In this series we are reviewing various concepts involved in stewardship. Last time we talked about motivation and the role it plays in our giving. Today I would like to talk about tithing and clear up some misconceptions we may have about this action and see what the New Testament says about giving.
Last week the point was why we give, this week the lesson deals more with how we give.
Tithing in the Old Testament
Many denominations use the word "tithing" when they refer to their giving of money to the church. This word refers to the Old Testament practice of giving one tenth of their produce and cattle to support the priests and Levites. The word "tithe" literally means one tenth and so tithing is the practice of giving a one tenth share of something.
This practice is older than the Law of Moses and was done by many nations long before it was introduced into Jewish culture. For example, in Genesis 14:17-20 the various pagan kings gave Abraham one tenth of their spoils for having saved their people.
When the Law was given by Moses this concept was included as a way of supporting the Levites: In Joshua 13-21, Joshua divides the land and assigns each tribe their portion. The Levites had no land and were given the responsibility to care for the tent of meeting and later, the temple. Their livelihood came in the form of the one tenth given by the nation. The priests also lived in this way. They received one tenth of what the Levites had received.
The people were instructed to count out one tenth of their crops, fruit and herds and give it to the Levites, this was done three times a year. Later on the over zealous scribes and Pharisees added complex rules that said that even seasonings had to be tithed, even down to stalks and leaves (but this was human law, not Mosaic Law). The Pharisees said that everything that was eaten, watched over and grown had to be tithed. This, of course, is the type of excess that Jesus accused them of when He said, "You tithe mint, dill and cumin, but ignore the mightier matters of the Law..."
"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others.
- Matthew 23:23
Because the Jews gave significant meaning to different numbers, is the reason why one tenth or 10% was an important symbolic portion to give to the Lord. The number ten represented wholeness, fulfillment, ripeness, readiness, completeness. To give 10% was a mature, complete, full amount to offer to the Lord. This represented the idea that your gift, your thanks, your offering was itself complete, mature, whole.
The Meaning of the Gift in the Old Testament
The fact that they gave the first 10% portion of their crops, fruit, herds (represented their wealth) was done to signify an important idea. In Exodus 19:5 God say that, "For all the earth is mine."
Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine;
- Exodus 19:5
We did not earn anything, we have no just right to use anything because it all belongs to God. The point of giving the first 10% to God was a way of signifying that everything we have belongs to God and the portion given is a way of acknowledging this. The Jews understood that by giving the first full portion (10%) to God acknowledging His ownership, God was permitting and blessing them in the use and disposal of the other 90%. The point was that by rights all the produce and herds should have been given to God because it rightfully belonged to Him, but by giving Him the first full portion (10% was determined a full portion in order to eliminate doubt as to what a proper and acceptable portion was supposed to be; some gave more, some gave less) by giving the first 10%, God gave back the remaining 90% and blessed its use.
Tithing in the New Testament
There are many religious groups and denominations who have carried over the idea of tithing into the present time. There are even some Churches of Christ who carry on this practice. They may be well meaning but they have no New Testament basis to do so. The concepts of giving, giving regularly, generously, even sacrificially have all been carried over from the Old Testament to the New Testament, but the requirement that each individual's acceptable portion must be 10% has not.
Some people confuse pledging and tithing:
- Pledging is when a member examines his resources and pledges/promises to provide the church a certain amount of money over a period of time. Of course this commitment is taken with the knowledge that keeping the commitment is based on whether or not the Lord will continue to provide life and resources. If the Lord is willing, a certain amount will be given over a certain period of time. This type of giving helps the person and the church plan their work and financial commitments over a period of time. Some are against pledging because they do not see it in the New Testament. In I Corinthians 16:2 Paul tells them to prepare and set aside an amount, this is a form of pledging. Some are against pledge cards but again, this is just another way of organizing our giving and our work and spending.
- Tithing on the other hand, is a requirement that each person must give a certain amount to the Lord. There is no choice, not to do so is a sin. Tithing is easier and more profitable for the budget but cannot be supported by any scripture, example or inference in the New Testament.
There is still giving in the New Testament, but the way we give and some of the reasons are different.
New Testament Teaching on Giving
As far as "how" one could give, the New Testament has a much more simplified approach to the actual giving itself. I Corinthians 16:2 teaches us the "how to" of New Testament giving:
On the first day of every week each one of you is to put aside and save, as he may prosper, so that no collections be made when I come.
- I Corinthians 16:2
- We give regularly (first day of the week): The church provides a convenient time for monies to be collected during weekly worship period on Sunday. Paul is speaking about a special offering he was collecting for the saints in Jerusalem but in so doing provides the only information we have concerning the "method" used to collect funds in the church. One instruction and example in the Bible is enough however to guide our actions, we do not need to be told ten times.
- Each one gives. Every single member is responsible for giving. There is no such thing as a Christian who feels that he or she is not included in this process. If you have income of any kind, on the first day of each week, you should be giving to the Lord.
- Each person prepares his or her offering. No one tells you what to give. No one dictates the amount, this is your decision. However, Paul says that it is not a last minute thing, an afterthought. Each person should come with the intention of giving and giving an amount that has been thought about and prepared in advance.
- Give according to what you have received. In the Old Testament the Law said 10% of your harvest and your herds in good times and bad. They were limited in a way because 10% of a little is not a lot, and when you have a lot, 10% is not much for you to give. In the New Testament, Jesus liberates us to give generously at all times by tying our giving to our appreciation of what we have. A poor man may feel he is truly blessed because of his family and good health and wants to give the Lord a generous portion of what little he owns to show his gratitude, an amount which may be a lot proportionally. A rich man is free to give in excess of 10% so that his giving is meaningful and sacrificial (he feels it). 10% would be the legal amount but for the rich it would not be a sacrificial amount. This also helps us deal with the ups and downs of life. Some years 25% of our wealth is given and we still have enough left to live on. When disaster happens maybe 5% is the most we can do based on what we have. The New Testament liberates us to grow in good times and bad with regards to our giving.
The rest of this passage shows that in the matter of money great care was given that the collection was well accounted for by several in the congregation and that it is was spent on specific needs of the church for ministry (we see in Acts - to evangelize, to provide for the poor, widows etc, to enable the work of the ministers).
In addition to this Jesus taught that when it came to giving, discretion should be to order of the day, not a time for a show.
But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,
- Matthew 6:3
There are other teachings about giving as far as attitude and the benefits of giving but today I wanted to look at the "how to" of giving:
- On the first day
- Each person
- A prepared amount
- Tied to our gratitude and wealth, not Law
So in the New Testament church, when it comes to the giving of money we see several concrete teachings about this subject. As Christians we follow and do what we have been taught and eliminate all other things. For example, why we do not have bake sales or raffles to make money. Not because the New Testament says these things are sinful, but because the New Testament gives us clear teachings and commands about what we ought to be doing in this area of our lives. When the Bible tells us what and how to do something, this eliminates all other options.
Every week, each of us contributes a portion of our means according to our wealth. We give it freely and cheerfully and once given it is the responsibility of the church to use it wisely for the work of the Lord.