There are many churches and religious organisations around the world who instruct Christians that ten percent of everything they earn belongs to God – the tithe. Therefore members are obligated to provide a tenth of their gross yearly income to them which is a method widely used by them to generate revenue. By studying scripture you will notice that the words ‘tithe’ and ‘tithing’ are not at all associated with Christians.
So here’s the favourite passage of scripture used by churches and religious organisations to validate the claim that there is an obligation for Christians to provide financial support to them through tithing (Malachi 3:6-12);
“For I am the Lord, I do not change; Therefore you are not consumed, O sons of Jacob. Yet from the days of your fathers You have gone away from My ordinances And have not kept them. Return to Me, and I will return to you,” Says the Lord of hosts. “But you said, ‘In what way shall we return?’ “Will a man rob God? Yet you have robbed Me! But you say,‘In what way have we robbed You?’ In tithes and offerings. You are cursed with a curse, For you have robbed Me, Even this whole nation. Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, That there may be food in My house, And try Me now in this,” Says the Lord of hosts, “If I will not open for you the windows of heaven And pour out for you such blessing That there will not be room enough to receive it. “And I will rebuke the devourer for your sakes, So that he will not destroy the fruit of your ground, Nor shall the vine fail to bear fruit for you in the field,” Says the Lord of hosts;“And all nations will call you blessed, For you will be a delightful land,” Says the Lord of hosts."
This seems to be the most common passage used but before we address this Old Testament passage lets look at what a tithe actually is.
God instituted tithing laws hundreds of years after Jacob’s descendants entered the Promised Land. If we look at the Levitical law, the children of Israel excluding the tribe of Levi had to give to the Levite priests ten percent of their land and livestock which would go to help the poor and to support the livelihood of those who maintained the ancient tabernacle. On a yearly basis they were required to give two tithes of ten percent each of both agricultural produce and livestock (Numbers 18:21-32 and Deuteronomy 14:28-29). Furthermore they had to give a third of ten percent every three years of agricultural produce only (Deuteronomy 14:28-29), so the total would have been more accurately 23.3% annually.
Back to Malachi 3. This Old Testament passage is so frequently used to try to compel Christians to tithe off their earned income.
To summarise Malachi 3, it is about the promise given to ancient Israelites that when they faithfully brought their agricultural tithes to the tabernacle or temple then they would receive blessings of abundant crops. God was speaking to Old Covenant Israel when he speaks of cursing the whole nation. The tithes which were provided was food for His House which was the Old Covenant temple and not an income for His New Covenant Church. If you read through the whole Bible, you will not find a single passage giving permission to participants of the New Covenant to receive tithes: only the Israelite family of Levi could accept God’s tithe (Numbers 18:21-26). Furthermore in these following Old Testament passages they neither mention money or earned income in association with the tithe but rather all confirm agricultural products; Leviticus 27:30, Leviticus 27:32, Deuteronomy 12:17, Deuteronomy 14:23, Deuteronomy 14:28, II Chronicles 31:5-6, Nehemiah 10:37, Nehemiah 12:44, Nehemiah 13:4-5, Nehemiah 13:12, Malachi 3:10).
No Christian wants to rob God; nor would they want to disobey Him and forsake His blessings but so many preachers use this as a way of accomplishing their own means and for their or their organisations own gain. There is nothing in the passage of Malachi 3 which refers to money or the Christian Church and tithing would actually come under civil law and so this is not binding on us today.
So we move on to the New Testament. Matthew 23:23 is a common verse which is used to back up Malachi 3, where we see Jesus talk about the Old Covenant religious officials who were paying tithes that consisted of agricultural products such as mint, anise, cumin, rue, and herbs;
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone.”
Now what’s important to remember from this verse is that Jesus was still operating under the Old covenant laws and the New Testament had not been fully ratified. We know this because when we see Jesus healing people, one of the first things he tells them to do is show themselves to the priests (Matthew 8:4, Mark 1:44, Luke 5:14, Luke 17:14). Now this was part of the levitical law (Leviticus 14:2) and we do not have to do this today. There are other references to tithing, notably Hebrews 7 which references the Old Testament by stating historical facts and so again they are not a commandment to us. If we move on to Hebrews 9:15-17, it confirms that only after the death of a testator can a new testament come in place,
“And for this reason He is the Mediator of the new covenant, by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant, that those who are called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance. For where there is a testament, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator. For a testament is in force after men are dead, since it has no power at all while the testator lives.”
Brothers and sisters we are no longer cursed if we don’t keep the Law. We’re no longer living under the bondage of the Law anymore. This is why Jesus came because we are incapable of keeping the Law. He became a curse for us (Galatians 3:13). Now that we are born again and God’s Spirit lives in us, He has removed the curse. We have a choice whether we trust the grace of God or we forfeit God’s grace by rejecting the sacrifice Jesus made by trusting in our own performance. The grace of God cannot be bought, it is a free gift given by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (Romans 6:23).
So what is the answer? Well I think 2 Corinthians 9:7 summarises it perfectly;
“So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity (as tithers do); for God loves a cheerful giver.” 2 Corinthians 9:7
I don’t believe or agree in tithing but I do believe in giving or more accurately ‘sowing’ which I believe is a better definition. We need to purify our motives, as we can see from 2 Corinthians 9:7, we are not to give grudgingly or of necessity because as we have read, God loves a cheerful giver. We should be giving because we want to and our motive for giving under the New Covenant should be a cheerful heart. The motivation for giving today is out of appreciation for what God has done in our lives. It should come as a response of love from the heart, out of a desire to bless others. Many people are living in bondage to tithing, giving out of what they don’t have (2 Corinthians 8:11-14) and as a result can get into real debt.
So I see that the key is to sow, grow and reap. We must remember that whatever money we have is God’s money anyway and it is of vital importance where we give His money to. We need to look at money like a seed. This formula is similar to the parable of the seed sower. It needs to be sown into good ground – which is a sound church, religious organisation, ministry etc. Those seeds should then grow by helping to create growth in that place if the ground is good and only each individual can be the judge of that by witnessing whether that place is doing kingdom work. Then not only do you reap by seeing the good work which the money has achieved but so does that place and so does God because it is helping to further His kingdom.
If you are in a good position financially and you feel in your heart that you want to give then give to that place as you feel led. It is down to the individual in terms of what they have and where they are giving. If you are within a good growing congregation of like minded brothers and sisters who are encouraging and edifying one another, a place with sound preachers led by the Holy Spirit with a good outreach and those in poverty are being helped then that’s the place to give.
Before I understood these principles, I used to tithe at my former church and although they weren’t as assertive as some are I still felt that it was something that was required of me. I set up a standing order and looking back now that money went absolutely nowhere. Personally, I now give and have given to ministries where I have been fed, where I see real growth, ministries whose preachers are tuned in and led by the Holy Spirit and who I genuinely believe the Lord is using to share the truths from His Word.
It’s about common sense really. If you are giving money to a dead church that is declining in numbers and you are just subsidising the maintenance of an old building then I can’t really see how that is furthering the Kingdom. On the other side of the coin we see how some churches and religious organisations actually have a super abundance due to vast amounts of money coming in and they get the wrong kind of growth. They use their finances to maintain and increase employees for unnecessary hierarchy structures, purchase properties to increase their ‘property portfolio’ and I’ve even seen some ministries who even have their own private jets! This income is funding many different possibilities and has turned the church into something which resembles more of a business and has created itself its own business model.
If the body of Christ would just use the principles of sowing, growing and reaping then the people and places that are truly ministering the Word of God would have a super abundance. If the financial supply is cut to certain places then the charlatans and false preachers of today would either have to repent or cease whatever they are running. This is the problem which needs to be addressed because in many cases money is being used as a key tool to embolden religion, legalism, doctrines etc which is tying many of our brothers and sisters up in bondage. We need to get back to basics and in our next article we will be looking at the early church for some answers as to what the future church should look like.
Church Rethink Series
Part one: Churchianity
Part two: 44,800 Christian denominations
Part three: Religion
Part four: Legalism
Part five: The Tithe
Part six: The Early Church
Part seven: The Future Church