Have you ever heard someone say “I no longer give a tithe of 10 %, in fact I now tithe 90%”? What is wrong with that statement? In fact as I have followed this tithe debate, this statement has been thrown around by many of the proponents of tithing, especially by Pastors trying to encourage their congregation on the validity of tithing. Examining this statement closely, we realize that proponents of tithe that say they no longer pay 10% are tacitly admitting that they no longer tithe.
It is simple! Tithe, by definition, is 10%. Anything other that 10% is not longer a tithe! A Pastor that has been giving 90% for the past eleven months has actually not been tithing for the past eleven months. Something else we can see from this example is that the word “tithe” has so entered our Christian linguistics that we use it without even thinking about its meaning. The Pastor who encourages His congregation to grow their “tithing” beyond 10% actually believes giving should not be tied to a legalistic number!
WAIT! WHAT? Let us go through the Bible!
Galatians 3:24, 25: In fact, the Law was our teacher. It was supposed to teach us until we had faith and were acceptable to God. But once a person has learned to have faith, there is no more need to have the Law as a teacher.
This is a very interesting portion of Scripture. Paul, addressing the ‘foolishness’ of the Galatians, went on to talk about the purpose of the Law. He said the Law was our teacher! In other words, there were certain things we needed to learn, there were certain attitudes that needed to be imbibed, and guess who God appointed to teach us those things – the Law! But once a person learned how to have faith, there is no more need to be under the teacher. It meant that the teacher’s work was done!
If the Law was a teacher, what was the Law of tithe supposed to teach us? Let us go back to the very beginning!
Father Abraham had a lifestyle of Faith!
Paul in trying to explain the Christian life of Faith to Gentiles, always skipped Moses all the way back to Father Abraham. This was because before Moses came with the Law, Father Abraham was living a life approved by God akin to the life Christians are called to live today. He was living a life of Faith and drawing God’s approval outside the law. What does Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” Romans 4:3. If we look closely at his life, we will see transferable parallels to how we ought to live today.
Now in Genesis 14:18-20, we see Abraham meeting with Melchizedek, the Priest of God most high and giving Him a tenth of all he had. Two questions arise from here:
- Why did Abraham decide to give a tithe to Melchizedek?
- How did he come about that figure (10%)?
Hebrews 7:4 tell us “Just think how great he was: Even the patriarch Abraham gave him a tenth of the plunder!” In other words, Abraham recognized the greatness of the one standing in front of Him and instinctively gave the first portion of his plunder. There was no law, no instruction, no guideline! There was just a man of Faith, having a Divine encounter and responding extraordinarily! Wow, this blows my mind really. The same thing happened to Jacob in Genesis 28:12-22. After the encounter of God in Bethel (Angels were ascending and descending on a ladder), he woke up and said “wow, God is here”. The next thing this man did was to pledge commitment to God and give a tenth of all he receives to the Lord!
We see Abraham and Jacob, without a law, without compulsion, without any promise of a blessing, responding to the revelation of God’s awesomeness by instinctively giving!
So why did Abraham and Jacob give a tenth or a tithe as we call it today? In this culture, blessings or prosperity was measured in folds, or parts. So 100 folds represents fullness. Giving a tenth was an acknowledgement of the fact that God’s blessing was full and that He deserved the first part. By the way, you also notice that Abraham and Jacob did not give to get, they were not giving to manipulate God, they were giving in response to the awesomeness they encountered and the great blessings they had received.
430 Years in Captivity is a Long Time
Imagine living under the hard whips of angry slave masters for over 400 years!
As Moses was leading Israel from bondage, he was leading a people with no culture, no morals and no experience of God. These people were not like Father Abraham at all. They had no sense or instinct for worship and reverence of God. So, God set up the law to teach them to become a people acceptable to Him. When you go through the sundry laws, you discover that some where religious, medical and legal. God was basically using the law to create guardrails to put them into a routine. The items of the law were not the main things God was focusing on, but the lifestyle the law forces! In Christ, this lifestyle should no longer be forced, it should be automatic!
What was the Law of Tithe suppose to Teach?
- Leviticus 27:30-33: Thus all the tithe of the land, of the seed of the land or of the fruit of the tree, is the LORD’S; it is holy to the LORD.‘If, therefore, a man wishes to redeem part of his tithe, he shall add to it one-fifth of it.‘For every tenth part of herd or flock, whatever passes under the rod, the tenth one shall be holy to the LORD. ‘He is not to be concerned whether it is good or bad, nor shall he exchange it; or if he does exchange it, then both it and its substitute shall become holy. It shall not be redeemed. I have seen people dishonestly conclude that this passage only commanded tithe on crops and animals. Truth is, this was an agrarian culture. Crops and animals were the basis of their livelihood! So when God commanded this tithe, it was on all they had!
- Now the issue is not the tithe, but the reason behind it. Why did He command this tithe? We see a phrase recurring in these verses – it is holy to the LORD. The act of consecrating or reserving something for God’s use was alien to these people. God never factored into their thinking, so He decided to teach them to acknowledge the His sovereignty in provision and dedicate part of what they have solely for Him. Notice that in Christ, we are supposed to, like Abraham, instinctively give all we have to the Lord!
- Numbers 18:21-29: In this passage, God talks about the lack of inheritance of the Levites and Priests and the risk they bare when they go into the tabernacle to minister. He therefore decided that He will give the tithes to the Levites as an inheritance. He further instructed the Levites to give a tithe from the tithe they also receive.
- What was God trying to teach with this law? He was basically saying “I care deeply about the people that work in my Tabernacle, I want you to care about them as well”.
- Deuteronomy 14:22-26: This is one of the most controversial verses in this debate. Here, God says once a year, everyone should gather the tithes and assemble at the temple and tabernacle. If the journey was too long, they were to sell the tithe and travel with the monetary value and buy whatever they wanted (food, wine, strong drinks) with the money, and celebrate in the presence of God! He said they should do this so that they would learn to revere Him.
- So what was He teaching the people here? He was teaching them the importance of assembling together in His presence. He was also teaching them to remember that even in their feasting God was to be honored and revered. The Jews lost this important lesson that was why even when they were still doing the tradition, Jesus, in Luke 19:26, drove out the money changers because it was no longer an exercise of revering God but an avenue of expressing thievery!
- Deuteronomy 14:28-29: God instructed the Israelites to gather their tithes together once in three years, so that the helpless and needy in their midst can receive care.
- God was basically teaching them how to show concern for the helpless and less privileged in their midst. The dog eat dog system they picked up in Egypt was no longer acceptable. In fact Malachi 3:10-12 harps on the same point. God really wants His store house filled with food. Food for the Priest? Definitely not!
In Summary: God is not after your 10%. He is after the lifestyle that moves you to give!
The Law of Tithes as a tutor has taught us so many important lessons, it has shown us some of the things God really cares about. It has taught us that:
- God is sovereign and should be acknowledged. Proverbs 3:9 counsels us to Honor God with our substance.
- God deserves Honest and unparalleled worship. An encounter with God should be big enough to make us respond like Abraham and Jacob in Sincere and non-manipulative worship.
- We need to have a genuine concern for God’s work and His workers.
- We need to have real appreciation for His presence. He has given us an allocation to spend on worship.
- We need to care sincerely for the Less privileged. He cares for them, so we must as well.
It is important to notice that the Law of tithe teaches us to personally revere and worship God, teaches us to worhsip together with others, and teaches us to as a community care for God’s workers and and the less privileged. Now like Galatians 3:23-29 tell us, If we have come to Christ, the work of the tutor is supposed to be over. This means these lessons should have been engraved on our hearts like Jeremiah 31:33 said. This mean we no longer care about percentages when talking about giving to God. The lessons of the law have been learnt and we run with the zeal, passion and generosity of Christ in meeting those needs.
Think about this: When you were learning how to ride a bike, you needed training wheels to give you balance and build your confidence; but once you learnt how to ride, you got rid of your training wheels. I see the tithe as good training wheels. Giving in percentages is a very good way to learn how to give faithfully. That is what it is meant for, to teach! But you need to know that permanent attachment to a training wheel is a problem. Your goal should be to get rid of this training wheel and express the fullness of Grace and generosity that is suppose to now be part of your lifestyle as a Christian.
So, the question “should I tithe as a Christian” is a wrong question! The right question should be “Have I learnt the lessons the Law of tithe was supposed to teach”.
God bless you.