Where Your Treasure Is Study #4
This week’s Connect Group Study is taken from the devotional reader WHERE YOUR TREASURE IS by Pastor David Staff. Please read the chapter out-loud together (taking turns reading the paragraphs below), and then discuss the questions at the end.
MY TREASURE: Understanding Tithing
Old and New Testament Scriptures
Encountering an unexpected storm, two friends who enjoyed sailing were blown badly off course. Their damaged boat washed up on the shoreline of an uncharted, deserted island. Marooned with no working communication devices, one man paced back and forth worried and scared, while the other sat back sunning himself. The first man said to his friend, “Aren’t you afraid we are about to die?” “No,” said the second man. “I make $100,000 a week and tithe faithfully to my church every week. My pastor will find me.”
From the earliest of my Christian experience, I‘ve understood that God was always to get His ten cents on a dollar. When my wife taught our kids to work by delivering two routes of newspapers every day, they also learned from her that the Lord deserved the first dollars from their Tribune paycheck—at least 10% off the top.
But as is true of many things we’ve concluded that Scripture teaches and God expects, we may not have this whole tithing thing correct. Clarifying questions should be addressed. What did God expect of Israel according to the Law when it came to worshipping and giving? Did “tithing” mean10%? Was there more to it than a simple percentage? And what about today, in the New Testament or “Christian” era? How do we apply Old Testament principles and Jewish laws in our walk with Jesus? Should we? And what do the New Testament letters teach the church?
TITHING IN THE OLD TESTAMENT ERA
In a most helpful chapter, “Money and the Love of God” (in Balancing the Christian Life, Moody Press, 1994), Charles Ryrie offers a clear understanding of what was required in the Old Testament giving practice.
No hard and fast rule concerning the amount [to give] is to be found among New Testament principles of giving. This is in sharp contrast to the regulations of the Old Testament, which required that a tenth of all be given to the Levites (Leviticus 27:30-33), who in turn tithed what they received and gave it to the priests.
In addition, Jews understood that a second tithe (a tenth of the remaining nine-tenths) was to be set apart and consumed in a sacred meal in Jerusalem (Deuteronomy 12:5-6,11,18; those living too far from Jerusalem could bring money). Every third year, this second tithe was taken for the Levites, strangers, fatherless, and widows (Deuteronomy 14:28-29). Thus the proportion was clearly specified, and every Israelite was obliged to bring to the Lord 19% of his yearly income (p.89).
Nineteen percent, annually. Wow! And that was the requirement. Beyond this bottom line, there were other kinds of offerings proscribed by the Law, called “votive” (or voluntary, free-will) offerings and sacrifices. These were given when a special vow was made to the Lord. A “thank offering” was given to express special gratitude to the Lord for a blessing received.
Randy Alcorn adds, “The tithe was explicit and objective. Though God desired his people to do it joyfully, it required no heart response. But the freewill offering was entirely different. It involved the joy of a heart touched by God’s grace” (Money, Possessions, and Eternity, Eternal Perspective Ministries, 2003).
Importantly, however, Ryrie notes “It is apparent that the tithe was part of the Mosaic Law (Lev. 27:30-33) and an important factor in the economy of Israel. [Yet] The Law was never given to the Gentiles and is expressly done away with for the Christian (Romans 2:14, 2 Corinthians 3:7-13, Hebrews 7:11-12). Neither are the words of Malachi 3 for the Christian, for what believer claims to be a son of Jacob to whom this passage is addressed?” (p.91).
STEWARDSHIP IN THE NEW TESTAMENT ERA
Though we may feel set a bit adrift, untethered from the Law’s demands to tithe, can we nonetheless find clear guidance on giving from the Gospels and letters written to Christians gathered in churches? The answer, of course, is “yes!” But it will require a bit of growing up. The stewardship teaching in the New Testament books urges generosity, the extent of which is to be determined by partnering with the Holy Spirit’s prompting.
In other words, we are set free from the Law unto the freedom of the Spirit. Set free, indeed, to do more, to be even more eagerly generous in seeking first the Kingdom of God with all that we are and have.
In Paul and Money, Verlyn Verbrugge and Keith Krell provide a helpful synopsis of the Apostle’s instruction to Christians he was discipling.
…Paul places significant emphasis on the freedom of individual giving [in teaching found in 1 Corinthians 16:1-2]. He will do so again in 2 Corinthians 9:7: “Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (NIV). Cheerful giving is voluntary giving—giving because one wants to give. This theme is also in keeping with the word “generosity” (aplothV) that occurs in 2 Corinthians 8:2, 9:11,13. By its very nature, generosity is something that comes from the inside, not from outer compulsion (that certainly was the case for the Macedonians, whose spirit of generosity was so strong that they begged Paul to receive more of their income for his collection.
[Craig] Bloomberg’s summary for the apostolic age is pertinent here: When one turns to Acts through Revelation…one looks in vain for a reference anywhere to the tithe for believers. Indeed a more detailed scrutiny of 1 Corinthians 16:1-4 and 2 Corinthians 8-9 suggests that if all Christians gave one identical fixed percentage of their income, this would actually violate Paul’s mandates. Some would be giving sacrificially, some generously, some ordinarily, and other stingily!” (Christians in an Age of Wealth: A Biblical Theology of Stewardship, Zondervan, 2013, 129-130).
A GROWING STEWARDSHIP LIFE
Perhaps a summary is in order. Randy Alcorn fittingly calls the practice of tithing “the training wheels of giving” (cf. Chapter 12 of Money, Possessions, and Eternity). His chapter provides a complete overview of Old Testament stewardship law and worship practice. “Tithing,” he writes, “gives perspective. It reminds us that all we are and all we have is from God. Tithing begins as a duty but can become a delight, leading to joyful voluntary giving.”
As disciples of the Lord Jesus in this era, with the Spirit of God flowing through us (John 7:37-39), we are called to more than satisfying a regulation. Paul urged that the Corinthians’ giving be regular, intentional and prepared, and in keeping with how God has prospered (1 Cor. 16:1-2). To the same believers, he added it should be joyful, responsive, abundant and generous (2 Corinthians 8-9). This means that individual believers, couples, and families should have the courage to discuss this question – “What are we giving? Why are we giving it? How are we giving it?” They should make some prayerful decisions with the New Testament open and their hearts tuned to the Holy Spirit…and then follow through.
“The point is this,” Paul wrote, “whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor. 9:6-7, ESV).
REFLECTION and DISCUSSION QUESTIONS
- What insights have I gained from this overview of Old Testament stewardship and tithing? How does it contrast with what the New Testament teaches?
- How have I made my (or our) decisions to give? What have been the Biblical guidelines I’ve used? Have I prayed and listened to the Holy Spirit when evaluating what to invest in the Kingdom of God?
- How am I processing the call to “generosity?” Am I uncomfortable or comfortable with becoming a generous giver? And how does the principle of sowing and reaping impact my thinking?