Tithing, A Timeless Principle of Discipleship
Dr. Keith G Edwards
Over the last several years, many, if not most, churches have experienced major challenges when it comes to finances and budgets. Our church is no exception. It is my opinion that the church does not have a budget problem; rather it has a discipleship problem.
I doubt that there is any more threatening subject than that of tithing, which is why pastors today are nervous about bringing up the topic. However, we need to have this conversation. As Martin Luther put it, “There are three conversions necessary in the Christian life: the conversion of the heart, the mind, and the purse” (Randy Alcorn, Managing God’s Money).
Some of the angst comes from people’s negative experiences with previous churches, pastors, and evangelists. We must confess that some pastors, on occasion, have used biblical texts related to tithing in a manipulative manner to raise the budget or to build a building. Such behavior should not be tolerated; however, this does not alter the basic biblical teaching on tithing.
Just so we are clear, the definition of tithing is: Giving ten percent (10%) of our income to God through His church. The original tithe was an offering of one’s agricultural income to the Lord as an expression of thanks and dedication. Today, because we live in a monetary society, we give ten percent of our salary.
There are four main reasons why some Christians do not tithe:
- People have simply not been taught. I grew up knowing the responsibilities and blessings of tithing. My mother taught me from an early age, this value was passed down from her parents. When my grandparents gave their lives to Christ, they began tithing out of grateful hearts, and they taught their children to tithe. I am pleased to say I am a third generation tither. Many people, however, do not have this kind of legacy, and do not understand the joys and blessings that come with tithing, not to mention the glory it brings to the Kingdom of God.
- People misunderstand the scriptures and believe it is only an Old Testament idea.
- People have a fear that if they tithe, they might not have enough money left to pay their personal bills.
- People simply refuse to tithe. They are not convinced that tithing is for them and so they make a conscious decision to abstain.
I will address the first three reasons. However, if someone refuses to tithe, there is nothing I can say to convince them of the blessings found in tithing.
Tithing is Biblical
Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path. Psalms 119:105
If you are new to Centerpointe Church, I want you to understand that the Word of God is held in the highest esteem. It is our guide, which leads us to a personal relationship with God, helps us understand who He is, and how we are to live.
When we preach, we use several disciplines of study: systematic theology, hermeneutics, biblical theology, and practical theology. We do this in order to reach conclusions that are consistent in scripture.
For example: We have been studying the book of John this year. One thing I trust you picked up on is the connection to what the religious leaders understood and what Jesus was saying. We learned that when Jesus spoke, the people knew what he was referring to, and that’s why they got so angry at him. Their understanding was critical. The religious leaders understood what John meant when he used the word “word.” They understood the implications when John called Jesus “the lamb,” and when Jesus said, “I am the light,” “the bread,” “the gate,” “the shepherd,” and “the resurrection.” They did not like his conclusions, but they understood them.
When we approach the issue of tithing, we are going to approach this passage the same studious way.
Let’s begin with systematic theology: the study of scripture that systematically takes a doctrine through the Bible in order to come to a conclusion. We will begin in the New Testament and work our way back to the Old Testament.
Tithing was assumed in the New Testament
In Matthew 23, Jesus is condemning the religious leaders for placing so many rules and regulations on the people that they could not breath. Leaders cared more about themselves then the people they were to serve. This chapter is filled with rebuke. There are seven “woes.” He calls them hypocrites six times. He also calls them fools, snakes, a brood of vipers, etc. He was not trying to win friends and influence people. In verses 23-24, Jesus says,
Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former (NIV).
His main point concerns their attitude of love, faithfulness, justice, and mercy. However, related to the topic of tithing, Jesus said to them, “you should be tithing.” Jesus affirms that they should do what they know to do.
Let me illustrate it this way. If you came to me and told me your job was in jeopardy, and your biggest defense was that you showed up on time every day, but I later discovered that you were not giving your best and you had a bad attitude, I would say to you, “You should be showing up on time, but you have to give your best and change your attitude. Your showing up on time does not compensate for your poor performance. I don’t have to spend time talking about your showing up on time; you already know this and practice this. It’s basic. It’s elementary.
To pastors and churches, Jesus would say today, “You should teach people to tithe and be generous, that’s basic stuff, just remember to care and love and support your people.”
Jesus did not have to further define tithing for them. They already understood the significance of it. Their history told them of its importance. Their Patriarchs set the pattern. Their Torah (law) codified it. Their poets wrote about it. Their prophets called them out when they did not practice it.
Tithing was so deeply imbedded in the Jewish conscience, that it needed virtually no mention in the New Testament. Tithing was an assumption in Israel when Jesus came on the scene. It just needed to be done in the context of love and justice and mercy.
It is interesting to note how much of the law the New Testament did change. Jesus healed on the Sabbath. The sacrificial system changed. Their diet was even changed. But Jesus affirms the tithing.
There is an argument that because this is the only explicit reference to tithing that the argument is weak. I might point out that our Lord only said, “Ye must be born again” to Nicodemus, but no one would seriously think that it is not true for all of us.
It is for this reason that the Apostle Paul did not have to use the exact word “tithing;” just like Paul did not have to use the word “hell.” Paul gives us these instructions:
Now about the collection for God’s people: Do what I told the Galatian churches to do. On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made (1 Corinthians 16:1–2).
This is about as clear a reference to tithing as one could get without actually saying the words. It is planned. It is strategic. It is in keeping with a person’s income. It is joyful, generous, and sacrificial. It is the fairest system created.
If the New Testament carries over the Old Testament principle, let’s review the Old Testament.
Tithing was before the law
Abraham (Abram at the time) sets the pattern for the nation of Israel to follow. He gave the first tithe recorded in Scripture as a worshipful act of gratitude to God for help in battle. He gave it to Melchizedek, King of Salem and priest of God. Genesis 14:18-20:
Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, and he blessed Abram, saying, “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth. And blessed be God Most High, who delivered your enemies into your hand.” Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything.
This account was over 400 years before the law. The tithe was given out of respect and honor. We are not told why they gave a tenth, but it did represent a grateful heart.
Abraham’s grandson Jacob followed this pattern after a dream. He also gives his reasoning.
The next morning Jacob got up very early. He took the stone he had rested his head against, and he set it upright as a memorial pillar. Then he poured olive oil over it. He named that place Bethel (which means “house of God”), although it was previously called Luz. Then Jacob made this vow: “If God will indeed be with me and protect me on this journey, and if he will provide me with food and clothing, and if I return safely to my father’s home, then the LORD will certainly be my God. And this memorial pillar I have set up will become a place for worshiping God, and I will present to God a tenth of everything he gives me” (Genesis 28:18-22).
Jacob attaches tithing to his future.
Jacob attaches tithing to his future.
Hundreds of years later, Moses wrote down the law and included the tithes. Exodus 23:19 tells us, “The first of the first fruits of the land thou shalt bring into the house of the Lord they God.” Notice the tithe was the “first fruit” and not the leftovers. It was meant to be a statement of thanksgiving and the God-ordained way to take care of the Levites (priests) and the tabernacle, and later the temple.
The Israelites were reminded to continue the practice of tithing before crossing over the Jordan River. Deuteronomy 12:10–11:
But you will soon cross the Jordan River and live in the land the LORD your God is giving you. When he gives you rest from all your enemies and you’re living safely in the land, you must bring everything I command you—your burnt offerings, your sacrifices, your tithes, your sacred offerings, and your offerings to fulfill a vow—to the designated place of worship, the place the LORD your God chooses for his name to be honored (NLT).
In other words, when they get to the Promised Land, tithing is one of the ways that will keep them focused on God. It will be a constant reminder of who brought them out of Egypt.
For further review, check out Leviticus 5:11; 6:20; 27:30–32; Numbers 18:21-28; Deuteronomy 12:6-17; 14:22–28; 26:12; 2 Chronicles 31:5–12.
Tithing is part of wisdom literature
The father Solomon speaks to his son about life and prosperity and how tithing should be part of trusting God. He writes, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.”
We love to quote this verse to ourselves and to others. It’s one of those popular cards and stationary verses. We just need to keep reading: “Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD and shun evil. This will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones.”
Health and nourishment? Even better. Keep reading: “Honor the LORD with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops; then your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine” (Proverbs 3:5–10). In Israel, honoring the LORD with . . . the firstfruits of all one’s crops was a way of expressing gratitude to Him for His provisions. Solomon was saying it is not just about honor, it is about trust. He is also saying that our tithing is attached to our future.
Tithing is part of prophecy
In the last prophetic message to God’s people who became faithless, Malachi steps up and God speaks through him:
Should people cheat God? Yet you have cheated me! “But you ask, ‘What do you mean? When did we ever cheat you?’ “You have cheated me of the tithes and offerings due to me. You are under a curse, for your whole nation has been cheating me. Bring all the tithes into the storehouse so there will be enough food in my Temple. If you do,” says the LORD of Heaven’s Armies, “I will open the windows of heaven for you. I will pour out a blessing so great you won’t have enough room to take it in! Try it! Put me to the test! Your crops will be abundant, for I will guard them from insects and disease. Your grapes will not fall from the vine before they are ripe,” says the LORD of Heaven’s Armies. “Then all nations will call you blessed, for your land will be such a delight,” says the LORD of Heaven’s Armies (Malachi 3:8–12 NLT).
In this passage, the Lord calls for the return of his people. He faces his people with the charge of neglect in the “covenant” practice. When they ask, “In what way shall we return” (v. 7), the Lord says something completely foreign to our way of thinking. He doesn’t tell them to get on their knees and pray. He doesn’t instruct them to read the Law. He doesn’t demand they go to the temple more often. Rather, He starts by talking to them about their money – about tithing.
The message in Malachi is powerful. There are blessings for tithing and curses for not tithing. There is also a challenge to test him in this area – the only place in scripture where we can test him.
Tithing is Part of Being a Follower of Jesus
For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Luke 12:34
Tithing is a milestone in following Jesus. It takes discipleship to a new level because it tangibly demonstrates where our heart is and shapes who we are.
We cannot cherry-pick our discipleship. We cannot say, “I’ll do this and I won’t do that.” Neither can we make up for not tithing by doing extra in another area. We do not use one form of obedience to offset the deficiency in another. We cannot say, “I don’t tithe but I go to church three times a week.” “I don’t tithe but I bring people to church.” “I don’t tithe, but I read my Bible and pray more than most people do” (R.T. Kindall, Tithing). This is trying to secure a righteous feeling about one area in which we are comfortable in, in order to relieve ourselves of any guilt that might emerge in another.
Tithing is significant to discipleship because it shapes our values. The more we invest our money in what matters to God, the more we start to value what God values.
Jesus said it this way in Matthew 6:19–21:
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Tithing teaches us to trust God in deeper ways. When we make our financial resources freely available to God, we invite God to work through every part of our life. We learn to stop holding back in our relationship with Him, and to start serving Him wholeheartedly.
Tithing can free us from greed’s grip on our life and help us trust God fully in every aspect of our life. Materialism is a real disease, and tithing is part of the cure.
Furthermore, we learn to step outside of our comfort zones and take the risks that will lead to greater faith. When we see God provide, we become more generous in other areas of life.
Tithing Advances the Kingdom of God
The church is the hope of the world. Bill Hybles
There is a very practical side to tithing that blesses the community of faith and propels it to greater heights. The community of faith, known as the church, brings healing, hope, love, and life to the surrounding community. It establishes the presence of Jesus in a community and moves forward with leading people to our Savior.
The church is the caring community of believers, committed together to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ and tell others about Him. When we tithe, we get to be part of the advancement of the church here and around the world. We also get to be part of the discipleship of our children, our youth developing solid faith, our adults serving each other, our groups serving in missions, the upkeep of God’s house, the resources needed for outreach and benevolence, the leadership of our staff, and the practical administration of the church. We get to do this together.
“By instituting the tithe, God has created a system for the ongoing support of the Church.” “When God’s people tithe, God’s economy works. There is money for the work of the church.” “When God’s people tithe, God’s Church is able to fulfill its mission in the world” (Tom Felder, The Tithing Principle).
To whatever extent people do not tithe is the same extent that the church is limited.
Think of what could happen if we would all tithe. We know that only about 20% – 25% of our people actually tithe. Can you imagine the ministries, the leadership, and the missionary work we could accomplish if our income was four to five times what it is today?
Evangelist Baily Smith connects tithing to people’s love for the church:
“If you are not a tither or a giver to the Lord and you start giving, I promise that you’ll love the church like you’ve never loved it before. You’ll feel like you belong to it. You’ll have a better relationship with its workers and love God’s kingdom more, because where your investment is, there is where you will inevitably find your highest ‘interest.’ (Felder).
Tithing Brings Spiritual Blessings
Them that honor me I will honor. 1 Samuel 2:30
Although God deserves our obedience with or without any blessing, the truth is, God never demands obedience without a promise of blessing. He rejoices in blessing his people, and it begins with a spiritual blessing.
One spiritual blessing is a sense of freedom. We are freed from self-dependency and move to a God-dependency. We are freed from a fear mentality and develop a trust mentality. We are reminded that God has not only provided in the past but will provide in the future.
Tithing shapes our values. Whatever we invest in we value more, so tithers become more Kingdom focused as we value the work of God. We see the impact of our tithes every time someone commits their lives to Jesus, and we value evangelism more.
Tithing is hope driven, joy driven, love driven, blessing driven, unity driven, and obedience driven. Just knowing we are taking God at His word is in-and-of-itself a blessing. If we can learn to trust Him in our finances, we will learn to trust him in all areas of life – our children, our job, our future.
Tithing is to your soul what working out at a gym is to your body. The more you exercise your generosity “muscle,” the stronger it becomes, helping you grow into a stronger person – one who reflects Jesus’ likeness. Since the essence of God and His Son is to constantly give to others, you discover more about the image of God within you when you give of yourself through tithing.
Tithing Brings Practical Blessings
Your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine. Proverbs 3:10
Tithing is not meant to be a financial burden. It is meant for our blessing. I don’t believe for one minute that tithing buys God’s blessing, but I do believe that it opens a door – or better, a “window” – of release for God to bless continually and mightily. Look at Malachi 3:10-12 again.
“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 you will not have room enough for it. I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not cast their fruit,” says the LORD Almighty. “Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land,” says the LORD Almighty.
When the Apostle Paul talks about giving, he says this:
Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. 2 Corinthians 9:6–8 NIV
It is God’s desire to bless and provide. In his book, The Cycle of Victorious Giving, Stan and Linda Toler says this:
“In the economy of God’s kingdom, we don’t give in order to get something back. We simply give because we love God. We give as an expression of our appreciation for His blessings and as an expression of our loyalty to Him. And, in return, we receive sovereign benefits continually supplied in just the right amount for our spiritual good. Then, in return we give back – we recycle God’s blessings.” (Felder)
Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. James 1:22
There will be many responses to the message of tithing. Some will be offended and continue to resist. There is not anything to change their mind; only the Holy Spirit can do this. Others will be convicted by God and see a need to repent and return to Him and begin to tithe again.
Still others would like to start, but do not know where to start. To you I would say, just start. Give God a chance to prove what he can do in your heart and life if you give ten percent of your income to Him.
If you are still in doubt, I ask you to do one more thing – talk to someone who does tithe. I can assure you that they would recommend it without hesitation. This is my experience: people who are opposed to tithing have never tried it.
After delivering the message in our first service, I was approached by someone who I knew was seeking to start a business; however, she had quite a bit of debt and she had waited for several years. This season in her life was difficult, but she knew she had to be obedient to the Lord. Although challenging, she remained faithful in tithing and believed that God would one day provide for her. When she was telling me this story, I knew it was going to have a happy ending because of the big smile on her face and the excitement in her voice. She was so excited to let me know that last month, she was able to purchase a home to start her daycare business. She wanted me to share her story with everyone. She tested God, and God indeed provided.
Previously, I shared our personal story of tithing and how we found ourselves in financial difficulty eight years ago. There were many times it was difficult to tithe financially, but never a difficult choice. That decision was made many years ago in our lives, and we knew that our crisis was not God’s fault, since we had gotten ourselves in the situation we were in. It took a while, but God demonstrated to us His faithfulness once again.
To see our full testimony, go to our church website and watch the message, “The Summer Tithing Challenge,” May 29, 2016.
If you have a tithing testimony, we would love to hear it. Just send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
It is my prayer that we learn to love Jesus more and more. At the end of the day, it is a matter of our heart. Do we trust God with everything, including our finances, or don’t we?
You may be like some that have looked at their lives and recognized that they have never really fully surrendered their life to Him. You realize that you need to not just give 10%, but your whole life back to God. You need to say, “Yes, today I call on you Jesus to save me, I surrender my whole life to you. Jesus forgive me, change me, make me brand new. I believe you died for me so I could live for you. Take all of my life, it’s not my own, I give it to you. Thank you for new life, now you have mine. In Jesus Name I pray.”
Scriptures to Help You Process the Principle of Tithes and Offerings:
Genesis 14:19-20; 28:20-22; Leviticus 27:30-34; Numbers 18:21, 26; Deuteronomy 12:5-6; 14:22, 28-29; 1 Chronicles 29:14; 2 Chronicles 31:4-5; Nehemiah 10:35-37; Proverbs 3:9-10; Amos 4:4-5; Malachi 3:8-12; Matthew 6:1-4; 23;23; Mark 12:41-44; Luke 11:42; Luke 18:9-14; 2 Corinthians 9:7; Hebrews 7:1-2
Resources Used and Other Resources for Further Study
There is so much more to say in this area of discipleship. These resources would be helpful in your further study of tithing.
Alcorn, Randy. Managing God’s Money
Hybles, Bill. Courageous Leadership
Kindall, R.T. Tithing
Felder, Tom. The Tithing Principle
Leblanc, Douglas. Test Me in This
Searcy, Nelson. The Generosity Ladder