collected after rescuing his nephew Lot from a warring army in Genesis 14, but ended up giving the remaining spoils to the king of Sodom. When the King of Sodom wanted him to take the goods for himself, Abram made an important statement, “I have lift up mine hand unto the LORD, the most high God, the possessor of heaven and earth, That I will not take from a thread even to a shoe latchet and that I will not take anything that is thine, lest the thou shouldest say, I have made Abram rich” (Genesis 14:22-23). Abram knew who supplied him with his riches and blessings, and it was not man. Likewise, we as believers know, “But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19). Jacob also made a vow when he encountered Jehovah at Bethel that if the Lord brought him back to the land that he would give a tenth of his belongings to the Lord (Genesis 28:20-22)

      When Moses divided the spoils of the Midianites in Numbers 31:9, 27-29, the priests received 1/500th of the spoil, while the Levites received 1/50th allotted to the congregation, which would be half of the spoils. This brings us to an important point; spoils were calculated outside of the 10 percent range. When it comes to Moses, he required that tithes be paid only on the increase of the land and animals and that a tenth of it had to be paid to the Levites. (Leviticus 27:30-31).

      In Exodus 13:35, the Jews were to spoil Egypt upon their departure from it. These spoils would later be used to construct the tabernacle at Sinai. We see in Exodus 36:3, 7 that when the Jewish people were called upon to offer free-will offerings for the construction of the tabernacle, they brought so much they had to be restrained from bringing any more (Exodus 35:29; 36:6). Moses’ instructions about tithing did not come until a year later in Leviticus 27:30-33. It was clear that tithing was practiced before the Law of Moses, but Moses made it clear that tithing had nothing to do with money but had to do with seed crops and fruit trees along with every tenth animal. The only time money was given as a tithe was if the offering was not sufficient or was too poor to bring the proper offerings then a monetary amount would be set by the priest, and if the person wanted to redeem the offering to keep it for himself, he had to add 1/5 to the amount calculated by the priest.

      If we consider what Moses established in regard to cattle for instance, the Jews were to tithe the tenth animal because it belonged to the Lord. This is important to note; tithing belonged to the Lord, not the tabernacle, the priests, or the Levites, but was to be distributed according to the Law of Moses. And, if we are reading this right, Jews tithed only on their increase because the first fruits of the land and the first males, which included the men and livestock, were already dedicated to the Lord (Exodus 13:2; 22:29). There is a difference between dedicating something and paying tithes. As Christians we are to present our bodies as living sacrifices up front and then commit all resources, not just money, but time and energy to the work of the Lord to ensure His will is carried out (Romans 12:1-2). Once again, it was the increase of the land and livestock that were to serve as an actual tithe, and according to Moses the tithes were not to be changed (Leviticus 27:30-34).

      Before they entered the Promised Land, Moses ordered the Israelites to set aside ten percent of their agricultural and animal production each year, and then they were ordered to bring it to a central place— the tabernacle, later the temple (Deuteronomy 14:22-24). It was during this time that Moses allowed the tithes to be turned into money without the penalty of a fifth being added to it (Deuteronomy 14:25).

      This brings us to another issue about tithing; it was only done once every year because it had to do with the reproduction cycle of crops and herds. The Jews were to fill the storehouse, which was located close to the temple with the tithings of the land (Malachi 3:6-10). If you study the subject of tithing even further, you will discover that when they entered the Promised Land the Levites received their portion of tithes every three years. Keep in mind, they were given plots of land where they were to live as a perpetual inheritance to them and their descendants, where they could take care of their own needs, while teaching the law to the people and serving them in various ways, but they would only receive tithes every three years (Leviticus 25:34; Numbers 35:1-2; Deuteronomy 14:25-29).

      The question is where were the rest of the tithes to be used? We know they were to be used for the upkeep of the temple, and that the priests were allowed to partake of certain parts of the sacrifice, but they were also to be used during their different celebrations such as the Firstfruits so everyone could be part of the festival.  When you consider Deuteronomy 14:29, you will see that the stranger, the fatherless and the widows were allowed to share in the tithes with the Levites. It was clear that God blessed the Israelites so they could take care of those who served among them, but they were also responsible to lift the burden of the poor among them, not saddle them with demands they were unable to bear (Deuteronomy 15:3-14). We also see this in the practice of gleaning, that the harvesters were to leave some of it in the fields for the poor to gather (Leviticus 19:9-10).

      If the preaching of tithes does not produce the desired results, religious leaders will often point out Mark 12:41-44 about the widow who gave her last two mites. It is true the poor widow was willing to give her all to the Lord, trusting Him to provide her with her need. It is also important to point out that the widow was giving it to the Lord. To keep this in the right perspective, we must consider the previous Scriptures, “Beware of the scribes, which love to go in long clothing, and love salutation in the marketplaces, And the chief seats in the synagogues, and the uppermost rooms at feasts: Which devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayers: these shall receive greater damnation” (Mark 12:38b-40). Being Jewish, this widow also knew that the Lord made provision for her through tithes and donations, and it was her way of giving back out of her need because she so loved and appreciated the Lord and his provision.   

      It is clear that many modern day preachers try to use the idea of tithing to shame people into giving, but if the church was truly practicing tithing, such giving would be an avenue in which the blessings of God would flow through the church, not just to the leaders but to the needy among them. Sadly, the way that many church leaders use this practice ends with the church becoming nothing more than a Dead Sea where leaders heap upon themselves, along with their church’s causes, to purchase unnecessary new carpeting, pews, chairs, etc. to attract the world, with the offerings of others without any concern for, or addressing the needs of those whom they are to serve. And, those individuals with bountiful personal funds, who offer to pay for such things, need to ask the Lord where He wants their bounty to go while bearing in mind that His heart is toward the poor and needy in the Body of Christ. Otherwise, the leaders end up putting undue burdens on those who should be receiving instead of being pressured to sacrifice what they don’t have (Galatians 6:1, 9-10). In the Old Testament there was a serious warning put forth for those who oppress the strangers, widows, and fatherless, “Thou shalt neither vex a stranger, nor oppress him: for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt. Ye shall not afflict any widow, or the fatherless child. If thou afflict them in any wise, and they cry at all unto me, I will surely hear their cry; And my wrath shall vax hot, and I will kill you with the sword; and your wives shall be widows, and your children fatherless” (Exodus 22:21-24). The responsibility towards widows (this includes single women who are in distress) was practiced by the New Testament Church as well. (See Acts 6:1). In James 1:27, we read “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.”

      The few religious leaders who do understand the real principle behind God’s blessings and offerings realize that the blessings they receive in the way of donations are a great test to them. They understand that the church is to be an avenue in which to pour blessings out to those among them that are in real need.

      I remember years ago on a Sunday visiting one of the fastest growing churches in Everett, Washington. I noted that there were a great variety of people attending, and it was obvious that many were homeless. As they passed the offering plates around, I will never forget that the pastor instructed those in need to take whatever they needed from the offering plate when it came by. I watched as those who were undoubtedly in need passed it on without taking anything from it, and there were a few who put their “two mites” in.

     We later talked to the pastor of the church and I remember him sharing with us that he was not a giving man, but he understood the principle of giving as laid out in Scriptures. He knew that God could never bless a church unless the congregation was faithful to take care of those who were in need among them. The church is not just for reaching out to the lost, but to meet the needs of the sheep, spiritually and physically.

      Second Corinthians 9 which is written to pastors tells us that all belongs to Lord and that He has dispersed abroad and given to the poor for His righteousness remains forever (2 Corinthians 9:9). Since the Lord laid out in the Old Testament how tithes were to be used, we need to seek His face as to where we must give our offerings to ensure it becomes a blessing to His kingdom. But, as for your situation, unless the Lord is laying it on your heart to give, don’t let man force you to give under the false pretense that the more you give, the more God will bless you. God desires obedience from us more than sacrifice (1 Samuel 1:22). He doesn’t always place His sheep in places to become a blessing to the church, but to be blessed by the church. When God places a person in the position of needing blessings, such a believer often becomes the test over which religious leaders trip (like the rich man who tripped over the poor sick beggar Lazarus in Luke 16, who was simply seeking crumbs) because they have lost sight of why the church really exists.