Topical - Tithing or Voluntary Giving?
Many have said, “Well, I always thought we were supposed to give 10 percent.” They’re referring to tithing, a term derived from and Old English word that meant to pay or give a tenth part of one’s income (both the Hebrew and Greek equivalents are mathematical words meaning “a tenth”).
Many Christians through the years have supported tithing, reasoning that because Old Testament patriarchs like Abraham and Jacob gave tithes at certain times, the concept must be God’s abiding standard for us. However, the real question they should ask is, “Does the Bible teach tithing as the essential and enduring requirement for Christian giving?” A careful survey of some key texts will give us a clear answer.
A. The Basic Argument For Tithing.
1. The Old Testament.
a) Before The Mosaic Law.
Even before the Mosaic Law, Abraham and Jacob gave tithes to the Lord. Since the Practice of tithing appeared before the Law, it must transcend (go above) the Law. And that transcendent quality means tithing has to apply after the time of the Law, right down to our day as a universal standard and unchanging requirement.
1) The Flaw of this Argument.
(a) To argue whatever existed before the Law must exist after the Law poses some real problems.
1. The Sabbath Law (Exodus 20:9-11) – From the Mosaic Law onward, the Jews observed the seventh day of the week as holy unto the Lord and a day of rest.
a. The New Testament Clearly Sets Aside any required Sabbath Observance (Mark 2:23-28; Colossians 2:16-17; Romans 14:5).
2. The Sacrificial System
a. The Offering of animal sacrifices took place early as Abel’s Time (Gen.4:4).
b. A more official detailed system was established in the Mosaic Law and existed for the remainder of the Old Covenant.
c. Under the New Covenant the animal sacrifices no longer continue, it was superseded by Christ’s work on the cross (Hebrews 9:11-15; 10:1-14).
¨ Today you and I obviously don’t offer animals to the Lord.
¨ Just because a certain requirement or practice existed before & during the time of the Law does not make it permanently applicable in the New Covenant.
2. Giving In the Pre-Mosaic Era.
In the book of Genesis the Hebrew word translated “tithe” did not refer to a required offering, a divine commandment, or an ordinance. Instead, the term refers to a voluntary offering.
a) Historically—the idea of giving a tenth to a deity was a common pagan custom (a follower of a false god or a heathen religion; one who delights in sensual pleasures and material goods).
For nearly all-ancient cultures, the number ten was the symbol of completeness. Typically when pagan worshipers wanted to give an offering to their deity they would give a tenth because that symbolized their giving of everything, their surrendering of all they had to the god.
Thus one cannot really argue that God in the Book of Genesis originated and specially mandated tithing as a permanent principle.
b) Giving From Adam to Moses.
1) Genesis 4:1-8 records the first offering to God
(a) Their offerings involved no set amounts commanded by God.
1. We can easily infer that the Lord at an earlier time had required that offerings be animal sacrifices. As fare as we can determine, these first offerings were not related to a tenth of anything.
2) Genesis 8:20 records the second offering.
(a) Noah wanted to offer a sacrifice to God in gratitude for surviving the flood.
1. God didn’t command Noah to do that; it was a spontaneous, voluntary offering from the heart.
3) Genesis 12:7-8 contains the next major mention of an offering to God.
(a) The Lord called Abram to leave his native land & be the leader of a new nation.
1. Abram freely built an altar acting out of the joy and gratitude of his heart (Gen.13: 18).
4) Genesis 14:17-20 is where the Hebrew word for “tithe” first appears.
(a) God gave Abraham great victory in battle and allowed him to take a valuable amount of spoil.
1. Abraham expressed his thanks to God by giving a tenth of all (Gen.14:20).
2. Verse 20 does not say Abraham gave a tenth of everything he owned or his total income.
3. It was not an annual tithe, but simply a tenth of what he had taken in battle (Heb.7:4).
4. It is not recorded anywhere else in the O.T. that Abraham ever again gave a tithe.
5. therefore, Abraham’s tithe was a free, voluntary, one-time action, totally motivated from his heart, not by divine command.
(b) Two Very Important Truths:
1. Abraham gave God a tenth of the best, a tenth of the pinnacle of the spoils in recognition of his total commitment and gratitude to the Lord.
2. Nobody taught Abraham to “tithe”, where did Abraham come up with giving a tenth?
a. Point is, there needs to be some set amount for giving.
5) Genesis 28:20-22 is the only other mention of the tithe prior to the Mosaic Law.
(a) The main lesson from this passage is not the giving of a tenth, but avoiding spiritual carnality.
1. Jacob was merely doing what the pagans did—gave a tenth to his God, but only if He would conform to his prescription. Jacobs motive for giving a tenth was far from sincere.
c) There is a record of Required Giving recorded in the Pre-Mosaic Era (Genesis 41:1ff.)
1) Joseph interprets Pharaoh’s dream.
(a) Under divine guidance, Joseph tells Pharaoh what to do (Genesis 41:34)
1. Appoint overseers in charge of the land, exacting a fifth of the produce of the land (v.34).
2. Those overseers were the equivalent of ancient IRS agents, whose task would be to collect 20% of all that was produced each of the seven years and store it for use during the seven years of famine.
3. That collection was an early version of a national income tax--& it was introduced by God to support the nation of Egypt.
(b) Genesis 47:24—Joseph reiterates that taxation requirement.
1. everyone had to participate in it to support the national government.
B. Giving During The Time of the Law.
1. The Required Tithes.
a) The Levites Tithe (Numbers 18:25-30 cf. Lev.27:30)
1) How the Levites were to give their tithe, the required giving from the Israelites.
(a) God chose the Levites to be priests, to operate the temple, & to lead the theocracy of Israel.
1. The tithe was the 10% taxation used to supply the needs of the Levites because they had no income and received no territory when Moses divided the land among the twelve tribes.
2. In turn, the Levites were to offer a heave offering to the Lord. This would constitute a tithe on their part of the goods which they received. The rest of the goods which the Levites received would provide their living as the reward for their work in the tabernacle.
b) The First Tithe & Second Annual Tithe.
1) The First was a Mandatory one tenth of the People’s Produce and Animals.
(a) If the Jews did not give they were robbing God because it belonged to Him (Malachi 3:8).
2) The Second Annual Tithe the Israelites Had to Pay (Deut.12:10-11, 17-18).
(a) The second tithe was for the sake of the Jew’s national religious worship, & it also promoted national unity & fellowship.
c) The Third Tithe (Deuteronomy 14:28-29).
1) This was Known as the welfare tithe, or poor tithe.
(a) This tithe averaged out to an additional 3 &1/3% per year of required giving.
(b) This was used to help the stranger, the fatherless, & the widowed.
2) The First Three Tithes During Moses’ Time Were Nothing More Than Taxes.
(a) The money was used to fund Israel’s divinely instituted human government.
(b) 23% was not the total amount of giving, they had additional requirements.
1. Gasoline tax, sales taxes, capital gains taxes, and value added taxes.
2. Profit sharing tax (Leviticus 19:9-10).
3. The required Sabbath rest of the farm land every seventh year (Ex.23:10-11)
4. The annual third of a shekel temple tax, used to furnish and maintain the temple.
2. The Voluntary Giving.
a) The Principle of the First Fruit (Numbers 18:12).
1) God Set the Example of Giving the Very Best.
(a) God gave to the Levites the very best of what the people had offered Him.
1. Therefore, if we want to be pleasing to God in our giving, we should give the Lord the first and best of what we earn.
2. When we give from the top like this—from the cream of the crop—were giving God what we have & believing Him for what we don’t have.
3. When we do this God abundantly rewards & blesses (Prov.3:9-10 cf. 11:24)
b) God Is Most Concerned With the Givers Heart Attitude In Voluntary Giving.
1) Exodus 34:4-5; Exodus 35:21-22, 29; Exodus 36:5-6
C. Giving In the New Testament Times.
Does the New Testament teach the same giving pattern as we’ve just seen in the Old Testament? The answer is yes. The New Testament contains an exact parallel to the Old Testament’s teaching—there are still two kind of giving: required and voluntary.
1. Required Giving in Jesus’ Time.
a) This Existed in the Form of the Mosaic Taxation System.
1) The Gospels Refer to the Exorbitant tax Burden Imposed on the People.
(a) Scriptures Relating To Tax-Gatherers (Matt.5:46-47; Mk.2:14-16; Lk.5:29-30; 19:2, 8)
(b) Jesus upheld the Old Testament principle and taught that we should pay our taxes (Matt.17:24-27).
1. We must remember God is behind all human government and He ordained whatever tax system we’re under (Rom.13:1-7; 1 Pet.2:13; cf. Matt.22:15-22).
2) The Word Tithe is mentioned Just Two Time’s in the Gospels.
(a) Both instances refer to taxation, or required giving.
1. Matt.23:23 the Pharisees
2. Luke 18:9-14 the parable of the Pharisee & the tax-collector.
3. Hebrews 7:4-9 are not directives or instructions for contemporary church practice
b) The New Covenant Principle On Giving—What We Should Go By.
1) 2 Corinthians 9:6-7
(a) It is not derived from a mandatory percentage; It must flow from the heart
(b) I believe there must be some set amount of giving, not legalistically, but from the heart,( p.2 of my notes)
2) 1 Chronicles 29:1-22 Are You Willing To Give?
(a) The Principle of Commitment.
1. Affection (vv.1-3)
2. Consecration (vv.5-7)
3. Rejoicing (vv.9-13)
4. Willingness (vv.14-16)
5. Uprightness (vv.17-19)
6. Commitment (vv.20-22)
(b) If You Can Give Willingly, there are Seven Things True of You
1. The Work is done for God not for man (v.1)
a. Haggai 1:2-7 is what happens if the work of the Lord is not #1 in our lives.
2. Decide to Love the Work of the Lord (v.3)
3. Rejoice in saying thank you (v.9, 22)
4. Remember that what you give already belongs to Him (v.14-16)
5. Recognize the importance of being right with God (v.17)
a. Do not justify ungodly living because you give money to the Lord (Micah 6:6-8)
6. Commit yourself to the Lord before you give (v.5; Romans 12:1)
7. Return all the glory to God (vv.20-21)