IS TITHING COMPULSORY FOR THE CHRISTIAN? (What Really Does the Bible Say?)
Someone may feel that this topic is wrong, that the question should be, “Should Christians pay tithes?” But I crave your indulgence to read on and you will see why I have used this title.
What is tithing, to begin with? It is the payment of a tenth of one’s earnings to God through the church or one’s minister. This is one of the most contentious issues in Christianity today. Some preachers say that tithing is mandatory for Christians and that those who don’t pay will be open to attacks from the devil, without God’s defence. In fact, it was recently reported that a General Overseer of a large pentecostal church with headquarters in Nigeria declared that members who don’t pay tithes will not go to heaven.
On the other hand, some Christians accuse pastors who insist their members must tithe on defrauding them. The arguments are usually that the pastors end up living far more comfortably than their members.
In the light of the foregoing, what does the Bible actually teach about tithing? And what should a Christian’s stand on it be? While I am confident that, by God’s grace, I have captured the proper position on this issue in this post, I need to emphasise the need to search the Scriptures yourself and have a daily habit of feeding on the Word to build your faith and clarify any issues your attention is drawn to.
MAJOR BIBLICAL REFERENCES TO TITHING
The first Biblical reference to tithing is in the story of Abraham’s defeat of King Cherdorlaomer and his allies, who had invaded Sodom and carried off his nephew, Lot, and many others.
“And blessed be the most high God, which hath delivered thine enemies into thy hand. And he gave him tithes of all.” – Genesis 14:20
When Abraham returned from the battle, Melchidezek King of Salem, who was also a priest, met him and thanked God for his defeat of his enemies. And Abraham paid tithes of his bounties to him.
Note that we are not told that Abraham paid tithes consistently and, technically speaking, this wasn’t a regular tithe because Abraham was paying from the stuff recovered from the invaders, none of which was his. It basically means he gave a tenth of what was recovered to thank God for granting he and his associates victory.
The next point was when Jacob was running to his mother’s family for shelter from his brother Esau’s rage.
“20. And Jacob vowed a vow, saying, If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat, and raiment to put on, 21. So that I come again to my father’s house in peace; then shall the Lord be my God: 22. And this stone, which I have set for a pillar, shall be God’s house: and of all that thou shalt give me I will surely give the tenth unto thee.” – Genesis 28:20-22
Jacob made a pledge to God in prayer because he sought his protection. Once again, we are not told he made this a regular practice.
Then when God gave the law through Moses, the tithe was formally instituted to sustain the priests and Levites (who would serve in the temple) and take care of the frequent sacrifices they were to make on behalf of the people. Tithes were classified and some were for the care of the needy: widows, orphans and strangers. In fact, even those paying the tithe were to eat out of it sometimes.
“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 unto the Lord.” – Leviticus 27:30
“But the tithes of the children of Israel, which they offer as an heave offering unto the Lord, I have given to the Levites to inherit: therefore I have said unto them, Among the children of Israel they shall have no inheritance.” – Numbers 18:24
“22. Thou shalt truly tithe all the increase of thy seed, that the field bringeth forth year by year. 23. And thou shalt eat before the Lord thy God, in the place which he shall choose to place his name there, the tithe of thy corn, of thy wine, and of thine oil, and the firstlings of thy herds and of thy flocks; that thou mayest learn to fear the Lord thy God always.” – Deuteronomy 14:22-23
“28. At the end of three years thou shalt bring forth all the tithe of thine increase the same year, and shalt lay it up within thy gates: 29. And the Levite, (because he hath no part nor inheritance with thee,) and the stranger, and the fatherless, and the widow, which are within thy gates, shall come, and shall eat and be satisfied; that the Lord thy God may bless thee in all the work of thine hand which thou doest.” – Deuteronomy 14:28-29
During the reign of the kings of Israel and after the exile of the Jews, there were occasions when the people, after periods of neglect, were rallied to contribute their tithes in order to revive temple services and get the Levites back to their duty posts therein (2 Chronicles 31:4-6; Nehemiah 13:10-12).
Another important reference to tithing in the Bible was where the Israelites were rebuked for not tithing in the book of Malachi.
“8. Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings. 9. Ye are cursed with a curse: for ye have robbed me, even this whole nation. 10. Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it. 11. And I will rebuke the devourer for your sakes, and he shall not destroy the fruits of your ground; neither shall your vine cast her fruit before the time in the field, saith the Lord of hosts.” – Malachi 3:8-11
This passage is frequently quoted in churches to imply that if a Christian does not tithe, he or she would be bereft of God’s protection. But is this really what the Bible teaches? The passage above was clearly referring to the Jews to whom the law had been given.
(Related: 6 Correct Christian Views About Money)
In the gospels, we hear about tithing where the Lord Jesus was rebuking the religious leaders for their conscientiousness in tithing while neglecting more important issues in the law.
“23. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.” – Matthew 23:23
It also featured in the Parable of the Pharisee and the Publican, where the Pharisee was boasting about giving tithes on all he owned (Luke 18:12). This goes to show, as we have seen so far, that tithing was an obligation among the Jews. But is it the same for Christians?
[bctt tweet=”Tithing was an obligation among the Jews. But is it the same for Christians?” username=”edithsmusings”]
TITHING IN THE NEW TESTAMENT
The church of Jesus Christ came into being after his ascension to heaven when his disciples began to preach the gospel far and wide. Our Lord Jesus had concentrated his ministry among the Jews. Remember his reply to the Syro-Phoenician woman who came begging for healing for her daughter and his instruction to his disciples when he sent them out to preach:
“But he answered and said, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” – Matthew 15:24
“5. These twelve Jesus sent forth, and commanded them, saying, Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not: 6. But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. 7. And as ye go, preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand.” – Matthew 10:5-7
Although our Lord’s teachings in the gospels are universal in some respects, the doctrine for the New Testament church is clearly delineated in Acts of the Apostles and the epistles where the apostles clarified what is applicable to Christians from the law. (One example is the submission of the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15.) In none of those scriptures are Christians commanded to give tithes. Giving in the New Testament is voluntary and as God has blessed you.
“Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver.” – 2 Corinthians 9:7
[bctt tweet=”All giving in the New Testament is voluntary and as God has blessed you.” username=”edithsmusings”]
The kind of equivalence some preachers apply in relating Old Testament (OT) Scriptures to the present dispensation cannot always be justified. We are under grace, not under law.
“16. And of his fulness have all we received, and grace for grace. 17. For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.” – John 1:16-17
“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God” – Ephesians 2:8.
But you might say Jesus came to fulfill the law. Yes, he did. That’s precisely why we have been relieved of most of the observances: the sacrifices, the fees, the New Moons and yearly festivals, etc.
“23. But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed. 24. Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. 25. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster.” – Galatians 3:23-25
Does this mean we are not to obey God’s laws or that we can make up our own rules?
We need to understand that the law had different aspects. There is the moral law which comprises universal and eternal precepts of right and wrong which we see reflected in the entire Scriptures. Take for instance, the Ten Commandments. The principles they embody were already in force before Moses received the Decalogue inscribed on stone. Those are still binding on us. For example, the sixth commandment says, “Thou shalt not kill” and you see from the beginning where God held Cain accountable for the killing of his brother, Abel. That was long before the time of Moses and we are still expected to obey that.
[bctt tweet=”Christians are subject to the moral, but not the ceremonial, aspects of OT law.” username=”edithsmusings”]
The moral law is what is referred to in Romans chapter 1.
“14. … the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: 15. Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another” – Romans 2:14-15.
But the law had ceremonial aspects that pertained to ritual cleanness and temple observances which the death of Christ has brought to an end. For example, the constant sacrifices for sin are no longer required since Christ’s blood has been shed for us (Hebrews 10:1-18).
The law also had civil/judicial aspects which may not be reflected in the laws of our countries now. For example, procedures for settlement of disputes, redemption of property, giving of loans, stuff like that. Those were for the Israelites at that time and don’t pertain to us.
[bctt tweet=”The civil/judicial aspects of OT law applied to the then theocratic state of Israel.” username=”edithsmusings”]
Some people insist that tithing falls under the moral law because it has to do with honouring God with our substance but the fact is that under the New Testament, there is no obligatory way stipulated for honouring God with our substance.
As Christians who love God, we cannot fail to give: to support the work of God in churches, missionary organisations, charities, etc. We also need to give to support ministers of the gospel, needy people around us and elsewhere. But how and what we give should be worked out between us and God. The Christian has the peculiar advantage of having the indwelling Holy Spirit. Old Testament believers lacked that. We can decide by His leading to tithe, give various kinds of offerings and pledges but it should always be done without fear and without compulsion.
“Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, other forso let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver.” – 2 Corinthians 9:7
[bctt tweet=”Every form of giving by a Christian should be done without fear or compulsion.” username=”edithsmusings”]
Personally, I think that tithing as a form of giving is good because it is a substantial way to support churches and ministries. It helps to equip them to reach the lost and strengthen the saved. There is something to be said for the regularity of it too when one makes a commitment to tithe. It could help one to develop a habit or consistency in giving which they may lack the discipline to maintain otherwise. And if you feel it’s a way to covenant God to oversee and bless your ways … well, Jacob did it too as we saw earlier. But I cannot find any scriptural support to say that it is absolutely demanded of Christians or that its non-payment will cost one admission into heaven.
Each of us need to know God personally and have an interactive relationship with Him. As I said in the Introduction, we must also prayerfully read the Bible for ourselves and peruse it with relevant study aids. I recommend reading your Bible through yearly and comparing translations to fully understand the passages that you examine. It will help you to see for yourself what the Bible says about different issues, tithing included.
There is no doubt that there are blessings accruable from tithing as many tithing Christians will testify. These blessings are receivable from other forms of giving as well but the magnitude of the tithe (being 10% of one’s earnings) does come into play because the word of God promises that, “He which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully” – 2 Corinthians 9:6. So a tithing Christian is blessed because God is faithful to reward his or her generous sowing into His work, not because tithing is compulsory and God is bound to forsake or curse non-tithing Christians.
In effect, the teaching that distinguishes tithing from other forms of giving, that says tithing is mandatory while the others are optional, cannot be supported by Scripture because tithing is not even commanded for Christians. While it is possible for a Christian to receive a rhema (direct word of God) to pay tithes due to his or her peculiar situation, that does not make it a universally applicable doctrine for Christians.
I look forward to hearing your views on this. Do share the post widely if you’ve found it helpful. God bless you richly in Jesus’ name.
The scriptures used in this post are from the King James Version of the Holy Bible.
What is your view on the controversy surrounding tithing?
Are there issues that God has spoken to you about that might be peculiar to you? E.g. going for morning cry at stipulated times or not wearing jewelry.
What other teachings in the contemporary church do you see as not properly supported by Scripture?
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