Principles of Tithing
Tithing – a hotly debated topic / can offend people with set ideas either way. Some churches preach “you must tithe”, some churches teach “complete freedom”. Some avoid the topic entirely because it is too controversial. But somehow, in all of the debate, the principles of the Bible about giving get forgotten.
Principles that lead us to one very important conclusion: It’s not about the tithe. It’s all about the reason WHY.
Our aim today is NOT to enter into the debate, but to explore some of the key “principles of the tithe” as they relate to “giving to God”, because when you get a real understanding about this, it becomes one of the most exciting and most motivating topics of the Bible –
· These principles can completely change the way you think about God and relate to Him,
· They can radically change your whole world,
· and you feel motivated to get involved in “changing the world” for the people around you too…
Tithing did not originate with the OT laws and statutes. It is not something that came into being under the law of Moses. Abraham tithed (Gen 14:20). He lived 400 years before the Moasic laws. Jacob tithed (Gen 28:22) he also lived hundreds of years before Moses.
Nevertheless, the time of Moses was when the principles of giving “a tenth” were written into Jewish law. (The main reference for this is Deut chapters 14-18) and this covers not only what to give, but also where and in what spirit the giving was intended.
But we will start our journey today at about 430BC, more than 1,000 years after the Old Testament laws were established by Moses.
The Book of Malachi – a short book, and the most often quoted book for the topic of “tithing”. We are going to move around quite a bit, but keep a finger in Malachi 3.
Malachi means “my messenger”, a term that was used to describe both Old Testament priests and prophets.
Malachi 3:6-8: “A Call to Repentance”
6 “I am the Lord, and I do not change. That is why you descendants of Jacob are not already completely destroyed. Ever since the days of your ancestors, you have scorned my laws and failed to obey them. Now return to me, and I will return to you,” says the Lord Almighty.
“But you ask, ‘How can we return when we have never gone away?’
8 “Should people cheat God? Yet you have cheated me!
“But you ask, ‘What do you mean? When did we ever cheat you?’
“You have cheated me of the tithes and offerings due to me.”
First point to note – this passage is not just talking specifically about tithes, but of tithes and offerings, so it is talking about “giving to God” in general.
To understand this passage, we have to look into the context and background of tithes and offerrings and find out what is God really angry about.
When we do that we discover that…. POINT-1
1 It’s not just about money, it’s also about ministry.
(v5) “The purpose of my covenant with the Levites was to bring life and peace, and this is what I gave them. This called for reverence from them, and they greatly revered me and stood in awe of my name. 6 They passed on to the people all the truth they received from me. They did not lie or cheat; they walked with me, living good and righteous lives, and they turned many from lives of sin. 7 The priests’ lips should guard knowledge, and people should go to them for instruction, for the priests are the messengers of the Lord Almighty. 8 But not you! You have left God’s paths. Your ‘guidance’ has caused many to stumble into sin. You have corrupted the covenant I made with the Levites,” says the Lord Almighty. 9 “So I have made you despised and humiliated in the eyes of all the people. For you have not obeyed me but have shown partiality in your interpretation of the law.”
The situation was dire – the priests had become corrupt and as a result, the people had lost their guides and had drifted into corruption too. The people had lost confidence in the priests.
In this passage God himself gives a very succinct definition of the role and function of the priests.
o “…pass on to the people all the truth they received from me…”
o “…turn many people from lives of sin…”
o “…guard knowledge, and people should go to them for instruction…”
o “…messengers of the Lord Almighty…”
In our modern church, the role of the “ministers of the church”, such as it was then, has changed in only one thing – the ministers are no longer the only way that you can interface with God. (Hebrews chapter 7-8).
Because of Jesus sacrifice we can now relate directly with the Almighty God, and He with us. We no longer have to have a priest intervene for us.
God is a personal God. We can know Him personally. We can walk with Him and talk with Him, sometimes we can feel His presence, but even when we can’t feel it, the Bible says that he walks beside us, His hand on our shoulder… (Paslm 37:23-24)
The rest of the function of the “church” is just the same today as it was then:
Nehemiah 13v10-12 (a “problem solver, doing a “cleanup”)
10 I also discovered that the Levites had not been given what was due them, so they and the singers who were to conduct the worship services had all returned to work their fields. 11 I immediately confronted the leaders and demanded, “Why has the Temple of God been neglected?” Then I called all the Levites back again and restored them to their proper duties. 12 And once more all the people of Judah began bringing their tithes of grain, new wine, and olive oil to the Temple storerooms.
This was recorded at about the same time, 440BC, (in fact some believe that Nehemiah and Malachi were contemporaries.
The principle here is a very simple one… without money, ministry suffers…
So to summarise our passage in Malachi 3
o the priests had become corrupt, and as a result were despised by the people and the people, without a guide and proper ministry, had lost their way.
o In their corruption, they stopped making tithes and offerings to God.
o But, more importantly, in doing this the people had stopped giving God the honour that he was due. (which leads to POINT-2):
2 The “tithe” is not as much about giving money as about giving your heart.
Malachi 2:1 : “Listen, you priests; this command is for you! 2 Listen to me and take it to heart. Honour my name,” says the Lord Almighty…”
The warning that rings out again and again in the book of Malachi is the need to give proper honour, worthy honour to God. God makes it even clearer in the preceding chapter, that it’s not about the money!
“I wish that someone among you would shut the Temple doors so that these worthless sacrifices could not be offered! I am not at all pleased with you,” says the Lord Almighty, “and I will not accept your offerings. 11 But my name is honored by people of other nations from morning till night. All around the world they offer sweet incense and pure offerings in honor of my name. For my name is great among the nations,” says the Lord Almighty. 12 “But you dishonor my name with your actions…”
What does it mean to Honour
- A mark of respect; to pay tribute to.
- We honour God when we give FIRST FRUITS, sample of the best, not the worst, not the last remnant.
- Paying a tribute is as much about HOW we give as WHAT we give.
- The WHOLE book of Malachi is all about getting right with God. It’s about getting back to giving Him the honour that is due to Him.
Malachi 3v7 “…Now return to me, and I will return to you,” says the Lord Almighty…
- Tithing, or giving money, seems to be the last bastion of getting right with God. It’s as if there is a gradual process of drawing closer, (learning, repenting, and doing), that giving has a large part of finishing off:
- Matthew 6:21: “Wherever your treasure is, there your heart and thoughts will also be.”
- Matthew 6:24: “No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”
Simon the Sorceror
I’m reminded of the story of Simon the Sorceror in the book of Acts. He witnessed the amazing power of the Holy Spirit and wanted it for himself, at any price…
Acts 8:20: But Peter replied, “May your money perish with you for thinking God’s gift can be bought! 21 You can have no part in this, for your heart is not right before God.’
Yes, the 2nd principle from Malachi is a simple one - it’s not about the money, it’s about the heart.
And how would a generous and faithful God respond to heartfelt honour and worship from His dearly loved children? Point -3…
3 The “tithe” is not as much about sacrifice as about releasing blessing.
10 Bring all the tithes into the storehouse so there will be enough food in my Temple. If you do,” says the Lord Almighty, “I will open the windows of heaven for you. I will pour out a blessing so great you won’t have enough room to take it in! Try it! Let me prove it to you!
Some thoughts on how tithing brings a blessing….
- Tithing feeds the ministers, so they are able to minister properly, and the people are blessed spiritually.
- Because of their spiritual health the people receive the favour of the Lord and are blessed materially.
- Often material blessings are in the shape of inspiration and opportunities… that we can turn into money.
Phil Pringle goes further – he teaches that individuals in the church who do not give end up being “blocked up” from learning or growing spiritually. They eventually drift away.
- As you seek God and seek to please Him, He reveals Himself and you see and hear things that you otherwise wouldn’t. (Your ears are opened, your eyes made to see…)
- You receive a spiritual blessing - It changes you.
If you are struggling in this area, seeking but not getting answers, there is a scriptural principle to this – open your heart to God and He will respond to you.
“…there you will search again for the Lord your God. And if you search for him with all your heart and soul, you will find him…”
· Giving to God with the right motives unlocks something in your heart… and God promises to respond.
Is it the Tithe that draws the Blessing? What is it that God is Blessing?
The passage in Malachi 3 clearly and directly associates blessings with tithing. But is it correct to say that it is the tithe that draws the blessing?
Deut 5:29 “Oh, that they would always have hearts like this, that they might fear me and obey all my commands! If they did, they and their descendants would prosper forever.”
· Clearly there are blessings for things other than tithing – the clear point in this verse is that it is more about the condition of the heart – the act of obedience that demonstrates a heart that yearns to please God.
· It’s not about the sacrifice:
“But Samuel replied, “What is more pleasing to the Lord: your burnt offerings and sacrifices or your obedience to his voice? Obedience is far better than sacrifice. Listening to him is much better than offering the fat of rams. “
Let the Lord’s people show him reverence, for those who honour him will have all they need.
A personal Challenge from God
There is an interesting challenge from God – “try it! Let me prove it to you!” (Mal 3v10) No where else in scripture are we invited to “test” God in a promise.
· God is trying to get your attention… He has good things in store for you, if only you would realise it!
· This is not an invitation to put a dollar each way –some in an investment scheme, some in the offering, some on Lotto, in the hope that one of them will bring a return, or a “blessing”…
· There is a spiritual principle here – your WILL can lead your HEART.
o “ I have DECIDED that I will seek God and keep seeking Him until I find Him”
!! 4 The “tithe” is not a matter of obligation but an expression of love.
13 “You have said terrible things about me,” says the Lord.
“But you say, ‘What do you mean? How have we spoken against you?’
14 “You have said, ‘What’s the use of serving God? What have we gained by obeying his commands or by trying to show the Lord Almighty that we are sorry for our sins? …
v16 Then those who feared the Lord spoke with each other, and the Lord listened to what they said. In his presence, a scroll of remembrance was written to record the names of those who feared him and loved to think about him. 17 “They will be my people,” says the Lord Almighty.
Can we say that this passage is just about the tithe? God is listening to their conversations, and using what He hears to find out who truly honours Him and loves Him.
We always have a choice whether we will worship God… in the words of Joshua:
“…choose this day whom you will serve… but for me and my family, we will serve the Lord” (Josh 24:15)
Jesus himself makes it clear that there are more important things than the tithe…
v42 “But how terrible it will be for you Pharisees! For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest part of your income,* but you completely forget about justice and the love of God. You should tithe, yes, but you should not leave undone the more important things…
v46 “…how terrible it will be for you experts in religious law! For you crush people beneath impossible religious demands, and you never lift a finger to help ease the burden.
· “Religiously correct”: Tiniest part: Greek “to tithe the mint and the rue and every herb”
o The Pharisees were religiously strict in their observance of the law, but they missed the point. God is more interested in your heart than in your tithe – a tithe will not buy you salvation.
· “…crush people beneath impossible religious demands…and you never life a finger to help ease the burden…”
o the role of the religious leaders was (and still is) to guide and help and shepherd the flock, not to put heavy burdens on people.
· It’s not about an obligation to tithe -- it’s all about the heart of the tither
o V42 – you completely forget about justice and the love of God…
o V41 – give to the needy… and you will be clean all over…
· Don’t say you shouldn’t tithe!!! JESUS clearly says that it is right to tithe! But don’t get it out of context – there are things that are more important to God than the offering you bring… or whether you tithe a strict 10% of your income.
· The Apostle Paul teaches the same: – don’t neglect the importance of the ministry of giving, but it’s not about the obligation…
Since you excel in so many ways—you have so much faith, such gifted speakers, such knowledge, such enthusiasm, and such love for us—now I want you to excel also in this gracious ministry of giving. 8 I am not saying you must do it, even though the other churches are eager to do it. This is one way to prove your love is real.
Gal 5:1 “So Christ has really set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don’t get tied up again in slavery to the law”
The principle is again simple – it’s not about any obligation to give, but a heart that loves God just cannot help but give to the things that are important to God.
!! 5 Closing:
· It’s not just about money, it’s also about ministry.
· The “tithe” is not as much about giving money as about giving your heart.
· The “tithe” is not as much about sacrifice as about releasing blessing.
· The “tithe” is not a matter of obligation but an expression of love.
The Church is the primary vehicle for accomplishing the work of the Kingdom.
I need to tell you that as a church our level of giving is reasonably good. Over the last few weeks, you have heard that if we had more resources we could do more ministry – and I suspect that that will always be the case!!
But we have a responsibility to teach you the principles of the Bible – principles that change lives.
If there was a truly biblical model, the whole community would give generously directly to the work of the church – those who had more would give more so that those who had less could give “as they are able”, but everyone would do their part.
· If that happened, then the floodgates of heaven would be opened and the spiritual and material blessings of God would flow like a river…
· To the church and overflowing to the whole community.
· That’s the way God designed it, the way it is meant to be.
· That’s what we pray for, isn’t it – to see more salvations here? Spiritual blessings? God moving more in our midst?
· It all starts here in this house, with learning how to honour God in the way that we give to Him…
JUST NOTES PAST THIS POINT
But this is the new covenant I will make
with the people of Israel on that day, says the Lord:
I will put my laws in their minds
so they will understand them,
and I will write them on their hearts
so they will obey them.
I will be their God,
and they will be my people.
The issue with the Tithe – is that it is such an issue. Whether of not you tithe 10% is up to you. Do or don’t do. You are free to choose. It is not about a religious requirement or the setting of rules. But the principles of giving and tithing are as relevant today as they were in the days of Moses.
Under the new covenant I do not NEED to tithe – it will not buy me a place in heaven, because I am saved solely by the blood of Christ – but I WANT to follow the pattern of making generous, regular offerings to my God.
I have a choice. The Bible says that the act of generous and regular giving to the church is good for me and good for my family, and good for the work of the church and brings blessings that overflow into the lives of the whole community, so OF COURSE I will do it.
A summary of the principles of tithing:
· The giving of regular, consistent offerings to God is good and right and has a specific purpose (Deut 14v23 “…to teach you always to fear the Lord…”)
· We should never appear without an offering, “…as we are able…” – this is dishonourable to God. [I think it’s okay to make auto payments, but when you come to church and we do the offering, make a particular prayer of offering to God]
· The offering should be a sample of the FIRST FRUITS – in other words, the FIRST money, the FIRST of profits, the BEST, not the last, not the least.
· God has given you the money to make an offering with – that part is not yours. What a loving God! He knows how important it is for you and has given you the means to your own blessing!
· The Old testament model of 10% of income (before tax) is the ONLY biblical guideline for how much but you have discretion (“…as you are able…”). I recommend that you seek God for a sense of peace about how much AND re-shape your life, re-prioritise life so that you can afford to regularly give that amount.
· There is also discretion about where and how it is offered, BUT we should carry our share of responsibility to provide for the church we attend (we have a shared responsibility to ensure that the ministers are well fed so that WE can be spiritually fed and cared for.
· Offerrings are an indicator of the health of our heart to honour God – if we do not honour God, it usually shows in the way that we give.
· It’s not about the giving, nor about how much – it’s about having a heart to please God.
• A tenth of income, each year, eaten in a ceremony of thankfulness to God. Eaten together in the presence of God. (Deut 14:22-23)
• “The comfortable cheerful using of what God has given us, with temperance and sobriety, is really the honouring of God with it. Contentment, holy joy, and thankfulness, make every meal a religious feast…” [Matthew Henry]
• Each third year, the tenth was given to the Levites (priests), poor, orphans, widows and foreigners (who could own no land). (Deut 14:28-29)
SO, if the church is the modern equivalent of the Levites and priests (there is a strong case for this – God’s “ministers”), then the church should receive 10% from each person’s income, every third year. (3.3%)
It was the Levites who would give a tenth of the tithe they received to God, for the Temple.
BUT there were other offerings – sin offerings, vows, free will offerings, – every firstborn male, of both cattle and sheep belonged to God.
Festival of Harvests – the best of the first of each year’s crop was offered to God. “…a freewill offering based on the proportion you have received from Him…” (Deut 16v10
• Used to have a celebration
• Deut 16:17 “All must give as they are able, according to the blessings given to them by the Lord your God.”
SO the church would probably receive MUCH more than 3.3%
What do we tithe. [Not “What do we HAVE to tithe”]
One tenth ? [Proportionate giving, not tithing is the consistent NT standard] [Apostle Paul never once in the NT mentions a fixed percentage… the emphasis is on a voluntary, regular, proportional amount… 1Cor 16:2 … but this is for a special one-off gift to Christians, rather than a regular giving to the local church? In Jerusalem Acts 11:29, same again a special one off gift
2Cor 8:3 “…they gave not only what they could afford, but much more…”
“…of the first fruits of all your increase. (Proverbs 3:9-10)
Once we have given God the tithe that belongs to Him, we can begin to give offerings to the Lord.
But I don’t have the cash! Then pay it off to God as diligently as you can.
Don’t get yourself into a position where you cannot afford to tithe – when you change the way you think about tithing, it becomes a priority and you choose to go without some things so that you can tithe.
Make a plan to get back to the point where you can tithe…
Does this church make it mandatory to tithe?
No. It is entirely up to you whether or not you tithe. If you don’t tithe, it won’t mean you can’t come to services. You can still be involved and enjoy all the things of church life. We’ll still pray for you, if you get sick.
And we’ll still do what we can to disciple you and teach you what the bible says, including what it says about tithing.
There is one thing to note – in choosing leaders in the church we do look at whether people are good, regular givers. Why? Because God is more interested in heart than He is in talent, and people’s attitude to money is demonstrated in how they handle money. If that principle is important to God, then we want to use the same principle in selecting people for leadership…
But I give my tithe to different places.
Giving is like sowing – (1) you reap what you sow. (2) Where you sow is where you will reap.(Isaiah 32:20) (3) The quality you sow is the quality you reap (Mal 1:8) (4) The measure you sow is the measure you reap.
DID JESUS TITHE?
He lived under the Moasic law. He did not sin. He must have tithed…
Eg when he came to be baptised, he did it to fulfil the law.
BUT this is a dangerous way to make theological principles.
Jesus also went out of His way to CHANGE the laws relating to the Sabbath. So he effectively BROKE those laws…
You cannot buy the favour of God – the blessings flow towards hearts that are earnestly seeking to please Him, and the act of giving is a key indicator of such a heart (but not the only indicator – it is possible to give with wrong motives, would the blessings flow then…) Reference Mal 1:10, God says that he would accept no offering from the people…there is a list of other abominations going on too…
The issue with the Tithe – is that it is such an issue. Do or don’t do. You are free to choose. But whichever you choose, you should not ignore the biblical principles, which are:
· Everything that you have has been given to you by God
· The first fruits of all that God has given to you belong to Him – He has given them so that you will have enough to give back.
o Regular, consistent planned giving.
o Proportional to income and means.
· God longs for you to seek Him and find Him, walk with Him and align your thoughts, desires and actions with His thoughts, desires and actions.
· The act of giving back is an essential part of exercising faith. It exercises the muscles of the heart and enables you to grow closer to God.
· Those who walk with God will know the blessings of God, which sometimes includes material blessings (particularly in a corporate setting).
· God has gone out of His way to give you the freedom to choose.
o Freedom to choose what is most important.
o Freedom from worry and anxiety.
o Freedom from servitude to material things.
o Freedom to utilize material possessions for the benefit of God’s Kingdom
o Freedom to enjoy material blessings without the bondage of materialism.
If there was a truly biblical model, the whole community would give at least 10% directly to the work of the church – those who had more would give more so that those who had less could give less, but the whole community would average at least 10%.
· If that happened, then the floodgates of heaven would be opened and the spiritual and material blessings of God would flow like a river…