To tithe or not to tithe? Why should I give? Who should I give to? Is it under Law or Grace?
These are some of the questions I have heard a lot throughout my years as a Christian and even more so since I’ve been part of a leadership team in a church.
There are actually 5 areas of giving exampled and repeated in both the Old and the New Testament, tithing is only one aspect of what God wants us to do in this area of giving.
#3) Apostolic giving
#4) Alms giving
#5) A lifestyle of generosity
Let’s talk about tithing first…
It has been my own personal observation that many of the people who struggle in the area of giving, do so because they have succumb to the false teaching that tithing is “under the law.” They think because we now live in a New Covenant of Grace (which we do) – tithing, because it originated in the Old Testament, is part of Law and not Grace. A simple study of Scripture reveals to us that tithing was actually an act of Faith that was exampled 400 years before the Law was given and had nothing to do with the Law.
In Genesis 14:20, Abram gave Melchizedek (the High Priest) a 10th (tithe means a 10th) of all he had recovered. This is the first mention in Scripture of the tithe (10%) being given to those who function in a priestly office. A few verses later, in chapter Genesis 15:1 it says after “these things” – this act of Faith – tithing, the Lord came to Abram and began to establish His covenant with Him. It was a covenant that was based on Faith and not a covenant that was based on Law. God says in verse 1, “I am thy shield (I will protect you) and thy exceeding great reward (your reward will be great).” All of this took place 400 years before the Law was even revealed.
God’s intention for the children of Israel was for them to act on this covenant of Faith but it was because of their rejection of Him (God), that 4 centuries years later, He had to relate to them through the Law. Abram was saved by Faith.
This Old Testament act of Faith called tithing – is repeated before the Law was given and after the Law was given.
A New Testament example for the tithe can be found in Matthew 23:23. The Pharisees are very careful to tithe even on the smallest amount of increase that comes into their lives but that they do so, hypocritically, because they ignore more important things: law, justice, mercy and faithfulness. Jesus says you should tithe, yes, but you should not leave undone the more important things. What is He saying here? Jesus is warning us of doing things for outward show while ignoring the motivations behind why we do what we do. He (Jesus) is assuming that tithing is a normal part of a believer’s life. It’s never a question with Jesus as to whether tithing is to be done or not.
Now let’s look at it from a simple, more practical stand point. What was the purpose of the tithe? In Genesis 14 it was for the support of the high priest of God. In Numbers 18:20-26 it is re-established that it was for the priests who served in the Tabernacle. In verse 21 it says, “As for the tribe of Levi, your relatives, I will pay them for their service in the Tabernacle from the tithes from the entire land of Israel.” In verse 25 & 26 the Levities are told to receive the tithes from the Israelites and they are to give a tithe of that tithe they received to the Lord as a gift, which represented their (the priest’s) harvest offering.
Malachi the prophet points out that the tithe is for a very specific need in the storehouse, it is not for us to decide where it goes. Your tithe (your 10th) is not for supporting other ministries outside of your local church. We can’t arbitrarily decide where that money goes and call it our tithe.
Never was the tithe used for any other purpose than the support of those who served in the Tabernacle. Whenever money was needed for buildings or stuff inside the buildings (Tabernacle, temple, houses of worship) — offerings were received. On top of that, offerings were given (over and above the tithe) on many occasions for various feasts, festivals and sacrifices to the Lord. The number of times that tithes and offerings are repeated in the Old Testament – before the Law and after the Law was given – are too numerous to include in this particular post.
OK, continuing on this theme of the practical purpose of the tithe… we’ve already seen that Jesus Himself established it in Matthew 23 and we can safely assume that those who functioned as elders in the New Testament Church were also supported by the tithe. Their salaries came from the tithing of the New Testament believers. 1 Timothy 5:17 says, “The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching.” There isn’t one translator who disagrees that this passage is talking about their salary. The NLT says that elders who do their work well should be paid well, especially those who work hard at both preaching and teaching. One of the Greek words that is translated “Elder” is “Poimain”, in Acts 20:28 Paul says to the elders of the Ephesians Church to be sure that you feed and shepherd (Poimain) God’s flock, His Church… This word is where the word “Pastor” comes from. So someone who functions in a pastoral or shepherding role in the New Testament Church and does their job well is worthy of double honour (the Amplified says, “of adequate financial support”). Nowhere do we see in the New Testament that any pastor (elder, shepherd = poimain) that this adequate support or double honour comes from any offering that was collected. So where did it come from? It is quite obvious that it must have come from the tithes of the New Testament believers.
In the Old and New Testament we have different examples of offerings, some of which we’ve already covered above i.e. church property, stuff inside the buildings, stuff to run the place, etc. put into today’s terms: rent/mortgage, light bill, office supplies, sound equipment, banquets… it was all done through offerings – over and above the tithe (which is the word for a 10th).
Apostolic giving. Acts 4:34-37, “For there was not a needy person among them, for all who were owners of land or houses would sell them and bring the proceeds of the sales and lay them at the apostles’ feet, and they would be distributed to each as any had need. Now Joseph, a Levite of Cyprian birth, who was also called Barnabas by the apostles (which translated means Son of Encouragement), and who owned a tract of land, sold it and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.” Here we have the first example of apostolic giving, where money was given to the apostles for them to distribute to those in need. This was the type of giving mentioned by Paul in 1 Corinthians 16:1-4 when he reminded the Church at Corinth as he did the other Churches about the offering being collected to help the Christians who were suffering in Jerusalem, many of whom had lost everything. Another example of apostolic giving is found in Philippians 4:10-20 where Paul himself is being supported by an offering.
The 4th type of giving we see exampled is Alms giving. In Acts 3:2 we see a beggar asking for financial help, or alms. In Acts 10:2-4 & 31, Cornelius’ gifts to the poor were noticed by God. In Acts 24 when Paul is giving an account of himself before Felix the Governor, Paul mentioned that he came with alms to aid people that were in need.
The 5th type of giving that we see exampled in the Old and New Testament is not a specific but a general lifestyle of generosity which in essence encompasses all the previous 4 types of giving I’ve already mentioned. In the book of Acts we see radical examples of people giving; people selling houses and properties to give in the form of an offering for various needs.
In our day and age, I’ve rarely seen a person who struggles with the idea of giving 10% of all their gross income (before tax), give anything that comes close to this radical example. What I have seen, unfortunately, is people who have not made God, the Lord of their finances – use “tithing is under the Law” – as their excuse for not being responsible in their local house of worship. In the majority of cases it was because of overspending and the result of the pressure of debt that causes people this mental struggle with regards to giving. It other cases it is a poverty mentality caused from a fear of lack that says, “I won’t have enough if I give”. It’s really a shame that many pastors have to struggle financially (many taking multiple side jobs) because people in local churches do not understand that Scripture gives us a clear pattern of how to support those who minister in the local church, through tithes.
The ideal is for every church and every believer that tithes support ministry staff (in their own local church body) and everything else including buildings, hydro etc. be supported through offerings. On top of the other two, every believer through their local church should lay offerings at the feet of those who function in an apostolic role in their lives for the furtherance of the Gospel internationally and for the support of those in desperate need. If a church (and believer) is doing all 4 already, it is safe to assume that they are being generous in every area of their life with the other resources we aren’t even touching on. Including everything they are a steward over… their time, their talent and their treasure.
On another note, the principal of “seed time and harvest” is evidenced from Genesis to Revelation and is something that applies to this area of our finances. There should be an expectation in our heart as a good steward that if we sow we will reap, in some cases 100 fold return. But what I have seen is that many people have given with the wrong motivation. They’ve not given out of relationship with God, out of love for Him or because they simply trust Him but they’ve given with the motivation to get something in return. They’ve put the cart before the horse. Matthew 6:33 says we need to seek first His kingdom and His righteousness (His way of doing things and being right) and then all these other things, the stuff we need – that we worry about, will be met. The motivation can’t be reward… the motivation has to be relationship!
The reality is, Paul the apostle spent a lot of time teaching on this principal of seed time and harvest in relation to our finances. There were times when serving the King (God) he found himself with little and there were times when he found himself with much. He learned in any and every circumstance to be content with the things that he had. His motivation was based on relationship and not on reward. Where many Christians get frustrated today is because they don’t understand that there are seasons in seed time and harvest. In some seasons they will plant and in some seasons they will reap. In the seasons where they have to plant, they have to be careful to not eat their seed. When you really get this ball rolling, the reaping and planting begin to overlap each other to the point where you are always sowing and always reaping. Blessed to be a blessing. Prosperity for a purpose.
The ideal is our motivation be correct like when Paul challenged the Corinthians in 2 Corinthians 9:6-15, specifically in verse 7, which is an apostolic giving moment. Paul teaches us that each one of us should give as we purpose in our own heart, not grudgingly, sorrowfully or under compulsion, for God loves (He takes pleasure in, prizes above other things, and is unwilling to abandon or to do without) a cheerful (joy-filled) giver. This is where Grace comes in our giving. This Grace in giving can be applied to all 5 areas. Many Christians have been left with a sour taste in their mouths because tithes and offerings – which should be received in Grace – have been received under compulsion, out of necessity or desperation.
So if you find yourself in the place where you are giving grudgingly or out of necessity or not giving at all… or according to the Biblical pattern, then you need to meditate on these Scriptures (and others) until your mind is renewed and you are transformed in your thinking. Often our lack in the area of generosity is a sign of bigger problems in our relationship with God and also in our relationships with those in our church family.
God wants you to get to the place where you can trust your heavenly Father in this area of your finances of which He talks more about than He does about heaven or hell combined.
Other articles on this topic I’ve written and shared: