Giving and “Tithing” — What’s the Bible say?

Published May 11th, 2016 by Dirk Waren

Give

The New Testament encourages believers to “grow in the grace of giving” just as we grow in faith, knowledge and love (2 Corinthians 8:7). When Paul requested an offering for needy Jerusalem Christians he said this to the Corinthian believers:

Consider this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. (7) Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. (8) And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things, at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.

2 Corinthians 9:6-8

The LORD only wants believers to give out of a giving heart that’s happy to give; He doesn’t want believers to give reluctantly or under compulsion—which includes being coerced by ministers preaching condemnation, aka ‘condo.’ There’s no condo in Paul’s request for funds for needy Christians, as chronicled in 2 Corinthians 8-9. He shares the need, encourages the believers to give, stresses that they’ll be rewarded, and then adds that they should only give what they decide to gladly give. This is the only way they’ll be blessed for their giving; otherwise they’d be giving from the flesh to earn salvation or whatever, which is what Hindus, Muslims and other religionists do.

Another thing we can get from this passage is that Paul didn’t view believers as pawns to fund ministry projects which Paul considered important, including altruistic ones. He respected and loved the believers where they were spiritually and permitted them to make up their own minds as led of the Spirit (or not led of the Spirit).

Generosity in Giving is a Matter of Wisdom

Generous giving is simply a matter of wisdom, as shown in the biblical book of wisdom:

(24) One person gives freely, yet gains even more;

another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty.

(25) A generous person will prosper;

whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.

Proverbs 11:24-25

The book of Proverbs isn’t the Mosaic law, it’s simply a collection of common sense wisdom. And, as you can see, generosity in giving is wise and encouraged. Those who do so will “gain even more,” “prosper”  and “be refreshed” whereas those who “withhold unduly” won’t.

‘What about the Tithe?’

The “New Testament” is the new covenant (i.e. contract) that God has with believers through Christ. Believers are not under the Mosaic law, as verified by several clear passages, including Galatians 5:18, Romans 6:14 and this one:

…we have been released from the law to live in the new way of the Spirit NOT in the old way of the written code.”

Romans 7:6

Believers are “released from the law” and serve “in the new way of the Spirit.” This includes being released from the Law’s command to pay tithes—which literally meant 10% of the Israelites’ crops and livestock—to support the Tabernacle and Temple (see Leviticus 27:30, Numbers 18:26, Deuteronomy 14:24 and 2 Chronicles 31:5). Actually, the Law required a few tithes:

  • The main tithe was for the Levites and the priests thereof (Leviticus 27:30), which was a tenth of produce “from the land” and not income (so carpenters, masons and fishermen didn’t pay it). God instructed that the Levites didn’t get any real estate and that the LORD himself would be their inheritance. Thus the tithe is given to the Levites as their salary for Temple work and teaching. This is the tithe that is commonly understood. 
  • The “second tithe” (according to the Mishnah) was for the use at the Temple during the feasts (Deuteronomy 12:17 & 14:22-27), which was 10% of the remaining 90% for personal consumption at the festivals during 1st, 2nd, 4th and 5th annual cycles of the shmita (7-year sabbatical cycle). This is the festival tithe. Basically, Israelites would take a tenth and bring it to the Temple and consume it there themselves.  You could call it a vacation fund. As such, it wasn’t exactly a sacrificial gift to God because this portion would be spent on themselves for the big celebration; their gift would simply be their obedience. It goes without saying that this second tithe shouldn’t be calculated into the tithe totality.    
  • The third tithe was for the needy in the land on the 3rd and 6th years (Deuteronomy 14:28-29 & 26:12). Every 3rd year, instead of bringing the tithe to Jerusalem, it was to be stored up in the Israelites’ hometowns for the poor. Mishnah says that this is the same 10% that is normally used for festivals, but every 3 years is diverted to the needy instead. This is basically an ancient version of our Social Security or welfare system, as well as gleaning (Leviticus 23:22).

Together these amounted to roughly 13% of the Hebrews’ agricultural and ranching produce if you do the math (write me if you want the figures).

So the Old Testament tithe was essentially a method of taxation in the Israel theocracy and, later, monarchy to provide for the needs of the priests & Levites in the religious system. The third tithe supplied for the poor in the land.

Because the main tithe was 10% of produce “from the land,” carpenters, masons and fisherman were exempt, which means that Jesus didn’t pay it. Although, of course, he paid the Temple tax (Matthew 17:24-27) and no doubt he was generous with freewill offerings — which were completely voluntary offerings regulated by God’s standards (Leviticus 23:38) — as well as alms.  

New Covenant Giving

As noted in the previous section, the principle in the New Testament—principle, not law—is to willingly and cheerfully give to support:

  1. The needs of others (Acts 2:45 & Romans 15:25-27), which includes…
  2. Supporting Christian workers—particularly those who teach and preach (more on this momentarily)—and…
  3. Spread the gospel through missionary outreach (Philippians 4:15-19). No amount is specified or commanded, nor is any percentage.

Some suggest that a tenth of one’s earnings is a good standard (or starting point) for Christian giving based on the fact that Abraham—our “father of faith”—gave 10% of his earnings to the priest of Salem, who was a type of Christ, before the Mosaic Law was given and the corresponding command to pay tithes (literally 10%). You can read about this in Hebrews 7:1-2. Believers who rant & rave against tithing in the sense of tithing according Old Testament Law are right as far as that goes, but it’s significant that the New Testament cites this occasion where our father of faith gave 10% — a tithe — of his income to support a priest who was a type of Christ. Also consider this: If Abraham gave 10% of his earnings before the Law was introduced and the Law itself mandated the giving of 10%, shouldn’t believers give at least 10% by the Spirit? Or perhaps I should put it like this: Wouldn’t genuine believers give at least 10% of their income by the Spirit?

Speaking of those who rant and rave against tithing, one of their arguments is that pastors who teach on tithing are trying to put believers under the Law and therefore their ministries are cursed even as Paul cursed the Judaizers who were trying to get the Galatians under the Law (read it yourself in Galatians 1:6-9). But I know genuine pastors who preach tithing, but they don’t mean it in the sense of being under the Mosaic Law, not at all. I know because I know them and am familiar with their teachings. They’re thoroughly New Testament-oriented — grace-oriented — not Law-oriented. They mean “tithing” simply in the sense of giving 10% of one’s income to support the assembly and all the financial needs thereof, which is in harmony with the fact that “tithe” simply means 10%.

This is not to say, however, that there aren’t churches that are Law-oriented when it comes to giving. These are legalistic ministries that try to put people under the Law and are in essence preaching a “different gospel,” as Paul put it in Galatians 1:6-9. If you observe this “leave them,” as Christ instructed in Matthew 15:14.

In any case, the early Church did not focus on a particular amount but rather on meeting needs as led of the Spirit, which sometimes meant giving much more than a tenth, as some believers sold homes or land to meet the needs that existed in the Christian community (Acts 4:34-37). This corresponds to the aforementioned Galatians 5:18, which says that believers are led of the Spirit and are not under the Law.

The Principle of the Firstfruits

The Bible supports the idea of offering the firstfruits of your income to the LORD and his work. We observe this in the book of wisdom, which shows that those who honor God in this way will receive a financial blessing:

Honor the Lord with your wealth,

with the firstfruits of all your crops;

(10) then your barns will be filled to overflowing,

and your vats will brim over with new wine.

Proverbs 3:9-10

Is this specifically a reference to obedience to Old Testament Law — the Torah — or is it simply a principle of wisdom that more broadly applies to all people who know God? It would seem the latter since, as noted above, our father of faith, Abraham, gave a tenth of his income to Melchizedek before the Law was even given (Hebrews 7:1-2). Again, Melchizedek was a type of Christ.

A good example of the principle of the firstfruits can be observed in Joshua’s taking of Jericho where the Israelites didn’t plunder the city, but rather devoted it to the LORD (Joshua 6:21). This is significant because pillaging a city was a means of resupplying armies with food and equipment and Jericho was the first city that the Hebrews conquered in the promised land. In other words, they honored the LORD by giving the first victory to Him and sacrificing the valuables thereof. The second city they took was Ai where they carried off the plunder and livestock for themselves (Joshua 8:2).

While Christians are not under the Law, but rather are led of the Spirit of God, the principle of the firstfruits applies. Old Testament stories, like Abraham giving an offering to Melchizedek and Joshua honoring the LORD with the valuables of Jericho, serve as examples or illustrations to us, as shown in 1 Corinthians 10:6,11 & Galatians 4:24.

Your income may not even be cash but, whatever it is, honor God with your firstfruits, as led of the Holy Spirit. What work of the LORD should you give your firstfruits to? Obviously one that serves well and is impacting the world with the life-changing truths of the Word and the power of the Spirit. Don’t give it to just any ol’ impotent ministry.

I encourage giving proportionately to the work of the Lord using the tithe as a pattern. Although we are not cited percentages in the New Testament beyond Abraham’s example with the priest of Salem, the principle of proportionate giving is illustrated (1 Corinthians 16:2 & 2 Corinthians 8). The New Testament also shows believers in the Church collecting to give to other ministries. Speaking of which…

Supporting Diligent Ministers Who Teach & Preach God’s Word

As far as “supporting Christian workers—particularly those who teach and preach” goes, the New Testament instructs us to support those who diligently serve via the teaching & preaching of God’s Word. Here are some obvious examples:

Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with the one who teaches.

Galatians 6:6 (English Standard Version)

Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat its grapes? Who tends a flock and does not drink the milk? (8) Do I say this merely on human authority? Doesn’t the Law say the same thing? (9) For it is written in the Law of Moses: “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.” Is it about oxen that God is concerned? (10) Surely he says this for us, doesn’t he? Yes, this was written for us, because whoever plows and threshes should be able to do so in the hope of sharing in the harvest. (11) If we have sown spiritual seed among you, is it too much if we reap a material harvest from you? (12) If others have this right of support from you, shouldn’t we have it all the more?

But we did not use this right. On the contrary, we put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ.

(13) Don’t you know that those who serve in the temple get their food from the temple, and that those who serve at the altar share in what is offered on the altar? (14) In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel.

1 Corinthians 9:7-14

The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching. (18) For the Scripture says, “YOU SHALL NOT MUZZLE THE OX WHILE HE IS THRESHING,” and “The laborer is worthy of his wages.”

1 Timothy 5:17-18

Verse 17 of the last passage says that those who “rule well”—referring to fivefold leaders (see Ephesians 4:11-13)—are worthy of receiving double the honor, specifically those who preach and teach God’s Word. The Greek word for ‘honor’ means “a price; honor.” So it’s partially a financial term. A good example is Acts 7:16 where it refers to “the sum” of money Abraham used to purchase a tomb. The Greek for “double” means two-fold or, figuratively, an ample amount. With this understanding, fivefold ministers who labor diligently at teaching and preaching God’s Word are “worthy of receiving double the honor.” How much does a common laborer in your area make? Diligent ministers of the Word of God who are called and anointed to change the very trajectory of people’s lives for the positive are worthy of double that amount.

Of course, genuine ministers are not to be “lovers of money,” as shown in many passages, like 2 Timothy 3:2 and Luke 16:14. So if you see a so-called minister obsessed with vapid materialism—i.e. conspicuous consumption—head for the hills. Christ said: “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (Luke 12:15).

However, this does not take away from the fact that ministers of the Word are to be financially supported by the people they minister to—not just pastors, but teachers, apostles, prophets and evangelists as well (Ephesians 4:11-13).*

* Pastors are important, but they’re over-emphasized in the modern body of Christ at the expense of the other four giftings or anointings. Do a word study on the Greek terms for pastor and its synonyms (e.g. overseer, shepherd) and how often they’re used in the New Testament in reference to Church leaders.

If you’re a believer and you’re feeding heavily from a minister or ministry I encourage you to “grow in the grace of giving” and “share all good things with your instructor” (Galatians 6:6). Give only what you can cheerfully give as led of the Holy Spirit and you’ll be blessed. Those who read the three passages above (amongst others) and continuously ignore them or try to write them off because of a spirit of freeloading stinginess are walking in disobedience and will be held accountable. See 2 Corinthians 5:10-11.

Allow me to give a personal example of supporting a ministry other than your local fellowship (although this applies to giving to your assembly as well). There’s an international prophetic ministry that’s been a blessing to Carol & me over the years and we’ve sown generously into it many times. Lately, however, money’s been tight for various reason and we haven’t been supporting this ministry, but it’s continued to bless us greatly on a weekly basis. So I shared with Carol: “The next time a good donation comes in we need to sow 10% into this ministry.” When a generous donation recently came in we sowed roughly 12% into this inspirational ministry. Did we do this because we were under the Mosaic Law? Absolutely not. We did it because we were led of the Spirit. We did it because we decided to do it. We did it because we wanted to do it. And we did it cheerfully, not reluctantly.

‘What about “Your Tithe Belongs to the Local Church”?’

Pastors often use this phrase, but it can’t be found in the New Testament. For one thing, New Covenant believers aren’t under the Law and therefore aren’t required to tithe, as detailed above. We’re simply encouraged to “grow in the grace of giving” by supporting teachers & preachers who feed us, as well as helping needy Christians and supporting missionary outreaches. What we give to any of these can only be determined by the individual as led of the Spirit. It’s an amount that each person decides upon and can give happily (and may not even be cash). If you’re hooked up with a local ministry, seek the LORD about how much you should give to support it. Ten percent of your income is a good standard, as noted above.

But don’t forget about the many other ministries that reach people in ways that a local assembly cannot or does not. Is there a ministry, other than your local fellowship, that you feed from and blesses your walk with the Lord? Then, by all mean, “share all good things” with this ministry. Perhaps even consider “partnering” with it (Philippians 4:15 & 1:5).


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NOTE: Special thanks to J. Altieri for his scholarship on the Old Testament tithe and the Mishnah’s take on it.


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