Is tithing Biblical? I heard a sermon that not tithing was robbing God. Then I’ve heard other sermons that tithing is planting seed in God’s Kingdom, and you can’t get a harvest if you don’t plant seed. Can you help me understand this?
Yes, I can help. In the process, I’ll make a lot of people mad, but the truth is the truth.
Tithing is Biblical. But it is NOT Christian. I’ll explain that in a moment, but first let’s address the two primary motivations behind the teaching today on tithing.
The first motivation comes from more traditional churches who preach on regular tithing. Many churches even use tithing as a qualification for leadership. The pressure to teach on tithing, and continually coerce people to give is simple: OVERHEAD. I’m not judging the heart or declaring to know the motives of other people, but the reality of “church overhead” is undeniable. In what has become known today as “church” there is a lot to maintain: Pastor/Preacher salaries, staff salaries, building payments and maintenance, sound systems, multimedia equipment, grounds keeping, programs…. The list of things that need to be supported are endless and it’s all lumped in as “God’s work”. I’m sure that most Pastors and Ministers truly believe they are teaching “giving” to support “God’s work”, however God’s work has gotten a lot more expensive and professionalized.
The pressure to preach and encourage a congregation to give a predictable and sustainable flow of money into this “work” is an obvious necessity. “Tithing” in traditional churches is ingrained into the culture as critical in maintaining the “system” (ie. God’s work).
The second common motivation for preaching on tithing is today’s “health, wealth and prosperity” movement. It is the idea that if you give to God (“planting seed”; “seed faith”), God is entitled by spiritual laws to give you back even more. It is materialistic and carnal to the core, and what you routinely find is traditional discourse about “tithing” (obligation) mixed in with the concepts of “seed faith” to create a deadly pressure to give well beyond a person’s mean.
Verses like Malachi 3:8-12 are used to convict people that they are “robbing God” if they don’t tithe, and “faith” verses that are almost always talking about spiritual abundance are twisted to mean financial prosperity.
Those are the two primary circumstances that surround teaching on tithing today. But is it Biblical?
Tithing is Biblical because the Bible talks about it but it is an Old Testament requirement of Israel. Tithing is never commanded to New Testament Christians, and in fact, it is clear that Jesus nailed the Jewish requirements to the cross for us. Tithing is Jewish, but not Christian.
Old Testament tithing was the 10% giving on the increase of THE LAND three times: 1) to support the Levites; 2) to support religious holidays and feasts; and 3) a tithe every third year for welfare work. All of this was a tithe of produce from the land which was sold and converted to money. The total tithe was 23.3%. Let’s see preachers get up and demand 23% giving!
Tithing was unheard of in the early church and only became an issue after 1) the church was given favored status and integrated into mainstream society under Constantine; and because of that, 2) the system of supporting professional clergy, church property and programs began to develop (sound familiar?).
2 Corinthians 9:6-8 But this I say: He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver. 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. (NKJV)
Let’s contrast two realities….
The modern church typically has tremendous overhead, paid professional clergy and staff, multiple programs to support and a membership who statistically gives less than 2% with a large percentage giving nothing. If I was leading in this situation, I’d figure out a way to teach compulsory giving too.
In comparison, the New Testament church met in homes with no paid staff, professional orators or preachers, and no property/programs overhead. The people gave cheerfully as God has prospered them and they were to support the work of spreading the Gospel (1Cor 9), caring for widows and orphans (James 1:27; Act 6:1; 1Tim 5:9), and helping the truly poor (not the lazy welfare recipient)( Matt 25:42-45; Prov 29:7; 2Cor 9:7). Giving was done with Spirit-led generosity. Money was collected via cheerful giving, and the entire sum then used for purely Christian work… not overhead or supporting a religious system.
(Note: 1Tim 5:17-18 are not verses that support paying Pastors and Ministers. The verse is correctly translated as giving “honor” not money [though there is certainly no prohibition against giving a gift], and it is speaking about Elders, not paid professional preachers.)
As Christians we are to GIVE, not tithe. And a generalization of the word “tithe” to mean “giving” is confusing at best, manipulative at worse. We are to give as God has prospered us. We are to give generously. We give knowing that God will give a bountiful harvest (either financially or spiritually, or both) but we don’t give TO GET BACK a monetary windfall from God, like a heavenly stock market. We don’t give grudgingly or because we feel like we have to.
God loves a cheerful giver… not a manipulated tither, or a greedy “seed planter”.
Finally, this begs the question, “is tithing a sin?” Heavens no. If you feel like God is calling you to routinely give a certain percentage of your increase and income, then by all means, follow your Spirit-led conscience. You can even call it a “tithe” but I would encourage you to change that vocabulary so as not to confuse other Christians. The word “tithe” really has no business being used in New Testament Christianity. But, don’t “tithe” because some Pastor or preacher has convinced you that you are robbing God if you don’t help pay for the beautiful building you’re probably sitting in when you hear that sermon.
Nor is every Pastor or preacher who preaches tithing some sort of manipulative, self-serving marketeer. The pressure concerning giving comes from the “means” we’ve determined are needed for the “end”, ie. paid professional “clergy” and leaders, expensive buildings, programs, etc. I will leave it to each individual, leader or not, to determine whether this system of “church” is what God had in mind, or does indeed constitute an innocent “means to an end”.
Tithing is not Christian. It shouldn’t be taught as Christian nor required. The primary motivation behind it is either the pressure to sustain a religious overhead, or a fleshly motivation of forcing God to give us “returns” on our giving.
It’s hard for me to teach this kind of lesson because it is so contrary to modern thinking. I anger my many Pastor/Preacher friends who feel like I’m jeopardizing “God’s work” and quite frankly, their own livelihood. That’s not to say that necessarily the teaching on “tithing” is motivated by self-protection of their salary, but who can deny that the pressure of getting paid and supporting their family is not an influence?
I also anger my Brethren who have given place to the “health, wealth and prosperity” faith teaching on this subject because obviously Biblical teaching on giving flies in the face of the “seed harvest”, “abundance” movements. The many verses about prosperity, abundance and return are almost exclusively speaking of spiritual and eternal rewards. It is generally true in principle that God blesses and prospers materially those who give generously and live by Godly principles but this is a natural byproduct of a Godly lifestyle, not a “formula” to be manipulated. God may know that the best way to transform us into the likeness of Christ is through suffering and need (which He often does, even if temporarily).
Give generously. Give as God prospers. Give with a cheerful heart. Give for the Biblical reasons. Give for the Biblical work described.
Pastors, Preachers and Elders: teach people to give as the Bible teaches. Regardless of the pressure of overhead, teaching the false idea of tithing no matter what the motivation, is compromising your own integrity to speak the truth, and giving done by manipulation will never last, nor be truly fruitful. Consider where “overhead” might be reduced so that giving can be used more for Biblically mandated causes.