What deep waters I am about to wade into! Care to join me? It’s always deep in the sea of money, wouldn’t you say? The question that comes up so often among Christians is such: are we still obligated to the tithe, or are we simply to be gracious givers? Personally, I believe in the tithe. But I believe that the tithe is given by the very grace of God. Here is why.
It is often argued that tithe was a part of the Mosaic law as a ceremonial law. Since Jesus fulfilled the law, then we are no longer under such a law, and are free to simply give graciously. I don’t deny it was part of the Mosaic. It’s clear that it was, but what often is overlooked is that apparently the concept of tithing was pre-law. When Abraham rescued his nephew Lot from captors, along with many others, they brought back the spoils of war. They were met by Melchizedek, a type of Christ in the Old Testament. “And Abram gave him a tenth of everything,” (Genesis 14:20b, ESV). Is it not strange that Abraham knew to give a tithe? Either he picked 10% out of thin air or it had been established in paganism or he already knew what God required. I would venture to say that God did not see Abraham’s gift and then decide to make it law. It is more likely that Abraham, the friend of God, already knew what God required, though there was no law to instruct him.
The writer of Hebrews clearly tells us that Jesus was of the priestly order of Melchizedek, greater than Moses and greater than Aaron. Under a new priest comes a new law, the writer wrote (Hebrews 8:12) but I do not see this involving the tithe, since the tithe was instituted with Melchizedek hundreds of years before the Mosaic law was established. If it was established with the type (Melchizedek), then perhaps it should remain when the antitype (Jesus) comes.
Jacob also vowed to give a tithe to God at Bethel. “And this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God’s house. And of all that you give me I will give a full tenth to you,” (Genesis 28:22, ESV). Some would argue that Abraham and Jacob are exceptions and not the norm. Perhaps they are right. However, if Jacob kept the vow (and there is no reason to believe he didn’t), then this was the norm–at least for Jacob. Again the question needs to be asked: why 10%? From what place did that figure come?
I have also heard the argument that if we were to give a “real tithe” then we would be giving 20-30% of our income. Basically the argument goes like this. The first tithe was a tithe that we tend to think of (giving to the temple). The second tithe was to be used to hold a feast for the family in Jerusalem. To me, though the word tithe or tenth might be used, it is not in the same category as the tithe to the temple. This is was more like a party that should not be skimped on, as it was a celebration unto God. The third tithe was only paid every three years, but not to the temple, but within ones own city to help the foreigners and the poor. This is much closer to our local and state taxes than a tithe. So I still maintain that the tithe (that is most similar to what we think of as a tithe, not a party requirement or a welfare tax) was 10%.
But what about gracious giving? Aren’t we to simply give graciously? Yes, we are. But I once heard a pastor preaching (unfortunately, I cannot remember his name) who brought up that grace goes beyond law. Law states no murdering, but grace states that we are not to be angry/wrathful toward our brother. Law states no adultery, but grace states that we are not to lust. His argument was simply that grace goes beyond law. So even if the tithe was strictly law, then gracious giving would go beyond the tithe. Gracious giving would not be less than 10%, but greater than 10%.
But I believe that while we give the tithe, we do so out of grace. Not simply because grace goes beyond the tithe, but because it is by grace that I give. My life was changed completely by God’s grace over me. That includes how I spend my money. I am no longer the selfish-spender I once was. By grace I see that there is more to church and to God’s kingdom than just myself. I see the needy, the hungry, the lost, the dying, and the grace that God placed in my heart wells up within me and I cannot help but give.
Is that not what Paul means in 2 Corinthians? “We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord,” (8:1-3, ESV).
It would seem that these poor churches, being filled with grace, saw the need and could not help but give. That’s what grace giving is about. Before grace, they would not have cared, but after grace they cared enough to abandon self-security and self-comfort and give. No one does that apart from God’s grace upon their own hearts. It should be noted however that this giving was for those not in their own church. This was for the saints elsewhere (pun intended). So then, what is it that was given to their own church? Was anything given? I know it’s speculation, but I would speculate that they did.
Now the question that inevitably comes up when mentioning tithe: should we give gross or net. I’m a gross guy (pun intended). Even though we do not take home our full paychecks (taxes, social security, 401K, health insurance), we still benefit from the full paycheck. We still have government (state police, statesmen, etc.) that we benefit from taxes. We still have retirement security that grows interest (social security excepted) for our future. We still have health insurance that helps pay for bills when necessary. Since we benefit from these, I would say we ought to pay tithe from the gross.
So it is time to come out of the deep waters. I’m not sure if I helped or if I stirred the mud, but at least we’re on dry land again. So what do you think? Are we under a tithe or just gracious giving? Leave a comment. I’d love to hear from you.