MALACHI 3: 8 “Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me. “But you ask, ‘How do we rob you?’
“In tithes and offerings. 9 You are under a curse—the whole nation of you—because you are robbing me. 10 Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.
God’s accusation through the prophet Malachi was that his chosen people were holding back on their giving to God. Their giving was not up to scratch. They were not giving the tithes they owed to God – and by that omission they were actually robbing God! God’s blessings were there, the floodgates were ready to open, just as soon as the people of Israel got their giving sorted out!
The idea of tithing isn’t practiced so much in English churches. But it is very common in American churches. It comes from the Old Testament and in particular here in Deuteronomy 14. So what does the Old Testament teach us about our giving to God and to the Lord’s work?
Deut 14:22 Be sure to set aside a tenth of all that your fields produce each year. 23 Eat the tithe of your grain, new wine and oil, and the firstborn of your herds and flocks in the presence of the LORD your God at the place he will choose as a dwelling for his Name, so that you may learn to revere the LORD your God always.
Tithing simply means setting aside one tenth. The Old Testament practice was very simple. One tenth of everything the Land produced is holy – it belongs to God.
Lev 27:30 30 “ ‘A tithe of everything from the land, whether grain from the soil or fruit from the trees, belongs to the LORD; it is holy to the LORD.
God has blessed his people. We have thought about this before from Deuteronomy Chapter 8. All the blessings we enjoy come from not from our own efforts but from the hand of our generous God.
DEUT 8:17 You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” 18 But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your forefathers, as it is today.
Everything we have comes from God – and in the Old Testament, one tenth of that belongs to Him. That is the simple principle of Old Testament giving. One tenth of everything belongs to God. We find that ancient practice first in the life of Abraham.
Gen 14:18-20 18 Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, 19 and he blessed Abram, saying,“Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth.20 And blessed be God Most High, who delivered your enemies into your hand.”Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything.
One tenth of everything. One tenth gross, before taxes, before national insurance, before pension contributions. One tenth of everything. There are a few important points to make about this principle of giving one tenth.
The first is that it applied equally to everybody. From the richest to the poorest. Well – not quite everybody. We will think about the exceptions in a minute. But everybody who owned land, who had some kind of income in fruit or grain or livestock. One tenth was set apart for the Lord.
So giving was to be proportionate. The more God blessed you the greater your tithe would be – the greater the amount you would give back to God in gratitude.
Of course the tithe was not the only amount an Israelite should give to God. Over and above that one tenth, there were offerings.
Deut 16:10, 16-17 10 Then celebrate the Feast of Weeks to the LORD your God by giving a freewill offering in proportion to the blessings the LORD your God has given you.
16 Three times a year all your men must appear before the LORD your God at the place he will choose: at the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Feast of Weeks and the Feast of Tabernacles. No man should appear before the LORD empty-handed: 17 Each of you must bring a gift in proportion to the way the LORD your God has blessed you.
So as well as one tenth of all their produce to God, Israelites were supposed to bring Freewill Offerings to God three times a year, at each of the major festivals. And those offerings again were to be a gift in proportion to the way your God has blessed you. No fixed proportion this time, but still “in proportion.” They were freewill gifts – but at the same time “no man should appear before the Lord empty handed!”
Tithes and offerings. But back to the tithes. Notice also will you what the tithes were to be used for.
23 Eat the tithe of your grain, new wine and oil, and the firstborn of your herds and flocks in the presence of the LORD your God at the place he will choose as a dwelling for his Name, so that you may learn to revere the LORD your God always. 24 But if that place is too distant and you have been blessed by the LORD your God and cannot carry your tithe (because the place where the LORD will choose to put his Name is so far away), 25 then exchange your tithe for silver, and take the silver with you and go to the place the LORD your God will choose. 26 Use the silver to buy whatever you like: cattle, sheep, wine or other fermented drink, or anything you wish. Then you and your household shall eat there in the presence of the LORD your God and rejoice.
To put it simply, the tithes of all the good things God had given were to be used for a great big party to celebrate God’s goodness! Yes those things were holy to the Lord. They belonged to the Lord. But a tenth of all they produced was to be used, not for day to day living but for wonderful extravagant celebrations to honour God. The people gave back to God. But then God gave back to his chosen people once again allowing them to enjoy that produce which was holy to Him in celebration of his name! The tithe was set aside specifically to be eaten in the presence of the Lord with rejoicing.
Well, that was what the tithe was used for two years out of three. In the third year it was different.
Deut 14:27 And do not neglect the Levites living in your towns, for they have no allotment or inheritance of their own. 28 At the end of every three years, bring all the tithes of that year’s produce and store it in your towns, 29 so that the Levites (who have no allotment or inheritance of their own) and the aliens, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns may come and eat and be satisfied, and so that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands.
So every third year the tithe was not used for the family’s needs but for the needs of two specific groups of people. Firstly the levites, the tribe of Levi, the priests. They had no land of their own. The Bible specifically says “the Lord Himself is their inheritance.” They lived off the tithes of the ordinary people.
Then there were others who had no land of their own because of their circumstances, the alien, the refugee, the fatherless and the widows. These tithes in the third year were set aside to provide food and drink for the poor and needy.
Deut 26: 12 When you have finished setting aside a tenth of all your produce in the third year, the year of the tithe, you shall give it to the Levite, the alien, the fatherless and the widow, so that they may eat in your towns and be satisfied. 13 Then say to the LORD your God: “I have removed from my house the sacred portion and have given it to the Levite, the alien, the fatherless and the widow, according to all you commanded. I have not turned aside from your commands nor have I forgotten any of them. 14 I have not eaten any of the sacred portion while I was in mourning, nor have I removed any of it while I was unclean, nor have I offered any of it to the dead. I have obeyed the LORD my God; I have done everything you commanded me. 15 Look down from heaven, your holy dwelling-place, and bless your people Israel and the land you have given us as you promised on oath to our forefathers, a land flowing with milk and honey.
So those who were blessed with land and grain and fruit and oil and livestock set aside one tenth of all they produced. And every third year that was given to take care of the poor and needy. Caring for the widows and orphans and refugees was part of the duty of the whole community. A “welfare state” was build into the system. That principle of giving has been part of the nation of Israel for thousands of years.
But how does all this apply to us today?
Some churches, particularly in America, teach that tithing means every Christian should give one tenth of their gross income to the church every year. I understand why they believe that, but I have to say I don’t agree. We are not under law we are under grace. If I was to teach tithing as a rule for today then there are all kinds of other Old Testament Rules I would think had to apply – like never wearing clothes made of more than one type of fabric, and I just don’t believe that the Lord really disapproves of polyester cotton shirts. More than that, those churches which teach tithing as a rule expected of every Christian don’t seem to me to follow on by using the tithes for great big parties every year. They use the tithe money for other things like buildings and lighting and heating which I suppose are a blessing to the worshippers, but some how aren’t the same as a big party celebrating God’s goodness.
So I don’t believe that tithing is a rule we should be bound by as Christians! But I do think it is a helpful principle! I read a lovely story about one American church.
The day the church treasurer resigned the church asked the local grain elevator manager to take the position. He agreed under two conditions. That no treasurer’s report would be given for the first year. That no questions be asked about finances during that year. The people were surprised but finally agreed since most of them did business with him and he was a trusted man. At the end of the year he gave his report:
The church indebtedness of $228,000 has been paid. The minister’s salary had been increased by 8%. The Cooperative Program gifts has been paid 200%. There were no outstanding bills. There was a cash balance of $11,252!
Immediately the shocked congregation asked, “How did you do it? Where did the money come from?” He quietly answered: “Most of you bring your grain to my elevator. Throughout the year I simply withheld ten percent on your behalf and gave it to the church in your name. You didn’t even miss it!”
The first principle tithing gives to me is that our giving to God should come before all our other expenses. Everything we have comes from God. If God says that 10% belongs to Him, or any other proportion belongs to him, for Him to say what it should be used for, then that is fine by me.
For us one problem we may have with giving is that our work does not produce goods, fruit or grain or oil or livestock which we can measure one tenth of. Our work produces money. And as soon as that money goes into our bank accounts we inevitably think of it all as “our” money. Not like offerings in the churches I visited in Uganda, where people bring up to the altars their cassava and bananas and live chickens, or if God has truly blessed them that year, a cow!
I think the idea of giving back to God even before you realise the money is in your bank account, even before you think of that money as “yours” is a good idea. Giving directly and regularly to the church by Standing Order with Gift Aid claimed back of course. Or giving directly and regularly to Charities Aid Foundation or Stewardship Services and deciding later which Christian work the gifts should go to. Giving straight away, to acknowledge that everything we have comes from God’s goodness.
Then the principle of giving in proportion to what we have received is a good principle. I don’t necessarily agree that the proportion has to be one tenth. But ten per cent is a good figure to start with for regular giving. Of course on top of that should come freewill offerings, but again, in proportion to how the Lord has blessed us. Somebody once put it this way. “May we all increase our offerings to be in proportion to our incomes, lest the Lord reduce our incomes to be in proportion to our offerings”! A frequent question in American churches is “Are you a tither? Or are you just a tipper?”
And the third principle I get from tithing is, curiously enough, the principle of one third. The principle that a proportion of our giving should be directed to the Levites and the aliens and the fatherless and the widows. In other words, not necessarily one third, but a substantial proportion of every Christian’s giving should be directed to the two causes of funding Christian workers (the levites) and to caring for the poor and needy. Jesus in the sermon on the mount says, “When you give alms”. Not “If you give alms”. Caring for the poor and needy is a Christian duty, not only in practical love but in generous giving.
Set aside one tenth. Not a rule – but a valuable principle for Christian giving.
Soviet Pastor Richard Wurmbrand, the author of Tortured for Christ, suffered terribly for the Lord. Yet he said that even while in prison, he saw fellow Soviet believers practice generous giving. “When we were given one slice of bread a week and dirty soup every day, we decided we would faithfully ‘tithe’ even that. Every tenth week we took the slice of bread and gave it to the weaker brethren as our ‘tithe’ to the Master.”
10 Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.