The Christian duty of tithing

Scripture text: Malachi 3:8, 10

Apostasy is departure from God, Malachi 3:7—…ye are gone away from mine ordinances, and have not kept them… In Malachi’s day this apostasy had affected every level of society and profoundly impacted the thinking of the nation about spiritual matters. He particularly addresses the priests who had become corrupt and were leading the nation astray as far as the right worship of God was concerned, Malachi 1:6, 2:7-9.

Departure from God carries with it a blindness to its existence, Malachi 3:7, 8, 13 etc. The people the prophet addresses can see no need to repent or return to the Lord! We may sin seriously and not see it! Many Christians justify sin on the grounds that they have ‘no conscience’ about it! The scene is set for some plain speaking by God’s messenger in order to make them see what they are blind to.

Spiritual matters must be dealt with plainly and honestly by the preacher. Malachi forthrightly condemns sin and yet has a word of promise to the repentant. One of the issues that Malachi deals with in this context is to highlight the sin of the people in relation to their giving to God, Malachi 1:13, 8. Here is a specific aspect of right worship that had been affected by the apostasy of the day. It is a matter that, to this day, suffers from the effects of disobedience within the ranks of the Church.

 

I GOD REQUIRES A TITHE.

1. The tithe is the tenth part. This is the portion that God has instituted as being due to Him. It is His part. It is described in Scripture as the holy portion, Leviticus 27:30-32; a portion that is not to be tampered with or used in any other way. The tithe of our income is the basic, mandatory portion that is to be given to God. See how He also speaks of offerings – an additional, voluntary portion.

2. Is tithing relevant to the New Testament believer? The most important issue that needs to be dealt with at this point is whether or not the principle of tithing relates to the New Testament people of God. Or, is it a requirement that passed away with the Levitical economy? As with many of the ceremonial aspects of the Law that was binding on Israel, the aspects of tithing that was part of the Levitical code have been set aside, but the principle remains. You can see an illustration of this in the various kinds of Sabbaths/rest days enacted for Israel that were set aside (Colossians 2:16), but the principle of a weekly Sabbath, instituted at Creation and perpetuated in the Moral law, still remains in effect.

It is important for us to recognize that the principle of tithing is not limited to the Mosaic economy. The Levitical code simply developed a principle already in place and applied it to the nation of Israel.

  • Abraham paid tithes. “And verily they that are of the sons of Levi, who receive the office of the priesthood, have a commandment to take tithes of the people according to the law, that is, of their brethren, though they come out of the loins of Abraham: But he whose descent is not counted from them (i.e. Christ) received tithes of Abraham, and blessed him that had the promises. And without all contradiction the less is blessed of the better. And here men that die receive tithes; but there he receiveth them, of whom it is witnessed that he liveth”, Hebrews 7:5-8. The tithing principle was in effect before Israel existed as a nation and, in Abraham’s case, more than four centuries before the Levitical code was instituted for Israel at Sinai (Genesis 15:13, Galatians 3:17).

It is striking to see that Abraham paid tithes to Christ in the context of meeting Him as Melchisedec, the King of righteousness and peace (Genesis 14:20, Hebrews 7:2). He did so as he ate and drank with Him. His fellowship with the Saviour involved the willing payment of a tithe.

  • Jacob paid tithes. “And this stone, which I have set for a pillar, shall be God’s house: and of all that thou shalt give me I will surely give the tenth unto thee.” (Genesis 28:22) In this case, Jacob made a vow to pay tithes from that point forward in life. He did so in the wake of having a vision of God at Bethel in which Christ is seen in type as the ladder that reached to Heaven from earth. Such a view of Christ will ever produce a a spirit of consecrated giving God His portion.
  • The Saviour on tithing. The principle of tithing is one that is directly endorsed by the Saviour Himself. Not only did He receive tithes from Abraham prior to the institution of Levitical practice; but in His own ministry He commanded them as a duty to accompany faith,

“Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other (i.e. The tithing) undone”. Matthew 23:23

“…Then saith he unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s”, Matthew 22:21. Here the Saviour is obviously indicating that we have an obligation in financial matters to give God that which belongs to Him as legitimately as taxes belong to the Emperor.

3. The purpose of this giving is two-fold.

Tithing honours God. This is suggested by the fact that withholding the tithe is an affront to God, Malachi 3:8 and an outrage against His person. The practice of tithing gives to Him the place He rightly holds as Sovereign Lord. Tithing is the recognition of the place that God holds over us, to deal with us as He pleases. The tenor of these words in Malachi is found again in Proverbs 3:9-10: “Honour the LORD with thy substance, and with the firstfruits of all thine increase: So shall thy barns be filled with plenty, and thy presses shall burst out with new wine”. Notice that the duty of giving is described as honouring God.

Tithing is God’s instituted means of providing for the temporal requirements of His work. In Old Testament times the priests and their families, as well as the poor of the land (Deut 14:28-29) were sustained by the giving of God’s people. The temporal requirements of every aspect of God’s work was met by the giving of saints. The cause of God suffers when there is a failure to give to Him what He demands. This funding arrangement carries over into the New Testament as is clear from 1 Corinthians 9:13-14.

 

II WITHHOLDING THE TITHE AND ITS CONSEQUENCES.

To retain that which rightly belongs to the Lord is an audacious act of robbery. The prophet expresses surprise in his question, Malachi 3:8. “Will a man”—the Hebrew term here gives us the name Adam, a man made from dust—”rob God”, who is omnipotent? This is daylight robbery indeed. To ‘rob’ has the idea of subterfuge and stealth – but nothing can be hidden from God! Here is robbery that occurs in the full sight of God—however men may attempt to do it under cover. This is bold and foolish action indeed for God cannot be deceived by attempts to defraud Him.

The consequences of such action are serious.

  • The censure of God. See Malachi 3:9. Obviously this is a curse that comes upon them for disobedience and is to be lifted again when obedience is seen and replaced with blessing. In this limited sense the people of God may bring His curse upon them. They bring bitterness and ruin into their lives by defiance of God. Cp 1 Corinthians 11:29.
  • Nature itself is affected. See Malachi 3:11. God makes a direct link between tithing and the productivity of the land! Here is something that many wish to ignore. God can give or withhold such natural blessings as it pleases Him. Here, because the people were robbing Him of the tithe He simply withheld His blessing from the work of their hands. Such things suffer when we abuse God in this way.
  • Political consequences. See Malachi 3:11. Some enemy had already risen to be a devourer in the land. The land was being eaten up!

 

The lesson of this is clearly that, by withholding that which rightfully belongs to the Lord we are the poorer for it. Ye have sown much, and bring in little; ye eat, but ye have not enough; ye drink, but ye are not filled with drink; ye clothe you, but there is none warm; and he that earneth wages earneth wages to put it into a bag with holes. It never pays to rob God! Though natural reason would dictate that by sparing ourselves the ‘expense’ of paying God His due we will be better off, this is never the case.

 

III THE BLESSINGS OF TITHING IN OBEDIENCE TO GOD.

1. The prophet speaks words of comfort to those who will obey God. The sin that he has been speaking of can be reversed. There is to be a turning in repentance; restitution made where possible; and a determination to go on in obedience. For those who do so, there is forgiveness and a promise of renewed blessing. The blood of Christ avails for our sins as we confess them, I John 1:7, 9. The guilt of robbery from God may be put away for Jesus sake! It is striking to remember that the Saviour died as a thief—crucified between two thieves and identified with them—perhaps to emphasize that this sin is one of the most common we are guilty of – withholding from God what is His. His death pays the price of this sin.

2. A wonderful promise. To those who repent and obey Him in this matter, God has clearly promised certain blessings. He will open the floodgates of heaven. This expression appears in Genesis 7:11 to describe the deluge that brought Noah’s flood on the earth! Here is the measure of the blessing that God promises. Heaven will be emptied of a blessing that cannot be contained within finite limitations.

3. A promise backed by Divine power. The fact that the Lord speaks here as the Lord of Hosts, v10, 11, 12, emphasizes His power to do as He has said. He does not promise more than He can fulfil.

4. A challenge. He further emphasizes His promise by issuing a challenge – Prove me I pray you! God makes the blessings that follow tithing to be a challenge – one to which He must respond or fail to be God! Is it a challenge that you are prepared to take up? Will you prove God in this matter?

 

A fuller experience of the love of God belongs to those who cheerfully comply with this duty. “Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver, 2 Corinthians 9:7.

 

Conclusion.

Persisting in not tithing clearly implies:

  • Disobedience. Obviously the one who will not tithe doesn’t care what God says on this matter.
  • Unbelief. Refusal to tithe indicates the mindset that God cannot bless me enough to outweigh the sacrifice of giving a tenth to Him. To tithe is an act of faith. All obedience springs from faith; disobedience from unbelief.

6 thoughts on “The Christian duty of tithing

  1. NO ONE, absolutely NO ONE pays the Biblical tithe today.

    Leviticus 27:30-33, Numbers 18: The First Tithe – a tenth of crops and animals and commanded to take the tithe to the Levites.

    Deuteronomy 14:22-27: The Second Tithe aka The Festival Tithe – a tenth of crops, plus add to that the firstborn animals, and take for the yearly feast.

    Deuteronomy 14:28-29: The Third Tithe aka The Three-Year Tithe aka The Poor Tithe – a tenth of crops, kept at home, and invite the Levites, widows, orphans, stranger to eat.

    Now, tell me. Which of the above three tithes commanded by God does anyone follow today?

    The ONLY people in the Old Testament that were commanded to tithe were those who INHERITED THE PROMISED LAND WITH EVERYTHING ON IT. They got the land, house, animals, crops, etc. ALL FREE AND CLEAR. No mortgage payment or rent to pay. And THEY were commanded to tithe on the crops and animals and take it to the Levites who INHERITED the tithe INSTEAD OF the promised land with everything on it. No one else tithed. Wage earners did not tithe. Jesus didn’t tithe. Paul didn’t tithe. Peter didn’t tithe.

    Abram gave a tenth of war spoils that didn’t even belong to him.

    There is NO scripture to show that Jacob ever tithed. He only made a VOW which contained conditions that God had to meet before Jacob would give a tenth. There is no scripture to show that Jacob ever did, in fact, give a tenth of anything.

    There is no teaching of tithing in the scriptures after Calvary.

    • A couple of points. The fact that the Scripture refers to tithes in the passages you cite does not necessarily imply a cumulative tithe. But even if it did, it still doesn’t alter the fact that the principle of tithing existed before Sinai and was not only part of Israel’s national law but has universally applied to the people of God.

      It seems you know rather more than the rest of us on this subject! “Jesus didn’t tithe”, “Paul didn’t tithe”, “Peter didn’t tithe”. What kind of ex-cathedra knowledge is this?

      Nor can you insist that Jacob didn’t tithe. I rather incline to the view that he kept his vow. However, that is not even necessary to the point I was making that Jacob – before Sinai regulation was enacted – recognized that it was an appropriate response to the mercy of God who revealed Christ to him. I think it likely too that what Abraham gave to the Lord on that occasion he did have a legitimate ownership claim to, and that it wasn’t the spoils of war, for he took nothing of what he had recovered. Oh, and the Levites tithed too, Numbers 18:26, Nehemiah 10:38 so it wasn’t just a matter of them getting their share of Canaan.

      It seems to me that you base your dismissal of the tithe on the fact that it isn’t referred to specifically after Calvary. How many other things that God has stated in His word that are not referred to post-Calvary do you dismiss? Perhaps you should take a leaf out of Paul’s book in 1 Corinthians 10:9-11 where he deliberately uses a Levitical regulation and applies the principle of it to guide God’s people in their duty to give to cause of God to support the ministry of the local church. After all, as Paul states in that passage: “the things that were written aforetime were written for our learning” – even right until the end of the age.

      It is clear from the New Testament – especially from 1 Corinthians 16:1-2 and other passages that Paul expected the believers to contribute financially to various branches of the work of God even as part of their weekly assemblies. His words in this passage at least suggest a specific calculation being employed to determine how much to contribute. There is a clear responsibility resting on God’s people to give financially to support the cause of God. The only specific guidelines ever given in that matter may be summed up in the words of Malachi “tithes and offerings”. I am quite happy to take my guidance on this matter from the clear statements of God on the subject even when they are found in the Old Testament Scriptures so full of the Christ of the new covenant.

      • Malachi 3:7 refers to God’s ordinances which were nailed to the cross. If Malachi stilled applied, then curses still apply, but we have Galatians 3:13 “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us…”

        Let’s look closely at Abram’s tithe. First, the goods that Abram gave the tenth from didn’t even belong to Abram:

        Genesis 14:21 (KJV) – And the king of Sodom said unto Abram, Give me the persons, and take the goods to thyself.

        Notice in verse 21 the king of Sodom didn’t ask Abram if he would give back to him the people, but rather said GIVE ME the people and keep the goods for yourself. The way that is worded indicates that the king of Sodom was claiming that the people and the goods belonged to him, but he offered the goods to Abram.

        It would normally have been the custom that the victor owns the spoils, but normally the spoils would have belonged to the enemy. In this case, Abram was RECOVERING goods belonging to the King of Sodom.

        NOTE: The king of Sodom had an original right both to the persons and to the goods, and it would bear a debate whether Abram’s acquired right by rescue would supersede his title and extinguish it; but, to prevent all quarrels, the king of Sodom makes this fair proposal (v. 21).
        –Should the Church Teach Tithing by Dr. Russell Earl Kelly, pages 24-25

        Genesis 14:22-24 (KJV)
        22And Abram said to the king of Sodom, I have lift up mine hand unto the LORD, the most high God, the possessor of heaven and earth,
        23That I will not take from a thread even to a shoelatchet, and that I will not take any thing that is thine, lest thou shouldest say, I have made Abram rich:
        24Save only that which the young men have eaten, and the portion of the men which went with me, Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre; let them take their portion.

        Notice in verses 23 and 24 Abram also acknowledges that the goods belonged to the king of Sodom. But the king of Sodam offered that Abram could keep the goods for himself. Abram declined the offer. He didn’t want man to take credit for his wealth. By not accepting any of the goods for himself, Abram was putting all his faith in God to provide for him rather than man.

        Therefore, it is clear that both the king of Sodom and Abram acknowledged that the spoils of war did NOT belong to Abram, yet he gave a tenth of the spoils to King Melchizedek. This would seem that Abram did something wrong, if not even illegal, but Biblical historians agree that it was custom in Abram’s day to give the king a tenth of the war spoils. Had Abram not given the tenth, he would have gone against custom.

        Conclusion: Abram did NOT give a tenth of his income, or his wealth. Abram gave a tenth of the spoils of war that didn’t belong to him and declined to keep the goods offered to him. That is NOT an example of tithing for Christians to follow today. By declining to keep any of the goods for himself, Abram showed his faith that God would provide. That is the example of faith that Christians should be following. Furthermore, the law did NOT require a tenth of war spoils to be given, so to say that tithing was before the law and then in the law is not true. What Abram did was NOT even codified into the later law.

        Since the scriptures don’t give any other example of Abraham giving a tenth, we can’t make up some and call it Biblical. We also can’t say that Jacob ever tithed ACCORDING to the scriptures. We also can’t say that Jesus, or Paul, or Peter ever tithed according to the scriptures. We can speculate all we want.

        The ONLY example given in the scriptures of tithing before Moses is Abram. ONE example of giving war spoils that according to the scriptures, in Abram’s own words, didn’t belong to him. To say that is a Biblical principle for all times makes no more sense than picking out any other ONE example before Moses and call it a principle for all times. Abram’s tithe wasn’t even carried forward into the law.

        Nowhere in the scriptures did the priests tithe, and in the New Testament, born-again believers are a ROYAL PRIESTHOOD.

        Isn’t it odd that even though Abram gave a tenth directly to Melchizedek, the king/priest, that some Christians think they can give directly to God by giving it to their pastor?

        I find it quite offensive that pastors have appointed themselves to be the receiver of what belongs to God. After all, the pastor says the tithe belongs to God. Then he appoints himself to receive the tithe!!!

        God never gave any pastor or church permission to receive his tithe or his gifts. God commanded His tithe be taken to the Levites, FOREVER, in Numbers 18.

        Since the tithe belongs to God, if a pastor accepts it isn’t he stealing it from God?

        • To be honest I find your attitude to Scripture very disappointing. It my humble opinion however, it fits perfectly with one who style himself “a certified professional money and finance minister” – whatever that is. The Scriptures are certainly silent on that kind of ‘ministry’!!

          You have not answered the points I made and instead return to insist – based on the ‘custom of the day’ – that “Abraham did something wrong if not even illegal” in giving Christ/Melchisidec what he did. Your attitude to Abraham’s interaction with the Son of God beggars belief! This view makes the Saviour complicit in a crime by accepting as an act of worship, what you allege, is stolen property!

          “Nowhere in the scriptures did the priests tithe” – weren’t they Levites too? The Levites tithed (Numbers 18:26, Nehemiah 10:38)

          “Since the tithe belongs to God, if a pastor accepts it isn’t he stealing it from God?” – Haven’t you read 1 Corinthians 9? Money offered to God is used to support the work of the gospel ministry? The minister of the gospel, by God’s command based on his provision for oxen (v9) and on his provision for the Levites/priests of the Temple, is to be supported by the giving of saints to God. I’m afraid this rather facetious, and somewhat pathetic question shows you in a very poor light.

          Looking at your ‘ministry’ I can only assume that you have been grieved by the many financial abuses perpetrated by men who call themselves pastors etc. In many ways I would agree with you in that. I do not believe that tithes should be paid directly to a pastor. However, God’s people support the work of the gospel by their tithes and offerings and the pastor is paid suitably from that. In fact the principle of the OT model does carry over into the NT – but then you ignored what I said about that too! That is the model God has always used to finance His work.

          I fear that you have fallen into the snare of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Many so-called Pastors today wickedly abuse their position for financial gain. You want to remedy that by denying the existence of tithing. That is the wrong way! It will never to do to correct the abuses of evil men by removing the command that God has given.

          • The tithe was taken to the NON-PRIEST Levites (Numbers 18) and THEY gave a tenth of the tithe to the Levitical priests. The priests did not tithe.

            The Lord’s Tithe (Levitical tithe) was NEVER on income or money. ONLY on God’s increase of the seed and animals.

            Being Spirit led, I find myself giving far more than a mere tenth of my income. I am not against giving, I am against teaching of a mandatory tithe, or even using the tenth as a minimum or guideline. There is no “tenth” teaching in the New Testament.

            Pastors have a right to be paid for their services, and this should come from gifts given to the church.

            As far as throwing out the command given in scripture, no one is following any one of the tithing commands given in scripture. Man changed God’s Word from tithing on crops and animals to tithing on man’s income, and from taking the tithe to the Levites to taking the tithe to the church. This was done in 1870.

            Give, give, and then give even more, if you are able. We can’t out give God. Giving is in my heart. I have sacrificed many times by giving to someone in need rather than use the money for myself. I teach generous, sacrificial giving.

            If Christians are properly taught giving and financial stewardship, I believe they would actually give much more than many do today.

          • A final reply.
            You say – “The Lord’s Tithe (Levitical tithe) was NEVER on income or money. ONLY on God’s increase of the seed and animals.” – And this wasn’t ‘income’ in an agricultural/bartering economy???? Hmmmmm! I’m sure there would be all kinds of farmer’s lining up for you to fill in their tax returns if you could support that claim!

            Forgive me for not having your “certified professional money and finance minister’s” approach to this subject. I will settle instead to abide by the words of Christ my Prophet in Malachi 3:10; I will continue to follow the humble, godly example of Abraham as he met Christ the King in the King’s dale; the example set by Jacob in gracious devotion to the God who revealed Christ the Priest to him at Bethel; the example of generations of the people of God through the Old Testament economy as they worshiped God from the heart with their tithes and offerings; recognizing that these OT things were written for my learning and guidance (1 Cor 10:11) as I seek to be a “cheerful giver” (2 Cor 9:7) and support the cause of the gospel today.

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