Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. (1 Tim. 6:17-18)

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Great Debate: to tithe or not to tithe

The Problem

For many years now, there has been a debate within the universal Christian church on giving. The question that many believers have been wrestling with is the following:
As part of my faith in Christ, am I required to give 10% back to God through my local church?
Many Christians would like to argue that the tithe was a requirement of Jewish Law that was handed down by God through Moses to the people of Israel. These same believers claim that because the Church no longer lives under the Law but under grace, we are no longer required to fulfill the duties of the Law. While this is true, there is evidence that the tithe existed before the Law was established. Let's take a brief look at the history of tithing and giving as found in God's Word.

Biblical History - The Old Testament

Tithing is first mentioned in the following passage in Genesis 14:18-20,
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.
This event occurred more than 600 years before the Law was established, but we see the great patriarch Abraham giving a tenth of what he had to Melchizedek, God's priest. So, apparently, there had been some type of previous precedent established by God to give a tithe (10%) of His blessings.

Next, we see that God establishes the percentage giving of 10% in Jewish Law in Leviticus 27:30,
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.
The Israelites often failed at giving back to God what He had asked them to give. Near the end of the Old Testament, we see God reminding the Jewish people of their failure to keep the tithe. He also reminds His people of the blessings of obedience in giving. In Malachi 3:8-12 we read,
"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. I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields in your fields will not cast their fruit," says the LORD Almighty. "Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land," says the LORD Almighty.
Biblical History - The New Testament

Once we enter into the New Testament, we see Jesus addressing the tithe in Matthew 23:23,
"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices - mint, dill and cummin. 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."
The interesting point of this passage I find here is that Jesus calls the Pharisees hypocrites because they are so extremely careful to give a tenth of everything they own but fail to administer  justice, mercy, and faithfulness. In His view, these are more important than tithing. But then, He tells them that they should have practiced both. Jesus never abolished the tithe.

After Jesus has been crucified, buried, and resurrected from the dead, the Church is established. This is when and where the debate begins. From the book of Acts through the rest of the New Testament, there is never a mandate for the giving of a tithe for Christians. But, the early Christian leaders (especially the Apostle Paul), often wrote about joyful, generous giving, even during times of severe poverty.
And now brothers, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints. And they did not do as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us in keeping with God's will (2 Corinthians 8:1-5).
This passage of Scripture talks about believers giving way beyond the mandate of the tithe. These Macedonia churches begged and pleaded with Paul that they might give generously, even out of their poverty! I could give other examples from the early church, and time and time again, we would see what would seem to be percentage giving beyond a tenth.

My Take On the Debate

After looking at the Biblical history on giving in both the Old and New Testaments, here is my take on the great debate. Because there is no clear command to tithe given to the Church, many believers want to use this ambiguity as an excuse to give as little as possible. They desire to live selfish lifestyles. We have seen from these various Scripture passages, though, that God desires His children to be faithful, generous, and sacrificial givers. It's really difficult for me to say that if the average American Christian is giving 2-3% of their income to their local church, that they are being generous and sacrificial with God's money.

God wants our heart, and He knows that money is a stumbling block for all of us. He desires to pour out incredible blessings into our lives if we will simply trust in Him. Because of the principle of tithing that is present in the Old Testament as well as Jesus' own teaching, I believe this is a great starting point for all believers to begin. If we can at least get to this point in our giving, we will soon discover that the generous and sacrificial aspect of giving really comes when we begin to give beyond the tithe. I know this to be true from my own personal giving experience.

So, search your own heart. Are you more in love with money, or with God? If you have not been a regular tither, take up God's own challenge in Malachi 3 and test Him. As quickly as you can, increase your giving to your local church to the 10% level and see what happens. If you are currently a tither, consider moving beyond the tithe to sacrificial, generous giving and see how God works in your life.
Give and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you (Luke 6:38).
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  1. The problem with your original question is the use of the word "required." There is very little that is required of believers in order to be accepted by God. The problem is that so many want to know the requirements so they can determine the minimum amount they must give. There is no minimum that makes us ok. It is not possible to say that I have given my life to Christ and then be unable to give all my money. The very fact that we are asking if we are required to tithe usually means we are looking for a reason to give less than our all. When our heart is right we are not concerned with the requirements.

  2. I tried really hard not to post a comment on what you had written but I could resist the temptation no longer. You post came through a bit biased and really laced with personal opinions.

    What makes you think that people use this “ambiguity” as an excuse to give as little as possible so as to live a selfish lifestyle? That is grossly exaggerated. But even if it were true, that really should be between them and God. When the Macedonian church gave, the tithe was not used as a standard to measure how they gave. It is stated there that everyone gave according to his ability with some even giving beyond their abilities. It never said people gave beyond the tithe. And there is a reason Paul spoke about abilities because what people are able to give differs from person to person.

    There seems to be this confusion as to what the tithe is and this makes us believe it was the giving standard for the Old Testament. No it was not. Israel was nation and as with many nations, giving of taxes was required. The tithe was the tax for the nation of Israel with which the public office holders (Levites) and welfare (Orphans and widows) were sustained. It was not 10% of anything but A TENTH of food crops and livestock produced within the land of Israel. It is akin to the taxes we both pay to our respective governments and was not the giving standard of the Old Testament. The Malachi 3 reference was not to today’s church but was written during the time of Ezra to correct errant priests.

    It is funny that you say Jesus never abolished the tithe in Mat 23: 23 but I guess you missed the point of that verse completely. Of what use is it telling someone to do what he is already doing very well? That will be redundant. Jesus emphasis was not on tithing at all but on the Pharisees due disregard of judgement and mercy; the most important aspects of the law. He was actually mocking them in their tithing habits because those items Jesus mentioned were worthless garden herbs which God never commanded them to tithe on. That is why they were hypocrites. And besides Jesus was addressing Jews and the Old Testament was still in full effect as He had not yet gone to the cross.

    The bible never commands or even remotely suggests a 10% as a giving guide instead who are told to give what we are able cheerfully and willingly.

  3. Hey, Elite. I understand the points you are making in your comment. You may or may not be correct in your interpretation of these passages and I may not be either. My overarching concern with tithing and giving as related to the American church is that many use the "no tithing mandate" to give as little as possible. American Christians have increased their lifestyles and debt loads so much that they can barely give 2.5% on average joyfully. Christians could easily give beyond 10% if they based their money management on Biblical principles. People need some type of "benchmark" on where to start giving. I believe 10% is a good starting place for giving. I personally hold the Randy Alcorn viewpoint that tithing is simply the "training wheels" of giving. Watch for a post next week where I will expand this thought process.

    And yes, I am biased as a stewardship pastor when it comes to the struggle our churches endure with falling offerings in the wealthiest nation on the planet. Overall, American Christians are reluctant givers, not joyful ones.

    One finally comment, I give beyond the tithe and do my best to wisely manage the remaining money, and I have personally experienced God's blessings as a result. At the end of the day, 100% of what I manage is God's money. He wants me to be a wise manager of all of it.

  4. Terry - I agree 100% with your comment. See my comments to Elite above. Whether we like it or not, people need some kind of "metric" to give. We have measurement guidelines for exercise, weight loss, and retirement investing. People need a goal to get on the path toward generous giving. I am going to expand this line of thinking in a post next week. Stay tuned.

  5. Could it be that many Christians aren't giving more than 2-3% not because they don't want to, but because they CAN'T?

    Personally, myself and every other Christian I know right now, with the one exception of my parents (whom I'm living with due to hard times) are living well under the poverty level and are going through horr"no place of their own, no savings account, a job that pays less than minimum wage overall, no 'toys'", nothing like most people in America have.

    My income for the last 6 years has been under poverty level, and slowly declining, due to lack of work. This year, I will have earned the least amount of money ever in my entire life...around $5,000 GROSS for the year 2010. I don't own a car or a TV. The only reason I have a computer is because I use it for my freelance design business. I've been looking for work for a long time without success. My Christian friends are the same or worse off than me. Yet, I still give when I can, but I will NOT be guilted into giving exactly 10% or more, when the only reason I'm not homeless is due to my parents letting me live with them. I think they'd be mad if I was giving their money away.

    Bottom line, a lot of Christians have it really REALLY bad right now. We give when we can (and cheerfully!), but trying to guilt us into making sure we give exactly 10% when we're living below poverty level ourselves, and can't even pay the most basic of living bills is probably just Legalism.

  6. I will leave you with this. It is so unscriptural to impose a giving metric on people. What scripture are you basing this on? If people do not want to give, imposing a "metric" isn't going to change that. And the more we continue to rely on the arm of flesh by inventing some fringe doctrine to make people give, the more would we continue to see a decline in the monies dropped in the offering basket.

    Why would you think that your "metric" would do a better job than the conviction from the Holy Spirit? Tithing, the training wheel of giving? Is that even scriptural?

  7. XJ - I'm sorry to hear that you and those around you are hurting right now. The economy is definitely in a bad place and I do realize many are hurting at this time, including Christians.

    Honestly, this post has not been written to guilt people into giving, but rather to encourage the other 85-90% of Christians who still have jobs and who's situation is relatively stable, to walk by faith and give. I think many believers are scared right now and are not giving at the levels they could give. Living by faith is (or at least should be) a key component of the Christian life.

    This post is my opinion based on Scriptural principles. I think the tithe is a great starting point for people to work toward in their giving. Obviously, if you make very little right now, then 10% will be a smaller number than you perhaps gave in the past when the economy was stronger. That's fine.

    Also check out my latest post which is an expansion of my thought process in regard to giving.

  8. Elite - read today's post as I expanded my thought process from our little debate here in the comments section.

    My personal opinion: the Tithe is still a giving metric/percentage that God honors through the promises He has made in His Word. It may not be a mandate for Christians, but I can personally testify that giving 10% and above has been a blessing in my own life as well as many that have shared their giving testimonies with me.

  9. I have been a Southern Baptist all my Christian life since 1973 and grew up in a SBC home too where tithing was taught. As I have studied and prayed over the years, however, I have concluded that tithing is a manmade doctrine, not sound Biblical doctrine. Under the OT Law, the tithe was only of agricultural crops, not all wealth. Jesus did not teach His disciples to tithe to Him or anyone else. There is no NT commandment to tithe, no definition of what a NT tithe would look like or where it would be deposited, and no Biblical evidence of the early Church tithing. Nowhere does the NT suggest that 10 % of all income is a great baseline for giving to the local church, nothing that says 10 % is the required and everything else is extra. All of the tithing doctrine, ALL of it, is manmade. Sadly, when we teach the manmade as truth, the real principles of giving are lost. We build all kinds of huge buildings for "ministry", hire all kinds of professional staff, create multi-million dollar budgets and preach that everyone that does not bring 10 % of all his income each and every Sunday is "robbing God". This is shameful, false, and disgraceful, almost blasphemous, I believe. What happened to helping the poor so that there might be equality among believers as Paul did for the poor believers in Jerusalem? What happened to the principles of freedom in giving, that we should not be under compulsion? The guilt that preachers lay on unsuspecting believers is horrendous! Yes, we should give to the causes of Christ and give generously. God will certainly bless us in that. But our present day tithing doctrines are not of God. They exceed Scripture and could themselves bring a curse on us. We need to get back to things that the NT does teach about giving. And if we want to look at giving principles in the OT or prior to the OT, we need to be more accurate. I believe that God is not pleased with how little some believers give, but I also believe that God is highly unpleased with false doctrines about tithing as well. Let's get back to the truth. John of Florida.