10% Tithe

We had a long lecture on tithing in church – a presermon pretty much, and it made me sad because the Holy Spirit does such a better job of convicting people than other people do. Even people who have been personally convicted to do something different. So yeah, it turned into a big lecture and we were all sitting captive to a long, tithy rant.
BUT having stumbled across a passage where Jacob vows to give God a tenth of everything God gives him (there are some conditions he makes too), I got intrigued about where this 10% figure comes from and how important it is for me as a Christian today to worry about all the math. I have also heard/read from different sources that tithing is no longer required, has been misinterpreted and abused by modern church leaders to take peoples’ money, is paramount to the pre-reformation sale of indulgences etc.

It is true that tithing does not appear in the New Testament, although there are references to offerings that congregations make to other congregations or people in need. From the passages in the OT, it seems clear that tithing is a cultural indicator of submission to lordship. Quick summary:

  • Jacob vows to give the LORD a tenth of what he owns if he watches over him, provides for him, and brings him safely back to his father’s land (Genesis 28:20-22)

This is the passage that I came across that got me intrigued about what tithing really means

  • In Leviticus 27:30-33 there are instructions to give a tenth of produce and animals to God
  • Genesis 14:18-20 says Abraham gave Melchizedek a tenth of everything (people and goods)
  • In 1 Samuel 8:15, 17, Samuel warns the people that if they want a king like the other nations, he will take a tenth of their produce and flocks

So it seems to me that this whole 10% tithe thing comes from God’s requirement of his people to show that he is their ruler. The anti-tithing articles that I’ve read have argued along the lines that Jesus has fully redeemed us, so we don’t need to “buy” our salvation by tithing any more. That argument misses the point; tithing was never about buying salvation or paying God off to get blessings. Tithing is a sign of obedience.

It is true that in the New Testament, tithing (per se) is not addressed. Unfortunately for those who want off the hook from giving money, time, and stuff to churches, charities, and people who need it, the New Testament model is for believers to have “everything in common“. So technically, although we do not HAVE to give 10%, our submission to Jesus above all else means we’ve agreed that God is allowed to ask us for anything.
Even everything.

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Susan 15-04-2011, 18:03

Well written! I love the honesty, balance and clarity you bring to your writing as you let your readers in on how you have worked through the issues. You have a gift for making your readers feel included so that we can learn from you without feeling cornered or 'preached to' at all. It's like we've spent some very enjoyable time together… I really like that!

Gary 16-04-2011, 12:40

The ONLY people in the Old Testament that were commanded to tithe were those who INHERITED THE PROMISED LAND WITH EVERYTHING ON IT. They got the land, house, animals, crops, etc. ALL FREE AND CLEAR. No mortgage payment or rent to pay. And THEY were commanded to tithe on the crops and animals and take it to the Levites who INHERITED the tithe INSTEAD OF the promised land with everything on it. No one else tithed. Wage earners did not tithe. Jesus didn’t tithe. Paul didn’t tithe. Peter didn’t tithe.

The New Testament teaches generous, sacrificial giving, from the heart, according to our means. For some, $1 might be a sacrifice, while for others, even giving 50% of their income might not induce a sacrifice. In the Old Testament, ONLY the farmers tithed, and it was equal percentage (a tenth). The New Testament teaches the principle of equal sacrifice instead of equal percentage. Equal sacrifice is much harder to achieve, if not impossible, than giving ten percent.

Alyssa 16-04-2011, 16:10

Thanks for your comment Gary,
I agree with you that Christians should not simply import the OT practice of tithing to our modern churches (since 10% of the crops and animals produced by my church’s members would probably amount to a couple handfuls of fresh herbs and maybe a puppy), and it is often handled very clumsily by church leaders who are trying to get more money, not to disciple people in the gospel.

However, as someone who struggles to be generous with what I have, the discipline of giving to my church is a concrete way for me to remember that God has my allegiance first and foremost, and that HE is the one I rely on to meet my needs.

I am not sure what I think of the idea that the NT teaches equal sacrifice instead of equal percentage. After all, what do I “sacrifice” by giving money to my church compared to Christians who are abused or martyred for their faith? Paul says he learned to be content in every situation, facing abundance and need, and in my walk with God there have been different levels of sacrifice he has called me to at different times. I agree with you that the ideal we should strive for is generous and sacrificial giving from the heart, and that this is an issue worth wrestling over with God!


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