The Beginnings of Christian Reform (8)

                            The Practice of Tithing


One of God’s most neglected commandments is the requirement to tithe. Our failure to tithe leaves the church of Jesus Christ without a financial base to carry on God’s kingdom work. Where God’s people started schools, colleges, voluntary self-help agencies, orphanages and hospitals, the state has assumed the responsibility: tax-supported education (from pre-school to university level), federal departments of Health and Welfare and state-run orphanages and hospitals. These state-run agencies reflect the state’s religious ideals. In its attempt to be religiously “neutral” (an impossibility), the state denies the Christian faith and embraces a political faith financed through its own substitute for the tithe, the tax.

There is no way to battle humanism’s destructive affects unless Christians develop and financially support institutions to train future generations of Christians in the “whole purpose of God” (Acts 20:27)…this means investing in the kingdom of God to counteract effects of anti-Christian policies that seek to make the state the all-encompassing provider.[1]

The Bible teaches us that everything belongs to God: “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof; the world and all that dwell therein” (Ps.24:1).

The fact that God owns everything indicates that He doesn’t need anything from us. But He requires certain things from us, and one of these is a tithe of our income. This is for our sake, not for His.

A tithe has been called by some a tax from God for living on the earth. It is His earth, and we are His subjects living on it.

The History of Tithing:                                                                                                             

The record oftithing begins in Genesis, with Abraham (Gen.14:17-20; Heb.7:1-4) when he gave tithes to Melchizedek. After Abraham died, God said to Isaac that Abraham “obeyed Me and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes and laws”(Gen.26:5). But in the dialogue between Abraham and God recorded in scripture, God never speak of His law. When God gave Jacob a dream, he promised to give a tenth of what he received to God (Gen.28:22).

Thus tithing was almost certainly a part of the original revelation given to Adam and Eve, and communicated down the generations through Noah and his sons. Shem lived 502 years after the flood (Gen.11:10-11), so that his and Abraham’s lives overlapped by 210 years (Gen.11:10-26).

Tithing (the giving of a tenth of one’s income) is mentioned 13 times in the Pentateuch. The tithe was paid to the Levites. The Lord said, “to the sons of Levi, behold, I have given all the tithe in Israel for an inheritance, in return for their service which they perform, the service of the tent of meeting” (Nu.18:21). The tithe need not be paid on an inheritance, which is received capital.

Later, the Lord commented concerning Levi, that “true instruction was in his mouth and unrighteousness was not found on his lips; he walked with Me in peace and uprightness, and he turned many back from iniquity. For the lips of a priest should preserve knowledge, and men should seek instruction from his mouth; for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts” (Mal.2:6-7).

God charged Israel with robbing Him when they failed to tithe (Mal.3:8-10), and told Israel they were cursed as a result. Jesus commended the scribes and Pharisees for tithing their “mint, dill and cummin” (Mat.23:23), but warned them in the process that they had neglected “the weightier provisions of the law: justice, mercy and faithfulness.”

The New Testament:

Paul made a connection between Old and New Testaments practices, when he wrote that he was “a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles, ministering as a priest the gospel of God, so that my offering of the Gentiles may become acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit” (Ro.15:16).

He also instructed the Corinthians, saying “do you not know that those who perform sacred services eat the food of the temple, and those who attend regularly to the altar have their share from the altar? So also the Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel” (I Cor.9:13-14).

Nothing in the scripture suggests that tithing is abolished in the New Testament. In his epistles, Paul seems to allude to tithing when he instructs the Corinthians “on the first day of every week each one of you is to put aside and save, as he may prosper, so that no collections be made when I come” (I Cor.16:2). He also commanded that “the one who is taught in the word is to share all good things with the one who teaches him” (Gal.6:6).

In I Tim.5:17, Paul adds that “the elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honour, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching.” Thus the preachers and teachers of the church are to be in receipt of the tithe.

…the New Testament makes unhindered use of the Old Testament commandments in Christian moral judgments. Paul’s argument that congregations should pay their pastors is especially enlightening as the extent of the [O.T.] law’s validity. He argues from the case law principle of the Old Testament that “you shall not muzzle an ox as it treads” (I Cor.9:9, from Deut.25:4), thereby revealing the assumed contemporary authority of the laws outside the Decalogue. An invalid law would be useless here. But even more striking is Paul’s willingness to appeal to the moral principle embodied in one of the ceremonial laws! Pastors should earn their livelihood from the gospel ministry because priests derived their sustenance from the altar (I Cor.9.13-14, based on texts such as Lev.6:16, 26, 7:6, 31ff; Num.5:9-10; 19:8-20, 31; Deut.18:1).[2]

Thus the tithe is effectively a tax, to be paid to the Church firstly for the maintenance of its ministers, but it also can be used for charitable purposes for the poor, orphans, widows and fatherless, when  families themselves are unable to cope with their economic trials (I Tim.5:3-16). This is a key aspect of Biblical welfare, highlighted in the New Testament when the twelve apostles selected deacons to care for the widows (Acts 6).

The tithe must be distributed under the direction firstly of the local church elders, its first tier of government (I Tim.3:1-7; Tit.1:5-9), and secondarily sometimes the deacons, who represent the second-tier of church government, and it must be properly accounted for.

Conclusion:                                                                                                                      Tithing is a key aspect of church financing, and of its strength and independence. The payment of the tithe and its proper administration must be restored to its rightful place in the Church, if that institution (which the Lord said has received the keys of the kingdom), is to regain the authority in the community and the world that the Lord has clearly planned.

Are you paying your tithes?

[1] Gary DeMar, “God and Government,” 2001, Vol 2, p.101.

[2] Greg Bahnsen, “By This Standard,” 1991, p.129-130.

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