What is tithing and is it something we’re supposed to do today? The word tithe means one tenth or 10%. In the Old Testament, there were more than one tithe that the Jews were obligated to give.
The first tithe was to be given to the Lord
“And all the tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land or of the fruit of the tree, is the LORD’s. It is holy to the LORD.” Leviticus 27:30
The Lord in turn gave this tithe to the Levites for their work in the temple.
“Behold, I have given the children of Levi all the tithes in Israel as an inheritance in return for the work which they perform, the work of the tabernacle of meeting.” Numbers 18:21
The second tithe was called the “festival tithe” and it was used to cover the costs of attending the festivals in Jerusalem.
“You shall truly tithe all the increase of your grain that the field produces year by year. 23 And you shall eat before the LORD your God, in the place where He chooses to make His name abide, the tithe of your grain and your new wine and your oil, of the firstborn of your herds and your flocks, that you may learn to fear the LORD your God always. 24 But if the journey is too long for you, so that you are not able to carry the tithe, or if the place where the LORD your God chooses to put His name is too far from you, when the LORD your God has blessed you, 25 then you shall exchange it for money, take the money in your hand, and go to the place which the LORD your God chooses. 26 And you shall spend that money for whatever your heart desires: for oxen or sheep, for wine or similar drink, for whatever your heart desires; you shall eat there before the LORD your God, and you shall rejoice, you and your household.” Deuteronomy 14:22-26 (New King James Version)
The third tithe was called the “poor man’s tithe” and it was collected every three years to give to the poor.
“At the end of every third year you shall bring out the tithe of your produce of that year and store it up within your gates. 29 And the Levite, because he has no portion nor inheritance with you, and the stranger and the fatherless and the widow who are within your gates, may come and eat and be satisfied, that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hand which you do.” Deuteronomy 14:28-29
The question is… does this apply to New Testament believers?
In order to gain a proper understanding, we need to look at Jesus’ view of the law. Jesus tell us in Matthew 5:17… 17 “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill.” The word fulfill means to give the true or complete meaning. Jesus did not come to invalidate the law but to give the true and complete meaning of the law.
Jesus taught tithing is good
In fact, Jesus teaches that we should tithe in Matthew 23:23 where he says… “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone.” The issue that Jesus had with the Pharisees was not their tithing, which He says you ought to do. The issue with Jesus is they forgot the weightier or more important matters of showing justice, mercy and faith. We see this exemplified in Galatians 5:14 where Paul writes that all the law is fulfilled in loving your neighbor as yourself. In other words, the core value at the heart of the law is loving your neighbor. One of the ways we demonstrate love for the local church we attend is to tithe.
Tithing predates the law
In Hebrews 11:4, Paul writes that by faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain. When we review the account in Genesis 4 we can see what Paul is referring to. Genesis 4:3 tells us the Cain brought “an” offering to the LORD. Genesis 4:4 tells us that Abel brought the “firstborn” of his flock to the Lord. What is the difference? It takes faith to bring the firstborn or the firstfruits of something to the Lord. There is no guarantee of a second born or second fruit… it is a demonstration of trust in God’s provision and love. Abel demonstrated his respect and reliance on God. We are not told how much was given, but we are told the heart behind what was given. This predates the law and gives us a model for giving first to the Lord.
Abraham considered Melchizedek such a great man in the sight of God that he was prompted by faith out of thanksgiving to tithe one tenth of the choicest spoils from the battles he had won against Sodom and Gomorrah. This event is also referred to by Paul in Hebrews 7. This predates the law and therefore gives us a model for tithing apart from the law.
Giving our First Fruits to the Lord
The Bible is clear that tithing or giving our first fruits is not Old Testament legalism, but the result of a heart that trusts in God’s provision and love and that is thankful for God’s provision and help. In fact Malachi 3:10 tells us to put the LORD to the test. Trust Him by bringing all the tithes into the storehouse and see if He will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out such a blessing that there will not be enough room to receive it. This is not a manipulative ploy to get your money. This is the Lord saying to you that He is a generous God and His people are to be a generous people because they’ve experienced His generosity.
Paul affirms this in his letter to the Corinthian church…
“But this I say: He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. 7 So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver. 8 And God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work.” 2 Corinthians 9:8
Whereas the law only requires 10%, grace is bountiful and abundant. Whereas the law is concerned about the dollar amount, grace outperforms the law because it gives not from a legalistic obligation but from a place of generosity out of a thankful heart.
So how does this practically work out in a believer’s life? Here are four principles that I discovered on giving…
TITHING REFLECTS YOUR PRIORITIES:
Leviticus 27:26 tells us that the tithe belongs to the Lord. Tithing reflects that God is your first priority. You know the story of Cain and Abel. Abel offered his first fruits to the Lord, but Cain only offered some of his fruits – NOT his first fruits. The Lord accepted Abel’s offering and not Cain’s. Are you giving God some of the fruits or are you giving Him the first fruits of your labor?
TITHING REFLECTS YOUR VALUES:
Matthew 6:21 tells us that where your treasure is your heart will be also. Your checkbook shows what you value. One of the indicators that someone is part of a church family is whether or not they support the ministry financially. As a leader in the church, I’ve always tithed to the local church where I serve out of obedience to the Lord and because I value what God is doing through the local church. If I don’t, then I really don’t have the spiritual authority to minister there. Do you value the work of God through your local church? Then support your local church through tithing.
TITHING REFLECTS YOUR COMMITMENT TO A LOCAL CHURCH COMMUNITY:
Throughout the New Testament we see Paul raising funds for local saints in order to help them financially. In this case, giving reflects a commitment to that community of believers. Paul also writes in 1 Timothy and 1 Corinthians that those who preach the gospel and labor in the word and doctrine should be supported by giving. We see the model for this in the Old Testament with the Levites who were paid from the tithe in order that they may continue the work of the tabernacle meeting. If you are blessed by the teaching, the worship, the people that come to your community, the way God is working in your life as a result of the local church, then support the ministry by tithing. As Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 9:12-13… For the administration of this service not only supplies the needs of the saints, but also is abounding through many thanksgivings to God, while, through the proof of this ministry, they glorify God for the obedience of your confession to the gospel of Christ, and for your liberal sharing with them and all men
TITHING REFLECTS GOD’S GENEROSITY
God is a generous God and He loves a cheerful giver. We do not give out of our lack. We give out of the abundance we’ve received from God. Everything we have comes from God and to say I can’t give because I have lack is to say God is not a good provider. 2 Corinthians 9:6-7 tells us if we sow sparingly we will reap sparingly. If we sow generously we will reap generously. God loves generously and blesses generously. Our giving reflects our heart and if we are not generous of heart then we will not have the capacity to receive generously. If we are generous of heart, then as God pours out abundantly we have the capacity to receive generously.
Tithing is the one area that God says… test me on this. We are committed to the Word and as these subjects come up in the Word, we don’t back down from them but we present them clearly and biblically. Love generously, give generously and worship passionately.