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WHAT ABOUT TITHING?

by Jacques More

Tithing is the name given to the practise of giving a proportion of one's income to God. This is generally understood as at least a tenth of earnings.

Is it biblical?

If by this one means is it written about in the scripture, yes.

If by this the question really is: is it for all believers to practise today? Then, yes and no.

Hence the need for some pointers and expansion of this topic here.

The first mention of a gift to God out of one's belongings is in Genesis 4. This is where Cain and Abel the first 2 brothers are seen offering to God what they were involved in working with. The main thing I wish to bring out of this passage is that your attitude and heart matters to God when you give. The record shows that Abel and his offering were accepted by God but not Cain and his offering.

. . . the LORD respected Abel and his offering, but He did not respect Cain and his offering. . .

Genesis 4:4-5

Abel offered lambs and Cain offered produce of the ground. This was the currency of the day since there were no coins, paper and plastic money at that time. But, irrespective of the offering the person's life-style out of the heart from which it is produced matters to God when you give. This is clearly shown by,

He who kills a bull is as if he slays a man; he who sacrifices a lamb, as if he breaks a dog's neck; he who offers a grain offering, as if he offers swine's blood; he who burns incense, as if he blesses an idol. Just as they have chosen their own ways, and their soul delights in their abominations.

Isaiah 66:3

And why is this?

This is because 'The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the LORD' (Proverbs 15:8). So, if you are aware of wrongdoing in your life and are not willing to stop that, then better deal with it before you give to God. This is what God said to Cain: 'If you do well, will you not be accepted?' (Genesis 4:7). If you stop the wrong you know you are involved with and do the opposite then your gift is valuable to God.

Where does the tenth of income come in?

It comes from the Hebrew which the first section of the Bible was first written in and, from the practise of this type of giving to God and His servants as recorded in the first books of the Bible.

The Hebrew word for a tenth is exchangeable in several places for the word for tithe. The core part of the word tithe is the root word for a tenth hence the clear link in the Hebrew language.

The first mention regards a gift Abraham gave to the servant of God who was king of the city of Salem. His name was Melchizedek and known as the priest of God Most High. Following a victory over enemies Abraham who was known as Abram at that point gave a tenth of all the spoils to Melchizedek. The first tithe mentioned involves giving to a clear servant of God and also concerns income from a non- regular source. A windfall, a large amount received out of the norm.

This is significant in that before 'the law' was given to Moses there is a clear mention of the practise of giving a tithe (a tenth) from your income back to God. The event with Abraham did not involve a regular income. The first mention of this activity concerns Jacob, Abraham's grandson.

Jacob was on his way East from his homeland and at a place he would call Bethel (literally meaning: House of God) he met with God in a dream. Following this visitation he vowed:

If God will be with me, and keep me in this way that I am going, and give me bread to eat and clothing to put on, so that I come back to my father's house in peace, then the LORD shall be my God. And this stone which I have set as a pillar shall be God's house, and all that You give me I will surely give a tenth to you.

Genesis 28:20-22

This is the first mention of tithing out of a regular income and is directly linked to the material blessing he received from God. It is also important to note that this was a private arrangement out of a personal relationship with God. This was nothing imposed by another, but a free response to a personal contact and continuing relationship with God. Now, just as with Abraham before, this occurred prior to the 'law' and commands relating to tithing as given to Israel as a nation.

There is therefore a principle relating to regular giving which can be seen in scripture irrespective of the 'law' of Moses. It is well summed up in Proverbs:

Honor the LORD with your possessions, and with the firstfruits of all your increase; so your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will overflow with new wine.

Proverbs 3:9-10

If all you own you do not treat as just your own, but with respect to what is placed before you to do and you return to God a first portion of all that you receive then there is a clear link to a promise of blessing. An example of honouring the Lord with your possessions involves things like being hospitable and willingness to share as occasion arises. A tenth of your increase, as the above mentions have shown is a good example for the amount of a firstfruit. A firstfruit means it is given before the rest of the increase is used for oneself.

What about the New Testament?

Jesus told the Pharisees not to leave the act of tithing undone, but this is as a part of the law given to Israel. Paul makes clear that the Christian is not under law, but under grace and no believer is subject to the writing of the law (Colossians 2:16). But, he goes on to encourage believers to put aside regularly for the purposes of meeting other's needs. And, as we saw above there is a principle prevalent in the Bible irrespective of the law. This is done out of a personal arrangement with the Lord which the individual makes. Hence Paul's words 'let each one give as he purposes in his heart' (2 Corinthians 9:7). He also affirms that there is a linked blessing 'he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully'. (2 Cor. 9:6).

Is the law not relevant at all?

On the contrary. It offers much wisdom and guidelines which help show that various things sometimes said to believers about giving goes beyond the desire of God. The law is part of the scripture which Paul advocated we use to learn from: 'All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness' (2 Timothy 3:16). If this freedom as you are about to read is in 'the law' of Moses should a believer impose stricter upon a fellow believer? And that in 'the age of grace'?

If for example in 'the law' there is freedom to not give for a time by arrangement, then no condemnation should be placed on a believer who does this when they have a clear commitment to give this at a later time. Remember as with all giving it is part of a personal walk with God. It is not robbing God when He says otherwise:

If a man wants at all to redeem any of his tithes, he shall add one-fifth to it.

Leviticus 27:31

If someone is on welfare receiving social benefit should they be giving?

There are 2 main issues here. The issue of the individual and their God and, the issue of the church to look out for the believer in this present position. Just as Israel had to look out for the poor and the stranger. Not forgetting that he who does not work should not eat (2 thessalonians 3:10). Work need not be paid, but productive in the kingdom. This is talking about those who rely on others without desire to make any effort of their own.

Now the Father provided for Jesus out of the social security, the welfare of his day, for a season. When this was going on, since it related to pure sustenance only, there is no record of an expectation to tithe this 'increase'. This is also under the law. If the welfare received involves more than pure sustenance then the individual decides within the principles mentioned. We can see about Jesus' use of this welfare as follows:

When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not wholly reap the corners of your field when you reap, nor shall you gather any gleaning from your harvest. You shall leave them for the poor and for the stranger: I am the LORD your God.

Leviticus 23:22

Jesus and the disciples made use of this provision for the poor and the stranger:

Now it happened that He went through the grainfields on the Sabbath; and as they went His disciples began to pluck the heads of grain.

Mark 2:23

It is of note that the Pharisees had a go at Jesus for permitting this on the Sabbath. No thought of stealing was involved. No thought that perhaps it was not for them to use this social security benefit in that season - welfare. Since this was during the time of harvest the length of time for this provision was also limited.

There is a technical responsibility and a living one upon the church. By technical I am referring to the fact that if tithing is being placed as a rule in the assembly then, to be even handed, the things which tithing provided for is the rule this assembly should put itself under. By 'living' I refer to the act of loving your neighbour as yourself. In the law tithing is shown as providing for various needs of the poor and the stranger in the midst.

At the end of every third year you shall bring out the tithe of your produce of that year and store it up within your gates. And the levite . . . and the stranger and the fatherless and the widow who are within your gates, may come and be satisfied, that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hand which you do.

Deuteronomy 14:28- 29

Gross or Net?

As shown there is in the law various instructions about tithing which involve the use of that tithe by the giver or by those in need in the vicinity of the giver.

Today this would mean that some of the tithe be allocated for those purposes. If these needs are already being met by other means then there is no obligation to provide these again through the tithe (if the law is used as a guide). For example for about a century now the basic needs of the stranger, the fatherless, the widow are met by the state in most 'western' nations. This is done through the social security or, welfare systems in place. These are largely paid for by the individual's taxes or National Insurance contributions (in the UK). This means that any claim to the tithe being paid out of one's gross income (i.e. pre-tax) is false when those needs are catered for elsewhere.

Concluding

Tithing is the regular giving of a tenth of one's income to God. It is a private and personal arrangement between the individual and their God. Any known wrong needs to be dealt with before giving is acceptable. This form of giving has a direct link with a blessing on the provision of one's material needs and much more. The giving needs to be put before any other of that increase or, put aside before other spending thus demonstrating to the Heavens that the Lord comes first. Is it for all believers? You are free to do so, but not to impose it on others to do. You are free to give as Paul stated 'let each one give as he purposes in his heart'. Tithing is a good personal guideline on this matter.



Unless otherwise stated Bible quotes are from the New King James Version

© copyright Thomas Nelson Inc. 1979,1980,1982.

© copyright Jacques More 2001. All Rights Reserved.

 

 


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