Tithing is a difficult subject for pastors first and foremost because it’s an unpopular subject to most of the people in the pews, but money is necessary to pay salaries and bills, and a great many Christians give very little to their church. Somewhere in all that drama pastors who are generally careful, conscientious preachers often fall victim to the temptation to use the “standard” verses on tithing, many of which are totally inappropriate for the topic.
I should explain what I mean by “tithing.” In modern Christian use, a “tithe” is a) 10% of your income b) given to your local church c) to pay for salaries, bills, and programs of the church (whether Sunday school, missions, or a soup kitchen).
Sermons on tithing generally use scriptures that can be divided into two categories:
VERSES THAT DON’T APPLY TO US
Most sermons on tithing head straight to the Old Testament. Though the OT has lots of great material that I love, it also has lots of stuff we say doesn’t apply to those under the new covenant. We should be hesitant to try to invoke any OT rule that the NT doesn’t specifically reiterate.
“A tithe of everything from the land, whether grain from the soil or fruit from the trees, belongs to the LORD.”
In this and any other quotation from the Pentateuch, the tithe looks little like the “tithe” we preach today – it goes directly to feeding the priests and Levites and the poor. Offerings for the materials in the tabernacle/temple were separate. More importantly, though, this is part of the covenant with theocratic Israel, not the NT church.
“Will a man rob God? … Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse… Test me in this… and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.”
This is everyone’s favorite tithe passage, but besides referring to the tithe in Leviticus, this passage has the added problem that nowhere does the NT suggest that our obedience will result in material blessings – something that was part of the Mosaic covenant.
Luke 11:42 (and parallel in Matthew 23:23)
“Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone.”
Some may object that Jesus specifically endorsed the tithe here, but that’s not what happened. Jesus said to people under the Law that they had only fulfilled half of the Law. He is not applying the tithe to the new covenant; He’s pointing out that they hadn’t followed the old one.
VERSES THAT AREN’T ABOUT TITHING
There are lots of instructions in the NT about money, but if closely examined they refer to a different kind of giving than we have in mind when we talk about “tithing.”
“On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made.”
This is the favorite NT verse on “tithing” for obvious reasons: give a percentage of your income (10%, of course) on Sunday. It doesn’t get more obvious than that, right?
In context, though, it’s not so useful:
“Now about the collection for God's people: Do what I told the Galatian churches to do. On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made. Then, when I arrive, I will give letters of introduction to the men you approve and send them with your gift to Jerusalem” (1Cor 16:1-3, emphases added).
This collection was not for the running of the local church; it was charity that was sent to the poor Christians in Judea.
“Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”
It surprises me that this on gets used at all. Yes, God loves a cheerful giver. And that giver gives “what he has decided in his heart to give,” not 10% of his gross.
WHAT I'M NOT SAYING
I’m not saying that we shouldn’t give to our churches. I’m not saying that you can use every dime you make on yourself.
But this 10% rule is not scriptural. If we can’t make a case for giving to the work of the Church without using Bible verses taken completely out of context, we’re in trouble.
And we’re not in trouble. Next time I will do just that.
Never Read a Bible Verse