Studies In Tithing
Posted on 9/17/02
Reverend Dr. Ray H. Hughes
Church Of God General Offices
I. TITHING UNDER THE COVENANT OF PROMISE
A. Abraham tithed
B. Melchizedek blessed
C. Tithing the spoils was not optional
D. Jacob pledged to tithe all
E. Jacob Practiced his grandfather's religion
F. Abraham's children do his works
G. Offerings are of divine origin
II. MOSAICAL TITHING
A. Moses adapted it
B. The Levites tithed
C. There were two other tithes
1. Festival tithe
2. Third tithe
III. THE LAW AND THE PROPHETS
A. Consider tithing in the days of Joshua
B. Consider tithing in the days of Elijah and Elisha
1. Under Hezekiah
2. Under Nehemiah
3. Under Malachi
IV. CHRIST'S ATTITUDE TOWARD TITHING
A. Christ endorsed it
B. Did Christ tithe
C. Christ fulfilled the Law
V. THE TEACHING OF PAUL CONCERNING TITHING
A. Paul taught the Corinthians about tithing
B. Paul taught the Galatians about tithing
C. Paul taught the Romans about tithing
D. There are two major principles concerning giving
1. Tithes and offerings
2. Fund to support the poor
STUDIES IN TITHING
TITHING UNDER THE COVENANT OF PROMISE
Returning from the slaughter of the kings, Abraham offered a tenth of his spoils to Melchizedek, the King of Salem. This incident occurred approximately 1900 years before the birth of Christ and is usually regarded as the earliest instance of tithing recorded in the Bible.
Attention is given to this incident of tithe paying in Hebrews, chapter seven. The writer, discussing the incident, states that Melchizedek was greater than Abraham because Abraham paid tithes to him. The fact that Abraham paid tithes to Melchizedek denotes that Abraham was blessed of Melchizedek.
Tithing the Spoils
With regard to the spoils of battle, Abraham, although he was requested to do so by the king of Sodom, would not take any of the goods for himself. he seemed, nevertheless, to realize that he had no jurisdiction over God's tenth. Even though he refused to accept the spoils for himself, he felt his obligation to God. For this reason, it appears that, with Abraham, tithing was not something optional but an actual obligation.
The fact that tithing was a custom among the ancient Israelites is reflected in the vow of Jacob 153 years before the giving of the Law: "If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat, and raiment to put on, So that I come again to my father's house in peace; then shall the Lord be my God: And this stone, which I have set for a pillar, shall be God's house: and of all that thou shalt give me I will surely give the tenth unto thee" (Genesis 28:20-22).
Practicing His Grandfather's Religion
Jacob was Abraham's grandson, and it was most fitting that Jacob should practice the religious observances of his grandfather. Since he took the God of Abraham as his God too, it is only reasonable that he would follow the worship practices of Abraham as well.
Abraham's Children Do His Works
If we are Abraham's children, we will do the works of Abraham (John 8:39). And although we have only one record of Abraham's paying tithes, in Jacob's vow we see tithing as a continuous act. His vow was not made for his one single journey but for the rest of his life. For this reason, it is only right and logical to believe that Abraham was a faithful tither.
Offerings are divine institutions of God; and, if God requires the, is it not logical that He would signify the amount? The very fact that so many peoples of the earth pay a tenth unto God as the stipulated amount lends credence to its divine origin.
We have already learned that tithing was not practiced merely under the Law. Neither was it an institution that began with Moses, the Lawgiver. But we have a biblical record that Abraham paid tithes under the covenant of promise 430 years before the giving of the Law.
Moses Adapted It
Moses does not deal with tithing as a new institution but seems only to have adapted it to the Jewish situation. A tenth of the produce of the land, whether it was the seed or the fruit, was to be set apart and regarded as wholly for God. Every tenth calf and lamb of the increase of the flock or herd was to be set apart for God (Leviticus 27:30-33). This tithe, though claimed by God himself, was given to the Levites as an inheritance: "And, behold, I have given the children of Levi all the tenth in Israel for an inheritance, for their service which they serve....But the tithes of the children of Israel, which they offer as an heave offering unto the Lord, I have given to the Levites to inherit" (Numbers 18:21, 24).
The Levites Tithed
It may be noticed that in this tithing, according to Leviticus 27:32, the giver had no voice in its disposal. No part of it was to be received back. To withhold such tithe was regarded as dishonesty (Malachi 3:8). A tenth of this tithe was to be paid by the Levites to Aaron, the priest (Numbers 18:26-28).
Two Other Tithes
Under the Jewish order, there were a second and a third tithe which were given. We learn, concerning this second tithe, in Deuteronomy 14:22-27, that, first, it was to be eaten by the offerer, his household, and the Levite. There was one restriction, and that was that it was to be eaten at the appointed place of worship. The tithe-payer was to eat and praise God for his increase.
If the tithe payer lived some distance away from that appointed place, he could convert his produce into money and spend it for sacrifices and feasting when he arrived at the appointed place of worship. This second tithe is often called a festival tithe and was paid three times a year. All of the men of Israel were to assemble at the sanctuary at least three times a year to worship God: "And thither ye shall bring your burnt offerings, and your sacrifices, and your tithes, and heave offerings of your hand, and your vows, and your freewill offerings, and the firstlings of your herds and of your flocks: And there ye shall eat before the Lord your God, and ye shall rejoice in all that ye put your hand unto, ye and your households, wherein the Lord thy God hath blessed thee" (Deuteronomy 12:6, 7).
The purpose, then, of this festival tithe was to foster religious principles and to furnish a time for social observances. Some people do not understand the proper use of tithe because they do not understand the different divisions of tithing in the Old Testament. Most people conclude that there is only one tithe; and, for that reason, every scripture in the Old Testament concerning tithing is, in their opinion, brought under one heading. Unless we recognize the various tithes of the Old Testament, we cannot reconcile the Scriptures.
The Scripture suggests that a third tithe was offered by the Israelites: "At the end of three years thou shalt bring forth all the tithe of thine increase the same year, and shalt lay it up within thy gates: And the Levite, (Because he hath no part nor inheritance with thee,) and the stranger, and the fatherless, and the widow, which are within thy gates, shall come, and shall eat and be satisfied; that the Lord thy God may bless thee in all the work of thine hand which thou doest" (Deuteronomy 14:28, 29). We know that this is not the tithe given to the Levites, because that tithe was for his inheritance. We understand that it is not the second tithe, because such a tithe was to be taken to an appointed place of worship. This tithe, which is called the third tithe, was to be laid up at home. This tenth was to be shared with the Levites, strangers, fatherless, and widows.
According to the Scripture, the Israelite was to set apart from one-fourth to one third of his income for tithe and offerings. A sincere Israelite would possibly set apart a tenth of his income for the Levite. The firstborn and firstlings of his cattle would be given to God. For three years the fruit of the young trees was not to be eaten, and in the fourth year the fruit was to be for God. Every seventh year he would not claim any money from his debtors. He would leave the corners of his field, the fallen fruit, his gleanings, and the overlooked olives and grapes for the poor. He would give a second tenth for a festival tithe to be spent at the appointed place of worship. He would possibly give a freewill offering for the Feast of Weeks, animals for the payment of vows, or thank offerings. He would also bring a basket of firstfruits to present unto the priest.
THE LAW AND THE PROPHETS
Tithing in the Days of Joshua
Having discovered the laws of the first five books of the Bible which govern tithes, let us find out if the remainder of the Old Testament adds any new light on these laws. When the children of Israel entered into the land of Canaan, Joshua read to them a copy of the law of Moses: "There was not a word of all that Moses commanded, which Joshua read not before all the congregation of Israel, with the women, and the little ones, and the strangers that were conversant among the: (Joshua 8:35). Therefore, Joshua read all that was commanded concerning tithes. Since the tithe was the only means of support for the Levites and their families, it is quite certain that this law did not go unnoticed. We read of the Levites coming to Joshua at Shiloh making the following request: "The Lord commanded by the hand of Moses to give us cities to dwell in, with the suburbs thereof for our cattle" (Joshua 21:2).
We do not read anywhere in the Word of God that tithing was regarded as burdensome by those who practiced it. Without exception, every time that tithes were given and the more closely this precept was followed, the more prosperous the people became and the greater the blessings they received.
Tithing in the Days of Elijah and Elisha
In the days of Elijah and Elisha devout men and women respected those in the ministry and gave them the portion that belonged to them and, in many cases, even beyond that portion. This spirit is exemplified in the action of the widow of Zarephath who had but a handful of meal in a barrel and a little oil in her cruse, but who made the first cake for the Lord's prophet. It is also exemplified in the action of the Shunammite woman who prepared a room in her house for the itinerant preacher, Elisha, again showing kind hospitality toward the ministry.
The first time that the actual word "tithe" is mentioned after we leave the book of Deuteronomy is in the ironical words of Amos when he rebuked the people for not paying their tithes.
Under the reform of Hezekiah, "he commanded the people that dwelt in Jerusalem to give the portion of the priests and the Levites, that they might be encouraged in the law of the Lord" (2 Chronicles 31:4). The Levites could have worked in the field and could have done other work, but it was their specific work to minister. Ministers to today are not too good to work with their hands, but they cannot do justice to the ministry of the Word of God when they have to work at secular labor.
Ministers are not to be regarded as objects of charity. When the people brought in their tithe, the reply of the priest was, "Since the people began to bring the offerings into the house of the Lord, we have had enough to eat, and have left plenty: for the Lord hath blessed his people; and that which is left is this great sore" (2 Chronicles 31:10).
When Hezekiah came to his throne, he opened the house of God and restored the priests and Levites to their services. They had suffered because the people had not shared God's portion. Ministers suffer today through the laxity of non-tithers. This is God's financial system, and we must recognize it.
In the days of Nehemiah, the Levites and singers were driven to the fields to work because the portion had not been given them: "And I perceived that the portions of the Levites had not been given them: for the Levites and the singers, that did the work, were fled every one to his field. Then contended I with the rulers, and said, Why is the house of God forsaken? And I gathered them together, and set them in their place" (Nehemiah 13:10, 11).
Even the last prophet of the Old Testament, Malachi, sharply rebukes the people and eve calls them robbers for withholding their tithe from God. "Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings. Ye are cursed with a curse: for ye have robbed me, even this whole nation. Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it" (Malachi 3:8-10). Malachi passed a severe sentence upon those who failed to keep the ordinance of tithing. When the people lapsed into a state of spiritual declension, they always failed to pay their tithe; but, when revival came to Israel, or in times of humiliation, they would always return to the paying of tithe as recorded in the law of Moses.
CHRIST'S ATTITUDE TOWARD TITHING
Christ Endorsed It
I reiterate that Jesus Christ did not repeal the law concerning tithing, but rather He endorsed tithing. If tithing was not burdensome to those in Old Testament times, although they were required to give much more than is asked today of Christians, they surely we can give that portion of our income which belongs to God cheerfully and willingly.
Did Christ Tithe?
Tithe-paying was a general practice in the days of our Lord. The sect which was strictest concerning tithing was the Pharisees. In order to be admitted into the fellowship of the Pharisees, one was obligated to pay his tithe. He was obligated to tithe what he bought, what he sold, and what he ate. But what was the attitude of our Lord concerning the paying of tithes? Our Lord could not ignore the matter of paying tithes because He was brought face to face with it every day of His life. Even to buy a pennyworth involved the consideration of whether the penny had been tithed. If a woman set before her husband untithed food, it was an offense grave enough to permit divorce. Jesus had to face the question of tithing day after day. He taught the people as one having authority, and we can be sure that they were not silent in their questions on this point. If Jesus Christ had not been a tither, this would have been one of the first complaints of the Pharisees; for, even when our Master dined with sinners, they murmured, "Why eateth your Master with publicans and sinners?" (Matthew 9:11). But not once is Christ questioned concerning His obligation to tithe. The Pharisees were continually watching every word and action, seeking to find fault with Him; but they never found it on this point. The very fact that Jesus Christ was admitted into the homes of the Pharisees for meals is evidence that He was a tither: "And as he spake, a certain Pharisee besought him to dine with him: and he went in, and sat down to meat" (Luke 11:37). This was definitely against the vow of a Pharisee to be the host of an outsider--that is, one who did not adhere to the Pharisaical vow.
Jesus Fulfilled the Law
Jesus Christ did not come to destroy the Law but to fulfill it. If one examines closely the teaching of Christ in the gospels, he will discover that Christ enjoined an almost lavish system of giving. He said to one man, "Sell all that thou hast, and distribute unto the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven" (Luke 18:22). When Jesus urged men to follow Him, He expected them to surrender all. Man must deny self, take up the cross, and follow Jesus Christ. He must hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and his own life also, or he cannot be Christ's disciple (Luke 14:26).
If Jesus Christ required such a rigid surrender on the part of His followers of some of the things that are most valued by all men--family relationships and their very lives--it is conclusive that man's money was not excepted.
There are those who feel that Christ denounced the Pharisees for their tithe paying. Christ did not offer disapproval to the Pharisee who said, "I give tithes of all that I possess" (Luke 18:12). His fault was not in his tithe paying but in his self-righteousness and egotism. Neither is there disapproval in Matthew 23:23: "Woe unto you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin...these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone." The Lord id not disapprove of tithing but, on the contrary, expressed His approval by saying, "These ought ye to have done." This scripture most certainly expressed the attitude of the Lord concerning tithe paying.
Since tithing was generally accepted among religionists in the day of Jesus Christ, it was not necessary for Christ to issue a new commandment concerning tithing. He merely summed up the matter of giving with these words: "It is more blessed to give than to receive" (Acts 20:35).
THE TEACHING OF PAUL CONCERNING TITHING
To the Corinthians
The Scripture, in 1 Corinthians 16:2, "Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him" does not have reference particularly to tithing. It is rather, the collection of monies for a charitable fund to take care of the poor of the church at Jerusalem. The churches of Corinth and Galatia were called upon for this special service.
To the Galatians
The Apostle Paul also encouraged the Galatian converts to support the ministry: "Let him that is taught in the word communicate unto him that teacheth in all good things. Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap" (Galatians 6:6, 7). Seldom do individuals think of this scripture as having a monetary connotation; however, Paul is giving instruction concerning support of the ministry.
To the Romans
In Paul's letter to the Romans, He sets a policy for the support of the ministry. He contended: "For if the Gentiles have been made partakers of their spiritual things, their duty is also to minister unto them in carnal things" (Romans 15:27). Here the Apostle Paul stresses that it is the duty of those who are ministered to to give of their carnal or material things for the support of the ministry. A similar statement is made in his instruction to the Corinthian church: "If we have sown unto you spiritual things, is it a great thing if we shall reap your carnal things? (1 Corinthians 9:11).
It is contended by some that the Apostle Paul worked with his own hands and refused personal remuneration for his labors. It is true that, lest he should be classified with those false ministers who were transforming themselves into angles of light and making merchandise of the gospel, he did forego personal remuneration at times; but he did not give up his right to receive remuneration, for he writes of the liberality of the Philippian church in these words: "In the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church communicated with me concerning giving and receiving, but ye only...ye sent once and again unto my necessity. Not because I desire a gift: but I desire fruit that may abound to your account" (Philippians 4:15-17).
The support of the ministry, Paul claimed, was an ordination of God. For he declared, "Even so hath the Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel" (1 Corinthians 9:14). If Jesus Christ ordained that they that preach the gospel live of the gospel, is it likely that He would ordain any other plan than the plan that He himself followed, which was the plan of tithing? The Apostle Paul makes a comparison of the support of the ministry under the Old Testament and the support of the New Testament ministry. "Have we not power to eat and to drink?...Who goeth a warfare any time at his own charges?...If we have sown unto you spiritual things, is it a great thing if we shall reap your carnal things?...Do ye not know that they which minister about holy things live of the things of the temple? and they which wait at the altar are partakers with the altar?" (1 Corinthians 9:4, 7, 11, 13). Then, following this, He says, "Even so hath the Lord ordained" (v. 14), which leads us to believe that God would have His people to set apart a certain portion for the ministry. Those that ministered about the sacred things of the Temple were given a certain portion, which the Levites were also given a tithe. Those who claim that all of the Law was aborted under the gospel must remember that tithing was not instituted under the Law. It was instituted before the Law was given. However, I am of the persuasion that the portion of the Law that concerns tithing was not annulled, but was fulfilled in the fact that Jesus Christ gave His distinct approval and endorsement of this method of support for the ministry.
Jesus confirmed tithing by approving the tithe payments of the Pharisees and ordaining that they that preach the gospel should live of the gospel. For those who would contend that the ministry is to be supported by mere freewill offerings, I refer them to Paul's comparison of those who ministered about sacred things in the Temple. It is well to note that while there were freewill offerings for the ministry, there was also a tithe given. If this is not the system for us today, then Paul's comparison is out of order. The very fact that the Lord ordained that ministers should "live of the gospel" should sweep away the thought that every man was left perfectly at his own liberty to give what he pleased; for, if this were so, there would be no ordinance or Law at all, and what Christ ordained would amount to little or nothing.
There are two major principles concerning giving that the Apostle Paul laid down in the New Testament. One is that tithes and offerings are to be given for the support of the ministry. The second is that each church should have a fund from which the poor can be supported when necessary.
Concept of tithing throughout the Bible.
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