"And all the tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land, or of the fruit of the tree, is the LORD'S: it is holy unto the LORD. ... And concerning the tithe of the herd, or of the flock, even of whatsoever passeth under the rod, the tenth shall be holy unto the LORD." (Lev 27:30,32)
Uh, oh. It's the "T" word. If you want to start an argument among Christians, just start talking about "tithing" and then sit back and wait. I've read a few writings by others on tithing for Christians. It seems there are two major camps. One camp says it isn't needed. The other camp says it's an absolute requirement. Ironically, it's usually the ones who say we must still keep the law of the Old Testament who are most against tithing. The ones that say we are "under grace not law" that seem to be the most adamant about tithing. It's rather confusing.
Most of the writings I've seen go into tedious detail about what a tithe was and how it was used. Then, some say, the tithe was only given to the Levites and since we no longer have Levitical priests, then there is no tithe, except the tithe for the poor. The other camp likes to say that the tithe was before Moses, and so it was and is a requirement. Or, they say that the tithe has been transferred to the Church and her ministers. All the arguments have all sorts of exegesis and reasoning to back them up. So what am I supposed to think?
It's a mess, that's what I think. I think those who are against tithing probably just don't like giving money to some preacher. Those who are all in favor of tithing seem to be concerned about keeping the church building going and getting the pastor paid. But I like being the odd-man-out and rather contrary, so I have decided to say, you're all wrong. You're all missing the point here.
I have to digress for a moment. There is always a bit of tension in interpreting the Old Testament by Christians. We believe that we are saved by faith in Jesus, not something of our own works, and that it is a matter of God's grace. Because of that, we don't claim that following the Law of Moses is a source of salvation. Of course, once you get past that, there is considerable disagreement. But, for the purpose of this discussion, we don't have to resolve that long standing argument. Whatever you think of Old Testament law, I think it can be said that it embodies and reflects spiritual principles that God considers important. We can look at this tithe business that way. Rather than getting all tied up in the details of tithing under the law, we can abstract the spiritual principles behind it and apply those to where we are today. That's what I mean about missing the point. If we only look at the details and don't understand the principle involved, we really haven't understood the Old Testament to begin with.
You see, everyone concentrates on "tithe" and what it was and practically nobody ever makes mention of what I think is the most important part of Leviticus 27:30. Look at this: "IT IS HOLY UNTO THE LORD." (I put that in caps to make sure you didn't miss it.) Now, if the Bible says something is HOLY, I figure it's very important! It helps to do a little word study on holy. We think of holy as meaning something spiritually pure and undefiled. Now, how can "the seed of the land" be thought of as spiritually pure? It's just grain, after all, so what makes it holy? It's always a good idea to remember that a word can have multiple meanings. The word "holy" also means consecrated and dedicated to religious use. The Hebrew word translated holy is "qodesh" and just like our English word it can simply mean that something is set apart for God's exclusive use. That makes sense here. A portion of all that they had was to be set aside and used only for God's purposes. A thing is not holy because of what it is. It's the act of setting it apart for God's use that makes it "qodesh."
The first principle we can draw from the tithe was that the tithe was the LORD's portion, and He gave specific instructions on what His portion was and how it was to be used. The Israelites could do what they wanted with their portion, but God's portion was to be used only according to the plan that God laid out. It's important to remember that everything we have comes from God. It's all His anyway, but part of what we have is for or own benefit and part of it is to be set aside for use only the way God says to use it. Obeying the commandment about the tithe (and the Sabbath also) is to acknowledge and respect the fact that we are dependent on God. All that is belongs to Him as Creator. What we think of as owned by ourselves is really just what has been given for our use. You can't take it with you, as the old saying goes. To acknowledge God's control is also an act of worship. It is a way of giving thanks for what we have received already.
This principle is especially true for those who claim to be redeemed by the blood of Jesus. He paid the price for our salvation, and thus we are bought with a price, no longer our own, but bond-servants of our Lord. Thus, we are stewards of what is His, and that means we ask how it should be used. When understood that way, there is no need to argue about ten-percent of anything. Although it can be instructive, I don't really need to know how many tithes there were, or what was subject to tithe and what wasn't. Just consider it all His, and then see what He wants you to do with it.
The second principle is that it is an act of faith. The thing that most often stands between us and God is our fear of not having enough to survive in this world. So many people who are willing to declare Jesus as Lord will still compromise with the world in order to get provision. In so doing, they fail to reach the level of faith that is required of us. Intentionally giving up something, with no material reward, is one of the most trusting things you can ever do. It says, in effect, that you don't put your trust in things, but rather, you put your trust in the One who created the things. It is another way of dying to self. There is no better way to build and strengthen faith than to put that trust to the test by giving freely without hesitation when the Holy Spirit leads you to do so.
One tithe was given to the priests and it is often argued that the purpose of the tithe was to provide for the priests. That's only true in a sense. Certainly God, who fed the Israelites in the wilderness, could just pour out whatever the priests needed without any help from the people. Another tithe was used for the purposes of the feast days. The people brought their tithe to the appointed place and had a party. In both cases, by having the people provide the tithe, God accomplishes multiple purposes with one act. Not only do the people have to show an acknowledgement of God's control and to act by faith, they are also given the opportunity to be the instrument by which God provides for His ministers and festivals. That's what I really wanted to get to in this writing. Giving is a way we can jointly participate in God's work in this world.
"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. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting." (Gal 6:6-8)
This passage from Galatians is the New Testament equivalent of the Old Testament tithe. What? You don't get that? Then let me explain. The word translated "communicate" is part of Paul's jargon. It's a Greek word (koinoneo) that literally means to be a partner of someone. Put another way, it means to jointly participate in something. Paul uses this word to represent fellowship but also uses it as a euphemism for giving money (Romans 12:13, Phillipans 4:13). The "good things" in this verse means anything that is valuable, but especially material wealth. So, what Paul is talking about is giving money to a teacher of the Gospel in response to the teaching that has been given to you. As with the Old Testament tithe, it would be simplest to just think of this as Paul making sure the preachers get paid. But that's too simple, and the same objections I have about interpreting the tithe that way apply here. God can take care of the preacher, so why do I have to do anything? Tell that lazy preacher to get a "real job" like the rest of us slobs, right? But you're missing the point.
The Lord calls some men and women to positions of special service just as He did with the Levites. We call them apostles, prophets, evangelists, or pastors. Those are the people to whom God has given specific gifts that allow them to perform their respective ministries. For the rest of the saints, that doesn't let you off the hook. All those who follow Jesus have a responsibility to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ. If you aren't called out for these special ministries, you still have that obligation. And the way you fulfill that obligation is to jointly participate with the apostles, prophets, evangelists and pastors. Got it?
In addition, these ministers are called the "gifts" of the Lord to his Church (Eph 4:11). Their knowledge and talents are used to build up the body of Christ. To give support to that ministry is your way of giving thanks for what God has given to you. To receive the teaching, the prayer support, the healing, etc., and not give anything back is disrespectful of what God has given you. That's why Paul says in the next verse, "God is not mocked." That phrase applies to a lot of things, of course. God will not be mocked in any case. In this context, however, it is applied specifically to someone who receives the blessings of the Lord's gifts and then does nothing to acknowledge it. There is a stern warning here, but also a wonderful promise. To hold back and not jointly participate is self-serving. That's "sowing to the flesh" in other words and your reward is only in this world and dies with you. But, to take a portion of what is in your possession and apply to the things of God gets you a spiritual benefit that carries over into eternity. That's part of the fruit of the Spirit that we are promised when we act by faith.
Just as with the tithe, participating in support of Gospel ministry is an act of acknowledgement of God's control in your life, an act of worship, an act of faith that builds more faith, and a way to be the instrument of God's work in this world. Understood that way, giving of your time, talents, and money is not a burden or a "necessary evil" as some would have it. It is most certainly NOT a way to get a worldly benefit! There shouldn't be any need for requests for giving either. There should be this attitude of joyous expectation and clamoring for the opportunity to participate. After all, what better thing can you think to do with your time, talent and money than to jointly participate in the work of ministry?
"But this I say, He which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully. Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver." (2Co 9:6-7)
Once you get to that point of cheerful giving, there's no need to get into percentages. Once you grasp this idea of the benefit to your spiritual growth, the Lord will likely have to hold you back. One thing that I think is important is that you give beyond what you think you can. If you take the attitude that you can only give out of your spare time or money, or whatever you can manage without causing you any pain, you never get the real benefit. It doesn't take any faith at all to give out of your excess. And what does that say about the importance of God's work to you? It does take faith and commitment to push the limits and give sacrificially. (Remember the widow and her two mites?) That's "sowing bountifully" as Paul talks about. Holding back out of fear gets you nothing at all in terms of a spiritual reward.
So, as to the tithe, we can just say this. Whatever gifts God has given you, a portion of that is to be dedicated to His work. It is a joyous thing, indeed, and Holy unto the Lord.