I’ve always been uncomfortable about “tithing”. Not because I was a slacker at giving, it is just that at the back of my head I’ve had doubts of whether tithing still applied in/after the new testament. In addition, I’ve become wary giving to insatiable churches and fly by night standalone preachers and miracle workers and am tired of hearing how financially beneficial and blessed it is. I’m also pretty sure that getting returns on your giving is not in any way related to the purpose of giving although God does bless the upright in heart who give sacrificially. The best way to know the truth would be to study the word of God by yourself prayerfully depending on God’s Holy Spirit for guidance as He was the one who wrote the Bible. In this case, it is better not to let people on the receiving end of your tithe interpret it for you as there can be a conflict of interest.
There seems to be such a grabbiness in their attitude about money which only goes to show how much they trust God for their needs! While they go around asking you to “empty your pockets” and “bring in the full tithe” and “stop robbing God” and not be “under a curse” [The Malachi curse Mal 3:8-10] while conveniently ignoring the fact that money is not brought into a storehouse but rather put into a treasury. There doesn’t seem to be an end to their innovation to make people feel guilty. After so many years of fighting an internal war within myself and searching for answers, I decided to do my own research on what tithe is and what kind of giving God approves of, hoping it will help someone else in search of answers. This might upset some of my friends and pastors (and I know some really great pastors), but I can only write what I am convinced of, and am open for correction -from the word of God of course.
If you are the religious type who believes that only someone with a theological degree can interpret scripture, and our job is to humbly receive it, this post is not for you. I believe that the Holy Scripture is given to all believers and the Holy Ghost, the teacher of all things (John 14:26) opens out the meaning of the word to us. That is why it is commanded that we rightly divide the word, (2Tim 2:15) it never says pastors or elders, you must rightly divide the word. Jesus called his apostles from all walks of life -Fishermen, tax collectors, Pharisees etc… if going to a religious school was that important, then it would have been a different group of people -probably other students who studied along with Paul who would have been chosen as apostles.
What is tithe and how many tithes are mentioned in the Bible?
- Tithe literally means a tenth, which computes to 1/10th or 10% of the produce of the land and of the flocks and herds in Israel in the land allotted to the 11 tribes who were the sons of Jacob. We have not counted the tribe of Levi as they were given no land.
- There are 3 tithes mentioned in the Bible:
- The first one is the tithe which everyone talks about and almost everyone wants to lay their paws on. ( Num 18:21 ) It was 10% of the produce of the land which the 11 tribes of Israel brought to the Levites from their fields, herds and flocks. The Levites in turn had to set aside 10% of the best of the tithes for the Aaronic priesthood. This was because none of them were given any land and they were busy serving at the temple doing various duties.
- The second tithe, also known as the tithe of the feasts, seems to be like some sort of a CD (cumulative deposit) scheme for the tribes to have a vacation or spiritual retreat. Once a year they would go to an appointed place and freak out in the presence of the Lord. (Deut 14:22-26) Have you ever had your pastor talk about this tithe? Even if they did, they would have probably stopped at verse 25 🙂 God is not as boring as people would make him out to be! The Levites were also invited to be part of this feast.
- The third tithe was given once in 3 years.It was for the poor, the fatherless, the widows and for strangers. ( Deut 14:28-29 ). Once again the Levites were part of the recipients. This shows God’s concern for strangers, orphans and struggling widows and functioned much like social security.
- Tithes were not paid in currency, but were the fruit of the ground and of the flocks and herds. Its primary purpose was to feed those who were not given land and were poor or marginalized. If people made money by blacksmithing, handicrafts, sale of other stuff or some other means, it is likely that they did not have to tithe on the money they received as there is no evidence of that in scripture. In Mathew 23:23, Jesus says, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone.” I believe that God left the description of the tithe on purpose.. so… tithing was not based on income.
- Tithes were obviously paid only by the Jews and not the Gentiles. Most of us are from the gentiles right?
- Tithes ended with the Old testament. I suppose they ended for the Jews as well when the temple was destroyed. The Church is not a replacement for the temple! The Word says that we (believers) are the temple of God! 2Cor 6:16
Some facts about Old Testament Tithing:
- Abraham never tithed on his own personal property or livestock. He actually tithed from the spoils of war. Heb 7:4
- Jacob wouldn’t tithe until God blessed him first and there is no evidence whether he kept his word or whom he gave his tithe to. Gen 28:20-22
- Only Levite priests could collect tithes, and there are no Levite priests today. Pastors did not replace the Levites, we did!
- Only food and livestock from the land were tithable.
- Money was never a tithable commodity. They had money i.e income, but tithes did not apply to that. The new testament does however write about Jesus noticing a widow’s offering – sacrificially putting in two small denomination coins into the treasury which was all she had. [ Luke 21:1-4 ] Jesus said that she had put in more than the rich who put in money out of their excess which once again underlines that giving is a heart thing and that God looks at the heart and not at percentages.
- Christian converts were never asked to tithe anything to the Church.
- Tithing in the Church first appears centuries after completion of the Bible. This is why we don’t see evidence of it being practiced by the 1st century church.
- When Jesus told the pharisees that they ought to have done the former without neglecting the latter, (Matthew 23:23) He was obviously doing so because they were under the law and not under grace and therefore it sets no precedent for continued tithing in the new testament.
God has always been strongly opposed to the exploitation of the poor and marginalised. Is the church sensitive to this? When they demand a tithe they are being oppressive and tying a burden of guilt around the necks of their congregations.
A payout of 10% of the income of a poor person and 10% of the income of that of a rich man affects the poor man more than it does the rich man. The rich will hardly feel the pinch. Once again, even in case of equal income between two people who pay their “tithe”, it will pinch large families struggling on a single wage to raise several children and living in rented accommodation more than say a young single person living with his parents or in his own house.
This sort of inequality and bias cannot be from God. In fact government taxes are more just in this regard as the percentage of tax varies with income even exempts earners earning below a certain limit.
If this weren’t good enough, some preachers will preach that as new covenant people we should give more than 10%. [ Because our righteousness should exceed that of the Pharisees 🙂 ] When we were younger, we used to hear stories (probably propaganda) of some multinational company owner who would tithe 90% of his income. I don’t know if it is a fact, but although we didn’t realise it at that time, his leftover 10% was probably enough to meet all his needs. It is not that the rich don’t give with the right attitude, God does bless rich people too when their hearts are right with Him. Job was a prime example. It is just that such statements are used like pep talk to make you feel guilty and give more because your level of giving is lesser than the alleged amount that someone else gave. This is precisely why Jesus said that one hand should not know what the other hand is doing. If the company owner in the example was giving in the right way, no one should have known about it !
We do need to give for the needs of the Church ministry and missionaries and the poor. Give as the Lord burdens you, give cheerfully and give anonymously. Matthew 6:3 Some of the believers in the first century sold everything they had and God blessed them, yet it was a personal choice. Acts 2:45 No wonder Peter tells Ananias,” wasn’t all of the money yours?” Acts 5:1-4 He never says “wasn’t 90% of the money yours?” Yet, I’ve been to churches where they will teach that you don’t own 10% of your income and that it belongs to God. Some have even allegorized when they found out that some sheep were sending part of their tithe to another church they were burdened about that you cannot eat in a restaurant and pay in another so all your money should come to us.
So I reiterate, Give as the Lord places on your heart. Give out of a cheerful heart. Give in secret. Mathew 6:3-4 Don’t worry about percentages. Remember the widows mite Mark 12:42-44 and remind yourself that God looks at the heart and attitude and not at the amount. Don’t forget the poor, the marginalised and the needy. Don’t forget those who minister God’s word either but give sensibly and ask the Lord where you should give. Don’t end up giving to someone who already has too much just because they are familiar or you have been giving regularly to them or to those acting needy. People can get very good at that game. There is also a buildup of expectation when you give regularly, so you might feel pressured to continue giving even after the need or purpose or your ability to give has passed. This is where giving anonymously is a blessing as grabby people often get offended when you stop giving and will spiritualize the whole thing showing you in bad light.
So don’t be burdened by the traditions of men. It is unfortunate that the church has chosen to keep its flock burdened under such yokes when the purpose of Christ was to set us free. However, the truth in scripture does set us free 🙂 So read your Bibles regularly and like the Bereans, Acts 17:10-11 Check everything that is preached to you, or you might end up being deceived! Remember, the wolf doesn’t come to bless the sheep. It is a predatory animal. If your church is preying on you it is no better than a hired hand. The time is also coming when the false church will turn against the true church -the true body of believers, so don’t give for dumb reasons like adding a marble flooring to the church when the old flooring was good enough or for celebrations which are meaningless. The church my mother went to burnt up Rs 100,000 in fireworks on completing 100 years.
If pastors knowingly insist that we pay a tithe, we might as well as get ourselves circumcised and reinstate the sacrifices as well. Unfortunately they are stuck in a rut because the church is their bread and butter, if they try to oppose tradition, they might lose favour both with the congregation, their overseers and their peers. Very few people have the guts to do this, so it is better to work and minister like Paul did so no one has any hold on you.
On a side note, in our church in Bombay, we decided not to pass the bag and kept a freewill offering box to a side. We never ran short. The church should learn to trust God for their needs like their congregation and not take the shortcut of blackmail by placing burdens on their congregations often to live at a higher standard than most of their congregation.
May God bless pastors and churches who have been doing the right things with their congregation and may their tribe abound, even in these last days when there are so many ravening wolves romping around in sheep’s clothing and sitting on golden toilet seats and traveling in private jets.
I do have friends who are good pastors who have done their theological studies and know the Lord too. Unfortunately many of the others get stuck in a rut or come back with ready made doctrines which are not found in the word although quite popular. Many also look down upon other Christian workers who are not trained like them forgetting that many of the stalwarts of old were trained only by the Holy Ghost as promised in scripture. It is a great blessing though to know the underlying meanings of the words in the original languages, but nowadays there are enough online resources and study materials which were not available before. All you need is a bit of God given discernment which is easy to ask and receive from God. Luke 11:11-13
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