This is a sensitive subject in the church and there are many people who think we need or don’t need to tithe. I believe these differences are not of extreme importance, and should not hinder our faith or the way we walk with one another.
Romans 14:1 “Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters…”
The tithe is a disputable area in the scriptures. Few verses talk about it, but it is something engrained into our christian culture. Churches need a source of funding and the tithe fits that need very well. So why am I writing this article? Do I have a problem with that?
No, not really. The new testament encourages believers to give wholeheartedly especially to the ministry of the word and promises a reward for that (1 Corinthians 9:14 | Galatians 6:6 | Philippians 4:16-17 | Luke 6:38 | 2 Corinthians 9:10-13). It also encourages us to support ministers if they ask for it. However Paul tells us to give as we are willing and able, not under compulsion (2 Corinthians 9:7). He never calls this a tithe and does not suggest any curse for failing to give.
But what is unwholesome is when we limit God to our compulsory tithe. When we think we are missing God’s blessing because of not tithing or being afraid that if we stop tithing we will come under curse. Every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of Christ we have an obligation to resist (2 Corinthians 10:5).
I understand that a lot of people tithe to show their appreciation for God providing for them. It is good to show appreciation to God even if that means giving away money. However, if you call it a tithe then you also infer a curse for not tithing. Such a system has the opportunity to become a dead work (a useless ritual) something we depend on besides Jesus.
What was the purpose of the tithe?
The tithe was part of the law (Deuteronomy 12:11, Deuteronomy 14:22). It was a substitute to the Levitical priests who didn’t inherit a portion of the promise land like the other tribes did. It was also set aside to help the widows and orphans and the poor and every third year they were instructed to bring the Levites and the poor in for a feast using the money of the tithe.
But we know that when God’s people did not tithe, God would curse their land (Malachi 3:8-12). We have probably all heard that passage at least once in church.
Some interesting facts about that passage: opening the windows of heaven was an expression in that day for receiving rain for their crops (Deuteronomy 28:12). Also, God may not have been specifically angry with the people for not tithing, but instead upset at the priests for abusing the use of it (Malachi 2:1-4).
Christ redeemed us from the curse
Now here’s the turning point.
Galatians 3:13-14 “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.” He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.”
We established that the tithe was part of the law. All curses of the law were removed by the sacrifice of Christ! Let’s look carefully at one of the symbols in Christ’s crucifixion.
John 19:2 “The soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head.”
What does this remind you of? Remember Adam’s curse? I believe Christ placed the curse of the ground on his own head!
The rest of the verse shows that the blessing given to Abraham would come upon us.
Genesis 26:12-14 “And Isaac [Abraham’s descendant] sowed in that land and reaped in the same year a hundredfold. The Lord blessed him, and the man became rich, and gained more and more until he became very wealthy. He had possessions of flocks and herds and many servants, so that the Philistines envied him.”
This blessing was given without regard to the tithe (Galatians 3:18). When the law came the same blessing was locked up under man’s obedience (Deuteronomy 28:8-12 | Galatians 3:10). But in Jesus Christ we have received this inheritance and blessing from God on the basis of faith.
Galatians 2:16 “Yet we know that a person is made right with God by faith in Jesus Christ, not by obeying the law. And we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we might be made right with God because of our faith in Christ, not because we have obeyed the law. For no one will ever be made right with God by obeying the law.”
Galatians 3:9 “So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.”
Ephesians 1:11 ” In him we have obtained an inheritance.”
So does the believer need to tithe?
Now, you will have a very hard time finding a scripture in the new testament that talks about tithing. However there is one in Hebrews, which I want to point to.
Hebrews 7:4-12 “Just think how great he was: Even the patriarch Abraham gave him a tenth of the plunder! Now the law requires the descendants of Levi who become priests to collect a tenth from the people—that is, from their fellow Israelites—even though they also are descended from Abraham. This man, however, did not trace his descent from Levi, yet he collected a tenth from Abraham and blessed him who had the promises. And without doubt the lesser is blessed by the greater. In the one case, the tenth is collected by people who die; but in the other case, by him who is declared to be living. One might even say that Levi, who collects the tenth, paid the tenth through Abraham, because when Melchizedek met Abraham, Levi was still in the body of his ancestor. If perfection could have been attained through the Levitical priesthood—and indeed the law given to the people established that priesthood—why was there still need for another priest to come, one in the order of Melchizedek, not in the order of Aaron? For when the priesthood is changed, the law must be changed also.“
You see in order to have a tithe, you must have a levitical priesthood to tithe to. But scripture says that perfection could not come through that priesthood and now a new priesthood has come which demands a change in the law. The same law that demands tithes. Shortly after he says,
Hebrews 7:18-19 “The former regulation is set aside because it was weak and useless (for the law made nothing perfect), and a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God.”
The law that required priests to descend from Aaron and also demanded a tithe has been shifted and now there must be a change in the law because we have a new priest under a new covenant. Now I could give you many verses on how the believer is no longer under the law, but one verse can say the same as many.
Romans 10:4 “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.”
Tithing is not a requirement of faith, it is an obligation of the law. A law we are no longer under. Just like animal sacrifices are useless to remove sins that have already been removed, the tithe is useless to remove a curse that’s already been removed! They are both dead works, useless rituals.
But Abraham tithed?
Some people argue that because Abraham was not under the law and he tithed that it means we must tithe as well. However, I suggest that this passage was meant to be read as a symbol of Christ, not as a law for believers. In fact he did many such symbols. Abraham offered up Isaac as a symbol of what God would do with Christ in offering his son up. Does this mean we need to sacrifice our children? I know its a useless and cruel argument.
Abraham was circumcised. Does this mean we need circumcision? Circumcision was a requirement of the law that Abraham also practiced before it was given. Paul makes it clear that circumcision is no longer necessary (Romans 2:29 | Colossians 2:11 | Galatians 5:2). Abraham’s circumcision was a symbol of what God would do in the hearts of the believers. It was not to be taken literally as a requirement of believers. Remember the dispute in Acts 15:1-11?
So what is the picture?
We know the old covenant scriptures speak in code about Christ.
John 5:39 “You search the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to me!“
The tithe is a picture of Christ.
Ezekiel 44:30 The best of all the firstfruits and of all your special gifts will belong to the priests. You are to give them the first portion of your ground meal so that a blessing may rest on your household.
Romans 11:16 “If the part of the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, then the whole batch is holy; if the root is holy, so are the branches.”
1 Corinthains 15:22 “For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him.”
Christ is our first-fruits. The first in the resurrection which has made the rest of the batch holy. As our representative to God, he makes all of us holy. Abraham tithed the first-fruits of his victory over the kings to rescue Lot. Christ is the first-fruits of his victory on earth, to bring many to eternal life in the resurrection. In a sense, Christ is humanity’s 10% to God. Abraham rescued Lot, but Christ rescued us. Now, I would love to learn more about these matters. I’m sure I don’t understand everything completely about what the symbol represented but this is my humble observance. Now, let’s look at some other reasons, why we should not use that passage as a means to continue tithing.
Abraham’s tithe doesn’t qualify us to tithe
To whom also Abraham gave a tenth part of all,…. Or tithes, as in Genesis 14:20. Philo the Jew (b) renders the Hebrew phrase, , just as the apostle does , “a tenth part of all”, or “out of all”; not of all that he brought back, as Lot’s goods, or the king of Sodom’s, or any others; only of the spoils of the enemy, as in Hebrews 7:4 which is no proof of any obligation on men to pay tithes now to any order of men; for this was a voluntary act, and not what any law obliged to; it was done but once, and not constantly, or every year; it was out of the spoils of the enemy, and not out of his own substance, or of the increase of the earth; nor was it for the maintenance of Melchizedek, as a priest, who also was a king, and was richly provided for; but to testify his gratitude to God, for the victory obtained, and his reverence of, and subjection to the priest of God.” (http://bible.cc/hebrews/7-2.htm).
We see then at Abraham’s single act of tithing does not need to be interpreted as an obligation for believers. It is permissible to find a principle of giving to God out of thankfulness voluntarily for the victories He gives you. But it is not an obligation.
Without neglecting the former
Now, another scripture that can be a turning point is in Matthew 23.
Matthew 23:23 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices–mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law–justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.”
Some will say, because Jesus said they should have been tithing we believers need to tithe. However, we must examine the purpose of this passage. Remember that Jesus was born under the law (Galatians 4:4). The new covenant was not in effect yet.
Hebrews 9:16-17 “For where a covenant is, there must of necessity be the death of the one who made it. For a covenant is valid only when men are dead, for it is never in force while the one who made it lives.”
Jesus often examined how the law should have been kept in order to hold the world accountable to God. For instance he says,
Matthew 5:33 “And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.”
Matthew 5:19 “So if you ignore the least commandment and teach others to do the same, you will be called the least in the Kingdom of Heaven. But anyone who obeys God’s laws and teaches them will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven.”
We know that a believer is saved through faith, and not by how many sins he has avoided (Titus 3:5-7). Jesus also assumed that the sabbath was still binding, he only deferred on how it was to be kept (Matthew 12:1-12). Paul later tells us that we no longer need to observe the sabbath (Colossians 2:16-17).
Why did he do this? Because the secrets of the kingdom had not been given to them yet (Matthew 13:10-17). He was showing the people their need for a savior by bringing out the convicting power of the law (Romans 3:19). Believers are no longer required to keep the law since they have been justified by faith.
John Long also writes more on this subject. When did the New Testament Begin?
So the picture of the tithe is the same thing. He is defining for them how the law should have been handled and is holding them accountable to God for their neglect. The purpose was not to make a new covenant ordinance, but to bring out the conviction of the old ordinance so their hearts might truly know their need for his mercy.
Believers are encouraged to give wholeheartedly and as they are willing and able, but are not required to keep the tithe. It is a command that was set aside with a new priesthood and Christ redeemed us from it’s curse. When Jesus spoke of the tithe he was not saying that the believer should continue to practice it but using it to show how miserably the Pharisees had failed to keep the law.
If after reading this you are still convinced tithing is important for the believer, I will honor you for it. You give to honor the Lord, but I do hope you are doing it out of the willingness out of your heart and not suffering fear of curse. It is ok to give gratefully out of your income to provide the church if that is in your heart to do.