Contending for the faith | Making Disciples | Equipping the Saints for Ministry

by Rayola Kelley

Q: Could you please explain if tithing is for the Church? I don’t see where tithing is commanded in the New Testament, but every church I’ve gone to expects people to pay tithes to them. Thanks. 

A: You are correct! Tithing is not a New Testament ordinance, rather it is part of the Old Testament Law just like circumcision and animal sacrifice. Since few Christians study the instructions surrounding tithing, they have been indoctrinated to implement a practice that would defy the very Law that required it. This is the reason why Jesus never emphasized this practice. To tithe in an improper manner would be considered disobeying the Law, rather then adhering to it.

   There are records of people paying tithes before the law of tithing was established by Moses, such as Abraham and Jacob (Genesis 14:16-20; 28:20-22). But, both responses were voluntary and a way of showing gratitude towards God’s protection and provision.

   It was Moses who instituted the actual law of tithing, but within strict guidelines. First of all, not all Israelites were required to pay tithes, only those who farmed the land or owned livestock. As you consider tithing, it was not money, but produce and animals. In fact, Moses initially discouraged money, but allowed money to replace the produce with a penalty of paying 1/5th above the offering (Leviticus 27:26-33). Tithing that is associated to produce is clearly brought out in the infamous scriptures found in Malachi 3:8-10. The storehouse God is referring to is not a bank or a church building, but a place where food was kept. The one-tenth required was solely based on the increase of the land or the animals, not on what we would consider the gross or the net worth of something. Therefore, most of children of Israel were excluded from paying it.

   The other guideline for tithing was to whom or what it was paid. Initially, it was strictly paid to the Levites who ministered in the tabernacle. Out of the tenth that was paid to the Levites, a tenth of it went to the priests(Numbers 18:21-28).  Again, keep in mind these tithes represented the first fruits of the land or the flock. Therefore, only the Levites could receive tithes, and partake of them. Therefore, tithing is not a universal law that must be practiced by everyone, including the Church. To pay tithes to any other individual or religious institution would be considered disobedience. This is why the Jews do not presently practice tithing, and will not until the Levitical Priesthood and the temple are once again reestablished.

   The guidelines for tithing were expanded when the children of Israel entered the Promised Land. Since the land and spoil of it would yield abundantly, Moses had to ensure that an aristocratic lordship of a few (Levites) did not occur over the majority of people. Once again, the Israelites were to set aside 10 percent of agricultural and animal production each year to a central place (the temple). Since some people would be located far from this central place, Moses dropped the penalty on people redeeming or buying back their produce or livestock(Deuteronomy 14:22-29). Only the tithes of the 3rd, 6th, and 7th years would be strictly dedicated to the Levites. In the other years, the tithes were used by the one offering them to rejoice before the Lord, or they were shared with the fatherless, widows, strangers, or indigent peoples. It is important to point out that the Levites were only given tithes when they ministered in the temple. Otherwise, they were given cities (property) in which they could function. They served as teachers, judges, physicians, and librarians to name a few professions. Ultimately, God was their inheritance and provider, and no doubt blessed their skills and their work.  

   Now that the whole concept of tithing is thrown out, where does that leave the Christians? It leaves us with the example of benevolent giving. The New Testament clearly talks about giving. The one distinct example of giving can be found in John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”  Instead of being a duty, it is to be a voluntary offering that clearly comes from the heart. If we give from a grateful heart, we will be cheerful and liberal in our giving to the furtherance of God’s kingdom in the hearts and lives of others (2 Corinthians 9:6-8, 11-15).

   We are to realize that everything belongs to God, and as responsible stewards, we must seek His perspective on what we are to give and how we are to give. Like the believers in the new Church of Acts, these people were responding to their new-found faith and life in Christ by selling excess land and homes, and sharing all they had with each other (Acts 4:32-37). Their benevolence (good will and kindness) towards one another not only served as a powerful testimony to others, but their willingness to give up that which they did not need helped to further the kingdom of God. There are actually four types of giving. Two types of giving is fleshly, while the other two are marked with eternity.

   Conditional giving: There are many types of giving that can fall under this category. People give to give the impression that they are giving, when in reality they are nothing more than a Scrooge in attitude. There are those who give just to keep the “big Man” off their backs. It is the same attitude as, “I have already given at the office, and now my duty is done, leave me alone!” Others give to benefit themselves. There are Christians who think or believe that if they give much, God will bless them with material things. If you notice, this group of people are giving with the wrong intent or spirit behind them.

   Impulsive giving: These are the people that give out of guilt, fear, duty, or with the intent of feeling good about themselves later. Sadly, some Christians’ emotions must be manipulated to give because they lack the heart and vision for giving. Although the Christians in America give the most, because they have the most to give, they only give 2% of their gross income. This is a very small figure. Since many of these people are not seeking God about giving, dead churches, heretical movements, hireling shepherds, and destructive causes are maintained, while many of God’s servants are struggling to keep their heads above water in their different mission fields. Giving is not a duty, but a privilege that allows us to show our gratitude to God, our concern for the lost, and our appreciation for those who truly watch over our souls.

   Reasonable giving: Christians who give in a reasonable way, do so with a right heart attitude and according to the leading of the Holy Ghost. It is important to point out when we give our best to God, whether it is time, energy, talents, money, and material means it is our reasonable service (Romans 12:1-2). In other words, it is the least we can do. However, good works are the product of this reasonable giving. Such good works serve as an acceptable sacrifice to God (Hebrews 13:15-16).

   Sacrificial giving: This type of giving is beyond reasonable giving. Sacrificial giving is when a person gives out of his or her need in the spirit of benevolence towards God or others. Such giving is not a matter of what is acceptable or what comes from his or her abundance. We see this type of giving in David’s life, and in the example of a widow. David desired water from the well of Bethlehem, but there was a battle raging between him and the source of water. He mentioned that he would love to taste the water from his hometown well. Three soldiers broke through the battle lines and brought him a drink of water. Instead of drinking it, David recognized such an offering was a sacrifice worthy of God. He poured it out as an offering to God. Notice how this event involved sacrifices on the part of the soldiers and David. The soldiers obtained the water out of love for David. They were willing to give their life, so David could simply taste the water. David recognized the sacrifice of love behind their action and realized that only God was worthy of such an honor. He exalted God, rather then satisfy his own desires (2 Samuel 23:14-17). David’s offering reveals how God’s people need to properly recognize and offer up sacrifices worthy of God for His purpose, rather than heap it upon themselves or on others who do not deserve such honor.

   The final example is the widow and the mites (Mark 12:41-44). I often wonder how many pastors or teachers have incorrectly used this example to try to wrestle more money out of their sheep. This widow gave all she had. In other words, she gave out of her need. Her giving was in contrast with those who gave out of show or out of their abundance. What is the real example this widow leaves us about sacrificial giving? It is simple, she gave her all out of love for God, in gratitude and with childlike faith. You cannot sacrificially give unless there is love that desires to express itself in gratitude and sincere faith. Love is what will compel us to give to the One who is worthy of all devotion and adoration. Such love is grateful because it recognizes what God has done for us. In sincere faith, sacrificial giving will, without reservation, give all, because it knows who provides all of our needs(Matthew 6:27-32; Philippians 4:19).

   As you can see, tithing is a big subject. My challenge to every believer is to prayerfully seek the truths about benevolent giving. Once this New Testament principle of giving is clearly established, walk it out according to the leading of the Spirit. I must warn you, benevolent giving is contagious. The love behind it will serve as an example to others, the attitude of gratitude will attract people to the reality of God, and its unfeigned faith will yield eternal treasures that will spiritually bless you beyond measure.