Are you giving what’s right, or what’s left?
2 Corinthians 8-9
Last month, we looked at what God calls us to concerning Stewardship. We learned that everything belongs to Him, and that we are the caretakers of His property. As Christians who take the Bible seriously, we also need to take to heart the seriousness of being a wise steward. Stewardship is an act of worship and gratitude by the Believer, in response to His grace. In so doing, we acknowledge God’s power and authority over our lives. This leads us to realization of and response to His love, by caring about what He brings into our lives. This includes everything--our relationships, spiritual gifts, time, material goods, our monies, and even our very being. This act of stewardship is in response to the marvelous gift of His amazing, wondrous Grace given to us. We begin by being thankful, and our thankfulness leads to the care of everything in our lives. Thus, our gratitude for what we have leads us to faithfully take care of the business of life. Gratitude is also worship, and our response to God for first loving us.
In my experiences and observations, I have observed, with sadness, that most people in evangelical circles do not see stewardship as important. A common response to the subject of stewardship is that all we need to have is a good heart, or be sincere in our faith. Our money, and how we manage life is irrelevant. But, is this true? Is God only concerned with our heart? If so, what does that mean? Well, when you read the Bible, you can see that it has a totally different definition of stewardship than what is popular in the church today!
God is concerned with what is in our hearts, and a good heart has responsible character assigned to it. That is what being a good steward means. This is shown to us by our role in taking care of creation, the testimony of the Law, and the Psalms, to name a few. Stewardship, in Hebrew, means “house law and rule.” It means that the person who is hired is to manage the affairs for the owner. This means that the property, resources, money, and previsions are under the steward’s control and responsibility. They belong to God, and are entrusted into our hands. Thus, all dimensions of management are under the word and theme of stewardship! So, all that we do in the affairs of our daily life is under stewardship too! Is God concerned with what is in your heart? Yes, He is, and being a good steward will show that you have a good heart!
Thus, as good stewards, we cannot be wasteful. Being a bad steward was under penalty of death in Biblical times. Fortunately, we are under grace, and Christ’s atonement covers us from God’s wrath when we mess up, but that does not mean we are to be careless. We are not to go around thinking all we need to do is think we are good, just as we cannot think we are good at our job or school, and be late all of the time, or slack off. We have to think carefully about the most prudent way to allocate and manage the gifts and resources He puts in our care! This is in response to what He has given to us--abundant grace and love, and His mercy and care. We must understand that being bad at stewardship is wasting what God has given, and even wastes our lives, and opportunities, too! We are just to have a good heart? If you are not responsible, chances are, no, you do not have a good heart.
Stewardship means we must take care of His world carefully, honestly, diligently, and faithfully in the character as revealed in His Word. It means remembering that God gives us everything, including Himself. So, how do we manage all of this with Biblical precepts and principles? One good way to view stewardship is to see what He gives us as a loan. We are to manage it with the attitude of giving back to God, of honoring Him, just like the Parable of the Talents teaches (Matthew 25:14-30)!
One of the key principles I want to get across to you is the difference in what we have, and what God has. We basically have nothing; we own nothing, we earn nothing, we gain nothing. God is the true owner of all things; He is the One who owns it all. Consider this. When you die, will there be a trailer with all of your stuff following you to the pearly gates? The answer is, no! After all, your eternal reward is far, vastly superior to what you have here. Even if you were Bill Gates, with billions of dollars, and were able to take it all with you, once you got to Heaven, you would not want to even look at it, much less keep it. As it would just be like rotting stinky junk! Would you rather pick a nonworking rusted car from a junkyard, or have a brand new luxury car? What God has for you is far better than what you would want to take! All you would end up bringing is trash (Deuteronomy 8:18; Psalm 24:1; Haggai 2:8; 1 Corinthians 6:16-20)!
The Egyptians believed that they could take it with them, but if you go to the Museums in Cairo you will see all of their grand stuff still there, here on earth! We have to see life as a training ground for eternity; we are given property, material possessions, gifts, abilities, and most importantly, relationships. It is what we do with these, what we learn from them, and what we impart to others that will become the true treasure. It is not the deed, title or pink slip; it is not the bank statement, or our brokerage account that matters. It is what we do with what is temporarily given to us that is important. That is where the treasure is earned, and learned. God is the owner; we are the managers. Let us use and manage His goods wisely, to prepare us for what is still to come (Psalm 49:16-17; Matthew 16:27; 25:21-23; Luke 19:12-19; 1 Corinthians 6:3; 2 Corinthians 4:16- 5:10; Revelation 20:6).
When we give, we are giving what is not really ours to begin with. It is not ours to keep, nor is it something we would even want to bring with us to eternity. We give what we cannot keep to gain what we cannot lose! This is authentic stewardship in action, and the real practicing of our faith. It is the practicing of our faith that is inseparable to the exercise of what we are given. These two combine synergistically to build our maturity, and our standing before our Lord. You cannot build your faith while ignoring your responsibility, just as you cannot build your faith by just focusing on material goods, even if you are doing it faithfully. Material things are not wrong to have when viewed rightly. It is when we think of them as important that is considered stupid in God’s eyes (Proverbs 23:5; Matthew 6:19-21; 19:21-30).
What is a Tithe?
Here are some key verses for your consideration: Leviticus 27:30; 27:31-32; Numbers18: 21-26; Deuteronomy 12:6-17; 14:23-28; 26:12; 2 Chronicles 31:5-12; Nehemiah 10:37-38; Amos 4:4; Malachi 3:8-10.
The term tithe that is found in Scripture (maser / asar, in the Hebrew and dekate / dekavth, in the Greek), translates into the tenth; thus, the notion that one should give ten percent of one’s monies to the church comes from the meaning of these words. The Scriptures tell us that God does not want us to do whatever we want or what seems fit. Obviously, that was not working then, just as it does not work today. So, He laid out principles for the running of the new country Israel that would provide care for the priests and those in charge. We, of course, do not live in a theocracy today, unless you live in Iran. The tithe may have been for a different purpose in the Old Testament than for the church today, but we do get key principles from these passages that translate into how best to provide for the church today, and how we can exercise good Biblical stewardship.
Giving a tithe, as history tells us, was a common practice among most, if not all, ancient Near East cultures, such as Babylon, Persia, Egypt, Mesopotamia, Syria, and even as far east as China. For them, it was for a royal tax, and service to their gods. For the Jews, it was a sacramental tax (1 Maccabees 3:49; 10:31; 11:35, an apocryphal book). Abraham was well acquainted with it when he migrated from Ur (Gen. 14:17-20), so he gave honor and tribute to Melchizedek who was a priest of the Most High, and a mystery to us, as we do not know the details of who he was. It is almost certain that Abraham’s tithes would also have been recognized as a holy deed (Heb. 7:4).
The giving of a tenth of our goods to the church, what we call “tithing,” is a seemingly good concept, or, is it not? First, I need to point out that nowhere in the New Testament does it advocate tithing, and the Old Testament has only two narrative passages on it, along with scores of other texts that most people take out of their time context, hence, why there is so much misunderstanding on this topic. (We are never to build doctrine just on narratives—stories--because stories are illustrations and histories of the journeys of our ancestors, such as Abraham and Melchizedek. They do not necessarily represent the character or doctrine we are to follow; sometimes they do and sometimes they do not. If a guy comes up to you and says he is Melchizedek, will you empty out 10% of your savings and hand it over? Or, such as in the case with David and his affair, because David sinned, does that mean it is OK for us to have an affair? It is in the Bible, you know, to have an affair! But, the story/history of that incident is about David’s actions, good, and bad. So, be careful how you interpret Scripture; always do it in its context! In the case of tithing, we have to look at the timeline of events too! Hence, a lot of people proclaim crazy and unbiblical doctrines by arguing their viewpoint from passages out of their time context, or from silence. However, as we already saw last month, the Bible is clear as it admonishes us to be stewards, especially in the handling of our money, and it gives us a blueprint for action (1 Corinthians 9:7).
What are the Scripture occurrences for the OT tithe?
· Abraham paid tithes to Melchizedek, and tithes of a tenth of ‘the heap,’ which he took from the kings with whom he fought in battle (Gen. 14:20; Heb. 7:2-6).
· When Jacob made his covenant with God at Bethel, he also made a vow, and gave a tenth of all his property to God (Gen. 28:16-22).
· Samuel warned Israel that the king whom they were demanding from God, would exact tithes of their grain and flocks (I Sam. 8:10-18).
· Further examples of free-will offerings are found in Gen. 4:1-7; 8:20; Ex. 25:35-36; Deut. 12:6; 16:10-17; 1 Chron. 29:1-17; and Heb. 7:4-10).
· Mosaic laws instructing the Jews how to provide for the nation and church/Temple Duet. 26:12-15.
o The First Fruits offering: Ex. 23:16-19; 34:22-26; Lev. 2:12-14; 23:10-20; Num. 18:12; 28:26; Deut. 26:10; 2 Kings 4:42; 2 Chron. 31:5; Neh. 10:35-37; 12:44; 13:31; Prov. 3:9-10
o The Levites’ Tithe for the priests: Lev. 27:30-33; Num. 18:21-29; Deut. 12:6-18; 14:22-29; Neh. 10:38: 18:21; Heb. 7:5
o Farmers’ Tax: (leaving crops un-harvested for the poor) Lev. 19:9-10; Deut. 24:19-21: Ruth 2.
Principles on Stewardship and Tithing:
· Cultural customs relating to: Neh. 10:37-38; Amos 4:4; Heb. 7:5-9.
· The tithe was also a form of worship and dedication to the Lord: Deut. 26:12f.
· The New Testament Tithe principles: 2 Cor. 8:12-15; Matt. 23:8-10; 23; Luke 18:12’ Heb. 7:8-9.
o The New Testament Stewardship principles: Matt. 6: 19-34; 19:21; Mark 12:41-44; Luke 6:38; 12:15; 33; 16:11-12; 19:1-10; 21:1-4; Rom 12:6; 10; 1 Cor. 4:1-2; 8:8-15; 9:7; 6:19-20; 2 Cor. 9:6-15; Eph. 4:28; Phil. 4:19; 5:15-16; 1 Tim. 6:10; James 1:17; 3 John 2).
o The example of the early church: Acts 2:43-47; 4:32-5:11; 11:27-30; 20:35; Rom. 15:22-29; 1 Cor. 16:1-4; 2 Cor. 8-9; Phil. 4:14-19; 1 Tim. 6:6-19; Heb. 13:16.
What the Jewish household was required to do:
· The Jewish household was obligated to share ten percent of their income in whatever form that would fulfill the Levites’ tithe (Lev. 27:30-32; Deut. 14:22-23; Num. 18:21).
· Every Jewish household was obligated to make a declaration of honesty before the Lord with their giving (Deut 26:13-15). The Temple was the place to which tithes were taken (Deut. 12:5-17).
· A fine of twenty percent had to be paid if they withheld or refused to pay what was required, in the form that was required, such as if they were required to give a sheep and they gave coins instead. Or, an extra tithe, a fifth of the sum, was demanded from those who sold their tithes, such as if you were required to give a sheep, but you sold it to your neighbor, and then refused to use the money to pay for a substitute (Lev. 27:31-33).
· The Levites, in turn, gave a tenth of their share (not all were priests, as some served as government officials and such) to provide for the priests (Num. 18:25-32).
The tithe was gathered once a year, and then an extra tithe was gathered every third year for those in need locally (Deut. 14:22-28). (Controversy exists about this among Hebrew scholars, as some say this only happened when the need for funds increased because of the building and expansion of the Temple.) Then over time, the people in charge would overtax the people, adding extras that were not required by God, but by man’s greed (recorded in the Talmud, an ancient Jewish commentary).
· The Jews tithed (paid taxes) to their government, whether Babylonian, Roman or whoever were the invading rulers at the time (again a historical reference). Sometimes, evil kings took over and hoarded the funds for themselves, such as Manasseh. At other times, tithes were withheld (2 Kings 18; Neh. 13:10; Mal. 3:8). Tithes resumed in Hezekiah's reign (2 Chron. 31:5-10) and under Nehemiah (Neh. 13:12).
· Extra sacrificial offerings were sometimes required (2 Sam. 6; 1 Kings 6-8; 12: 25-33; 2 Chron. 31:5-12; Ezek. 45:17; Amos: 7:13; Luke 18:12)
· The payment of an extra governing tithe/tax, as Samuel had warned would happen, and then was practiced (1 Sam. 8:15-17).
By the time of Christ, the Romans and over-eager tax gatherers greatly affected the economic life of the Jews; so, most were unable to tithe to the Temple. However, the laws regarding the tithe were still observed as shown here by Jesus (Matt 23:23; Luke 11:42).
The way it was:
For the most part, it is difficult to give a precise reconstruction of a typical tithe from the OT, since over time the practice changed, from the desert wandering under Moses, to the period of the Judges, then the Kings, the captivities, the different localities of Judea vs. Israel, local governments, and invading governments. In addition, there was abuse by the Pharisees (they were not fair, you see) and other leaders in charge by over-taxing. However, from Scripture, we do know what was required.
First, every year, a Jewish household gave ten percent of all of their goods or produce; this was the "Levite's Tithe." The Levites did not have land as the rest of the twelve tribes did (Joseph’s cut was split in two with Ephraim and Manasseh to make twelve). So, the rest of the tribes were called to support them. This was the tax to the government in order to run the office of the priesthood. Remember, Israel was a theocracy, a government run by the Church--or in their case, the priests, the Judges, and then the Kings, all of whom were under God. The countless thousands of priests were the teachers, rabbis/pastors, and government officials!
It would be like if today, the Mayor, Governor, Senate, and Congress did not represent the people by vote. Since (the rules are) all spelled out in the Law, they only sought the Will of God by examining the Scriptures. God told them what to do. So the tithe was also supporting the running of the government! We do not live in a theocracy today.
Second, the Jewish household would give another ten percent every year for the festivals and the religious sacrifices. (This is what the people were doing by dropping in coins, or bringing animals to the Temple when Jesus was there teaching. Because the leaders abused the system by selling what they were not supposed to, Jesus drove them out with a whip!) Thus, the running of the Temple/church, Sabbaths, holy days, and each one’s personal offering to God accounted for ten percent (the percentage, exact amount, and how often this was practiced is a matter of debate).
Third, the Jewish household would pay another ten percent every third year to the poor and the widows locally (again the percentage, exact amount and how often this was practiced is a matter of debate). So, if you were an OT Jew, you definitely would pay ten percent of your income, in whatever form was required to the Levites and/or the local government, to support them and the operation of the priests, Temple, and government. Then you could pay, depending on where you were in history, another ten percent to provide for the Temple, festivals, and such, plus your personal sacrifice for atonement. Then, you might be required to pay another ten percent every third year for the needy.
What does this all mean? Well, if you claim a tithe is just ten percent, you would be wrong, because there were several tithes plus freewill offerings! Also, there was the shekel temple tax, and whatever tax was required if they were occupied by a foreign power (They were occupied by the Romans, but the government was not run by the Romans. This is why Jesus said, Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's; in other words, pay the Romans what they ask for, and render to God the things that are required by God). In addition, if you were a farmer, you were required to leave about ten percent of your crop un-harvested, for the poor. Thus, you would have had a square field and only have harvested in a circle, leaving the corners for gleaning to the poor. The actual breakdown of the entire tithe load was around 23.3% per year, plus the atonement offerings, to which most Jewish scholars say the total could have been as high as thirty to forty percent plus, including foreign taxes. Again, scholars debate the exact percentage, amount, and how often this was practiced, but you get the picture. It was far in excess of a mere ten percent!
I find it fascinating that the base tax system in the United States is about twenty to thirty percent, and when you add income tax and the various sales taxes, we pay about twenty-five percent! But, this does not include the tithe to God, who says, Let every man bring whatever he purposes in his heart; let him do it willingly, whatever he wants to give. In the book of Acts, we find that they kept bringing so much in that they had to say, Stop, don't bring anymore--that's enough. So, if we did pay ten percent of our net salary to the church, we would be paying generally the same percentage as the Israelites were called to do. Remember that giving is always a freewill offering, coming from what is in our heart. It is an expression of our gratitude, worship, and love to our Lord! So, do whatever you want to do from this perspective. Exercise the good heart you have-- or are supposed to have. But, beware you do not allow your pride and greed to cloud your reasoning and call!
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:4-7).
Next month we will close this series with a look at if, and what we are called to give today, and some of the common objections to tithing.
Richard Joseph Krejcir is the Director of ‘Into Thy Word Ministries, ’a discipling ministry. He is the author of the book, Into Thy Word and is also a pastor, teacher, speaker and a graduate of Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena California. He has amounted over 20 years of pastoral ministry experience, mostly in youth ministry, including serving as a church growth consultant. firstname.lastname@example.org