TITHING

The first question we must ask when we look into the subject of tithing is, what is the tithe? The Hebrew word “ma’aser”  (rcom) basically means a collection of ten. It is something that must be given and also must be received. It is believed that it is based on the ten fingers God created us with, and by which we literally give and receive.

OLD TESTAMENT TITHING

Biblical tithing predates the Law of Moses. We can’t get past Cain and Abel before we are confronted with man bringing something tangible to God as an act of worship. In this story of Cain and Abel, there is clear indication that God expected both men to understand the heart with which gifts were to be given. Both men brought gifts from their labors. Abel kept flocks, so naturally he brought the firstlings from the flock, while Cain tilled the ground and brought the first fruits of the ground. Both were acceptable gifts, as we later learn when God gave the Law through Moses. The only difference in their giving was the attitude of heart. Abel’s gift was presented in faith, while Cain’s was not. (See Hebrews 11:4) It would only seem natural that Cain and Abel would have learned the principles of giving from their parents. So I believe that we can safely say that the teaching of tithes and offerings is as old as mankind.

Although giving gifts, “minhah”(hjnm), is mentioned in the second generation from Adam, we don’t hear the word “tithe” until we get to Abraham. When Abraham defeated Chedorlaomer and brought back Lot, those who had been captured, and all their possessions, he was met by Melchizedek, the king of Salem, the priest of the Most High God. Melchizedek blessed Abraham and presented him with bread and wine. Abraham presented Melchizedek with a tithe of all that he’d brought back. This account is extremely important in understanding the New Testament precedent for tithing and we will examine it further when we get to New Testament tithing.

It is not until the Law of Moses that God lays down the guidelines for tithing. In the Law there are three categories of tithe that are mentioned.

  1. Ma’aser Rishon – This is the category with which we are the most familiar. It is the tithe that the people of the land were to give to the Levites. The Levites had no share of inheritance in the land of Israel.

“For the tithe of the sons of Israel, which they offer as an offering to the Lord, I have given to the Levites for an inheritance; therefore I have said concerning them, ‘They shall have no inheritance among the sons of Israel.’”  Numbers 18:24

 

God gave the Levites cities to reside in, but they were not given individual pieces of land as inheritance. At this point, it is imperative that we understand the difference between a priest and a Levite. Although all priests were Levites, (ie. descendants of Levi), not all Levites were priests. Only those who were direct descendants of Aaron were considered “priests.” All descendants of Levi were called “Levites.”

Hopefully the following family tree will make this clearer.

                                                                     Levi

                              _____________________________|_______________________

                 |                                                 |                                                       |

                         Gershon                                   Kohath                                          Merari

                    ___________                  ______________________                   ___________

                    |                     |                 |              |             |              |                   |                     |

              Libni            Shimei        Amram     Ishar    Hebron   Uzziel           Mahli          Mushi

                                                            |

                                                      Aaron

Note: In the above family tree, those who are descendants of those in blue would fall under the category of Levites, while only those that descended from Aaron, the category in red, would be priests.

Once the Levites received tithe, they in turn, were to take a tenth from what they received and give it to the priests.

“Moreover, you shall speak to the Levites and say to them, ‘When you take from the sons of Israel the tithe which I have given you from them for your inheritance, then you shall present an offering from it to the Lord, a tithe of the tithe. And your offering shall be reckoned to you as the grain from the threshing floor or the full produce from the wine vat. So you shall also present an offering to the Lord from your tithes, which you receive from the sons of Israel; and from it you shall give the Lord’s offering to Aaron the priest.” Numbers 18:26-28           

 

When the people returned to Israel after their Babylonian captivity, the tithe system was reestablished as prescribed in the Law. (See Nehemiah 10:34-39).

  1. Ma’aser Sheni – This tithe is taken after the Levitical and priestly tithes are collected. The children of Israel were to come to Jerusalem and to the Temple. The money they would spend for the expenses of this trip were to be calculated as a second tithe. These visits to Jerusalem would give the children of Israel an opportunity to see the glory of the Temple and the priests at work and was to invoke reverence for the Temple and its ongoing work. (See Deuteronomy 14:22-27)
  1. Ma’aser ‘ani – This tithe was collected to aid the poor (the aliens, the orphans, and the widows). (See Deuteronomy 14:28-29).

The command to collect the ma’aser ‘ani, which was to be used for the poor, stipulated that it was to be collected every third year. Therefore it was collected in the third and sixth year of the seven-year cycle. The ma’aser sheni would be collected in the first, second, fourth, and fifth year. The land was to rest during the 7th year, so there would not be any collection in that year, as there would be no produce.

That brings us to Malachi 3:8-12:

“Will a man rob God? Yet you are robbing Me! But you say, ‘How have we robbed you?’ In tithes and contributions. You are cursed with a curse for you are robbing Me, the whole nation of you! Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in My house, and test Me now in this,” says the Lord of hosts, “if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you a blessing until there is no more need. Then I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it may not destroy the fruits of the ground; nor will your vine in the field cast its grapes,” says the Lord of hosts. And all the nations will call you blessed, for you shall be a delightful land,” says the Lord of hosts.

 

There are several aspects concerning the tithe that we can learn from these verses.

  1. Tithing is not optional.
  2. The tithes belong to God. To withhold them is to forcibly take what is rightfully His.
  3. There is cursing when we fail to bring the tithes, and blessings when we do.
  4. When tithing is done right, it meets all the needs.

It also brings up an important question. What is the “whole” tithe? This has been argued and debated for years. The problem is, there is no simple answer. Tithes were collected different ways, depending on what was being given. If it was something from the flock, every tenth animal that passed under the rod was separated out as a part of the tithe. When it was grain or wine, every tenth portion of the final yield was taken. The tithe for the trip to Jerusalem and the tithe for the poor were taken once the initial tithe for the priests was removed, therefore, the second tithe would be smaller than the first tithe.

And the greater question is, does this system of giving transfer over to the New Testament?

NEW TESTAMENT TITHING

To understand tithes and offerings in the New Testament, we must look backward to look forward. When we examine the Hebrew word used for the contribution for the priests more closely, we find it is “teruma.” Most of us are familiar with Ezekiel’s vision of a future Temple. When we read Ezekiel 40 through 48, we know that these scriptures refer to the Temple that will be erected and established during the Millennial Reign of Christ. This is the time when the Jews are grafted back in and become one with the Branch. What are the instructions for that future time?

And the first of all the first fruits of every kind and every contribution (teruma) of every kind, from all your contributions (teruma), shall be for the priests; you shall also give to the priest the first of your dough to cause a blessing to rest on your house. (Ezekiel 44:30)

We can see clearly that God’s view of the collection of tithe and its stipulation that it be given to those who are designated for God’s service remains in tact from the Old Covenant to the coming Millennial Reign.

What about the gentile age? Are we as Christians exempt from tithing because we are not bound to the Old Covenant Law? And if not, to whom should we be giving our tithes? There are those who would argue that the word “tithe” is never taught in the New Testament; that only love offerings are referred to, but is this truly the case?

In the book of Acts, we see the church in transition. Christians were being put out of the synagogues and were often banned from the Temple. God began to raise up leaders in the church who were not of the Levites or the priestly order and therefore, would have no portion in the tithes. After 70 AD there was no Temple and the strict order of the Law could no longer be carried out? Were Christians left to figure it out for themselves and make up their own guidelines?

Perhaps we should take Acts 2:43-47 as our rule:

And everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles. And all those who had believed were together, and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions, and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. And day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God, and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.

 

There are those who actually believe that this is what the church should be doing and that we should all be living in communes, but this is not the message of the apostles to the church, and it is certainly not the scriptural guidelines Paul preached.

There are others who use Paul’s appeal to the church of Corinth regarding their collection for the saints in Jerusalem.

Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I directed the churches of Galatia, so do you also. On the first day of every week let each one of you put aside and save, as he may prosper, that no collections be made when I come. And when I arrive, whomever you may approve, I shall send them with letters to carry your gift to Jerusalem;  (I Corinthians 16:1-3)

Were these Christians in Corinth and Galatia bringing their “tithes” on Sunday to be taken to the needy saints at Jerusalem? These gifts are defined in the book of Acts:

Now after several years I came to bring alms to my nation and to present offerings; (Acts 24:17)

There were two categories of monies Paul gave when he came to Jerusalem – alms and offerings. The alms were the benevolence gift Paul had been collecting as he traveled. These were special collections to help “the needy” and did not fall under the category of “tithes.” If we go back to Acts 21:15-26 we find that the offerings he presented in the Temple were the prescribed monies that were to be paid for the four men who had taken a vow and had to go to have their heads shaved. This certainly does not fall under the scriptural category of “tithes!” 

Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth gives us clear insight into New Testament “tithing.” It is obvious from Paul’s defense that there were Christians that questioned Paul’s rights and place in the ministry and his right to be supported by the ministry.

Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not my work in the Lord? If to others I am not an apostle, at least I am to you; for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord. My defense to those who examine me is this: Do we not have a right to eat and drink? Do we not have a right to take along a believing wife, even as the rest of the apostles, and the brothers of the Lord, and Cephas? Or do only Barnabas and I not have a right to refrain from working? (I Corinthians 9:1-6 – emphasis mine)

His question was, “Don’t we have a right to earn our living from the ministry?” Paul proceeds to give a clear understanding concerning how ministries are to be supported.

Who at any time serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard, and does not eat of the fruit of it? Or who tends a flock and does not use the milk of the flock? I am not speaking these things according to human judgment, am I? Or does not the Law also say these things? For it is written in the Law of Moses, “YOU SHALL NOT MUZZLE THE OX WHILE HE IS THRESHING.” God is not concerned with oxen, is He? (I Corinthians 7-9)

Before we move on to the next part of Paul’s teaching, let’s glean some of the truths from these statements.

  1. If you serve a general, you have the right to expect to be paid by the one you serve.
  2. If you tend a vineyard or a flock, you have a right to receive from the vineyard or flock.
  3. These thoughts are not contrived by human thinking, but are God’s thoughts on the subject.

Although, from these verses, it is easy to see that ministers have a right to earn a living from the ministry, it still doesn’t prove “tithing.” The scripture Paul quoted regarding “muzzling the ox” is from Deuteronomy 25:4 and has nothing to do with “the tithe,” but let’s keep going.

Of is He speaking altogether for our sakes? Yes, for our sakes it was written, because the plowman ought to plow in hope, and the thresher to thresh in hope of sharing the crops. If we sowed spiritual things in you, is it too much if we should reap material things from you. If others share the right over you, do we not more? Nevertheless, we did not use this right, but we endure all things, that we may cause no hindrance to the gospel of Christ. (I Corinthians 9:10-12)

 Once again, let’s see what we can glean from these verses:

  1. If one plows the ground so that it is able to receive the seed, he has a right to share the crop.
  2. If one plants the seed, he has a right to reap the benefits.
  3. If he plants spiritual seed, he has a right to reap material things.
  4. He can give up that right if he chooses and work to earn a living, but it should not be expected.

Again, none of these scriptures bring up the Old Testament precedent of “tithing.” Let’s continue:

Do you not know that those who perform sacred services eat the food of the temple, and those who attend regularly to the altar have their share with the altar? SO ALSO the Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel. (I Corinthians 9:13-14) (Emphasis mine)

 

BINGO!!! Paul brought the support of those who minister in preaching and teaching the Word back to the understanding of the “tithe.” For me it doesn’t get any clearer.  If you study the words “so also,” you find them to mean, “in this exact same way.” We are then told that the Lord “directed” this pattern. A quick study of the word brings us to the understanding that God “established” it. We don’t need to look for a new guideline; God already established the regulations and the amount. He called it “the tithe!” The amount was established in the Old Testament, it is the prescribed amount to be used in the Millennial Reign, and it is the same amount that is directed for Christians under the New Covenant.

THE ORDER OF MELCHIZEDEK

The word “tithe” is only mentioned in four passages in the New Testament. Three occurrences took place when Jesus walked the earth and they were spoken in relationship to keeping the regulations of the Old Covenant. The fourth instance is found in Hebrews 7:4-10:

Now observe how great this man was to whom Abraham, the patriarch, gave a tenth of the choicest spoils. And those indeed of the sons of Levi who receive the priest’s office have commandment in the Law to collect a tenth from the people, that is, from their brethren, although these are descended from Abraham. But the one whose genealogy is not traced from them collected a tenth from Abraham, and blessed the one who had the promises. But without any dispute the lesser is blessed by the greater. And in this case mortal men receive tithes, but in that case one receives them. Of whom it is witnessed that he lives on. And, so to speak, through Abraham even Levi, who received tithes, paid tithes, for he was still in the loins of his father when Melchizedek met him.

The story of Melchizedek only takes up four short verses in Genesis 14:17-20, and yet it establishes the foundation for the New Testament priesthood.

     For every high priest taken from among men is appointed on behalf of men in things pertaining to God, in order to offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins; he can deal gently with the ignorant and misguided, since he himself also is beset with weakness; and because of it he is obligated to offer sacrifices for sins, as for the people, so also for himself.

     And no one takes the honor to himself, but receives it when he is called by God, even as Aaron was. So also Christ did not glorify Himself so as to become a high priest, but He who said to Him, You are My Son, Today I have begotten you”; just as He says also in another passage, “You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.” (Hebrews 5:1-6)

The writer of Hebrews makes it clear that the teachings relating to Melchizedek go beyond the subject of Christ’s right to be High Priest, but these teachings are for those who are mature and have an understanding of Scripture:

     And having been made perfect, He became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation, being designated by God as a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.

     Concerning him we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for some one to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For every one who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness for he is a babe. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil. (Hebrews 5:9-14)

Without making this an in depth teaching regarding Melchizedek, there are some basic observations we can make.

  1. The Melchizedek order was not an inherited position resulting from his lineage as a descendant of Aaron. Christ was not a descendant of Aaron.
  2. Melchizedek presided over Abraham, the man of faith. Christ is a priest to those who are people of faith.
  3. Melchizedek supplied Abraham with two things – bread and wine. Christ supplies us with His body and His blood.
  4. Abraham recognized Melchizedek’s superiority. Melchizedek came and blessed him, and Abraham responded with a heart of gratitude by giving him the priestly portion – a tenth of all he’d brought back. Christ comes to us with His blessing and in return, we give Him the priestly portion – a tenth of all that we’ve been given.

It is obvious that tithing is a definite part of the “order of Melchizedek”, and the priesthood of Christ is “according to the order of Melchizedek.”  I’m afraid that those who would want to argue that tithing is not a part of the New Covenant would fall under the category of those who have “become dull of hearing” or are just too immature to accept it. That may sound harsh, but I’m sure the writer of Hebrews would wholehearted agree.

WHO SHOULD I GIVE MY TITHE TO?

I’m sure we have all heard a teaching on this at one time or another. There are those who use the scripture in Malachi and say that the whole tithe should be brought into the storehouse. Although I agree with the principal, I often don’t agree with the definition of “the storehouse.” When the Temple was standing and the priests were ministering, the Law assured that every Levite and priest got his fair share of the tithe (teruma). If the Levite didn’t get his portion, he wasn’t able to give the tithe of the tithe to the Temple, and the priests didn’t get their portion. The tithe was never used for the upkeep and repair of the Temple; that’s what the Temple tax was for. The tithe was for those who served as priests and Levites. Paul gives us the New Testament understanding of who qualifies. It is those who are called by God to teach and preach the Word.

Paul clarifies it even farther with the analogy that it is the ministers who plow and plant in our lives that can expect to receive from our tithes. If spiritual seed is planted, the one who ministered can expect to receive material things.

Unfortunately, so much of the church world today is big business. Far more of the tithe goes to building big buildings and paying big light bills. While some congregations sit in crystal cathedrals, and many pastors own mansions, summer homes, and an untold numbers of flashy vehicles, ministers of small churches are living on meager rations, unable to pay their own light bills.

To the credit of some, there are churches and ministries that exist that take a tithe out of everything they are given and sow it into other ministers and ministries.

CONCLUSION

So what are we to do?

  1. Tithe – The first thing we need to do is tithe! Whether you use your gross income as your foundation, or your net income, do it with a clear conscience – BUT DO IT!
  2. Consider the ministers and ministries that plow and sow in your life. Abraham paid tithes to the priest who came to bless him. Bless those that bless you.
  3. Watch God pour out His blessing on you. The tithe was the one form of giving that God said you could test Him with.

There are other points we could make to substantiate this truth, but hopefully this paints a clear enough picture for us to walk by. May our ten fingers offer up to God the tenth portion that rightly belongs to Him. May we do it with greater understanding and a joyful heart.