What is Tithing?
After his return from the defeat of Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him, the king of Sodom went out to meet him at the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King's Valley). And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. (He was priest of God Most High.) And he blessed him and said, “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth; and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand!” And Abram gave him a tenth of everything. Genesis 14:17-20
Welcome Young Believer! Growing up in the church I somehow came to believe that Tithing is one of the more straightforward principles that we find in Scripture and that it really didn't need much discussion. However, over the last year, I've had several conversations with friends, relatives, and other members of my church that have made me reconsider how important it is to discuss this topic and have a Biblical view of what Tithing is and is not.
The story of Abram's gift to King Melchizedek while returning from rescuing his nephew Lot and defeating the kings who had defeated Sodom pillaging it and taking captives, is maybe one that's easy to gloss over in the grand arc of the Old Testament. However, Paul draws our attention back to this gift in Hebrews translating the mysterious king's name to mean King of Righteousness and the place he is the king of to mean Peace. This is king is unique in another way, in that he is also a priest. For Paul, this paints a beautiful picture of the King and Priest that was to come: Jesus Christ.
For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him, and to him Abraham apportioned a tenth part of everything. He is first, by translation of his name, king of righteousness, and then he is also king of Salem, that is, king of peace. He is without father or mother or genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God he continues a priest forever. Hebrews 7:1-3
The context of this entire story is a bit overwhelming when you really begin to consider what had just happened. Five kings including the King of Sodom had gone to war with four other kings in their valley. The armies of the four kings defeated the King of Sodom and his allies. They took everything of value the people of Sodom owned and all the food they had stored away as well as taking captives. These people were utterly decimated. Abram being informed of this takes 318 men raised and trained in his house, but certainly not a formal army, and pursues the victorious armies of the four kings. He divides his men and attacks in the dead of night taking back everything that had been taken from the defeated people of Sodom. Fresh from this miraculous victory and rejoicing to be united with his nephew and his nephew's family once more Abram comes upon this King and Priest who blesses him. With no further explanation, Abram gives to this King a tenth of the plunder of victory. The understanding of what a Tithe is begins here.
True Tithing is Not Coerced
Notice that King Melchizedek did not even ask for this gift in return for his blessing, but that Abram gave it out of his own free will. Even earlier than this in the Old Testament the sons of Adam and Eve bring their own free will offering to God. Abel brings of the newborn unblemished lambs of his flock and Cain brings some of his harvest from the field. God accepts Abel's offering but rejects the offering of Cain and warns the man that he is very near to sin. What was the difference between the brothers? The attitude in which they brought their offerings to God. Later on, when the Early Church is beginning to grow in Jerusalem there is a great amount of generosity occurring among the members as they share all their belongings with one another, some even selling their homes and giving the money to the Apostles to distribute among those who have need. Seeing the joy that these generous members are giving and receiving, Ananias and Saphira concoct a plan to sell their home and give some of the money to the Apostles allowing everyone to believe it is the full sum. Instead, the couple ends up dropping dead from their deceit as Peter tells Ananias that he has not tried lying to the Apostles but to God! The couple could have just as easily told the truth that they were only giving part of the sum to the church and keeping back some for themselves, in that case, they would have lived to tell the tale but they wanted the praise and admiration of others more than they wanted to honor God.
But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, and with his wife's knowledge he kept back for himself some of the proceeds and brought only a part of it and laid it at the apostles' feet. But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to man but to God.” When Ananias heard these words, he fell down and breathed his last. And great fear came upon all who heard of it. Acts 5:1-5
Tithing is Meant to Be Done in Joy and Faith
Perhaps another famous Tithe would be that of King David. When the wars around his kingdom had settled down and God had established him on his throne in Jerusalem, David realized that while he was blessed to be living in a beautiful new home, the place where the people went to worship God was still in the tents that had traveled with the Israelites through the desert! He asked God to allow him to build a house for Him, but God told David that the task wasn't for him to complete. Instead, God promised that David's son would build a house for the Lord. Throughout his life then, David poured generously into the treasury the rich materials that would be used by his son to build the temple. Sitting in the Temple many generations later, Jesus observed the people coming to give their Tithes to the Lord.
And he sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny. And he called his disciples to him and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” Mark 12:41-44
Tithing is an Invitation to Trust and Honor God With Our Physical Needs
I'm ashamed to tell you that unlike the widow above, I can't even count the times when I've begged forgiveness from God because every last penny in my paycheck is going to pay a bill or buy something I need. Nevermind, that I could have canceled several frivolous streaming subscriptions and given to God at least something out of what I was earning! And when I did tithe though wondering how I was going to make ends meet, God always came through and made those ends meet for me. This is not a get quick rich scheme, the more you give to a church does not mean you will find immeasurable sudden prosperity that is outside God's will for you especially if that is the attitude you're giving in!
God doesn't need us for anything, but we need Him for everything. Whatever we have is given to us by Him, what He asks for in return is our trust that He will continue to care for and provide for us. This last summer I had a conversation with a friend who is a relatively new believer, who was struggling with the concept of tithing because of the many cases of abuse they'd heard of by leaders in the church. Their concerns, of course, were well-founded. What they also admitted was that they worked hard for their money and didn't understand why they should give any of it in the offering plate on Sundays. Trying to understand where they were coming from I pondered my own position and failings on this particular principle. I reasoned that perhaps I understood this form of giving more because my grandparents had begun teaching us the importance of tithing from a very young age by giving their spare change to us to throw into the plate. My friend quickly corrected me! Her grandparents had done the same thing, but they hadn't explained later the concept of giving 10% as my friend began working for themself and was suddenly being asked by their church to give that much it came as a shock to them. I had to consider this for a while too, especially considering how many times I'd given what I could even if it didn't measure up to 10%. When it comes down to it I realized, God isn't really concerned about the percentage but the condition of your heart when you give. It starts with changing how we view our material possessions to begin with. I shared with my friend, that I felt convicted to give the full 10% if not more at times because all of it belonged to God in the first place and He had willingly given me 90% to provide for my needs and do whatever else I desired.
“For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed. From the days of your fathers you have turned aside from my statutes and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you, says the Lord of hosts. But you say, ‘How shall we return?’ Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How have we robbed you?’ In your tithes and contributions. You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you. Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need. I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it will not destroy the fruits of your soil, and your vine in the field shall not fail to bear, says the Lord of hosts. Then all nations will call you blessed, for you will be a land of delight, says the Lord of hosts. Malachi 3:6-12
It is so easy to find yourself trying to fit God and His Word into a box that works for you instead of working to conform yourself to the way Christ has called you to live and know Him by His Word. Sadly this often leads to another dangerous misunderstanding among new believers who zealously want to do all they can to contribute their time and material wealth to the Kingdom. I heard from another friend of mine this last year how their father when he became a Christian did just that. It was an amazing witness to behold, a man so radically changed and in love with Jesus. The problem was that he was giving so much time to serving in Church ministries and giving so much of his paycheck that he was no longer providing for his family and they were making very real sacrifices because of this change. When the man realized that the other men who were serving alongside him in the church were not sacrificing to the same extent, he quickly fell away from going to church altogether and largely went back to living in his old lifestyle. This story struck me as truly tragic because these men who should have been mentoring the new believer among them not only to joyously give to God but also to care for his family left the impression on this new believer and his family that they were content to take his time and material contributions without caring for his material or spiritual wellbeing.
The Church's Mismanagement of Tithing
The tragedy of the man who gave so generously only to walk away and the friend struggling to give because of Church misconduct are only two such stories of how badly the Church at large has made some very grave errors with the offerings that people desire to give to God and expect to be used in the furtherance of His Kingdom. I am very thankful for the church I attend now that is so transparent with what is happening with those contributions because all the Members who are faithful in obediently tithing get to see what God does with whatever amount that might be. It's even to the extent that a few times my Pastor has felt the need to explain why his family purchased a new vehicle or home in the 'price bracket' that they did because they don't want people in the church to feel like their being used to make the leadership wealthy... and we're a tiny start-up church!
As you begin to look through your own budget and ask God what He has called you to give, do so prayerfully and with joy. Keep in mind in your prayers these spiritual wounds that are infecting the attitude of the Church's giving across the nation. Reflect on how much more effective the Church would be in getting the good news out if Christians from members to leaders had a Biblical view of giving. In the U.S. before the Great Depression brought about so many government social programs, the people of a community turned to their church when they were in need because they knew the people there were called to give aid in whatever way they could and were obedient to God's Word in their generosity... at least more so than the way in which we're struggling with this now. That change of focus from seeking help in God's people to seeking help in the government, I would argue has dramatically transformed our nation and not for the better.
Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 2 Corinthians 9:7
Who knew that such a difference could be made by obeying or not obeying one simple command in God's Word?!
There is so much more we could go into on this topic, so if you have more questions or thoughts tithing, please leave them in the comments or hop over to the forum to start a deeper discussion there. I highly encourage you to find a mentor in the faith, if you haven't already, who can help personally walk you through many of these issues as you grow into a mature believer. This is one journey you were never meant to take alone!