Everything belongs to God! He is, by His nature and revelation, the Creator God of the Universe. Everything in it comes from Him, and we see in John 1, that it is held together and continues to exist because of Him. When we come to the biblical foundation of offerings and tithes, we must always start with this understanding, as it helps us understand the ‘why’. Everything already belongs to God.
While ultimate ownership of the Earth is God’s, we see in Genesis that the Earth is given to humans to steward, that is, to look after on behalf of God. Sadly, we gave up that right when we first sinned, handing authority over to the enemy, and to the power of sin and death. However, God still is the ultimate power and owner of everything, and will, in the fullness of time, end the enemy’s authority in the earth. In the New Testament, when Jesus ministers to people, He is restoring the stewardship of the Earth to God and to His people. He does this through His concern for and ministry to people.
Jesus is concerned for the spiritual, physical and emotional wellbeing of all His creation. His salvation is described with the Greek word ‘sozo’, used contextually of all three of the above types of ministry into people’s lives. Given too that the final fulfilment of this world is a re-created heaven and earth in the physical and spiritual sense, it seems reasonable to suggest that in the ‘now and not yet’ phase of the Kingdom of God, our physical materials should be of interest to God.
Despite what some people may suggest, tithing in scripture actually pre-dates the giving of the Torah (the Law) at Mt Sinai. The first recorded use of the concept of tithing (a 10% offering) is recorded in Genesis 14, between Abraham and Melchizedek, the King of Salem and priest of the Most High God. In Genesis 28, Jacob offers a tenth to the Lord. In fact, as early as Genesis 4, God’s people knew that they should be offering to the Lord a portion of their produce. The heated exchange between Cain and Abel and the resulting murder suggests that getting this offering right was kind of a big deal!
It would be fair to suggest, then, that offering of our material wealth to God, and offering it as a priority, is important. The Bible seems to suggest 10% as the starting place. However, we will see as we go further, that this is a great starting place, but maybe not the final word on the matter.
When we see the tithes and offerings laid out in Leviticus and Deuteronomy, we find some more interesting points. Leviticus 27 suggests that the tithe isn’t even the property of the person giving it! It is, in fact, God’s, from the start, and so the obedient worshipper was simply returning to God what was already His.
This perspective is a really healthy one to have. Sometimes people can get hung up on who gets the money they give, and how it gets spent. While it is really important to ensure the church that receives your offering has godly leadership that are seeking to continue Jesus’s kingdom work in the world, that is a discussion for another time. The simplicity of God’s statement through Moses in Leviticus 27:30 is that the tithe belongs to the Lord, and it is holy to Him. What happens with it after it is given is really up to God! In many of the cases in the Old Testament, that Leviticus and Deuteronomy describe, the tithe and offering went to the priests to feed and sustain them and their families, as they had no other way of supporting themselves (they had no property or inheritance in the land).
Malachi suggests that not giving our tithe to God is robbing Him (Malachi 3:8). God is more than happy, in the same verse, to have us test Him and His faithfulness to us in our material giving.
There are more mentions of offerings and tithes in the Old Testament, but I’d like to take a look at what the New Testament writers had to say about tithes and offerings.
Jesus’s words to the Pharisees and Teachers of the Law in Luke 11:42 (and it’s companion passage in Matthew 23), was that they tithed even the smallest parts of their income – down to a tenth of their spices, but neglected loving God and loving others. He said that they should have done both, not just the material tithe. It’s a ‘both/and’ scenario. We know from the Matthew 23 version of this teaching that Jesus is speaking to the crowds and His disciples, so this fits into the ‘go and teach them all that I have commanded you’ instruction from the Great Commission of Matthew 28.
However, some people suggest that all of these instances, even the pre-Moses record of offerings and tithes, are not valid for the Christian in the new covenant we have in Jesus. That’s definitely a valid point: nowhere after the Gospels is the instruction to tithe found, apart from Hebrews 7 that is referring back to the interaction between Abraham and Melchizedek.
I would suggest that the foundational practice of tithing was such a part of the New Testament Jewish Christian’s lives that there was little need to mention it. What is mentioned is that we should give regularly and generously!
Acts 2:42-47, an outline of the basic practices of the early church, includes that they gave generously to anyone in need. We should be giving to those who are poor (Galatians 2), those that are experiencing financial distress and dire circumstances (Acts 4 and Acts 11), and for the ‘saints’ in other churches as they have need (1 Corinthians 16).
Jesus said to His disciples when He sent them out that they shouldn’t worry about taking anything, they would be provided for. Not only was that a reliance on Ancient Near Eastern hospitality, but also a trust in the provision of God to supply their needs. Paul writes to Timothy (1 Timothy 5), and to the Church in Corinth (1 Corinthians 9), that the people who are doing God’s work, usually preaching the Gospel, should be supported by those who hear the Word in the churches.
The ongoing ministry of the church throughout the New Testament relies on the generosity of the congregations, the smaller expressions of family in each location. They each would supply the needs of those who had need.
In our modern context, our culture and our focus on money, status, independence and individuality means that the cultural norms of generosity, giving and looking after the needs of the church and the people in it are now not our default response. Some would say that the government has taken upon the role of social responsibility to provide a safety net through our taxes to care for the poor and needy, however this still does not address the need found within the community of God to meet the needs of the church. But the people of God are marked by generosity of heart (see 2 Corinthians 9:6-8), out of a response to the Lordship of Christ and generosity of God our Father. We are indeed under grace, so giving and tithing should be a heart response to God. If the Old Testament is the foundation piece that supports the work of Christ, the establishing of God’s covenant people, and the New Testament grows this and re-works it to be centred around the risen Jesus and the indwelling Spirit, then we should not think that out giving should be anything less than what was established earlier. The beauty of the new covenant is that we give not out of obligation but of thanksgiving and love.
When Jesus expressed that we cannot serve two masters, God or money (Matthew 6:24), then He told us that this would be a real and present issue in our lives. What if we thought about giving (with 10% as a starting point) as an act of worship and spiritual warfare, proclaiming with our finances that Jesus is Lord and King? What if our offerings started with the intentionality of ‘everything already belongs to God’, and we gave generously to His work in the church, trusting that He will see what is done in secret, He will provide for all our needs, and His kingdom will continue to advance?
All that is left is for you to prayerfully reflect on what the Bible tells us about generosity, material wealth and the Lordship of Jesus, and decide with the Holy Spirit what that looks like for you. If you don’t hear clearly, or you don’t know where to start, begin with the discipline of giving 10% of your income to God (maybe even count the 10% before you give the Government their share?). Start, and see what He will do with your sacrifice and your obedience.