The Purpose of the Tithe
There is something powerful about worshiping God systematically with our substance. It is a constant act of worship revealing our faith, God’s ownership, and our submission. It takes faith to give ten percent of your increase off the top. It constantly reminds us that God has ownership over our lives. It also requires submission to God’s authority and trust in his Church on the earth. To tithe today is to discern and embrace Christ Church as His place of authority and worship.
Means of Submission
One can’t regularly tithe without submitting to authority. It requires trust in the body of Christ. It acknowledges that God provides an ordained receipt of the tithe through the local church. The church is in every locale where believers live out life in submission to one another and Christ’s government through local leaders, called elders of the church.
The fact that Abraham tithed before the law demonstrates that God established the tithe and provided a recipient of His tithe before the ceremonial requirements of the law were established (Gen. 14:20). The tithe shows ownership and declares plainly a life of faith. It was an act of worship and faith when Abraham offered his tithe to Melchizedek. When a person tithes, he is saying, “God is my source.”
The Bible makes it clear the tithe belongs to God. “Will a man rob God? Yet you have robbed Me! But you say, ‘In what way have we robbed You?’ In tithes and offerings” (Mal. 3:8). You cannot rob someone of something that is not theirs. Leviticus tells us, “And all the tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land or of the fruit of the tree, is the LORD’S. It is holy to the LORD” (Lev. 27:30). The tithe is the Lord’s. It could also be said that we rob God today under the New Testament when we refuse to not only tithe but to praise Him and give Him our obedience. All our life belongs to him.
Ownership of the tithe is demonstrated in Leviticus 27:30-34. Here, instruction is given for a person to redeem some of his tithe if he so chooses. When it came time to tithe off of the increase of the heard, the Levite would corral all the animals from the increase of the previous year into a fenced area. Every tenth one belonged to the Lord. If by chance one of the owner’s best potential breeders came up as one of the tenth, God allowed him to redeem it by giving another animal plus 20 percent. If the owner tried to finagle and get another animal lined up in its place, then he had to pay both the one he was trying to keep and the one with which he was trying to trade.God was showing ownership in that every 10th part belonged to Him, and it was not theirs to keep.
If the tithe belongs to the Lord then He has provided an ordained recipient of the tithe. In explaining the priesthood of Christ, the writer of Hebrews points out the importance of Melchizedek. He shows “how great this man was” (Heb. 7:4), to whom Abraham gave a tithe or tenth. Jesus is of the order of priesthood of Melchizedek. In Hebrews, we see that Jesus was present figuratively as the recipient of the tithe of Abraham. Today, all those of faith are sons of Abraham and pay tithe to Christ in the priesthood of Melchizedek. Under the New Testament, the same validity remains as He receives the tithe in the Church under the same priesthood.
We can use this same argument to show that the ordained recipient of the tithe not only validates tithing but also points to the authority structure of Christ in His church. It is difficult for those who do not discern the Body of Christ to see just how important this aspect can be. That is why tithing often is an authority issue more than anything else. It requires one to see Christ as the receiver of the tithe in His church and to trust His Church.
In all instances, God himself is the receiver of the tithe. With that in mind, it must be seen that God provides a recipient of His tithe. As we have mentioned Abraham, God provided His own recipient, “one without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life; but made like unto the Son of God” (Heb. 7:3). The lesser gave tithe to the greater, and the greater blessed the lesser.
Under the law, God also gave specific instructions regarding who was to receive the tithe. God determined the place, purpose, and use of the tithe. This was important. For it to be God’s, He must determine these aspects.
But you shall seek the place where the Lord your God chooses, out of all your tribes, to put His name for His habitation; and there you shall go. There you shall take your burnt offerings, your sacrifices, your tithes, the heave offerings of your hand, your vowed offerings, your freewill offerings, and the firstlings of your herds and flocks…then there will be the place where the Lord your God chooses to make His name abide. There you shall bring all that I command you: your burnt offerings, your sacrifices, your tithes, the heave offerings of your hand, and all your choice offerings which you vow to the Lord. And you shall rejoice before the Lord your God, you and your sons and your daughters, your menservants and your maidservants, and the Levite who is within your gates, since he has no portion nor inheritance with you (Deut. 12:5, 6,11,12).
Once again, two chapters later, God gives further instruction,
You shall truly tithe all the increase of your grain that the field produces year by year. And you shall eat before the Lord your God, in the place where He chooses to make His name abide, the tithe of your grain and your new wine and your oil, of the firstlings of your herds and your flocks, that you may learn to fear the Lord your God always… You shall not forsake the Levite who is within your gates, for he has no part nor inheritance with you. At the end of every third year you shall bring out the tithe of your produce of that year and store it up within your gates. And the Levite, because he has no portion nor inheritance with you, and the stranger and the fatherless and the widow who are within your gates, may come and eat and be satisfied, that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hand which you do (Deut. 14: 22, 23, 27-29).
Instructions given for the use of the tithe included five specific areas. First, the support of the priest and the Levite are always mentioned (Num. 18:21, 24; Deut 12:18;14:27,29; 2 Chron. 31:4-7; Neh. 10:36-39; 12:44). Second, the tithe was used to finance the people’s worship (Deut. 14:22-26, 28; 26:11-13; Neh. 13:5). Third, it was to support and help the strangers, who came into Israel from the outside (Deut. 14:29; 26:12). Fourth, some of the tithe was to be spent on the fatherless (Deut. 14:29; 26:12). Fifth, the widow was to be supported (Deut. 14:29, 26:12). As we study the proper use of the tithe in the New Testament, we will find interesting counterparts to the Old Testament requirements.
Means of the Tithe in the New Testament
Even though the word tithe is not used in the New Testament, references requiring the financing of ministry are paralleled with the requirements of the tithe in the Old Testament. We have no reason to believe the tithe has been altered, changed, or annulled. Rather, we have a greater ability, through the Spirit of grace, to fulfill kingdom requirements. If we are under command to supply certain needs in the New Testament, then we must believe God has given us a guide to supply those needs. That guide is the tithe.
Where the priests in the Old Covenant were guardians of the temple, in the New Covenant the elders of the church have the responsibility to guard God’s temple, the flock. Paul warns the elders to guard themselves and the flocks to which the Holy Spirit has made them overseers. Paul tells Timothy, elders who rule well and labor in the doctrine are to be rewarded well with financial support (1 Tim. 5:17). When writing to the Corinthians, Paul makes the leap from the Old Testament (Lev 6:16, 26; 7:6, 31), to the New Testament for us when he writes, “Do you not know that those who minister the holy things eat of the things of the temple, and those who serve at the alter partake of the offerings of the altar?” (1 Corinthians 9:13). He is saying the Old Testament use of the tithe is needed in the New Testament to pay those who serve as elders. We are not left to question this instruction in that he quotes the Lord’s commandment, “that those who preach the gospel should live from the gospel”(1 Cor. 9:14; Gal. 6:6). In order to live from the gospel there is an expectation of ongoing funds from the church that are not left to free-will offerings.
In addition to the responsibility to provide for those who labor in the word, Paul puts a requirement upon the local church to provide for those he calls widows indeed (1 Tim. 5:3-5, 9, 16). For these financial requirements to be met there must be regular and consistent funds available. First of all, the prerequisite to qualify as a widow indeed were quite stringent. She must not have living children or grandchildren; she must live alone, trust in God, serve the church in prayer, be 60 years old, have been the wife of one man, and have a good report. She must have brought up children, lodged strangers, served the saints, relieved the afflicted, and diligently followed every good work. This was the criteria to qualify as a “widow indeed.” With these prerequisites not many widows would be put on the list for support, however, there was an expectation of regular financial means to meet the request. James tells us that true religion is to go visit the fatherless and widow when they are in need. The word “visit” means to go see, look out for, and relieve. The tithe then is a means to help the widow and orphan under the New Covenant.
The stranger in the Old Testament were those who came in among the Israelites but were not of the covenant. In the same manner, in the New Testament those who are without a covenant in Christ are considered strangers. We are given the great commission and a responsibility to help finance the work of evangelism and bring those into covenant with Christ. Paul wrote, “How shall they preach unless they are sent?” (Rom. 10:15). Sending out workers is the responsibility of the church. Those who come to Christ are no longer strangers but fellow citizens of the saints (Eph 2:12-13). Paul taught those who go to battle are not to go at their own expense, meaning there should be funds to support the laborers. Paul expected the church to finance evangelism and ministries of the church. Where do those funds come from except from the tithe?
If these are requirements placed upon the church, then the church must have a means to supply that support. There is no reason to assume that the tithe was not used for these purposes since we have no authority to say the tithe was repealed. The New Testament tithes paid the expected support of elders, paid for the required cost of the widows, helped the fatherless, and supported evangelism and provided a means of worship.
Deuteronomy 14:28 speaks of the third year of the tithe. Each year the people of God were to take their tithe and use it to provide for their worship in Jerusalem. After worshipping in Jerusalem, they left the remainder of the tithe to the Levites and the priest. However, every third year, after going to Jerusalem, they were to bring the tithe back to the local village. This third-year tithe was to be given to the elders of their local community. The tithe was then divided up between the Levite and priest, the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow. Since we are citizens of the heavenly Jerusalem from above (Gal. 4:26), and have no national sanctuary we obviously live in what could be called the perpetual “third year of the tithe.” Our tithes are then to be brought to the local “community of elders,” where God recognizes His government of the local church.
To embrace tithing it is important to see and recognize Christ’s body as the real temple. His church is made up of many members and meets in every locale. Where the church gathers in a location and the government of God is seen and recognized among the leaders of the members, then they are embracing Christ’s body. One must embrace the government of God in His church to recognize the proper place and use of the tithe. Any attempt to bypass the tithe requirement is to overlook the authority of Christ in His church. The church, thus God’s government through the elders, has a rightful responsibility to the tithe as God’s representative authority on the earth. When someone says, they are free to give their tithe to whomever and wherever, they have failed to submit themselves to God’s authority in His local church. Tithing is a demonstration of submission, even as Abraham gave tithe to Melchizedek. The lesser tithed to the greater.
Experience has shown that tithing is often more of an authority issue than any other. When people lose trust or even reject God’s authority in their church leaders they often will stop tithing. Right or wrong they have removed themselves from the authority of that local church. By removing themselves from a local church there is the discontinuation of tithing. Tithing reflects trust in God and the leaders he has placed in a particular congregation of believers. It requires an acknowledgment of God’s authority in mere men and trusting God’s government in the church on the earth.