Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Don't Tithe!

Today I want to revisit the issue of churches asking for money.  Today I want to focus more on the local church.  We have all been to services and some even go to church where they make a huge deal over the tithe.  I have been to churches where they have a special tithing message and song, some that have a 20 minutes sermonette in the midst of worship to get people to tithe, and I have even been to a church that had a picture of a ten dollar bill following by a picture of a 1 dollar bill that goes to the church and nine dollar bills that you get to keep (yes a pictorial diagram on how to tithe).  I have even been to a church that had a special "wave offering" of one dollar over the tithe taken after the tithe. Today I want to share what the Bible says about tithing and how it applies to Christians today.  I think we will see that tithing, as taught in many churches today, is dead wrong.  First of all, just in case you do not know, a tithe simply means literally "one tenth of a portion". 

First, let us look into the Old Testament to see how the tithe was used.  Tithing goes back as far as Abraham as we see here:
Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was the priest of God Most High. And he blessed him and said: "Blessed be Abram of God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; And blessed be God Most High, Who has delivered your enemies into your hand." And he gave him a tithe of all.  Genesis 14:19-20 NKJV
Here we see Abraham honoring the mysterious Melchizedek with a tithe of all he had.  There was no law for him to have done this, it was just him showing honor and respect who blessed him.  Melchizedek is a really interesting study and I will write a study on him in the future, but for our purposes today we see Abraham giving honor to him with a tithe of all he had.  It was given out of respect and gratitude and not due to any law.

Tithing was introduced as a law through Moses.
'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 to the LORD. 'If a man wants at all to redeem any of his tithes, he shall add one-fifth to it. 'And concerning the tithe of the herd or the flock, of whatever passes under the rod, the tenth one shall be holy to the LORD. Leviticus 27:30-32 NKJV
God, through Moses, instructed the Israelites to give one tenth of their produce and livestock.  They were to set it aside to the Lord. 
Then the LORD said to Aaron: "You shall have no inheritance in their land, nor shall you have any portion among them; I am your portion and your inheritance among the children of Israel. Behold, I have given the children of Levi all the tithes in Israel as an inheritance in return for the work which they perform, the work of the tabernacle of meeting. " Number 18:20-21 NKJV
And here the Lord reveals the purpose of the tithe.  The sons of Aaron (the Levites) were not to have any inheritance in the promised land.  They were called to be the priests before the Lord and perform the work of priests before the Lord.  That was not a duty but a privilege as we see here in that their inheritance was the Lord Himself.  Being that they had no land for their tribe and their duties were to perform the various tasks assigned in ministering to the Lord, they had no means of income or sustenance.  In light of that fact, God gave the tithes over to the priests so they can focus on the duties of ministering to the Lord.  The tithes were their payment for their service. The tithes were also used for one other thing.
"At the end of every third year you shall bring out the tithe of your produce of that year and store it up within your gates. And the Levite, because he has no portion nor inheritance with you, and the stranger and the fatherless and the widow who are within your gates, may come and eat and be satisfied, that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hand which you do." Deuteronomy 14:28-29 NKJV
Every third year, the tithe was also to be used to help the poor.  And so the two purposes of the tithe was to support the Levites and to help the poor. 

We see many parallels here to the New Testament and in how pastors are supported through our offerings. We give our offerings to our church and the pastors in turn are better able to focus on ministering as he does not need to find additional employment.  You can also make the argument that tithing is a moral issue and so Christians should still honor the tithe even today.  In fact, they even have a verse that they use to help them in their position.
Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given orders to the churches of Galatia, so you must do also: On the first day of the week let each one of you lay something aside, storing up as he may prosper, that there be no collections when I come. And when I come, whomever you approve by your letters I will send to bear your gift to Jerusalem. 1 Corinthians 16:1-3 NKJV
Many churches take this verse and have their collection on the first day of the week (for us Sunday) and that money goes to the work of that church.  The problem is that this passage has nothing to do with collecting for that church.  The collection is not for that church or that pastor.  It was not even for Paul (we see other examples of Paul speaking on how he earns his own living so as not to be a burden) but that money was being sent to Jerusalem.  I would imagine that in Jerusalem it was used for sending out missionaries, taking care of that church leadership, or even giving to the poor.  This was not an example of giving to that church. 

There is an example of an issue of giving directly to the church that is often used to show that it is sinful not to give to the church.
But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession. And he kept back part of the proceeds, his wife also being aware of it, and brought a certain part and laid it at the apostles' feet. But Peter said, "Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back part of the price of the land for yourself? While it remained, was it not your own? And after it was sold, was it not in your own control? Why have you conceived this thing in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God." Then Ananias, hearing these words, fell down and breathed his last. So great fear came upon all those who heard these things. And the young men arose and wrapped him up, carried him out, and buried him. Now it was about three hours later when his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. And Peter answered her, "Tell me whether you sold the land for so much?" She said, "Yes, for so much."  Then Peter said to her, "How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Look, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out." Then immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last. And the young men came in and found her dead, and carrying her out, buried her by her husband.  Acts 5:1-10 NKJV
I was even in one church where the pastor used this example to give a rather overt threat of death by the hand of God if they were not giving properly to the church.  I almost fell out of my chair!  While this couple was did hold back proceeds from a sale where those proceeds were to be given to the church, that was not their sin.  In both the husband and wife in this case, the sin that God struck them down for was lying, specifically lying to God.  It was not that they held money back, it was that the lied about it. 

This passage does, however, give us the example that we are to give to our local churches.  They were giving an offering to their church. So there is a premise for giving our offerings to our church, but what does the Bible say about our offerings?  First of all, we need to address the law regarding the tithe.  There is no law for Christians to give a tithe.  That is part of the Law of Moses and something the Lord has freed us from.  Pastors in binding their flock to the tithe is binding them to the entire law.
Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage. Indeed I, Paul, say to you that if you become circumcised, Christ will profit you nothing. And I testify again to every man who becomes circumcised that he is a debtor to keep the whole law.  Galatians 5:1-3 NKJV
This passage teaches us that we are to bind ourselves to no part of the law.  If we bind ourselves to one part, we are bound to all parts.  If you bind yourself to tithing as a law (or if you bind your congregation to tithing as a law) then you are bound to all of them.  Christ came to give us freedom from the law and if we entangle ourselves once again in the law, Christ profits us nothing.  Christians, not being bound to the law, are not bound to tithing.  It is a grave error to teach otherwise. 

Now that we know that the literal tithe does not apply to us, we need to learn what the Bible does say about our offerings.  First of all, we need to recognize that all we have is from the Lord and ultimately belongs to the Lord.  In the early church, they gave all their possessions to the church.
Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need. Acts 2:44-45 NKJV
The early church created a communal society for themselves.  They gave up all their possessions and the proceeds were divided as anyone had need.  Note that this giving to the church was not for support of the church structure itself, but for the members of the church.  It was given so that none should have need as they were all one in Christ.  They recognized that earthly treasure did not matter and that they could not just sit comfortably with what they had when their brothers and sisters were in need.  What a heart they had!  May we find that same heart today. 

So the first aspect of offering is that we should not hold back in our generosity, especially when our brothers and sisters in the Lord are in need. 

The second thing we can learn about our offerings is that it is not the amount we give but in how much we hold back. 
And He looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the treasury, and He saw also a certain poor widow putting in two mites. So He said, "Truly I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all; for all these out of their abundance have put in offerings for God, but she out of her poverty put in all the livelihood that she had."  Luke 21:1-4 NKJV
This passage brings up another problem with holding yourself to tithing.  It allows you to feel good about holding back 90% of what you have.  We see Jesus saying here that those widow's two mites were more than the others who put in out of their abundance.  This is not to say that those others put in less than two mites, but it is showing that she had greater faith.  Our measure of what we give is a matter of faith.  The more we hold back, the less faith we have.  This is not the say we should forgo paying our bills and giving that money to the Lord, but it is saying that what we hold back of the excess God has provided us is a measure of our faith in God continuing to provide for us.  It is also a measure of our greed.  We are not to hoard the extra the Lord has given us, but we are to share that excess with those who are in need and for the work of the Lord. The Lord will lead us individually on how much to give.  It is not for a pastor or anyone else to judge someone on what they give.  That is between you and the Lord and a matter of what the Lord has put on your heart. 
So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver.  2 Corinthians 9:7 NKJV
I could have began and ended this entire post on this verse alone.  This verse answers pastors who browbeat their congregations to give, televangelists who threaten to go out of business every week unless they get more money, the various ministries that use sad pictures and stories to pull at the heartstrings to give more money, and anyone else who seeks to guilt, pressure, or threaten anyone to give money for the work of the Lord.  What we give is determined by what we purpose.  It is only between us and God and no one else.  We are not to give grudgingly meaning if you are bemoaning the offering you are making, do not make it.  We are not to give out of a feeling of necessity, that is if we feel we are giving because we are obligated to give, then to do not give.  What we give is a matter of our own heart and our own hearts are led by the Lord and obedient according their faith.  When we give, it should be because we want to give.  We should only give when we want to give cheerfully.  God loves a cheerful giver.  God does not want a guilty or pressured giver.  When that "want" is a result of guilting, pressuring, or threatening it is not "want" at all.  That want must well up within our own hearts according to the Lord's leading.  In other words, giving to the Lord should not be as the result of guilt, pressure, obligation, or threats but of a desire within our own hearts.  To teach otherwise is to teach against the Word of God.

And, finally, what we give is not given to a church, pastor, person, or ministry.  It is given to the Lord.  The tithe, as we read earlier, was set apart to the Lord.  The Lord then chose that the Levites and the poor should be the beneficiaries of what was set apart to Him.  We do have poor, but we no longer have Levites.  Our generosity per God's example should still extend to the poor.  As for what else, that is a matter between you and the Lord.  I do believe that we should support the church we belong to.  Paul addressed that in the Galatians about collecting amongst themselves and giving that offering as a church.  We also know that there are bills to pay to keep a church running and the Lord has provided us to meet those needs with our offerings.  What that amount should be and where else we give to is a between us the the Lord.  Pastors are not the Levites of today.  Today, we are all Levites as we are all called to do the work of the Lord.  Pastors are not the priests of today and whomever the leader of your denomination may be, he is not the high priest of today.  Jesus is our high priest.  What we give, we give to the Lord and how we divide our offerings is up to the Lord. 

In the end, it is a matter of your relationship with God.  The laws regarding tithing no longer apply to us and to bind ourselves to tithing out a lawful obligation is binding us to the law as a whole.  The Bible teaches us that we are no longer under the law.  The Bible also tells us that as Christians we are to make offerings, but those offerings are between you and the Lord and are given to the Lord as the Lord dictates.  If someone is guilting, pressuring, threatening, or somehow obligating you to give, then do not give.  The Bible is clear that we are not to give under those circumstances.  When we give, we are to give out of our desire to give back to the Lord what He has given us for His work on earth.  When we give, it must be out of honest desire.  We also know now that when we do give, it is not a matter of how much we give but how much we hold back.  God loves a cheerful giver.  Give cheerfully and give as generously as the Lord leads.  The earthly treasures we offer to the Lord will be repaid with eternal riches. 
And God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work. As it is written: "He has dispersed abroad, He has given to the poor; His righteousness endures forever." Now may He who supplies seed to the sower, and bread for food, supply and multiply the seed you have sown and increase the fruits of your righteousness, while you are enriched in everything for all liberality, which causes thanksgiving through us to God. For the administration of this service not only supplies the needs of the saints, but also is abounding through many thanksgivings to God, while, through the proof of this ministry, they glorify God for the obedience of your confession to the gospel of Christ, and for your liberal sharing with them and all men, and by their prayer for you, who long for you because of the exceeding grace of God in you. Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!  2 Corinthians 9:8-15 NKJV

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