Tithing Lesson: Is it Mandatory?

A friend asked me what I think about “tithes”. I feel it is a question worth answering publicly through a post, so that the facts are known to all.

Mandatory tithing was introduced to the Israelites through Moses’ Law (Leviticus 27:30, Numbers 18:21-26, Deuteronomy 14:22-29), and was specifically meant to create provisions for the Levites, one of the twelve tribes of Israel. The Levites were to become dedicated servants of God, and therefore they did not receive a share of land like the other eleven tribes. They were to serve God, and survive off tithes as well as offerings made in the temple, in the case of the priests.

Prior to that, Abraham (then Abram) gave a tenth of spoils of war to King Melchizedek, but this was not something he did regularly, and it was not out of his income. Jacob also vowed to give a tithe to God, but this was not mandated of him.

The Israelites were not faithful with tithing, however, and it was only sporadically (during King Hezekiah’s reign [2 Chronicles 31:4-12], and after the restoration of Jerusalem [Nehemiah 13:10-12]) that there is mention of the Israelites tithing. This is what led to Malachi lamenting in Malachi 3:8-10 that Israel was robbing God.

In the New Testament, there are a couple of references to tithing being practiced during the time of Jesus. One is when Jesus lambasted the Scribes and the Pharisees (Matthew 23:23) for being meticulous tithers, but not caring about people. The other is when the Pharisee is praying loudly about giving tithes (Luke 18:12) and putting himself above the tax collector who was beating himself up beside him. In both these instances, it is clear that tithing was being abused in a way that did not please God.

Mathew 17:24-27 contains a relevant story, where the collectors of temple tax came to Peter and asked him if his master (Jesus) did not pay the tax. Peter answered that he did, but when he met Jesus, Jesus told him that sons are free from taxes. Outside of this particular incident, however, there is no mention of regular payments of tithes/taxes by the early Christians.

After Jesus ascended to heaven, the biggest problem in the early church was the issue of whether or not new Christians needed to follow Moses’ Law (i.e. become Jews), before they could become Christians (Acts 15:1). Former Jews preached that this was necessary, and they tried to coerce the converted Gentiles (i.e. non-Jews) to follow Moses’ Law. This led to Paul and Barnabus, who were preaching to the Gentiles, approaching the Jerusalem Council of apostles regarding the issue.

Acts 15:19-20 records the outcome: those of the nations turning to God were not compelled to follow Moses’ Law or any other covenant prior to that of Christ, except that they were to:

(1) Abstain from idols
(2) Abstain from sexual immorality
(3) Not eat what was strangled, and
(4) Abstain from blood

In addition, they also asked that they remember the poor (Galatians 2:10). This is what led to Paul encouraging Gentile Christians to make a voluntary collection of money to give to their poor fellow Christians in Jerusalem (see 2 Corinthians 8:3-5, 12-15). This was not a tithe, however.

Mandatory tithing was, therefore, only applicable to a specific time in Jewish history. It was also for a specific purpose, and it fell away with the death of Jesus Christ on the cross, which freed both Jews and Gentiles from the curse of the Law. It was not practiced in the early Christian church, and neither was there a commandment that it continue beyond the abolishment of the Law.

This does not, however, mean that Christians should not give. They should, and should do so generously within their means (2 Corinthians 8, Luke 6:38) and not under compulsion. It is important to also clarify that giving will not result in earthly, but in heavenly rewards (Matthew 19:21). Giving should be to the poor (Proverbs 22:16, Luke 14:12) and not to the rich. It should not be done with the expectation of material reward, or for show.

What are your thoughts about tithing? I look forward to reading your feedback and engaging in conversation in the comments section below.

Farai Mutambanengwe

Accountant by training, Entrepreneur by experience and Christian by faith, Farai is passionate about SME development in particular, and national economic growth in general. He is currently involved in several ‘Doing Business’ reform processes, is a member of the National Manpower Council, adjudicates several business awards and helps small and medium enterprises in Zimbabwe to grow their businesses.

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