Money, especially the giving of it, is one of the most often-mentioned topics in the Bible. It is also one of the most controversial and likely to provoke a response, which is often a negative one. Many years ago I attended a Christian financial seminar in which the speaker presented some simple but powerful truths about handling money. I have put his “two basic rules” into practice ever since: (1) Spend less than you earn; (2) Tithe on the first fruits on all your increase.
Tithing is the Biblical principle of giving one-tenth of all our increase, income or possessions to the Lord, so that His work can be accomplished in the world (tithe = tenth). About tithing Dr. Billy Graham wrote, “God’s blessing upon the nine-tenths helps it to go further than the ten-tenths without His blessing!”
The most frequent objection to tithing is that it’s part of the Old Testament Law that doesn’t apply to Christians today. I’ve found that this statement is often used as an excuse not to tithe. But tithing predates the law. The first mention of tithing in the Bible is Genesis 14:18-20 in which Abraham willingly gave King Melchizedek 10% of all his increase. Where did Abraham learn this principle? Did he just pluck 10% out of thin air, or was he privately instructed by God on a universal principle of life? I would suggest the latter because God later included the tithing principle in the Law of Moses. The final mention of tithing in the Bible (Hebrews 7) refers back to the first mention – to the story of Abraham and Melchizedek. Here the writer relates this mysterious King- Priest to Jesus the eternal King-Priest. As Abraham willingly paid tithes to Melchizedek we willingly pay tithes to Jesus.
It should also be said that Old Testament truth is still applicable to us today unless the New Testament presents truth that supersedes it. For example, Jesus cancelled the Old Testament food rules in Mark 7:17-19, but did not present truth, which superseded tithing. In fact He endorsed it. Have a read of Luke 11:42 & Matthew 23:23.
The New Testament actually increases the conditions of the law (read Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount” in which He increased the definition of murder and adultery amongst other things). If a tenth was required under the law, no less than a tenth is required under grace.
What God taught Abraham about tithing was adopted 400 years later in the Law. The Law of Moses presents truth on tithing that, if implemented today, gives excellent advice on giving and saving. Under the Law there were three tithes:
- The Lord’s tithe: 10% of gross income that went to support the priesthood and temple (Numbers 18:21).
- The Family tithe: the next 10% that was saved for the future support of the family (Deuteronomy 14:22-27).
- The Poor tithe: every third family tithe was given to the poor (Deuteronomy 14:28-29).
It’s fascinating to note that 4% of the American population today is Jewish and yet they own 40% of the wealth; the reason being that many of them follow these principles. Revivalist John Wesley put it this way, “make as much as you can, save as much as you can, give as much as you can.”
Another question people ask about tithing is, “should I tithe on my gross or net income?” Jesus often answered a question with a question so I’ll follow in His footsteps: are you looking for a way of giving more or less to God? I have always made it a practice to tithe on my gross income because I believe it is the right thing to do. In any case this is only a question because of our taxation system. Until just over a hundred years ago people were paid their full wage and were then responsible for paying their tax. It’s still this way in some countries today. The question that flows on from this then is “who should be paid first – God or government?” Jesus said, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s” (Mark 12:13-17). He also taught us to seek God’s Kingdom FIRST (Matthew 6:33). That leads onto the next question, how should I tithe? Three principles should be followed when tithing:
- The First: as mentioned above, we are to put God first in our giving, “honour the Lord with your possessions, and with the firstfruits of all your increase” (Proverbs 3:9). Throughout the Bible the first of anything was sacred to the Lord.
- The Best: in Old Testament times the people of Israel often fell into bad habits. One of those was to start giving to God lame, blind and imperfect animal sacrifices. This was as displeasing to God as an imperfect gift given as an afterthought would be to any of us. Lamb sacrifices were always to be a firstborn, unblemished male (Exodus 34:26; Numbers 18:12-13; Ezekiel 44:30). This flows through to God’s sacrifice for us in Jesus, the firstborn sinless Son. God gave His best for us, should we not offer Him the same out of pure appreciation and love?
- The Lot: out of any increase we receive we are to give a tithe to God first – salary, lump sum payments, inheritance, superannuation pay outs, gifts, holiday pay, share dividends, bonuses and so on. God calls us to honor Him with the first fruits of ALL our increase. Any less dishonors him.
Where should I give my tithe? As mentioned already, The Lord’s tithe (10% of gross income) went to support the priesthood and temple, “bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house” (Malachi 3:10). God expected His people to provide for His work that they and others would benefit from. Nothing has changed. In the New Testament Book of Acts people brought money and laid it at the apostles feet (Acts 4:34 – 5:2). The placement of the gift “at the apostles’ feet” was an indication that the money was for the work of the church and not meant to be a personal gift. Both the Old and New Testaments teach that God’s people have a duty to give to God’s work through the leaders He has placed over them (1 Cor. 9:9, 14; 1 Tim. 5:17-18). These leaders in turn will be called to account for the way they have distributed this finance in order to further God’s kingdom on earth.
Why should I give a tithe? We tithe out of gratitude for the past. “God, I realise that everything I’ve achieved up to this point, anything I have, all belongs to you anyway. I want to give 10% back to you as an act of gratitude.” We tithe to keep our priorities right in the present. Deuteronomy 14:23 says, “the purpose of tithing is to teach you to put God first” (TLB). It’s a reminder that God is really first in my life, and it helps me set my priorities. We tithe as a statement of faith for the future. When I tithe I’m saying, “God, you’ve taken care of me in the past, so I trust you and I’m giving this to you as a demonstration of my faith that you will provide in the future.”
Tithing is a great floor but a lousy ceiling. Giving the first 10% of our increase to God’s work through our local church is a good place to begin, but this principle is meant to be freeing rather than restrictive. C.S. Lewis used to give away 2/3 of his income. R.G. LeTourneau (Mover of Men and Mountains) gave 90% of his. The more God blesses us the greater percentage we should give to him. Finally, J.D. Rockefeller wrote, “I never would have been able to tithe the first million dollars I ever made if I had not tithed my first salary, which was $1.50 per week.” It’s got to start somewhere and at sometime. Why not start today?