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What is the Purpose of Tithing?
Should Christians tithe? Well, to answer that, we must take a look at what tithing is. To tithe means to give one-tenth. The first time we see tithing in the Bible is when Abraham (then Abram) decides to voluntarily give 10% of all the spoils of war to Melchizidek in Genesis 14. Then, in Genesis 28, Jacob pledges to give God a tenth of everything he earns if God blesses him. The first two times that tithing is mentioned in the Bible, it is not referred to as a requirement. It was something that both Abraham and Jacob did voluntarily and as a response to the goodness of God.
Tithing was not implemented as law until Leviticus 27 under the law of Moses. Its purpose was to provide sustenance for the tribe of Levi, which was not given a portion of land for their inheritance. The Levites were not to work the land for their income and food like the other tribes. Their only responsibility was to tend to the things of God and ensure that the holy things stayed holy. So God instituted a law that the other tribes had to give a tenth (tithe) of their all their produce and livestock to support the Levitical priests. So, in essence, the tithe was established as an opportunity for Israel to demonstrate to God that holiness was a priority for them.
I’ll skip all of the specifics, but suffice it to say that the Israelites were not always faithful in their tithing. The pattern was that they would start out great. Then, they would be swayed away from all forms of worship to God (including tithing). Then, God would send a prophet, or another messenger, to correct them. The Israelites would start tithing again and it would almost always result in some form of abundance.
What About Malachi 3:10?
This is the backdrop that Malachi was written. Malachi is only four chapters long and each chapter has a theme. In chapter 1, the people are basically complaining that God doesn’t love them. God’s response is to remind them how he chose Jacob over Esau, even though Esau was the firstborn. Also, in chapter 1, we learn that the priests are offering unacceptable sacrifices to God.
In chapter 2, the priests have corrupted the Mosaic law and caused people to stumble. Also, men of Israel have sinned against the covenant by marrying pagan women and worshipping their gods. In chapter 3, the people have turned away from God, like the priests in chapter 2. The priests turned away from God by offering unacceptable sacrifices. The people turned away from God by refusing to tithe. Finally, chapter 4 is a reminder to keep the law of Moses.
“Remember the law of my servant Moses, the decrees and laws I gave him at Horeb for all Israel.”
What is the New Testament View of Tithing?
Why is this important? Because the overall theme of Malachi is not about tithing. It is about returning to God by recommitting to following the Law of Moses…ALL of the Law of Moses. This is important because as Christians, we are not under the Law of Moses.
For he himself [Jesus] is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations…
So Malachi isn’t a scripture to use to justify tithing when you read it in context. *To take scripture out of context and attempt to apply it to an audience to whom it does not apply is called eisegesis – and it’s not a good thing.*
We are Christians. We follow the example of Christ. So what does Jesus say about tithing? So there’s a scripture that a lot of people use to say that Jesus was in favor of tithing. It’s in Matthew 23:
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill, and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy, and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.
“See!” they say, “Jesus said that you should practice the more important matters of the law without neglecting to tithe!” However, this is more eisegesis. Who was Jesus talking to? The apostles? His disciples? No! He was talking to Jewish Pharisees and teachers of the law who have dedicated their lives to following the Law of Moses. The point to take away from this verse is not that Jesus was pro-tithing. It is that Jesus was anti-hypocrisy. He was saying that tithing is not an excuse to neglect justice, mercy, and faithfulness. It’s even clearer in Luke 18:
To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
The lesson that Jesus is teaching here is this: do not use the fact that you tithe as a means of saying that you’re better than everyone else.
So allow me to say it plainly: there is no Biblical requirement for Christians to tithe.
Where Did the Idea That Tithing is a Requirement for Christians Come From?
If there’s no Biblical mandate for Christians to tithe, where did that view come from?
Well, the truth is that the early Church had no tithing system.
The tithes of the Old Testament were regarded as canceled by the law of Christ. It was not that the need to support the Church did not exist or was not recognized, but rather that other means appeared to suffice. Irenaeus and Origen spoke rather disparagingly of the institution of tithes as though there was something mean in it and unworthy of the generosity of Christians.
As the Church expanded, however, and its material needs grew more numerous and complex, it became necessary to adopt a definite rule to which people could be held either by a sense of moral obligation or by a precept of positive law. The tithing of the Old Law provided an obvious model, and it began to be taught…that the faithful should give tithes of their income.
When this view began to get sufficient support, it found legislative expression. The Council of Mâcon in 585 ordered payment of tithes and threatened ex-communication to those who refused to comply. Other local councils made similar enactments, but their repetition and the warnings of penalties to be imposed upon delinquents suggest that the tithes were paid with some irregularity and reluctance.
Basically, as the church in the 6th Century grew, it needed a way to get more money to support its growth. So, they decided to manipulate scripture and teach that Old Testament law applied to Christians. And they basically strong-armed people into tithing as a means to support their desire for more power. To bolster this, they threatened non-tithers with ex-communication. Throwing you out of the church at the time was basically throwing you into hell.
They must have decided to overlook Romans 10:4
For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.
Why I Still Give (at least) 10%
To say that Christians are not expected to tithe is not the same thing as saying Christians are not expected to give. God desires for us to give joyfully and without compulsion. So if there’s not a requirement to tithe, why do I still do it?
One of the questions that I get a lot as a Pastor has to do with offering. “How much should I give?” is one of the first questions. I, therefore, use the 10% (and the 2.5% Terumah – more on that in future articles) as the template for my giving. My wife and I give 10% of our income to our church. However, we are not driven by bad theology to tithe.
We do not tithe because we:
- Are looking for a blessing
- Are afraid of being cursed
- Believe that God will heal us if we give enough
We give at least 10% because we:
- Want to support the work of our local church
- Believe in the vision of our Pastors
- Love to help others in need
I give (at least) 10% of my income because I believe that God has called for the work of the Kingdom to be supported by the members of the church. 1 Corinthians 16:1-2 (NIV) says this
Now about the collection for the Lord’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 your income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made.
I believe that giving pleases the Lord, but it must be done joyfully, generously, and with the right attitude. I give my 10% to support my church, not to get a blessing, and not because of manipulation. (Check out my blog titled: “Christians, Stop Turning Off Your Brain).
My wife and I use 2 Corinthians 9:6-7 as our model and standard for our giving:
Remember: A stingy planter gets a stingy crop; a lavish planter gets a lavish crop. I want each of you to take plenty of time to think it over, and make up your own mind what you will give. That will protect you against sob stories and arm-twisting. God loves it when the giver delights in the giving.
Our giving is planned, budgeted, done cheerfully, and without arm-twisting. We remain open to the Holy Spirit if we are moved to give over and above our planned offerings.
To teach that tithing is a Biblical requirement for Christians is to say that we don’t believe that people will support our work voluntarily. But I believe that if you teach people sound Biblical and financial principles, they will see the value and give towards it.
My cash app is $TorreyFingal if you wanna support 😉