I grew up in a family and church that emphasized tithing. When I first started getting an allowance as a grade schooler, I was expected to tithe it. I think mostly to learn good habits rather than because my church really needed the 3.5 cents a week. And in most of my adult life I have been a part of churches that at least encouraged tithing. But is tithing something that Christians should be expected to do?
Tithing in the Old Testament
Leviticus 27:30-33 contains the initial instruction in regards to tithing. Other passages affirm the practice and its requirement. Leviticus calls on the people to give one tenth of everything that they harvest from the land, as well as 1 out of ten of the animals in their herds or flocks. That tithe, or 10%, belongs to God.
But, you might ask, what did God need with their tithe. It’s not as if he needed it to live on. I think it served two purposes. The first was simply as a way for the Jews to express thanksgiving to God for what he was doing for them. And, as an obligation, it demonstrates their commitment and obedience to God.
But it also served a much more practical purpose. There was a tabernacle, and later temple, that needed maintenance. There were daily, monthly, and annual animal and grain sacrifices that needed to be made. And there was a whole tribe, the Levites and Priests, that were serving in the religious life of the community. And they were not given an inheritance of land in Israel. They were supported by the tithes of the people. Without the tithes, there could be no people dedicated to the religious practice mandated by God.
So the tithe served an essential role in the life of the Jewish people. But does it still apply to Christianity today?
Tithing in the New Testament
Tithing was an essential part of the Jewish religious life under the old covenant. But is it something that is expected of believers today? Depending on who you ask, you will get different responses to that question. What follows is my own belief on the subject.
To start with, I tithe. I am not opposed to the practice. And I do it, not out of obligation, but freely. But I do not believe that it is a requirement for New Testament believers. Old Testament tithing was a part of the Law. A Law that we are no longer under. The legalistic requirements of the Law are not applicable to Gentile believers. The 15th chapter of Acts makes clear that we are free from those requirements.
But does that mean then that I have no need to provide financial support for the church I am apart of. As well as other ministry efforts? No, I don’t think it does.
The Importance of Giving
In 1 Timothy 5:17-18 and 1 Corinthians 9:14 Paul makes it clear that we have an obligation to provide material support to the elders who work with us, preaching and teaching. In Philippians 4:10-19, Paul thanks the church at Philippi for their financial gift, a gift that enabled him to serve full time rather than having to work to support himself. And, in 2 Corinthians 8 and 9 Paul addresses the church at Corinth about taking up a collection for the poor saints in Jerusalem.
So, while the New Testament does not mandate tithing, it does encourage the same sort of giving. Giving to support those who minister to us. Giving to support missions. And giving to support the poor. The church at that time did not have buildings and lots of programs, but if it did, I would guess that supporting those would be addressed as well.
So, do we need to tithe? No. But should we give generously to the work of the Lord? Yes.
Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.2 Corinthians 9:7-8 NIV
The views expressed here are solely mine and do not necessarily reflect those of any other person, group, or organization. While I believe they reflect the teachings of the Bible, I am a fallible human and subject to misunderstanding. Please feel free to leave any comments or questions about this post in the comments section below. I am always interested in your feedback.
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