Are you tithing to your local church?

by John Holbrook Jr.
A Biblical View, posted January 30, 2017

If you are tithing to your local church, I hope that you will find here support for your continuing to do so. If you are not tithing to your local church, I hope that you will find here reasons to do so. [1]

                                                                Preamble

Christian stewardship refers to the manner in which we devote our time, talents, and treasure to the Lord and His work. I have often heard preachers say that we owe the Lord 100% of our time, talents, and treasure. That may get across the point across that the Lord expects us to live lives completely centered on Him, but it actually lets their parishioners off the hook. No one can and no one does devote 100% of his time, talents, and treasure to the Lord. He has to sleep, to keep himself clean and groomed, to eat, to work in order to earn the money that he needs to pay for all the necessities of life, to attend to his family, and to contribute to this church and community. The practical result of the preachers’ phrase is that their parishioners devote far less than ten percent of the time, talents, and treasure to the Lord and His work – and feel comfortable in doing so.

Christian stewardship is a broad subject, and thus here I want to focus on just one part of it, the tithe of one’s treasure. It is the part with which Christians have the most trouble.

Before I start, however, I want to stress several things things.

First, I’m acutely aware of the warning that James issued to those who teach: “My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment.”[2] Thus, I intend to adhere very closely to what the Bible actually says about tithing. What matters is what God says – not what I or anyone else says.

Second, “tithe” is a specific term; it means one tenth. “Tithing” is also a specific term; it means paying one tenth of one’s income and capital gains.

Third, the Bible distinguishes between tithes and offerings: the tithe consists of money or goods (in a barter economy) that belong to God and must be handled as God prescribes; offerings, on the other hand, consist of money and goods that belongs to us and may be handled as we see fit. Here I address only tithes.

Fourth, I want to stress the inerrancy of God’s Word. In his Gospel, John wrote: “…scripture cannot be broken.”[3] Yet, so often, we don’t pay attention to what God’s Word says, and then we wonder why we fail to receive God’s blessings or why we experience so many afflictions.

                                                                The Tithe

Now let us consider some of the things the Bible says about tithing.

The tithe is first mentioned in Genesis 14. After Abraham destroyed the armies of Chedorlaomer’s coalition in the valley of Shaveh, verses 18-20 state, “Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was the priest of God Most High. And he blessed him and said: ‘Blessed be Abram of God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; And blessed be God Most High, Who has delivered your enemies into your hand.’ And he gave him a tithe of all.”[4] The author of Hebrews identified Melchisedek as the King of Salem, the King of Peace, the High Priest of God, the Lord Jesus Christ.[5] Thus, over 400 years before God delivered the law to Moses on Mount Sinai, Abraham tithed to God.

Now prior to the battle with Chedorlaomer’s coalition, God made certain promises to Abraham, and Moses wrote that Abraham believed God, and that God “…accounted it to him for righteousness.”[6] For that reason, the Bible identifies Abraham as the father of the faithful.

What were the consequences of Abraham’s faithfulness? Genesis 13:2 states: “Abram was very rich in livestock, in silver, and in gold.”[7] Did you catch that? Abraham was very rich. Moreover, he was rich in tangible things – “in livestock, in silver, and in gold.”

And how did Abraham become very rich? Abraham’s servant Eleazer explains how: “The LORD has blessed my master greatly, and he has become great; and He has given him flocks and herds, silver and gold, male and female servants, and camels and donkeys. And Sarah my master’s wife bore a son to my master when she was old; and to him he [God] has given all that he has.”[8] God himself blessed Abraham with riches.

We are looking at a biblical principle here. Now, please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying that God promises to make each one of us as rich as Abraham,[9] but I am saying that God wants his people (plural) to prosper and thereby to be a blessing to others. God promises his people (plural) that they will prosper if they trust in him and tithe to him.

Now let’s examine the most important passages regarding tithing in the Bible.

First, let’s look at Malachi 3:6-11, which reveals the nature of the tithe and contains probably the most startling promise in the Bible.

“For I am the LORD, I do not change; Therefore you are not consumed, O sons of Jacob. Yet from the days of your fathers You have gone away from My ordinances And have not kept them. Return to Me, and I will return to you,” Says the LORD of hosts. “But you said, ‘In what way shall we return?’  Will a man rob God? Yet you have robbed Me! But you say,’In what way have we robbed You?’ In tithes and offerings. You are cursed with a curse, For you have robbed Me, Even this whole nation. Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, That there may be food in My house, And try Me now in this,” Says the LORD of hosts, “If I will not open for you the windows of heaven And pour out for you such blessing That there will not be room enough to receive it. “And I will rebuke the devourer for your sakes, So that he will not destroy the fruit of your ground, Nor shall the vine fail to bear fruit for you in the field,” Says the LORD of hosts.[10]

What does this passage actually say?

Verse 6 says, “…I am the LORD, I do not change.” The Lord does not change His mind. The Book of Malachi was written about 425 B.C. If the Lord wanted His people to tithe then, He wants them to tithe now.

Verse 7 says, “… You have gone away from My ordinances And have not kept them.” The issue here is tithing. God has told his people to tithe. They have not been doing so.

Verse 8 says, “Return to Me, and I will return to you.” Their failure to tithe has separated them from God. If they return to tithing, he will return to them.

Verse 8 also says, “Will a man rob God? Yet you have robbed Me! But you say,’In what way have we robbed You?’ In tithes and offerings.” Moses wrote in Leviticus, “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.”[11] Their failure to tithe was actually robbing God of what belonged to him.

Verse 9 says, “You are cursed with a curse, For you have robbed Me.” Because they were robbing God, they were living under a curse – the curse which Adam’s disobedience brought upon the world. There are at least two aspects to this curse: First, there is the loss of eternal fellowship with God. Jesus’ death on the cross redeems a person from that aspect of the curse when he puts his trust in Jesus for his salvation. Second, there is the difficulty of coaxing sustenance from the ground. Do you remember what God said to Adam? “Cursed is the ground for your sake; In toil you shall eat of it All the days of your life.”[12] Apparently God delivers his people from this aspect of the curse – at least to some extent – when they tithe. When they fail to tithe, however, they forsake God’s promise of protection and providence and live under the curse on the ground. Don’t be fooled by the agrarian context of all these passages regarding tithes, blessings, and curses. The Bible is presenting principles here

.Verse 10 says, “Bring all the tithes….” Notice the choice of words. God did not say, “Give….” He said, “Bring.…” Our tithes are not ours to give. They belong to God, and therefore he said the equivalent of “Bring them to me.” Then God said, “…all the tithes.” He did not say, “…some of the tithes” or “…part of the tithes.” He said “…all of the tithes.” He claims a full ten percent of our increase – not 9% or less. (Actually, as Gary North has pointed out, if you think about it, a 10% franchise fee is actually remarkably low. You can’t get such a generous deal from either MacDonalds or Starbucks.)

Verse 10 also says, “…into the storehouse….” In Deuteronomy, Moses identified the storehouse as “…the place where the Lord your God chooses, to make his name abide.”[13] The storehouse is God’s house. It’s the place set aside for the worship and praise of God, the place from which the Word of God should go forth to feed the people. Notice the word is singular. God’s people are to bring the full tithe to one place.

Verse 10 also says, “…that there may be food in my house.” As I have just indicated, the purpose of the tithe is to ensure that God’s people are fed – fed with the Word of God written and the Word of God incarnate.

Verse 10 also says, “And prove me now in this, Says the Lord of Hosts.” God, the Creator and Sovereign of the Universe, invites his people to test him – the only time that he does so in the entire Bible. He says to them, do as I command and then see what I will do.

Verse 10 ends with, “…if I will not open for you the windows of heaven And pour out for you such blessing that there will not be room enough to receive it.” These are the same words used to describe the beginnings of the flood. In Genesis, Moses wrote, “In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, the seventeenth day of the month, on that day all the fountains of the great deep were broken up, and the windows of heaven were opened.”[14] God promises to reward obedience with a deluge of blessings.

Finally, verse 11 says, “And I will rebuke the devourer for your sakes, So that he will not destroy the fruit of your ground, Nor shall the vine fail to bear fruit in the field.” God’s people won’t have to worry about their blessings being stolen. God himself will prevent Satan from devouring them.

Clearly, this passage in Malachi is telling us that we must bring a full 10% of the increase (income and capital gains) to the Lord’s house, which for us is the local church where we worship on a regular basis. If we do so, He will bless us abundantly, here and now. If we do not bring the tithe to His house, however, we will live and work under the original curse on creation, and Satan will devour the fruits of our work.

                                                   Presentation of the Tithe

Now let’s look at Deuteronomy 26:1-11, which indicates how God wants us to present our tithes to him.

 And it shall be, when you come into the land which the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance, and you possess it and dwell in it, that you shall take some of the first of all the produce of the ground, which you shall bring from your land that the LORD your God is giving you, and put it in a basket and go to the place where the LORD your God chooses to make His name abide. And you shall go to the one who is priest in those days, and say to him, “I declare today to the LORD your God that I have come to the country which the LORD swore to our fathers to give us.” Then the priest shall take the basket out of your hand and set it down before the altar of the LORD your God.  And you shall answer and say before the LORD your God: “My father was a Syrian, about to perish, and he went down to Egypt and dwelt there, few in number; and there he became a nation, great, mighty, and populous.  But the Egyptians mistreated us, afflicted us, and laid hard bondage on us.  Then we cried out to the LORD God of our fathers, and the LORD heard our voice and looked on our affliction and our labor and our oppression. So the LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and with an outstretched arm, with great terror and with signs and wonders. He has brought us to this place and has given us this land,” a land flowing with milk and honey; and now, behold, I have brought the firstfruits of the land which you, O LORD, have given me.” Then you shall set it before the LORD your God, and worship before the LORD your God. So you shall rejoice in every good thing which the LORD your God has given to you and your house, you and the Levite and the stranger who is among you (NKJV Deuteronomy 26:2-11).

Again, what does this passage actually say?

Verse 2 says, “…you shall take some of the first of all the produce of the ground….” The King James Version omits the word “some.” God’s people are to bring the first part, the top part, the best part to the Lord – not the last or left over part.

Verse 2 also says, “…put it in a basket….” They are instructed to put their tithe in a container – the offering plate, if you will.

Verse 2 also says, “…go to the place where the Lord your God chooses, to make his name abide.” Previously I have pointed out that this is God’s house. If God sends his people to a particular place (your local church), that is where he expects them to present their tithes to him.

Verse 3 says, “And you shall go to the one who is the priest in those days.” Today, our High Priest is the Lord Jesus Christ.[15]

Verse 3 also says, “…and say to him, ‘I declare today to the Lord your God that I have come to the country which the Lord swore to our fathers to give us.’” For the ancient Hebrews, that country was Canaan, the Promised Land. For us today, the country is the Kingdom of God.

Verse 4 says, “Then the priest shall take the basket out of your hand and set it down before the altar of the Lord your God.” Today, that is just what Jesus does for us. He presents our tithes to God at the altar in heaven.

Verse 5 says, “And you shall answer and say before the Lord your God,….” I won’t reread the entire profession. Israel’s profession looked back to their bondage in Egypt, to their miraculous deliverance by the hand of God, and to their receipt of their inheritance – the Promised Land. We must look back to our bondage in sin, to our miraculous deliverance by the death and resurrection of our Lord, and to our entrance – upon our conversion – into the Kingdom of God.

Thus, when we bring our full tithe to the Lord in this place, we should say a prayer similar to the following:

Heavenly Father, we profess this day to you that we have come into the inheritance which you swore to give us. We are in the land which you have provided for us in Jesus Christ. We were sinners serving Satan; he was our god. But we called upon the name of Jesus, and you heard our cry. You delivered us from the power and authority of darkness and translated us into the Kingdom of your dear Son.

Jesus, as our Lord and High Priest, we bring to you the first fruits of our income that you may worship the Lord our God with them.

Heavenly Father, we have heard your voice and brought our tithes into your house, as you commanded us to do. Now we rejoice in all the good which you have given to us and to our households. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.[16].

I would end here, excepting that you may still regard what the Scriptures say regarding tithing as applying to the Old Testament period, but not to the New Testament era. Let’s look at Matthew 5:17-20, a portion of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.

Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill.  For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.  Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.  For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.[17]

These are the words of the One who, as the author of Hebrews wrote, “…is the same yesterday, today, and for ever…”[18]  He is the One who is our Creator, our Sustainer, our Provider, our Protector, our Redeemer, and our LORD.

Some personal conclusions

As you reflect on the foregoing, I ask that you keep in mind some conclusions I have reached about God’s reasons for demanding that we tithe.

First, it provides the resources necessary to sustain the local church. Without those resources, the local church is anemic and unable to pay for its internal activities (worship, education, fellowship, pastoral care, administration, property management, finance, and communications) – let alone its external activities (evangelism, service, and mission support).

Second, based on my own experience and the experience of others whom I have mentored, it breaks the power of money in our lives – that is, we experience a deep sense that, aside from prudent budgeting and planning, we can leave the worrying about our financial situation to God and attend to the business of living for him.

Third, it teaches us to trust God, not just with our finances, but with our entire lives.

Nota Bene: giving anything less than 10% to our local church doesn’t accomplish these things.

Lastly, I state the obvious: Regardless of your income bracket, paying out a tithe to your church and, in addition, offerings to individuals in need and non-church ministries means that you cannot maintain the same lifestyle as your non-Christian peers. That is one of the costs of discipleship.

© 2017 John Holbrook Jr.

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[1] This blog owes much to many sources, but particularly to the following: John Guest’s Giving to God, National Institute of Christian Leadership, Sewickley, PA, 1983; John Howe’s “Bring in the full tithes…and see…“, Truro Church, Fairfax, VA, 1979; Gary North’s The Covenental Tithe, American Vission Inc., Powder Springs GA, 2011, Tithing and Dominion, Ross House Books, Vallecito CA, 1979, and Tithing and the Church, Institute for Christian Economics, Tyler TX, 1994; and Frederick K.C. Price’s High Finance: God’s Financial Plan – Tithes and Offerings, Harrison House, Tulsa, OK, 1984.

[2] NKJV James 3:1.

[3] NKJV John 10: 35.

[4] NKJVA Genesis 14:18-20.

[5] Hebrews 7.

[6] NKJV Genesis 15:6.

[7] NKJV Genesis 13:2.

[8] NKJV Genesis 24:34-37.

[9] I think the “health and wealth” or “name it and claim it” gospels, by interpreting God’s blessings in purely material terms and by ignoring the distinction between God’s people (plural) and an individual believer (singular), seriously misrepresents God’s promises in these respects. If you read my blog entitled “Have you carefully counted the cost?” you will see that the promises of persecution and suffering outweigh the promises of blessings like health and wealth by a wide margin.

[10] NKJV Malachi 3:6-11.

[11] NKJV Leviticus 27:30.

[12] NKJV Genesis 3:17.

[13] NKJV Deuteronomy 26:2.

[14] NKJV Genesis 7:11.

[15] The author of Hebrews wrote, “Therefore holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our confession, Christ Jesus.”

[16] The first two paragraphs come from a prayer by Frederick K.C. Price; the last paragraph is mine.

[17] NKJV Matthew 5:17-20

[18] NKJV Hebrews 13:8.

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