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GN Cover January/February 1997

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January/February - Volume 2, Number 1

1997, United Church of God, an International Association


FEATURE ARTICLE (Expanded Edition)
Why Tithe in the 20th Century?

by Bill Bradford

Today we live in a world that cries out for spiritual direction and answers to deep-seated and often intractable problems. But ours is also a selfish and materialistic age. Nearly all of most people’s resources goes for material goods and services to make life better for themselves and their offspring.

Yet God asks for something additional from those He is calling. He asks us to recognize the importance of spiritual needs and values as well as physical. God wants us to communicate priceless spiritual knowledge to a darkened and deceived world.

The purpose of the Church today

God is working out His glorious plan in which all humanity will have the opportunity to receive eternal life beyond the grave. An aching spiritual and emotional void exists that only the teachings and spiritual values of God can fill.

The Church of God still has an enormous work to do. Jesus Christ commissioned His people to take the gospel to the whole world, to reach every nation with the wonderful truths He has revealed and to instruct those God calls in His way of life (Matthew 24:14; 28:18-20).

Throughout the 20th century the information and entertainment media—publications, radio and television—have played important roles in this mission of preaching the gospel. So, as before, the Church has been faced with the question of how God wants this work to be financed. By carefully and conscientiously examining the Bible as a whole, we see ample evidence that a consistent financial method is addressed in the pages of Holy Scripture, and that method is tithing.

So let’s face these questions: Should you as an individual tithe? What is the scriptural basis for the practice of tithing? And, perhaps most important, in what spirit and attitude should you tithe? Let’s take a brief survey of the key scriptures.

What do we mean by tithing? The word tithe comes from an Old English word meaning "tenth." Tithing, then, means merely the practice of "tenthing," or simply giving back to God 10 percent of one’s increase (see Leviticus 27:32). Tithing is simply a form of giving, which is a godly practice (Matthew 19:21).

It is in fact a form of worship in which we show God respect: "Honor the Lord with your possessions, and with the firstfruits of your increase; so your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will overflow with new wine" (Proverbs 3:9-10).

We need to understand this important facet of our relationship with God. We need to ask ourselves whether our actions say, "I will give Him my heart, I will give Him my praise, I will give Him thanksgiving, but I will not support His work financially."

Tithing in biblical history

Before the Israelites entered the land God promised to give them, He told them: "All the tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land or the fruit of the tree, is the Lord’s. It is holy to the Lord” (Leviticus 27:30, emphasis added throughout).

What gave God the right to claim 10 percent of everything they produced from the land? His claim is based on a simple and an often-overlooked truth: He owns everything!

This fundamental premise is repeated in the Bible. "The earth is the Lord’s and all its fullness, the world and those who dwell therein" (Psalm 24:1; see also Exodus 19:5; Job 41:11). The tithe is simply the divinely ordained degree to which He expects us to give back to honor Him and to acknowledge that He gives everything to us.

The first account in the Bible of this ancient practice of giving is found in Genesis 14:18-22. Abraham, after his defeat of four kings, tithed on the spoils of the war to Melchizedek, the priest of God Most High. Abraham obviously understood that tithing was an appropriate way of honoring God with one’s physical possessions.

This example shows several important principles we can apply today. Abraham, whose exemplary life of service and obedience to God caused God to describe him as the father of the faithful (Romans 4:11), was not forced to tithe. He gave willingly and voluntarily as an act of great humility. He showed respect and reverence for God, and to Melchizedek, who was both "king of Salem" and "priest of the Most High God" (Hebrews 7:1). Jesus Christ, the King of all the universe, serves in this royal and priestly office today (Hebrews 6:20), and to tithe is to show Him appropriate honor.

This example also demonstrates Abraham’s enormous personal integrity and character. He chose to keep his promise to God rather than give in to the temptation to use the spoils of his victory for himself (Genesis 14:22-23). Abraham understood the premise for giving a tithe to God: He is Possessor of heaven and earth (verse 19). Abraham recognized that he was blessed by God Most High, who made his victory and all his blessings possible.

Human short-sightedness

We humans tend to think that what we possess is because of our human efforts. God recognizes this tendency in us and told Moses to warn the Israelites not to think to themselves, "My power and the might of my hand have gained me this wealth." Instead they were to "remember the Lord your God, for it is He who gives you power to get wealth" (Deuteronomy 8:17-18). They were to serve God "with joy and gladness of heart, for the abundance of everything" (Deuteronomy 28:47).

Tithing is, first and foremost, an act of worshipful recognition of God as the source of our existence and all blessings and providence. Jacob, in following the example of his grandfather Abraham, recognized this. When God reconfirmed to him the promises He had made to Abraham, Jacob promised God that "of all that You give me I will surely give a tenth to You" (Genesis 28:20-22).

The practice of tithing was later incorporated into the covenant with Israel as a written and codified law. The tribe of Levi, which was not given an inheritance of land from which the Levites could derive increase (Numbers 18:23), was to receive God’s tithe of the agricultural produce in return for their ecclesiastical service to the nation. The Levites, based on what they had received in tithes from the people, in turn tithed to the priestly family of Aaron (Numbers 18:26-28).

Over the years that followed, payment of the tithe was carelessly neglected, with devastating consequences. By Nehemiah’s day the whole system of godly worship had crumbled and decayed. Temple worship and observance of the Sabbath were seriously compromised (Nehemiah 13). Because there was no financial support for the Levites, they had returned to their fields to support themselves (verse 10). God’s system of worship was all but abandoned.

Nehemiah recognized that restoring the tithe was crucial to restoring godly worship. He strongly corrected the nation for its failure to tithe (verses 11-12) and restored the practice of tithing (Nehemiah 10:37-38; 12:44), which in turn enabled the Levites to carry out the work of God that they had originally been designated to perform (Numbers 18:21).

Today the practice of tithing plays a vital role in the overall system of godly worship within the Church. It encourages humility before God. It encourages us to properly evaluate the use of all our physical resources and thus ensures a more balanced and proper approach in our relationship with God. Neglecting to practice tithing will negatively impact a proper, biblical system of worship with far-reaching consequences both for ourselves and the Church.

Malachi 3:8-10 provides another example of how God views a failure to tithe diligently. Written near the time of Nehemiah’s struggle to set the nation of Judah aright, the context shows this also has an end-time application. In this passage, God corrects the nation in the strongest terms. Failure to tithe, He says, is tantamount to robbing Him, and the disobedient are consequently cursed. Yet God also promises that renewed obedience in tithing will result in blessings from Him, so abundant that "there will not be room enough to receive it." God is serious about His laws and His commitments to us and, of course, about our commitments to Him.

Tithing in the New Testament

When we come to the New Testament and the experience of the early Church, we should consider several important points. First, the emergence of the Church did not herald a radical departure from the practices of the nation of Israel. Not until several decades after the founding of the New Testament Church does the book of Hebrews record a clarification of the impact the new spiritual administration of Christ had for the Church and the existing priesthood. Even here it is apparent that most laws relating to Israel were not annulled, but were sometimes different in their application.

For decades the Church was regarded by the gentiles as merely another sect of the Jews, but one that believed in the deity of Jesus Christ. The Church is the spiritual equivalent of physical Israel and is even called "the Israel of God" (Galatians 6:16). Because of lack of obedience, the opportunity for salvation for that time was extended beyond the nation of Israel and offered to others—those who would be called into the Church from all nations (Matthew 21:43; 1Peter 2:9-10). This new spiritual nation would provide the obedience God desired, through a converted heart.

No sharp break in application of laws and principles from the Old Testament came about. Indeed, the New Testament had not yet been written, and it is acknowledged that the Church was "built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone" (Ephesians 2:20).

The teachings and specific examples from the Old Testament, we are told, were written for the benefit of the New Testament Church (Romans 15:4; 1Corinthians 10:11), therefore we should pay close attention to them. In a prophecy of the time setting of Christ’s second coming, we are admonished to "remember the law of Moses, My servant" (Malachi 4:4). It was God Himself who gave His law for Israel through Moses. That law and the proper application of its principles has continuing relevance for members of God’s Church.

Instruction from Jesus Christ and the apostles

Jesus Himself clearly upheld the practice of tithing. "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the other things undone” (Matthew 23:23). As recorded here, only days before His death Christ plainly confirmed that tithing should indeed be practiced, along with sincere adherence to the "weightier" spiritual matters the scribes and Pharisees were obviously neglecting.

The Israelites supported the tribe of Levi for its service at the temple by giving the Levites God’s tithe. This support provided the means for Israel to worship God and be taught according to His will. In the New Testament the followers of the gospel message gave monetary and other aid to Jesus, to His disciples and, later, to other laborers in the Church to support them in doing the work Christ had given His Church to do. Examples of such giving, and principles relating to it, are found in New Testament passages such as Luke 8:3; 10:7-8; 2Corinthians 11:7-9; and Philippians 4:14-18.

In early New Testament times tithes continued to be given to the priests as long as there remained a temple and a priesthood to support. However, the book of Hebrews describes a change in administration as the New Testament Church—the spiritual temple of God (1Corinthians 3:16; Ephesians 2:19-22)—replaced the physical temple in importance.

Tithing abolished in Hebrews?

Hebrews 7 first relates how Abraham gave tithes to Melchizedek, king of Salem and God’s priest. Melchizedek and the offices he held are used in this passage as a type of Jesus Christ Himself. With the later establishment of Israel as His nation, God established a different priesthood, and tithes were given to the descendants of Levi, who served as this new priesthood (verse 5). As the administration changed, the recipients of the tithes also changed. The book of Hebrews demonstrates how the practices and principles relating to the physical temple, sacrifices and priesthood now apply to the new High Priest, Jesus Christ (verses 22-28).

Far from this section of Scripture stating that tithing is abolished, its thrust is primarily to support the return to a priesthood "according to the order of Melchizedek" (verses 15-17). This new priesthood of Jesus Christ is vastly superior to the priesthood of Levi in every way. It necessitated a "change of the law" (verse 12) relating to the priesthood, because the law God gave by Moses to Israel included no instruction regarding a High Priest coming from Judah (verses 13-14).

This change of the law had to do with a change in administration. It meant that the administration of tithing would change with this new priesthood—from that of Levi to that of Melchizedek (Christ). Thus members of the Church today continue to tithe even though the Levitical priesthood has ended, just as Abraham tithed to Melchizedek before the priesthood of Levi was established.

Paul drew on an analogy to demonstrate that, as those ministering in the temple were supported by the offerings given at the temple, so those ministering in the Church should receive support from the Church. "Even so the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should live from the gospel," he wrote (1 Corinthians 9:13-14).

A matter of faith

When you tithe you are aligning your attitude and actions with universal principles originating with God, the great Giver (Matthew 10:8; 19:21; 20:28; Luke 6:38; 12:32; Acts 20:35). Tithing reflects the unselfish, giving nature of our Creator and Provider. Through willing and cheerful giving (2Corinthians 9:6-8), we honor God while supporting the physical means of preaching the gospel.

It should be noted that anyone who gives a tithe should do so willingly. Although God equates withholding tithes with robbing Him (Malachi 3:8-10), He does not force anyone to tithe. Tithing is giving. Voluntarily (from Latin) and willingly (from Anglo-Saxon) are identical in meaning and refer to actions made by our own decisions.

As with all obedience to God’s laws, whether we tithe or not will always be based on our own decision. The Church today is not under the Levitical administration of Israel. Under that administration tithing related to a physical nation. Today the Church is a spiritual organism, a borderless community of believers scattered throughout many nations. Today, as was the case with Abraham, no humanly legislated penalty is imposed if we do not tithe. Rather, failure to tithe incurs its own penalty on each of us and diminishes our potential for effective service and responsible stewardship in God’s eyes (Luke 16:10).

Making a decision to tithe is a matter of faith. For most of us just the necessities of life consume almost all of our income. Stepping out in faith to tithe—and in this way supporting the work of God of preaching the gospel and nourishing the Church—is a scriptural obligation none of those called by God can afford to neglect. But God will surely bless those whose faith is actively backed up by good works. And they will be active participants in the most important enterprise on earth, that of proclaiming the wonderful news of the Kingdom of God to this chaotic and war-weary world.

Tithing is a universal principle not restricted to a particular covenant, one that relates to each of the major administrations of God as He has worked with people through the centuries. Tithing applies to all people today. God doesn’t leave it up to us to decide how to worship Him. He defines the basics of how we are to worship Him, and honoring Him with a portion of the increase He gives us is clearly a part of the worship He commands.

Deepening our relationship with God

Our faith to tithe is founded in the realization that God owns everything, including ourselves, and that we recognize Him as both our Creator and the great Giver of all good things.

In giving back to God a tenth of our income, we enter into a special relationship with our Creator and owner. We dedicate ourselves to serving Him and financially supporting Christ’s commission to preach the gospel and nourish the Church. In return He promises to bless us. Tithing, then, is an intensely personal matter between you and God—a way of demonstrating the depth of your commitment to, and relationship with, God.

God devised the practice of tithing so we can learn to give of our possessions to further His interests on earth. By tithing we express appreciation to God in a small but tangible way for the abundance of His possessions that He allows us to use for our material benefit. Finally, we learn to become, as He is, a giver of what we own for the benefit of others.

We see tithing, then, as the opposite of a selfish approach to life. God stands prepared to support this generous approach by, in turn, blessing us. He invites all to take Him up on His promise: "‘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’" (Malachi 3:10). GN




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