By Dr. Stephen Kim
10% of your gross pay could be a lot of money. Our paychecks represent life, and life is valuable. Should, therefore, Christians tithe? What does the Bible say?
Growing up as a child, my father would always hand us boys (I have two younger brothers) a crisp dollar bill to put into the offering basket when it came around on Sunday mornings. We may have been too young to hold a job or earn a salary, but dad made sure that none of his boys appeared “before the Lord empty-handed” (Exo 34:20).
My church generation (and the ones before us) in America took tithing seriously. I recall visiting different churches as a youth and they all had one thing in common: the tithe. Regardless of denomination, the tithe was the lingua franca of the Christian world, a universal given. Times have changed. Churches no longer hold to the obligatory tithe because many younger pastors no longer teach it. Rather, what comes from the pulpit is the erroneous didactic that, “Tithing is no longer applicable for the New Testament Christian, and that all giving must be done with a joyful heart–not out of compulsion.” Part of that statement is right. Part of it is terribly wrong. Furthermore, though most membership numbers remain stable in most churches, this sort of teaching has not produced increasing numbers in giving; but rather, many churches are experiencing Depression-era lows with regard to offerings. According to Religions News Service, the average American Christian only gave 2.3% of his annual salary in 2011–far below the biblically commanded 10% threshold minimum. It seems as if the human heart hasn’t changed in 2,000 years. It seemed like a great a idea: make people pay whatever they want. But God knew the human heart quite well when He instituted the 10% minimum: people love money and are very, very reticent to part from the almighty dollar–even it it’s for the name of God.
GIVING FROM JOY AND DUTY
One of the most heinous lies that we must overcome as Western Christians is this notion that “obligation robs joy.” It is quite Kantian to think that if we derive any pleasure from performing a duty, then the duty itself cannot be “good.” Hogwash. Christians obey the commands of God out of duty and out of joy. The two are not mutually exclusive. We actually derive great joy from obeying God’s commands (or at least, we will feel the joy later on). As the Psalmist once said, “Happy are those who follow his commands, who obey him with all their heart” (Ps 119:2).
What’s the highest command (yes, command) in the Bible? It’s to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind (Luke 10:27). Is it our duty and obligation to love our Creator and Redeemer? Of course it is! Yet simultaneously, for Christians, it is also our highest joy to fulfill that obligatory command. Such is the case with all of the other commands from God–including the command to tithe. We are commanded to give our tithes regularly (1 Cor 9:14), but we are to do so cheerfully for God loves a cheerful giver (2 Cor 9:7).
6 REASONS WHY CHRISTIANS SHOULD TITHE
- The Bible Commands It In Both The New And Old Testaments. Here it is in the Old Testament: “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” (Mal 3:8-10). Here it is in the New Testament: “Do you not know that those who are employed in the temple service get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in the sacrificial offerings? In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel” (1 Corinthians 9:13-14). Question: How were those employed in the temple service supported financially? Answer: Through tithes. Thank you, Paul.
- Jesus Commands It. Christians don’t observe Jewish dietary laws anymore. Why?Because Jesus abrogated them in His teachings. When addressing the Pharisees and scribes concerning their cleaning rituals, Mark records the following teaching by Christ: “For it doesn’t go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body.” (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean) (Mark 7:19). In contrast, when dealing with the Pharisees regarding the issues of justice, mercy and tithing, Jesus had this to say to them: Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others (Matt 23:23). Pastor and theologian John Piper accurately comments on Matthew 23:23 by stating, “So Jesus endorses tithing: don’t neglect it. It is not as essential as justice love and mercy; but it is to be done.” Fellow New York City pastor, Timothy Keller, also comes to the same conclusion regarding Matthew 23:23 and writes, “The tithe was required by the Mosaic Law and it was affirmed by Jesus (Matt. 23:23).”
- The Tithe Is Given To God. There are some who hold back their tithes because they believe that the church is not using the funds for the right purposes. This sort of reasoning results from a misunderstanding of the tithe’s Recipient. The tithe is ultimately and primarily given to God–not man. Yes, in the Old Testament it went through the temple; and yes, in the New Testament it goes through the church. Yet the fact remains: it is ultimately and primarily for God! Though I agree with popular Bible teacher John MacArthur on a host of issues, I heartily disagree with him on this issue of tithing. MacArthur doesn’t believe that Christians are obligated to tithe, and states, “Tithes were not primarily gifts to God, but taxes for funding the national budget in Israel.” In contrast to MacArthur, Malachi 3:8 states, “Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How have we robbed you?’ In your tithes and contributions.” Furthermore, Deuteronomy 14:23 states, “Eat the tithe of your grain, new wine and olive oil, and the firstborn of your herds and flocks in the presence of the LORD your God at the place he will choose as a dwelling for his Name, so that you may learn to revere the LORD your God always.” Indeed, tithes are primarily gifts to God. Your job, as a Christian, is not to be the church’s auditor. Your job is to faithfully give to God. Your job is to faithfully tithe. (If you have severe qualms about your church’s spending habits, then find another church to faithfully attend; but whatever you do, please continue tithing!)
- The Practice Of Tithing Preceded The Levitical Priesthood And The Mosaic Law. Another common error is the belief that because the Levitical priesthood is now obsolete, a believer no longer has to tithe in the New Testament era. Again, John MacAruther perpetuates this type of thinking by stating, “Tithes were not primarily gifts to God, but taxes for funding the national budget in Israel. Because Israel was a theocracy, the Levitical priests acted as the civil government.” Therefore, if there’s no Levitical priesthood, then there’s no tithing! However, in Scripture, we find that the practice of tithing preceded the Levitical priesthood. The issue of the Levitical priesthood, is therefore, really a moot point when it comes to the issue of tithing. Both Jacob and his grandfather, Abraham, pre-existed the Mosaic Law and the Levitical priesthood by centuries. Both men tithed. Why? The purpose of tithing is to demonstrate one’s costly devotion to God. In our tithing, we declare that God is indeed our God and that He alone is the sole Provider for all our needs. Jacob, himself, gave this reason in Genesis 28:20-22:Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then 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.”
- Christ Is Our Priest After The Order Of Melchizedek. Let’s not forget that the New Testament book of Hebrews talks about tithing. In Hebrews 7, the writer states that Abraham gave Melchizedek (priest of the Most High God) “a tenth part of everything” (Heb 7:2). The author’s main point in the text is to demonstrate that Jesus Christ is an eternal priest after the order of Melchizedek (Heb 7:17), the guarantor of a “better covenant” than the one presented by Moses (Heb 7:22). Now, theologians wrangle about whether or not Melchizedek was a pre-incarnate Christ, but 3 points are clear from the text: 1. Abraham tithed based on the greatness of Melchizedek (“See how great this man was to whom Abraham the patriarch gave a tenth of the spoils!” (Hebrews 7:4)), 2. even Levi gave tithes to Melchizedek through the loins of his forefather Abraham (Heb 7:9) and, 3. Christ is an eternal priest in the likeness of Melchizedek (Heb 7:15). Starting to see the picture?
- Abraham gave a tithe to Melchizedek based on the greatness of Melchizedek.
- Jesus is an eternal priest in the order and likeness of Melchizedek.
- Therefore, Jesus is worthy of our tithes (just as Abraham gave his tithe to worthy Melchizedek).
For those who would try to argue that I’m taking a descriptive text and being prescriptive with it, I would contend by simply stating, “Are you greater than our father Abraham?” Granted, Hebrews 7 never states the words, “Thou shalt tithe,” but we can at least agree that the text makes it clear that Abraham gave tithes because he was able to gauge Melchizedek’s worth. It is also clear that Christ is a priest in the same order as Melchizedek (as opposed to the order of Levi). If Abraham deemed that a good way to demonstrate his reverence of Melchizedek was through giving 10% of everything, then doesn’t Christ deserve at least that much? What percentage would you propose? The American average of 2.3%?
6. Tithing Helps Kill The Love Of Money. Part of the reason, I believe, God instituted the tithe was to help His people kill the love of money. Money promises joy, honor, and security. God promises the same things. Who are you going to trust? Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money” (Matt 6:24). Whenever you tithe, you’re doing 3 things: 1. You’re demonstrating your costly devotion to God as the sole Provider and Sustainer of your life. You are declaring that God is your God–not money, 2. You’re obeying Scripture, and 3. You’re allowing God to show you that He can do more with your 90% than you can do with your 100%. The same God that asked Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac is the God who lovingly asks you to test Him regarding this issue of tithing (Mal 3:10). A person who seeks to pay back debt before he begins tithing does not honor God because he is robbing God. More than likely, he’ll never get out of debt. Tithing is essentially a faith issue. Through our tithes, we demonstrate our trust in God and thereby, we kill the love of money. God will provide, and He is more than enough for us.
Tithing is an act of worship and devotion to the one true God. Remember that the next time the offering basket comes around. And if financial fear begins to rise in your heart because you’re giving God 10%, then kill it by bringing Scripture to mind: Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5). Or, as John Piper put it:
Every time you doubt that you can live on 90% of your income, let the glorious promise of God strengthen your faith: “My God shall supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19).
God loves you, and He will never ever forsake you. Show your faith in Him by tithing–joyfully and dutifully.