Should Christians Tithe? [Two Views]

Basic Theology, Podcast Episodes

Should Christian tithe? We pass the basket for “tithes and offerings” without blinking, but have you ever stopped to think about those words? Tithes and offerings. It’s an indication there is a difference between a tithe and simple giving! And there is. A “tithe” means a “tenth”, and it’s a principle we see in Scripture primarily in the Old Testament. There are a lot of questions regarding Christians and tithing. Christians debate over whether we are called to tithe under the New Covenant in Christ. In this week’s episode, we look at two arguments about tithing: one is FOR tithing, the other is AGAINST tithing (but FOR giving generously!). We will look at the biblical passages describing the tithe, whether or not anything changed when Jesus came on the scene, and if the NT supports the concept of a tithe or simply a lifestyle of generosity (or both!). Should Christians Tithe?

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Transcription

Welcome back, friends. In this week’s episode of Verity, we are talking about tithing. I realized when I was compiling the final episodes for this series on theology that we had never discussed tithing, and yet, it’s one of the questions that repeatedly comes through on Ask Anything Monday on my Instagram and has for the last couple of years. One of the reasons I think I haven’t covered it is because I had not delved super deeply into it myself. I knew enough to make a decision, but I hadn’t really dug into those texts and looked at the different viewpoints on the topic. So, in this shorter episode, we’re going to look at kind of a pro-tithing stance, and then, not anti-tithing stance, but maybe a tithing isn’t necessary stance. [laughs] Anti just sounds too harsh. So, we’re going to look at both of these views, and then, we’re going to talk about how to respond to that as a Christian who wants to honor God with her money, and then, a little personal anecdote of what Josh and I have chosen to do regarding tithing. 

First of all, what is tithing in the first place? What’s interesting is that a lot of Christians actually know the term ‘tithing’ and they use the term tithing as simultaneous with giving. Even during a church service we’ll hear, “You can put your tithes and offerings in this basket, envelope, box at the back,” etc. Tithes and offerings are often said together. Clearly, there’s a distinction between the two, and a tithe is literally a tenth. So, it refers to a tenth, and that comes from the biblical narrative, as we’ll see in just a second. If someone said, what is tithing, it would be giving a tenth of your first fruits to the church to sanctuary. That’s generally the understanding. But where does that come from? How do we arrive at that? That’s what we’re going to look at today. 

Deuteronomy actually lists three types of tithes for Israel. We will see that the tithe originates before Deuteronomy, but Deuteronomy is where it’s kind of systemized, if you will, in the Mosaic law. So, there’s three different tithes. There was a tithe to priests and the temple, the one that we’re most familiar with. There was also a festival tithes, which is in Deuteronomy 17, and then, there was a charity tithe every three years according to Deuteronomy 14. This one made me think of a goodwill offering or benevolent fund kind of thing. But when you stack all three types of tithes together, it actually adds up to about 23% of income, not 10%. Isn’t that interesting? So, when we talk about tithing, talk about it as a tenth, it’s true that in Genesis 14 and in Genesis 28, what was being given was a tenth, and then, what’s being given to the priests in the sanctuary as a tenth. The total of the tithes that were being given, equaled out to about 23%. 

Where do we see tithing in the Bible? We’re going to look at this and then expand into how the different viewpoints interact with these passages. So, the first instance of tithing is in Genesis 14, when Abraham brings a 10th of his first fruits to Melchizedek, the high priest of God at Salem. He says, “I am offering this to you as a way to honor God.” It was clear that he was doing this as a way to honor God. In fact, let me just turn to that passage here. It says, “Then, Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine to Abraham,” and he blessed Abraham and said, “Blessed be Abraham by God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth,” and “Blessed be God Most High who has delivered your enemies into your hand.” Abraham gave him a tenth of everything. We see this story referred to in Hebrews. I believe it’s Hebrews 7 that talks about Melchizedek and talks about the tithe and connects with that Old Testament narrative to the New Covenant. So, this is the very first instance we see.

The second instance is actually in Genesis 28, where we see Jacob promising to give a tenth of his first fruits to the Lord. So, this is the end of chapter 28 after he has his dream, Jacob’s Ladder, if you’re familiar with that from Sunday school, and he says that, “I will come again to my father’s house in peace, and the Lord shall be my God, and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God’s house, and of all that you give me I will give a full tenth to you.” So, that was Jacob’s tithe. So, we have Abraham giving to Melchizedek, which was his way of giving to the Lord, and then, we have Jacob giving to the Lord as well. 

According to commentator, John Curran, and this was quoted in a Gospel Coalition article that I’m going to have linked in the show notes, this kind of tithing was not a onetime thing. This was a recurrent practice. He sees these instances as reflective of a practice, not just a onetime thing. We’re going to see that that’s a little bit different when we talk about Christians who believe they are not required to tithe. So, a couple more passages we want to look at. We already talked about Hebrews 7, that connects Abraham’s tithe to the tithe under Mosaic law and indicates that this was a precedent set by Abraham that was eventually put into law by the Lord for Israel. So, the principle is carrying over to Israel and then eventually carrying over to the new covenant today. 

Now, one of the most powerful passages about tithing is actually in Malachi, and we’re going to go there next. All the way towards the end of your Bible, actually, the end right before end of the Old Testament and beginning of the new. In this passage, Malachi 3, it talks about how Israel was robbing God, because they were refusing to tithe. It says, “Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How have we robbed you?’ In your tithes and contributions. You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you. Bring the full tithe into the storehouse that there may be food in my house. And thereby, put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need.”

Let’s pause here. There have been times in church history where prosperity gospel preachers have used this kind of a passage– Abused it, not used it, to say that if you tithe God will bless you, that if you tithe and you give to their specific ministry, then God will open the windows of heaven and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need. That’s not the context of what’s happening here. That’s a perfect example of how prosperity gospel does not steward the Scriptures accurately or rightly, because what was happening here was, this whole book of Malachi is calling people to repentance, calling people to walk in the ways of the Lord. At that time, what was revealed to them through the Mosaic law was the requirement for tithing. As we saw, there were three different types of tithes. They were not obeying in this area, and if you back up in Malachi, you’ll see they were not obeying in a lot of different areas. Such as being faithless to their wives, and thinking that God would not hold them accountable to that. Same thing happening except with their money. They were holding on to their money, hoarding their money, and not giving it to the Lord the way they were called to do. So, for prosperity gospel pastors to take this kind of passage out of its context for their own gain is a sinful and grievous thing to do. At the same time, the passage is still there, and we have to consider what is the principle at play here? God took tithing very seriously. Is it a principle that applies today? 

Last concept we’re going to look at is just one more book over, which is Matthew. We’re going to look at the words of Jesus talking about tithing in Matthew 23. Now, this whole passage is called Seven Woes to the Scribes and Pharisees. So, that gives you a little clue on what’s going on. There are seven different statements that Jesus makes about the Jewish leaders. These are the religious leaders who knew the law very, very well. In fact, Jesus and the Pharisees had a lot in common when it came to theology. Between the Sadducees and the Pharisees, the two factions that made up the Sanhedrin or Jewish scribal leadership, Jesus aligned more with the Pharisees when it came to theology. But the Pharisees and the scribes were hypocrites. They were following the law in Word, but they were not following the law in their hearts. So, Jesus talks here, I’ll read it out of verse 23. So, this is Matthew 23:23. “Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites. For you tithe mint, and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law, justice, and mercy, and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, the tithing of the mint, dill, and cumin without neglecting the others.” What he’s saying here is that it’s not either/or. It’s both. You should have been observing justice, mercy, and faithfulness, even while you diligently tithed down to the very herbs you grew in your garden. He wasn’t saying that the tithing was over. He was saying that good for you that you tithe, but guess what? Your heart is rotten. Get your heart in the right place and tithe your money and your herbs. It’s a both/and.

Knowing these are the passages that mainly talk about tithing, Christians who believe that tithing still applies today, look at the instances in Genesis and say, this is a template. Like John Curran said, this is a recurrent practice. It’s not a onetime thing. Hebrews 7 creates this connection between the principle of tithing under Mosaic law, and then, how that has continued forward as an example for Christians today. It’s important to recognize what the motivation here is. It’s not just, “Oh, Jesus just wants a tenth of my money.” It’s that tithing is an expression of trust, and devotion. It’s an expression of trust and devotion. It’s Sabbath. In that we’re setting aside this money and saying, “I’m giving this to you, to your house, to your purposes, even though it’s demanding a greater trust from me.”

So, similar to Sabbath then, the core principle here is at play. Josh and I do not believe that Christians are required to observe a Saturday Sabbath. We do not believe that they’re required to be kosher or required to adhere to Mosaic law in the ceremonial and civil aspects. But you would say when you look at the 10 Commandments that we’re supposed to be observing the principles of these 10 Commandments, one of which is Sabbath. So, we observe Sabbath, and in the similar way, tithing can be viewed. Tithing can be viewed as a command of God in principle that divorced from the theocratic realm of Israel, the principle still applies. What does that look like for a Christian who decides to tithe? It usually means that they are giving a tenth of their gross income. Before they are taxed, before they give money to the government, they are giving 10% or even after they pay taxes, they look at their gross income, and that’s the amount that they pay to the church, to ministries, organizations, etc. 

Many Christians who believe you’re required to tithe would say your primary place to tithe is your local church. There are other Christians who would say that, yes, your local church should be one of the big places that you tithe, but other places that you can tithe are to parachurch ministries or organizations that are doing missions work, or doing a good work for single moms, or for adoption agencies, whatever the mission may be, they will donate money or tithe their money to those organizations on top of or alongside the local church. So, there’s debate over whether that’s appropriate, but that debate usually comes from people who believe tithing is a biblical mandate. 

What about the people who do not believe tithing is required? The big argument by these believers is that we are not under the Mosaic covenant anymore, which both Christians who are believing in tithing, and those who aren’t, would agree on this. However, it’s more clear, cut, and dried for the believer who does not tithes. They believe that we aren’t under the Mosaic covenant according to Romans 6 and 7. It’s abundantly clear in that passage that that’s the case, that we are free, and that it served a purpose of revealing God in that culture and in that time, and carrying forth God’s Heart for human dignity until the Messiah was revealed. They also believe that Abraham and Jacob were not types to be followed. Their tithes to Melchizedek tithes to God were probably onetime events. 

Another thing to look at is, when we’re looking at the Mosaic covenant and not being under it, that means that there aren’t Levites in the Tabernacle today. We aren’t funding Levites in the Tabernacle. We’re not creating a fund for the bread of the presence in today’s world. We also have to keep in mind that when Jesus was talking to the Pharisees about tithing mint, and dill, and cumin, it was before the new covenant was completed. Jesus had not died. He had not resurrected. Pentecost didn’t not happen, where the Holy Spirit came upon the church. So, it was a different world. It was a different time in church history, if we look at the Old and New Testament as one big era of church history. So, that’s another argument, is to think through the fact that Jesus was operating under the old covenant when he did talk about tithes. 

Now, Christians might not be required to tithe but they are commanded to give generously, and that’s where Christians who don’t tithe turn their attention. In Galatians– we’ll flip over there really fast. In Galatians 2:10, we see commands to give generously. This says, Paul talking saying, “Only they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.” Repeated commands to remember the poor in Paul’s letters. This is a theme that you’ll see coming through significantly as you read what he says to these early churches. He affirms it again in 1 Corinthians 16. This is about funding for the church. It says, “Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I directed the churches of Galatia, so you also are to do. On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, so he may prosper. So, that there will be no collecting when I come. And when I arrive, I will send those whom you accredit by letter to carry your gift to Jerusalem. If it seems advisable that I should go also they will accompany me.” Here they are saving up money and collecting money for an offering to the church being transported basically to headquarters to where most of the Apostles were. 

Here is another passage in 2 Corinthians 8 starting in verse 1. It says, “We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify and beyond their means have their own freewill, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints. And this not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us.” Here we have people giving freely of their own freewill out of their poverty. He notes that they aren’t rich. They’re poor, and yet, they’re giving generously as much as they can. Lastly, we’re going to look at 1 Timothy 5:17-18, which gives us another picture of that generosity. It says, “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox that treads out the grain and the labor it deserves his wages.’” This is basically saying, give them what their due, that provide for your elders. The ones who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially, those who are teaching. So, provide for them, essentially. 

With all of these and other passages together, Christians who do not believe that were commanded to tithe would say, you should give as you feel led to give generously. Now here, we run into an occasional problem. A lot of people will see this as a reason to never give at all. They will say, “Oh, cool. It’s not required. So, I’m just not going to do it,” or, “Okay, I’ll do my once-in-a-while Christmas donation. So, I’m not going to do it.” That’s where Josh and I have found that the practice of generosity is easier when it’s a discipline. So, for us, we have always believed in freewill giving with a baseline of 10%. I wouldn’t say that we personally believe that tithing is mandated by Scripture. We probably fall more theologically on the side that says it’s not, but we think you know what, 10% is a really good baseline for giving. Anything more than that we give as we’re led, but 10% is where we start. This is something that we came to our marriage as two poor college kids with student loan debt, we came to our marriage with this commitment, and we have tithed ever since we were married. I tithed as a single person before that, but since we were married, this has been a part of our philosophy, and our theology, and our walk with the Lord, and I can genuinely say that in pursuing the Lord’s faith in how to tithe and when to do it– and I say tithe, but I say it loosely. I should just say give, because it’s 10% or more based on how we’re led. As we pursue His face and we say, “Lord, show us where we should give, show us to whom we should give,” we’ve had some amazing opportunities to see God use those funds for changing lives. It’s been such a blessing to us to watch that money do things we never thought it could do.

I’ll be honest with you, it stinks sometimes. Sometimes, we watch the amount that’s going out, and we think, “Gosh, I could use that. I’d sure like to keep that.” Especially, when we were paying down our student loans aggressively, this was something that we talked about it. Should we cut back on our tithing? We were trying to pay this off as quickly as possible early on in our marriage, and we decided that it was a statement of trust in God for us to continue giving at least 10%, and trust that it would help us to also afford to pay off our loans quickly. With wisdom and good counsel from people on how to do the loan payoff, we were able to do that in the first year and a half of our marriage while tithing.

I’m not saying that my story, our story is the rule of law for every believer, but I do want to encourage you that if it is what you feel God is calling you to after you’ve studied the Word and actually opened your heart to what He may be asking you to do, I can promise you that when you walk in obedience, there are very beautiful rewards. I’m not saying material wealth or anything like that, but simply the peace of walking with Christ and getting to be a part of how He uses those funds to impact people’s lives. 

I want to end with 2 Corinthians 9. So, we’re going to go backwards. Back to a passage, we actually just looked at, 2 Corinthians 9, which captures the heart of what this is all about. It says, the point is this. “Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has made up his mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you so that having all sufficiency in all things, at all times in the abound in every good work. As it is written, He has distributed freely, He has given to the court, His righteousness, in doers forever. He, who, supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way for all your generosity, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God.”

You thought I was going to stop at the cheerful giver part, didn’t you? [laughs] This passage is so powerful and it just is really showing what I just described to you, that when you give as a discipline, when you give as a way to show the Lord your gratitude for what you’ve been given, when you don’t live in a scarcity mindset, when you don’t live in the idea that there’s never ever, ever going to be enough, instead, when your mind is allowed to be shaped and renewed by Christ and you say, “You know what? With God, there’s always enough, that He is the one who owns the storehouses of heaven, and He is the one who provides resources.” The more Josh and I have walked in that understanding as we’ve walked through job loss, twice basically, while I was pregnant, and really lean times, even receiving money from family members so we could make our mortgage payment because Josh lost his job the day after we signed on our mortgage. During those seasons, when we couldn’t give as much, we gave what we could with that disciplined baseline that we had been practicing for years, and we experienced the grace that abounds to you. We experienced having all sufficiency in all things at all times, because there is no scarcity with the Lord. He is the one who is the provider. He is Jehovah-jireh. He will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness and you will be enriched in every way for your generosity. That’s the mentality we take when it comes to tithing.