by: Kevin Whitehead
Tithing is the practice of giving one-tenth of one's income or possessions to one's leader. In Judaism, that leader was God. The first tithe recorded in the Bible was given by Abraham to Melchizedek, king of Salem. "....Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything." (Genesis 14:20) The next biblical mention of a tithe is when Jacob made a vow to God, saying, "...of all that you give me I will give you a tenth." (Genesis 28:22) Secular kings often demanded tithes as well, as a tax on the peoples they ruled. Samuel told the Israelites who were asking for a king that a king would "...take a tenth of your grain and your vintage..." as well as "...a tenth of your flocks." (1 Samuel 8:15,17)
Eventually, the tithe was codified into the Law of Moses, under which the Israelites were required to give three different tithes amounting to around 23% of their income. The first tithe was consumed by the giver each year during the annual temple feast. Regarding this tithe, the Israelites were instructed as follows: "...set aside a tenth of all that your fields produce each year. Eat the tithe of your grain, new wine and oil, and the firstborn of your herds and flocks in the presence of the LORD your God at the place he will choose as a dwelling for his Name...." (Deuteronomy 14:22-23) The second tithe was given annually to support the Levites: "I give to the Levites all the tithes in Israel as their inheritance...." (Numbers 18:21) The third tithe was given once every three years for the support of the poor: "At the end of every three years, bring all the tithes of that year's produce and store it in your towns, so that the Levites (who have no allotment or inheritance of their own) and the aliens, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns may come and eat and be satisfied...." (Deuteronomy 14:28-29; see also Deuteronomy 26:12)
The LORD commanded the Israelites to "Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house...." (Malachi 3:10) "Christians are often urged to tithe based upon a mistaken appeal to this Old Testament text, which is wrested out of its rightful context, when applied to such a purpose....The storehouse is clearly the temple, not the church....Taken in context this passage lends no support to the mistaken doctrine of `storehouse tithing,' whereby Christians have been directed to restrict all their financial giving to their own denomination or local church, or as a variation, church members have been directed to pay the tithe to the local church, and restrict giving to outside organizations to amounts over and above the church tithe." (The New Treasury of Scripture Knowledge, Jerome Smith, p. 1026.)
In Christian theology, the Mosaic Law is usually divided into three parts: the moral, the ceremonial, and the judicial. The Ten Commandments comprise the moral part. The ceremonial part regulated the worship of Israel. The judicial part pertained to rights between men. However, the Law should be viewed as a unit. "For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it." (James 2:10) Obviously, "no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin." (Romans 3:21) "...[T]he law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law." (Galatians 3:24-25) Indeed, Christians need not be burdened under the law. "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery." (Galatians 5:1)
In the Sermon on the Mount, Christ demonstrated his deity by issuing several commands which supersede the Law. Six times he repeated the following couplet about various Mosaic commands: "You have heard that it was said......But I tell you..." (Matthew 5:21-22, 27-28, 31-32, 33-34, 38-39, 43-44) Each time he raised the standard of the Mosaic Law above that which was perceived to that which was intended. His final command fully encapsulated the intent of the Law -- holiness: "Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect." (Matthew 5:48). However, perfection was impossible under the Law. Therefore, Christ came as a priest in the order of Melchizedek. "If perfection could have been attained through the Levitical priesthood...,why was there still need for another priest to come -- one in the order of Melchizedek, not in the order of Aaron?" (Hebrews 7:11)
Along with the change of the priesthood came a change of the law: "For when there is a change of the priesthood, there must also be a change of the law." (Hebrews 7:12) "The former regulation is set aside because it was weak and useless (for the law made nothing perfect), and a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God." (Hebrews 7:18-19) "Now the Mosaic Law was done away in its entirety as a code. It has been replaced by the law of Christ. The law of Christ contains some new commands (1 Timothy 4:4), some old ones (Romans 13:9), and some revised ones....All of the laws of the Mosaic code have been abolished because the code has. Specific Mosaic commands which are part of the Christian code appear there not as a continuation of part of the Mosaic Law...but as specifically incorporated into that [Christian] code, and as such they are binding on believers today. A particular law that was part of the Mosaic code is done away; that same law, if part of the law of Christ, is binding." (Basic Theology, Charles C. Ryrie, p. 105)
The tithe, therefore, as a component of the Mosaic Law which was never restated as part of the law of Christ, does not apply to Christians. "While not requiring a tithe of believers today, the New Testament does speak of God's blessing on those who give generously to the needs of the church and especially to those who labor in the Word." (The Bible Knowledge Commentary: Old Testament, John F. Walvoord, Roy B. Zuck, p. 1585.) "Tithing is not taught in the New Testament as an obligation for the Christian under grace....Because we are not under law, but under grace, Christian giving must not be made a matter of legalistic obligation, lest we fall into the error of Galatianism...." (The New Treasury of Scripture Knowledge, Jerome Smith, p. 1152.)
GUIDELINES FOR CHRISTIAN GIVING
The absence of a command for tithing does not relieve Christians of the responsibility to give. Rather, Christians are held to the higher law of stewardship -- acknowledging that everything we have is a gift from God and being willing to give it all up at any moment that Christ commands (Matthew 19:21). The Bible specifies two main reasons for Christian giving.
First, Christians should provide for the needs of fellow Christians who are experiencing financial hardships. For example, while Barnabas and Saul were ministering in Antioch, "...some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. One of them, named Agabus, stood up and through the Spirit predicted that a severe famine would spread over the entire Roman world. (This happened during the reign of Claudius.) The disciples, each according to his own ability, decided to provide help for the brothers living in Judea. This they did, sending their gift to the elders by Barnabas and Saul." (Acts 11:27-30) Later in Paul's ministry, he gave instruction to other churches that they also should give to the poor Christians in Jerusalem. To the Christians in Corinth he wrote: "Now about the collection for God's people: Do what I told the Galatian churches to do. On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made." (1 Corinthians 16:1-2) Later, he explained to the Christians in Rome, "...Macedonia and Achaia were pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem." (Romans 15:26) Today's Christians should follow these examples and provide for the needs of our brothers and sisters in Christ who are in financial distress.
A second reason for Christian giving is to support Christian leaders. Paul wrote to the Corinthians that "...those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel." (1 Corinthians 9:14) To the Galatians, he wrote: "Anyone who receives instruction in the word must share all good things with his instructor." (Galatians 6:6) Note that Christians are not restricted to giving only to one's local fellowship. Instead, Christians should give to those who disciple them, whether within their local fellowship or not.
The final question remains -- how much should Christians give? Each Christian "...should give what he has decided in his own heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver." (2 Corinthians 9:7) No set amount or percentage of income is dictated, rather, "...if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what he does not have." (2 Corinthians 8:12)
In summary, Christians should not subject themselves to the Old Testament law of the tithe. Instead, they should give according to the following four New Testament guidelines. Christian giving should be:
Christians should live their lives open-handed -- acknowledging that they are merely stewards of God's possessions. They should always be willing to give 100% of that which they steward at any time required by the Lord (Matthew 19:21). Indeed, they should even be willing to offer their very "...bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God...." (Romans 12:1)
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