One of the most widely participatory faith practices among Christians is “tithing,” and yet, it might be one of the least understood. There is certainly nearly unanimous agreement that this ordinance was commanded by God to the ancient Israelites and believers are taught that it is a requirement for us today; but what do the Scriptures say on this matter? A common reasoning is found in the Old Testament book of Malachi 3: 8, which states, “Will a man rob God? Yet you have robbed Me! But you say, ‘How have we robbed Thee?’ In tithes and offerings. This pronouncement had to do with the decline and neglect of the temple services and offerings by the post exilic Jews who had returned to Palestine after a long period of foreign captivity.
There are at least two passages in the gospels of the New Testament book of Matthew, 5: 17-20, where verse 20 is used more convincingly to administer the ‘tithe’ among Christians because Jesus told His disciples, “”For I say unto you, that unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven.” Also in Matthew 23: 1-3, 23, Jesus wasn’t so much as teaching about tithing or even giving, but rather He was teaching against hypocrisy. If Jesus gave any favorable impression with the principle of tithing or giving, it is to be one borne of true faith and sacrifice as evidenced in Mark 12: 41-43, where He said, “Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the contributors to the treasury.” In practical matters because of the social, cultural, and market economy in which we live today, it would be almost an impossibility to exceed the scribes and Pharisees in their tithing practices anyway. So let's see how the practice of taking up an offering really got started among the First Century believers.
Acts 11: 1, 27-30
“Now the apostles and the brethren who were throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. Now at this time some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. And one of them named Agabus stood up and began to indicate by the Spirit that there certainly would be a great famine all over the world [land]. And this took place in the reign of Claudius. And in the proportion that any of the disciples had means, each of them determined to send a contribution for the relief of the brethren living in Jerusalem. And this they did, sending it in charge of Barnabas and Saul to the elders (Cp. 12: 25).”
The following New Testament Scriptures [Paul’s letters] deal with this event over a period of several years which forms the historical background and theological basis for this practice today (Cp. Gal 2: 10??; I Corinthians 16: 1-4; II Corinthians 1: 15-16; 8: 1 – 9: 15). Even in Acts 15: 13-14, 19-20, 28-29; 21: 18, 25, the Mother Church in Jerusalem decreed that the Gentile believers observe certain essentials of the faith and at no time was tithing mentioned.
The one thing that must be mentioned is the collection for the saints [in Judea] was never a command but voluntary (II Corinthians 8: 7-8; 10) and the only requirement then as well as today is found in II Corinthians 8: 12; 9: 7-8, which reads, “For if the readiness [of mind] is present, it is acceptable according to what a man has, not according to what he does not have. Let each one do just as he has purposed in his heart [so let him give]; not grudgingly or under compulsion; for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, that always having all sufficiency in everything; you may have abundance for every good deed.
So, what does the New Testament teach regarding supporting the Gospel or those who minister in the Word of God?
I Corinthians 9: 7-15a, 17a-18
Who ever goes to war at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat of its fruit? Or who tends a flock and does not drink the milk of the flock? Do I say these things as a mere man? Or does not the Law say the same also? For it is written in the Law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle the ox while it treads out the grain (Cp. Deuteronomy 25: 4).” Is it oxen that God is concerned about? Or does He say it altogether for our sakes? For our sakes no doubt, this is written, that he who plows should plow in hope, and he who threshes in hope should be partaker of his hope. If we have sown spiritual things for you, is it a great thing if we reap your material things? If others are partakers of this right over you, are we not even more? Nevertheless we have not used this right, but endure all things lest we hinder the gospel of Christ. Do you not know that those who minister the holy things eat of the things of the temple, and those who serve at the altar partake of the offerings of the altar? Even so the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should live from the gospel. But I have used none of these things, nor have I written these things that it should be done so for me. For if I do this willingly, I have a reward; What is my reward then? That when I preach the gospel, I may present the gospel of Christ without charge, that I may not abuse my authority in the gospel.
II Corinthians 11: 7-9
Did I commit sin humbling myself that you might be exalted, because I preached the gospel of God to you free of charge? I robbed other churches, taking wages from them to minister to you. And when I was present with you, and in need, I was a burden to no one; for what I lacked the brethren who came from Macedonia supplied. And in everything I kept myself from being burdensome to you, and so I will keep myself.
NOTE: This is a far cry from those members of the clergy and Church leadership today who use the Scriptures to psychologically coerce the believers into 'tithing' or put a "guilt trip" and fear of condemnation on the flock if they do not participate in this offering. Are they like those in Micah 3: 11a, which reads, Her priests teach for pay and her prophets’ divine for money?
There is one other reference in the New Testament on this matter of financial support, and that pertains to the office of a "special" class of Elder, as in I Timothy 5: 17-18, which says: Let the Elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor [just what is this?], especially those who labor in the word and doctrine. For the Scripture says, "You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain Cp. Deuteronomy 25: 4," and, "The laborer is worthy of his wages."
NOTE: Curiously, that last part which was added on is found in Luke 10: 7b, which reads: For the laborer is worthy of his wages. A similar account, though not as literally, word for word as Luke account is found in Matthew 10: 10b, which says, For a worker is worthy of his food. So, just as those who preach the gospel of God have the right to be supported, the Elder who among his other responsibilities (Cp. I Timothy 3: 1-7; Titus 1: 5-9), both proclaims the Gospel and teaches [instructs in doctrine] is to receive the material things they need just as the Apostles, other ministers, evangelists, and missionaries who spread the "Good News."