The Forbidden Subject: Tithing

The church service is over, and as the pastor closes his sermon, your mind already starts to wander towards what is awaiting you at the restaurant. Admit it, we have all been there.  But then the pastor calls on one of the men to come and pray for the offering.  You inwardly sigh, “Here we go again.”

All too often, that is the attitude we have towards paying tithes, what some call “tithes and offerings.”  The reason why we do it is not taught much, and many don’t see the reason behind it, especially when they have plenty of other things they could be doing with their money instead of giving it to the church.  Some pastors tend to steer away from this subject because they don’t want to seem like they are asking for money.  I do not receive tithes, so there is nothing stopping us from wrestling with this issue in a blog article here.  So let us try to lay aside our own preconceived ideas about tithes and search the Scriptures to see what God has to say about the subject.

As we start at the beginning of the Bible, we find that the first actual recorded event of giving tithes can be found in the life of Abraham.  When a priest of God, Melchizedek, comes to visit him, Abraham gives this man a tenth of everything he possessed (Genesis 14:18-20).  We know that this was a tithe, since that was the word the writer of Hebrews used to describe that act (Hebrews 7:4-10).   In both places—both Genesis and Hebrews—Abraham is specifically noted to have given this priest a tenth part.

That act of giving tithes is something that continued as Israel begin to be a nation, for the Levitical priesthood has “commandment in the Law to collect a tenth from the people” (Hebrews 7:5).  In a way, Levi paid tithes through Abraham, and because his children were chosen as priests, God ordained that they should receive tithes.  These tithes were “holy to the Lord,” and again we see the principle of devoting a tenth to God’s service in the Law (Leviticus 27:30-33). 

But this does not really help us understand what a tithe is or why we give it.  When we examine the Law God gave Moses, we see that He commanded the Israelites to bring tithes to the priests in order to support them and the needy of the land (Numbers 18:21-24; Deuteronomy 14:27-29).  This tribe was specifically singled out to devote themselves to serving the Lord with the tabernacle, and eventually the temple, so the people of Israel were to support them in their service.

This was something God took extremely seriously, even centuries later when the Jews returned from the Babylonian Exile.  After restoring the walls around Jerusalem, Nehemiah orders the temple service, then takes a trip to visit the king of Persia.  Upon his return, he finds that the tithes had not been given, requiring the Levites to find work in the fields instead of ministering in the temple (Nehemiah 13:10-12).  Nehemiah then sharply “reprimanded” the people for not fulfilling the Lord’s command, then instructs the people once again of their duty to the Levites.  However, this problem did not go away, for Malachi, the final prophet of the Old Testament, had to address this same problem in his day, and he spares no words with the people of God.  Through that prophet, the Lord said that He viewed people keeping back some of the tithes as nothing short of thievery, saying, “You are robbing Me” (Malachi 3:8-10).  Harsh words, but this only reveals how weighty of a matter this is to our God.

Now we might be thinking, “that was just for Israel, right?  They had the Law and the covenants, but we are under the New covenant of grace.”  What this fails to realize, though, is that tithes play a very prominent role in the Church today.

Granted, there is no New Testament passage that commands us to bring a tenth of our earnings to the Lord.  However, if you wanted to go off of the first pattern of the book of Acts, we wouldn’t have any personal possessions at all, for everything would be given to the church (Acts 4:32-35).  Interestingly enough, we do see a principle here that has already been stated in the Old Testament with the tithe, and that was the provision of poor people.  Israel was to bring the tithe to the Levites to distribute, but the Jerusalem church brought offerings of money to the apostles for the same purpose (Deuteronomy 14:28, 29; Acts 4:34, 35).  Even so, not every church in the New Testament had its members sell all their possessions or property for such a task, but the example in acts shows just how important tithing as to these early Christians.

What every New Testament church did do, however, was to take a collection every week for needy believers in various regions.  Paul commanded the church in Corinth to do this as they gathered on Sundays, revealing that he had already instructed all the churches in Galatia to do the same (1 Corinthians 16:1-4).  Paul did not tell these Christians to sell property, but that “each one of you is to put aside and save, as he may prosper” (1 Corinthians 16:2).  There was to be no excuse for not giving, for even needy Christians chose to give to this tithe (2 Corinthians 8:1-5).  They viewed this as so important to do, these believers considered it a “favor” to be allowed to give money to help the poor (2 Corinthians 8:4).  Convicting, right?

But the Biblical tithe is more than just helping needy brethren.  In a manner similar to how the priests received tithes for their own sustenance, pastors, evangelists, and missionaries are to receive the benefit of tithes for their own monetary and physical needs (Numbers 18:21-24; 1 Corinthians 9:13, 14).  Jesus Himself taught this principle, and Paul quotes both our Lord’s words and the Old Testament to show why pastors ought to receive this support (Deuteronomy 25:4; Luke 10:3-9; 1 Timothy 5:17, 18).  This is a commandment both from God the Father and from Jesus Himself, reinforced by the apostles, and given to all the Church.  Even if we do not believe the collection for needy saints is necessary, this support of pastors certainly is a requirement upon the Christian.

But this is not a harsh demand upon us in the pews so the pastors can kick back in their chairs and take it easy six days of the week and preach a sermon on the seventh.  Instead, this is to enable them to more effectively “devote [themselves] to prayer and the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:4; Ephesians 4:11-13).  Sure, pastors can—and often do—work regular jobs during the week and preach on Sundays and Wednesdays, but this should not be the status quo.  There are times when a congregation simply cannot support a pastor full-time, and that is okay.  The point is that they do offer him remuneration for his service in preaching the Word.

Although it seems that churches are always asking for money, try to view these tithes and the commands behind them in a positive light.  We are one Body with every other believer in the world (1 Corinthians 12:13).  As a result, “if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it” (1 Corinthians 12:26).  It is not that we can never have possessions, but we must be ready, willing, and actively looking for ways to support fellow Christians who simply struggle to make ends meet or have fallen on hard times.  They are part of our family after all.

And for pastors and missionaries—well, this is the work God has called them to.  They are to receive compensation for this just as much as if they were designing a computer software or installing water pipes, for it enables them to more intentionally focus upon their study of Scripture in preparation for preaching.  Consider the difference of the following example.

Pastor Bob has a job that requires him to work at least forty hours a week, and it is to be expected that there will be a few hours of overtime each week too.  He has a growing family to nurture and lead, besides simply doing maintenance on the house, cutting the grass, and working on the car.  At most, he has a couple hours between Sundays to study, but his weariness can be a great burden on him in this.

Pastor Tom is very similar to Pastor Bob: he has a growing family, responsibilities at home, and the need to pay the bills and buy the groceries.  However, his church gives generously to support him, and though he has to do some data-entry work online a couple hours on Thursdays to fully support himself, he has days—not hours—each week to devote to prayer, to studying the Bible in-depth, and paying a visit on those who might be struggling with an illness or personal issues.

Ask yourself—which one would you want to be your pastor?  There are many pastor Bobs out there, and they do a superb job in preaching the Word faithfully; they are answering the call of God on their lives, and God has blessed the small time that they do have.  However, the Biblical pattern is for there to be more pastor Tom’s in the world than pastor Bob’s.  Not so that they can live in luxury, but to live a modest life and meet their needs, in order that they can completely devote themselves to the task God has given them.

But for this to come about, the responsibility falls on us.  We cannot look to more members alone as the solution to our problem.  If we are not giving at least ten percent to the church now to support the pastor and help those in need, we are not going to give more when additional members join.  If anything, we might start giving less.

Some might say, “But I don’t know how it is going to work out if I do that.  There are bills, mortgages, groceries—how can I even think of giving money to my church?”  I am going to say what I do, not because I have anything to gain by it, but because it is what Scripture says.  The Lord promises to bless those who follow His commands in faith. Look at these examples.

There was a widow in a city called Zarephath, and Elijah the prophet was sent to her during a time of famine.  All she had left was a small portion of flour and oil, enough for one cake, but Elijah told her to give it to him first (1 Kings 17:8-13).  Though she initially objected, the widow obeyed in faith, and as a result, God miraculously made the flour last throughout the entire famine that had come upon that land (1 Kings 17:14-16).  Through Malachi, God told Israel to bring the tithes in first, and He would abundantly bless them (Malachi 3:10).  Paul said that the believers in Macedonia gave “beyond their ability,” meaning sacrificially,  in the service of the Lord because they rejoiced to give to God (2 Corinthians 8:3).  People acted in faith, putting the Lord first, and God blessed them and met their needs.

Nothing I said in the paragraph above should be taken to be advocating any sort of “Seed-Faith”* giving to a ministry or church.  Just because you give money to a so-called preacher who promises prosperity does not at all mean God will pour out abundant blessings on you.  Instead, what it illustrates is the principle that God provides for those who obediently follow His commands in faith.  There are poor believers who simply need our help, and our pastors need the freedom to devote themselves to studying the Bible.  None of that can happen if we do not tithe.

So yes, we should be concerned about paying bills and providing for our own families, but God has given us a command to tithe, and the Biblical pattern is at least ten-percent.  This was explicitly commanded in the Old Testament, but even the writer of Hebrews described how this was the principle of tithing for the people of God (Hebrews 7:4-10).  I don’t know your situation with giving to the church, maybe you are already giving to the Lord sacrificially in obedience to His command. If you are, praise God!  If not, I urge you to believe the Lord that if He commanded it, He will supply what is needed to obey (Philippians 2:13).  Trust that He has a purpose for what is written in Scripture, believe His loving care, and step out in faith.  It is what we are called to do as the Church moves forward.

*I was first introduced to the concept of “Seed-Faith” giving in Strange Fire by John MacArthur (Kindle Edition, Nelson Books, 2013. P. 9).  A good definition and short discussion of this concept can be found at the following link:

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