"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 Cor. 9:7
Therefore, in today's terms, the Levite Tithe was a ten percent income tax for the support of the national government of Israel.
A second tithe was to be used in worship at the three great annual feasts in Jerusalem (Deut. 14:22-24). This tithe for the feasts, also known as the Festival Tithe, did not go to the Levites. This ten percent was set aside for the Israelites to bring to Jerusalem for the three annual holy days and enjoy it in the presence of the Lord! If the distance was too far to bring the tithe, they could exchange it for silver and when they arrived in Jerusalem use the silver to spend freely on their choice of food and drink. You could say that this tithe was used to fund "vacations" for the Israelites! Of course, these "vacations" were to be in Jerusalem and their purpose was to worship God. Unfortunately, you don't hear too many preachers and Bible teachers talk about this kind of tithing!
Finally, there was a third tithe that was required every three years to provide for the needs of the poor (Deut. 14:28-29). There is some debate as to whether this tithe for the poor was in addition to or served as a substitute for the tithe used in worship. This tithe, often referred to as the Welfare Tithe, funded Israel's national welfare system.This tithe was not given to the government but was to be given away to the needy. The people themselves ran the welfare system!
Calculating these three tithes together (averaged over three years because the Welfare Tithe was collected every third year), the total amount the Israelites had to give annually was 23 1/3% of what was produced. In today's language, Israel basically had a compulsory 23 1/3% income tax.
Like with the rest of the laws, the Israelites anticipated blessings for obedience to God's command to tithe and curses if they disobeyed (Mal. 3:10; Deut. 28:15-68).
Today, as God's children through Jesus Christ, with the Holy Spirit living in us, we have a Spirit-given hunger to obey God. We want to do what is right and follow His commands. Therefore, many of us have questions about giving: How should Christians give to the work of the church? If tithing was good for Israel, why isn't it good for Christians? If so many prominent pastors and preachers say that we should tithe, how can they all be wrong? The answer to these questions may surprise you - and hopefully liberate you!
Furthermore, the answers to these questions should not be based solely on church traditions, what someone has told you to do, or how you feel about the matter. Our ultimate authority on this issue and all issues related to our responsibilities as members of the church is the Word of God. It is there that you will find clear direction - God's direction. Have confidence that the Holy Spirit will guide and teach you as you study the Word in the area of giving.
Did you know that the Apostle Paul and all the other New Testament writers never taught that a Christian, a member of the Body of Christ, should tithe? There is no example in the Bible of the early church tithing!
In 2 Corinthians 8-9, Paul's most extensive writing on the subject of giving, Paul exhorts the Corinthians to complete the collection for the poor at the Jerusalem church, a project that had begun a year earlier. In his plea, he makes it abundantly clear that giving is a heart issue. At no time does he mention tithing as the system to follow, the principle to use, or the starting point to follow when it comes to giving. Why? Paul clearly understood that tithing was the system of giving that was part of the Mosaic Law that God gave to His chosen nation on the earth, Israel. That system of giving is not for the church, the Body of Christ!
"Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed. So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law." (Gal. 3:23-25)
We are to be grace givers today! As members of the church, the Body of Christ, "we are no longer under the supervision of the law" (Gal. 3:25). Can the Word of God be any clearer? How can this truth from the Apostle Paul be missed? One of the main purposes of the Law of Moses was to show people that they couldn't keep the law and, therefore, needed a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ! Now that faith in Christ has come, believers today are not under the law program God gave to Israel.
Paul makes it clear that God intended for the law program to be temporary. During this time period the law was in charge and had a disciplinary function in dealing with individual Israelites and the nation as a whole.
In Gal. 4:1-7 Paul continues his explanation as to why the law is not binding on Christians. He uses the example of a child who's an heir of an estate being no different than a slave because he is "subject to guardians and trustees until the time set by his father" (4:2). This child period represents the time of the law's control. During this time, people were in bondage, slaves to the "the basic principles of the world" (4:3). In this context, "the basic principles of the world" means the legalism of Judaism and may also mean all the other forms of law living found in man-made religious rules and observances in the gentile world that are not part of Judaism (also in 4:9). Then "when the time had fully come" (4:4), which implies that the work of the law required a somewhat lengthy period of time, God sent His Son.
Believers in Christ have now received "the full rights of sons" (4:5) and are no longer slaves. Paul is describing Christians as adult sons living in a new age. Now that we have full sonship status in Christ, the authority of guardians and trustees (the Mosaic Law) has ended. We no longer need the law to guide us, lead us, or discipline us! The law's guardianship ended when"God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts" (4:6). Our slavery to the law has ended! We have been set free from the authority of the law and Christ is now our teacher. Christ now teaches us about grace!
Because our relationship to God radically changed when we believed in Christ, we have the great joy and privilege to live under a new and better program through Jesus Christ - grace!
"For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace." (Rom. 6:14)
"When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross." (Col. 2:13-14)
The law code that God gave to Israel is not for people in Christ! It is not for the church! God canceled the written code, took it away, and nailed it to the cross! We have died to the law (Rom. 7:4) and the tithing commands that are part of the law.
In Rom. 7:1-6, Paul uses the analogy of marriage to show that Christians have died to the old husband when we died with Christ at the cross. As a result, we now have a new husband - Jesus Christ. We're now married to Christ - and He directs our lives, not any law system! Don't go back to the old husband - the law and it's tithing system! If you do, that's spiritual adultery because you now have a new husband!
"So, my brothers, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit to God." (Rom. 7:4)
"But now, to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code." (Rom. 7:6)
This whole issue of whether or not Christians have to obey the law of Moses was settled at the very first church council in ca. A.D. 50, only about 20 years after the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ! Church leaders met at Jerusalem to deal with a significant problem. Jewish believers from Judea had gone to Antioch and were telling the believers there that unless they were circumcised according to the Mosaic Law, they couldn't be saved (Acts 15:1). The church was faced with the question: Is a Gentile acceptable to God without becoming a Jew?
The apostles and elders, led by Peter, Paul, and James, the Lord's brother, agreed that the Gentiles were not under the law. Not only was it decided that it was not necessary for Gentiles to be circumcised in order to be saved, it was also decided that the Gentiles were not required to obey the law of Moses. They were to live under grace!
This was a significant decision. The church leaders in Jerusalem recognized that God was doing a new thing "by taking from the Gentiles a people for himself" (Acts 15:13). James announced the council's decision: "It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God" (15:19). The only thing the Jerusalem leaders required the Gentile believers to do was to show grace by abstaining from practices offensive to godly Jews - "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" (15:29). This decision was sent via letter to the Gentile believers in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia.
That was it! THERE WAS NO REQUIREMENT TO TITHE! This is not surprising because the Jerusalem Council decided that the Gentiles were not to live under the Mosaic Law. How can the tithing teachers fail to understand what happened here? Many of them probably do understand, but don't want to take it to its logical conclusion. They need donations and that's their priority. Their tithing position on giving has been formed and is motivated by their traditions and what they need and want. This may sound harsh, but how else do you explain this tight clutching to tithing that was part of the law?
All of this isn't difficult to understand unless you're trying to support tithing today. Then it's very difficult to defend because you're trying to make a case that's contrary to the clear teaching from God's Word!
In order to better understand and appreciate the wonderful age of grace we live in now, it is important to understand how the law worked for the people of Israel. Under the Mosaic Law, if Israel lived up to the mandates set by God, then the promised blessings would be received. However, if they failed to obey the mandates, then curses and judgment would follow (Deut. 28:15-68).
"However, if you do not obey the Lord your God and do not carefully follow all his commands and decrees I am giving you today, all these curses will come upon you and overtake you..." (Deut. 28:15)
The law system God gave to Israel was a system of conditional blessings. If the nation Israel followed God's commands, blessings would follow. If the people did not obey the commands, they would face curses.
Grace works very differently.
"...for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus." (Rom. 3:23-24)
Grace is a free gift - it's an undeserved gift from God. Grace is a free gift system and it is just the opposite of the law system. It is a system of unconditional blessings. A believer in Christ receives every spiritual blessing at the moment he or she is saved! None of these blessing are earned in any way! God's grace to us today operates solely as a result of the finished, all-sufficient work of our Lord Jesus Christ at the cross.
"But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God's grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many!" (Rom. 5:15)
Because of what Jesus Christ has done for us, we live today in what is often called the age (dispensation or administration) of grace, or the church age.
The Bible shows us that God has progressively revealed himself to humanity through different dispensations, or administrations, which also involved God establishing relationships with people through covenants. God's wonderful grace is evident throughout the entire Bible - both in the Old and New Testaments. However, His grace is so majestic and radiant through the earthly appearance, ministry, cross-work, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, that it is accurate to designate the age in which we now live as a special and unique outpouring of God's grace to us.
Furthermore, the Bible clearly states the impossibility of these two principles, law and grace, co-existing in order to save people or sanctify them.
"And if by grace, then it cannot be based on works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace." (Rom. 11:6)
Today, believers belong to Christ as members of His church. Christ is building His church today. As believers, we are in Christ and He is in us! We are part of a unique spiritual organism that God planned in eternity past - the Body of Christ! This new program started at Pentecost, 2000 years ago, shortly after Christ's resurrection and ascension. It was then, when the apostles were all together in one place, that they were all filled with the promised Spirit and baptized into the Body of Christ. This was the birth of the church that Jesus predicted He would build (Matt. 16:18)!
The issue of how we give as members of Christ's church goes to the very heart of the ministry Christ gave to the Apostle Paul and the gospel of grace he proclaimed to the Gentiles. Christ has set us free from living under any kind of law system in order to please God. We have been set free in order that we may "serve God in the new way of the Spirit" (Rom. 7:6). All of this is possible through God's grace to us. God's grace not only saves us, but God's grace is also the spiritual mechanism He has given to us, through His Son, to teach us and lead us to live godly and holy lives.
"For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say "No" to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope - the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ..." (Titus 2:11-13)
"And now, brothers, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity." (2 Cor. 8:1-2)
It is by God's grace through faith that we are progressively sanctified (becoming more like Christ) as the Holy Spirit works in us to make us more and more like Christ. We are not to follow or live under any kind of law system in order to produce righteousness in our lives - including how we give to the Lord and His work. Giving is a "grace" - a disposition created by the Spirit in each believer and we are to trust in this work of God in us. We trust in this work of the Spirit in us in the area of giving just as we are to trust His work in us in everything that we do.
However, tithing teachers like to point out that Christians should tithe because tithing pre-dates the Mosaic Law.
"Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, and he blessed Abram, saying, 'Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth. And blessed be God Most High, who delivered your enemies into your hand.' Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything." (Gen. 14:18-20)
They will say that Gen. 14:18-20 shows that tithing was a practice way back in the days of Abraham. However, if you carefully read the entire chapter in order to understand the context, you will learn some interesting facts. One of the things you'll find is that the "everything" (14:20) did not belong to Abram. It was actually the property of other people, including Abram’s nephew, Lot, who had been captured by the armies of several kings.
Abram and 318 trained men had gone to battle against these great armies and routed them! Melchizedek recognized that God had granted this miraculous victory. Abram’s statements (14:22-24) show that he owned none of the goods that were recovered and even though he could have kept them for himself, he refused.
"But Abram said to the king of Sodom, 'I have raised my hand to the Lord, God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth, and have taken an oath that I will accept nothing that belongs to you...'" (Gen. 14:22-23)
Abram gave away ten per cent of other people’s things. It was an act of thanksgiving to God on behalf of people who had been miraculously rescued from a life of slavery. This was a one-time event. Abram didn't do it because he was following any kind of law code. It has nothing to do with the teaching today that you should give ten per cent of your gross weekly income to a group of professional religious leaders. These leaders, who profess to know the Word of God and claim to handle it well, should know better.
If such people insist that you should follow the example of Abram in Genesis 14, then it seems that you should tell them that you'll have to go to their homes and take ten per cent of their property and give it away! Of course, I'm joking to make an important point. Following God's Word in its proper context and in its detail may have great impact on those who insist that you must tithe!
God doesn't want or need our money! God wants our hearts. With God, our motivation for serving Him and our motivation for giving is everything.
"If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing." (1 Cor. 13:3)
God looks at our hearts. He is not pleased with giving that doesn't flow out of love. He wants our giving to be motivated by our love for Him and love for others. This kind of godly love grows in us as we understand and appreciate all that God has done for us through His Son, Jesus Christ. Our love for God and others will lead us to be generous givers!
"... see that you also excel in this grace of giving." (2 Cor. 8:7)
Under grace we are encouraged to give generously and it's a decision we need to make in our hearts.
"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 Cor. 9:7)
2 Cor. 9:7 is a key verse that clearly and concisely tells us how God wants Christians to give. Any giving that is not from the heart, that is done with any reluctance or under any kind of compulsion, or is not done cheerfully, is not the kind of giving that God wants! Therefore, when believers are told they must tithe or give at least 10% to a church or ministry, they are being led into legalistic bondage, the very kind of bondage Christ has set us free from!
"It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery." (Gal. 5:1)
The "yoke of slavery" that the Galatians were falling into was that some of them were following parts of the the Mosaic Law as their rule for right living before God. They believed that this pleased God. Some of them believed that they needed to be circumcised as was required under the law. Paul strongly rebuked them for putting themselves under the law again and not standing in the freedom they had in Christ. After being saved by grace through faith, they were turning away from grace and trying to live the Christian by self-effort and following the law.
"You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?" (Gal. 3:1-3)
The Galatians were being deceived by false teachers. They were trying to live the Christian life contrary to God's way. They were not living by grace. Countless believers today are being deceived in the same way.
The Apostle Paul hated legalism. He called it a "different gospel - which is really no gospel at all" (Gal: 1:6-7) and accused the false teachers of "trying to pervert the gospel of Christ" (Gal. 1:6-7). Paul knew that any kind of legalism - in order to be saved or progressively sanctified - denied the power of the cross to transform lives. Paul was against anything that denied the power of the work of Christ at the cross and the power of His resurrection.
Paul's rebuke of the Galatians also applies to anyone who teaches or believes that Christians are bound to follow the commands and rules of the Mosaic Law that God gave to the nation Israel. Again, that law code was for Israel, not the church! As members of the Body of Christ, we live under grace (Rom. 6:14) and we're to live by the Spirit.
"So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature." (Gal. 5:16)
Paul also explains to the Galatian believers that legality is a poor system to live under and would enslave them again.
"Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods. But now that you know God - or rather are known by God - how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable principles? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again?" (Gal. 4:8-9)
In our giving we're free to give as the Holy Spirit guides and leads us. The percentage is not the issue!
If you tithe because you believe that God is commanding you to tithe based on Old Testament scriptures, you are putting yourself under law - "turning back to those weak and miserable principles" (Gal. 4:9) instead of living the way God wants us to live as members of the church. Christ died to save us and to free us. Do not allow yourself to be enslaved by law living all over again! Law living will retard your spiritual growth and keep you from enjoying a warm and intimate relationship with Jesus Christ, which is what God wants most for you!
God wants our giving to be a joyful response from our hearts as we joyfully and thankfully consider all that Jesus Christ has done for us and all the blessings He has lavished on us because we are in Him! Our giving is a faith and love response to what Jesus Christ has done for us and what He's doing in us!
Christ has given us so very much! He gave Himself up for us so that our sins may be forgiven and that we may experience life at its very best - life in Him! What a perfect and wonderful example of giving!
"I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich." (2 Cor. 8:8-9)
God desires that our giving be so much more than just about the money we give. It is about giving our lives to the Lord and giving ourselves to the people around us. He wants our giving to reflect our love for Him and others.
In your Spirit-led desire to give generously to God's work, don't let yourself be put under a performance-based system to receive God's approval or acceptance! If you tithe because a pastor told you to, or if you tithe because you believe you need to follow those Old Testament commands in order to please God and receive His blessings - please stop! Under grace God doesn't want you to give a certain amount or percentage because someone has told you to. Furthermore, God is already very pleased with you because you are in His Son, Jesus Christ! You already possess every spiritual blessing because you are in Christ!
"Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ." (Eph. 1:3)
Trust in the Spirit of Christ in you to produce the righteous fruit (Gal. 5:22-23) that He promises to produce as you rest in Him. Trust in Him to transform you into a generous and joyful giver!
"Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously." (2 Cor. 9:6)
Now, if you decide in your heart that you desire to tithe, as meaning 10% of your income, or that you'll give at least 10% (as a starting point) of your income, that's great! The key is that you decided in your heart what to give. Under grace you are free to give any amount or percentage - less than 10%, 10%, or more than 10%!
However, you should never let your freedom in Christ be an excuse to give little or nothing at all. The Apostle rebuked this kind of thinking in Romans 6 when he argued that God's wonderful grace does not give believers license to continue practicing sin. Because we are new creations in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17) and have died to sin, we have been set free from the power of sin. In fact, the grace of God teaches us to live godly lives (Titus 2:11-13). Our understanding and appreciation of God's grace to us through Christ, which includes are wonderful new identity in Christ and our freedom in Christ, will lead us to be generous and joyful givers!
You will "excel in this grace of giving" (2 Cor. 8:7) when you decide in your heart what you should give; when you don't give reluctantly or under compulsion; when you give joyfully and generously; when you give according to what you have, not according to what you don't have; and when you give regularly (2 Cor. 9:7; 8:12; 8:1-2; 9:6; 1 Cor. 16:1-2).
When choosing a church, be wise! You would be very wise to avoid any church that teaches that you must tithe in order to obey God. Remember who you belong to, who lives in you, and who is your life - Jesus Christ! Christ has set you free!
"It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery." (Gal. 5:1)
"But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law." (Gal. 5:18)
Don't live your Christian life under the law or any law system. Let the Spirit of Christ work in you and live out through you to make you a fantastic giver! That's God's way - a life of faith directed and empowered by Jesus Christ in all that you do (Gal. 2:20)!
Thanks be to our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ!
"For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what he does not have."
2 Cor. 8:12