Be sure to set aside a tenth of all that your fields produce each year.
Many Christians wonder what they are supposed to do when the tithe basket is passed to them in the pew. Do they give all they have? Do they let it pass by? Should they feel guilty? Should they give impulsively? This document will answer these pressing questions.
The Concept of Tithing: Does It Originate With the Jews?
Tithing is not one of the covenant stipulations (Ten Commandments), but it was a custom in the ancient world. Egyptians, Babylonians, Assyrians and Canaanites all practiced tithing before Israel became a nation. It did not originate with the Mosaic Law, nor was it peculiar to the Hebrews.
What Were the Hebrews Required to Tithe?
In a word: everything. The seed of the land, the fruit of the trees, and their herds and flocks all were to be tithed.1 Tithing was plain and simple for Israel: they gathered their harvest and counted the tithe out from what they gathered. If they had 100 carrots, they counted them out, and every tenth carrot would be set aside for the Lord. They gave the first fruits of the land to God in order to display their dependence on Him. They did not give Him leftovers or the worst of the bunch. In the same way, they gave God every tenth animal, ensuring that they did not purposely give the weaker animals to God.
To Whom Were the Tithes Paid?
Because God saved the lives of the Jewish firstborn at the time of the first Passover,2 the firstborn technically belonged to God, but the Levites (one of the tribes of Israel) were to act in the service of God instead.3 As those set apart to the service of God, they were not expected to go to war4 or to have to grow their own food within a tribal area. They were to be scattered throughout the Promised Land to live among the people,5 and they were to be supported by the people’s tithes.6
Therefore, the tithe is given to God as the Israelites present it as an offering to the Lord. Then God gives the tithe to the Levites.7 Because of the nature of their status and functions in the community, they had no means of income to ensure their support. In return for their service, they were to receive the tithe of the people of Israel.8
Levites were not allowed to keep the whole of the tenth. They were directed to present an offering that was to be taken out of the tenth, which represented a tenth of the tithe. This was given to the priest.9
- Malachi 3:6-10
Did the Israelites Fulfill Their Tithe Requirement?
No. In Malachi’s day, the people had stopped tithing and giving their offerings due to their attitude of neglect toward the things of God.
Old Testament Conclusions
- God saved His people and they were indebted to Him with their lives.
- The firstborn technically belonged to God, but the Levites were to act in the service of God instead.
- The people were to give to the Lord their tithe (a tenth of everything) and God was to give it to the Levites as they serviced the Lord.
- Offerings were given above tithes as oaths given to the Lord because of His goodness or to help the people of God, as well as giving to the poor and marginalized.
- Israel was not faithful in giving to the Lord and therefore they were not blessed by God.
What Does the New Testament Say About Tithing?
2 Corinthians 9:6-8 says, “Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. 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. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.”
Here we have the setting of two congregations – one in Macedonia and one in southern Greece – being contrasted. We have already seen Paul praise the Macedonians for their generosity;10 now it is the Achaeans turn to act.11 Paul’s honor is at stake because their tardiness in completing the matter puts in question his encouragement of them. Above all, Paul wants the money gift to be both freely forthcoming and generous in its amount. He uses a number of ways to express this truth,12 especially in the latter verse: “I want it to be forthcoming as a generous gift, not as money wrung out of you.”
Those who contribute generously to the Jerusalem collection will give as a farmer gives away his seed in expectation of a rich harvest of produce. The appeal is continued and directed to thoughtfulness and joy in giving. They are not to give unwillingly, compulsively, or out of pressure. If the Achaeans fulfill their responsibility in making their offering, they may count on God to sustain the endeavor by granting them both the desire and ability to share.
Paul wants believers to make a concerted effort in making sure that the people of God are taken care of. Tithes and offerings are encouraged by the New Testament authors.
How Much Should We Give?
If we look at the New Testament and study Christ, we see that it is not about the rules but about the heart.13 We see Paul echo this sentiment in his second letter to the Corinthians. He does not tell the people to give 10%. He urges them to make Christ-centered decisions on giving, using the gospel as the guiding force. Likewise, we are left to make Christ-centered decisions with the gospel as our guide, while realizing that God’s standards have never decreased throughout redemptive history.
Giving With the Gospel as Our Guide
Whenever we are in the position to give (which is whenever God graciously gives us stuff), we must use those opportunities to demonstrate God’s character. Below are a few character traits that model the character of God and guided Paul’s exhortation of the Corinthians:
- Generosity. This is the habit of giving freely without expecting anything in return.
- Follow Through. When we say we are going to do something, we need to do it.
- Sacrificial. The needs of the body are just as important as our own welfare.
- Cultivate a Heart of Giving. Paul did not want the believers to give out of compulsion, yet at the same time he wanted them to take steps of giving while learning to be givers.
- Give What You Can. We need to give responsibly and not provide when we do not have.
- Not Begrudgingly. God does not want us to be reluctant or forced to give.
- Sober Giving From the Heart. Our giving should be thought out and reflective.
- Prayerfully. Ask Jesus what and when you should give.
- Cheerfully. There is great joy in equipping God’s people for the ministry and serving others.
- Do you give with the character of God in mind?
- Do you give to God’s servants and to the poor?
- Will you make a plan to go through each character trait above and be held accountable to give according to them?
- Will you let your discipler know your income and hold you accountable to your giving goals?
How does this study reinforce your belief in the gospel?
- Leviticus 27:30-31
- Exodus 11:5; 12:2-13
- Numbers 3:12-13; 40-51
- Numbers 1:3; cf. v 49
- Numbers 35:1-8
- Numbers 18:21
- Numbers 18:21
- Numbers 18:21, 24
- Nehemiah 10:39
- 2 Corinthians 8:1-5
- 2 Corinthians 9:3
- 2 Corinthians 9:2,5
- Matthew 5:21-48