The Truth About Tithing
This article is copyrighted © 1999. All rights reserved.
Tithing is an Old Testament command that was for the Jews and was in reality their "taxation" system. The tithe consisted of the Temple tax, the Land Sabbath Tax, and the Special Profit-Sharing Tax (leaving the corners unharvested, for the poor). The required giving for the Jew was approximately 25 percent per year. In addition to all of this there was voluntary giving in the Old Testament which included first-fruit giving and freewill offerings.
The emphasis here was not on a percentage but on the attitude
of the giver and the quality of the gift. The point is that "tithing"
is an Old Testament practice that was equivalent to our modern-day tax
structure. Tithes were not gifts at all, but were required giving. In the
New Testament things really have not changed, for the Christian is still
required to pay his taxes to support the government. This taxation is the New
Testament equivalent of Tithing. But the Tithe is no longer a part of the
"religious system" of a Theocracy, rather our "tithe" today
is simply the taxation system of a Democracy. The only references in the New
Testament to tithing is to Jews and their requirement to support their religious
system of government.
The New Testament does teach that a Christian should give to God but only in the sense that it is freewill giving from the heart. While no specific percentage is given, we are to give: 1. In response to need - Acts 4:35, Acts 11:27-29 2. In a systematic and purposeful manner – 2 Cor. 9:7, 2 Cor. 16:2 3. In a sacrificial way that "costs" us - Mark 12:41-44, Luke 19:8 4. In a secret and humble way - Matthew 6:1-4 5. In a cheerful manner - 2 Cor. 9:7
Now some will get all excited if we say that the requirement to tithe is not for the church. They will say that the church will go "broke" in a week if the people are told that they don't have to tithe. I would remind them that if the church is supported because Christians are wrongly taught to tithe then we need to stop that practice. Many churches today would have to "cease operations" if their tithe were taken away. But the churches that God wants to exist would continue to be supported by freewill offerings of the people. God said, "Seek my Kingdom and my Righteousness and all these things will be given to you." If a church will preach and teach God's truth and not man's tradition then she will "never" lack for the money she needs. One writer put it this way, "God's work done God's way will never lack God's provision."
I believe some churches today exist because they have convinced many to tithe, when in reality the church itself is not teaching the truths of the Bible. For many pastors it is easier to teach people to tithe than to teach them to be holy people of God who would then give from their hearts because of their deep love of their Savior.
NOTE: The following excerpt is taken from a sermon John MacArthur preached at Grace Community Church, Box 4000, Panorama City, CA 91412. The sermon is available on cassette tape #GC 70-1, and is titled, "Bible Questions and Answers."
Thoughts on Tithing
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There is a very popular Charismatic TV program that promotes the "law of reciprocity," as far as tithing goes--giving money to the Lord. In effect, that whatever you give to the Lord, you are going to receive it back while you are on earth. I just want to hear you views on that.
Open your Bible to a very important portion of Scripture that has to be considered in any discussion like this [tithing], on that question, and that is 2 Corinthians 8-9, because this is where the issue is discussed. The principle that is laid down here has to be brought into thought. The whole section of 8 and 9 is talking about giving, by the way, there is nothing in here about tithing--there is nothing in the New Testament any place to advocate tithing.
"Tithing," are you familiar with the concept of tithing, you know, "Give 10% to the church," you know, that kind of thing? Tithing, basically, is never, ever advocated in the New Testament; it is never taught in the New Testament—never!
It is referred to a couple of times, that's all, as a historical fact: it talks about tithes being offered by Abraham to Aaron, you know, "in the loins of Abraham," it says, Aaron paid tithes to Melchizedek—it is just an historical reference. It talks about the fact that Abraham gave tithes, also of a tenth of the heap, which he took in the battle with the kings. So it is only an historic reference. And then in the gospels it talks about the fact that the Jews tithed to their government, again a historical reference. No place in the entire New Testament is it ever advocated for us to give tithes, that is, for us to give 10% to the church. You say, "Well what was it in the Old Testament?" Every year a Jew had to give 10% of all of his crop and all of his produce, and all of whatever he had. He gave 10%, which was called the "Levite's Tithe," and what you have to understand is that the nation Israel was a theocracy, that is, it was ruled by God through priests. There were 24 different orders of priests, with thousands upon thousands of priests—they were the government officials, they were the Senate, the Congress, the whole thing, only they didn't have to vote on anything—they just sought God and God told them what to do. So it was a theocracy ruled by God and that rule was disseminated through these people.
Well, since they were the agents of the government, they had to be supported. Do you remember that the twelve tribes were each given land, but they split the tribe of Joseph in to two tribes: Ephriam and Manassah to make up twelve, because Levi was taken out, because Levi was the priestly tribe and they owned nothing. So they had to be supported by all the other tribes. They were given cities in the locations of the other tribal areas and people had to give money to support their livelihood—part of their sheep, part of their crop, and everything had to go to support Levi's tribe, because they were the ones who represented God in the government.
So when you gave your 10% each year you gave it to the government for the care of the country, the nation. Secondly, you gave another 10% every year, which was for the festivals and the religious convocations of the nation. In other words, all of the big things that were held in Jerusalem, all the things that had to be done to prepared for the feasts and so forth in Jerusalem, and all the holy days, and all the Sabbaths, and all the everything else that went with it.
So you pay 10% to the Levites to support them as they operated in behalf of God in the government; you paid 10% to take care of the national festivals, which were many, many. Then you paid another 10% every third year, which went to the poor and the widows. So if you broke that down, you are at about 23.3% per year. Now what that was, was an income tax system. That was a system of taxation to fund the government and its religious activities and its welfare needs.
So when people today say, "We want to tithe now like they did in the Old Testament," they can't stop at 10%, they got 23.3% to start with. In addition to that, you paid a half shekel temple tax every year, in addition to that, if you had a field, you had to harvest the field in a circle and leave the corners open for the poor. It was a profit-sharing plan. If you dropped a bail of hay off your wagon, on the way to the barn, you had to leave that for the poor. So you start adding that up and you are looking at about 25% of their income went to fund the national entity of the government. Now when you get into the New Testament, the Jews were still doing that, because they still had a nation, even though they were an occupied nation, they were still a nation. They were occupied by the Romans, but they weren't run by the Romans. They had their own religious hierarchy, they had their own school systems, they had their own festivals, and all that stuff, and so they had to take care of that. They had their own priesthood; it all had to go on, that is why Jesus said, "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's," in other words, pay the Romans what they asked, and render to God the things that are God's. So just to clarify that at the very beginning, when you are talking about a tithe, you are talking about the "taxation." Now when you translate that over into our time, it is kind of interesting to me that the base tax system in our country is about 20%, you add sales tax to that and you probably get another 5%, we are on about the same level they were then--about 25% of our income goes out for taxation, if you are in the normal tax bracket and with normal deductions, unless you are really doing well, but then they get you in different ways, because the more money you have the more things you buy, the more things you buy, the higher sales tax you pay, so maybe it comes out even harder for people who have more. Nonetheless, that's taxation. OK? Giving was always something different, always you gave whatever you wanted, like when they built the tabernacle and God said, "Let every man bring whatever he purposes in his heart; let him do it willingly, whatever he wants to give." And they kept coming, bringing so much that finally they said, "Stop, don't bring anymore--that's enough." So giving is always a "freewill," it's always an expression of love and appreciation--whatever you want to do.
Now you come to 2 Corinthians, chapter eight, and you learn how the church gave. The church knew there was a need so the church gave. How did they give? Well, it wasn't 10%, it says, "The churches in Macedonia, 2Cor 8:1, gave abundantly out of deep poverty. It says that their deep poverty abounded to the riches of their liberality." Here was a very poor church in Macedonia, very poor, but they gave generously, out of their hearts liberally. In fact, verse three says, they gave beyond their ability. They gave more than they should have given--more then they could of given, and the reason they did that was in verse five, because they first gave themselves. I mean when you give yourself then everything you have belongs to the Lord. So, Paul is saying to the Corinthians, "If you want a lesson in giving, look at these people--out of deep poverty they gave everything they had." In fact, they gave more then they should of, but they did that because they had already given themselves to the Lord. Now you have the key motive in giving; what is the right motive in giving? It is not to get anything. It is in that whole hearted abandonment, "they gave everything."
I worry about this Charismatic "Health and Wealth" prosperity business, where you are just simply saying, "Well I am going to give my money so I can get it!" That is not the spirit of the Macedonians, they didn't even have enough to give what they gave, but they gave it anyway, because they had already given themselves to the Lord. Their whole program was a "give myself away" program, not a "get for myself" program. We are suffering today, in Christianity, from an absolutely pervasive greed. Our contemporary Christianity is so self-indulgent it boggles the mind. That is why we don't reach out to people, because we are consumed with feeding ourselves. It's a mentality that all of us fall prey to.
A guy in our church told me the other day that he was meeting with a group of Christians, and all they could talk about was their latest investments. You look around you and you see people all around the world, you know, who have need. I was talking to Mitz (sp.) and he was telling me there are about 32,000 people in the city of Los Angeles who are homeless. We have been strategizing the last few days about what we are going to do about that. Some people are talking about how they can get another Mercedes, and there are some people who are trying to get up out of the gutter to feed their family.
So, we have a mentality, and of course, what we have done, see, we justified our materialism by developing a theology to accommodate it--you know, "Jesus wants you healthy and wealthy."
There was a book called "Prime Time Religion" about Oral Roberts, and it showed how he has become a multimillionaire by the way he works things. In the book it points out, for example, he writes a book or has someone write it for him, and then he publishes it with his own publishing house (it describes all this, one of the guys on his staff wrote the book--unhappily for them); it shows how he publishes the book and then sells it to the Oral Roberts Evangelistic Association--sells them about two million copies so they can send it out to all the people on their mailing list, who send them twenty-five bucks, only he sells to them for a dollar profit on each book. So he writes a book, publishes the book, makes a buck profit selling it to his own organization, pockets two million dollars and then they distribute it.
Now, those are the kinds of people, for the most part, who are on television begging you for your money, and telling you that God is going to make you rich and so forth.
So there is a theology that has developed, and then what they do, trying to live with that is very difficult, so in order to live with that kind of thing you develop a theology that says "Jesus wants you wealthy," and that's how you deal with your conscience--"God wants you rich!" I mean, you read in a magazine--we were in Israel and we find people, who go over there to lead tours to Israel, demand $1,000 per day rooms, they demand limousine service everywhere, they go into these little shops where they take their tourists to buy things, and one guy told me that one group went in there and the leader wanted $12,000 worth of jewelry to bring his group to their store.
These are the people who develop this kind of accommodating theology, "Jesus wants you wealthy, Jesus wants you rich, Jesus wants you prosperous, He wants you healthy and all that kind of thing," and I really believe that it is a "back door" means to justify a materialistic attitude, and the Lord needs to deliver us from that.
These people [2 Cor 8:1] gave out of their deep poverty, not because they wanted anything back because they were so abandoned to the Lord. Having said all of that, all right--this is a long sermon--I want you to look at chapter nine, verse six, "But this I say, he that sows sparingly shall reap sparingly; he that sows bountifully shall reap bountifully." In this sense, we have to admit that they have a kernel of the truth, because if you sow a little bit you reap a little, if you sow a lot you reap a lot, and it is true that when you give to the Lord--He does give back, but if that is your motive--it's warped. It is true that He does that, but if you come to the Lords work and say, "I'm going to put this in, because I know that I am going to get back multiplied, then your giving is illegitimate. But if you can do it with a free, clear conscience, and even though you have to fight yourself, you know, sometimes you say, "Boy, I know the Lord is going to return this but that's not going to be my motive," you know, you kind of go back and forth, but if you have a clear conscience about that then it is ok. So, "you sow sparingly, you reap sparingly; you sow bountifully, you reap bountifully." There is the fact that God will bless, Luke 6:38, Jesus says, "Give, and it shall be. . . ." what? "Given unto you, " That's a great statement, "pressed down, shaken together and running over."
Did you ever buy a box of crackers and shake it, and open it, and you got about a third of a box of crackers? But that isn't how it is going to be when the Lord gives, it will be pressed down, shaken together, and still running over. He'll give.
Now, you say, "Yeah, I know what will happen to me. I will give all of my money and the Lord will give me back all spiritual blessings." That might happen, but in verse seven it says, "every man according as he purposes in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, nor of necessity: for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work." And, he will minister (verse 10) "He that ministers seed to the sower will minister bread for your food, and multiply your seed sown, and increase the fruits of your righteousness." Verse 10 is really key: He says He will not only give you back what you sowed; He'll give you back bread for your food--He'll take care of your physical needs when you give, and He'll increase the fruit of your righteousness. It doesn't say that He'll make you wealthy, does it? It says, He'll meet your needs, and He will fill your life with righteousness.
I did notice that most of the verses they used to promote this were out of the Old Testament.
It's very popular doctrine--people want to be rich, they want to be wealthy. The hottest new cult there is, is Terri Cole Whittiker (sp.)--I don't know if you've seen her? She is nothing but a slick Doris Day type Reverend Ike! She is in it for the money. She comes out of "Science of Mind." She's manipulative--she has figured out how to make a fortune and she is "milking" it for every dime that she can get out of it. And she can do it because people will do anything to get rich. People will do anything to get two things: money and health--and if you can promise people health and wealth, they will follow you off the end of the pier--believe me, they will.
Why do you think Jesus told the disciples when He sent them out, "Take no money when you heal," because if they would have taken money, they would have become instant millionaires--people will pay any price for healing--and they could really do it! And they [people] will pay any price, they will invest anything, if they think that they can get rich.
You see, this is what "Reverend Ike" did for years. What he did was, he told these people, "You send me money--you might get rich." And he told story after story, after story about it and what "his" company did was, at random they would pick out people off their mailing list and deliver a new Cadillac to them. They would do that to 100 to 200 people a year, with the millions that were coming in, and then they would have them get up and give a testimony, how that one day there was a new Cadillac delivered in front of their door. And it becomes a lottery system--that's all it is. It is like buying a ticket in a raffle, and you know raffles work and people are gamblers--look at Las Vegas.
So if people think there is a way to get either health or wealth they will do anything, and that kind of doctrine will be popular and people will send money to it like "gangbusters." Oral Roberts has been doing that for thirty years. You ought to read his letters, "If you will send me $25 today, right today, the day you get this letter, I'll promise you that Jesus will give you back $250 within the next six months from an unexpected place." Very typical letter. And you know, you are liable to get $250 back somewhere you didn't expect it. Right? You old Aunt died, or you got an income tax return, or you got a social security check you didn't expect, or whatever. In the long run it hooks people--it's really tragic.
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