Do People Still Tithe?
The above question can be understood in at least two ways. First, it could be understood in such a way that the reader deems the “tithe” to be an archaic and antiquated principle that people simply do not practice anymore. A second way of looking at this question is in terms of obligation – one could rephrase the question to: Are we still obligated to tithe? The simple answer to that question is: No, we are not obligate to tithe. Of course things are not that simple because as soon as we say that we are not obligated to tithe then a host of other questions are raised, such as: How much am I obligated to give then? We will get to that a little later, but for now we need to understand that the concept of tithing is an Old Testament requirement of the Law in which the Israelites would give ten percent of their crops and/or livestock to the tabernacle or temple. Leviticus 27:30 states, “Every tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land or of the fruit of the trees, is the LORD’s; it is holy to the LORD.” Some see the tithe in the Old Testament as a method of taxing the people to provide for the needs of the poor, and the temple worship. When we think of taxes, we think of taxes placed on different items, for instance there is a sales tax and a tax on gasoline as well as your income taxes. The Old Testament tithe system was similar in that there were multiple tithes – one for the Levites, one to take care of the temple and the feasts, and then another for those who didn’t enough food and clothing. Some have said that the figure was actually more around 23 percent in the Old Testament when one started adding up one’s multiple tithing responsibility. In the Old Testament one was under the Law and therefore was obligated to tithe as the law required.
In the New Testament we see the believer placed on a new foundation – they are no longer obligated to tithe. Look at Romans 7:6, “But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.” Notice here that the law held us captive and the Christian is set free from its captivity. We are released from the law. So does that mean that we are not obligated to give? That is a tricky question isn’t it? Some want to keep the language of the tithe in the church and want to treat it as mandatory for the Christian so that people will give. It takes money to run a church or a ministry – a fact we know well if we listen to any radio or TV ministries. Here is the problem with that kind of thinking: we shouldn’t want Christians to give out of a sense of obligation – that is what we have been freed from. Now anytime someone speaks in language of liberation we must ask the question: What are we now free to do that we could not do before? We want to know if we are still obligated to tithe and we just want a “yes” or “no” answer. But the Bible doesn’t give us an out here, the Bible is very clear, “we are released from the law,” we are set free. As soon as we add that qualification to our answer we must ask the question: What are we now free to do? And the answer, that I believe is clear, is to give as the Spirit of God leads you. Romans 7:6 makes this clear, we were released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit. You see the New Testament doesn’t wipe out the obligation to give, it wipes out the legalism associated with it. Look at the example of the church in Philippi and how they supported the Apostle Paul. In 2 Corinthians 8:3 Paul describes their giving to his cause, “For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord.” The Philippians people acted, not as the Law directed them, but as the Spirit led them. Paul again speaks of giving in 2 Corinthians 9:6-7, “The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” There is a great return in giving, in fact, Paul treats it more like an investment in the eternal kingdom. We look for good investments. We are very careful about where and what we put our money into because we want to make sure there is a good return on that investment. Here Paul seems to be saying that those who give generously to Kingdom work will receive a great return on that investment. We don’t give toward investments out of compulsion – but we give what we have determined in our heart to give. And if the investment is a sure thing, we will give generously and cheerfully.
Here is another question that comes up frequently along with the subject of the tithe: How much am I obligated then to give to the church? Of course that question can be phrased in a variety of ways but people want to know what they are supposed to give to the church. We live in a time in history in which there are many ministries vying for your financial support. If we like to listen to a certain person on the radio, we are always reminded that it takes money for him to be on the radio. There are several local ministries in our community that exist because of the generous support of believers. To complicate this, there are countless people and ministries out there vying for your financial support who care more about the money then the ministry and these people and groups have made it very difficult for us to trust anyone. The fact is, I and a lot of you I am guessing, get at least one letter a day asking for money for their ministry. So the question quickly arises: If all of these people depend on support and I give to them then what is my obligation to the local church? This question is a little difficult in that we cannot point to a chapter and verse. The Bible, however, is very clear when it comes to the place of the church in God’s plan. All of these other ministries are an extension of the Local church and I can say that because they would not exist without the church. If the church ceased to exist, then so would every other ministry because the church is the seedbed of those ministries. Think about it this way, those involved in these other ministries attend and belong to local churches. This is where they are nourished and are equipped for ministry. The church, according to John Piper, “is unique and has a special place in God’s plan and, therefore, has a special claim on the giving of its people.” So how does what I have just said help us decide how to spread out our giving?
A good rule of thumb – not obligation – but rule of thumb is to begin our giving by giving to the local church because of it’s centrality and importance in God’s plan. John Piper suggests that we start by tithing to the local church, which makes a lot of sense. When we sit down and look at our budget and how we are going to give – it just makes sense to give ten percent off the top to the local church. At this point some might object and say well then if we give to other ministries we are giving more then ten percent – and I would say, “yes, that is exactly right.” Remember we are freed from the Law in order to give – not sparingly but generously – it is the greatest investment you could ever make because it has the greatest return! We start by giving to the local church because we recognize its centrality and importance in the plan of God and then we give above and beyond to other ministries. I heard it said that if we, in America, are not giving at least ten percent then we are most likely robbing God and perhaps that is true (Mal 1:6ff), but we do need to recognize that we are free to serve and give as the Spirit of God leads. God loves a cheerful giver.
Pastor Coalt Robinson