In our modern, competitive world, nothing is free. We must pay for everything we receive, housing, food, water, medical treatment, education and even death (have you seen what they are charging the poor bereaved families to bury their loved ones?). So the question arises, what about our religion? Shouldn't we have to pay for that too? After all, the person who delivers our sermons or baptises our children has to be paid don't they? But what if we are sick or poor, do we still have to pay, and how much? What does God himself say on this delicate subject.
Today religion is one of the biggest businesses in the world. People pay billions to leaders and religious organisations for spiritual instruction, hope, encouragement and various religious services. Many religions promise to bless the one who pays, some even go so far as to guarrantee prosperity and freedom from problems or sickness. Yet, in every religion we still find the poor, the sick and the sad.
The most common form of religious payment is the “Tithe”. So let us look at what a “Tithe” is and then ask if it is still necessary, according to the Bible.
What is a “tithe”? Who invented it, and why? Are worshippers of God required to pay a tithe today? Since the word “tithe” originates from the Bible, it is appropriate to investigate what the Bible says on this matter.
A tithe was one tenth of a family's income, be it from cattle, crops or cash. The tithe was meant as a tribute and expression of thanks to God for all that he provides in life. Although there are two examples of voluntary tithes given before Moses' time, it was the Mosaic law which officially introduced the tithing arrangement (Leviticus 27.30). Although this was a requirement laid down by God himself, there was no actual penalty for not paying a tithe, other than a guilty conscience. During the seventh year (the Sabbath year), no tithe was due since the Israelites were commanded to let the land rest in the seventh year.
There is evidence in the the Bible that there were actually two tithes (Deuteronomy 12.4-7, 11, 17,18) . The tithe on cattle only applied to the increase, or additional cattle. One of the tithes was used to support the Levite tribe and the priesthood who were kept separate for holy work and did not get involved in raising cattle or growing crops. The other tithe was used to feed families visiting Jerusalem for the national festivals. Some of it was also used to feed the widows and orphans of Israel.
But is tithing expected of God's people today and, if not, are people expected to share their belongings and wealth with God or anyone? Also, does a tithe guarantee success and wealth, as some Christian groups claim?
Tithing was a part of the Mosaic law, a written code given to Moses by God himself. That law was read to the nation of Israel on a regular basis and formed part of what is known as the Old Covenant. A covenant is a legal agreement between two parties, in this case, God and the nation of Israel. It was not binding on anyone outside of that nation. It should be remembered that, the main purpose of the tithe arrangement was to support the temple and the priesthood. God's part of that agreement was that, if the Israelites obeyed his laws, and gave him a tenth of their produce every year, he would bless them and protect them. The promise of a blessing, at Malachi 3.10, applied to Israel only and ended when the nation was abandoned by God.
When the leaders of the ancient nation of Israel rejected Jesus as the Messiah and new High priest, Jesus warned them that “behold, your house (the temple) is left unto you desolate” (Matthew 23.38), and that “the kingdom of God shall be taken from you and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof” (Matthew 21.43). In the year 70 CE the Roman armies attacked Jerusalem and destroyed the holy temple. There has never been another temple. In fact, Paul told the Athenians, “God that made the world, and all things therein ......... dwelleth not in temples made with hands” (Acts 17.24). The destruction of the temple and the system of worship in Israel was prophesied by Jesus and was an indication of divine disapproval by God.
Later the Apostle Paul was granted special insight into the new arrangement (the New Covenant) that Jesus had instituted. Paul informs Christians at Colossians 2.14, that Jesus has “blotted out the handwriting of ordinances (the Mosaic law), that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way” or, in other words, Jesus fulfilled and ended the law. Paul goes on to explain that Jesus now acts as a High priest for all Christians and that the new temple is in heaven itself (Hebrews 9.24). Paul reveals that under the new Covenant, worshippers are no longer governed by the Mosaic law. They no longer had to observe Sabbaths, sacrifices and all the other rituals which were “a shadow of the things to come” (Colossians 2.17). He explains that “the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ” (Galatians 3.24), but he goes on to reveal that “we are no longer under a schoolmaster (the Mosaic law)” but that, “circumcision is that of the heart by spirit, and not by a written code (the Mosaic law)” (Romans 2.28). Paul then helps us to understand a Christian's responsibilities when he says “He which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly, and he that soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully.” If tithing (10% of income) was still in force, why would Paul talk about how much a person gives and receives as if the giver had a choice on the amount? Paul goes on to say “Every man, according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give” and that the giver should do so “not grudgingly, or of necessity”, or, as another translation puts it “willingly, not under compulsion (or law)” (2 Corinthians 9.6,7). Christians are not under the Mosaic law and, therefore, are not under the tithe requirement.
There is no record of the early Christian movement, after the death of Jesus, requesting, or collecting tithes. Paul confirmed that Christians “are not under law but under undeserved kindness” (Romans 6.14). In fact, in response to Jewish Christians who were insisting that Christians still had to keep the Mosaic law, Paul wrote “how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire to be again in bondage? (under the Mosaic law)” (Galatians 4.9). When the Apostles met in Jerusalem to resolve a dispute about circumcision (part of the requirement of the Mosaic law), they issued a decree, inspired by God's holy spirit, which said “to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things; that ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication” (Acts 15.28.29). Note that there is no mention of Sabbaths, sacrifices or tithes.
Some claim that Paul does urge Christians to tithe but, when Paul speaks of a “tithe” he is referring to a spiritual sacrifice “the fruit of our lips” or as Hosea puts it “the calves of our lips” (Hosea 14.2). This is done when a Christian speaks about God and testifies about his kingdom, and Paul describes it as a “sacrifice of praise to God” (Hebrews 13.15). As Paul wrote, “with the mouth one makes public declaration” (Hebrews 10.23).
There are several examples in the Bible which help to prove that worshippers should not expect, or accept financial rewards for serving God, including tithes. One of them is at 2 Kings 5.9 where Naaman is cured of leprosy by God's prophet Elisha. Naaman gratefully offers gifts of wealth to Elisha but Elisha rejects them because he wants God to receive the glory for curing this man. Later, when Elisha's secretary, Gehazi, craftily accepts the gifts on Elisha's behalf, he is condemned by God and is struck by leprosy.
In the book of Acts, chapter 8, a man named Simon tries to offer some money to the Apostles if they will teach him how to perform miracles. The Apostles are deeply offended and Peter warns him, “thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money.”
Some people claim that religious leaders and instructors today, such as Pastors and priests, should be paid tithes to prevent them from doing secular work, but the Apostle Paul did secular work, as a tent maker and he went out of his way to avoid becoming a financial burden to the congregations (Acts 18.3,4; 1 Thessalonians 2.9). Jesus himself owned nothing. His Apostles did rely on the kindness and generosity of others from time to time but, it was God's spirit and people's gratitude which inspired others to give to the Apostles, not a law. Jesus promised that if they “seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness; all these things (food, shelter, clothing) will be added unto you” (Matthew 6.33). Paul wrote “having food and raiment (clothing), let us be therewith content” (not fast cars, big houses and large bank balances) (1 Timothy 6.8). Paul then warns “they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare.” If any doubt remains, consider Paul's frank declaration at 2 Thessalonians 3.10 where He says “If anyone does not want to work, neither let him eat.”
On one occasion, a rich young man asked Jesus what he should do to inherit everlasting life. Jesus told him to sell everything he owned. But what did Jesus tell the man to do with the money? Give a tenth to God? Give it all to Jesus or the temple? No, he told him to give it all to the poor (Luke 18.18). Of course, Jesus was not condemning wealth but, rather, the pursuit of wealth and, Jesus could see that this man was too attached to his wealth to devote himself fully to God. Jesus always showed deep concern for the poor but, He also warned us realistically that “ye have the poor always with you” (Matthew 26.11), at least until the kingdom comes so, we could never solve all the problems of the poor.
On another occasion, in the book of Acts, there was a famine and the Apostles were arranging a collection for the families affected (they would not have done so if tithing was in place). When a man named An·a·ni′as tried to hide some of the money they had raised, he was condemned and killed by God's power. But notice that he was not giving a tenth but “some of the price” (Acts 5.3).
The founder of Christianity, Jesus himself, commanded his followers “freely ye have received, freely give” (Matthew 10.8). Jesus did not make money from his teachings or miracles, neither did his followers. The Apostle James confirms that we are not under the tithe law any longer when he says “The form of worship that is clean and undefiled from the standpoint of our God is this; to look after orphans and widows in their tribulation, and to keep oneself without spot from the world” (James 1.27). Note that James makes no mention of tithes as a requirement by God.
Far from guaranteeing Christians prosperity and security, Jesus made it clear that his followers would be “no part of the world” (John 17.14), and that they would be “hated by all nations” (Matthew 24). Peter warned that anyone who had the courage to become one of Jesus' followers would “be spoken of abusively” (1 Peter 4.4). Jesus recognised that many would have to give up families, property and wealth to become his followers (Matthew 10.29). Paul described higher education, prestige, fame and wealth as "dung" (Pilippians 3.8).
Worship of God is built around unselfish love, not rigid laws. Jesus is the superlative example of unselfishness. He said “I surrender my soul willingly, no one takes it from me.” Jesus did everything for his Father and people willingly, not because of a law requirement. There is no place for tithing in today's worship. God's people should give (to those in need) whenever they can afford it, however much they can afford, as often as possible, not just once a year. Paul went as far as to say that, anything we earn in excess of our daily needs (not wants) should be set aside to help others (Ephesians 4.28).
When someone gives under compulsion, because a Pastor or Minister instructs him to, there is no praise or glory in it, and those that are in need do not necessarily benefit from it,“even the tax collectors do the same” said Jesus. But when a person gives generously, voluntarily, out of love and concern for their fellow human, then God is glorified and Jesus' wonderful example is imitated.