We received this question from a reader of The Issues of Life, to whom, with her husband, we had been ministering in Christ:
I am writing to ask a question regarding tithing. I have read and pondered about it in the Word, but have had trouble understanding how one should tithe in the modern world (assuming he/she does not have an agrarian lifestyle).
For now, I just put away money each time I get paid. I figured when the
time was right, God would tell me how it should be given away/spent. Do you have any insight on this matter? Thanks for your time.
Victor and Paul’s reply:
Victor wrote this to someone about tithing, which I think is helpful in answering your question:
“Tithing. There are some who say that tithing was for the Levitical priesthood and the keeping of the Tabernacle or Temple, along with all the other services to which the tribe of Levi attended, and that therefore it is no longer applicable. However, as you know, before Levi was born, Abraham brought tithes to Melchizedek, and Jacob offered a tenth to the Lord as well. We also see where they brought offerings beginning with Abel. I prefer the word, “offerings.” I see no examples of tithing in the New Testament. However, we do see alms and offerings, the alms to the poor, of course, and offerings to those in the ministry, as for example:
‘Let rulers whose rule is good be honoured twice over, specially those whose work is preaching and teaching. For the Writings say, It is not right to keep the ox from taking the grain when he is crushing it. And, The worker has a right to his reward’ (1 Timothy 5:17-18 BBE).
To whom do the offerings go? I think it is clear in that testimony that they go to those who minister to the one offering.”
I would add this Scripture:
“Who ever goes to war without looking to someone to be responsible for his payment? Who puts in vines and does not take the fruit of them? Or who takes care of sheep without drinking of their milk? Am I talking as a man? Does not the Law say the same? For it says in the Law of Moses, It is not right to keep the ox from taking the grain when he is crushing it. Is it for the oxen that God is giving orders? Or has he us in mind? Yes, it was said for us; because it is right for the ploughman to do his ploughing in hope, and for him who is crushing the grain to do his work hoping for a part in the fruits of it. If we have been planting the things of the Spirit for you, does it seem a great thing for you to give us a part in your things of this world?” (1 Corinthians 9:7-11 BBE)
Paul is not specifying what the “part in your things of this world” should be, but is teaching the principle that those sent by God to meet the spiritual needs of others are worthy of receiving in turn for their physical needs. I would liken it to a battery. You need a circuit, with giving and receiving on both ends, in order for there to be provision for all, in all things. Paul also wrote this:
“Because even in Thessalonica, both once and again you sent for my need. Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit which is increasing to your account. And I have all things and abound. I have been made full, having received from Epaphroditus the things sent from you, a fragrant aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well pleasing to God. And my God will supply all your need according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:16-19 EMTV).
Victor also wrote this for you, Sarah:
“I note that you emphasize ‘20th Century’ tithing and agrarian occupation. While there are those who say that tithing is only for farmers, that money should never be involved, it is obvious to us that such a notion is plain silly, and the Bible and reason clearly prove it so. Is honoring servants of the Lord only for farmers? Shall all other occupations…carpenters, wagon manufacturers, steelworkers, musicians, scribes, clothing makers, bookkeepers and others refrain from bringing offerings to their teachers and pastors, or shall they go and buy food from farmers to give to their elders? What if the elders happen to get too much milk at once? How big a fridge shall they own, or how many? And what will they do for all their other necessities, sell the excess food offerings to buy furniture, clothing and housing? Or will they pay their utilities with milk and eggs? Whether 20th Century or 5th Century B.C., the logic and logistics remain the same, do they not? Except that in those days, they had no fridges!”
If you have further questions, let us know. Can you tell us what you see in the Scriptures?
The Lord bless you as you honor Him in the heart, in whatever you do,
Paul and Victor
I appreciate your insights on this matter. I do, however, want to clarify what I’m asking. Please accept my apologies for not including the text to which I was referring:
“Every year be sure to save a tenth of the crops harvested from whatever you plant in your fields. Eat the tenth of your grain, new wine, and olive oil, and eat the firstborn of your cattle, sheep, and goats in the presence of the LORD your God in the place he will choose to put his name. Then you will learn to fear the LORD your God as long as you live. But the place the LORD your God will choose to put his name may be too far away. He may bless you with so much that you can’t carry a tenth of your income that far. If so, exchange the tenth part of your income for silver. Take the silver with you, and go to the place the LORD your God will choose. Use the silver to buy whatever you want: cattle, sheep, goats, wine, liquor-whatever you choose. Then you and your family will eat and enjoy yourselves there in the presence of the LORD your God. Never forget to take care of the Levites who live in your cities. They have no land of their own as you have. At the end of every third year bring a tenth of that year’s crop, and store it in your cities. Foreigners, orphans, and widows who live in your cities may come to eat all they want. The Levites may also come because they have no land of their own as you have. Then the LORD your God will bless you in whatever work you do.” Deuteronomy 14:22-29 (GW)
I see several things here. First, the offering made to God is to be enjoyed by the offeror, as instructed by God. Second, the ministers who have blessed one should be given a portion of the offering. And finally, every three years an offering should be made to help people who are in need. This seems similar to a “soup kitchen” or homeless shelter of some sort to be stocked by the saints.
With this understanding, I am unsure as to how exactly this should be applied. I don’t believe the annual and triannual mandates are applicable because the Israelites were primarily farmers and land owners, harvesting once a year (hence my mention of agrarian society and “20th century tithing”). There is also emphasis on God choosing the place and time of such offerings which leads me to believe that He must mandate any and all acceptable offerings, regardless of who may be the recipient.
Although your general response to the topic did provide some clarity, I am still unclear on application (how to give to ministers & the poor/needy, frequency of offerings, etc.). I used to give alms to random homeless people (I believe DC has the highest rate of homelessness in the country) in need or those that asked me for money who I felt compelled to help. After awhile however, I started to feel like I was not really helping them because I was not giving them enough to get off the streets and turn their lives around. I was also not taking time to talk to them or learn about them on any personal level which I felt made the act seem vain or void of something. After that, I began to fear that the almsgiving was merely a mechanism of self-righteousness. I subsequently stopped doing it.
I hope these things have provided some clarity to you regarding my question: How do I apply these commands in REALITY (I’m not shouting here but can’t find the text icons, :))? May God bless.
Victor’s and Paul’s reply:
I think we can safely say, as we did in the first letter, that the matter of tithes and offerings, as with all matters, is one of spirit and motive. The Lord teaches us the right way we should conduct ourselves, not so that we could become perfect by the mechanical perfection of keeping the Law, but so that we would learn His ways and fulfill the Law by abiding in Him Who is perfect.
As you rightly point out, the circumstances of our lives are different than those days when Israel had a contiguous nation of believers and a well-defined priesthood. The things written in the Law could then be followed as they were written. But what are we to do now that circumstances have changed? That is the purpose of knowing God, because He has not changed. If we know Him, we will be found doing things as He would have us do them. We will have life in Him.
The apostles and believers struggled with the matters of Law as recorded in the Book of Acts. What were they to do with the Gentiles, those who believed and were dispersed throughout the world, who did not have the Temple of God and the priesthood of the old covenant? They decided, by the administration and leading of the Holy Spirit, to not try to lay the Law on believers, as it had been done in Israel, but to teach them the principles of God on which all the Law depended.
“For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us, to put on you nothing more than these necessary things” (Acts 15:28 BBE).
In the beginning there was no need to teach the believers about offerings, because all the believers had already come and offered all they had to the apostles!
“Nor was there anyone needy among them; for all who were owners of lands or houses were selling them, and were bringing the proceeds of the things which had been sold, and were placing them beside the feet of the apostles; and they were distributing to each, to the degree that anyone had need” (Acts 4:34-35 EMTV).
When the Word of God was preached amongst the Gentiles, and they believed, they were led by the Spirit to give offerings to those ministering the gospel to them, as Paul also taught them. We read of Cornelius that, even before receiving the Spirit, he “gave much alms” to the people. He was a devout man, it was testified, one that feared God.
Now I want to point something out to you, as a principle of God from the Scriptures you quote from Deuteronomy 14, and regarding the first point you make about the offering being enjoyed by the one making it. How is this to be applied today, in “REALITY,” as you ask?
The key to our answer is these words, especially the ones emphasized:
“Eat the tenth of your grain, new wine, and olive oil, and eat the firstborn of your cattle, sheep, and goats in the presence of the LORD your God in the place He will choose to put His Name. Then you will learn to fear the LORD your God as long as you live” (Deuteronomy 14:23 GW).
In Numbers, where it also speaks of the offerings to be made by Israel, there is no mention of them eating the tithe. It only says that they should offer the tenth of their income to God, giving it to the Levites:
“I am giving the Levites one-tenth of every Israelite’s income. This is in return for the work they do at the tent of meeting” (Numbers 18:21 GW).
So what is this about buying and eating what you want as an offering? How can you offer something that you consume? I will tell you how, by principle, and in truth. When one brings his or her offering to God, to the place where He has put His Name, that person will have supply and full enjoyment of all things. As Paul wrote to the Philippians, regarding their offerings:
“And my God will supply all your need according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19 EMTV).
Is God’s supply miserly or unsatisfactory? Be assured; never. So it is written:
“Use the silver to buy whatever you want: cattle, sheep, goats, wine, liquor-whatever you choose. Then you and your family will eat and enjoy yourselves there in the presence of the LORD your God” (Deuteronomy 14:26 GW).
That which they offered to God was used of God to bless them. God has no need of our offerings. We have need of making them, so that He might bless us. And bless us, He does. He says:
“Bring one-tenth of your income into the storehouse so that there may be food in My house. Test Me in this way, says the LORD of Armies. See if I won’t open the windows of heaven for you and flood you with blessings. Then, for your sake, I will stop insects from eating your crops. They will not destroy the produce of your land. The vines in your fields will not lose their unripened grapes, says the LORD of Armies” (Malachi 3:10-11 GW).
Is the curse of God only on farmers and their produce, Sarah? Or is it on all those who do not honor Him? Which do you think?
God is not after your money. He wants your heart. When the heart is set on Him, honoring Him, then acceptable offerings will be made, in the spirit of the household of Stephanas:
“Now I make my request to you, my brothers, for you have knowledge that the house of Stephanas is the first-fruits of Achaia, and that they have made themselves the servants of the saints” (1 Corinthians 16:15 BBE).
Those who sow generously will reap generously, eternal life and the provision of all things needed in this life, because sharing in the life of the body, the Church of God. Those who cleave to His servants have not only what they need, but also what they truly want:
“Delight yourself also in the LORD; and He shall give you the desires of your heart” (Psalms 37:4 KJV).
Has God shown you the place where His Name is? Are not we that place? When you are settled on the major issue, the minor ones, such as how frequently you give, will be settled as well.
I can relate to your experience with the poor. I too gave and felt unsatisfied. I came to learn or realize that what I gave often went to alcohol or drugs or was just plain wasted. I felt like I was a sucker, and I was. I asked the Lord for wisdom. In time the Lord taught me that the poor are often not poor at all, in the truest sense of the word. They are often self-sufficient know-it-alls that have earnestly sown for their circumstances and are entirely unrepentant of the sins in which they have sown. Giving to them is like flushing money down the toilet.
I have come to the conclusion that, by and large, our charity is among those of our community, in our sphere of activity and life. That is not to say that we do not entertain strangers, but that is another matter. We are to take care of our own, and look after what is within our jurisdiction to look after. The world is a mess precisely because people do not do this. We are here, by the grace of God, to set an example, and are made by Him a light to show the way of life to the world.
We also provide you with a three-part series: What the Lord Has Taught Us About Tithes and Offerings
If you were to consider the Law, you would find it impossible to fulfill in the letter, even as you yourself have acknowledged. I have a few thoughts and questions to ask you. Let us say that you are earning $40,000 per annum, a tenth of which is $4,000. What would you do with it according to the Law? The GW says:
“Use the silver to buy whatever you want: cattle, sheep, goats, wine, liquor-whatever you choose. Then you and your family will eat and enjoy yourselves there in the presence of the LORD your God” (Deuteronomy 14:26).
Some bash! Four grand can go a long way. What if you were making $100,000 a year? How much can you eat? How many people are there? Fifteen? A hundred? A thousand? What if you were earning $1,000,000 per annum? For how long would you celebrate? Would you buy hard liquor? How much? What else is included in “whatever you choose”? Are there Levites indeed? If so, how then is it that the Levitical priesthood has ended (getting technical or letter-perfect)? It is apparent that unless we receive revelation and go not by the Law but by the Spirit we are lost. It is all by faith and heart response to the Lord. “In the presence of the LORD your God in the place He will choose to put His Name.”
What about the third year tithe? Apparently that is another tenth, not the former mentioned there. Some may think that whenever a tithe is mentioned, that it refers to the first 10% of the income and to nothing else. However, a tithe is not the cream of the crop only, but simply a fraction of a whole, in which case there can be several tithes…even ten, provided the giver has sustenance in other ways or is provided for in supernatural ways by the Lord (which He has done for us and others). If a tithe is simply a fraction, and not the first tenth only, then it stands to reason that the tithes spoken of in this Deuteronomy passage (two kinds) are not the tithe spoken of that Paul brings up.
Now what about your experiences with giving to the poor? You have experienced similarly to us. I see the concept intended as different from your example of soup kitchens and homeless shelters for the general public in a heathen nation. We also tried giving in various ways, both in Canada and Israel, and it only turned out to be an exercise in futility and frustration. I recall giving to beggars in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, and, during this time, the Lord taught us that there are beggars who demand that you support them, as though you owe them, beggars that make a lucrative income begging, and will not work instead, beggars who are fussy (who says they can’t be?), beggars who lie, steal, cheat, oppress and deceive, and those who will squander the money on things other than necessities. So who are “the poor”? To whom does one give? We came to the place where we knew that unless we had the Lord’s wisdom and direction, it really was quite impossible to know to whom to give, or how, or how much.
What was happening with your giving to the poor was that you were really wasting your substance, which conclusion you came to on your own. But also know this: That if you were giving to honor the Lord, and your heart was right in the matter, then the Lord would receive it as such, despite the fact that His wrath was on those to whom you gave.
Our primary responsibility, as believers, in the giving of alms (these are not offerings) is to give to those of the faith, provided they are responsible (Paul, the apostle, did say, “If a man does not work, he should not eat”). Do they have faith? Are there fruits by which we can know? Always.
We may also help others who are not of the faith, but where and when? The Lord, for example, has led us right out of giving to the world’s charities, like the Heart Foundation or the Cancer Society or hundreds of other charities. Being of the world, they cannot but be corrupt, every last one of them.
So, then, who is the “foreigner” and how shall we give to him or her? It is mentioned in the passage you bring up that the “foreigner” is to be given alms. You will know that the “foreigners” were in Israel, a nation under God; a “theocracy,” if you will. Were the foreigners “goyim” (Gentiles) or were they Jews visiting from other places?
To whom was the Gentile, Cornelius, giving in Israel? Was it not to “our nation,” to those of Israel, as with the centurion of the gospels? Although, I do not doubt that if Cornelius saw Gentiles in need, he was ready and willing to help them, even as the Samaritan, a stranger, was willing to help a “foreigner” in dire need.
Now who are believers? Are those who go to church believers? Are those who call themselves “Christians” believers? There are many (by far the most) who profess but do not believe, especially if, by professing, they perceive that they can get something out of the potential giver, financial or otherwise, whom they perceive to be a believer.
We have natives here, for example, who well know the naivety of “Christians” who have the mentality that they must give to any and all that ask, especially if they profess faith. We had drunken natives (though somewhat sobered up) hitching a ride, striking up a conversation, touching on the Christian faith subject, claiming to be believers, then asking for “spare change.” From where does that strategy come? What purpose does it serve? In that case, it likely would have gone to drink or drugs, had we given it.
On the other hand, an alcoholic native not long ago came to me, asking for money for food. I felt to give to him. We were near a store so I offered to go in with him and let him pick out food for which I would pay, rather than give him cash, which he might spend on booze. He was happy; I was happy.
That day, I won a prize at a meeting, a flash drive I now use, which I was going to buy. My son, Jonathan, also won a prize. I rarely win anything. The Lord gave when I gave. Was the native a believer? No. Was he responsible? No. Was he going to spend more money on alcohol or drugs? Yes. So why did I give? I gave because I was given to give. Another may come asking, seemingly more legitimately, and I may not give. I must trust the Lord to guide.
It comes down to being led of the Spirit of God. Now what does one do, who believes but who has not yet received the Spirit, as, for example, the Ephesian disciples (Acts 19), and as perhaps in your case? I say, the Lord is faithful and as He gave direction to them and to the disciples before Pentecost, so is He faithful to guide those who seek His will, because, though the Spirit may not yet be in them, He is with them. Otherwise, they would not be seeking His will, would they? “No man seeks after God,” and “No man can come to the Son except the Father draw him.” He also provides those within whom dwells His Spirit, to counsel those who ask because they want to do that which is right in His eyes.
I know you did not ask for all this, Sarah, but there it is nonetheless. Perhaps it will help you and others.
If we have failed to answer your questions, or if you have any others, I am sure you will let us know.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts and experiences on this matter. They have truly helped confirm some conclusions as well as helped me focus on what is important: abiding in Christ.
Please keep Dallas and me in your prayers as we seek to be reborn by God’s grace.
The truth makes one free.
God is in full control, and His timing perfect. All you need to do is believe and obey in what you know and where you are. The Scriptures say this about the journey:
“We are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, Whom God has given to those who obey Him” (Acts 5:32 GW).
I am thankful for what the Lord is doing with you two. However, as Yogi Berra once said, “It ain’t over till it’s over.”
“And you will be hated of all men for My Name’s sake, but the one who endures to the end shall be kept safe” (Matthew 10:22 MKJV).