A couple of decades ago I read the following in a Protestant publication: If every church member in the United States were to suddenly lose his/her job and went on welfare, and yet were willing to tithe from the amount received from public assistance, giving in the nation’s churches would immediately increase over 30%.Interesting comment and perhaps a bit unsettling!  Food for thought about the portion of our treasure we return to God in faith!

What about the 10% tithe?

Does God require you to tithe?Among some of the mega mass-media churches, tithing is required for membership and billed as improving a member’s lot in life.  Tithing is seen as a new law of obedience for “real” Christians.  Testimonials are given that turn up the heat on all to tithe.  The financial success of individuals and of the church operation is seen as proof that God requires and blesses tithing.  Tithing pays off – so do it!  Just look at these “real” Christians and their success and this huge facility and this mega payroll!  Now get with it! 

What does Scripture reveal?

While the details are not easily sorted out, as many as three separate tithes can be seen in the Old Testament.  1. An annual tithe for the Levites (Lev. 27:30-33) 2. An annual feast tithe for supporting the tabernacle and temple services (Deut. 14:22-27) 3. A tithe for helping the poor and needy (an alms tithe) received every third year (Deut. 14:28; 26:12).Important to note is that the tithe was not Old Testament moral law (summed up in the Ten Commandments and valid for all people of all times).  Rather, it was a blend of ceremonial and civil law (like food laws and the sacrifice of animals).  It was used to support Old Testament Israel as both “church and state.”  The tithes and offerings and thanksgivings and temple taxes that an Israelite gave actually added up to about 33% of his income (not just 10%).  These 33% gifts were for all the needs of the Theocracy (church and state).

This is crucial to remember when churches attempt to use the 10% tithe as a law to club church members into giving.  America is no theocracy.  An American citizen who is a Christian pays roughly 40% for federal, state and local taxes in addition to his or her first priority proportionate gifts to the work of Christ’s church.  This is not said to encourage anyone to give a smaller percentage to the church, but rather to keep law-oriented demanders of the tithe in check.  To demand the tithe as a New Testament law is simply not in keeping with God’s revelation in the New Testament nor the church/state context of the Old Testament.

A joyful expression of fellowship of God!

You see, even in the Old Testament, tithing was meant as a joyful expression of fellowship with God.  It assumed the basic truth that everything the people had actually belonged to God, of which a portion was thankfully returned.  It was a specific opportunity to honor God with their “substance” (Prov. 3:9) and express their fellowship and care for each other.

Under the cross of Christ, giving for the Lord’s work is still a joyous privilege flowing from the Gospel.  It expresses the depth of our thankfulness to God for our totally undeserved fellowship with Him in Christ.  It expresses our love for our fellow Christians and our concern for those who do not yet know Christ.  It also assumes the basic truth that everything we have actually belongs to God.

With hearts moved by the Gospel, we can give cheerfully (2 Cor. 9:7) and sacrificially (2 Cor. 8:1-3) as God prospers us (1 Cor. 16:2).Some people in true faith, as full-fledged recipients of God’s grace, will give less than the tithe.  Others in true faith, as full-fledged recipients of God’s grace, may be moved by the Gospel to give a tenth of their income.  Still others in true faith, as full-fledged recipients of God’s grace, may give much more than the tithe, like the widow who gave 100% (Luke 21:4) or Zacchaeus who gave far more than what was expected (Luke 19:8).  You never know what is going to happen when the Gospel is at work and when joyful Gospel-giving is not constrained or choked out by sinful comparison with others. 

As you plan the portion of God’s gifts to you that you will return to Him in the coming year, God remove from you all guilt in regard to the Old Testament tithe.  And if you have repentant regret for not returning to God a greater portion of His financial blessings to you through the years, or if you have repentant regret for not always being a cheerful giver, please know that the blood of Christ cleanses you from all sin – these sins too.  With a clean heart and with Christ’s perfect record of giving, with love for one another and for the lost, God bless you with prayerful commitment and joyful purpose in determining your gift in 2009.Seed thoughts for this article were drawn from a presentation by Dr. James Bolhagen.