Tithing is a controversial topic for some.
In the Old Testament, a “tithe” is usually thought of as giving 10%, of the produce of your land: crops, fruits, herds and flocks, but not your actual land, to the Levites and/or the poor among you.
How the Old Testament concept of tithing relates to modern fiat money is unclear. Does a tithe only apply to income, but not to hard assets? If that is true, then the rich man with assets like: like works of art, jewelry, land, companies, stocks, and bonds, is in a favored position over of the working man, who only receives an hourly wage.
Assuming that tithing applies to income, does this mean 10% of Gross Earnings or Net Earnings? Must we give 10% each week of our income, even if we only get paid on a monthly basis? If we support missionaries, is that amount included in the “tithe” or is that over and above what we give to the local church? What about gratuitous one time gifts to street beggars and poor people?
The Old Testament:
In the Old Testament, in the Law of Moses, we read about three tithes:
Levitical Tithe – 1/10 – Annually – to the Levites, who in turn gave 1/10 to the Priests Lev 27:30-33, Num 18:21-29
Festival Tithe – 1/10 – Annually – Dt 12:1-19, 14:22-26
Poor Tithe – 1/10 – Every Three Year – to the poor – Dr. 14:28-29, 26:12-13
All of which adds up to as much as 23 1/3% per year over a three-year period-of-time. Scholars differ on whether these three references to “tithing” in the Old Testament amount to one or three separate tithes. But with an honest straight forward reading of these texts, it is hard not to find at least two “separate” tithes. As a result, any unbiased reader will agree that Old Testament “tithing” under the Law of Moses really amounted to “more” than 10% of giving annually.
An interesting question that is never asked, what did people in the Old Testament give during the Sabbath Year and the Year of Jubilee? No crops or fruits were grown during those years. Does that mean only the shepherds with herds and flocks were tithing?
The New Testament:
Jesus does not directly address whether the “Practice of Tithing,” that is giving 10% to 23 1/3% of your crops, fruit, herds and flocks to the Levites and/or to the poor, should be continued after the resurrection. But if this aspect of the Old Testament Law is still to be observed, Jesus certainly did not address the question whether the “local church” substitutes for “the Levites and the poor,” as the recipients of the “tithe.” Such an assumption is a convenient leap of logic, but perhaps not one warranted from the text.
The Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 struggled with whether the requirement of circumcision under the Law of Moses would also be required of Gentile Believers. This Council of Elders, Leaders, and Apostles of the early church decided that they would not require Gentile Believers to observe the Law of Moses, except that Gentiles should abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from meat of strangled animals and from blood. Arguably the Old Testament covenant requirement for “tithing” is included in the Law of Moses and is, therefore, not required of Gentile Believers under the ruling of the Jerusalem Council.
The Apostle Paul talked about giving in general. In 2 Cor. 9:7, Paul states: Every man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.
If we observe the teaching of the New Testament, the amount of giving is left to each Follower-of-Jesus. 2 Cor. 9:7. Clearly, the Lord does not want, what you don’t want to give. Your local church of course may be of a different opinion. Yes, we have a Biblical obligation to support those in full-time ministry over us. Yes, we have a moral and perhaps legal obligation to support the bricks, mortar, leases, and expenses of our local church. The best advice we can give is that a Follower-of-Jesus should give to the Lord, whatever that means, at least until it hurts. By this we mean, that each person is in a different position financially, and each person should give sacrificially, however that figure is finally accounted or measured.
The Response of the Romans 14 Christian
Some believers are ardent, that if giving is left up to each believer (and deep down, they don’t believe that it is), then 10% (of gross earnings or net earnings or whatever figure they are working with) is a “reasonable” measurement of what is appropriate giving. They argue or imply that giving anything less than 10% is an indication of selfishness and greed. But they say little or nothing at all about giving “more” than 10%.
Thoughts for the Slaves-of-God
As we discussed in the tab on Moral Behavior, some believers need “Do’s and Don’ts.” They are “weak” Christians, as Paul describes in Romans 14. Just because someone is old, is a pastor, or has been a “Christian” for many years, doesn’t mean that they are not “weak” Christians on this issue, as Paul describes in Romans 14. In spite of learning and experience, many do not understand and apply Biblical principles, instead they follow rules, and if there is no rule, they will make one up. Okay 10% is good for them. On disputable matters, we give “weak” Christians whatever is good for them.
We, however, are fully convinced that God will honor any giving that we give that is not reluctant or under compulsion, but what comes from a cheerful heart. The Lord also calls us to sacrificial giving. The issue is not the percent of our giving, but what it “costs” us to give. If it costs us nothing, then we gave nothing. By way of example, the widow gave two mites, but is was all that she had, and she was commended for it. Luke 21:1-4. In contrast, Jesus pointed out that the rich men gave far more to the Levites at the Temple, but the rich men gave out of their excess, and so their giving cost them little, and accordingly, their giving was not commended.
Strive to be a strong Christian when it comes to supporting your local church, missionaries, and mission opportunities, and do not look down on the weak brothers and sisters who are stuck on 10% (of something).