Have you ever considered that there might be more than one interpretation of the tithe? I think there are at least three. I don’t claim any “expert” status on the topic of tithing, but here goes. And feel free to disagree!
The tithe is a requirement.
The Bible discusses the tithe in several places, and it is clear that it was a requirement in the Israel of the Old Testament. The most common source cited is in the book of Malachi where God tells us:
”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 there will not be room enough to store it.”—Malachi 3:10
Many people are of the opinion that we are required to follow Old Testament law today just as had been the case in pre-Christian times. In Matthew 5:17, Jesus tells us:
”Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”
We have the requirement for the tithe spelled out in the Old Testament, and Jesus’ reaffirmation of the collective OT law. In our own time, many people who tithe report amazing blessings which they attribute directly to the practice of tithing faithfully.
Now let’s take a look at the counter argument.
The tithe is no longer a requirement, give what you feel led to give.
If we read the very next verse in Matthew 5, we can draw a very different conclusion as to what Jesus meant. In Matthew 5:18, Jesus tells us more:
”For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.” (emphasis mine)
The last four words of the verse are critical; “everything” refers to Jesus himself. He is the fulfillment of the law, and thus his life, death and resurrection are the culmination of “until everything is accomplished”. Salvation is through Jesus Christ alone (John 14:6).
In addition, the New Testament never mentions the tithe as a requirement—giving, yes (and often), but not the tithe. Thus the Apostle Paul tell us:
”Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.”—2 Corinthians 9:7-8
Notice that in the second part of this passage, we have God blessing us “abundantly”, not unlike the promise in Malachi 3:10—only this time there’s no mention of “tithes”.
Still, maybe tithing isn’t an either/or situation, but a mix of both…
While the tithe is not a requirement it’s still desirable.
As you might have guessed from the flow of this article, I’m in the “not required” camp on tithing. But that doesn’t mean that tithing is without merit. Even if tithing is no longer a requirement—and I confess that it may still be—it still has a place in the life of the believer. With that in mind, let’s look at some additional considerations.
10% may be the wrong percentage. Tithing is commonly thought to be 10%; the Old English word “tithe” translates into one-tenth, or 10%, so it’s easy to see how that figure was arrived at. However, in the Old Testament there were several tithes that didn’t combine neatly into 10%.
You can be a percentage giver, but it doesn’t need to be 10%. Some people can’t afford to give 10%, and others can easily give more. In the early Church, there was no mention of tithing, however many groups of believers combined all of their money for the common good of the church family (Acts 2:44-45). All, as in 100%.
Poor attitude when giving will invalidate the sacrifice. Referring back to 2 Corinthians 9:7-8, we need to give cheerfully. If we don’t, we invalidate our giving as a sacrifice before God. Giving 10% or any other percentage can have us giving out of a sense of obligation which is hardly likely to result in us being cheerful in any way.
Ability to give. Every one of us are in a position give something, whether it’s money, time and effort or with specific skills and talent. The ability to give however varies from one person to another.
An established mid-career professional may have no trouble faithfully giving 10% (or some other percentage), while a person who’s in college or struggling in retirement may not. And as we know, there are “seasons” in life (Ecclesiastes 3) that complicate tithing even more. A job loss, financial troubles, or health and family problems could make tithing difficult or even impossible.
This is just my own opinion, but I think we can use the traditional view of tithing—10%–as a benchmark, but we also need to add New Testament directives into the giving equation.
Where do you stand on tithing?