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  • Writer's pictureWilson Lim

Tithing Part 6: Tithing In A Spiritual Network

Updated: Oct 26, 2023


It is common practice in many churches worldwide to encourage its members to tithe out of their income to the local church. As we see this as a biblical principle operative before the Mosaic Law, formalised by the Mosaic Law and affirmed in its principles by Jesus in the New Testament. The underlying key principle is the principle of giving beyond oneself unto God and unto others. Tithing forms a key component of this key principle of the Kingdom of God. These concepts were expounded in-depth in the Tithing series Parts 1 to 5.


While the above is reasonably understood and accepted amongst churches that practice tithing, it is less understood that it is by the same principle that a local church should tithe out of its tithe, beyond itself unto its spiritual network. This article analyses the Scriptures and lays out the biblical principles as well as practical implications.


THE CHALLENGE


The challenge that lies in applying tithing for today is the fact that we must extract the key principles involved. It is not possible to directly apply tithing in terms prescribed in the Old Testament to the modern day Christian context because of the following:

  • Churches did not exist, nor even synagogues during the Old Testament

  • The economic context is different. Where almost every Jewish family owned some land for farming and breeding stock, it is not the case today.

  • The specific Levitical and Aaronic orders of priesthood do not exist today.


Application of tithing today requires 2 important steps. Firstly, extracting biblical principles by discerning God’s intent and secondly, judiciously applying it to our present context.

Hence application of tithing today requires 2 important steps. Firstly, extracting biblical principles by discerning God’s intent and secondly, judiciously applying it to our present context.


ANALYSING THE TITHING PRINCIPLE

The practice of tithing in the Old Testament is described in 4 major passages of Lev 27: 30-33, Num 18:21-32, Deut 12:6-17 and Deut 14:22-29. In Lev 27, it is concerned about what the tithe is to come from and some instructions on its implementation. Deut 12 is concerned about how the tithe is to be part of worship unto God in His designated place. Deut 14 is focussed upon how the tithe is to be given to the Lord, its form, its frequency. It is in Num 18 that comprehensive instruction is given about who is to give and receive the tithes.


Num 18:21 - 29 (NIV) 21“I give to the Levites all the tithes in Israel as their inheritance in return for the work they do while serving at the Tent of Meeting. 22From now on the Israelites must not go near the Tent of Meeting, or they will bear the consequences of their sin and will die. 23It is the Levites who are to do the work at the Tent of Meeting and bear the responsibility for offenses against it. This is a lasting ordinance for the generations to come. They will receive no inheritance among the Israelites. 24Instead, I give to the Levites as their inheritance the tithes that the Israelites present as an offering to the LORD. That is why I said concerning them: ‘They will have no inheritance among the Israelites.’” 25The LORD said to Moses, 26“Speak to the Levites and say to them: ‘When you receive from the Israelites the tithe I give you as your inheritance, you must present a tenth of that tithe as the LORD’s offering. 27Your offering will be reckoned to you as grain from the threshing floor or juice from the winepress. 28In this way you also will present an offering to the LORD from all the tithes you receive from the Israelites. From these tithes you must give the LORD’s portion to Aaron the priest. 29You must present as the LORD’s portion the best and holiest part of everything given to you.’


What are the characteristics of the first tithe (Num 18)?

Set apart for God as holy (v8-14)

Given to whom God designates and apportions amongst His people. These include:
  • For the ministry function. Some of the resources given as tithes are to be used in the temple as burnt offerings.

  • People who do the ministry of God as their primary focus, such as the Levites (v21). As it is intended for them to be released from other concerns and secular work focus.

  • A higher spiritual authority (v21, v28). This is demonstrated by the Israelites giving to the Levites and the Levites in turn giving to the Aaronic priests. Indeed, this formed the basis of the argument in Hebrews about the Levitical priesthood, as represented by Abraham, giving to a higher order of Melchizedek priesthood (Heb 7:4-10).


Totally irretrievable
  • The tithe is totally burnt or given to whom God has chosen.

  • The tithes are not given back unto the givers in any proportion or form. At least not in pre-arranged manner or as an expectation.


Totally undirected
  • The tithe given is out of the giver’s control. The giver does not specify who, how, when or what it can be used for.


The tithe should be set apart for God as holy and given to whom God designates and apportions amongst His people. Further, the tithe should be irretrievable and undirected giving.

Thus, the tithe should be set apart for God as holy and given to whom God designates and apportions amongst His people. Further, the tithe should be irretrievable and undirected giving. To remove any one of the above characteristics would change a tithe into something else. Such as a donation, contribution, investment, etc, as it would no longer be considered a first tithe. Note that the second and third tithes are different in its purpose and does not possess all the characteristics outlined here.


Who should give tithes?

Every lay Israelite
  • In ancient practise it usually applies to the head of every household. As the head of the household is regarded to be the recipient of the produce/income.

  • This requirement is applied to every person who produces out of the land or livestock. Which would cover most people since everyone grew produce or bred livestock in their own lands.

Every Levite

Even the Levites who do not produce out of the land, are to tithe out of what they have received (v26).

  • Even the Levites who do not produce out of the land, are to tithe out of what they have received (v26).


Every Aaronic priest
  • What is not explicitly described in Scripture is whether the Aaronic priesthood are also to tithe. Though it is a reasonable assumption that they did in terms of burnt offerings unto God.


Today, it is usually applied to:

  • Every Christian income earner, out of their gross income before tax. Because the Israelites gave tithe out of their total produce even when kings taxed them.

  • Every Christian (or Christian values-based) organisation generating income, to tithe out of the profit less all expenses. Because unlike ancient times, there are now modern creations called entities such as businesses which can legally generate and retain income like a person. In ancient times, the business and the owner are one and the same but today there are distinctions. Thus, likewise, an organisation should be treated like a person for purposes of tithes. (See Part 4 Tithing Practically Today for details.)


What is the key principle about giving through tithing?

What is of interest to note is that even the Levites tithe, but not to themselves. Why is that? For it would be a circular giving if they did so. They would simply be giving again to themselves, just perhaps re-distributing it. Rather they were to tithe to a smaller group, the Aaronic priests (v28-29). Which were of a higher level of priesthood.


The very fact God instructed this gives rise to some important implications. For logically, the total amount of tithes given to the entire Levites tribe has not changed. If we assume for argument sake that the Aaronic priesthood made up 2% of the Levites, could not God have simply said to distribute the tithes equally and everyone would be taken care of. But instead, God chose all the tithes to go to the 98% of non-Aaronic Levites. Out of which they tithe again, such that now 10% of the overall tithe now go to the 2% composed of the Aaronic priesthood. It meant the Aaronic priests received a greater proportion of the tithes than their Levitical brothers. Why bother with such additional steps?


God’s intention is to teach that ALL should tithe out of what they receive, regardless of who they are, and they are not to tithe back unto themselves.

The best explanation is to reveal God’s intention is to teach that ALL should tithe out of what they receive, regardless of who they are, and they are not to tithe back unto themselves. In effect it again fulfils the 4 key characteristics of the first tithe. So every non-Levitical Israelite tithe to the Levites (excluding the Aaronic priests). And all Levites tithe out of what they had received to the Aaronic priests.


In conclusion, tithing is to be practiced by all, even by those who received tithes.


Application of tithing principle today at various levels

Tithing to the local church

  • Today it is commonly accepted amongst churches that teach tithing, that the recipient should be the local church. The reasoning starts with the assumption that the Levites and storehouses are synonymous since the storehouses for God’s temple is effectively for the Levites use.

  • Further, Levites generally reside in 48 Levitical cities that are evenly distributed amongst the tribes of Israel so that they are able to provide the priestly functions to their regions as well as refuge (Num 35:1-8). Before the Temple was built in Jerusalem, the tithes would have gone to the Levitical cities and the storehouses located there. Thus, rather than tithing straight to some central church, it initially goes to the local church.

  • However, good argument may be made, presumably by centralised churches such as the Catholic Church, Salvation Army, Apostolic Church, etc for giving of the tithe directly to the central church, since tithes were later gathered at the Temple in Jerusalem (Neh 10:38, 12:44) exclusively.


Tithing out of the local church
  • Using the same interpretive principle, it must mean the local church should tithe out as well from the tithes it received. Just as the Levites tithed out of what they have received.


Who should receive the tithe for the Aaronic priesthood today?

We are considering now who the local church (as the Levitical equivalent) should tithe to. Just as the Levites (the local church equivalent) tithed to the Aaronic priesthood, it makes sense that the local church should tithe out as well.


If a local church is part of a movement:

It will fit the biblical framework best to for the local church to tithe unto its covering movement as it is the higher spiritual authority.

  • It will fit the biblical framework best to for the local church to tithe unto its covering movement as it is the higher spiritual authority. Just as Aaron was to the Levites, it is a higher level of spiritual leadership/priesthood. It should be irretrievable and undirected giving.


If a local church is an independent church:
  • It should tithe outside of itself to ministries outside the local church, thus fulfilling the Levitical tithe.

  • Aaronic portion could be for missionaries. But only if the church does not determine what they do with it at all - it is undirected. If the church instructs or limits what the missionary can do with it – then in effect the church does exercise authority over its use and hence it is not out of the church’s control. That would contradict the tithe principle.


Church planting movements such as Victory Christian Fellowship, DOVE, Every Nation including Hope International Ministries believe that every local church should tithe out. Although the manner in which they implemented this principle varies widely. The simple reason for this variation is because while the principle of tithing out is clear, it is less obvious exactly how implementation should be carried out today since there are no direct corresponding structures to the Old Testament religious structure.


CONCLUSION

Just as believers should tithe to the local church (just as the Israelites tithed to the Levites) then by using similar principles of interpretation and application, the local church should tithe out of its received tithes as well (just as the Levites tithed to the Aaronic priesthood).


Tithing should be practised not only by the Christian believer, but also by the Christian-based organisations and churches.

Hence, tithing should be practised not only by the Christian believer, but also by the Christian-based organisations and churches. Tithes can be given to the local church and the local church should tithe out as well, such as to the movement. Even the global movement should consider tithing out as well, to the Body of Christ in some manner. All this should be done willingly, out of desire to honour God and because we appreciate the blessings of giving. It should not be practised as a legalistic requirement in the New Testament.

 

Copyright©️2023 by Wilson Lim. All rights reserved. Materials are free to be distributed in whole or part as long as proper acknowledgement is given to the author and not sold for profit.


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