Freedom in Christ
A Biblical Look at Tithing
by Ajayi Samuel Ojeva
“It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of bondage” (Galatians 5:1). Men cherish freedom in every way. However, man is often led from freedom to bondage unaware. Men have been under various yokes of bondage at various times. All men without Christ are under the yoke of sin and Satan (Romans 6:17; 7:14; Acts 26:18). Men are sometimes under the yoke of slavery (I Timothy 6:1). And some men, like the Jews of Jesus’ day, are under the yoke of religious bondage (Matthew 11:28). In the above text, Galatians 5:1, Paul speaks of the yoke of bondage under the law. Jesus Christ died on the cross to redeem men from the law (Galatians 4:4-5). Yet many people today, like these Galatians, subject themselves to this yoke of bondage in many ways.
Many religious leaders who found churches today do so to enrich themselves. They are motivated by a desire for money, and so they commercialize the Christian religion, whereby they lay all kinds of burdens on people for selfish advantage. They pervert the Scriptures and create unnecessary fear in people, thus bringing them under a kind of religious bondage.
One of these yokes of bondage is the imposition of tithing on people. To achieve their aim, they threaten people with the curse of Malachi 3:8-10. They link any evil or calamity that befalls a person with non-payment of the tithe or unfaithfulness in the paying of the tithe. People have been made to believe that sickness, loss of job, barrenness or any suffering that man may experience is as a result of failure to pay the tithe. Also, men are made to believe that it is by paying tithe that blessings are received from God. In a similar way, the Scribes and Pharisees of Jesus’ day laid a load of religious responsibilities on the Jews (Matthew 23:4). The only scripture passage, it seems, that some pastors and churches know today, is “bring all the tithes into the storehouse.”
The apostle Peter warned us about false teachers who “in their greed will exploit you with false words” (II Peter 2:3). Paul did not put us in darkness concerning those who “serve not our Lord Christ, but their own belly and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting” (Romans 16:18). Jesus offers rest to those who will come to him by learning from him and taking his yoke upon them. His yoke is easy and His burden is light (Matthew 11:28-30). He assures us, “you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free” (John 8:32). The truth frees from all kinds of bondage.
Does God require tithing from His children today? Does anyone have biblical authority to take a tithe from people today? We find answers to these questions as we turn to the Bible to learn what the Bible says about tithe.
The Origin of the Tithe
The first mention of tithing in the Bible was when Abraham, on his return from rescuing his nephew Lot, gave a tenth of the spoils to Melchizedek (Genesis 14:20). He did this voluntarily, not as a requirement from God. Next, we read of Jacob who vowed to give a tenth of all his blessings to God (Genesis 28:20-22).There is no recorded demand of God upon either man for a tenth.
When the children of Israel became a nation and God made a covenant with them on Mount Sinai (Deuteronomy 5:1-5), God demanded a tenth of all the produce of the land of Canaan from them. In Leviticus 27:30 we read, “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.” This was the first time that God ever demanded a tenth of men.
Let us now study details of this tithing under the Law of Moses.
Tithing Under the Old Testament
There is more than one tithe under the Old Testament. There is the general tithe of the whole produce of the Land that was to be given to the Levites every year (Numbers 18:20-24). The Levites in turn were to give a tithe of this to the priests (Numbers 18:25-28). There is another tithe which is to be consumed in a feast involving the giver, his household and the Levites (Deuteronomy 14:22-27; 12:5-18). Please read these passages carefully, and observe that the tithe mentioned in Numbers 18:20-24 was to be received by the Levites, who had to give a tenth of it to the priests (Numbers 18:25-28). This is the first tithe.
The tithe mentioned in Deuteronomy 14:22-27 is to be eaten by the giver and his household with the Levites. This is the second tithe. The third is the one at the end of three years (Deuteronomy 14:28-29), usually called the poor tithe. In this third year, all the tithes of all the produce of the land, was to be stored in all the cities. This was not taken to Jerusalem but eaten by the Levites and the poor. Please carefully read Deuteronomy 14:28-29; 26:13-15.
Apart from this third year tithe, which was a form of the second yearly tithe, all the tithes must be taken to Jerusalem. They were forbidden to offer their tithes in any place other than the place God should choose to place his name (Deuteronomy 12:5-14). Where did God choose to place His name? God finally chose the temple at Jerusalem as the place to place his name (II Chronicles 6:5-6; 7:12). Therefore, the tithe must be, and was, taken to Jerusalem. Those far away were to sell the goods meant for the festival tithe, take the money to Jerusalem and on getting there, buy whatever they desired with the money and consume their tithes there (Deuteronomy 14:22-27; 12:17-18). This accounts for the money changers we read about in John 2:14.
A store house was prepared in the temple for keeping the tithes brought for the Levites. During Hezekiah’s reform, “He ordered the people living in Jerusalem to give the portion due the priests and Levites so they could devote themselves to the law of the Lord … The men of Israel and Judah who lived in the towns of Judah also brought a tithe of their herds and flocks and a tithe of the holy things dedicated to the Lord their God” (II Chronicles 31:4-12). You will observe here that those who lived in their towns did not pay their tithes in their respective dwelling places but brought it to Jerusalem.
Therefore, the tithe we read about in the Bible is not what you can pay wherever you may find yourself. It must be taken to Jerusalem.
What About Malachi 3:8-10?
An understanding of this passage of the Bible will liberate many people whom false teachers have brought under the yoke of slavery. A careful study of the book of Malachi makes it clear that Malachi 3:8-10 is not addressed to Christians, but the children of Israel.
God made a covenant with the children of Israel on Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:5; Deuteronomy 5:2-5). In the law of this covenant, it was determined that the tenth of all the produce of the land of Canaan is the Lord’s (Leviticus 27: 30).
The Lord promised some covenant blessings if they obeyed and kept all the ordinances, and He threatened some covenant curses should they disobey (Read Deuteronomy 28 and Leviticus 26). They disobeyed the Lord, thus breaking the covenant.
Therefore, He brought the covenant curses upon them. He had threatened, “I will scatter you among the nations and draw out a sword after you; your land shall be desolate and your cities waste” (Leviticus 26:33-34). After He had sent warnings to them by His messengers, but they refused to return to Him, He fulfilled this threat by sending them into seventy years captivity in Babylon (II Chronicles 36:15-21; cf. II Chronicles 36:17-21 with Leviticus 26:33-34).
About 100 years after they had returned from captivity, their zeal for serving the Lord had died out, even though they had been cured of idolatry. Malachi was written to rebuke them for their superficial worship services. It begins, “The oracle of the word of the Lord to Israel through Malachi” (Malachi 1:1). Chapter 2 shows clearly that the message of the book was to the nation of Israel as a whole, “Judah has dealt treacherously. And an abomination has been committed in Israel and Jerusalem” (Malachi 2:11).
In chapter one He charged the priests with despising His name by offering defiled food on his altar and by sacrificing blemished animals to Him (Malachi 1:6-14; cf. Leviticus 22:18-25). In Malachi 2:1-9, He threatened a curse against the priests because they had breached the covenant and perverted their office. In Malachi 2:10-16, He rebuked the nation for licentious divorce and intermarriage with the heathen. He charged the nation with apostasy. They had departed from keeping His ordinances. He urged them to return to him, and they asked him, “In what way shall we return?” (Malachi 3:7). He then, pointed at their failure to offer their tithe as an example of their departure from His ordinances (Malachi 3:8). In this way, they had robbed God by withholding tithes and offerings which, by Mosaic Law, belonged to Him (Malachi 3:7-12; Leviticus 27:30, 34). Because of this He had brought the covenant curse of “hard times” upon them (Malachi 3:7-9; Deuteronomy 28:38-42). He challenged them to prove His goodness by generously giving to Him (Malachi 3:10-12). If they repented and fulfilled their own part of the covenant by offering their tithe, He would reverse the covenant curse and fulfill the promised covenant blessings (Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28).
Do not be deceived any longer, by a host of religious leaders out there who pervert this passage for their own selfish advantage.
What the New Testament Says About the Tithe
In the New Testament, reference to tithe is found once in Matthew (Matthew 23:23), twice in Luke (Luke 11:42; 18:12), and six times in Hebrews (Hebrews 7:4-9).The paying of tithes by the scribes and Pharisees mentioned by Jesus in Matthew and Luke was under the law, for the Old Testament was still in force until the death of Christ on the cross (Galatians 4:4). The New Testament took effect after the death of Christ (Hebrews 9:15-17).
A careful study of Hebrews 7 will make it clear to any sincere person that no one has the right to take tithe from people today. The Law of Moses gave the Levites the authority to take tithes from the people; ”And indeed those who are of the sons of Levi, who receive the priesthood, have a commandment to receive tithes from the people according to the law, that is, from their brethren" (Hebrews 7:5). God had separated the Levites for service in the sanctuary (Deuteronomy 10:8-9). They were not to, and did not, have inheritance among the children of Israel; the Lord was their inheritance (Deuteronomy 18:1-2). God gave to them all the tithes in Israel, which by the law was his own (Numbers 18:21-24). This was later referred to as “the portions specified by the law for the priests and Levites” (Nehemiah 12:44; read Nehemiah 10:35-39; 13:10-12).
According to Hebrews 7:11-18, the priesthood has been changed, likewise the law
which instituted it. Understand that the Levites did not collect tithes from their brethren
until the law authorized them to do so. Now that the law which instituted the Levitical
priesthood is annulled, no Levite has the right to take tithes from Israel anymore. If the
Levites do not have this right now, then, where do those who collect tithes today derive
their authority for doing so?
Giving in the New Testament
Most religious leaders today, who take a tithe, separate it from offering. They claim the tithe is for the pastor while the offering is for other uses in the church. There is no such thing in the New Testament. There is only one collection in the New Testament. This is done on the first day of the week, when Christians gather together, “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 it up as he may prosper” (I Corinthians 16:1-2). This collection is the only source for the church treasury in the New Testament, and from it, God has commanded that the church should take care of His ministers (I Corinthians 9:7-14). But for greed, the pastors, so called, should not impose a tithe on people for their sustenance.
No proportion is stipulated in the New Testament. Each one is to give as he purposes in his heart, in accordance with how God has prospered him. “So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver” (II Corinthians 9:6-7). Every giver determines the proportion of his income that he will give to God. However, Every Christian should give liberally. “He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully” (II Corinthians 9:6-9).
The Old Covenant made with Israel which required paying a tithe has been abrogated. God prophesied that He would make a new covenant with them (Jeremiah 31:31-34). Christ fulfilled the law and took it out of the way, nailing it to the cross (Galatians 4:4-5; Colossians 2:14). Christ is the mediator of the New Covenant, which is a better covenant with better promises (Hebrews 8:6-13; cf. Malachi 3:10-11 with II Corinthians 9:6-8). Christians have been delivered from the law of the Old Testament (Romans 7:4-7; Galatians 3:24-26; 4:4-5, 9). To seek justification in worshiping God by the law is to insult the Spirit of grace, and thus be severed from Christ (Galatians 5:1-3; Hebrews 10:29).
Christ has set us free from the yoke of the law. God has given His children freedom to decide what they will give to him, as He has said nothing about Christians paying a tithe in the New Testament, but says, ”Each one should give as he has purposes in his heart.” If He wants us to pay tithe today, He would have given the order through one of His apostles, just as He did through Moses in the Old Testament and He did through Paul, concerning collection for the saints, in the New Testament. Anyone tithing today despises the death of Christ on the cross “to redeem those who were under the law” (Galatians 4:4, 5; Hebrews 9:15-17). Anyone who collects tithes today does so without biblical authority and so disrespects the authority of Christ.
Jesus frees us from the bondage of sin and Satan, from the yoke of bondage of the law, and from the yoke of religious bondage. Accept the freedom which is in Christ today, and you will find rest for your soul. To enjoy this freedom, simply come to Jesus by: believing in Him as the Son of God (Acts 10:43; Mark 16:16), repenting of your sins (Acts 17:30-31), confessing the Lord Jesus (Romans 10:9-10), and being baptized into Christ for the forgiveness of yours sins (Acts 2:38, 41). And the Lord will add you to His church (Acts 2:47).