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A few days ago, one of my faithful blog readers sent me this email:
Hi Larry,This reader asks several interesting, related questions to the Biblical tithe. I have found her current method of giving of the tithe to be a growing trend among Christians, especially the younger generation.
One topic that I have been very interested in lately is [the] tithe. Have you done any writings on where to give your tithe? What does giving to the Lord mean? Right now I have my tithe "diversified" to several ministries. Is it okay to use tithe money to give gifts to friends in need or just for encouragement?
But, what does the Bible say regarding where to give the tithe and to whom? We will investigate that question in today's post.
The Biblical Perspective On Where To Give The Tithe
While I'm a firm believer that the giving of the tithe applies to pre-law, Mosaic Law, and post-law, the majority of Biblical references on the tithe happen within Old Testament Law. So, this is where we need to start on determining a Biblical perspective on how to give the tithe back to God.
In Old Testament times, the majority of the tithe and offerings were given in the form of animals and agricultural produce. These were burned up on the altar in the form of animal and grain sacrifices. Financial contributions were also required for the upkeep and service of the dwelling of the Lord. In Exodus 30:16, we read: "Take the atonement money from the Israelites and use it for the service of the tent of meeting. It will serve as a reminder for the Israelites before the Lord to atone for your lives."
So, where did God command the Jewish people to give their tithe? Answer: at the Jewish center of worship. The tabernacle was the first location. A few hundred years later, Solomon's Temple was the second location. After the exile and diaspora took place, we see a move away from the temple as the primary place of worship. The synagogue in each community became the center of Judaism, and the people gave their tithes back to God through these local synagogues.
When we move into the Church Age in the New Testament, we see the continuation of Jewish tradition of giving to the local worship meeting location. Instead of a synagogue though, we see a shift to the newly formed church. As the good news of Jesus Christ moved from Jerusalem, to Judea, to Samaria, and to the rest of the Roman world, we see the establishment of a local church in each town. The believers gave their tithes and offerings back to God through their local churches.
We can see this demonstrated through the Apostle Paul's collection for the poor saints in Jerusalem. Believers in each local church setting were being asked to set aside funds for this special love offering for the poor:
Now about the collection for the saints: You should do the same as I instructed the Galatian churches. On the first day of the week, each of you is to set something aside and save in keeping with how he prospers, so that no collections will need to be made when I come. When I arrive, I will send with letters those you recommend to carry your gracious gift to Jerusalem (1 Corinthians 16:1-3, HCSB).These special offerings were collected by each local church and then handed off to leaders within the Universal Church, such as the Apostle Paul. These leaders then distributed these mass offerings to the poor saints back at the church in Jerusalem. There was no special special ministry established to execute this. It was accomplished by the universal church fathers and local church leaders.
The Local Church Is The Appropriate Giving Vehicle
In this very fast overview of both Old and New Testament giving patterns, we see that giving through the local place of worship (synagogue or church) is the appropriate giving vehicle. Even with a "special offering" for poor Christians in Jerusalem such as the one collected by Paul, we see the people of the local church body coming together to give.
While many leaders of para-churches would like to claim that you can split up your tithe and give the majority of it away to Christian organizations outside of the local church, I just don't see this reflected in Scripture. I think it's a stretch to say that any organization with the label "Christian" has the right to collect tithes or a portion of the tithe. God has established the local church as the Body of Christ. We are supposed to be the hands and feet of Jesus to those around us. The local church needs the regular giving of the tithe of its members in order to accomplish the mission of the church.
So, in answer to my reader's questions above, here are my bullet point, final answers:
- Giving the tithe back to the Lord should be done through His primary New Testament worship vehicle - the local church.
- I wouldn't diversify the "tithe" among other ministries. I believe this violates Scripture. Many local churches have been damaged financially as a result.
- Generous giving to other credible para-church ministries or specific individuals is fine above the tithe, provided you have been blessed by God with financial increase.
Also, check out these related posts:
- The Great Debate: to tithe or not to tithe
- Considering the Tithe as a Baseline Metric for Giving
- 7 Practical Ways To Give To The Poor
- The Secret To Living A Generous Life
- The Tithing Experiment
- 5 Benefits of Generosity