To Tithe or Not to Tithe
by Jack Helser

    Though I've always struggled with the tithe, I still shook my head in disgust when I heard about the preacher who's congregation quietly left the church during the prayer following a long sermon on tithing. He said "Amen", looked up and cried out "half my church is gone!" I laughed saying "they must have fled the conviction of the Holy Spirit".

    What the Lord said took me completely by surprise: "They fled from error and guilt-based giving". "What?!?" I said - I ve heard more sermons on the tithe than on any other topic except perhaps our need of Jesus for eternal life! After I picked up my jaw from the floor, the Lord prompted me to study tithing and giving. Throughout the Bible study I prayed for His guidance and in the end I reached the inescapable conclusion that the "tithe" is to the modern church what the issue of "circumcision" was to the church in Paul s time.

    NOTE: Nothing in the following material is intended as an excuse not to give generously and cheerfully (hilariously) as the Lord directs.

    The verse most often cited in support of the tithe is from the Old Testament, found in Malachi 3:8-10:8. ""Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me. "But you ask, `How do we rob you?' "In tithes and offerings. 9. You are under a curse--the whole nation of you--because you are robbing me. 10. Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this," says the LORD Almighty, "and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.

    Many preachers shorten Malachi 3:8-10 to just "Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse", and almost always with the inference that their church is the "storehouse". For purposes of this paper, the Lord had me concentrate on the passage: "Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house". From that passage, the Lord had me research several questions:

What is the tithe?
What was the tithe for?
What is the storehouse?

    1) What is the tithe? The tithe is 10% of the increase, established in Leviticus 27:30-33 as an offering Holy to the Lord. The scripture identifies the tithe as grain and fruit, herd and flock. The tithe is food! An example of the tithe can be seen in a shepherd with a flock of 100 sheep who is blessed with the birth of 50 lambs in the spring. Five of the lambs must be offered to the Lord as a tithe. The tithe was brought to the temple in Jerusalem in acknowledgement and appreciation of God s provision for His people.

    2) What was the tithe for? God doesn't need the food; God doesn't eat. God doesn't desire sacrifices or offerings (Psalm 40:6 and Hosea 6:6) He desires mercy. God doesn't need us to give Him a 10th of everything when He already owns everything.

    (Psalm 24:1 and Job 41:11b). The tithe was used to feed the Levite priests (and their families) who were required to work in the temple day and night ministering to God on behalf of God s people (1 Chronicles 9:33). Without the tithe, the Levite priests would have needed to raise their own food, thereby taking them away from ministering before God. Hence the reference in Malachi 3:10 " that there may be food in my house". Nehemiah 13:10-13 records a time when the Levite priests were not receiving the tithe wherein they abandoned their daily temple responsibilities to work the farms to feed their families.

    The reference to robbing God in Malachi 3:8 is in fact robbing God of ministry and worship by failing to take care of God s priests through the tithe of food items. The Levites did not receive any land to grow food. They only received a few cities to live in. Their inheritance in the land was divided up and distributed to the other tribes. Thus, the other tribes were OBLIGATED to provide the Levites with a portion of their increase from the land that they held that would have been given to the tribe of Levi.

    3) What is the storehouse? 2 Chronicles 31 teaches that the storehouse is the Temple in Jerusalem. When the tithe was re-instituted under King Hezekiah, the king gave orders to prepare storerooms in the temple to hold the tithe. Apparently the grain "tithe" was heaped up in the streets, which caused a traffic jam of sorts. King Hezekiah had the storehouse built to relieve a bad case of urban congestion in ancient Jerusalem.

    Having established the original purpose of the tithe, the Lord prompted me with several more questions.

Q: "What happened to the temple (storehouse)?"

A: It was destroyed in 70AD and has not been rebuilt.

Q: "Why?"

A: The old covenant system of animal sacrifice to atone for sin is finished. The new covenant is in the blood of Christ who is the final and everlasting sin sacrifice.

Q: "Where is the temple now?"

A: 1 Corinthians 6:19 says WE are the temple of the Holy Spirit. God no longer resides in a stone temple, but in the hearts of his children through the Holy Spirit.

Q: "What happened to the Levitical priests?"

A: The Levite priesthood is no longer necessary as the old covenant system of animal sacrifice in the temple was superceded by the everlasting covenant of Christ s blood.

Q: "Who are the priesthood now?"

A: 1 Peter 2:5 and 9 says those who have received Jesus as Lord and Savior are the priesthood.

Come On Laity, Let's Do The Twist

    Burdening the Body of Christ with the Tithe requires several twists and reinterpretations of scripture.

  • The tithe must be imported from the OT law of Moses to the new covenant of grace by Christ s blood.
  • The tithe must be redefined from "flocks, herds, fruit and grain" to "money" and often "time".
  • The storehouse must be redefined from the temple in Jerusalem to the local church building.
  • The Body of Christ must buy into the ordained clergy as the new priesthood, thereby replacing the Levite priesthood as the rightful recipient of the tithe. The Body of Christ must forfeit their own priesthood and buy into the notion that they are the "laity".

    The tithe has been introduced to the Body of Christ using two tactics of the enemy.

    1) Sowing guilt and shame into the Body of Christ by quoting Malachi 3:8 "Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me. But you ask, `How do we rob you?' In tithes and offerings." What devoted Christian wants to rob God? The net effect of sowing guilt has been to extort money from the Body of Christ, thereby robbing the Body of the joy and blessing of giving as God leads. The practice ignores Paul s instructions to the church at Corinth: "Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver (2 Corinthians 9:7)."

    2) Blaming the laity for the financial troubles in the Body of Christ, by telling the Body they are not blessed by God because they do not tithe. Often Malachi 3:10 is emphasized "Test me in this, says the LORD Almighty, and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it." In so doing, believers are challenged to tithe, with the promise that God will bless them if they do. Such giving is not out of love for God, but out of selfishness. It implies a reward for works, which contradicts Ephesians 2:8-9, and completely ignores our status as sons of God by faith in Christ (Galatians 3:26) and joint heirs of God with Christ (Romans 8:17). The practice also ignores Christ s words in Matthew 4:7 "Do not put the Lord your God to the test".

The Apostles Did Not Teach Gentiles To Tithe

    Acts 15:1-31 records a dispute over circumcision that arose in the Gentile church at Antioch. Several false brothers had attempted to require Gentile (non-Jewish) Christians to be circumcised. Paul and Barnabas sharply opposed the false brothers and traveled to Jerusalem to discuss the issue of circumcision with the other apostles. In Jerusalem, they reported the miracles and conversions among the Gentiles. The apostles were filled with joy over God s work there, and they agreed that circumcision was not a requirement for salvation.

    Following the meeting, the apostles and elders in the church at Jerusalem sent Paul and Barnabas back to Antioch with a letter of welcome to the Gentile Christians. The essential text of the letter is found in Acts 15:28-29. It reads: "It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things. Farewell."

    The apostles did not want to burden the Gentiles with Old Testament practices! The proof is in their letter to the Gentiles and the fact that the apostles did not impose the tithe on them.

Come, Let Us Reason Together (Isaiah 1:18)

    Let's suppose for the sake of argument that Jesus had commanded us to continue tithing. It would be appropriate then to use the tithe to feed the priesthood as originally purposed. Who then is the priesthood? The apostle Peter writes in 1 Peter 2:5-9 that every believer is a priest! Hebrews 5-8 also teaches us that Jesus is the only priest that we need (Hebrews 5-8). However the institutional church has borrowed from the Old Testament model of the Levitical Priesthood, thereby establishing a new priesthood (ordained clergy) that is separate from the rest of the Body of Christ. The division between the clergy, and the so-called "laity" is not Biblical. Is this the doctrine of the Nicolaitans that Jesus hates?

    In fact, Jesus did not establish the ordained clergy; He chose fishermen and tax collectors to preach His gospel. Neither did He establish division in His church, He desires unity (John 17:20-23). The apostles did not set up an ordained clergy they chose men full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom to serve the Body (Acts 6:3, 1 Timothy 3). This man-made division between "clergy" and "laity" has effectively served to divert the offerings of the Body of Christ away from the people it is intended to bless and the offerings are most often used in ways contrary to the will of God. The net result has been starvation and financial bondage for many believers, and the real priesthood the whole Body of Christ has not been prepared to carry out Christ's command to preach the gospel to all nations!

    Jesus is the Word of God in the flesh (John 1:14). He knew that Malachi 3:10 says "bring the whole tithe into the storehouse" when He instructed the rich man to sell everything and give the proceeds to the poor (Matthew 19:21). I imagine the Scribes and Pharisees about choked on that one as they were in the habit of devouring widow s houses for profit (Luke 20:47). In Matthew 25:31-46, Jesus reiterated His desire to help the poor in the parable of separating the sheep from the goats, wherein at judgment Jesus will reward those who feed the hungry and clothe the poor. Since Jesus judges us for our care of the poor and hungry, and since He commands us to preach the gospel throughout the world, why is most of our giving used for church buildings and salaries with only a small percentage devoted to the poor, missions and evangelism?

    Is the church making goats out of us by not feeding the hungry and clothing the poor with our offerings? Let's not wait until the Judgment of Christ to find out!

Sins of the Church Against the Needy

    The Lord has been trying to bring me to the truth about giving for years. On many occasions, He prompted me to take what I would have normally put in the offering plate at church and give it directly to someone in need. Still, I never questioned the common practice of giving my whole offering to the church, whereupon I trusted the church to administer my gifts. That is until the day Lord had me witness an abomination.

    In the main office of a church I attended years ago, I was fixing a computer one Friday morning. Two young black women, with three adorable children dressed in their Sunday best, came into the office to ask for a food donation. The three secretaries of our all-white upper middle class church stared at them, and finally one said nervously "our deacon of benevolence is in the office on Thursday afternoons; can I make an appointment for you for next Thursday?" One of the women pleaded "We can't wait a week; we need food now." The secretary repeated her offer, and I became sick to my stomach. I left quickly and drove a mile up the road to a cash machine and came directly back to the church only to find that the two women and three children had left empty handed. The staff did not know where they had gone and I returned to my car and wept. I felt as if I had failed but the Lord said, "You did not fail son; the church failed."

    Since that first eye-opening experience, the Lord has shown me many more sins of the church against the poor that have left me nauseated. One church considered installing an air conditioning system for which several members had pledged $35,000 while another member of the church who was wheelchair bound from advanced multiple sclerosis didn't have enough money to buy food at the end of the month with what little state aid she received. Often she was forced to choose between food, medicine or heat in winter. For many months my wife and I gave to her anonymously and when she went to be with the Lord last winter, she was at peace the kind of peace that only acts of love can bring (1 John 3:18, James 1:22). As she was relieved of her financial stress, she blessed everyone around her with unquenchable joy. Most importantly, she taught us about right giving.

    More recently, I attended a conference where the host appealed to the audience to give "an offering for the poor." I heard the Lord say "the poor are among you" (Mark 14:7) and immediately I thought of a dear friend in attendance who is experiencing financial difficulties and had recently lost her home. The next day I began a letter to the host saying "Last night you took an offering from the poor." I groaned at the error and started to rip the page from my notebook when the Lord said, "That is not an error; last night's offering was taken from the poor."

    The Lord then brought to mind the parable of the sheep and goats, specifically Matthew 25:40 where it says, "whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me." The words "these brothers of mine" had not made an impression on me before, and the Lord brought me to the understanding that our first obligation to the poor is to the poor within the Body of Christ. The Lord then brought Matthew 15:26 to mind wherein Jesus said, "It is not right to take the children's bread and toss it to the dogs."

    The early church had a much better understanding of Christ s intent to care for the needs of the Body of Christ than we do today. The proof of their caring for each other can be seen in Acts 2:44-47 and Acts 4:32-37 where the Body of Christ shared everything, and through their giving, they eliminated poverty and indebtedness. In fact, Acts 4:34 says, "there were no needy persons among them!" Taking up offerings to feed the Body of Christ was common in the early church. In Acts 11:27-30, the Gentile church at Antioch took up an offering for the believers in Judea who were experiencing a time of famine.

    How did the church get so far off course?

Giving as Christ Intends

    Though the tithe is not a requirement for the Body of Christ, we are still instructed to give. What changed from the Old Testament to the New Testament is our motivation for giving. In the Old Testament, giving was compulsory, a tenth (tithe). In the New Testament, giving is a gift (Romans 12:8) and we are to give with joy as we are led to give (2 Corinthians 9:7), not by compulsion.

    Our attitude about giving should be like that of the poor widow who Jesus esteemed in Mark 12:41-44. The poor widow put 2 small copper coins, worth a penny, into the temple treasury. The coins were all she had to live on. The poor widow understood that God owns everything and she was willing to give all that she had with cheer as God had put it on her heart to do.

    It is time to cheerfully invest in what is eternal, specifically God s children. The children must be fed and clothed to equip them to carry Christ s gospel throughout the whole world, and to make the Bride of Christ ready for her soon returning Savior. Imagine what it could be like if we resumed giving and sharing as Jesus intends. Surely we would rediscover the same abundant and powerful living as the early church enjoyed!

    Jesus said "So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed" (John 8:36). By Christ s sacrifice we are free from the curse of the law (Galatians 3:10-13). It is by feeding the hungry, clothing the poor, providing the thirsty with drink, caring for the sick, visiting those in prison and sharing with strangers, that the Body of Christ is set free from need and the church is made ready to carry out the work of Christ.

    We can no longer afford to misuse our offerings for church buildings, parsonages, conference centers, multi-purpose buildings, air conditioning, padded pews, pipe organs, and the like, all of which will be burned up and forgotten, while God s children go hungry and naked. Instead, like the example set by Abel, we should give our best gifts because we love God and want to see God s work accomplished on the earth.

What building ever won a person to Christ?

    Ask God to show you what to give and to whom, and remember Jesus words "Feed my sheep" (John 21:17) which doesn't just mean to give a sermon on Sunday.

   Thanks to Roger Taylor for sending this! Visit his site at Christian Resources Network. For a longer treatment of this subject go to A New Look at Tithing. Gary Carpenter has a very helpful discussion on his site that places the issue in a much larger context, see The Tithe and the Field.

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