Tithing has to be one of the most misunderstood, and abused, subjects of the entire Bible. This post will dispel some of the myth about tithing by looking at what scripture says about it. There is a clear need for wisdom and understanding on this subject – the kind that can only come from the Holy Spirit. Ask, right now, for the Holy Spirit to show you God’s true heart in this subject.
Let me start with my own personal experience and the events that led up to me seeking God about the whole subject.
For nearly thirty years I had accepted the practice of tithing without question or reservation. I simply believed that when a pastor I heard teaching on the subject said that we should tithe, it was God’s will for all believers to do so. To show how much I accepted the practice as being of God, when we came into membership (don’t you just love phrases like that?), we signed a contract that contained two conditions. The first was that we would attend meetings regularly, and the second was that we would tithe from our income to the church we had joined. We duly signed, without any question, even though membership itself has no biblical foundation whatsoever.
I should say that we were back then, and still are, living by faith. That is to say that we have no regular income, save that which is given to us. Sometimes we have money, sometimes we don’t. As a result our giving, or tithing, was never in any regular amounts, but we were ever so faithful in doing it.
We had been running a makeshift food bank from our house for a few months and then started a more regular one from the Cornerstone property. At the time there was a high demand of people coming to us for food.
One night, as keen members, and fulfilling our contractual obligations of attending meetings, we went to a meeting at the church building. There wasn’t many people there – just the inner circle really, and we felt a little out of place. We soon realised that this was no ordinary meeting, but a Reporting Meeting, in which the financial affairs of the church of the previous year were disclosed and budget plans for the future year were announced.
What we learned was disturbing, if I am honest. Despite doing almost no charitable work, this church was a registered charity who took full advantage of every tax incentive available. The main one was that of Gift Aid, where the charitable organisation can claim back from the government 25% of everything that any tax payer had given them as a gift. To put that in real terms, if a tax payer had given them £100, they would claim back from the government an additional £25, for the purposes of their charitable work.
Now, whilst I have a great deal of reservations about this practice being taken advantage of by churches (especially if they are not actively doing charitable works), my biggest issue came about when we learned just how much this church had in the bank. I won’t tell you the details, except to say that it was a very large sum of money, just sitting there. It seemed odd to be sitting on such a large sum when right outside the doors of the church building the desperate need of the local people was so very obvious. Not to mention the need within their walls.
We were both troubled with this news and I set about spending some time praying about it. I left it for a few weeks and waited for clear direction from God on the matter. In the meantime, we decided it would be prudent to keep aside the money that we would have ordinarily tithed to the church. I kept adding the money to a coffee jar whilst we prayed on the matter.
We both came to the conclusion that we should be better able to serve our local community by instead of giving to the church for them to put in the bank, were we to use that money to feed people via the food bank. I felt at peace with this and duly spoke to the pastor of the church. The reaction was very bad.
I won’t bore you with the details, except to say that he quoted a single line of scripture at me from Malachi. This is the line that all pastors who want to encourage people to tithe regularly use. You will probably know it, and it is likely that it would have been taught to you also:
“Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in My house…” [Malachi 3:10a NKJV]
We shall come back to this scripture shortly.
From this point, our relationship with the church spiralled out of control. We felt that the right thing to do was to resign our membership because we no longer felt it right to tithe to the church. It was clear that we had a contractual obligation to give to them, but that put us at complete juxtaposition to what God was saying to us. And so we did resign our membership. We had planned to continue attending on a casual basis, but it proved to be impossible. The net result was that I spent some time seeking God about tithing and learned some very interesting facts, which I would like to share with you.
You will still have to make you own mind up about tithing, particularly if you are part of a church that endorses it. But, I hope you will have been furnished with all the facts.
The word tithe literally means a tenth. This is where the concept of ten percent comes from. With regard to the Torah, or law, that God gave to Moses, tithing related exclusively to the priesthood and the tabernacle. Later, the same principle was applied to the temple. The basic rule of tithing was this:
Whatever you grew or produced, in terms of crops or livestock, you would give the first part of that to the priesthood. The purpose of giving this portion to the priesthood was to ensure that the priests could live. They received no land inheritance from God when they crossed into the Promised Land, so they had no means of earning from either crops or livestock. Nor did they receive any income for their priestly duties. The tithe also made sure that there was sufficient livestock and crops for the various sacrifices and offerings that the law prescribed. And finally, it was used to also feed the poor in times of need, as well as getting through the Sabbatical years.
The priests themselves would set aside a tenth of all that was received, but everything else belonged to them. Today tithing is promoted for the purposes of maintaining the institution of the church. Back then, when the law was given, it represented more of a tax for a whole nation that believed in God.
In fact, many Hebrew teachers explain that the initial tithe was in excess of twenty percent because it was based upon the increase of your crops and livestock over a three year period. This was to allow for the Sabbath year, when the land was rested, every seven years. They would collect in enough in the sixth year to get them through the seventh, and then the first year of the new cycle. The only notion of giving ten percent to God, was in the hands of the tribe of the Levites, who served before God.
It is also worth noting that this was no new principle in the Middle East. The Egyptians, under Joseph’s direction, taxed all farmers twenty percent of their harvest in order to reserve grain during times of famine.
It was never about money. Just crops and livestock. And, if you read the law carefully, you will notice that it occurred not monthly, nor even yearly, but three yearly. And besides that, you only tithed on the increase of what you grew or what your herd produced.
But, hold on, I hear you say. Isn’t tithing mentioned in Genesis prior to the giving of any law? Yes, it is. And this is where we first see scripture manipulated in order to enforce a policy in the modern church.
Let me explain.
The premise is that Abraham gave a tenth to the High Priest of Salem, Melchizedek. You can find the account in Genesis chapter 14. The basic outline is that Abraham gave this priest a tenth of the plunder he had gained during a battle against several kings.
Many would argue that because this example of tithing predates the Torah, then we should be following it in the same way today.
Let’s break that argument down. They use this particular example (there is another that predates Torah, but this doesn’t serve their purpose as well as this one) because they claim it shows a servant of God giving a tenth of all he had to the priest. Because it predates the Torah, they use it as a lever. They don’t want to bring Torah into it, because these same preachers teach us that the law was nailed to the cross (this will be a subject of another Myth Busters – the law was never nailed to anything, Y’shua (Jesus’ Hebrew name) came to fulfil the law, not do away with it). So, it becomes a convenience to say that, because it predates the law, then it was always God’s will. However, what they fail to mention, and get very upset about when you mention it, is that there are a number of practices that also predate Torah. If you are confronted with the argument that tithing predates the law, you can rightly ask about animal sacrifice and circumcision, which also clearly predate Torah. If we are to tithe on that principle, then surely we should sacrifice animals and practice circumcision too? After all, the rational they use to prove their point has to be a two way street.
But, just so we are clear on this particular example of Abraham, let us put some context into this. Firstly, what Abraham gave to Melchizedek was a tenth of the spoils of the battle he had just won. He honoured the priest of his God, whom had just given him victory, despite the massive odds against him. It was more like a tribute to God for the victory then a religious duty. He didn’t give him a tenth of all he had. Abraham was clearly already very wealthy in livestock terms (back then wealth was measured in goats, not money). And then, the rest of the plunder or spoils were given to the king of Sodom, whom had fought alongside Abraham, in order that he could never had claimed to have made Abraham rich.
You see, when people take a verse or two out of context and make their own law out of it, then they are in some very serious danger from the judgement of God.
When you look at the words tithe, tithes, and tithing, in total, combined, they only appear forty times in the entire Bible. Each time they appear, there is a context to this word being used. Not once is any of these occurrences in connection with money. Not one single time. God has never asked for us to give a tenth of our income, either under Torah or since the coming of Y’shua. Never once. It makes you wonder where this idea came from.
Whilst I can’t be sure exactly where this new law for the modern church came from, I can tell you that I have read a great many books concerning the life and times of one George Muller. Muller lived during the 1800s and is famed because he never asked anyone for anything, except for God, and yet he built five orphanages and helped thousands upon thousands of people. God supplied all his needs. Without exception, in the pages of all the books about him and by his own hand, I have never found any mention of the word tithe or giving a tenth of income. Not one mention. Seems strange doesn’t it? It must have been a practice adopted after this period, probably around the time of the rise of the Pentecostal movement.
People then gave according to what God put in their heart. There is no teaching from Y’shua on the subject of tithing that applies to today. There is nothing in the letters from the apostles either. The word simply isn’t used. How then do churches like the one we used to be a part of, find their way to a place where not only are they handing out contracts for membership, but enforcing in that contract the promise to give a tenth of all income to the church?
It appears to all come down to a lack of trust in God. The moment churches start to make their own arrangements for income, they can be in danger of losing sight of God’s purpose. We are taught that we should follow Y’shua. His message was clear. He taught not to give any thought to what we should eat or what we should wear. He lived by what He taught. He led by the very example that we should follow. You might argue that in this modern age a simple life, like the one Y’shua lived, is impossible. Well, I can tell you, as one who tries to live that same life, that it is possible. If it wasn’t possible then He wouldn’t have told us to live that way. The same applies to churches as well as individuals.
In the book of Acts we find the true heart of God for the church. Here’s a little snippet of ordinary, and therefore normal, church life:
“Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need.
So continuing daily, with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” [Acts 2:44-47 NKJV]
I can tell you that it takes a very brave preacher who is prepared to preach on those verses and try to implement them. The trouble is one of history. Churches today are very conservative (small c); they fear change. They think along the basis of numbers; if the congregation is increasing then God is with us. Everything is geared around this premise. Sermons are milky so not to scare off potential new believers. Tithing is taught as a law in order to maintain what they already have. The church we see in Acts chapter two was radical, dynamic and realised that all they had had firstly come from God. We own nothing in the eyes of the Lord. So, instead of a law surrounding tithing, the followers of the first century were simply encouraged to give wherever they saw a need.
To put that into today’s context, our role as followers of Y’shua is to do likewise. If He saw someone with a need, He would provide. As simple as that. It’s fine to wear a wristband that says ‘What Would Jesus Do?‘, but unless you put those principles into practice you run the risk of hypocrisy.
The church I mentioned earlier, with its money in the bank, is ignoring the obvious. Even if they didn’t do the charity thing in the town around them by helping the poor, their church is full of people struggling with debts and mortgages. The followers of Y’shua simply sorted that out between them so that every need was met. But what is promoted is this idea that you keep giving to the church and God will give back to you. That’s more like a property pyramid scheme, than the work of God. People today are taught, both inside and outside of churches, to hold on to what they have. That is the world view. God’s view is the freely give, just as you have freely received. True disciples don’t need to be told to give; the fruit of generosity already grows in their heart. They don’t need contracts to remind them to give. They just do it, just as Y’shua gave freely of everything God gave to Him.
The modern teaching on tithing comes from churches who run their institutions as businesses. They talk of cash flow and budgets for this and for that. They say that this is God’s will, but it clearly isn’t mentioned in scripture. They serve the money god, not the God from whom all good gifts come, bending scripture to suit their needs; their financial needs. Look closely at your church. Look closely at yourself. Read again the book of Acts. That’s the real blueprint for churches.
Francis Chan is a good example to look to. He had a giant megachurch and felt that they had just become a machine and were nothing like what he read in the book of Acts. He chose to give it all up and walk away until he heard from God on what He wanted from him. During that time he posed a question that went along these lines:
What would you do if you found yourself on a desert island with only the New Testament as a reference? What kind of church would you build if you didn’t have the inherited knowledge of modern churches? What model would you choose?
And that is my challenge to you: look at the New Testament to see what it has to say on tithing. The only references relate entirely to the Law. But, if you look at giving, the you see that giving is really fruit of the Holy Spirit. A generous heart.
Now, before I finish, I want to look at the scripture in Malachi that is so often abused by pastors who trust in money instead of God. Let’s look at the real context.
The text is directly written to the Levites, the priests who were robbing God by allowing animals with defects to be presented as sacrifices even though Torah didn’t allow that. Not only were they offering poor sacrifices, they were robbing God by not giving into the storehouse the ten percent which Torah prescribed they should. God was encouraging them to get it right or face the consequences. They had been complaining to God that He didn’t listen to them. His retort was that they didn’t have their heart in it anymore. Now, that’s the context, here’s the text that is so often used to emotionally blackmail people into giving ten percent of their gross income:
” “Will a man rob God? Yet you robbed Me! But you say, ‘In what way have we robbed You?’
In tithes and offerings. You are cursed with a curse, for you have robbed Me, even this whole nation.
Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in My house, and try me in this,” says the Lord of hosts, “If I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out such blessing that there will not be room enough to receive it.” ” [Malachi 3:8-10 NKJV]
So, today’s pastors will teach that this means that if we don’t give a tenth of all we have to the church, then we will be under a curse for breaking Torah. If we do give a tenth, then God will pour financial blessing upon us.
What it really means is that unless the Levites of Malachi’s day (450 BC) start observing Torah, they will come under the curses from breaking Torah. He prompts them to trust Him in this. If they observe Torah, they will benefit from the blessings that automatically follow.
If today’s pastors are to use a single commandment from Torah and warn of a curse for not observing it, the surely it follows that if we fail to observe the rest of the 613 commandments of the Torah, we shall be under a curse for all these too?
Of course, we no longer, as followers of Christ, live under the curse that Torah brought. We are moving towards a New Covenant where we are led by the Spirit of the Law and not its letter.
In Malachi’s day, the priests didn’t listen to him and continued in their errant ways. God didn’t speak again to the Hebrews for over 400 years, until He sent His Word in person.
The vast majority of Torah related to the time in the wilderness for the Hebrews, and to the functions of the priesthood in the tabernacle or the temple. Today, the Hebrews don’t still wander around the wilderness, and there is no temple or, indeed, a priesthood. We are all priests now. The Law is no longer on tablets of stone but on our hearts. We have to find a way of living according to the Spirit. To reintroduce laws without the original context is what brings the real curse of God.
Give freely, wherever you see the need. Look to the Spirit of the Law, and not to its letter. The law brings death, but the Spirit brings life.
A big thanks goes out to Let Us Reason Ministries and, in particular, the research they have done into tithing. If you are interested in more about the book of Malachi, I can recommend teaching by Malcolm Duncan. Very insightful.
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