Yesterday over lunch, I was discussing the issue of tithing with some friends. These questions were asked, “Will you rob God?” and “Why does God demand your tithe?”
The only places where tithes are mentioned in the New Testament are in Matthew 23 and Luke 11. There, the text seems to suggest that Jesus was less interested in the tithe than what he calls “the more important matters of…justice, mercy and faithfulness.”
So why do Christians get hung up on this issue of giving one-tenth of their income to the church?
The first biblical reference to this practice is found in Genesis 14:20. Abraham gives one-tenth of his possessions to Melchizedek, a priest later mentioned in the book of Hebrews as a shadow and type of the Messiah. Answers.com gives a good explanation of why Abraham would have willingly given this “tax” to the king of Salem:
The tithe, the Babylonian one-tenth tax, was simply part and parcel of the cultural baggage Abraham brought with him from Mesopotamia. He was without any doubt at all completely familiar with the concept of giving up ten-percent of whatever goods as tax.
In our discussion yesterday, the word “firstfruits” was used in place of tithes, since most Christians believe a tenth of your salary should come off the top, not from what’s left over. This idea of a firstfruits offering is mentioned throughout the Old Testament, but Deuteronomy 18:4 calls it a provision for the Levites, or Jewish priests. Proverbs 3:9 says, “Honor the LORD with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops.”
From these passages, I gather that the “one-tenth tax” is applicable to everything from money to crops, or possessions. Is that requirement, or demand, applicable to those under the new covenant? Hasn’t Messiah Jesus fulfilled all requirements under the old covenant?
What I’m learning is that all of God’s commands, including tithing, are more about helping us and less about helping God. God doesn’t need our help. He certainly doesn’t need our finances or possessions. Both Old and New Testaments talk about his need for our love.
The LORD your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live.
Jesus replied: “'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment.”
Consequently, both testaments promise life to those who follow this “golden rule.” So the questions I’m left with are this…
Does God need one-tenth or the whole me?
Has he circumcised my heart or not?, and
Will the tithe help him do that?