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Intimacy with God
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TITHING

What Does The Bible Say?

Old Testament tithing was part of Israel’s civil tax code and mandated by the Law. Its purpose was twofold. It compensated the Levites for their service in the temple and provided charitable aid for the poor of the land (Deut. 26:12). When adding up the total tithe Israel was required to pay annually, it amounted to approximately 19% taken from the agricultural surplus 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).

 

Today, pastors are quick to remind their congregants about the importance of tithing ten percent of their income to the church every Sunday. However, this ten percent figure is completely arbitrary 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 actually due. Israel paid an annual tithe of as much as 27% percent while many churches require a 10% cut of their members' weekly income.

 

But here's an important question. Is Old Testament tithing still binding on New Testament Christians? The answer to this may surprise you. The New Testament DOES NOT require anyone to participate in tithing. That's probably why church leaders must appeal to the Old Testament in order to reinforce their doctrine of tithing. Their favorite set of scriptures, of course, is located in Malachi 3, admonishing Israel to pay their tithes faithfully so as not to rob God of His just 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).

 

Now exactly how many church goers are swindled into relinquishing ten percent of their weekly earnings by the use of this Old Testament appeal is really anyone's guess. Sadly, it gets worse. After the illegitimate tithe is collected, church members are led to expect an overwhelming financial reward for their dutiful submission to Malachi's expired requirement. Nevermind that this tithe never applied to pastors in the first place, but only the Levites and poor of Israel.

 

NEW TESTAMENT GIVING

So how does the New Testament instruct 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 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 you can see, it was the custom of the first century Church to collect the surplus of their members' financial income in order to supply the needs of the poor within the Church (2 Cor 8:14). There was no such thing as a ten percent tithe towards the Church budget, expansion project, or minister’s pension. All of those other things, unfortunately, are the result of an incorrect application of Scripture.

 

Now several basic instructions are mentioned as part of this important collection:

 

1. Give cheerfully

2. Give according to your ability

3. Give out of your surplus

4. Give in order to supply other’s needs

 

SALARIED PASTORS 

Many pastors will cherry-pick 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. Soldiers who fight on behalf of their country are financially compensated by their government. And those who plant a vineyard or tend to their sheep are free to consume whatever results from their labors. Similarly, ministers of the Word or pastors should be able to receive whatever they need from God’s people as compensation for their spiritual labors: Even so hath the Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel. However, while it's true that 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 refused to exploit God's people for gain, as evidenced in the above passages, then neither should the pastors of the Church. Moreover, it is clear that everyone (including pastors) are expected to follow Paul's example in 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).

CLOSING

Clearly, the overarching instruction of the New Testament in respect to charitable giving has to do with assisting the poor (Mark 10:21-22) or sponsoring the labors of full time ministers with unsolicited/freewill offerings (1 Tim 5:17-18). This means that we should do so cheerfully, knowing that God has promised to amply reward all such 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).

Finally, true ministers of the Word, though deserving of financial contributions and help, should never demand it from their Church members. Rather, like Paul, they should exercise their faith in God and wait for the Holy Spirit to do the prompting for them:

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).

John A.

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