Today, we live in a money-economy. Nearly all essential goods and services are available for the right amount of money. If we want to give somebody something, but we are not sure what they need, we often give money. It is only natural that we give money to do the work of the Eternal.
But what does the Bible say on the subject? How do the Old Testament principles of "tithing" relate to today? How was the work our Savior and His disciples financed in the New Testament? We do not find an exhaustive answer to these questions, but there are many strong indications. Since the mission of the ekklesia (the church) is essentially the same as it was in the first century, we feel the place to begin this study is in the New Testament.
How did our Savior fund his ministry? It was apparently not one of His major concerns as there is no chapter-size section of the Bible devoted to the subject. However, if we look at the many clues scattered throughout the Bible and read all of them together, a picture emerges.
And Jesus said to him, "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head" (Matt 8:20).
At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. And His disciples were hungry, and began to pluck heads of grain and to eat (Matt 12:1).
Mary called Magdalene, out of whom had come seven demons, and Joanna the wife of Chuza, Herod's steward, and Susanna, and many others who provided for Him from their substance (Luke 8:2-3).
There were also women looking on from afar, among whom were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the Less and of Joses, and Salome, who also followed Him and ministered to Him when He was in Galilee, and many other women who came up with Him to Jerusalem (Mark 15:40-41).
Now behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus who was a chief tax collector, and he was rich. And he sought to see who Jesus was, but could not because of the crowd, for he was of short stature. So he ran ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see Him, for He was going to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, He looked up and saw him, and said to him, "Zacchaeus, make haste and come down, for today I must stay at your house" (Luke 19:2-5).
Philip answered Him, " Two hundred denarii worth of bread is not sufficient for them, that every one of them may have a little." One of His disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, said to Him, "There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two small fish, but what are they among so many?" Then Jesus said, "Make the people sit down." Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, in number about five thousand. And Jesus took the loaves, and when He had given thanks He distributed them to the disciples, and the disciples to those sitting down; and likewise of the fish, as much as they wanted. So when they were filled, He said to His disciples, "Gather up the fragments that remain, so that nothing is lost" (John 6:7-12).
But some were there who said to one another in anger, "Why was the ointment wasted in this way? For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii, and the money given to the poor." And they scolded her (Mark 14:4-5).
Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus' feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, "Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?" (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) Jesus said, "Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me" (John 12:3-8, NRSV).
Some thought that, because Judas had the common purse, Jesus was telling him, " Buy what we need for the festival"; or, that he should give something to the poor (John 13:29, NRSV).
After these things the Lord appointed seventy others also, and sent them two by two before His face into every city and place where He Himself was about to go. Then He said to them, "The harvest truly is great, but the laborers are few; therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest. Go your way; behold, I send you out as lambs among wolves. Carry neither money bag, knapsack, nor sandals; and greet no one along the road.... And remain in the same house, eating and drinking such things as they give, for the laborer is worthy of his wages. Do not go from house to house. "Whatever city you enter, and they receive you, eat such things as are set before you (Luke 10:1-4, 7-8).
For His disciples had gone away into the city to buy food (John 4:8).
Nevertheless, lest we offend them, go to the sea, cast in a hook, and take the fish that comes up first. And when you have opened its mouth, you will find a piece of money; take that and give it to them for Me and you [their temple tax] (Matt 17:23).
From these verses we can draw some simple conclusions.
1) Our Savior's ministry was a low-budget operation. Only basic foods are mentionednot fancy dishes. They sometimes slept outside. They even carefully saved the leftovers from the large quantity of food miraculously produced. Apparently, they had no more than "two hundred denarii" to buy food for the crowd. They were disturbed when "three hundred denarii" worth of ointment was "wasted" on our Savior.
2) A mixture of miracles and physical support were used. Since the disciples always seemed surprised by the miraculous provision of food and money, it is unlikely that such miracles were a daily occurrence. Direct support from others was the most likely.
3) Gifts of food and shelter were always accepted by our Messiah. Apparently, women were the primary givers of these gifts (quite possibly because men were used to giving their offerings at the templeDeut 16:16). In the case of Zacchaeus, our Savior asked to stay at the house of a man who did not know Him, but it is obvious that Zacchaeus could easily afford it and that he was willing to serve.
4) Money was a minor part of their operation. There are no references at all to our Savior asking for or accepting money. Judas apparently carried the money for the entire groupthe "common purse." There were times when they bought food or gave money to the poor.
5) Financial corruption occurred even in our Savior's ministry. If Judas took some of the money for himself, does that make it acceptable for today's ministers to secretly take money for themselves? No! The Bible says of Judas: "It would have been good for that man if he had never been born" (Mark 14:21). However, we must realize that if the Messiah did not stop the misuse of funds by Judas in His own ministry, He may not stop it in His ministries today. A ministry can bear fruit even though some people in it are corrupt.
The apostles' ministry was started by voluntary contributions from sold possessions. People were so excited about preaching the Gospel that they were not concerned about the physical things for the future (Matt 6:25-34).
Nor was there anyone among them who lacked; for all who were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of the things that were sold, and laid them at the apostles' feet; and they distributed to each as anyone had need (Acts 4:34-35).
Does this mean that all brethren today should operate in a communal system? No. The Old Testament and many New Testament passages clearly teach private ownership. There is no Biblical command for individuals to sell their property and give it to a collective group. However, for those who have the faith to give in this way, there was a reward promised (Matt 19:29). The problem with collective systems is that some people tend to take advantage of them and "receive" much more than they "give":
For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: Anyone unwilling to work should not eat. For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work. Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living. Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right (2Thes 3:10-13).
After Acts 5 we do not find any more examples of property sales or miraculous provision of food or money to preach the Gospel. This does not mean that these practices completely ended in the first century, nor does it mean that they cannot occur today. Apparently, the primary means of supporting the preaching of the gospel throughout the remainder of the New Testament was giving by the brethren. The Apostle Paul writes a fairly lengthy discourse explaining that those who preach the Gospel should live by the gospel:
Do we have no right to eat and drink? Do we have no right to take along a believing wife, as do also the other apostles, the brothers of the Lord, and Cephas? Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working? Who ever goes to war at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat of its fruit? Or who tends a flock and does not drink of the milk of the flock? Do I say these things as a mere man? Or does not the law say the same also? For it is written in the law of Moses, "You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain." Is it oxen God is concerned about? Or does He say it altogether for our sakes? For our sakes, no doubt, this is written, that he who plows should plow in hope, and he who threshes in hope should be partaker of his hope. If we have sown spiritual things for you, is it a great thing if we reap your material things? If others are partakers of this right over you, are we not even more? Nevertheless we have not used this right, but endure all things lest we hinder the gospel of Christ. Do you not know that those who minister the holy things eat of the things of the temple, and those who serve at the altar partake of the offerings of the altar? Even so the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should live from the gospel. But I have used none of these things, nor have I written these things that it should be done so to me; for it would be better for me to die than that anyone should make my boasting void (1Cor 9:4-15)
The entire ninth chapter of 2 Corinthians is also about giving, but for brevity we quote only one verse, which again shows that giving is an important voluntary act. We find the same principles repeated in related Scriptures:
So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver (2Cor 9:7).
For it pleased those from Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor among the saints who are in Jerusalem (Rom 15:26).
Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine. For the Scripture says, "You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain," and, "The laborer is worthy of his wages" (1Tim 5:17-18).
Beloved, you do faithfully whatever you do for the friends, even though they are strangers to you; they have testified to your love before the church. You will do well to send them on in a manner worthy of God; for they began their journey for the sake of Christ, accepting no support from non-believers. Therefore we ought to support such people, so that we may become co-workers with the truth (3Jn 5-8, NRSV).
The Apostle Paul made it clear that he would rather work than offend those he was teaching by asking them for money:
Nor did we eat anyone's bread free of charge, but worked with labor and toil night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, not because we do not have authority, but to make ourselves an example of how you should follow us (2Thes 3:8-9).
For you remember, brethren, our labor and toil; for laboring night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, we preached to you the gospel of God(1Thes 2:9).
So, because he was of the same trade, he [Paul] stayed with them and worked; for by occupation they were tentmakers (Acts 18:3).
Yes, you yourselves know that these hands have provided for my necessities, and for those who were with me. I have shown you in every way, by laboring like this, that you must support the weak. And remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He said, "It is more blessed to give than to receive" (Acts 20:34-35).
And we labor, working with our own hands. Being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we endure (1Cor 4;12).
The approach toward money in the New Testament is this: it is just one of many tools that may be used in preaching the Gospel. There is no example of someone "waiting for money to be available so he could begin preaching the gospel." To the contrary, we find "the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness" (1Tim 6:10). The apostles never had or expected to have a great deal of money from their efforts:
Then Peter said, " Silver and gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk" (Acts 3:6).
To the present hour we both hunger and thirst, and we are poorly clothed, and beaten, and homeless (2Cor 4:11).
[Paul had been] in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness (2Cor 11:27).
...wranglings of men of corrupt minds and destitute of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain (1Tim 6:5).
Besides supporting the preaching of the gospel, the brethren were expected to directly help those who were in financial need. We quote three such Scriptures below:
If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, "Depart in peace, be warmed and filled," but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? (Jms 2:15-16.)
But whoever has this world's goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him? (1Jn 3:17.)
He answered and said to them, " He who has two tunics, let him give to him who has none; and he who has food, let him do likewise (Luke 3:11).
Other Scriptures along this same line include Luke 10:30-37, 18:22, 19:8; Matthew 25:34-40; Acts 10:2-4; 1 Timothy 6:18, and many Old Testament Scriptures. The only cases where we find a centralized collection of money to help the poor are when those poor needing helps are located a long distance away.
In the early congregations, giving was the duty of everyone who could do it. It was also considered a spiritual gift. Lists of spiritual gifts are found in Romans 12:6-8; 1 Corinthians 12:7-11, 12:28-31, Ephesians 4:11-15, and 1Peter 4:8-11. While not every gift is included in every list, giving is mentioned only here:
Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith; or ministry, let us use it in our ministering; he who teaches, in teaching; he who exhorts, in exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness (Rom 12:6-8).
We do not have space for a detailed study of spiritual gifts here. For more information, write to the address on the back for the free article, How Does the Eternal Govern Through Humans? Clearly, the early church was far more concerned about all the gifts of the spirit than they were about money. Nevertheless, money was not ignored.
Before we draw our conclusions about how we should give to the Eternal today, we should examine the old Testament practices of giving. Many of the first century believers grew up with these practices and would have naturally continued them if something did not persuade them to do otherwise. These giving practices included tithing (giving a tenth of one's increase) and numerous kinds of offerings. Some of these things were offered at the temple and some were given to the Levites. (The Levites were one of the twelve tribes of Israel. They were commissioned to take care of the temple, teach the law, and perform other religious duties in Israel. Levites who descended through Aaron, Moses' brother, served as priests.) It is especially important to determine if these practices are eternal laws or if they were associated only with the Levitical priesthood in the land of Israel. Were these giving practices transferred to "the church"? How were they affected by the destruction of the Jerusalem temple and the Levitical system in 70 AD?
It is vital that we look at the giving practices before Moses. The animal sacrifices and other rituals ended with our Savior's resurrection and the destruction of the temple. However, commands given to mankind before Moses were usually meant to be obeyed by all men for all time. Examples of these commands are worshipping the Eternal, marital fidelity, keeping the Sabbath, and refraining from unclean food. Are there similar commands for giving? We begin with the first Scripture that has something to do with people giving:
And in the process of time it came to pass that Cain brought an offering of the fruit of the ground to the LORD. Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat. And the LORD respected Abel and his offering, but He did not respect Cain and his offering. And Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell (Gen 4:3-5).
There is great speculation among commentators about exactly why Abel's offering was accepted and Cain's rejected. Obviously, Cain did something wrong. Some claim his sin was not giving a full 10 percent (tithe), but the Scripture clearly uses the word "offering", not "tithe". Abel's offering was accepted by the Eternal, but it was not selected according to the manner prescribed for tithing from the flock in Leviticus 27:32-33. Rather, it was very similar to the "firstborn" offering in Exodus 22:29-30:
...The firstborn of your sons you shall give to Me. Likewise you shall do with your oxen and your sheep. It shall be with its mother seven days; on the eighth day you shall give it to Me.
Without knowing the exact instructions given to Cain and Abel regarding offerings, we can conclude at least these points:
1) The offerings were given directly to the Eternal (not to some human representative).
2) Some offerings are acceptable to Him.
3) Some offerings are not acceptable.
4) If tithing is an eternal law, the Creator did not see fit to mention it here.
The first place we find "tithe" mentioned is in Genesis 14:17-20:
And the King of Sodom went out to meet him [Abraham] at the Valley of Shaveh (that is the Kings Valley), after his return from the defeat of Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him. Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was the priest of God Most High. And he blessed him and said: Blessed be Abram of God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; And blessed be God Most High, Who has delivered your enemies into your hand. And he gave him a tithe of all.
Abraham gave Melchizedek a tenth of the spoils of war, after he had defeated Chedorlaomer. We could assume that Abraham was "following his life-long practice of tithing on his increase," but that would be our idea, not the Bible's. It is much easier to read the Bible and see that Abraham gave the Eternal both thanks for his victory and a tithe of the spoil. The spoil was clearly not increase since Abraham did not keep any of it:
Now the king of Sodom said to Abram [Abraham], "Give me the persons, and take the goods for yourself." But Abram said to the king of Sodom, "I have raised my hand to the LORD, God Most High, the Possessor of heaven and earth, that I will take nothing, from a thread to a sandal strap, and that I will not take anything that is yours, lest you should say, 'I have made Abram rich'except only what the young men have eaten, and the portion of the men who went with me: Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre; let them take their portion" (Gen 14:21-24).
Even Henry Lansdell, a staunch believer in tithing, admits "No profane author, and no account or tradition known to us in any country, professes to give that origin [The giving of 10%], nor does the Bible do so in express terms" ( The Tithe in Scripture, p.18). There are historic cases where other nations have given 10% to their godssome times in thanks for battle victories. However, we cannot prove whether Abraham learned the practice from them, they learned the practice from Abraham, or that the two are unrelated.
Is it possible that Abraham always tithed on everything he received, and that he tithed on this spoil "as usual" and then later decided to give it all back? Probably not. If Abraham always tithed, why does the book of Hebrews only refer to his giving a tenth of the spoil and not to "his practice of tithing" or some similar thing?
For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, who met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him, to whom also Abraham gave a tenth part of all,... Now consider how great this man was, to whom even the patriarch Abraham gave a tenth of the spoils (Heb 7:1-2,4).
We can be sure that the spoil of war is not an item upon which the Eternal required one or more tithes to be paid. The Eternal commanded that Israel take vengeance on the Midianites, so Israel attacked the Midianites and defeated them. Israel then took the Midianites' children, their livestock and everything they owned as spoil. Lets pick up the story in Numbers 31:25-30:
Now the LORD spoke to Moses saying: "Count up the plunder that was takenof man and beastyou and Eleazar the priest and the chief fathers of the congregation; and divide the plunder into two parts, between those who took part in the war, who went out to battle, and all the congregation. And levy a tribute for the LORD on the men of war who went out to battle: one of every five hundred of the persons, the cattle, the donkeys, and the sheep; take it from their half, and give it to Eleazar the priest as a heave offering to the LORD. And from the children of Israel's half you shall take one of every fifty, drawn from the persons, the cattle, the donkeys, and the sheep, from all the livestock, and give them to the Levites who keep charge of the tabernacle of the LORD."
All that the Eternal required as a tribute was 2% from the congregation for the Levites, and .2% (one in five hundred) from the warriors for the priests! Not a tithe! If there was a universal tithing law, why was it not applied here? The officers, because they were so grateful for the great victory the Eternal had given them, brought an offering of the gold:
Then the officers who were over thousands of the army, the captains of thousands, and the captains of hundreds, came near to Moses; and they said to Moses, "Your servants have taken a count of the men of war who are under our command, and not a man of us is missing. therefore we have brought an offering for the LORD, what every man found of ornaments of gold: armlets and bracelets and signet rings and earring and necklaces, to make atonement for ourselves before the LORD" (Num 31:48-50).
The next place where the word "tithe" is mentioned is in Genesis 28:20-22:
Then Jacob made a vow, saying " If God will be with me, and keep me in this way that I am going, and give me bread to eat and clothing to put on, so that I come back to my father's house in peace, then the LORD shall be my God. And this stone which I have set as a pillar shall be God's house, and of all that You give me I will surely give a tenth to You."
Note the word If. Jacob is making a contract, a vow, with the Eternal, that if He takes care of Jacob, he will perform three things:
1) The Eternal will be his God.
2) His pillar stone will be "God's house."
3) He will give 10% of what is given him.
These items do not all fall into the same category. Item 1 was something he should have done whether he was blessed or not. Item 2 was apparently his ideacertainly not a command given to Adam, Seth, Noah, etc. What is item 3an eternal command, or something Jacob thought to do? From only these verses, we cannot tell whether it was a requirement like item 1, or a spontaneous thing like item 2. Since Jacob was promising to give a tenth of "all that you give to me," it would be best to understand what Jacob was going to receive. That is explained in the preceding verses:
And behold, the LORD stood above it and said: "I am the LORD the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and your descendants. Also your descendants shall be as the dust of the earth; you shall spread abroad to the west and the east, to the north and the south; and in you and in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed. Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have spoken to you" (Gen 28:13-14).
When we see Jacob's vow in this context, it is clear that he was promising to give back a tenth of what the Eternal promised to give to him and his descendants. Jacob did not receive the promised land during his lifetimeit was his descendants that received it (Ex 33:1). Jacob died in Egypt, and only his physical body was returned to the promised land (Gen 50:13-14). It was this land that was given to Jacob's descendants by the Eternal (Deut 6:10-11). Similarly, "And all the tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land or of the fruit of the tree, is the Lord's. It is holy to the LORD" (Lev 27:30).
We find no evidence at all that the Eternal received any tithes from Jacob or his descendants until they were given their land. In Genesis 29, the very next chapter, Jacob took a jobhe worked 14 years for two wives. How does one tithe on a wife? Should Jacob have worked for an additional 1.4 years and given all the proceeds from that as a tithe? Jacob worked an additional six years for Laban's cattle, but his wages were changed 10 times (Gen 31:41). How did he tithe on the cattle, and to whom would he have given the tithe? There is nothing in the Bible about this.
Did Jacob's next descendant, Joseph, tithe in Egypt? During the seven years of famine, Joseph gained control over nearly all the wealth of Egypt (Gen 47:13-26). Did he tithe? To whom did he tithe? Did he command others to tithe? In a way, he enforced two tithes, but they were not to the Eternal or his representative:
[Joseph said:] "And it shall come to pass in the harvest that you shall give one-fifth to Pharaoh. Four-fifths shall be your own, as seed for the field and for your food, for those of your households and as food for your little ones." So they said, "You have saved our lives; let us find favor in the sight of my lord, and we will be Pharaoh's servants." And Joseph made it a law over the land of Egypt to this day, that Pharaoh should have one-fifth, except for the land of the priests only, which did not become Pharaoh's (Gen 47:24-26).
It is important to realize that these payments went to Pharaoh, not to Joseph or some other righteous person which might fulfill Jacob's promise to give a tenth to the Eternal. If we consider that these payments to Pharaoh were the Eternal's method of tithing in Egypt, then the civil taxes of todaywhich often exceed 20%could also be considered tithes. Does anyone believe that is what the Eternal wants? While it appears that Joseph certainly would have had the power to enforce tithing to the Eternal, there is no mention that he did. Such a tithe would have produced a huge amount of wealth. Who would have been authorized to receive it? For what would it have been used?
One final point on the fulfillment of Jacob's promise to tithe: Exodus 16 contains the story of manna and quails miraculously provided for Israel. The Eternal used these miracles to restore the proper Sabbath day for the people. Did He also "restore tithing" by having them tithe the manna to the Levites?
This is the thing which the LORD has commanded: "Let every man gather it according to each one's need, one omer for each person, according to the number of persons; let every man take for those who are in his tent" (Ex 16:16).
The Levites, along with the others, gathered their own manna; there was no command for the people to take a tithe of manna to the Levites. The laws of tithing had not been given yet. Our conclusion regarding Jacob's promise to tithe is that it was fulfilled when his descendants were given the land. We find no Biblical evidence that Jacob or his descendants ever tithed before Joshua's entry to the promised land.
When the children of Israel left Egypt they "plundered" the Egyptians (Ex 12:35,36). Israel did not steal from the Egyptians. The plunder was fair compensation for all the years of slavery Israel had endured in Egypttheir wages so to speak. When it was time to build the tabernaclewhich would require a great deal of very precious materialMoses spoke God's commands to Israel:
Take from among you an offering to the LORD. Whoever is of a willing heart, let him bring it as an offering to the LORD: gold, silver, and bronze; blue, purple, and scarlet thread, fine linen, and goats hair; ram skins dyed red, badger skins, and acacia wood; oil for the light, and spices for the anointing oil and for the sweet incense (Ex 35:5-8).
So the children of Israel responded!
Then everyone came whose heart was stirred, and everyone whose spirit was willing, and they brought the LORD'S offering for the work of the tabernacle of meeting... (Ex 35:21).
Israel continued to bring their freewill offerings until they brought more than enough (Ex 36:3,5). The Eternal did not command a tithe from the plunder of Egypt. The plunder had to have been where Israel got the materialas a slave people, where else would they have gotten such things? The Eternal asked for a freewill offering, and He got it! There is no record that any other demands were made on what Israel brought out of Egypt.
By using an exhaustive concordance, you can see there are only two times when the words "tithe" or "tenth" (used in the sense of "tithe") appear from the time of Adam to Sinai. That covers a lot of time! Neither reference shows a command to tithe, or a regular practice of tithing. We have several clear references where righteous men did not tithe. To say that tithing was commanded prior to the covenant at Sinai is to read something into the text.
Now let's go to the first place where we find the Eternal's instructions on tithing:
And all the tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land or of the fruit of the tree, is the LORD'S. It is holy to the LORD. If a man wants to redeem any of his tithes, he shall add one-fifth to it. And concerning the tithe of the herd or the flock, of whatever passes under the rod, the tenth one shall be holy to the LORD" (Lev 27:30-32).
One thing we notice is that the tithe is " holy". Does that mean that we must be afraid of itlest we touch it and the Eternal strikes us dead? No. The Hebrew for "holy" is qodesh which means "set apart"usually for a divine purpose. The same word is used to describe the holy Sabbath, a holy convocation (meeting), the high priest's holy garments, and the way we are supposed to conduct ourselves: "And you shall be holy men to Me..." (Ex 12:31). Something that is set apart for the Eternal must be used for the purpose He gives. It is noteworthy that at this point he has not told the Israelites what to do with the tithe. That will come later.
Another thing we can see in this verse is that tithing is to be on agricultural products, and livestock. This definition continues throughout the Scriptures. Even in books of the Bible that were written much later, we find mention of tithe of food-substances, nothing else (2Chr 31:5-10; Neh 10:37-38; Neh 13:5,12). Nevertheless, it is amazing how many writers will draw other conclusions:
The first tenth (tithe) of all Israel's "increase" (livestock, produce of the field, manufactured goods, money, etc.) was God's! He, in turn gave it to the tribe of Levi for the support of His HOUSE (the Tabernacle or Temple), and to support the Levites and priests in their service toward the other eleven tribes of Israel. ( Does God Really Command Three Tithes?, Global Church News, Nov-Dec 1994, p.16 box).
Read Leviticus 27:30-32 again! The Scripture nowhere mentions anything about manufactured goods, money, or anything else, except livestock and produce. Did the children of Israel have manufactured goods? Well, where did they get their shoes, coats, tents, swords, farm implements, lumber, jewelry, etc.? We find many such manufacturing jobs listed in the Scriptures. If the Eternal wanted Israel to tithe on money or manufactured goods, and Israel had both, why didn't He plainly command it?
Nearly all historical sources also tell us that tithes were collected on agricultural products. The Mishna, the codification of Jewish administrative practices written in the second century, contains the following statement at the beginning of its section on tithing:
A general rule have they laid down about Tithes: Whatever is used for food and is kept watch over and grows from the soil is liable to Tithes. Yet another general rule have they laid down: whatsoever is used for food either in its earlier or its later condition [of ripeness], though it is suffered to remain ungathered to provide the more food, is liable [to Tithes] whether [gathered] in its earlier or its later condition [or ripeness]; but whatsoever is not used for food in its earlier condition but only in its later condition, is not liable to Tithes until it is become fit for food ( Mishna tractate Maaseroth 1:1).
The many pages that follow the above section discuss in minute detail exactly when and how various kinds of agricultural products are to be tithedbut not a word about manufactured goods or money. If we were to suppose for a moment that the Levites and Priests once did receive tithes from the tradesmen, bankers, and merchantswhy would they later alter their laws to make these people exempt? If you were an unconverted Levite, what would you rather receive tithes of: money, salable manufactured goods, or produce?
What about the needs of the tabernacle that required money? The Eternal had a provision to cover that! It is what later became known as the Temple tax, and it is the same tax our Savior paid, (Matt 17:24-27).
This is what everyone among those who are numbered shall give: half a shekel according to the shekel of the sanctuary (a shekel is twenty gerahs). The half-shekel shall be an offering to the LORD. Everyone included among those who are numbered, from twenty years old and above, shall give an offering to the LORD. The rich shall not give more and the poor shall not give less than half a shekel, when you give an offering to the LORD, to make atonement for yourselves. And you shall take the atonement money of the children of Israel, and shall appoint it for the service of the tabernacle of meeting..."(Ex 30:13-16).
There are other cases where individuals paid money directly to the priests: the redemption of firstborn people and animals (Num 3:44-51; 18:15-16), the redemption of vows (Lev 27). These were a continual source of revenue for the monetary needs of the Temple and its servants.
The Eternal's system provided for every need! And it was based on agriculture. Nothing is said about hunters, fishermen, craftsmen, etc., having to pay a tithe. This does not mean they did not support the Templeeveryone was commanded to make the above monetary payments and give offerings. Everyone had a responsibility, but only those who received food from the land given to them by the Eternal were required to tithe. Tithing is on what the Eternal makes, not on what men make from it!
This actually encouraged specialization, rather than discouraged it. Present day taxation systems will levy only one tax if one person grows wheat, grinds it into flour, and sells breadbut three taxes if the first person grows the wheat, another grinds the flour, and a third bakes the bread. In the Eternal's system, the tithe is the same whether one person does the work or three. There was no additional tax incurred by trading or specialization.
Before we get too far away from Leviticus 27:32, we would like to draw attention to the phrase "whatever passes under the rod, the tenth one shall be holy to the LORD." The Eternal did not ask for the first of each group of ten, but the last. Tithes are not to be confused with "firstfruits" or firstlingssubjects we will discuss later. It is significant in that if a person had an increase of 19 animals, he would tithe only 1. If he increased only nine animals, he would not tithe any. The Eternal could have required the man to estimate the value of the "odd" nine animals and pay a tenth of that, but he did not. This shows that the Eternal gave man "the benefit of the doubt" when quantities were too small to be divided into ten parts.
One other point we must make in this context: the Biblical system also provided that the land rest every seventh year.
Six years you shall sow your land and gather in its produce, but the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow, that the poor of your people may eat; and what they leave, the beasts of the field may eat. In like manner you shall do with your vineyard and your olive grove (Ex 23:10,11).
If you follow the Biblical commands concerning tithing, there would be no tithe in the seventh year! Some might object and wonder how the people could afford to let the land lie fallow for a year. How could the Levites survive without the tithe? Listen to the Bible answer:
And if you say, "What shall we eat in the seventh year, since we shall not sow nor gather in our produce?" Then will I command My blessing on you in the sixth year, and it will bring forth produce enough for three years (Lev 25:20,21).
This sixth-year blessing and seventh-year rest are two examples of how far removed we are from the agricultural system that the Eternal provided. Is there anyone today who has experienced a tripling of his salary in the sixth year so he does not have to work in the seventh? It is obvious that this was a blessing that the Eternal gave the Israelite farmers in His land. We personally do not know of any farmers today who experience this sixth-year, three-fold blessing. Does the Eternal expect us to continue to keep an arrangement that He is no longer keeping?
Moving on to Numbers, we find one of the verses that can be more difficult to understand. Some will say that there must have been more than one tithe givennot 10%, but 20% or 30%. Without attempting to prove or disprove the various theories now, we will introduce the terminology that we will use for the purpose of discussion:
first tithe: Paid (at least mostly) to Levites
second tithe: Used for the annual feast days (also called "festival tithe"). Possibly a part of the first tithe.
third tithe: Used in the 3rd (and probably also the 6th) year for "the Levite, the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow," also called "poor man's tithe" or "assistance". Possibly part of first or second tithe.
The Bible mentions all the above uses for tithes, but it does not obviously state whether they are three separate tithes, or three uses of the same tithe. This is one of the verses many Bible students find difficult to understand:
Behold I have given the children of Levi all the tithes in Israel as an inheritance in return for the work which they perform, the work of the tabernacle of meeting.... For the tithes of the children of Israel, which they offer up as a heave offering to the LORD, I have given to the Levites as an inheritance; therefore I have said to them, 'Among the children of Israel they shall have no inheritance'" (Num 18:21,24).
The expression "all the tithes" sounds as if there must be more that onemore than 10%. However, as we look at many of the other references to tithing, we see that the term is used more often in the plural simply because farmers brought a tenth of many different crops and animals. "All the tithes" can mean a tenth of all the corn, olives, sheep, goats, etc. If we try to say that this verse means that two or three tenths were given, then we must believe all of it goes to the "children of Levi"that they received 20% or 30%. It is also very important to note that the tithe is given to the Levites as an inheritance! Let's read Numbers 18:24 in two different translations:
...for it is the tithes set aside by the Israelites as a gift to the LORD that I give to the Levites as their share... ( TanakhThe Holy Scriptures, Jewish Publication Society) .
For the tithe of the people of Israel, which they present as an offering to the LORD, I have given to the Levites for an inheritance.... ( Revised Standard Version) .
Numbers 18:24 clarifies verse 21: it was all the tithe, set apart by the Israelites as an offering, that the Eternal gave to the Levites. The question is at this time was Israel setting aside 100% of the tithe for the Levite? During the time frame of Numbers 18, the answer is probably "yes." There are several factors we must analyze. First, what was the time frame of the events in Numbers 18? Regarding this, one reference states:
This legislation is modified or extended in the book of Deuteronomy, i.e., from thirty eight to forty years later" ( The New Unger's Bible Dictionary, p.1291).
Remember that Deuteronomy begins in the fortieth year after the exodus (Deut 1:3). According to the Reese Chronological Bible, the events in Numbers 18 occurred about one or two years after the exodus from Egypt. Even though many scholars say it is difficult to date some of these materials, we believe that the internal evidence of the text dates the events in Numbers 18 to shortly after the exodus.
During their 40-year journey in the wilderness, Israel would have had little to tithe fromthe increase in their herds and a little they may have planted. There was no need for a "poor tithe" because everyone had a place to camp, had manna to eat (Ex 16:35) and had their clothing miraculously protected (Deut 29:5). Feast tithe was not neededthey lived near the tabernacle and the manna continued during the Feasts. The one tithe (primarily animals) would have all gone to the Levitesthey would have needed the extra animals for all the offerings they were commanded to do.
What is called "second tithe" or "festival tithe" may have been commanded as much as 40 years after Numbers 18. It was not until the children of Israel went into the promised land that there would have been any need for additional tithes or a modification of the existing tithe statute.
What the Eternal did through Moses was not add an additional two tithes, but modify His existing tithe statute to accommodate the new situation in the promised land. If we think through all the factors involved, we will conclude that the tithe in Numbers was not a different tithe from that in Deuteronomy.
Deuteronomy was written at the time when Israel was about to enter the promised land. The Eternal then proceeded to re-state His laws. He found it necessary to make some adjustments on many points of the law. The first 11 chapters of Deuteronomy are basically the introduction. Beginning is Chapter 12, He introduces some modifications pertaining to how He is to be worshipped:
These are the statues and judgments which you shall be careful to observe in the land which the LORD God of your fathers is giving you to possess... (Deut 12:1).
In verses 2-4 the Eternal commands the children of Israel to utterly destroy the pagan places of worship. They were not to worship in the manner of the nations around them. Then Moses says:
But you shall seek the place where the LORD your God chooses, out of all your tribes, to put His name for His dwelling place; and there you shall go. There you shall take your burnt offerings, your sacrifices, your tithes, the heave offerings of your hand ..... And there you shall eat before the LORD your God, and you shall rejoice in all to which you have put your hand... (Deut 12:5-7).
The reason for all this is stated next:
8 You shall not at all do as we are doing here todayevery man doing whatever is right in his own eyes9 for as yet you have not come to the rest and the inheritance which the LORD your God is giving you. 10 But when you cross over the Jordan and dwell in the land which the LORD your God is giving you to inherit, and He gives you rest from all your enemies round about, so that you dwell in safety, 11 then there will be the place where the LORD your God chooses to make His name abide. There you shall bring all that I command you: your burnt offerings, your sacrifices, your tithes, the heave offerings of your hand, and all your choice offerings which you vow to the LORD. 12 And you shall rejoice before the LORD your God, you and your sons and your daughters, your male and female servants, and the Levite who is within your gates, since he has no portion nor inheritance with you. 13 Take heed to yourself that you do not offer your burnt offerings in every place that you see; 14 but in the place which the LORD chooses, in one of your tribes, there you shall offer your burnt offerings, and there you shall do all that I command you.... 17 You may not eat within your gates the tithe of your grain or your new wine or your oil, of the firstborn of your herd or your flock, of any of your offerings which you vow, of your freewill offerings, or of the heave offering of your hand. 18 But you must eat them before the LORD your God in the place which the LORD your God chooses, you and your son and your daughter, your male servant and your female servant, and the Levite who is within your gates; and you shall rejoice before the LORD your God in all to which you put your hands. 19 Take heed to yourself that you do not forsake the Levite as long as you live in your land ( Deut 12:8-14,17-19).
Now that Israel is about to enter the promised land, instead of being together Israel is going to be scattered across the land of Canaan. To prevent the children of Israel from trying to worship the Eternal "under every green tree", which would inevitably lead to idolatry, the Eternal centralizes His worship. This centralization of necessity includes a change in the tithing statue. Israel is now to take the tithe with them to the central location. Nothing is said about a "new" or "additional tithe" but to "not forsake the Levite" with this tithe!
Now we come to where the Eternal is teaching about a tithe for His Feasts.
You shall truly tithe all the increase of your grain that the field produces year by year. And you shall eat before the LORD the tithe of your grain and your new wine and your oil, of the firstborn of your herds and your flocks, that you may learn to fear the LORD your God always (Deut 14:22,23).
Nothing is said here about this being an additional tithe, an extra tithe, another tithe, a second tithe! In fact, you will not find the words "first tithe", "second tithe" or "third tithe" anywhere in the Bible. Some will read second tithe into the verses, but the text does not support that idea. The Eternal is re-stating the earlier statute, with an important modification. The tithe is still holy, but He is giving more uses. Again there is an admonition about the Levite:
You shall not forsake the Levite who is within your gates, for he has no part nor inheritance with you (Deut 14:27).
The wording about the Levite having no inheritance is identical to Numbers 18:24. If Numbers 18 was about a first tithe, which was to be the Levites' inheritance, why would the Eternal say that the Levite had no inheritance here in Deuteronomy 14, unless this was the same tithe? A little later, the beginning of verse 29 re-states the same thing about not forsaking the Levite in regard to what some call "third tithe".
This idea of the Levite being forsaken if they were not included in "second" or "third" tithe, is interesting. From Numbers 26:51, 57-62, we find the ratio of Levites to the rest of the tribes of Israel during this time was 1 to 27. In other words, for every Levite there were 27 other tribe members. This means that the Levites comprised about 3.68% of the nation of Israel. If 3.68% of the population were receiving the tithe of the rest of the people, why would the Eternal be concerned about the Levites being forsaken? The Hebrew word translated "forsake" in Deuteronomy 12:19, and 14:27 is azab (Strong's 5800). The word means "forsake", "abandon" or "leave destitute". The following verse uses the same word azab: "For he has oppressed the poor and left them destitute [ azab]..." (Job 20:19, NIV). How could being "left out" of a second tithe or third tithe leave people, who were receiving nearly three times the average family, destitute? This would be possible only if first, second and third tithe are the same tithe! It makes much sense to instruct tithers to "not forsake the Levite" if it is the tithers' responsibility to divide up their tithe among Levite, Feasts and the poor!
Those times were much simpler, and the average Israelite did not have to travel hundreds of miles to go to the feasts. There was plenty of that one tithe to have at the feasts and still share generously with the Levites! The injunction against eating the tithe anywhere but the central sanctuary was to insure that no one went off to worship other gods with it, not because the Eternal was offended if people ate their tithe locally.
As all verses on tithe point out, "second tithe" was on food products: corn, wine, oil, livestock (Deut 14:23). If you had to turn your tithe into money, what did you do with it?
And you shall spend that money for whatever your heart desires: for oxen or sheep, for wine or similar drink, for whatever your heart desires... (Deut 14:26).
The tithe was meant to provide food and drink. Nowhere does the text show that the tithe was to be used for transportation costs, lodging, entertainment, gifts or additional offerings. The admonition about "whatever your heart desires" is given in the context of food and drink. This illustrates the fact that the tithe was intended to provide a person's basic needs at the Feasts. It was not for extravagant spending by people who could otherwise not afford it. There is nothing wrong with lodging, gifts, etc. at the Feast, but there is no instruction to spend tithe for such items. The tithe was intended to ensure that everyone had their basic needs met, without laying a heavy burden on anyone.
If the Bible specifies only one tithe, are there no festivals in the third and sixth years? No! The children of Israel were to bring more than tithes to the festivals (Deut 12:6,7). As the Feasts were not extravagant affairs, only a little planning and foresight were needed for them to be kept as the Eternal intended. As we have shown, the Levites would receive only a part of the tithe, along with the poor and the feast attendees. The keeping of the Eternal's festivals is not dependent on huge sums of money! The seventh year would be taken care of by saving from the three-fold harvest of the sixth year of the Sabbatical cycle (Lev 25:20-22).
Now let's look at the assumption that the only source of income the Levites had was first tithe. The Bible is not silent on this topic. The priests and Levites were to have a share in more than just tithe:
This shall be yours of the most holy things reserved from the fire: every offering of theirs, every grain offering and every sin offering and every trespass offering which they render to Me, shall be most holy for you and your sons,... This is also yours: the heave offering of their gift, with all the wave offerings of the children of Israel.... All the best of the oil, all the best of the new wine, and the grain, their firstfruits.... Every devoted thing in Israel shall be yours... (Num 18:9-14).
There was a system in place that provided for the needs of those who worked at the tabernacle. This system was fair to everyone. The Levites were not totally dependent on tithe, but had land and cities of their own:
And the LORD spoke to Moses in the plains of Moab by the Jordan across from Jericho saying: Command the children of Israel that they give the Levites cities to dwell in from the inheritance of their possession, and you shall also give the Levites common-land around the cities. They shall have the cities to dwell in; and their common-land shall be for their cattle, for their herds, and for all their animals (Num 35:1-3).
There were to be a total of 48 cities for the Levites (Num 35:7). The Levites' land holdings were about the same as some of the smaller tribes. The Levites needed cities because they took turns, in divisions or courses, serving at the Temple (1Chr 24, Luke 1:5-8), and the tithe was for their service at the Temple. Other Scriptures confirm this:
Then they faithfully brought in the offerings, the tithes, and the dedicated things; Cononiah the Levite had charge of them,... (2Chr 31:12).
And at the same time some were appointed over the rooms of the storehouse for the offerings, the firstfruits, and the tithes, to gather into them from the fields of the cities the portions specified by the Law for the priests and Levites; for Judah rejoiced over the priests and Levites who ministered (Neh 12:44).
As you can see, the Levites were not dependent on tithe alone for their support. The Bible is very precise in what it defines as tithe. Too often, modern-day churches have defined a tithe as 10% of any money received. The Bible gives a system in which the Levites could be supported while at the Temple, and also make a living from their own land. The Levites could have a comfortable life without needing 100% of the tithe.
The verse introducing the tithe for the poor is:
At the end of every third year you shall bring out the tithe of your produce of that year and store it up within your gates. And the Levite, because he has no portion nor inheritance with you, and the stranger and the fatherless and the widow who are within your gates, may come and eat and be satisfied, that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands which you do (Deut 14:28,29).
There is debate whether this distribution to the poor took place in the 3rd year or the 3rd and 6th years of a seven-year cycle. If you check varying translations of Deuteronomy 14:28 and 26:12, some will say "every third year," some "after three years," and others "in the third year." The Bible does not specifically mention a 6th-year tithe, and the Hebrew in the above verses apparently can be understood as only the 3rd year of seven, but most Jewish tradition recognizes "every third year" (the 3rd and 6th) of a seven-year cycle. We will need to do additional research before reaching a conclusion on this point.
But we can know whether or not this is talking about an additional tithe or the same tithe. Let us look at verse 28 in a different translation: "Every third year you shall bring out the full tithe of your yield of that year, but leave it within your settlements" ( TanakhThe Holy Scriptures, Jewish Publication Society). This is obviously talking about the same tithe mentioned in Deuteronomy 14:22. The Scripture talks about bringing out the tithe of that yearnot another tithe, or an additional tithe, or a third tithe.
Is another 10% of all produce required in the third year in order to take care of the poor? If this was the primary means of supporting the poor, how would they survive in the 1st and 2nd year? The Eternal commanded the children of Israel to be generous and lend to the poor at all times (Deut 15:7,8). They were commanded not to harvest their fields bare so the poor could glean (Lev 23:22); if they forgot a sheaf during harvest, they were commanded to leave it for the poor (Deut 24:19). The produce of the seventh year was for the poor (Ex 23:10,11). These four provisions were the mainstay of helping the poor. We find numerous New Testament references to "giving to the poor," but no mention of a tithe for the poor. It appears this third-year tithe was a blessing for people who might not otherwise have any relief until the seventh year of release (Deut 15; 31:10). This was a system that took care of the poor, without oppressing the tithe payer. It was all part of an integrated economic system.
If we read the companion Scriptures in Deuteronomy 26:12-14, we see an amazing thingespecially when properly translated:
When you have finished laying aside all the tithe of your increase in the third yearthe year of tithingand have given it to the Levite, the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, so that they may eat within your gates and be filled, 13then you shall say before the LORD your God: "I have removed [Hebrew ba`ar" consumed"] the holy tithe from my house, and also have given them to the Levite, the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, according to all Your commandments which You have commanded me; I have not transgressed Your commandments, nor have I forgotten them. 14I have not eaten any of it when in mourning, nor have I removed [Hebrew ba`ar" consumed"] any of it for an unclean use, nor given any of it for the dead. I have obeyed the voice of the LORD my God, and have done according to all that You have commanded me."
Most Bible versions will render the Hebrew ba`ar as "removed", "brought away" or "put away." The literal translation in Jay P. Green's The Interlinear Bible does say "consume" in verse 13. What does ba`ar mean? It occurs 94 times in the Old Testament and elsewhere is never translated with any words that mean "move something from one place to another." It is usually translated "burn" or "kindle" and the meaning always has to do with consumptionnot with the light or heat aspects of fire. It is also rendered in various other ways, including "eaten up," and "grazed," and "feeds":
...you have eaten up [ ba`ar] the vineyard... (Isa 3:14).
If a man causes a field or vineyard to be grazed [ ba`ar] , and lets loose his animal, and it feeds [ ba`ar] in another man's field (Ex 22:5).
These two verses show that the meaning of ba`ar can include consuming food. Furthermore, verse 14 contains the statement, "I have not eaten any of it while in mourning,..." If it were always a sin to eat the tithe, why would a person be asked to state that he did not eat it "in mourning"? Would it make sense for the Eternal to ask us to say "I did not steal while in mourning"? No! This Scripture is talking about a single tithe that, in the "year of tithing," is used for the Levite, the poor and the festivals. It must be consumedit cannot be kept or sold.
We find no evidence that the Eternal gave a system where the Levite was so much better off than the average citizen of Israel. The Levites were to have basically the same lifestyle as their brethren; they were to share in the same struggles as everyone else. They did not need to receive a portion of three different tithes plus numerous offerings plus produce of their own land. There was an elaborate system in place to care for the poor. The third-year tithe was only a part of that system. We cannot see how three separate tithes are necessary to fulfill the Eternal's will.
The Scripture most commonly used to support tithing today is in the book of Malachi.
"Will a man rob the God? Yet you have robbed Me! But you say, 'In what way have we robbed You?' In tithes and offerings. You are cursed with a curse, For you have robbed Me, Even this whole nation. Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, That there may be food in My house, And try 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 such blessing That there will not be room enough to receive it. And I will rebuke the devourer for your sakes, So that he will not destroy the fruit of your ground, Nor shall the vine fail to bear fruit for you in the field," Says the LORD of hosts (Mal 3:8-11).
This Scripture can be rather intimidating if a religious leader tells you that you are robbing the Eternal unless you tithe 10% to 30% of your income! But is Malachi an indictment of people who are not tithing today?
The book of Malachi has an important message for everyone, but it was mainly addressed to the priests. Let's note:
A son honors his father, And a servant his master. If then I am the Father, Where is My honor? And if I am a Master, Where is My reverence? Says the LORD of hosts to you priests who despise My name. Yet you say, "In what way have we despised Your name?" (Mal 1:6).
"And now, O priests, this commandment is for you. If you will not hear, And if you will not take it to heart, To give glory to My name," Says the LORD of hosts, "I will send a curse upon you, And I will curse your blessings. Yes, I have cursed them already, Because you do not take it to heart.... For the lips of a priest should keep knowledge, And people should seek the law from his mouth; For he is the messenger of the LORD of hosts. But you have departed from the way; You have caused many to stumble at the law. You have corrupted the covenant of Levi," Says the LORD of hosts. (Mal 2:1-2, 7-8).
What did the Eternal intend to do about this situation?
"He will sit as a refiner and a purifier of silver; He will purify the sons of Levi, And purge them as gold and silver, That they may offer to the LORD An offering in righteousness.", (Mal 3:3).
Both this Scripture and history indicate that many people were failing to give their tithesthe people failing to give them to the Levites, the Levites failing to give them to the priests, and the priests failing to do their service at the Temple. But it was the priests and Levites who were especially guilty! Notice that it mentions tithes that should be brought to "the storehouse" and "my house." The people only gave offerings at the temple; they did not tithe there. It was the tithe from the Levites that went into the temple storehouse (Num 18:28, Neh 10:38). They were guilty of offering defiled food, offering the lame and sick and the stolen. They were the example to which others were looking.
The "whole nation" was admonished because they were not bringing their offerings to the temple, and probably many were not tithing as the law stated either. Notice that they were not being chastised because they were only bringing 5% or 9% or because they were calculating the tithe wrong. They were chastised because they were not bringing anything! The nation was neglecting the temple. Malachi shows that if the teachers of the Eternal's law become corrupt or self serving, the people will fall away from serving Him. We must look at this verse in its contextnot as an isolated prophecy written for church organizations today!
Notice that the Eternal wanted the people to bring food (Mal 3:10) into the storehouse. As it was back in Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, the tithe is on agricultural products. Notice how the Eternal is not commanding Israel to bring money! This prophecy had direct application to Israel for nearly 500 yearsfrom when it was written, to the destruction of the temple in 70 AD. While nearly all the lessons taught Israel have a spiritual lesson both for our individual lives and for the church, it is a mistake to interpret parts of the Scripture physically or literally based on our own preferences. Unfortunately, many church organizations interpret this Scripture like this:
|Object from Old Testament||How some interpret it today||Is the analogy Biblical?|
Nation of Israel
Priests & Levites
10% of produce from land
10% of all cash income
Our Savior and our own bodies (Rom 12:1)
Malachi was probably written about 430 BC. The book of Nehemiah was also written about 430 BC. Nehemiah deals with the situation in Jerusalem after the return from the exile in Babylon. Those in Jerusalem, after hearing the Law expounded by Ezra (Neh 8), realized how far they had strayed from the Eternal and decided to reform (Neh 9). One of the areas the people realized they had been neglecting was the bringing of tithes and offerings! We do not know if this was due in part to what Malachi wrote, but here was exactly the kind of response Malachi intended:
...to bring the firstfruits of our dough, our offerings, the fruit from all kinds of trees, the new wine and oil, to the priests, to the storerooms of the house of our God; and to bring the tithes of our land to the Levites, for the Levites should receive the tithes in all our farming communities." (Neh 10:37).
Again, showing the consistency of the tithing law, food stuffs were broughtnot a word about money being the tithe. In Nehemiah 10:32 the people pledge to pay the temple tax, but at a reduced rateone third shekel rather than the normal one halfapparently due to the general poverty extant at the time.
To summarize: Tithing in the Law of Moses was on agricultural products and livestock, not money or manufactured goods. The tithe was to be shared by the Levite for the services he rendered at the Temple, the poor, and the average Israelite at the Feasts. No one was totally dependent on the tithe for support or for their ability to keep the feasts. The tithe was based on an economic system that included private ownership of land given to Israel, the 7th year land rest, the year of release, the Jubilee year, and the Sabbatical cycle. There was only one tithe, which made this system truly fair and equitable. No one was living substantially better than anyone else, unless they worked for it. No one was oppressed by the tithing system.
And again, Abraham gave one voluntary tenth of spoil from a warspoil which he did not keepand Jacob promised to tithe on the land that was given to him, a promise that began to be fulfilled when Israel entered the promised land.
Now we are ready to enter into the New Testament. Not surprisingly, tithing is not a big subject in the New Testament. In fact, there are only eight references to tithing: one in Matthew, two in Luke, and five in Hebrews. We will look at all of them. Here is the first:
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law; justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone. Blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel! (Matt 23:23-24.)
Our Savior is not teaching commanding His disciples to tithe or even teaching about tithing. He is using the careful tithing of the scribes and Pharisees to illustrate their hypocrisy. This example is, however, consistent with the Law we have read: the Pharisees were tithing on mint, anise, and cumin! Our Messiah was telling the Pharisees that tithing on food from the land was not to be "left undone." Remember that there was still an active Levitical priesthood and Temple service at this time. Our Messiah did uphold the tithing statutes exactly as they were prescribed in the Law of Mosessaying nothing about three tithes or tithing on money. The scribes and Pharisees were straining out the gnat (tithing on the smallest herbs), and swallowing the camel (neglecting justice, mercy and faith). In our Savior's analogy, the careful tithing of the Pharisee's was the gnat!
Please allow us to make a side point here. Matthew 23:1-3 is often used to try to show that whoever sits in "Moses' seat" has the authority to make doctrine for the people whom they are leadingwhich often includes doctrines on giving or tithing:
Then Jesus spoke to the multitudes and to His disciples, saying: "The scribes and Pharisees sit in Moses seat. Therefore whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do. For they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers" (Matt 23:1-4).
Does this say that whatever the scribes and Pharisees taught, the people were obligated to do, even if it contradicted the Bible? Matthew 23 is an indictment of the scribes and Pharisees. The Messiah called them hypocrites, blind guides, fools and blind, whitewashed tombs, sons of murderers, serpents, brood of vipers. Is this the kind of men to whom we are to blindly submit? These men made the Scriptures of none effect through their traditions; these men bound heavy burdens on men's shoulders! Did the Messiah follow His own advice? Time after time we find the scribes and Pharisees at odds with Him because He would violate one of their traditions. Did He quietly submit to them because they sat in Moses' seat? The answer is obvious: "We must obey the Eternal rather than men" (Acts 5:29). People were to listen to the Scriptures and to their teachings. When just decisions were made according to the law, they were to be followed. People who did not know the Scriptures would be better off following the Pharisees than acting on their own whims. But if a person understood the Scriptures, and the Pharisees taught otherwise, he would have to realize that he would be ultimately judged by the Scriptures, not the Pharisees.
The next place we find the tithe mentioned is in Luke,
But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and all manner of herbs, and pass by justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone (Luke 11:42).
This reiterates what was said in Matthew. The subject of discussion is not tithing, but the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. The tithe spoken of would be going to Levites, not to Yeshua (Jesus) of the tribe of Judah. Again, it is clearly agricultural. The second place in Luke we read about tithing is a little farther ahead:
Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, "God, I thank You that I am not like other menextortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all I possess" (Luke 18:10-12).
The Pharisee was boasting to the Eternal, telling Him why he was so much better than other men. He fasted twice a week, and gave tithes on all he possessed. If this Pharisee was giving tithes on more than his produce, he was doing it in the context of fasting twice a week. Nowhere does the Bible command anyone to fast twice a week, just as nowhere does the Bible command anyone to tithe on everything they have. This Pharisee was bragging to the Eternal, and giving illustrations of how far above and beyond the Law he was willing to go. He erroneously assumed the Eternal would be impressed with his self-imposed "righteousness". In our own day, we can find similar cases. People earn vast fortunes at the expense of others, then feel good about it by giving 10 or some other percentage of it to a "good cause."
Next we will go to the book of Hebrews, where the last five references to tithing are found in the New Testament. No matter how you believe tithing was practiced in the Old Testament, unless you can find a "bridge" that brings Old Testament tithing practices over to "the church," all the arguments become purely academic. It is not simply a matter of showing that some believers continued to tithe to the Leviteswhile there were Levites doing their job, people who owned land in Israel should tithe. The questions are: "When, if ever, did the practice of tithing transfer to the churchthe body of believers that trusted in the Messiah as their Savior?" And, "If tithing did transfer, how was it to be paid and who was authorized to receive it?"
Does the New Testament introduce new concepts about tithing? Since the only place left where we find tithing discussed is in Hebrews chapter 7, we must find the justification for New Testament tithing, if any, in there.
To get some background on what Hebrews 7 is addressing let's begin in Hebrews 6:
This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which enters the Presence behind the veil, where the forerunner has entered for us, even Jesus, having become High Priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek (Heb 6:19-20).
Hebrews 7 introduces our Savior as High Priest forever after the order (character or nature) of Melchizedek. Hebrews 7:1-4 describes who Melchizedek is, and how Abraham honored him by giving him a tenth of the spoils. (This is the only way you can prove anyone honored Melchizedekthe only places he is mentioned in the old Testament is Genesis 14:18 and Psalm 110:4.) Please read these whole sections of Hebrews 7 as they are vital to our discussion:
1 For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, who met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him, 2to whom also Abraham gave a tenth part of all, first being translated "king of righteousness," and then also king of Salem, meaning "king of peace," 3 without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but made like the Son of God, remains a priest continually. 4 Now consider how great this man was, to whom even the patriarch Abraham gave a tenth of the spoils. 5 And indeed those who are of the sons of Levi, who receive the priesthood, have a commandment to receive tithes from the people according to the law, that is, from their brethren, though they have come from the loins of Abraham; 6 but he whose genealogy is not derived from them received tithes from Abraham and blessed him who had the promises. 7 Now beyond all contradiction the lesser is blessed by the better. 8 Here mortal men receive tithes, but there he receives them, of whom it is witnessed that he lives. 9 Even Levi, who receives tithes, paid tithes through Abraham, so to speak, 10 for he was still in the loins of his father when Melchizedek met him (Heb 7:5-12).
This is the last mention of tithes in the New Testament. What does it tell us about tithes? To begin with, three separate statements here declare that Abraham tithed one timenot his entire life. Also, it is the sons of Levi who have a commandment to receive tithes. Notice that Hebrews has it in the present tense, "have a commandment." It was the Levites who had a commandment to receive tithes, "according to the law" or, in the manner prescribed by the law. No one else is mentioned as having this right! Are we told that New Testament ministers now have a right to receive tithes? Are New Testament ministers now Melchizedek priests? Should people tithe to Melchizedek? None of these things are mentioned. What is plainly said is that it is the sons of Levi who have a commandment to receive tithes, according to the law.
Hebrew 7:11 starts a new paragraphthese paragraphs exist in the original Greek texts. We have shown the superiority of Melchizedek to Levi above, and now the discourse continues onward. Verse 11 tells us that the Levitical priesthood was imperfect. Verse 12 then talks about a change in the law. Is the tithing law being changed? Does that change involve transferring the tithe from the Levitical priesthood to New Testament ministers? No, verse 13 tells us what the change is about.
11 Therefore, if perfection were through the Levitical priesthood (for under it the people received the law), what further need was there that another priest should rise according to the order of Melchizedek, and not be called according to the order of Aaron? 12 For the priesthood being changed, of necessity there is also a change of the law. 13 For He of whom these things are spoken belongs to another tribe, from which no man has officiated at the altar. 14 For it is evident that our Lord arose from Judah, of which tribe Moses spoke nothing concerning priesthood. 15And it is yet far more evident if, in the likeness of Melchizedek, there arises another priest 16 who has come, not according to the law of a fleshly commandment, but according to the power of an endless life. 17 For He testifies: "You are a priest forever According to the order of Melchizedek." 18 For on the one hand there is an annulling of the former commandment because of its weakness and unprofitableness, 19 for the law made nothing perfect; on the other hand, there is the bringing in of a better hope, through which we draw near to God (Heb 7:11-19).
Tithing is not even mentioned here! What it does say is that "there is an annulling of the former commandment because of its weakness and unprofitableness...". The Greek word translated annulling is athetesis (Strong's 115). It means "cancellation", "put away" or "to put as of no value" (Vines p.313). The change in the law here is the "law of a fleshly commandment", the requirement that the priests had to be Levites, which was annulled (canceled, put away, abolished) because of its "weakness and unprofitableness" (having no real value).
Far from teaching that tithing is now transferred to the New Testament ministry, Paul clearly shows that there is on longer a need for the Levitical system (Heb 7:11-12), and with it, all of its duties and requirements. Tithing existed to support the Levitical system. Many converted Jews probably continued to tithe to the Levites until the temple was destroyed in 70 AD. (Some prophecies indicate that there may be Levites serving at a physical temple again after the Messiah returnsif so, tithing will again be used to support that system. But since there is no temple or Levitical system in place now, we will say nothing more about this idea.)
The rest of Hebrews 7 explains the superiority of the priesthood of our Messiah and Savior. The whole point of Hebrews 7 is restated in the first part of Hebrews 8:
Now this is the main point of the things we are saying: We have such a High Priest, who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, a Minister of the sanctuary and of the true tabernacle which the Lord erected, and not man (Heb 8:1-2).
The whole point of Hebrews 7 is to show that our Savior is our eternal High Priest, not to show tithing is now to be given to the New Testament ministry. Tithing is used in Hebrew 7 to illustrate the greatness of Melchizedek, not to show a transfer of tithing from the Levitical priesthood to the New Testament ministry. To say that it does is to read a completely unjustified conclusion into the text.
Hebrews 7 through Hebrews 10 illustrates how and why the priesthood of our Messiah is far superior to the Levitical priesthood that He replaced. The following table provides a summary of the differences between the priesthood of the Levites and the priesthood of the Messiah:
All human high priests, all needed atonement for their own sin
One perfect High Priest, the Son of the Eternal
Priesthood limited to physical descendants of Levi
Priesthood open to whomever the Eternal chooses (1Pet 2:9)
Full of human weaknesses and sin
Perfect in every way
Offered many sacrifices that did not take away sin
Offered one perfect sacrifice for sin
Offered the blood of calves, sheep, etc.
Offered His own blood
Unable to cleanse the conscience
Purges our conscience from dead works
Offered sacrifices at the earthly altar
Offered sacrifice in heaven
Could not make people perfect
Brings us to perfection
Mediators of an earthly covenant
Mediator of an eternal covenant
Nowhere in all the New Testament are ministers called priests of any kind! Today there is one High Priest and one Melchizedek Priest, Jesus Christ (or Yeshua the Messiah). To find out where the priesthood is today, and where they will be in the future, read 1 Peter 2:1-9 and Revelation 1:4-6; 5:8-10; 20:6.
Hebrews 7 is about how and why Our Savior replaced the Levitical priesthood. We can be sure that the ministry was not supported by tithing from Paul's own statement in 1 Corinthians 9 (quoted on page ). In that chapter Paul firmly establishes that he has a right to refrain from working for a living. The question is, how is that right to be supportedby tithes? "Do I say these things as a mere man? Or does not the law say the same also?" (1Cor 9:8.) Here, Paul is about to establish the scriptural authority for his claim to the support of the brethren. Paul knows the whole Old Testament, but which verse does he quoteLeviticus 27:30; Numbers 18:21; Malachi 3:8? Let Paul himself answer that question:
For it is written in the law of Moses, "You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain" (Deut 25:4). Is it oxen God is concerned about? Or does He say it altogether for our sakes? For our sakes, no doubt, this is written, that he who plows in hope, and he who threshes in hope should be partaker of his hope. (1Cor 9:9-10).
Paul does not quote from any tithing texts! He goes on to use the examples of the temple and the altar the same way he used the examples of the soldier, the vine dresser, and the shepherd to show that he had a right to support, not to show the specific way that support was to be given. Paul does not say one word about tithing.
Paul was from the tribe of Benjamin (Rom 11:1) and he knew that he had no legal right to the Biblical tithe! Several times throughout the book of Acts, Paul was captured by the Jewish leaders in an effort to stop his preaching. They made up accusations against him, but they could never prove them (since they were not true). If Paul was teaching people to tithe contrary to the Law, the conspiring leaders would have had an easy case against him.
Paul concludes this section with one final justification for his right to support: "Even so the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should live from the gospel" (1Cor 9:14). Here is a command of our Savior. A parallel account is in the book of 1 Timothy:
Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of a double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine. For the scripture says, "You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain," [from Deut 25:4] and "The laborer is worthy of his wages" [from Luke 10:7] (1Tim 5:17,18).
Once again, Paul quotes the law of Moses, and the commands of the Messiah (Paul does not quote Matthew 23:23) to confirm that ministers who labor in word and doctrine are entitled to support. Again, he avoids even the slightest reference to tithing.
On page we quoted the section of Luke chapter 10 where our Messiah tells the seventy men how to support themselves on their evangelistic journey. Even though this was a limited mission, Paul used this example as justification for his support. We should use it, too! Our Messiah tells those whom He sent out to eat and drink (basic support) such things as they are given (offerings). If a teacher stops receiving support, it may be a hint that the Eternal is no longer supporting him.
Giving is the heart and core of the New Testament system of support, whether it is for the preaching of the Gospel, or to help the poor. Notice, "So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver" (2Cor 9:7). The context here is helping the poor, but there is no mention of third tithe. Our giving should be bountiful, heart-felt, willing, and cheerful. When church organizations disfellowship or penalize members for not tithing, they are clearly violating this Scripture by making people give "of necessity".
Even though we cannot find tithing transferring to "the Church" in the New Testament, we should look at available historical sources and see if it was a commonly accepted doctrine in the early Church.
In Apostolical times the Christian ministers were supported by voluntary contributions out of a common fund, and this practice prevailed for four hundred years. 1 (Van Espen 'jus Univ. Canon,' pars. ii sec. 4.) Those who preached the Gospel lived by the Gospel, but this Scriptural statement did not mean as some assert, that they were to live on the payment of tithes, otherwise it would have been stated. St. Paul ordered weekly collections to be made for the saints in the Churches of Galatia and Corinth (1Cor. xvi. I,20). The voluntary contributions of the faithful were collected and put into a common treasure (Acts ii. 44; iv. 34). The liberality of the Christians then far exceeded anything which could have been collected from tithes.", ( H.W. Clarke, A History of Tithes, p.4).
This agrees with our study of the Scriptures. Now, we quote from the Tithe or Tithing articles of a few standard references:
"It is admitted universally that the payment of tithes or the tenths of possessions, for sacred purposes did not find a place within the Christian Church during the age covered by the apostles and their immediate successors " (Hastings Dictionary of the Apostolic Church).
"The Christian Church depended at first on voluntary gifts from its members" (Encyclopedia Britannica).
"It [tithing] was not practiced in the early Christian Church" (Encyclopedia Americana).
"The early Church had no tithing system... it was not that no need of supporting the Church existed or was recognized, but rather that other means appeared to suffice" (New Catholic Encyclopedia)
The last reference is revealing when we consider that the Catholic church much later went on to institute a tithing system. The early "Church Fathers" actually say very little about tithing to "the Church." Some examples occur in the fourth century, but the doctrine was not widely held at all at that time. From the Encyclopedia Britannica article "Tithing" we see:
The earliest authentic example of anything like a law of the State enforcing payment [of tithes] appears to occur in the capitularies of Charlemange at the end of the 8th or beginning of the 9th century. Tithes were by that enactment to be applied to the maintenance of the bishop and clergy, the poor, and the fabric of the church. In course of time the principle of payment of tithes was extended far beyond its original intention. Thus they became transferable to laymen and saleable like ordinary property, in spite of the injunctions of the third Lateran Council; and they became payable out of sources of income not originally tithable.
The Council of Trent definitely enjoined payment of tithes, and excommunicated those who withheld them (Sessio xxv.12).
The Council of Trent was in the 1560's! We would never determine doctrine solely from historical references, but they do give us understanding. Tithing has rarely been a "Christian" doctrine, and when it was, it was abused.
We have referred to, in some way, every Scripture on tithing in the Bible except Amos 4:4, which is a sarcastic message to a fallen Israel. It states:
"Come to Bethel and transgress, At Gilgal multiply transgression; Bring your sacrifices every morning, Your tithes every three days. Offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving with leaven, Proclaim and announce the freewill offerings; For this [evil] you love, You children of Israel!" Says the Lord GOD.... "Therefore thus will I do to you, O Israel; Because I will do this to you, Prepare to meet your God, O Israel!" (Amos 4:4-5,12.)
Since Israel is sinning here, it is hard to learn much about tithing. We cannot tell if the "three days" mentioned are a righteous or an evil custom. However, it does show that tithes and offerings, if given wrongly, are a sin.
Today, those who believe the Bible have obligations to support their families, help preach the Gospel (including the support of a local congregation), keep the Feasts, and help the poor. How important is their first obligation?
But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever (1Tim 5:8).
This verse comes well before verses 17 and 18 in this chapter that teach support of the ministry (see p., above). Part of providing for a family is decent, safe housing, reliable transportation, college funds, funds for retirement , funds to help relatives and parents and emergency savings. These goals must be balanced with the above goals for giving. On the other hand, the Bible does not require that we have everything that our neighbors do. We do not need to be concerned if our house, car, or other possessions look as nice as our neighbors' dobut they must be in good enough repair to serve their intended function. On the other hand, there is no Biblical admonition against high-quality possessions if they do not distract us from our purpose.
How can a person know what is the right amount of giving and what is the right amount to spend on self and family?
Is there a formula? No.
The answer does not lie in deriving some formula from the Old Testament, the New Testament or our own thinking. The Eternal is not calling and choosing people to provide a "financial base" to do His Work. He is saying:
I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service" (Rom 12:1).
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all, training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly, while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. He it is who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds (Tit 2:11-14, NRSV).
Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus (Phil 2:3-5).
There are many, many more Scriptures like these that tell us what to do with our livesonly a few dozens that say what to do with our money. When our Savior was on the Earth, He did not have unlimited time. He had to decide with whom he would spend time talking and with whom he would cut off his conversation. He simply refused to talk about some issues (Luke 12:13-15). Other times, people of great faith persuaded him to depart from his regular plans (Matt 15:22-28). He had a physical body, and there were times when He simply had to get some sleep (Matt 8:24).
All of us need to be making the same kind of decisions that He made. We can use our lives to develop that same character that our Savior and Elder Brother had while he was on the Earth! If we reduce our function in the church to giving a set amount, how can He teach us? How can we grow? How else can we learn to become priests? (2Pet 2:5,9; Rev 5;10.) We all need to let our Savior do something with our lives and then see how our financial resources can best aid in this mission.
If you have not studied spiritual gifts in the Scriptures, we think it is one of the most important things you can do. If you ask in faith to know His willnot for our own "greatness"He will show you your gift(s). "Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us" (1Jn 5:14). A great diversity of gifts existsno two of us are alike (1Cor 12).
This article cannot tell you what your gift(s) are, but we can give some examples of how gifts and money are sometimes used together: If your gift is serving others, you may need to use some of your money to do that. If your gift is wisdom, you may need to work less so you can be available more to counsel others. If your gift is teaching, you may need to spend more money on facilities to write, record tapes, and make copies thereof. If your gift is hospitality, you may need to spend more money on a larger home than most people. If your gift is overseeing a local congregation, you may need to help buy a building or equipment needed by a congregation. Yes, giving is a gift! (Rom 12:8.) Some people do primarily give money so that others can more fully use their giftsbut it is the giver's responsibility to make sure that his gifts are efficiently supporting the work of the Eternal. It is only logical that people who have the diligence to earn a lot of money, and the wisdom to manage it efficiently in their own life, would also have the wisdom to make sure that it is being used effectively for the Eternal's work.
To some people, these ideas sound dangerous. What happens when people start giving money in whatever way they see fit? Could a lot of it be wasted? Yes, a certain amount probably will be wasted. But is that any worse than giving a lot of money to an organization and having them waste it for you? Is corporate waste somehow more acceptable than individual waste? Since our purpose is to become priests and to learn to rule (Rev 20:6), it is better that people make decisions and learn from their own mistakes that they can see. When people give to an organization, the organization usually assures them that they are doing great things, and the organization's mistakes are usually "covered up." For example, if a person plans to write encouraging articles for brethren, buys a computer to do it, but never really produces anything helpful, they should realize that they have failed to serve in this area, repent, and do something else within their gift. Conversely, if a man begins paying a widow's rent for her, but later finds that she is consuming her money on alcohol, he will probably become wiser and more discerning.
If the person giving does not notice that his or her efforts are ineffective, hopefully, others in their congregation will see their error and point it out to them. Ultimately, we must all realize that the Eternal is our judge. If someone spends thousands of dollars enlarging their home so they can be hospitable, but years later invites people to their home only three times a year, they are not fooling the Eternal. If people do not care that their "giving" is benefiting only themselves, they are not acting by the power of the holy spirit. Nevertheless, there is more of a chance that they will see their error and wake up, than there is for someone who is convinced they are "doing good" because they give regularly to an organization.
This is why it seems to be a very dangerous thing when brethren believe they are satisfying their obligation to the Eternal by sending a certain amount of money to an organization. This is true of both church organizations and non-church charitable organizations. How much of that money is consumed by the organization itself? How much is channeled to other organizations but still ends up in the pockets of its leaders? How much actual "good" was done? People who give to organizations often do not know what is being done with what they give. Organizations often refuse to disclose their financial information, especially leaders' salaries. If organizations are doing a good job of managing their money, should not they desire to show it to those who give to them? Should not church organizations want to show their members an example of the right way to spend the Eternal's money?
It is much easier to send money to an organization than it is to make right decisions and live a righteous life. We must take these words from the Apostle Paul to heart:
11 For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, 13 each one's work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one's work, of what sort it is. 14 If anyone's work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. 15 If anyone's work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire. 16 Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? (1Cor 3:11-16).
Each one of us has work to do. We need to make sure we are giving to "build with gold, silver, and precious stones".
All of us cannot change from our present giving practices to the Eternal's ideal in one dayit will take longer than that to learn about them and understand them. Doing His will is a life-long process. What you decide to do may be different from what your neighbor will decide to do. Prayer and study in this matter are the most important thing. Only the Eternal knows His will for your lifewhich may be different from our suggestions. Nevertheless, we offer the following general suggestions as they may provide some help to most people.
Where should I give to preach the Gospel? This is more important than "how much?" If we believe that there is only one human organization on earth that represents "The True Church" and that all others are false, then it is obvious where all our giving must go. But if we believe that the Eternal is working through multiple organizations, then we have a choice as to where we will give. Since we have a choice, we are responsible for what we do with it (remember 1Cor 3:11-16). Some people personally sponsor a local radio program or personally run ads for local Bible studies. If this bears fruit over time, this can be a marvelous way of preaching the gospel with almost no overhead. If you give to an organization, find one that you are convinced is doing a reasonable amount of work for the amount of money they receive. They should be happy to provide information about what they are doing with the funds that they receive. But before you with-hold your giving from all organizations, remember that it is better to give to an organization that preaches the Gospel with 10% of your money and wastes the rest, than it is to waste all the money yourself!
How should I give to the poor? We are told to let our light shine (Mat 5:16), not pay to let someone else's light shine. People need to know what is inspiring your giving. It is best to help people whom you personally know really need help. Often, the people who are most needing of help are embarrassed to ask. With so many hundreds of government programs and charities today, the world is full of people who are experts at receiving charity handoutssome individuals get over $100,000 a year by telling very sad-sounding stories at all the right places. If you end up giving to one of these con-artists, you are not giving to the poor, but the rich. It is important to be discerningnot to just give money somewhere that claims to help the poor, and then feel good about it.
How should I plan for the Feasts? You can plan for the Feasts just like any other important event in your life. You need to estimate the cost of transportation, food, lodging, and other needsthen save accordingly. The amount one person will need to save will vary greatly from the next. Single people who are willing to share a room may need to save only a few percent of their annual intake for the Feasts. Retired persons living with relatives may need to save more than 10% of their available income to go to the Feast.
There are no Scriptures that tell us to live in expensive quarters or buy a lot of things at the Feast. However, we should make sure that we have plenty to eat and that all of our basic needs will be covered so we can go to the Feasts. You can look for Festival sites (maybe help to plan them) that are less expensive. Often, sites where cooking, clean-up, and/or camping chores are shared produce a much closer-knit family atmosphere. Each person's needs for the Feasts will vary.
How much should I give? The answer depends greatly on your personal situation. If you are greatly in debt or if your family is in desperate need, then you probably should give very little right now. If your family became poor because of your own excessive spending, you need to change your spending habitsthe Eternal will not accept selfish spending as an excuse for not doing His work. If you are giving a significant amount now and can adequately take care of your family, then there is no reason to give lessyou may want to more closely evaluate where you give it. If you spend a lot for luxury items, you should think about how you will have to give account of this someday (Rom 14:12). You do not need to convince your friends or the ministry that your purchases were more important than the Gospelyou will have to convince the Eternal.
But the righteousness of faith speaks in this way, "Do not say in your heart, 'Who will ascend into heaven?'" (that is, to bring Christ down from above) or, 'Who will descend into the abyss?'" (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? " The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart" (that is, the word of faith which we preach): that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved" (Rom 10:6-9).
May the Eternal bless you as you seek His Word and His Will for your life!