Tithing in the Old Testament was to be a recognition and celebration of what God had provided and a giving-back to Him in thanksgiving. Old Testament tithing is defined by some in three categories.
1. the Levitical tithe (also called the Lord’s tithe)
2. the poor and widows tithe, and
3. the Feast tithe.
The Lord’s tithe was given to do God’s work. The other two tithes were given above and beyond the Lord’s tithe. They were to show generosity to those in need (the poor and widows tithe) and thankfulness for God’s provision (the Feast tithe).
While the concept of three tithes is accepted by some, others will claim they are not biblically supported. For the sake of this question, we will address the Lord’s tithe which is understood by all to be a command of the Lord.
What does the Bible say?
Tithing is defined as giving 1/10 of something as a contribution. The biblical definition comes from Levitical Law in the Old Testament. This law required Israel to give 1/10 of their harvest and livestock to the Lord.
Leviticus 27:30 ‘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 to the LORD.
Leviticus 27:32 ‘And concerning the tithe of the herd or the flock, of whatever passes under the rod, the tenth one shall be holy to the LORD.
The 1/10 tithe was given to the Lord, and then the Lord gave it to support the Levites, the priestly order.
Numbers 18:21 “Behold, I have given the children of Levi all the tithes in Israel as an inheritance in return for the work which they perform, the work of the tabernacle of meeting.
Numbers 18:24 “For the tithes of the children of Israel, which they offer up as a heave offering to the LORD, I have given to the Levites as an inheritance; therefore I have said to them, ‘Among the children of Israel they shall have no inheritance.'”
When the Levites received the tithe, they were to give 1/10 of the tithe they received to the Lord and then give it to the High Priest.
Numbers 18:26 “Speak thus to the Levites, and say to them: ‘When you take from the children of Israel the tithes which I have given you from them as your inheritance, then you shall offer up a heave offering of it to the LORD, a tenth of the tithe.
Numbers 18:28 ‘Thus you shall also offer a heave offering to the LORD from all your tithes which you receive from the children of Israel, and you shall give the Lord’s heave offering from it to Aaron the priest.
This system of tithing was instituted by the Lord to support those who served in the Tabernacle and later in the Temple. It was also a practice that helped the Jews to remember God’s provision for them. By offering the tithe first to the Lord, it was a reminder that all they had was given to them by the Lord. Tithing was a command God gave them, to not only provide for priestly service but also to keep His people focused on Him and set apart from the nations.
New Testament Teaching on Tithing
The command to tithe was given to ancient Israel, not the Church (the Body of Christ). After the cross, we do not find any type of command to give a specified amount. Many things changed when the New Covenant replaced the Old Covenant (Hebrews 8:13). There was a change in the priesthood from the Levitical High Priest to Jesus as our new and better High Priest (Hebrews 3:1, 4:14).
Hebrews 7:12 For the priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the law.
We are also told that Jesus fulfilled the Law (Matthew 5:17, Romans 10:14). During this time in which we live, the old has been put away and the new is now in effect. So what should we know about tithing today?
Paul teaches clearly about our giving in these two verses:
2 Corinthians 9:6-7 But this I say: He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver.
Nothing is said about a percentage, nor is anything said of a command to give. With God having been fully revealed in the Person and works of the Lord Jesus Christ, we have a new relationship with Him. We should realize that we have been given even greater wealth than the people of ancient Israel. We have been given eternal life with Jesus and the Holy Spirit to teach and guide us in this life.
God desires that we remember all that He has done for us and given to us, because then we will give from a heart of gratitude. Then we will be cheerful givers. That is what God desires.
How much should we give?
Decisions about how much we should give, whether it should be based on gross income, net income, or net wealth, as well as where our money should be given (churches, ministries, charities), must be prayerfully discerned. The Bible does not give specific answers, but when we remember that our giving is actually giving-back to God, from that of which He has given us, 10% should seem rather inadequate. When we remember the mercy, grace, and love God continually and lavishly extends to us, our hearts should be moved to desire to sow bountifully and give cheerfully.
Remember, the New Testament teaches that God cares about why we do things. He desires all of our works and giving to be sacrificial and from a heart of devotion that loves Him and wants to serve Him. Sacrificial and generous giving for some might be 2%. For another, it might be 10%. And yet for others, it might be 20% or more. God has given us the freedom to discern these things. And we should do so prayerfully and with a biblical perspective influencing our decisions.
As you discern your desire to give to God to do His work here on earth, begin by remembering these things.
- Remember that giving-back to the Lord to do His work here on earth is not only about money. We are to give of our time, talent, and treasure, And most importantly, we are to give from a grateful heart.
- Remember what has been given to you–everything! That will encourage you to sow bountifully and to be a cheerful giver. In Christ, we are abundantly blessed. And we can honor and magnify His Name when we allow His blessings to flow through us to our neighbor.
- Remember…God does not need our money or our good works, but our neighbor does. God will accomplish His work with or without our participation.
We should also remember that when we give generously to churches and ministries, and when we serve others graciously, we are fulfilling the commission Jesus gave us. Jesus commissioned us to be His ambassadors on this earth. We are to help build the spiritual Kingdom of God and to love and serve our neighbors. What a privilege it is to participate in what God is doing on earth. We are empowered by His Spirit to be His hands, feet, and words here on earth. And it is a privilege and a joy to give generously of our time, talent, and treasures.
Tithing is Good
Just as the Israelites first gave their tithe to the Lord and then it was used to do His work on earth, we should realize the same is true for us. When we give from a heart of gratitude, it is giving the gift to the Lord. It is then used by those who receive it. When you give to your church or a ministry, or when you serve a neighbor, isn’t it wonderful to know that you are first giving to the Lord.
The Lord wants our hearts! Let us demonstrate our devotion to Him through our generous giving. Make your decisions about giving from a heart that loves the Lord and desires to serve Him by loving others.
Jesus said to him, “’You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”
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