The concept of tithing can be a point of contention amongst Christians. Some practice it almost religiously while some on the other extreme reject it utterly. We believe this can be resolved by a careful examination of Scripture to unlock the truths about tithing. For if we can correctly understand God’s intentions and heart behind it, we can then align ourselves to His ways and reap the benefits of practising it in the way that best touches God’s heart.
This will be the first in a series of studies about tithing, seeking to unlock the biblical truths associated and inform us on how it should be practiced today. This study will examine the biblical basis for tithing.
WHAT IS A TITHE?
Leviticus 27:30–32 (NIV) 30 “ ‘A tithe of everything from the land, whether grain from the soil or fruit from the trees, belongs to the Lord; it is holy to the Lord. 32 Every tithe of the herd and flock—every tenth animal that passes under the shepherd’s rod—will be holy to the Lord.
The word tithe in Hebrew is maasar and means one-tenth. Essentially God is declaring that one-tenth of all the produce of the land and of the livestock belongs to God. That is essentially what it means to be made “holy” or sacred for God. Fundamentally, God views that a tenth of all their income and/or production belongs to God and the Israelites should return it to God.
WHERE WAS TITHING COMMANDED?
The clearest commandment on tithing was in the Laws of Moses, as given in Lev 27:30-32. In many other passages in Scripture the command is reinforced, and God’s expectations expressed. In fact, when the Israelites failed to give their tithes to God, God judged them for robbing Him.
Malachi 3:8–10 (NIV) 8 “Will a mere mortal rob God? Yet you rob me. “But you ask, ‘How are we robbing you?’ “In tithes and offerings. 9 You are under a curse—your whole nation—because you are robbing me. 10 Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house.
The failure to tithe was not simply a failure of generosity or even just a failure of obedience. It was all that but most importantly, it was robbing God of what rightfully belongs to Him.
Hence, the failure to tithe was not simply a failure of generosity or even just a failure of obedience. It was all that but most importantly, it was robbing God of what rightfully belongs to Him. No wonder God declared that His judgment was open the entire nation. This underscored the importance of the principle of tithing to God.
Yet it is often argued by some that tithing was a legalistic requirement in the Laws of Moses and thus it should no longer be practiced today. However, is that argument biblical?
TITHING BEFORE THE LAWS OF MOSES
In Gen 14 is recorded the story of how Abram rescued Lot from 4 kings who plundered Sodom and Gomorrah. Abram went after the 4 kings and in an amazing military feat, defeated them all and rescued Lot and his family. In addition, he plundered the kings. When Abram met Melchizedek, the king of Salem and priest to God Most High, Abram offered to Melchizedek a tithe of the spoils of war.
Genesis 14:18–20 (NIV) 18 Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, 19 and he blessed Abram, saying, “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth. 20 And praise be to God Most High, who delivered your enemies into your hand.” Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything.
In effect, Abram was tithing to God by giving to God’s priest (see also Heb 7:4). Thus, Abram understood the principle of tithing to God in recognition that the spoils of war represented an increase of his income or possessions.
We also find the concept of tithing was clear to Jacob, the grandson of Abram.
Genesis 28:20–22 (NIV) 20 Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear 21 so that I return safely to my father’s household, then the Lord will be my God 22 and this stone that I have set up as a pillar will be God’s house, and of all that you give me I will give you a tenth.”
Jacob made the vow should God protect and provide for Him, then he would regard God as his deity. Accompanying that he would honour God with a tithe of all that God gives him. This showed that the concept of tithing was clear in His mind. If he followed God, he would honour God by tithing.
The Law of Moses codified an existing principle rather than introduce it.
The above practices demonstrates that the principle of tithing was understood and practiced long before the time of Moses. In other words, the Law of Moses codified an existing principle rather than introduce it.
TITHING IN THE NEW TESTAMENT
Now that we have shown tithing was practised by God’s people in the Old Testament, the question is does it carry through to the New Testament?
Matthew 23:23 (NIV) 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.
Jesus affirmed the practise of tithing in the New Testament.
Jesus rebuked the Pharisees who religiously practised tithing without showing justice, mercy and faithfulness. Jesus corrected them by stating that they should practice both. Therefore, Jesus affirmed the practise of tithing in the New Testament.
Some pushed back against this by arguing that Apostle Paul’s taught that the Christians should give willingly, not out of compulsion. Hence, tithing should not be a New Testament command.
2 Corinthians 9:7 (NIV) Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.
However, this argument fails because they failed to take the context into consideration. Apostle Paul was not talking about tithing but rather about giving to help the Jerusalem churches during the time of famine (1 Cor 16:1-3). Paul was requesting for offerings, not tithes.
TITHING THROUGH THE CROSS
The cross of Jesus represents the transforming connection between both Testaments where under grace, the forms, ceremonies and most commands are shed. But the principle remains and is clarified.
Some argue that after the crucifixion of Jesus ushered in New Testament grace, the legalistic practise of tithing should not be continued. However, that represents a failure to appreciate God’s intentions of maintaining His eternal principles in both the Old and New Testaments. In the Old Testament, principles are often introduced in the form of commands, ceremonies and more rigidly applied. In the New Testament, the eternal principles are expressed much more clearly. The cross of Jesus represents the transforming connection between both Testaments where under grace, the forms, ceremonies and most commands are shed. But the principle remains and is clarified. I expounded these principles in greater depth in my blog articles “Covenant in the Bible (Part 5): How the Old connects with the New” and “Covenant in the Bible (Part 6): How the Old became New.”
The fact that tithing was practised before the codified form and commands of the Laws of Moses and continued to be affirmed by Jesus in the New Testament leads us to conclude it is an eternal principle. Hence, tithing should continue to be practised, as a principle.
THE BIBLICAL PRINCIPLE OF TITHING
To understand why tithing is a biblical principle, we need to understand why God required tithing in the first place. Let me unpack some of the key reasons.
The very act of tithing helps keeps in the fore of our minds that all we have is God’s.
1. It reminds us that God is the true Owner of all and Provider of what we have. Psalm 50:10–11 (NIV)10 for every animal of the forest is mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills. 11 I know every bird in the mountains, and the insects in the fields are mine. It reminds us that we are merely stewards. Everything we possess, even our every breath, is a gift from God. Since God is the rightful owner, He can require anything He desires of us. The very act of tithing helps keeps in the fore of our minds that all we have is God’s.
Tithing is therefore an act of faith in God’s faithfulness to provide.
2. We should trust God for His provision, His blessings. Malachi 3:10–12 (NIV) 10 Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it. 11 I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not drop their fruit before it is ripe,” says the LORD Almighty. 12 “Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land,” says the LORD Almighty. God challenges us to trust Him for abundant provisions and blessings. Indeed, God promises to provide and bless in abundance. Tithing is therefore an act of faith in God’s faithfulness to provide.
3. We tithe as an act of honouring God. By tithing we are obedient to God’s expressed desire that His people return to Him what is His, as it has been made holy or sacred unto God. Leviticus 27:30–32 (NIV) 30 “ ‘A tithe of everything from the land … belongs to the Lord; it is holy to the Lord. 32 Every tithe of the herd and flock … will be holy to the Lord.
What we give unto God, God gives to His Church. This enables the Church to undertake God’s work.
4. Our tithes support God’s work. What we give unto God, God gives to His Church. This enables the Church to undertake God’s work. For what is given will help support and release those who had set aside income to serve God’s purposes. Without such support, the ministry of the Church would suffer greatly as happened in the time of Nehemiah. Nehemiah 13:10 (NIV) I also learned that the portions assigned to the Levites had not been given to them, and that all the Levites and musicians responsible for the service had gone back to their own fields.
We should regard tithing as the principle of the tenth as a benchmark to aim for and even exceed because of our generous desire to honour God and His Church.
We demonstrated that tithing is a biblical principle. It was practised by the patriarchs. It was instructed in codified form in the Laws of Moses. Jesus affirmed its practice in the New Testament. The Scriptures provide us key reasons of why tithing is a biblical principle and ought to be practised even today. However, because it is a principle, we should not approach it in a legalistic fashion. But we should regard tithing as the principle of the tenth as a benchmark to aim for and even exceed because of our generous desire to honour God and His Church.
In the next study we will examine the various forms of tithes and offerings required by God and its objectives.
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