My Neighbour Wants to Know About Tithing Numbers 18:21-29
6/30/2019 8:26:23 PM
June 30, 2019
Rev. David Williams
Money! Today we are going to talk about money! That’s a tough one!
I remember as a kid there was a televangelist, Jim Baker, and his wife Tammy Fae, who had people sending them tons of money. Then it hit the news that he was using the money illegally, running a scam and he went to jail. The church in North America suffered greatly because of the scandal! Everybody became skeptical, “Is the church just after my money?” Even today, the internet is alive with scandalous stories of pastors abusing the money people give to their church, trying to justify buying private jets “for ministry.” Terrible!
Some false teachers say that if you give money to their church, God is obligated to give you more money back. This is part of the “prosperity gospel” and it is terrible, a lie from the devil himself! There is lots of false teaching about money, about giving to the church and what that should look like. Often these people quote the Old Testament and take verses out of context to paint a picture that we can manipulate God into giving us more money by giving him tithes and offering. This is false!
But what, then, are we to do with our money? What is tithing actually all about? In our series, today’s question(s) are about tithing or giving money to the church in general. Here’s what was submitted….
“Why should I tithe? I think the reason Christians I know look unhappy because they “have to give” their money to the church. Do I give 10% before or after taxes? Can I pause when money is tight? Should everyone tithe? Where to tithes go?” We’re going to attempt to address at least most of these questions today, or at least form a foundation to answer them.
To get a handle on this concept, we have to go back to the Old Testament when God was initially setting up Israel as a nation after rescuing them from slavery in Egypt. As you may know, God set apart Aaron and his descendants to be priests in the Tabernacle and later the Temple. But Aaron was part of a larger group, the tribe of Levi. God also set apart the entire tribe of Levi to also serve him in the Tabernacle and Temple. The priests, Aaron’s descendants, offered the sacrifices and served as intermediaries between the people and God. The Levites didn’t serve as priests, they were not allowed to offer sacrifices for the people, but instead they looked after the Tabernacle and the Temple. Neither group, the priests or Levites, were given land in Israel so that they could devote their whole time to serving God in the Tabernacle.
Tithing in Israel
The first thing we see is God telling the Levites that the tithe from all of Israel was theirs as their inheritance. That is, they received the tithe from Israel instead of receiving actual land. This tithe was in return for doing all the physical labour of maintaining and carrying the Tabernacle through the desert, setting it up and tearing it down again. The rest of Israel wasn’t allowed to even go near the Tabernacle anymore! Instead, the Levites and priests (a subset of Levites) did all the work and offered all the sacrifices on Israel’s behalf.
But what is a tithe? The word “tithe” comes from “tenth” and means giving one tenth of your income to God. Tithing was not unique to Israel! There is evidence that other religions, pagan religions, also gave 1/10 to their pagan gods too. In Israel, the difference was that God’s tithe went to the Levites for maintaining the Tabernacle. (Every time I mention the Tabernacle, remember that in Solomon’s day, the Temple replaced the Tabernacle, and the Levites kept serving in the Temple.)
The tithe was only one of many offerings required of Israel by God. There were thank offerings, purification offerings, atonement sacrifices, and many other offerings required in the OT. The difference is in how these other offerings were used. Some were burned up completely as a way to give them to God. Some were given to the priests to eat or use after a portion was burned up and devoted to God. Some were even given to God, a portion burned, but then the people got it back to eat at a feast! But none of these other offerings went to the Levites! Any portion that wasn’t given to God went to the priests. Estimates are that from 25-35% of
people’s income went to offerings, of which the tithe was but one part.
The purpose of the tithe was to support those who worked in the tabernacle, maintaining public worship, but not serving as priests. There came a time when the Israelites stopped tithing and Levites had to start farming or getting jobs to support their families. Worship in the Temple ground to a halt as the people drifted away from God. Without the tithe, the Levites couldn’t eat and the Tabernacle or Temple would fall into disrepair. The tithe had a very practical purpose!
Tithing for Israel was part of their covenant obligation to God. Like the 10 Commandments, circumcision and kosher food laws, the tithe was part of God’s sacred agreement with Israel. It is one with the most obvious practical application, but it was still part of God’s agreement with Israel. In the New Testament, we don’t read about tithing to the church, although we can be sure that the first Christians, all of whom were Jewish, still tithed to the Temple as well as giving to support the church’s ministry too.
Giving in the Church
This brings us to the very important question about giving to the church, or tithing in the New Testament. As I said, the NT does not instruct Christians to give 10% to the church. Why? Because there were no Levites serving in the church! Also, early on, there were no church buildings to maintain.
Tithing was part of the Old Covenant with Israel. Christians live under the New Covenant in Jesus! This is why we can eat pork and don’t have to circumcise our baby boys!
So does that mean Christians are off the hook when it comes to tithing? Well, yes and no.
The New Testament examples are of selling of property and giving all of it to the church! In Acts 4, Barnabas sells a piece of land and gives all the money to the church leadership (the disciples) to use to help provide for the poor. In the next chapter, Acts 5, a married couple sees the praise Barnabas gets, so they sell land and give half of it to the church, but lie and say it’s all the money. God strikes them both dead for lying! Note- not for giving only half, but for lying about it. Peter tells them, “It was your land, you can give what you want. Just don’t lie about it!”
Elsewhere in the NT, we see early Christians sharing everything they had with one another!
Both the Old and New Testaments teach that everything we have belongs to God. That is why, in the OT, God required the “firstfruits” of every harvest-because it is God who provides the harvest in the first place. Similarly, in the NT, people recognize that they owe God everything, that God provides everything, so it all belongs to God, so an appropriate response to God’s provision is to give back to him, through the church, to provide for those in need.
The New Testament teaches that church leaders are worthy of being supported. So, like the priests and Levites in the OT, it is legitimate to support church leaders financially so that they can devote their time to their role as leaders of the people. In fact, it was common in Jewish culture and in the early church for people to let Rabbis or teachers stay with them in their homes. It was a great honour to house such a teacher and John, in his letters, seems to be telling Christians to make sure the teachers they support are “on the up and up.” So there is a continuation of the principle of supporting a group of leaders in order to allow them the time to teach and lead.
The purpose of the tithe is to maintain public worship and support the people who provide leadership. This is the practical side of worship. For it to be done takes physical resources. It takes money to maintain the building and the staff where public worship happens. This answers in the big picture the question, “Where do tithes go?” But there is more to tithing than just supporting public worship. There are theological aspects behind tithing, aspects about our walk with God.
Theology of Giving
Often, when we read the OT, it is easy to be critical of the Israelites for worshipping idols. We wonder how they could fall into the trap of trusting these pagan gods? How could they put their trust in things made of wood and metal? But, I think if the ancient Israelites saw us today, they would ask the same questions about our trust in money and wealth. They would wonder at how we sacrifice everything on the altar of our jobs in order to make more money, have more stuff, and pursue greater ease, comfort and entertainment!
There is a theology behind giving…
Tithing brings our money under the authority of God. When we tithe, when we given 10% of our income to God, we are making a statement to ourselves and to God that God is the lord of our whole life, including our
Tithing is an act of submission and surrender. Jesus warns that nobody can serve two masters- that we cannot serve both God and money! When we give to God willingly, not begrudgingly, we surrender our money to God. This is an act of repentance- turning the trajectory of our lives to head straight to God. In Malachi 3, the prophet confronts the people on God’s behalf, challenging them that they are robbing God by withholding their tithes. God promises that if they repent, if they turn back to God, honouring their part of the covenant by supporting the Levites in the work of the Temple, God will honour his side of the covenant and “open the floodgates of heaven.” The context here is important! The Israelites had fallen away from God and this was an invitation to repent. This is NOT a promise to all people at all times that can be used to manipulate God into giving.
Tithing is an act of trust in God to provide. Sometimes people think they should pause tithing when money is tight. Or others think that if they don’t make much money, they don’t need to tithe. “When I make more money, I will tithe,” they reason. But tithing scales. It’s a percentage. If you earn $100, tithing means giving $10. If you earn $10,000 tithing means giving $1,000! Do you think it’s easier to give $1,000 than $10? When we are not earning much, learning to tithe is an act of trust. It develops our obedience and submission to God, so that when we earn more we are already in the habit of giving. So, when money is tight, cutting back on tithing is not the answer. Trusting God, in times of difficulty, is the answer!
We’ve looked at a number of aspects of tithing. Tithing, giving 10%, meets the practical needs of maintaining public worship. It means supporting people who do the work of teaching and maintaining the physical spaces of worship. It is not part of the sacrificial system which Jesus’ atonement brought an end to. But it is a part of the covenant arrangement between Israel and God.
Tithing is now a guideline more than a rule. As part of the Covenant between Israel and God, it does not apply to Christians as a rule. That said, it is a good guideline to follow. When deciding how to support your local church, when deciding how to surrender your finances to God’s lordship, giving 10% is a good guideline to begin with. As an act of obedience and repentance surrendering 10% is a good guideline.
People ask about before or after taxes. In the OT, it was before all other taxes and offerings. However, if you’re not tithing now, start calculating after taxes. Then work your way up. But remember, tithing is a guideline, not a matter of salvation, nor a matter of covenant. Give what you can give with a happy heart, generously and without grudge.
Tithing is an act of worship and should be done joyfully. Tithing is one way we respond to who God is and what God has done for us. So it is an act of worship. We should respond to God joyfully, with a happy heart. If you, or people you know, are unhappy because of giving to the church, there’s a problem in your giving! Remember, you’re not just giving to the church, but to God. Your giving should be out of gratitude for the salvation God brings. If you can’t give to the church you attend because you don’t like what the church is doing, then use what mechanisms your church has to change that. (For instance, attending the budget meetings, becoming a member, voting, etc.) If none of this is feasible, or works, you need to find another church! If you can’t support the vision of your church, find a new church and give generously.
Tithing is an opportunity to participate in what God is doing. God chooses to work in the world through his church, his people who bear Jesus’ name. When we tithe to our local church, we have an opportunity to cooperate with God, participating in what he is doing in your own local community. It is a chance to join with God in shaping the lives of your neighbours, coworkers, and family. That’s the point of tithing- to respond to God for what he has already done, and to participate with him in what he is doing now and in the future. Amen.
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