Does the Bible command tithing?
If we don’t tithe, are we robbing God?
Doesn’t the Old Testament teach tithing, while the New Testament stresses giving?
These are important questions, and every sincere Christian wants to get the answers right.
The Bible is our authority – and the last word on this issue. While it isn’t possible in this article to conduct an exhaustive study, we may highlight what the Old and New Testaments have to say.
THE OLD COVENANT
The Mosaic Law required Israelites to give tithes totaling more than 22 percent of their income each year – usually in the form of crops or animals.
There was the Levitical tithe to support those who offered daily sacrifices on behalf of the people (Lev. 27:30-33; Num. 18:21).
Next, there was the Festival tithe in which the Israelites brought food for themselves and the Levites on special feast days (Deut. 14:22-27).
Finally, there was the Welfare tithe, offered every third year for the Levite, foreigner, orphan, and widow (Deut. 14:28-29).
In addition, there were freewill offerings in which people gave whatever was in their hearts to give (Ex. 25:2-7; 1 Chron. 29:6-9).
Stepping back to a broader perspective, Abraham and Jacob offered tithes prior to the giving of the law – Abraham, in a voluntary act, sharing the spoils of war; and Jacob, in a faithless effort to guarantee much of what God already had promised him.
The prophets, too, wrote about tithing as they called Israel back to faithfulness. For example, Malachi delivered God’s charge to the Israelites to bring their full 10 percent into the storehouse so the Levites’ work of leading corporate worship could continue. By withholding what God required, the Israelites robbed God and missed out on His blessings.
When these passages are studied carefully, it is clear that God commanded His people under the Old Covenant to tithe. But it is equally clear that the requirements of Israelites under the law do not automatically carry forward as commands for Christians under grace.
THE NEW COVENANT
A careful study of the New Testament shows that first-century believers probably gave more than 10 percent – not because they were commanded to do so, but because they wanted to.
The New Testament says we should give:
Locally. Paul instructs the believers at Corinth the same way he instructed the churches of Galatia – to set in store a collection for safe keeping (1 Cor. 16:1-4). While this offering is to help the saints in Jerusalem, it is given through the church in Corinth.
Consistently. Paul exhorts the Corinthian believers to take up a weekly collection for their brothers and sisters in Jerusalem (1 Cor. 16:2).
Proportionately. Paul says each one should give as he or she has prospered (1 Cor. 16:2), suggesting a percentage, so that as a person’s income grows, so does his or her giving.
Sacrificially. Jesus praises the poor widow who gave two small coins, a fraction of the amount deposited that same day by men of more comfortable means (Luke 21:1-4). Paul tells the church at Corinth that the Macedonians have given to the saints in Jerusalem out of their deep poverty (2 Cor. 8:2).
Liberally. Jesus says and Paul writes that we reap in proportion to what we sow (Luke 6:38; 2 Cor. 9:6). This is not the prosperity gospel; it is God’s promise to meet our needs and multiply our gifts in His kingdom work.
Cheerfully. Too often, we give to the local church with the same enthusiasm we pay our utility bills. Paul wrote that God loves those who give cheerfully – literally, in a hilarious spirit (2 Cor. 9:7). Believers in Macedonia and Achaia were pleased to contribute to the saints in Jerusalem (Rom. 15:26-27).
Does the New Testament command us to give a legalistic amount? No. But the principles of stewardship Jesus and the apostles set forth show that when we give locally, consistently, proportionately, sacrificially, liberally, and cheerfully, we fulfill scripture’s highest commands: to love God and love others.
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