In the modern church there are many questions surrounding the topic and teaching of the tithe and offering. Some suggest that it is an Old Testament practice and does not apply to the church today, others believe and teach that, unless you are faithful in the practice of tithes and offerings, you forfeit God’s blessings in your life. Still others believe that the tithe can be applied to anything and is not just monetary. So how does one come to a solid doctrinal understanding of this biblical command and practice? To start, we must go back to its origin.
The tithe is not mentioned until the Law was given to Moses, but the offering was first initiated in the very beginning with Adam and Eve’s two sons Cain and Abel (Genesis 4:1-5). Cain was an agriculturalist and Abel was a herdsman. One day, they each decided to bring before God an offering from his own labor. Cain brought some of the fruit from the ground that he farmed, and Abel brought the first of the flock that he shepherded. In the account we have, God accepted Abel’s offering, but not Cain’s. Why is this so? His acceptance and rejection was based on what was given: Abel gave the firstlings of his flock while Cain brought what was left of his crop. It wasn’t in the act of offering that God’s position of priority was made evident, it was in what was offered. The prominence of God was made evident in that Abel gave the first and the best while Cain gave what was left. This means that Cain placed himself and his family as priority over God, while Abel acknowledged God as having first place. The practice of offerings continued throughout the history of the Hebrew people and into the early church. I will revisit this practice as it relates to the early church later in this article.
The tithe, however, was first mentioned as a command in Leviticus 27:30, “‘Thus all the tithe of the land, of the seed of the land or of the fruit of the tree, is the Lord’s; it is holy to the Lord.” So the question should be asked: why did God give the command to tithe? And, what is the tithe? According to the definition, a person should tithe one tenth of their income. So, now to address the question: why tithe? The tithe was a command given to the Hebrew people to serve as God’s inheritance to the tribe of Levi. The tribe of Levi was the tribe from among the twelve tribes of Israel chosen to serve as Priests to the Lord. As a result, they were given no portion of the land God had promised Israel; instead, the people of Israel were to offer them the first of all they produced as God’s portion to the Levites, “Then the Lord said to Aaron, “You shall have no inheritance in their land nor own any portion among them; I am your portion and your inheritance among the sons of Israel. “To the sons of Levi, behold, I have given all the tithe in Israel for an inheritance, in return for their service which they perform, the service of the tent of meeting” (Numbers 18:20-21).
So the tithe and offering mentioned in Numbers chapter 18 was declared by God as holy unto Him and reserved as the inheritance of those He had chosen and set apart to serve Him as priests for all the people of Israel. As a result of His people’s obedience to Him in the matter, He promised to increase their produce and multiply their wealth on all the earth. But, if they were not obedient in the matter as He commanded He would cause their wealth to dry up and be devoured by famine and pestilence, “Will a man rob God? Yet you are robbing Me! But you say, ‘How have we robbed You?’ In tithes and offerings. You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing Me, the whole nation of you! Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in My house, and test Me now in this,” says the Lord of hosts, “if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you a blessing until it overflows. Then I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it will not destroy the fruits of the ground; nor will your vine in the field cast its grapes,” says the Lord of hosts. “All the nations will call you blessed, for you shall be a delightful land,” says the Lord of hosts” (Malachi 3:8-12).
God has always intended to use His people to supply His house so that the ministry of God would continue out of our ministry to Him. Whenever the people of God failed to make His house a priority then they removed themselves from the position of His priority. God desired that His people prosper, but He instituted a means to be sure that, in the midst of their prosperity, their focus never turned from Him to their wealth or their needs, and become reliant on their wealth as their means rather than Him, “In the wilderness He fed you manna which your fathers did not know, that He might humble you and that He might test you, to do good for you in the end. Otherwise, you may say in your heart, ‘My power and the strength of my hand made me this wealth.’ But you shall remember the Lord your God, for it is He who is giving you power to make wealth, that He may confirm His covenant which He swore to your fathers, as it is this day” (Deuteronomy 8:16-18).
So how does what we know about the tithe and the offering in the Old Testament apply to a present day church or believer? After all, we are not God’s nation, nor do we have a tribe of priests who serve God like they did. Or do we? Paul wrote in Romans 9:6-8, “But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel; nor are they all children because they are Abraham’sdescendants, but: “through Isaac your descendants will be named.” That is, it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded asdescendants.” What Paul is conveying to the converts of Rome is that through Jesus Christ who was born from the lineage of Isaac the descendants of Abraham would be named and thus the promises of God would belong. The nation of Israel would no longer be a nation regarded in the flesh, but a nation born out of Christ Jesus. God’s nation (Israel) today is the church,“For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’sdescendants, heirs according to promise.” (Galatians 3:26-29) “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (1Peter 2:9-10).
So, now we understand that God does have a nation on the earth today, and that nation is comprised of all those whose faith is in Jesus Christ. So, what about the tithe and the offering? Does this practice and command of an Old Testament law still apply to who God considers His nation today? We see very little by way of teaching of the tithe, and even the mention of it throughout the New Testament scripture is scarce. Some have taken that to mean that the tithe is no longer a valid practice by the church. Nowhere in the epistles of the Apostles do we see them instructing the church with regard to the tithe. So should we agree with the foregone conclusion that the tithe is not necessary in the present day church? One of the reasons we see little taught on the tithe is due to the fact that, among the early church disciples, the tithe was an ongoing practice because the church was birthed in Jerusalem first among Jews who carried on the practice because of their lineage. We also see among the gentile believers a supernatural shift in their hearts to want to give and provide what they had to the needs of the church. Paul brings attention to this in several of his letters and also draws the connection to God prospering those with even greater resources that applied this practice in their life, “Now this I say, he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sowsbountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed… Now He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness; you will be enriched in everything for all liberality, which through us is producing thanksgiving to God. For the ministry of this service is not only fully supplying the needs of the saints, but is also overflowing through many thanksgivings to God” (2Corinthians 9:6-8, 10-12). Paul also address the question of who the church should take care of, and draws a connecting dot from the Old Testament Priests to those who serve the church today when he wrote, “Do you not know that those who perform sacred services eat the food of the temple, and those who attend regularly to the altar have their share from the altar? So also the Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel” (1Corinthians 9:13-14).
So, in this, we discover the following: God does have a nation in the earth today and that nation is called the Church, and Paul clearly draws a connecting dot between the practice of tithe as the inheritance of the Levites to the church and those who serve it with the gospel. If the promises of God concerning the seed of Abraham are now promised to the seed of Abraham by faith rather than flesh, then we should understand that what God said to His people of old stands as statues He desires us to walk in today. His house may not be made of brick and mortar, but it is built of living stones (1Peter 2:5). The “living stones” refer to all those whose faith remains in Jesus Christ. And though we may not have an elected tribe of Priests who serve God on our behalf, we have those called by God to serve us His house on His behalf, “And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11-13). Our conclusion should stand that tithe (the first tenth of our labor/produce) belongs to God, and the offering (what we have decided in our heart to give beyond the tithe) is a statute and practice that is still relevant in the church today, one that God will bless beyond our measure to contain if we apply ourselves in obedience to Him.
What can the church accomplish if we tithed as God has commanded? Research has shown that if everyone who claims to be a believer were to increase their giving to a minimum of 10% there would be an additional $165 billion for churches to use and distribute. What would be the global impact of such an increase in the church?
- $25 billion could relieve global hunger, starvation and deaths from preventable diseases in five years.
- $12 billion could eliminate illiteracy in five years.
- $15 billion could solve the world’s water and sanitation issues, specifically at places in the world where 1 billion people live on less than $1 per day.
- $1 billion could fully fund all overseas mission work.
- $100 – $110 billion would still be left over for additional ministry expansion.
The fact is that in the modern church Tithers make up only 10-25 percent of normal congregation. Only 5 percent of the U.S. tithes, with 80 percent of Americans only giving 2 percent of their income. And Christians are only giving at 2.5 percent per captia, while during the Great Depression they gave at a 3.3 percent rate. (All stats provided by “Relevant Magazine”). When God’s people neglect His house for the amenities of their own, then God will lift His hand of provision and protection from our home. ““This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies says: The people are saying, ‘The time has not yet come to rebuild the house of the Lord.’” Then the Lord sent this message through the prophet Haggai: “Why are you living in luxurious houses while my house lies in ruins? This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies says: Look at what’s happening to you! You have planted much but harvest little. You eat but are not satisfied. You drink but are still thirsty. You put on clothes but cannot keep warm. Your wages disappear as though you were putting them in pockets filled with holes!… You hoped for rich harvests, but they were poor. And when you brought your harvest home, I blew it away. Why? Because my house lies in ruins, says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, while all of you are busy building your own fine houses. It’s because of you that the heavens withhold the dew and the earth produces no crops. I have called for a drought on your fields and hills—a drought to wither the grain and grapes and olive trees and all your other crops, a drought to starve you and your livestock and to ruin everything you have worked so hard to get.” (Haggai 1:2-6, 9-11)
God gives us the challenge to test Him in the area of His blessing our obedience to our giving. “Bring all the tithes into the storehouse so there will be enough food in my Temple. If you do,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, “I will open the windows of heaven for you. I will pour out a blessing so great you won’t have enough room to take it in! Try it! Put me to the test!” (Malachi 3:10). Today accept the challenge God has given you to give, so that in return He accepts your challenge for Him to bless you.