The practice of tithing, giving ten percent of one’s income to the Lord, has been a well-established standard among Christians for many years. However, this practice has been challenged in more recent days, with some opposing it vehemently. What’s the problem? For those who reject it, the issue is usually that tithing is “Old Testament” and Christians are governed by the New Testament.
On the surface, this statement is true enough, but like so many issues, requires a bit more investigation.
Tithing was unquestionably required under the Law of Moses. In fact, Mosaic Law specified at least two tithes, and in some years, three. It was not simply a tithe, but several tithes. Although it is true that the Law of Moses is synonymous with the Old Covenant, it is not true that the Law of Moses is the same as the Old Testament. It is contained within the pages of Old Testament Scripture, but it is neither synonymous with the Old Testament, nor did it cover the entire history of the Old Testament.
We’re examining what the Bible says to today’s Christian about financial giving. I encourage you to read Part 1 and Part 2 if you haven’t already. They are essential to knowing how the following information fits in the sequence of thought.
Giving material and financial resources in worship to God is not new. Let’s look at giving in the Old Testament context. We can then understand better how the Old Testament principles and practices fit into the New Testament setting and how they relate to Christians today.
There are three kinds of giving that God instructed the children of Israel to observe. They are sacrifices, tithes, and freewill offerings. Let’s look at each.
People offered sacrifices to God long before He instituted the sacrificial system into the lives of the Jewish people. A moment of reflection brings to mind Cain and Abel (Gen. 4:3-4), Noah (Gen. 8:20), and Abraham (Gen. 22:1-14). These all gave sacrifices as a form of voluntary worship to God.
The Bible does not tell Christians to tithe. But it does tell us to give.
During my early years as a pastor, I taught that there is a principle and pattern of tithing (giving 1/10 of your income) in Scripture and that there is also a principle and pattern of giving offerings over and above the tithe. I taught this because it is what I learned from those who taught me. But as I learned the Scriptures through years of reading and studying, I became aware of facts that caused me to question my own thinking and teaching on this issue and to develop a new understanding of what God’s Word says about it.
One of these facts is that the most extensive New Testament passages on giving as a Christian are about helping other Christians in need, not supporting the work of the church. Most of the principles I had been teaching were from these passages (2 Corinthians chapters 8 and 9, for example). I realized that I was bypassing the primary application of these truths, which is helping people in need, in order to urge people to give to the church. The very first “offerings” in the newly-formed assembly of believers in Jerusalem were designated to help others in need (Acts 2:45)!