Monday, September 21, 2009

The Truth about Tithing


Every Sunday the offering plate is passed at some point during our morning worship service. This time of giving is considered an integral part of our service because we understand faithful and committed giving as an act of worship. We usually refer to our practice of giving as tithing. So where did we come up with this idea? Should every Christian tithe? What is a tithe anyway? These are important questions to answer. In Genesis 14:20 we see the first example of a tithe gift when Abram (confirmed in Hebrews 7:2) presented a tenth or a tithe of his spoils from war to Melchizedek, who as a priest stood on behalf of God for Abram. This tithe was not to meet any law requirement but was given freely in recognition of God’s provision in war. Once the Mosaic Law was given to God’s people (recorded in books such as Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy) a tithing system was established. This system was based on a seven year cycle known as the Shemittah. Various tithes were brought on each year of the seven year cycle. The ceremonial tithing system went much beyond a tenth of a weekly paycheck. The point of this system was to teach the people dependence on God and to use their pooled tithes to aid the Levites, strangers, orphans, and widows as a testimony to God’s presence among them. It was to drive them to faith and lead them to live out their faith in ministry to others. Jesus referred to the tithe in Matthew 23:23 condemning those who miss the intent of the tithe. The tithe system like the other ceremonial laws was not intended as a means to righteousness but ultimately to reveal the people’s lack of righteousness that they might seek God by faith for their righteousness.

God has provided that source of righteousness in His Son Jesus. By faith in His Lordship we are credited with righteousness and are set free from the law (Galatians 2:16-21). So Christians are not bound by the ceremonial laws of the Old Covenant, but there are moral laws that continue to guide us as we follow Christ. Giving as an act of worship and sign of dependence on God is one such moral law. New Testament texts teach giving but do not necessarily mention tithing. For example, 2 Corinthians 8:3 encourages giving what you can afford and 2 Corinthians 9:7 says we should be cheerful givers. In 1 Corinthians 16:2 there is an example of believers giving weekly when they gathered together (this was for a special offering to the persecuted church in Jerusalem). Additionally, 1 Timothy 5:18 exhorts supporting the financial needs of Christian workers devoted to the ministry of the Word and Acts 11:29 promotes feeding the hungry wherever they may be.

So is tithing a Christian discipline? In Malachi 3:8-10 God’s people are warned not to rob God but to collect tithes. These tithes were not taken because God needed money or grain. They were gathered to teach dependence on God’s provision. According to the faithful giving, God would supply for their every need. In Matthew 5:17 Jesus says, “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not some to abolish but to fulfill.” This verse helps inform us how we are to read the Old Testament commands. We understand those laws in light of Jesus Christ who fulfills them. Bringing tithes and offerings demonstrate our dependence on God who supplies all that we need in Christ. Therefore we give as a demonstration of our faith in Christ. Those monies ought to be used to magnify Christ. In 2 Corinthians 8:1-5 Paul provides an example of faith-driven, Christ-magnifying giving. Whatever the Lord has convicted your heart to give be obedient to that as act of faith in the Lord Jesus. A tithe or tenth of your income is often a good starting point, because believe me giving up a tenth of my income (before taxes) requires me to trust in God’s provision. That’s a good chunk of change! However, for some a tithe is a token and not a faith gift. Still for others, a tithe is beyond what God has called you to give. Discern the appropriate offering, be obedient, and be faithful. These offerings are our gifts. They are not shares in a company and they do not purchase rights. In response to your faith which is reflected by your obedience God will supply all you need and He will use those gifts toward magnifying His Son Jesus.

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