Serving Christians Seeking to Live a Holy Life

The Tithe

Leon L. Combs, Ph.D.
January 28, 1995

In the modern church we often hear about tithes. We hear about how we should "give above your tithes" to "such and such" and we hear that "the tithe should go to the church", and we hear "you can give to 'whatever' if you first tithe to the church". So what does the Bible say about the tithe in the New Covenant?

In the Old Covenant a certain percentage of a person's income was to be given for the support of the priests and the poor. Ten percent of one's income was to be given to the temple every year for the support of the priests and the whole Levitical order. Every three years another ten percent was to be brought for distribution to the poor. Offerings above these amounts, the freewill offerings, would periodically be requested for repair and maintenance purposes. This entire system was called the tithe and there was much abuse about the concept because the practice of the tithe became a method of legalism just as the practice of the other commandments had become. But in the New Covenant there is a different approach to giving which is pertinent to our relationship to Jesus Christ.

The Greek word for tithe is "apodekatoo" and is used only four times in the New Testament. It is used in Matt 23:23, Luke 11:42, Luke 18:12, and Heb 7:5. In the first three references we hear about how hypocrites, serpents, and broods of vipers who shall not escape hell practice such things as the tithe. Clearly practicing the tithe is not a ticket to heaven! Here Jesus was talking about the people who made the tithe practice a method of legalism.

The last reference to Hebrews is very pertinent, and in fact the entire chapter is excellent reading regarding the tithe. A summary of that chapter is that in the Old Covenant, all of God's leaders practiced a tithe to the high priest. However Heb 7:12 tells us that with the change of priesthood there is a change of law. We now have a new, and infinitely better High Priest, Jesus Christ and our allegiance to Him is total. In Col 2:9-12 we read that Jesus is the head over all rule and authority and that we have been buried with Him in baptism and raised by the power of God. When we thought we were alive, we were really dead; and, when we knew that we deserved death and died to self, as reflected in baptism, we were then really made alive (Col 2:13). So we are dead to this world and alive to the world of God (Col 3:3 "For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God"). A dead man has no rights and owns nothing in the arena in which he is dead. While we live on this earth, we own nothing. Everything we have is God's. How can we practice a tithe on what we do not own?

Let me warn you at this point if you are thinking "All right, we don't have to tithe! I can go buy those new golf clubs.", you had better listen very carefully.

The above scriptures are all the references to the tithe in the New Testament. There are no references to giving a tithe to the church. There also are no references to building a Christian Temple (what some call the "church" - see essay on the Christian Temple). So in order to determine what direction we have in the New Covenant about giving we have to study under the concept of giving, not tithing.

References to giving to the church as the group of believers who represent Christ do exist in the Bible. We find in Acts 2:44-47 where church members sold their property and possessions to share with others so all would have their needs met. We also read in Acts 5:1-11 where a couple sold a piece of property ostensibly to give money to the group of believers, called the church. These people were asked to sell property and to give all the proceeds to the church so others could have their needs met, and Ananias and Sapphira lied about the price they received for the property. Also they did not give it all to the church as they claimed, so they were killed by God. "And great fear came upon the whole church, and upon all who heard of these things." (Acts 5:11) As a result of this event, many people believed in Christ and many signs and wonders took place. What a revival and crusade as the way of the Lord was made known. Where is that fear today? We need to be ready to give whatever God asks and to whomever He specifies.

We find in the New Testament that giving is to support the Christian workers and the fellow Christians in need (Acts 4:32-37, 1Cor 16:1-3, 2Cor 8:1-13, and 1Tim 5:17,18). There was also organized giving within the local churches to take care of believing widows and orphans who had no other support (Acts 6:1-4 and 1Tim 5:1-16). We see in 2 Cor 8,9 that Christians are to evaluate the needs of others and to give to help them as they are able. There is never any percentage given but rather the Christian is to give "what he has decided in his heart to give" (2 Cor 9:7). That means that what we give is a reflection of our heart in that matter, and of course our heart means where we have our center of being which should be focused on Christ. This does not mean that we are necessarily to always answer yes to every request. We should really pray about giving and be sure that our motives are as pure as possible.

Jesus said in Matt 10:10 and Luke 10:7 that the Christian worker should receive support from those he serves. We also read in 1 Cor 9:7-14 and 1 Tim 5:17,18 that people involved in full-time ministry have a right to be supported by the persons whom they serve. Another Scripture reference to giving is 1 Cor 16:1,2 where we are told that on the first day of every week (Sunday) we are to put aside, as each may prosper. These collections are for the saints. Paul was going to visit them and he would take the collection to meet the needs of the missionaries in the field. So what does "as each may prosper" mean? God has promised to take care of our needs if we place His kingdom as number one priority in our life (Matt 6:33). Prospering is making more than we need to take care of our needs and the needs of our family. Remember that he who does not take care of his family is worse than an unbeliever (1Tim5:8). There was a time in our dealing with family crises that we had to put a lot of money into helping our family. God expects us to help our family so that certainly the money that we spent on our family was part of our giving to God. So in these Scriptures there is no mention of the tithe, but people are to give for the above church needs what is left over after meeting their needs and the needs of their family.

Thus a tithe can have a definition (although exactly what is not clear, some say 10%, some say 22%, etc.), but there is no command for the Christian to tithe. The above sentences about giving above your tithe, etc. then sound rather like mixes of Judaism and Christianity which would mean that the modern church is as guilty as the first century Jewish converts who were insisting that all males should be circumcised. The priesthood has changed and there is a change of law. However I do not believe most Christian leaders are consciously making such a mix of doctrine. They are just trying to get the people to understand that all they have belongs to God and part of God's plan is that His people are supposed to take care of each other and to pay for the services of the missionaries and other church leaders. However it does seem to me that it is better to give the people a thorough understanding of the concepts rather than to use an Old Testament concept. However a regular giving of about 10% is certainly not a bad place to start in our practice of an understanding of Christian stewardship. I would not recommend anybody bragging about tithing, however. I also would recommend that if someone asks you if you are bringing a full tithe of all of your income to the church, you had better not say yes unless you really are doing that (remember the above from Acts).

So what do you say if someone asks you if you believe in tithing? The first thing that I want to do is be sensitive to the spiritual state of the person asking the question. To some people the tithe is a very important part of their present development and I do not want to make anyone stumble. So I do not say "Oh ignorant one, the tithe has no place in the Christian walk." Therefore I say that I think that the tithe is a good starting place to learn about Christian stewardship. If they ask what I mean by that, I would say that God gave His only son, Jesus Christ, to die that I might be forgiven for my sins. In response to that great love, I want to give back to God as much as I can to help others for whom He died and to help in the cause of reaching and teaching others about Jesus. Certainly that means that I should at least be giving back to God the same as the non-believing Jews practice -- but for vastly different reasons. Then what if the inquisitive soul asks if we should first give to the local church? I would say that we must turn to Scripture for the answer to that question and the answers are given above. We must give to help other Christians in our local congregation, to help finance missionary outreaches, to support our family, and to support our local pastoral staffs. That means that certainly some of our giving must be to the local church, but if God lifts up other needs to our attention regarding the same types of activities as discussed above, then we should gladly respond.

There are no Christian Temples, no Christian animal sacrifices, and no Christian tithe. All we have belongs to Christ, and if He calls for all of it, we should freely give it. In the New Covenant the percentage is not 10% but 100%. As we walk in this world we are to respond joyfully to the times when Christ commands us to give of His material resources, money or whatever. "God loves a cheerful giver." Since we know that God loves us, for He gave His son for us while we were still sinners so that we might have everlasting life, that means that I now want to be the kind of person that God loves -- not so that He would love me, but because He loves me.

When I was a boy, I was taught the tithe very early, but I do not remember by whom. I remember getting 50 cents for an allowance and putting 5 cents in my church envelope every Sunday. As I grew older, my allowance increased somewhat but I still practiced the tithe. However nobody ever explained to me why I should be giving back to God. Nobody ever explained to me about the personal relationship to Christ that I could have because of what He had done. I thought that I was being a good boy and that God would then accept me. As I became older, I did not see any change in me and I did not think that I could become acceptable to God -- which is true. But nobody ever explained to me that I had discovered the truth about myself, and that now I could be acceptable to God because of what Jesus did. So I quit tithing and had no clear focus on God for many years. Then God Himself showed me the truth and I now give to Him because He loves me and has adopted me as His son. As a member of God's family I want to serve, and giving back to God is a means of serving.

Give joyfully!


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