April 26, 2011

Tithing, Giving, and New Testament Believers

Kaitlyn recently asked me, "Should Christians give all of their tithes to the church, or are they free to invest their offerings in other ministries?" I found it to be an interesting question, one I have asked as well. In order to provide the most accurate answer I went through an in depth study of what Scripture has to say about tithing. I was surprised at what I discovered, and I think you will be too. This covers more than the scope of Kaitlyn's question, but it is necessary to understand my conclusion. Please, take a moment to discover what God's Word has to say about your offering.

History of Tithing
The idea of making sacrifices to God goes as far back as Cain and Able in Genesis. The idea of tithing originally comes from Genesis 14. Here we have an account of Abraham giving a tenth of all he had to the priest Melchizedek. Later, Jacob goes to sleep in his travels using a rock for a pillow and has some crazy visions about angels (I blame the rock). He is so impressed with this encounter that he vows in verse 20 If God will be with me and protect me on this journey and give me food and clothing, and if he will bring me back safely to my father, I will make the Lord my God. This memorial pillar will become a place for worshiping God, and I will give God a tenth of everything he gives me.

These are the earliest accounts of tithing, which means in the original Hebrew “a tenth part” or “payment of a tenth part”. Later on when the Israelites are in the wilderness and God is laying down the original Law he tells them 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. (Lev 27:30) This offering of a tenth of a person’s belongings included wine, oil, cattle, crops, all of their sources of income and sustenance. Where did these tithes go? They were given to the Levite Tribe, which served as priests and did not receive an inheritance of land in Israel. Because of this, God said 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… I give to the Levites as their inheritance the tithes that the Israelites present as an offering to the LORD. (Num 18:21, 24). The Levites then paid a tenth of those tithes they received to God and sent that material to the temple to be kept in storerooms. So God received one-hundredth of the profit of Israel (Neh 10:31-39).
Then when the people of God were split into two nations, the people of Judah forsook the offering of tithes unto the lord. Under the rule of wicked Ahaz they ceased to provide for the Levites and stopped bringing tithes to God. Then his son Hezekiah took the throne and commanded that the people of Judah begin offering tithes again. When they did so they were greatly blessed as a nation (2 Chron 31).

The question then to be addressed is: are we as followers of the New Covenant still commanded to keep the tithe offering that was made by the Jews?

Tithing Absolved Through the New Covenant
We have seen that tithes were a tenth of people’s produce meant to support the Levites. The Hebrew word for “offering” translates to “gift, tribute, sacrifice” and was distinct from a blood offering which was a separate word. There were many different types of offerings, but it seems that their primary purpose was to atone for the sins of the people. In this sense then we are no longer required to give “offerings” to God because Christ was the final sacrifice. Hebrews 8:7-13, 9:1-15, 10:1-12, 10:18-20 all point out that sacrifices are no longer necessary because Christ was sufficient in making the final payment for our sins, which no other offerings could do. Rather, we are encouraged to make our bodies, our very lives a sacrifice to God.

There is also no longer a Tribe of Priests meant to make atonement on behalf of God’s people. For this reason we are no longer required by law to give a tenth of our income to the temple of God. We are now the temple of God ourselves, with God’s Spirit residing inside us. Many people claim that today the church’s treasury corresponds to the storehouse of the temple and the pastor’s role corresponds to the priest’s. They use Malachi 3:8-12 to say that God’s blessing and cursing comes as a result of the generosity on the part of the church’s tithes. I do not believe this to be true. The Jews of the Old Covenant tithed because they were obligated to do so under the law, which was abolished with the advent of The Anointed One. There is simply nowhere in Scripture that indicates that we as New Testament believers are commanded to continue tithing a tenth of our income to the Lord.

Sometimes people point to Matthew 23:23 or to the generous widow as examples in the New Testament that show we are to continue tithing. This is not so. In Matthew 23 Jesus soundly rebukes the Pharisees for turning the law into a hypocritical, destructive practice. He is acknowledging their tithes, but the passage is not about tithing. It is about the nature of their hearts. One thing that is made abundantly clear through Scripture is that God abhors offerings given out of duty and not out of love. Samuel, Hosea and Christ all state that God desires mercy/obedience rather than sacrifice.

Furthermore, when Jesus rants against the religious teachers he says 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. (Mat 23:23). Clearly our offerings mean nothing if we are not living righteously and not giving with the right attitude. When the New Testament mentions tithing it is never a command that Christians should follow, but in reference to Jews who are still under the Law.

Another major portion of the New Testament that mentions tithing is Hebrews 7. Verses 4-5 say, Just think how great he was: Even the patriarch Abraham gave him a tenth of the plunder! Now the law requires the descendants of Levi who become priests to collect a tenth from the people—that is, their brothers—even though their brothers are descended from Abraham. To some this seems to support the premise of tithing, after all Abraham is a forefather of the Christian faith. However this is not mentioned so that Christians will continue to live under the Law, which is revoked throughout the rest of Hebrews. This passage is showing the superiority that Melchizedek had over Abraham and goes on to say that Christ is superior to Melchizedek. Yeshua has replaced the priesthood by becoming both priest and sacrifice while we become the temple. The entire practice of the Law has been fulfilled and replaced under the New Covenant. This means that we are not obligated to offer a tenth of our income to God. The New Testament simply does not support that belief.

Giving under the New Covenant
I am not trying to say that Christians are no longer called to give. We are, but offerings in the New Testament are much different than they were in the past. The purpose has changed from atonement to provision for the needs of fellow believers. The Christians in the early church did give monetary offerings, and they did so with an intense generosity. Any giving that benefits the kingdom of God, Christians, or the teachers of the Word is commendable and should be done. But in contrast to tithes, and despite what many Christians believe, we are not instructed as to how much we are supposed to give or specifically where our giving is to focus. In the following sections we will look at 5 aspects of giving: amount, attitude, affect, allowance and area.
The first guideline for giving is that it should be according to a Christian’s ability. In 1 Cor. 16:1-2 Paul writes, Now about the money being collected for the Christians in Jerusalem: you should follow the same procedures I gave to the churches in Galatia. On every Lord’s Day each of you should put aside some amount of money in relation to what you have earned and save it for this offering. We see here that the Corinthian church was generous enough to provide for the impoverished believers in the Holy City. Paul never tells them to write a check for 10% of their gross income every time the offering plate goes by! He exhorts them to give generously, but only in accordance to what they earn. In his second letter to them he writes I want you to excel also in this gracious ministry of giving. I am not saying you must do it, even though the other churches are eager to do it. This is one way to prove your love is real… Give whatever you can according to what you have. If you are really eager to give, it isn’t important how much you are able to give. God wants you to give what you have, not what you don’t have. Of course, I don’t mean you should give so much that you suffer from having too little. (2 Cor 8:1-15)

Just as our churches today, theirs had representatives from many different economic and social statuses. Paul knew that among the believers there were some who could barely afford to feed themselves and others who could provide meals for the whole gathering! Do you suppose it would make sense for him to pass a blanket rate that they all had to live by? Hardly! He says in 9:5 I want it to be a willing gift, not one given under pressure. And John also says, If anyone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need and refuses to help – how can God’s love be in that person? (1 Jon 3:17) Those who are wealthy and able to give are expected to give generously. Those who are poor are not rebuked for giving meagerly out of their poverty. God does not want people to give out of compulsion or pressure, but out of a generous heart, which brings us to aspect two.

The second guideline for giving is that it should be done generously and out of a joyful heart. Consider again the Corinthian church taking up a collection to benefit the church in Jerusalem. In the first letter Paul instructs them that they are to join with the Galatians in this ministry of provision. They follow his orders and what happens? A year later, when Paul writes his second letter to the Corinthians he says, I really don’t need to write to you about this gift for the Christians in Jerusalem. For I know how eager you are to help, and I have been boasting to our friends in Macedonia… In fact, it was your enthusiasm that stirred up many of them to begin helping. (2Cor 9:1-2) Isn’t that incredible!? The Corinthians were not only obedient in their decision to donate money, but they did so with a passion that inspired Christians across the world! How often do we donate money towards Kingdom work with a heart like that? In verse 7 he says, You must each make up your own mind as to how much you should give. Don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure. For God loves the person who gives cheerfully. Do you delight in helping others and providing for the people of God? You should! Because in the New Covenant giving is not to be done out of compulsion, we are free to choose how much we give and where we invest. This should result in joy!

The third aspect of giving is one that holds a great amount of gravity for all believers. The way we give directly affects our ministry in this world and our life in the world to come. It is an issue that we cannot take lightly. Let’s see what God’s Word tells us about the importance of giving.

Let’s return first to the issue addressed in 2 Corinthians 9. Verse 6 states Remember this – a farmer who plants only a few seeds will get a small crop. But the one who plants generously will get a generous crop. This is a direct cause and effect relationship at work here. The amount of effort we put into ministry is what we can expect to gain from it. It’s not a difficult concept. Verses 9-15 continue on to explain that generous giving results in the ability to give more, God being glorified, needs being met, prayer and thanksgiving, and obedience. That’s a lot of benefits! And all of this can be reaped as the results of generous giving.

James states in 2:12-26 that we prove our faith through our actions. His voice rings out with the declaration that faith which does not produce good deeds is dead. It is flat lined. Some claim to have faith while others claim to have deeds, yet James says that it is through good deeds that faith is demonstrated. Furthermore, Jesus promises that we will be judged for our deeds on earth. Matthew 25:31-46 chronicles the prediction of Judgment Day when Emmanuel says “What you did for the least of these you did for me.” Although there is more at stake here than just monetary giving, the way we handle our material possessions certainly holds a part. If we want to reap a great harvest we must first being willing to sow a great amount of seed.

The fourth aspect of giving is that the church is instructed to support the teachers of the Word. I have spoken with several believers who do not think it is biblical for a pastor to receive a salary. It is, in fact, supported by Scripture. Although Paul plied a trade so as to avoid being a burden to the churches, he did accept monetary donations from the believers from time to time. He also exhorted them to support the elders in their churches. 1 Corinthians 9:11-14 says Just as farm workers who plow fields and thresh the grain expect a share of the harvest, Christian workers should be paid by those they serve. We have planted good spiritual seed among you. Is it too much to ask, in return, for mere food and clothing? If you support others who preach to you, shouldn’t we have an even greater right to be supported? Don’t you know that those who work in the Temple get their meals from the food brought to the Temple as offerings? And those who serve at the altar get a share of the sacrificial offerings. In the same way, the Lord gave orders that those who preach the Good News should be supported by those who benefit from it. (See also Gal 6:5-8 and 3 Jon 5-8) Christians have a responsibility to provide for the teachers of the Word and the evangelists of the gospel.

The fifth aspect of giving is that Christians are not specifically directed where to invest their gifts. The early Christians were encouraged to give out of their generosity to those who were in need. This included providing for impoverished churches as in the Jerusalem case. It also included the needy within their own congregation, the salaries of their ministers, the poor and widows in their own community, and wherever else they were directed by God to give. This means that not all of their giving was necessarily directed to the church’s collection. They were instructed to give a part of their income to the church, but they were encouraged to go beyond that and meet any needs they saw. We too must follow the leading of God in how we choose to invest our gifts. This comes out of a healthy realization that everything we own is given to us by God. All we have is available for him to use as he sees fit.

Well friend, I hope that you are encouraged to give generously out of a heart that praises the Lord. He promises to bless your ministry and reward you eternally in accordance to your actions here on earth. The benefits are innumerable, and the cost may be lighter than you think. The choice is up to you.


His Path Through The Wilderness said...

I appreciate your writing and your thorough answer. This will serve you and others well. Thank you for taking the time to explore this topic...to respond to the question!

Mark Zellner said...

Thanks for reading Marlena! I appreciate hearing your thoughts as well. :)