By Cortni Marrazzo, Crosswalk.com
A few weeks ago, I wrote an article called "Why it's Important to Keep Tithing in Tough Economic Times" and, quite frankly, I was surprised by the many follow-up comments from Christians who don't believe that tithing is for today. Many expressed the belief that tithing was only done in the Old Testament and, thus, it shouldn't be a part of a believer's life. Their comments made me wonder: Whether tithing is restricted to the Old Testament or not, is the practice of tithing such a bad thing for today's believer? Let's dive in and look at what the Bible has to say about tithing and, more importantly, our hearts.
What Is the Tithe?
The word "tithe" comes from an Old English root meaning "one-tenth." It is the common English translation for the Old Testament Hebrew asar word group. The tithe was an offering of one's agricultural income to the Lord as an expression of thanks and dedication. In the Old Testament agricultural economy, tithes were paid not in cash, gold, or goods but in crops or livestock, for only the agricultural fruit of the promised land was to be tithed—not other forms of income. Although today we commonly think of the tithe as "10 percent" as a result, apparently there are three tithes in the Old Testament, two every year and a third every third year, or an average of 23.3 percent of one's annual produce from the land. There was also provision for freewill offerings and personal giving above and beyond the tithe so that the tithe never stood alone. Tithes were given by the patriarchs Abraham (Genesis 4:17-20) and Jacob (Genesis 28:22); a system of tithes was instituted in the law of God given through Moses (Deuteronomy 12; Deuteronomy 14 Deuteronomy 26; and the prophets rebuked the children of Israel for failing to give the tithe to God (Malachi 3:8).
The idea of the tithe is still present in the New Testament (Matthew 23:23), but it is never explicitly applied to believers. Instead, almost all Christians are called to more extravagant freewill giving in response to the gospel of the Lord Jesus, based on faith in God as Provider (2 Corinthians 9:6-10).
Tithing is a Matter of the Heart
First, let's look at the definition and purpose of the tithe. The main principle behind tithing and giving is the fact that what we do with our money shows where our heart is. Matthew 6:21 says, "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." When we are able to give 10% or more of our income instead of keeping that money for ourselves, it shows that our heart isn't tied to our money and that we love God more than our money.
The Bible mentions money over 800 times, and of all of Jesus' parables, more than half of them talked about money. Why? Because that is where so many people get tripped up! When we are able to release at least 10% of our income back to God, our money doesn't have as tight of a hold on us because we realize that God is in control of our finances. We remember that everything we have has been given to us by Him. Even though most of us probably work for the money we make each month, even God has his hand there - He has given us the ability to do our jobs. Many who grasp what God has truly given them seem to agree that 10% doesn't even feel like enough!
Is Tithing Mandatory?
Many readers who responded took issue with the idea of tithing being "mandatory" or "required" - as if it is something that keeps believers in bondage. But do God's standards really keep us in bondage? Just like God tells us to keep sex within marriage, to love one another, and to seek first His kingdom, tithing is a blessing to our lives and something that will help better our lives (as well as help the lives of others). We are not saved by works, thus failing to tithe will not necessarily send you to hell, but doing so will help improve your life and strengthen your relationship with God. I personally don't believe that God will curse us if we don't tithe, but I do believe He will help us escape the curse that is already in the world if we do. I also understand that there may be some church leaders who try to guilt and coerce people into giving, but studies show there are plenty of church leaders honoring God in this area -- the majority of them want to share God's best with the people they love and have been tasked to lead.
Old Testament Law vs New Testament Practices
Whether the tithe is only for Old Testament or if it is also included in the New Testament is probably the most debated issue. The scripture most frequently referenced regarding the tithe is indeed in the Old Testament (Malachi 3:10-12), but the tithe is also referenced in the New Testament. In Matthew 23:23, Jesus talks to the Pharisees, condemning them for tithing to the penny but neglecting the more important issues of justice, mercy, and faith. He then goes on to tell them that they should in fact tithe, but that they shouldn't neglect the more important things. Jesus recognized the importance of keeping the tithe and we should, too.
There are many practices in the Old Testament that don't make sense to us today, yet many of these ancient ways carry over to the New Testament law of grace as part of Christ's promise to not abolish the law, but to fulfill it (Matthew 5:17). For instance, we no longer sacrifice animals but as believers, we are called to offer ourselves up as a living sacrifice (Rom 12:1). Men no longer are required to be circumcised, but we all have a circumcision of the heart through the Holy Spirit (Rom 2:29). Most of us don't have grain and produce to bring to the storehouse, but we do have incomes that we can bring the first tenth of into the church. In other words, just because something is written in the Old Testament doesn't mean it lacks application to us today in some way or another. One Crosswalk.com member, Zoe4Ever, left a comment on my previous article regarding this principle that I found insightful:
When I think of Christians asking themselves whether "tithing" is commanded in the Bible, is an Old Testament or New Testament teaching, I wonder how many of these Christians "send back" the many scriptural blessings God has given His people in the Old Testament. How many people when they are blessed and given hope through the mention of God's works, words etc. through the Old Testament Scriptures say ‘I don't receive this or that blessing or confirmation because it's in the Old Testament'?"
While it is true that we are no longer under the old law, that we are under grace, we must not forget the purpose of grace: to help us live for God and do the things He wants us to do. Romans 8:4 tells us that Jesus came that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, not so that we could altogether dismiss it. And Romans 3:21-31 talks about how we have righteousness through faith and not through following the law, but verse 31 adds "Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law." God's grace gives us the power and ability to tithe!
Tithe and The Number 10
Most of us are aware that we as Christians are to give, but many people get hung up on the 10% part of the tithe. The fact is that God knows we can not all give an equal amount because we all have different resources, so He gave a percentage ensuring it would equal out.
"Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a fraction of a penny. Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, "I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on." Mark 12:41-44
Jesus understood that even though this widow gave a small amount compared to the others, her heart was more giving because she gave a larger percentage of what she had than all the others. This verse is also interesting because this widow gave all she had to live on. There are many people today who say they can't afford to tithe but this woman realized she couldn't afford not to.
God knows we are naturally inclined to be selfish and will want to keep our money. So while, yes, we should give cheerfully, sometimes we need to take the step and actually give regardless of our internal feelings. The act of giving allows God to change our hearts so that ultimately we end up doing so cheerfully. Many of us, if we let our natural minds decide how much to give, would likely opt for a lot less than 10%. Having a standard keeps us accountable.
Trusting the Church With Your Tithe
So what if you don't take issue with the concept of giving or even the concept of giving 10%? What if you, like many of the commentors, take issue with those you hand your money over to: the Church. Those who express this concern reveal two potential problems that need to be addressed:
1. This individual's trust isn't in God (and the church He's placed them in). Or
2. This individual is attending an untrustworthy church and should consider finding a new one.
The truth is, church leaders are responsible for using church money in a responsible way - they have more accountability for that than we do. And as mentioned previously, most of them do a pretty good job of this. Still, it's worth bearing in mind that our accountability as believers is simply to give and trust that God will take care of the rest. Hopefully, you are in a church where you can trust your leaders to do what is right. If you are unable to find such a church, then it would be beneficial to work on your trust in God, asking Him to help you trust the leaders He has placed you under (or pray to help you find a solution if there is a genuine problem of corruption present). But just remember, you're responsible for what you give and for your heart, and the church leaders are responsible for how to use it.
In closing, I'd like to point out that the percentage you ultimately give is between you and God, however, there are many who do give 10% and want to offer encouragement to others to do the same. Think about it: If some individuals are willing to give 10% of their income (or more) to their church -- the place that feeds and teaches them -- and if some individuals are experiencing the blessings of giving away income to care for the needy and want to encourage others to experience the same blessings they've been experiencing - is that such a bad thing?
Will God really "throw open the floodgates of heaven" if I start to tithe?
Perhaps. But we must recognize that this oft-quoted passage (Malachi 3:10) was written not as a blanket promise to Christians in all times and all places, but to a very specific group of people in history—the impoverished, insecure Israelites living in the land after their return from exile in Babylon. God requires more here than just tithe (Malachi 3:5): He requires His people to be generous in mercy and justice. Similarly, the Pharisees during Jesus' time were scrupulous tithers, but Jesus told them that they were condemned, for they preferred giving a fixed percentage of crops to the more demanding, more radical and more important (or as Jesus said, "weightier") pursuit of justice and mercy and the love of God with their resources (Matthew 23:23; Luke 11:42. The command to give generously is not limited to a set percentage either in the Old Testament or the New. Instead, we are called to love our neighbor as we ourselves want to be loved (1 John 3:16-18), just as Jesus loved us (2 Corinthians 8:9). Of course, God in His gracious sovereignty may decide to bless us if we give generously. For instance, the apostle Paul taught the Corinthians they would be blessed if they contributed to the collection for the poor, so that they would "be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion" (2 Corinthians 9:11). But we should not tithe or practice any other form of giving solely for the economic benefits it might bring; our chief goal should be to glorify God (2 Corinthians 9:12-15).
Read more at A Perspective on Tithing
Scripture on Tithing
Proverbs 3:9-10 - Honor the LORD with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops; then your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine.
2 Chronicles 31:4-5 - He ordered the people living in Jerusalem to give the portion due the priests and Levites so they could devote themselves to the Law of the LORD. As soon as the order went out, the Israelites generously gave the firstfruits of their grain, new wine, olive oil and honey and all that the fields produced. They brought a great amount, a tithe of everything.
Genesis 14:19-20 - and he blessed Abram, saying, “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth. And praise be to God Most High, who delivered your enemies into your hand.” Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything.
Mark 12:41-44 - Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents. Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.
Malachi 3:8-12 - “Will a mere mortal rob God? Yet you rob me. “But you ask, ‘How are we robbing you?’ “In tithes and offerings.You are under a curse—your whole nation—because you are robbing me. 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. 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. “Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land,” says the LORD Almighty.
Read more Bible verses on tithing at BibleStudyTools.com
More Articles on Tithing
Tithing is Biblical "The issue of tithing being a matter of the law in a community defined by grace misses the mark on several points..."
The 3 G's of Tithing "Every Christian is on a journey regarding their relationship with money and possessions. We are bombarded on a daily basis by messages that relate to money and materialism. These messages tell us that money will make us happy, that the money we have is ours alone to do with what we want. But the Bible tells us something different. That everything – yes, everything – is a gift from God. The Bible tells us that we are called to be good managers not owners of the resources entrusted to us. Tithing is one way we acknowledge God’s provision in our lives and exercise good management: here is how – the three G’s..."
Why You Should Give Up Tithing "Tithing and I have a sordid past. My irresponsible (read: dumb) college days left me with a mountain of student loans and credit card debt. Each paycheck felt something like a gasp of breath barely making its way down to my lungs. That was until the next round of bills asphyxiated my meager bank account..."
Cortni Marrazzo currently resides in Spokane, Washington with her husband Jason. She and her husband successfully paid off over $11,000 worth of debt in their first year of marriage and she desires to help others reach their financial potential. Cortni has an Associate's Degree in Biblical Discipleship from Dominion College and is currently pursuing her passion for writing while running her own home-based business, Essential Excellence. Contact her at Cortni@essentialexcellence.com or view some more of her financial articles here.
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