There was a question in a church-oriented Facebook closed group of which I am a member. It had to do with tithing and does one tithe to the church in which they serve? The replies from all around the world were many, but many of them seemed to miss the larger view. It inspired me to write the following on the site (edited for this blog), and perhaps it will help you as well as you consider the concept of tithing (which means giving 10% of your abundance to God in some manner).
Why do we even consider tithing? Some people will say it is only in the Old Testament, so it doesn’t apply to Christians anymore. The first word we have about tithing is when Abram (name later changed to Abraham, which is the name with which we are more familiar) met with Melchizedek, who was the King of Salem (later to be Jerusalem) and priest of “God Most High.” Melchizedek gave Abram and his considerable entourage bread and wine. This is how the passage reads:
“Then Melchizedek, king of Salem, brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, 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 [a “tithe”]. [Genesis 14: 18-20. NIV]
In response to the verbal blessing he received from Melchizedek, Abram gave him a tenth of everything. Abram considered it an honor to tithe, to give Melchizedek a tenth of all he had to honor the “God Most High” and God’s priest Melchizedek.
The book of Malachi (the last book in what Christians call the Old Testament) has some particularly strong support for the tithe:
[God speaking] “’Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me.’
“But you ask, ‘How do we rob you?’
“In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse – the whole nation of you – 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 you will not have room enough for it.”
[Malachi 3: 8-10. NIV] (Also, look at surrounding verses in Malachi 3: 5-15.)
Is it only in the Old Testament? Didn’t Jesus change some of the Old Testament when he “fulfilled the Law?” Not at all. Jesus did say,
“‘Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.’” [Matthew 5: 17. NIV]
His coming was foretold in the Hebrew Scriptures (the Old Testament). But people tended to make obedience to the Law as an expression of the outward rules of legalism (or rules you are forced to live by) rather than the inward qualities of faith, love, justice, mercy that Jesus taught was at the root of the Law. He didn’t change anything in the Law; he was just trying to bring people to an understanding of the foundational inward principles of the Law as God intended.
What about tithing in the New Testament, then? Is it mentioned?
“[Jesus said] ‘Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth [“tithe”] 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.’” [Matthew 23: 23. NIV]
Jesus recognized the lawyers & Pharisees for their care in tithing, even of the produce from their herb gardens, but then he roasted them for neglecting more important qualities of justice, mercy and faithfulness. Then what did Jesus say? “‘You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.'” Yes, he said it was still important to tithe.
Without getting into a big theological discussion, let me share something personal. In my second pastorate (1980-1984; age 30-34, married, three young children) where I was “full-time” at $360/month and a provided parsonage, my wife and I had a discussion. We felt we needed more faith – the stretched-out kind of faith. We prayed about it (always start there). Then we gave our entire savings of $700 quietly to the church (minus $5 to keep the account open). Now the rubber meets the road. In that time, God took care of us even though we didn’t mention to anyone else what we were doing. One Wednesday, for example, we came home from church, and there were five bags of groceries on our porch. We kept three bags and gave two bags of groceries to people we knew who were in need. The principle we followed is that we receive from God that we may give. It was a great learning time for my wife and I as God responded to our request for wisdom in this matter of faith:
“If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.” [James 1: 5-6. NIV]
When one ponders tithing for themselves, a person often becomes insecure. People say, “We need that money to live!” or “We can’t spare 10% of our income!” What did Jesus say to this concern?
“’Therefore, I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes?’” [Matthew 6: 25. Read also Matthew 6: 26-34. NIV]
Do you see the “Therefore” at the beginning of verse 25? It was no accident that Jesus was talking about money in Matthew 6: 19-21, 24 just before he said, “Do not worry.” When your faith is being stretched, it is often (not always) at the point of money.
Sometimes we get bogged down in life – with the concerns and worries of our daily lives. Instead, I entreat the reader to look beyond the worries and grind of the daily life at the end of our nose and see the world as God sees it. Yes, my wife and I get bogged down too, but we recognize that God still has a plan and we are a part of it. You are a part of God’s plan, too – if you’ll just let him guide you.
A word of caution regarding the matter of tithing: Be careful about tithing out of a feeling of legal obligation. There are religious groups that even send you a bill for their expectation of what you should be giving to the church. In my opinion, they have missed the privilege of voluntary tithing. Like Abram to Melchizedek, it is an honor to be able to give back to God a portion of what he has given you.
May God continue to bless each of you and your families as you read this.