Last week my Twitter friend Calvinist Batman wrote an article about tithing as a command on Christians. If you didn’t read it, I recommend you take a minute to go do that. This is a response to that post, so the full title of this post should be “Giving in Light of Christ: A Response to Calvinist Batman.”
I will start with the things I believe he got right. He is right that American Christians have a hard time yielding ourselves to the commands of Scripture. We often throw out the word “legalism” rather than wrestle with the text itself. He is also right in pointing out that tithing is often a contentious topic, and it is my aim to be as kind here as he was there.
With that, let’s dive into his arguments and take a look at them one at a time.
Did Abel Tithe?
“…Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions.” Gen. 4:4
Abel brought some of his animals as a offering to God. He either brought whole animals who were either the
first or the best of his flock (firstborn can mean either in the Bible), or he brought parts of those animals. The Bible clearly calls this an offering (Gen. 4:3), not a tithe, and there is no evidence that he brought 10% of his flock, simply that he brought some of the animals.
Did Abram Tithe?
“And Abram gave him a tenth of everything.” Gen. 14:20b
While Abram did pay a tithe, I don’t believe this applies as a lesson for us. Abram was tithing on the spoils of war, not his annual income. We have no reason to believe that God commanded him to do this (it has been suggested by scholars that this was a tradition of the time), and there is no evidence that Abram ever tithed again. Much of the story of Abram and Melchizedek is a foreshadow of Christ, whose priesthood is superior to that of Abram’s descendant Levi (Heb. 7). That is the lesson to take from the story of Abram and Melchizedek, not tithing.
Did Jesus Support Tithing?
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.” Matt. 23:23
Jesus’ main point here was that the teachers of the law were being overly scrupulous in certain points of the law while neglecting others. Tithing is a part of the Mosaic law,
to be sure, but so are the others. For the Pharisees to be so concerned with tithing from their spice cabinet (while the law only talks about tithing from the fields and flocks specifically, Deut. 14:22-23) and yet be unconcerned with justice, mercy, and faithfulness showed their hypocrisy. Also, we must remember that Jesus was speaking to people under the law who were trying to be justified through their keeping of the law, while Christians are not justified through keeping the law but through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ (Gal. 2:16).
Purpose of the Tithe
“For the tithe of the people of Israel, which they present as a contribution to the LORD, I have given to the Levites for an inheritance. Therefore I have said of them that they shall have no inheritance among the people of Israel.” Num. 18:24
The Levites were set apart by God to serve in the temple. They were not given a portion of land when the land was divided among the tribes of Israel. Therefore, God gave them the tithe so the Levites could care for their families and support themselves. Today’s pastors and missionaries need to be supported financially, but they are not prohibited by God to own land or have another job, which is illustrated by Paul’s career as a tentmaker while he was preaching the gospel.
How Then Shall We Give?
To say that tithing is commanded by God is to say that those who aren’t giving 10% of their income are in sin. I do not believe that to be a conclusion the Bible allows us to draw. Christians should give financially to the church (1 Tim. 5:18). That is not a question. The question is simply this – how do we know how much to give?
The clearest New Testament passage on financial giving is 2 Corinthians 9:7.
“Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”
The NT pattern for giving is to give freely and cheerfully, not out of necessity. Christians must understand that giving is a way we show the love we feel for our Christian brothers and sisters (Rom. 12:9-13). We should honestly assess our income and give what we decide to give with a smile, remembering that God has given generously and lavishly to us.
Is it acceptable for the Christian to give 10% of their income to the church? Absolutely. I would argue that it is a good idea, either as a starting point or a goal to work up to (depending on your income). However, it is just as acceptable to give 5%, or 50%, as long as you give generously and from the right heart.