Is it even required?
Old Testament tithing was part of Israel’s tax code and was mandated under the Mosaic Law. It was to be distributed among the Levites as compensation for their service in the temple and also to be disbursed among the poor (Deut. 26:12). When adding up the total amount of tithes required of Israel annually, it appears that the Jews gave over 19% of the fruits of their land during five of the seven farming years and as much as 27% the other two years. Ten percent was to go toward the work of the temple, ten percent for festivals of worship, and ten percent every third year for the Levites and poor (Ex 29:28; Lev 27:30-32; Num 18:20-32; Deut 12:17; 14:22-29; 26:12).
Preachers are quick to remind their congregants about the importance of tithing ten percent of their weekly income to the church every Sunday. This ten percent figure, borrowed from Leviticus, is completely inaccurate because it doesn't reflect the actual sum total of the tithe required (as demonstrated above). Nor does it correspond to the same time frame by which the Old Testament tithe was due. Israel paid an annual tithe of as much as 27% percent while today's churches require a 10% cut of their members' weekly income.
But the question to ask is this. Is the model of Old Testament tithing still valid in the New Testament and therefore applicable to Christians? The answer may surprise you. The New Testament DOES NOT require anyone to participate in tithing. That is probably why church leaders must revert back to the Old Testament in order to reinforce their traditional view of tithing. Their favorite scripture, of course, is located in Malachi 3, which admonishes Israel to pay their tithe faithfully in order to cease robbing God of His dues. Notice:
Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings. Ye are cursed with a curse: for ye have robbed me, even this whole nation. Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the LORD of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it (Mal 3:8-10).
Just how many gullible church goers are taken in by the appeal to this Old Testament passage and made to relinquish ten percent of their earnings in order to fund their church's expansion project is anyone's guess. Yet as disturbing as that is, it's even worse when members are led to expect an overwhelming financial reward for their dutiful submission to Malachi's expired requirement. Nevermind that it applied exclusively to the Levites and poor of Israel.
NEW TESTAMENT GIVING
So how does the New Testament council the Christian concerning the matter of tithing? To state it simply, it doesn't. The New Testament does not recommend any kind of tithe, since, as it was mentioned previously, tithing was part of ancient Israel's elaborate tax system. What we find instead is the principle of “giving”. There are several key passages that teach us about how to give and when, and they are as follows:
Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away (Mat 5:42).
Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me (Mat 25:34-36).
Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me (Mark 10:21).
Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver (2 Co 9:7).
Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth (Eph 4:28).
But by an equality, that now at this time your abundance may be a supply for their want, that their abundance also may be a supply for your want: that there may be equality (2 Co 8:14).
Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given order to the churches of Galatia, even so do ye. Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come (1Co 16:1-2).
Now ye Philippians know also, that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church communicated with me as concerning giving and receiving, but ye only. For even in Thessalonica ye sent once and again unto my necessity. Not because I desire a gift: but I desire fruit that may abound to your account (Php 4:15-17).
So as we can see, it was the custom of the first century Church to gather the surplus of their income for the needs of the poor within the Church. There was no such thing as a ten percent tithe for the Church budget or minister’s pension. There was only a gathering of people’s abundance in order to supply the needs of those who were lacking in the Assembly (2 Cor 8:14).
Now several basic instructions are mentioned as part of this important function:
1. Give cheerfully
2. Give according to your ability
3. Give out of your surplus
4. Give in order to supply other’s needs
Many pastors will use certain New Testament passages in order to extract a salary for themselves at the expense of their members. So let’s examine these passages to see if they actually support such a practice:
Who goeth a warfare any time at his own charges? who planteth a vineyard, and eateth not of the fruit thereof? or who feedeth a flock, and eateth not of the milk of the flock? For it is written in the law of Moses, Thou shalt not muzzle the mouth of the ox that treadeth out the corn. Doth God take care for oxen? Or saith he it altogether for our sakes? For our sakes, no doubt, this is written: that he that ploweth should plow in hope; and that he that thresheth in hope should be partaker of his hope. If we have sown unto you spiritual things, is it a great thing if we shall reap your carnal things? If others be partakers of this power over you, are not we rather? Nevertheless we have not used this power; but suffer all things, lest we should hinder the gospel of Christ. Do ye not know that they which minister about holy things live of the things of the temple? and they which wait at the altar are partakers with the altar? Even so hath the Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel. But I have used none of these things: neither have I written these things, that it should be so done unto me: for it were better for me to die, than that any man should make my glorying void. What is my reward then? Verily that, when I preach the gospel, I may make the gospel of Christ without charge, that I abuse not my power in the gospel (1 Cor 9:6-18).
In the above scriptures, Paul uses an Old Testament principle in order to create a hypothetical argument. Those who fight a war on behalf of their country are provided an income by their government. And those who plant a vineyard or tend to their sheep are free to consume whatever comes from their labors. Similarly, ministers of the Word and pastors are free to receive whatever they need from God’s people as compensation for their spiritual labors. Paul makes this clear: Even so hath the Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel.
However, while pastors have the right to receive free will offerings and donations from Church members, they do not have the right to solicit them or forcibly compel their members to make such donations. Paul makes this very clear also: But I have used none of these things: neither have I written these things, that it should be so done unto me: for it were better for me to die, than that any man should make my glorying void. What is my reward then? Verily that, when I preach the gospel, I may make the gospel of Christ without charge, that I abuse not my power in the gospel (1 Cor. 9:17-18).
Now if Paul would never attempt to exploit God's people for gain, as evidenced in the above passages, then neither should we. Moreover, it is clear that we are expected to follow Paul's example in all such matters:
Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ (1 Cor 11:1).
Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you (Php 4:9).
Nevertheless, the New Testament does instruct us to give our money to the poor (Mark 10:21-22) and to provide financially for those who are unable to hold a secular job while laboring on behalf of God's Kingdom (1 Tim 5:17-18). Therefore we should do so cheerfully, knowing that God has promised to reward all sacrificial giving:
But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at the last your care of me hath flourished again; wherein ye were also careful, but ye lacked opportunity. Notwithstanding ye have well done, that ye did communicate with my affliction. Now ye Philippians know also, that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church communicated with me as concerning giving and receiving, but ye only. For even in Thessalonica ye sent once and again unto my necessity. Not because I desire a gift: but I desire fruit that may abound to your account. But I have all, and abound: I am full, having received of Epaphroditus the things which were sent from you, an odour of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, well pleasing to God (Php 4:10-18).
In closing, I hope this teaching demonstrated the differences between Old Testament tithing and New Testament giving. Moreover, it's my prayer that God's people would grow wiser and be extra wary around church ministers who are profiteering from God’s work and exploiting God's people for gain. True ministers of the Word, though deserving of financial contributions and help, should never demand it from their members. Rather, they should exercise their faith in God and wait for the Holy Spirit to lay it on people’s hearts as to whether they should be given assistance or not:
But I have used none of these things: neither have I written these things, that it should be so done unto me: for it were better for me to die, than that any man should make my glorying void. What is my reward then? Verily that, when I preach the gospel, I may make the gospel of Christ without charge, that I abuse not my power in the gospel (1 Cor. 9:17-18).
In Christ alone,