This will be the first in a new series of articles called Friend Requests. Every topic in this series have been requested by friends of mine from real life and social media. I think this will be challenging, and hopefully helpful to those who read. I’m no expert in everything, but I will give each article my best shot. And if I don’t know, I’ll admit it.
The very first topic suggested was on the topic of tithing. If you don’t know what that means, a tithe is ten percent. In other words, when a Christian says they are tithing, they usually mean they are giving ten percent of their income to their local church. Interestingly enough, Senator Ted Cruz’s tax plan is a tithe. He wants to impose a flat ten percent tax on all income. If he is elected and successfully pushes his tax plan through Congress, everyone will tithe to the government. (Consequently, I support a tax system like this because it’s fair to everyone and extremely easy to pay (think weekly deduction, no tax season), however I don’t necessarily endorse Ted Cruz for POTUS.)
Taxes aside, the idea of the tithe comes from the Old Testament. There were three kinds of tithes coded in the Law: one for the Levites (Numbers 18:21), one for the Feasts (Deuteronomy 14:22-27), and one for the poor in the land (Deuteronomy 14:28). The tithe for the Levites can actually be traced back to when Abraham gave a tithe to Melchizedek (Genesis 14:18-20), but it was codified in Numbers 18. The tithe for Feasts is a little more nuanced. It is essentially a portion that was to be set aside regularly for celebration of the Feasts of Israel. The tithe for the poor was a tithe collected every third year and stored up in each community so that the Levite (who was forbidden to own property – Numbers 18:20), the traveler, and the poor would be able to eat. So you see, tithing was an institutional part of the Israelite faith, social order, and economy.
The million dollar question, then, is what about the New Testament? Is the tithe a New Testament command? The truth is that tithing isn’t mentioned in any new commands in the New Testament. The only time Jesus mentioned tithing was in reference to the Pharisees (Matthew 23:23; Luke 11:42; 18:12). In both of these scenes (Matthew and Luke are the same) the mention of tithing is meant to point out that even though they followed the OT Law, they were lacking. In Matthew and Luke, Jesus even implies that they should continue tithing along with caring about issues of justice and the love of God. There’s no direct command here, but there seems to be an implication. However! Jesus had not yet died on the cross, the OT sacrifices and Levitical ministry was still in full swing, so of course they should still be tithing. No clear new covenant command here.
The only other New Testament direct mention of tithing is found in Hebrews 7. Honestly, this chapter is not really about tithing, and it is one of the most difficult chapters in the New Testament to understand. However, since it begins by mentioning Abraham’s tithe to Melchizedek, let’s briefly consider what’s being said here. Abraham tithed to Melchizedek because he was qualified to be a priest of God before God ever established a priesthood. That simply means that Melchizedek was unique (and subsequently, superior to the Levite priesthood). Some will say that because Jesus is compared to Melchizedek, the tithe continues to be be a command for New Testament believers. But you must remember that Melchizedek, although he was a priest before the Law was written, he was still and Old Covenant priest. The comparison breaks down because Jesus is the High Priest of a new and better covenant.
Therefore Hebrews 7:12 says, “For when there is a change in the priesthood, there is necessarily a change in the law as well.” This means that the Law, as it was observed, has fundamentally changed in Jesus Christ. Anything ceremonial or judicial in the Law simply doesn’t apply to the Church. Ceremonial laws are fulfilled in Christ, so we no longer need to adhere to them for worship. Judicial laws no longer apply because the Church is not a geo-political state. Tithing was bonded closely to matters of ceremonial worship and justice in the OT law, so the way we think about tithing must necessarily change as well.
So tithing doesn’t appear to be a New Testament command. However, much is said about generosity and giving in the New Testament, so how should we view tithes and offerings? Let me suggest to you that the New Testament places no percentage on your giving because you are expected to give everything! Look at the new believers in Acts 2, in the wake of Pentecost.
And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. (Acts 2:44-45)
The New Testament mentions three things our giving is to support. We are to provide a living for those who preach (1 Timothy 5:17-18), provide finances for ministry (2 Corinthians 8:1-15) and to take care of the widow and the orphan – the poor (James 1:27). And since we’re not told a percentage, New Covenant giving entails a lot more soul searching. In other words, you give as the Lord directs you to give. So whether he leads you to ten percent or something else, you give exactly what he leads you to give. The guiding principle of Christian generosity is that it isn’t our money to begin with! We rely on God to provide all of our needs, so we should always give sacrificially.
I hope this answers the questions you might have had about giving. It’s not about percentages, it’s about generosity. It’s no longer about the letter of the Law, but instead submission to the Holy Spirit. The real blessed life comes from listening and obeying the voice of the Holy Spirit in your life, not a giving percentage. Give as He leads, and you will be blessed.