What the Bible Says About... | Tithing
"Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the LORD of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it." (Malachi 3:10).
The Old Testament
The word "tithe" is translated from the Hebrew word "ma'ser", which means literally "a tenth part." Under the law of Moses, the people of Israel were commanded to give a tenth of their income, and of the production of their land, including livestock and crops. In the law, we read, "And all the tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land, or of the fruit of the tree, is the Lord's: it is holy unto the Lord. And if a man will at all redeem ought of his tithes, he shall add thereto the fifth part thereof. And concerning the tithe of the herd, or of the flock, even of whatsoever passeth under the rod, the tenth shall be holy unto the Lord." (Leviticus 27:30-32). This tithe was to used to provide for the priests and the Levites, and to help the poor, orphans and widows, whose care has always been in God's heart.
Everything that we own, every blessing we have, even each breath we take, is a gift from God. Tithing is returning only a tenth of what God has given us in thankfulness and gratitude. "All the earth is mine." (Exodus 19:5). "The earth is the Lord's, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein", proclaimed David the Psalmist (Psalms 24:1). John the Baptist declared, "A man can receive nothing, except it be given him from heaven." (John 3:27). Paul said to the people of Athens, "God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands; neither is worshipped with men's hands, as though he needed any thing, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things." (Acts 17:24-25).
In addition to tithes, the Israelites were commanded to also bring offerings to the Lord. These offerings, described in the first seven chapters of Leviticus, were mostly in the form of sacrifices. There was the burnt offering, the meat offering, the peace offering, the sin offering, and the trespass offering. There was also freewill offerings where people gave for special projects, such as the building of the Tabernacle (Exodus 35-36), the upkeep and repair of the temple (2 Kings 12:9-10), and the reconstruction of the temple during the reign of Hezekiah (2 Chronicles 31:5-19).
There were times in the Old Testament where people held back in their giving, some even building their own homes while God's house lay in ruins. In the days of Haggai the prophet, many people were suffering financial hardship because of their neglect of giving to the Lord. Farm and livestock production went down and a severe drought came upon the land. "Ye have sown much, and bring in little; ye eat, but ye are have not enough; ye drink, but ye are not filled with drink; ye clothe you, but there is none warm; and he that earneth wages earneth wages to put it into a bag with holes..... Ye looked for much, and, lo, it came to little; and when ye brought it home, I did blow upon it. Why? saith the Lord of hosts. Because of mine house that is waste." (Haggai 1:6,9).
Again in the days of Malachi, the people withheld their giving. God said to them, "Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings. Ye are cursed with a curse: for ye have robbed me, even this whole nation." (Malachi 3:8-9). But, then God gave a wonderful promise. "Prove me," God said to them. "Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and see if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it. I will rebuke the devourer for your sakes..... And all nations shall call you blessed." (Malachi 3:10-12).
The New Testament
Many principles of tithing learned in the Old Testament can be carried forward to today. All the blessings we have are given to us of God, and we should tithe out of gratitude and love to God. We should give cheerfully and willingly, and not out of a sense of obligation or begrudgingly, or even giving expecting to reap some glorious financial benefit. Even in the time of Moses, God instructed him, "Speak unto the children of Israel, that they bring me an offering; of every man that giveth it willingly with his heart ye shall take my offering." (Exodus 25:2). This philosophy is true today, for Paul told the Corinthians, "Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver." (2 Corinthians 9:7). God will reward our tithing based upon the proportion which we give to Him. "He which soweth sparingly, shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully." (2 Corinthians 9:6).
The priests in the temple of the Old Testament lived off the tithes that were brought in. Today, as well, the needs of preachers of the gospel are to be met by the tithing and generosity of the saints. Paul said, "Do ye not know that they which minister about holy things live of the things of the temple? and they which wait at the altar are partakers with the altar? Even so hath the Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel." (1 Corinthians 9:13-14). Paul instructed the churches at Galatia and Corinth that they should collect all tithes on the first day of the week, which is how the modern churches came to gather offering during Sunday services. "Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him store, as God hath prospered him." (1 Corinthians 16:1). Paul cared so deeply for the churches, and wanted so to see them grow in the Lord, that he instructed them to give, "Not because I desire a gift; but I desire fruit may abound to your account." (Philippians 4:17).
Of greater importance to God is the sacrifice a person makes, and not the monetary value or the amount. In Luke 21:1-4, we read the account of Jesus watching as the wealthy placed their gifts into the treasury. Then a poor widow came and gave two mites, about 1/2 cent. Jesus said concerning this widow, "Of a truth I say unto you, that this poor widow hath cast in more than they all: for all these have of their abundance cast in unto the offerings of God; but she of her penury (poverty or deficiency) hath cast in all the living that she had." The rich were giving just what was required, and it was costing them no sacrifice. But the poor widow gave everything she had. This same principle can be applied to our service for the Lord. He does not judge our service to Him by its size or success, but by our dedication and sacrifice.
Jesus related the story of a man who was leaving on a journey into a faraway country. He called together his servants, "And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; to every man according to his several ability; and straightway took his journey." (Matthew 25:15). A talent was about one thousand dollars which weighed a talent, and varied according to the currency used. A talent of silver weighed 100 pounds and a talent of gold weighed 200 pounds. When the man returned from his journey, the servant to which he gave 5 talents doubled his money and now had 10 talents. The servant with 2 talents done likewise, doubling his money and how had 4 talents. But the servant with one talent dug a hole and buried the talent, not even considering to at least take it to the exchangers to make some interest on the talent. To the first two servants, the man declared, "Well done thou good and faithful servants; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord." But to the other servant, the man was angry, "Take the talent from him and give to the one who has the ten talents. For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth." (Matthew 25:28-30 NIV).
Jesus teaches here that He will call us into account to answer for the blessings He has given us and how we used them. Our position and inheritance in Jesus' future kingdom will be determined by our faithfulness and dedication to Him now. Jesus compared Himself and us to a vine with branches. "I am the vine, ye are the branches," He said. "Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away..... Herein is my Father glorified that ye bear much fruit." (John 15:1-8).
Matthew Henry says in his commentary, "Christ keeps no servants to be idle: they have received their all from him, and have nothing they can call their own but sin. Our receiving from Christ is in order to our working for him. The manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal. The day of account comes at last. We must all be reckoned with as to what good we have got to our own souls, and have done to others, by the advantages we have enjoyed. It is not meant that the improving of natural powers can entitle a man to Divine grace. It is the real Christian's liberty and privilege to be employed as his Redeemer's servant, in promoting his glory, and the good of his people: the love of Christ constrains him to live no longer to himself, but to Him that died for him, and rose again. Those who think it impossible to please God, and in vain to serve him, will do nothing to purpose in religion. They complain that He requires of them more than they are capable of, and punishes them for what they cannot help. Whatever they may pretend, the fact is, they dislike the character and work of the Lord. The slothful servant is sentenced to be deprived of his talent. This may be applied to the blessings of this life; but rather to the means of grace. Those who know not the day of their visitation, shall have the things that belong to their peace hid from their eyes. His doom is, to be cast into outer darkness. It is a usual way of expressing the miseries of the damned in hell. Here, as in what was said to the faithful servants, our Saviour goes out of the parable into the thing intended by it, and this serves as a key to the whole. Let us not envy sinners, or covet any of their perishing possessions."
Some final thoughts...
It grieves me to see people in churches who have talents and abilities, but are not allowed to use them for the Lord. To the opposite extreme, it grieves me when people are made to feel guilty if they do not volunteer for every job, and are not at the church every time the doors open. I've seen so many Christians become burned out over their "forced labors." It grieves me to see preachers and ministries placing so much importance on tithing and giving, stressing it to the point that people feel guilty and shameful if they cannot give. It also grieves me when preachers take advantage of the poor by promising great financial gain if they give to their ministry, and promising ruin if they do not. God wants us to give with a cheerful and willing heart and not out of necessity, selfish gain, or grudgingly. Like all of the other commandments and words of the prophets (this includes tithing), Jesus said that they all hang on these two commandments, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind..... Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself." (Matthew 22:36-40).
The motivation behind everything we do, every act we commit, should be out of love for God and love for our neighbor. Don't let anyone place a guilt trip on you concerning your tithing, and don't let anyone tell you to whom you should give. That is between you and God. Pray and ask God to direct you as to how much you should tithe to the church you attend. Pray concerning other ministries, and pray before giving that God will direct you to give to ministries that will best use the funds to further God's kingdom, by helping the poor and those in need, and by spreading the Gospel of Christ. Secondly, don't let anyone place a guilt trip on you concerning your talents and abilities. God has given you abilities and desires for you to work and labor for Him, and will place on your heart what work He wants you to do. Don't let others override the burden God has given you, and tell you what they feel God wants you to do.