should Christians tithe?

You’ve heard all the sermons and attended all the financial seminars. They all tell you the same thing. If you aren’t giving 10% of your gross income to the church, you’re a disobedient Christian.

I’ll believe it when I see it. Let’s ask some questions. Sixty-six books of material ought to give us something.

tithe

Malachi in Context

What’s the primary passage that Christian financial experts use as their defense? Malachi 3.

Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, “How have we robbed you?” In your tithes and contributions.

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.

Dig into the entire book of Malachi, and you’ll see what this is about. It seems that the priests decided God wasn’t worthy of honor because He wasn’t doing His job well. Presenting an offering before this God? No big deal.

Their people followed suit, either bringing their second best, acquiring it unethically, or lying about it. Or a, b, and c.

God scolded them and offered them a second chance. If they would bring their very best with an attitude of reverence, the Lord would honor it. The Lord’s name is to be feared, end of story.

Is the point of Malachi 3 the tithe itself or the method and attitude with which it is brought? Is this passage intended to be applied directly to 21st-century Christians? If so, how?

The Old Testament Tithe

The concept of a “tithe” is undoubtedly pervasive in the Old Testament. As with any other issue specifically pertaining to a particular person, or group of people, in a particular context, we must ask if it pertains also to us as New Testament believers. What does Jesus say about the tithe? Does He command it, teach it, reinforce it, or speak about it at all?

The average evangelical church of the 21st-century advocates the tithe as an important part of the Christian’s participation and the church’s function.

The New Testament speaks about the church to a great extent. Does it ever mention a tithe?

What can we learn about the tithe from the Old Testament? How should it be applied to the New Testament church? What passages or aspects regarding the tithe in the Old Testament are confirmed in the New Testament?

The New Testament Tithe

To answer your question, the New Testament speaks of a “tithe” (or “tenth”) in a grand total of three instances. Let’s briefly explore each.

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe [apodekatoo] 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, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel! Matt 23:23

But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe [apodekatoo] mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. Luke 11:42

In these parallel passages, Jesus does not condemn the religious people of the day for tithing. Rather, He condemns them for placing the tithe above matters of greater importance. They should have given attention to all of the above.

I fast twice a week; I give tithes [apodekatoo] of all that I get. Luke 18:12

In the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector, the “righteous” one of the two boasts of his religiosity. He tithes his “gross income” and anything else he happens to obtain.

For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him, and to him Abraham apportioned a tenth [dekate] part of everything.

See how great this man was to whom Abraham the patriarch gave a tenth [dekate] of the spoils! And those descendants of Levi who receive the priestly office have a commandment in the law to take tithes [apodekatoo] from the people, that is, from their brothers, though these also are descended from Abraham. But this man who does not have his descent from them received tithes [dekatoo] from Abraham and blessed him who had the promises. It is beyond dispute that the inferior is blessed by the superior. In the one case tithes [dekate] are received by mortal men, but in the other case, by one of whom it is testified that he lives. One might even say that Levi himself, who receives tithes [dekate], paid tithes [dekatoo] through Abraham, for he was still in the loins of his ancestor when Melchizedek met him. Hebrews 7:1-2, 4-10

A reference to Genesis 14, this passage points to Jesus as the “priest who rises after the likeness of Melchizedek” (Heb 7:15-16). The author of Hebrews gets to the heart of the matter in the verses following: “For on the one hand, a former commandment is set aside because of its weakness and uselessness (for the law made nothing perfect); but on the other hand, a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God” (Heb 7:18-19).

Is it possible that, in the New Testament, the “tithe” is simply understood as a natural part of religious life? If Jesus doesn’t condemn or dismiss the tithe, why does He barely speak of it?

The Tithe and The Church

That being said, I am not convinced that Christians today are commanded to give 10% of their gross income to the church.

What are we supposed to do with that 10%? Or rather, 100%?

To be sure, God spends a great deal of time talking about money and how the Christian should use the resources God has given. But in those discussions, He never mentions a tithe.

God also spends a great deal of time talking about the church and the Christian’s responsibility therein. Yet He never mentions a tithe.

Regarding the Christian’s approach to money, Jesus says things like, “Give to the one who begs from you” (Matt 5:42, Luke 6:30), and, “Sell your possessions and give to the needy” (Mark 10:21, Luke 12:33).

Notice James 2:15-16:

If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?

Take a look at the following scenario. Perhaps this could be considered an example for the 21st-century church to emulate. Here, we have a “collection,” yet no “tithe” per se. Actually, we find something quite different.

And he sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. And a poor widow came in and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny. And he called his disciples and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” Mark 12:41-44

Consider also the following description of how the body of believers in Macedonia used their resources.

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, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saintsand this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us.

And in this matter I give my judgment: this benefits you, who a year ago started not only to do this work but also to desire to do it. So now finish doing it as well, so that your readiness in desiring it may be matched by your completing it out of what you have. For if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have. For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness. As it is written, “Whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack.” 2 Cor 8:1-5, 10-15

Contribute to the needs of the saints, and seek to show hospitality.
Rom 12:13

One further lengthy passage is found in 2 Corinthians 9 which speaks of the “generosity of their contribution.”

Lots of talk about needs and giving and generosity. Not a word about a “tithe.”

Conclusions

If I may condense all that has been said and make two observations for consideration. Fair warning: #1 is no good without #2.

1. In all that God says about money as it pertains to the church, He never mentions a “tithe.” Perhaps we err to press the “tithe” as the Christian’s responsibility in the church in our day.

2. In all that God says about money as it pertains to the church, He declares a lifestyle of “generosity.” None of this “let-me-calculate-10%” stuff. Christians are to give above and beyond to meet the needs of others.

It’s a thought.

[image credit: huffingtonpost.com, journeyoftheword.com]


19 thoughts on “should Christians tithe?

  1. C.S. Lewis said something to the extent that if it doesn’t hurt, you’re not giving enough. It’s not exactly Biblical, but I thought it was insightful.

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    1. That is interesting. I wonder what Lewis had in mind. Maybe…
      Deep down, sinful humans do not love to give, because they misunderstand what is best for them. They choose to keep for themselves instead of give away their “prized possessions.” If they realized that giving, instead of keeping, is better for them, they would give with joy. As it is, they give with reluctance and regret because they don’t see the reward that giving can bring them.
      Do you think that’s what Lewis is getting at? Because, I think, if you understand the joy and reward of giving, it doesn’t hurt, no matter how much you give.

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  2. You brought up some great arguments Lydia.
    This is what I have to say.
    Malachi 3 may be addressing something much bigger than tithing but can we still avoid the fact that God told the priests they stealing from Him becasue they were not tithing?
    From that same verse we see that the tithe had a direct impact on the temple of God. No tithe meant no food and vice versa.
    The tithe as I understand it was meant to keep the house of God opperational. Without it they couldn’t pay the levites who hadn’t inherited any land. (read Nehemiah 13:10)

    But with all that said, in the old testament there was a blessing that came with tithing and that has not been done away with. So we could give how we want and there would be a blessing but I believe there is a blessing when a tithe has been paid.
    Abraham gave the High Priest Melchizedek a tithe before it was even established. Something happened when they met that is for sure and there was something meaningful when he decided to give him a tenth.

    I want to receive the blessings that come with tithing and I want to receive the blessings that come with giving in general. When I tithe it’s a statement, a declaration of my trust in God with my finances. It’s me telling God i love Him and nothing is standing in the way of that (money).

    Those are my thoughts…….

    Rolain

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    1. So sorry for the delayed response!

      It seems to me that one of the things that happened at the cross is Jesus’ fulfillment of the law of the tithe. He did not come to destroy the law, but to fulfill it, and I think the tithe was one of those things. The biggest reason why I see it that way is because the tithe is spoken of differently and much less often in the New Testament than in the Old {but giving and generosity are mentioned more!}. When money or giving are addressed in the NT, the word or concept of the “tithe” is never used {except in reference to the Pharisees}.

      I’m not saying we shouldn’t give to the church, and I’m not saying we shouldn’t give at least 10%. I’m saying the NT does not demand giving a tithe, but giving generously. And it talks about giving to the needs of the saints as a people, not the church as a building or organization.

      These NT instructions do not negate the OT teaching of the tithe, but rather complete it and go beyond it. That’s what the cross does.

      Hope that helps to clarify.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I think a tithe is a good jumping off point for giving. If more church goers aimed to at least tithe there would be a lot less financial burden for the church Treasurer to juggle. So many people think it’s okay to give God their small change and I think that is a sad reflection on our lack of generosity and our lack of giving back to God what is His in the first place.

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    1. Thanks for sharing! The big question for me is: Is tithing biblical? There’s really no mention of it in the New Testament, especially not in all the instructions about the church. Which leads me to wonder whether tithing has anything to do with how Christians ought to give.

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  4. Hi Lydia,
    I hear almost everyone say in our church Christians are supposed to tithe. Some people in our church, when they pray, say, may be give back to you Lord a portion that you have blessed us with. Well, if someone came to you and said, here’s $1,000, you wouldn’t say, oh thank you! Here. Let me give some of it back to you. God so lovingly blesses his children. We give offerings of our own free will and amount.
    Tithes in the Old Testament were often food and the fruits of the children of Israel which were given to feed the priests in the temple.
    I like your two points at the end. 🙂 Thanks for writing about this. 🙂
    In Christ,
    Ashley

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    1. Amen Ashley, you said “Well, if someone came to you and said, here’s $1,000, you wouldn’t say, oh thank you! Here. Let me give some of it back to you. God so lovingly blesses his children. We give offerings of our own free will and amount.” I agree 100% but never looked at it in that very practicle way! The whole ” you get to keep 90%, your just giving back His portion and once you do He’ll make your 90% do more than you could have done with your 100%” really sounds more like a sales pitch deemed to make you more comfortable and willing to put money in the offering plate. Its the heart issue, and if its sold to you as an investment plan to guard our finances and promises increase, then I feel like it negates the motive God is looking for. Would I give more if I thought I was going to get EVEN MORE in return, my selfishness would totally say yes! But would I give more if it made no such promise? God knows what we give and exactly why we do, He examines our motives.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Ahh the topic of money and the church. The point of God wanting a giving attitude with a joyful heart is important. The amount…not so much. But God before me us also important… so giving more than is better than less than…

    Thanks for sharing with the Cozy Reading Spot

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  6. Such a great article, I had found myself at a crossroads on this exact issue accidently just a few years back when I came across this:

    Deuteronomy 14:24-26New American Standard Bible (NASB)

    24 If the distance is so great for you that you are not able to bring the tithe, since the place where the Lord your God chooses to set His name is too far away from you when the Lord your God blesses you, 25 then you shall exchange it for money, and bind the money in your hand and go to the place which the Lord your God chooses. 26 You may spend the money for whatever your heart desires: for oxen, or sheep, or wine, or strong drink, or whatever your heart desires; and there you shall eat in the presence of the Lord your God and rejoice, you and your household.

    Wow, I was left scratching my head… Sell? Sell your tithe for money? Buy whatever your heart desires with it? Enjoy whatever you spend it on with your family????

    That passage tore down all I was made to believe about tithing, as the church had taught me and put my feet on a journey of finding out for myself if tithing was in fact a – for today
    b – money
    c – 10%
    d – required
    e – was really “giving to God”
    f – was robbing God if not 10%
    g- who it was for
    h – what it really was (and wasn’t)

    In my search for answers God showed me through His word the truth, if you are willing to throw all you know out the window and just read all He’s said about the tithe and then compare it with all He said about giving you will walk away free of the common beliefs today and will likely never look at giving and tithing as one in the same or even something that has to do with church.

    Jesus told the rich man who wanted to follow him to give all he had to the poor, He did not mention the church or allowing him to keep 90% and giving 10%… Or 10% and an offering. Abram did not keep ANY of the spoils of war which is pretty much stolen goods that you gain when you win a battle. He gave 10% to Machezideck and 90% back to Sodom and Gomorrah. He kept none.

    No, I’m not saying give everything you have to the poor and live in a box, but I’m suggesting that after an in depth study on the scriptures, you may see things far different and question all you know now, this article is a great spring board for diving deeper!

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