The Tithe Issue: Part One
This is a topic that I suppose many people have strong opinions about. However I wanted to write about it not to air mine, but to look at every scripture concerning it and then from the context see if the opinions we have about it are well grounded in scripture. This study will be in several parts and this part will be an introduction and short study of the first instance of tithing. If you do not know what a tithe is, it is the scriptural doctrine whereby one tenth of the income of an individual goes to the upkeep of the priesthood of God as found in the Law of Moses and was practiced in the lives of the Israelites. The tithe is one of those thorny subjects because it touches on what people can get very upset about, and that is their money. Money is the only god that God compare Himself with in the New Testament, not in the sense that money is all-powerful, but that money gets almost worshiped by people. So when it comes to who’s being worshiped in the world according to God, it is God and then money or is it money and then God?
Whatever the order is in the life of an individual, money has power over people, and if you do not get your perspective on money right, there will always be an issue when it comes to tithing. The question that people actually wants answered is this, should or should I not tithe today? I listened to many teachers on tithing and they all use the same scriptures for years now and still there is doubt in the minds of Christians on this issue. Why is that? Do people not believe the Bible or is the Bible unclear on this topic?
Up to now I have not yet heard a compelling teaching on tithing, with all due respect to everybody that taught for it or against it. Even those who do not think we should tithe, cannot give a good account for themselves, because it is not wrong to tithe is it? Just the fact that it is disputed amongst Christians tells you that there is not clarity on the subject. Nobody disputes; at least not amongst true believers that we should get people saved and get them to give their lives to Jesus. So why the problem with tithing, because it will cost you money, that is why. Money that we as humans have a hard time giving away in large amounts, like one tenth of a salary for instance.
Therefore should a New Testament, born again believer tithe, like his Old Testament Israelite counterpart? To give a proper answer we have to study the tithing system properly in both the Old and New Testaments. We will get a solution to the problem; I really mean that, because at the end you will have to decide for yourself on the evidence provided from the Bible if tithing is for today or not. In this study the bare facts are what is important, nobody’s great lifestyle or testimony will be taken into account, just the bare Bible facts.
THIS STUDY IS NOT TO PROVE WHO IS RIGHT OR WRONG IN THE GIVING OR NOT GIVING OF A TITHE. IT IS ONLY TO SEE WHAT THE BIBLE SAYS ABOUT TITHING SO THAT YOU CAN DECIDE IF YOU WANT TO TITHE OR NOT.
I find it interesting that some people make it their business to make decisions for others, telling them what they should and should not do or what they can and cannot believe. If we want to help people we should let them decide for themselves and not scare them into decision making. Remember Christians aren’t strong-armed sales people who have to get a sale; we actually want people to accept what the Holy Spirit says out of their own freewill.
There is division amongst denominations in the Church on this subject so we are not going to be childish and portray like the one who tithes or not tithe is better than the other, because people can get snobbish even on this issue and that is silly. If somebody does not believe like you do, does that give you the right to ridicule the person and to make him out to be less of a Christian than you? If God has not enlightened some people yet on issues such as tithing or baptism etc, do not aggravate the problem with know it all comments that causes more conflict and division than unity. I have heard tapes where people laugh while the preacher makes jokes about the guy who does not tithe. That is not becoming the preacher or a Christian.
If somebody sits in the congregation who does not believe like you, and you preach like that, you have just alienated that person from your message and even if you were right in the eyes of God, what does your being right helps when that person does not come back again to listen to the whole Word of God?
Jesus have also highlighted this; being so great in your own eyes, but forgetting what is important, Matt 23v 23 YLT “Woe to you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye give tithe of the mint, and the dill, and the cumin, and did neglect the weightier things of the Law--the judgment, and the kindness, and the faith; these it behoved you to do, and those not to neglect.” And Mark 12v 33 NIV “To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” Do not let us become like Pharisees who are so good at doing what we think is right and then make enemies of people who were just looking to find Jesus. People are not looking for harsh ridiculing doctrine; all we will achieve with that is to chase them out of the Church. The question must be asked, do you want people to follow your doctrine first or do you want them saved first? You may be right, nevertheless be right in a good and kind way, but let us turn our attention to the matter at hand.
Tithing in the Old Testament:
Essentially there are three tithing scenarios in the Old Testament.
The first one (Gen 14v 20), is a no strings attached, no commandment given, freewill offering or gift, however you want to describe it. This tithe is so insignificant in one sense that it is not even further discussed or elaborated on, from God’s side, at least in the Old Testament. The New Testament referral to it does not really tell you anything new concerning the significance of why Abraham, who was the first man to tithe, did what he did. You also will not hear Abraham ever tithing again after the first time.
The second scenario, (Gen 28v 22) was where Jacob the grandson of Abraham makes a sort of covenant with God. The covenant was that if God will protect and care for Him in every way, and then bring him back to his father’s house, then God the Almighty will be his God and of everything he will receive he will give a tithe to God. How he will do that is also not clear since there was no priesthood according to the Bible to care for at that time.
The third scenario (Lev 27v 30) is where Abraham’s descendants, the Israelites gets a commandment to tithe. The tithe also has a purpose; the purpose was for the upkeep of Israel’s priesthood. These were the Levites; they did not receive an inheritance of land in the Promised Land. They were set aside to work for God and to minister to the people of Israel, and did not have time for a regular job to care for their households. Therefore one tenth of Israel’s produce of whatever sort it may have been went to them to make sure they were provided for, so that they can do a proper job in God’s service.
Now to recap on what was said, the Old Testament tithe was at first a free will gift, second a covenant gift and thirdly, a commandment to give. What is also apparent from the first two instances of tithing in the Bible is that the gesture comes from man and not God. That speaks to me about people who had another kind of thought pattern to what we have today. They apparently had no problem with parting with one tenth of their income at any given time. They certainly had no problem with giving money to the cause of God. It also speaks of faith in the one they wanted to honor; because you do not give one tenth of your income to someone you do not trust. God is only involved in the last instance and with good reason, it was the livelihood of the people that worked for and represented Him.
Let us look at a scripture now:
(Gen 14v 19-20 NIV) “ and he blessed Abram, saying, "Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth. And blessed be God Most High, who delivered your enemies into your hand." Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything.”
The first time you will read about tithing is in the account of a man called Abram; his name would later be changed to Abraham. What we know about tithing at that time according to the Bible is that it was not commanded that the tithe should be given to anybody in fact there was no such a thing as a tithe until Abram brought it up.
Therefore; for Abram to give one tenth of spoil he got in a battle to Melchisedek, the priest who blessed him is surprising since it was not discussed before. It could have been some kind of cultural thing or God told him to tithe, but it was not recorded in the Bible exactly why Abram gave Melchisedek a tithe of all the spoil taken in battle.
The verse “And blessed be God Most High, who delivered your enemies into your hand” might have something to do with it. He could have thought; if God delivered the enemies into my hand, I would give back to God by supporting His representative. An interesting point to see is that later in the Law of Moses it will be commanded that the priesthood of Israel should be provided for out of the tithe, and seeing that Melchisedek was a priest of God it seems right for Abraham to give him a tithe.
Therefore, the first time the tithe is mentioned in the Bible is when the priest of God is given a tithe. This deed that Abram did was about 430 years before the Law of Moses when there was no commandment to give the tithe to anybody.
If there was no commandment to give the tithe, it must also mean that there would have been no penalty for not giving a tithe at that time. This I say because those who stand for the giving of the tithe today use Abram giving a tithe as an example to say that tithing is an Old Testament principal, which should be kept. But then these same people will tell you, you are cursed if you do not give the tithe, and then they will use Malachi 3v 8-10. Let us look objectively at that viewpoint. The problem is that you cannot say a thing is a principle, in the case of the tithe in Abram’s time, a non-commanded principle at that and then apply the penalty for a later law to the earlier non-commanded principle. It does not make sense does it? You cannot teach tithing from Abram’s perspective and then use the Law to back it up, the tithe in Abram’s time and the tithe in the law are mutually exclusive. To be honest the Bible does not say the tithe was a principle in the time of Abraham. It just says that Abram gave it to Melchisedek; it does not even say why Abram gave it.
What is a principle? It is a law, a rule, code, belief or even an opinion. So if you want to say that the tithe was a principle before the Law of Moses, what are you saying, the tithe was a law before it was a law? We cannot make things principles or laws for that matter just because we truly believe it, we can only call a thing what the Bible calls a thing at a specific time. I am not trying to be sarcastic with my comments here; I determined not to attack any side of the argument concerning tithing.
The viewpoint we will take in this study will only be on what is said in the Bible. If it is not expressly said, then we will not take it into consideration. What I mean is this for example; the offering of Abel as opposed to Cain’s offering, people say that Abel gave a tithe, but where does it say it was a tithe? Abel gave a “minchah”, that is a sacrificial offering, by the way the same word was used for Cain’s offering which was not accepted. The word for tithe in the Old Testament is usually the word “ma'aser”, a tenth especially a tithe, so if the words differ, then what is given will differ. In fact the New Testament says that Abel brought a “more excellent offering”, not tithe (Heb 11v 4). There are also other examples used as types and shadows of tithing from teachers of tithing, but as with the Cain and Abel example, what do you think, it looks to me like people trying too hard to put their point across, using unrelated scriptures out of context. Do not forget the ‘small’ matter of context in Bible interpretation.
Coming back to types and shadows, it is a Biblical concept, (Col 2v 17 NIV) “These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.” And, (Heb 8v 5 NIV) “They serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven. This is why Moses was warned when he was about to build the tabernacle” And (Heb 10v 1 NIV) “The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming--not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship.” I am not saying that to say things are types and shadows of other things is false, but in the case we discussed, I feel it is some over zealous teaching, where it is not needed. In my view it makes the one that is teaching that way, do more harm than good for his cause. People who are listening might think; this guy is grasping at straws, because anyone who knows you should read the Bible in the context it is speaking of will see the person is teaching something not spoken of in the context.
There are more compelling ways to teach tithing than using the type and shadow method, which is fundamentally flawed if you want to use it to teach tithing, since God does not lie, He says what He means and means what He says, If He said tithing, He meant tithing and where He did not say tithing He did not mean tithing.
However, what the tithe certainly shows from God’s viewpoint is this; give a constant, fixed amount of your income to the support of the people who do My work. Imagine the priests of Israel not being sure of what they will get from one month to the next? This is what happens when we give ten rand this month and a thousand rand the next, how can a congregation do planning on such an income? If anything the tithe is practical is it not so?
Nevertheless, what we learnt from Abraham’s tithing is this, without being asked, or begged to or scared into giving, he gave freely. Do you want your pastor to beg you to do your part financially before you give? Abraham gave one tenth of everything he gained out of a battle without being asked for it, talk about willingness. What if that happened today? Think of the consequences of 70% of South Africans who say they are Christians giving willingly a tithe, for no reason at all but to give to God, no strings attached as Abraham did, how will we change this country? Forget about; it was under the Law and so on, just think what if it happened?
If we look at Abraham’s giving to God, what does that show you? It shows me a guy whose heart was towards God. I do not think Abraham saw the tithe as a big issue like we today, who leave our congregations because of it. What is also apparent is that Abraham gave freely, and that is what everybody wants to do, but when you are goaded and irritated week after week to give a tithe, people will get annoyed and leave eventually. What we must remember is that the money we make can fill only so much gaps, and the person who does not see why a tithe will make a difference to their lives, will get agitated because he gets asked to give money to the Church, when he does not even have money to buy things for his family. This type of person needs the love of Jesus in teaching and not ‘well you rob God and are cursed now’ teaching. We should teach giving from the heart to give and leave the work to the Holy Spirit to persuade the person to give whatever he wants to give; giving from the heart will grow into bigger things being given.
ABRAHAM SHOWS US GIVING FROM THE HEART, GIVING LIKE GOD GIVES, NOT TO RECEIVE BLESSING, BUT TO BLESS.
Do not think that I am against or for tithing, allot is yet to be said on this topic. I just want those of you who are interested in what the Bible say, to start thinking on this subject, objectively. Forget your own preconceived ideas which man has put in your minds. If you truly want to please God, you would want to please Him in every aspect of life, therefore in the money aspect of life do you think you are pleasing Him yet? Maybe the tithe can help you in that area or maybe it will not, but you will have to decide.
We will pickup from here in the next article.
© 2007 Richard D Kloosman, All Rights Reserved.
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