I recently got into a discussion about tithing under the new covenant, and whether tithing is even Biblical now that we are free from the law. The problem with this line of thinking is it neglects the heart behind giving and what giving is all about to God. This article is a brief look at the heart of the giver and what we are to give.
One of the discussions was in regards to the fact that food was often given in place of money. Historically food was often given in place of money as tithes, but its important to understand that it was “in place of” because the point was to tithe or offer up the best of what was of value to a person. In the ancient world, money or a monitory system where money was backed by banks or a government wasn’t the same then as it is today and often world salt and spices were also often used as currency. To use the argument that tithes were only food would be not only historically inaccurate, it would also overlook the heart of what a tithe or offering was, which was giving what was of value
There were three categories of tithes practiced under the law. According to A Book of Jewish Concepts by Philip Birnbaum, they were the First Tithe, Second Tithe, and Poor Tithe. The three tithes are called in Hebrew: ma’aser rishon, ma’aser sheni, ma’aser ‘ani, respectively. Israelites were also required to contribute terumah (gifts to the priests) from the fruits of their fields before they paid their tithes to the Levites.
First Tithe consisted of one-tenth of the whole produce of the soil, which was to be assigned for the maintenance of the Levite priests, and out of this the Levite priests were to dedicate a tenth to God for the use of the high priest.
Second Tithe the owner was consume in Jerusalem (Deut 14:22-27), and the actual second tithe of produce could be converted into money, plus a fifth of its value, and reconverted into food in Jerusalem (Deut. 14:24-27).
The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia states: “the second tithe was the remaining nine-tenths had to be set apart and consumed in Jerusalem. Those who lived far from Jerusalem could change this Second Tithe into money with the addition of a 5th part of its value. Only food, drink or ointment could be bought for the money (Ma`aser Sheni 2:1; compare Deut 14:26). The tithe of cattle belonged to the Second Tithe, and was to be used for the feast in Jerusalem (Zebhachim 5:8).”
Third Tithe called the poor man’s tithe, took the place of the Second Tithe in the third and sixth year of the seven-year cycle culminating in the sabbatical year. According to A book of Jewish Concepts (p. 383). It should also be noted that the kings sometimes neglected to follow the Law of Moses and did not always keep the tithing system.
The ancient world didn’t have grocery stores like they do today, so one could not run down to the grocery store to buy food as we do today. Ancient people didn’t work jobs in industry like they do today, so the access to money outside of the city was not as common and also not as practical since it was more important to be able to produce and trade your own food and because of this food often used as currency. To give food as an offering or tithe meant that you were putting your trust, your life and means to survive in God’s hands to provide for you and your family to live throughout the year.
Under the new covenant we are free from the legalism of the law in all aspects of our lives by the power of the cross (Romans and Galatians). We are not to do the bare minimum to just satisfy the law or give tithes unwillingly in order to uphold the law. We are to give from our hearts, to give as much as we can give to God, so that our blessings can be a blessing and to reach others with the gospel. This means that giving isn’t just about money, but about giving of our worship, our lives, our finances and ourselves to Christ. If simply give because we are trying to keep a law, then it means nothing if our hearts are bitter about giving.
Throughout the Bible we are given many examples of what God wants from us in regards to giving. In the Cain and Able narrative, God did not accept Cain’s offering and Cain becomes bitter about it. When Cain asks God why his offering was not accepted, God tells him there was sin in his heart.
4 and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the LORD had regard for Abel and his offering, 5 but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell. 6 The LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? 7 If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.”
In the book of Luke we find a women who gave her last two coins whom Jesus pointed out in the temple.
1 While Jesus was in the Temple, he watched the rich people dropping their gifts in the collection box. 2 Then a poor widow came by and dropped in two small coins. 3 “I tell you the truth,” Jesus said, “this poor widow has given more than all the rest of them. 4 For they have given a tiny part of their surplus, but she, poor as she is, has given everything she has.”
Jesus pointed out that she freely gave all she had and put her trust in God to keep her. Jesus discusses giving and how we are to give, and that giving isn’t to be done with pride or to show others how much we can give.
When you give to someone in need, don’t do as the hypocrites do—blowing trumpets in the synagogues and streets to call attention to their acts of charity! I tell you the truth, they have received all the reward they will ever get. 3 But when you give to someone in need, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. 4 Give your gifts in private, and your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.
We can get caught up with a heart of giving that expects or even demands something in return. We often hear words like God will return it one hundredfold or double what you give. The problem with this way of thinking is that it places God in our debt. Instead of giving freely, we are giving God a loan with a huge interest rate, from which we can profit. This not giving freely or trusting in God, it’s just a bad loan.
The book of Matthew is a big chapter on giving and trusting God in all things and how God wants to give.
19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
25 “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 ? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? 28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
If we look back at the Abraham and Isaac narrative, we see that God asks Abraham to give up his most prized possession, his only son. Abraham was a man of great faith and trust in God. He left his people, his family, the life he knew, and took his family out with to a new land, with only his faith in God, not knowing where he was going. Remember there was no Bible, no churches, no community of believers to gather support from, and Abraham, by faith, stepped out as God had vaguely instructed him. I use the word “vaguely” purposefully because God only told him that we was going to take him to a new land that He would show him, but he didn’t say where or what this land was, other than He was going to bless Abram.
Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 2 And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.
With that said we are able to see that Abraham was willing to give up all he had, even his only son if God asked, not because he thought God would spare Isaac, but because he knew all he had was God’s, for Abraham had already given everything to God. Abraham trusted God to provide, and God wanted to show him that He was a loving God that would keep him and provide everything for him; thus the ram God provided to take Isaac’s place.
In 1 Corinthians we find the church setting aside a collection or love offering for Jerusalem, this wasn’t a tithe, but something they were doing to help the people in Jerusalem.
1 Corinthians 16 (ESV)
NOTE: The NLT uses the word “money” instead of “collection”.
16 Now concerning the collection for the saints: as I directed the churches of Galatia, so you also are to do. 2 On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come. 3 And when I arrive, I will send those whom you accredit by letter to carry your gift to Jerusalem. 4 If it seems advisable that I should go also, they will accompany me.
In 2 Corinthians, Paul discusses giving, but not to give more than you are able and put yourself in a financial problem.
2 Corinthians 8 (NLT)
10 Here is my advice: It would be good for you to finish what you started a year ago. Last year you were the first who wanted to give, and you were the first to begin doing it. 11 Now you should finish what you started. Let the eagerness you showed in the beginning be matched now by your giving. Give in proportion to what you have. 12 Whatever you give is acceptable if you give it eagerly. And give according to what you have, not what you don’t have. 13 Of course, I don’t mean your giving should make life easy for others and hard for yourselves. I only mean that there should be some equality. 14 Right now you have plenty and can help those who are in need. Later, they will have plenty and can share with you when you need it. In this way, things will be equal. 15 As the Scriptures say, “Those who gathered a lot had nothing left over, and those who gathered only a little had enough.”
In 1 Corinthians 9 we find Paul giving up his rights to what the people were accustomed to doing, which was providing food, shelter and for teachers as given by the law. While Paul gave up his right, this doesn’t mean this was the standard in the church and we are free from taking care of those who teach us. We find that in 1 Timothy and Galatians that it was customary and encouraged that we as the church should take are of our elders and those who teach us, yet notice, this was not a tithe and no % was specified. No where in the NT do we find that we will be cursed or will be breaking covenant with God for not giving 10% because we are no longer under the law.
1 Timothy 5 (NLT)
17 Elders who do their work well should be respected and paid well, especially those who work hard at both preaching and teaching. 18 For the Scripture says, “You must not muzzle an ox to keep it from eating as it treads out the grain.” And in another place, “Those who work deserve their pay!”
Galatians 6 (NLT)
Those who are taught the word of God should provide for their teachers, sharing all good things with them.
What does this mean? It means that when we let God be the author of our lives, when we trust Him with all we have, and believe that He provide for us in all things; this includes our finances. God can do great things in and with our lives, but the hard part is letting go and letting God work. When we truly trust God in all things, and we give Him everything it is not difficult to give of what we have because we know our “things” are not ours to begin with, they are God’s. This is not limited to money, but also includes our relationships, our time, our lives, our love, our precious possessions and honor God with them.
Under the new covenant God wants us to trust Him, and to give freely without bickering, regret or pride; if not our offering is tainted with self, it isn’t something God wants from us. God wants us to be good stewards with our giving and decide for ourselves what to give and how much. If we are preoccupied with a 10% monetary tithe of the law, which we are NO LONGER bound by, or looking to place God in our debt by expecting a bigger return to our investment, then we have missed the point of what Christ was trying to teach us about giving and trusting in Him.
2 Corinthians 9(NLT)
7 You must each decide in your heart how much to give. And don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure. “For God loves a person who gives cheerfully.”