Summary: The tithe is a hot ticket item in today’s churches – particularly in those churches that preach a connection between wealth and God’s blessing. The tithe, in their view, is the investment strategy of heaven. Is this an accurate portrayal of the tithe?
The Little Drummer Boy
Cascades Fellowship CRC, JX MI
September 21, 2003
We see their smiling faces on the television. Silky smooth voice, great digs, hair just so, offering the promise of health and wealth. The key? The tithe. Offer your tithe unto the Lord – that is, to their ministry – and God will multiply your tithe. A heavenly windfall can be yours if you will just sow the seeds of faith by giving to the Lord. This is a message tailored to the American consumer. Essentially, God will pay you to be his disciple – what a bargain!
The tithe is a hot ticket item in today’s churches – particularly in those churches that preach a connection between wealth and God’s blessing. The tithe, in their view, is the investment strategy of heaven. Is this an accurate portrayal of the tithe? Should we still observe a tithe? If not, how much do we give to the church?
All important questions and worthy of our attention, but before we get into answering them let me just say this is also one of the most uncomfortable subjects in the Scriptures to preach on. Those who have preyed upon others to enrich themselves have fostered such an environment of skepticism concerning the church and finances that preaching on giving is now considered taboo. And this, brothers and sisters in Christ is a sad state of affairs because what such resistance and reluctance implies is that we want Jesus to be Lord over everything but our wallets. That … we want to keep for ourselves.
But this morning, despite my reservations, I am preaching on giving. Jesus is the Lord of our wallets also, whether we acknowledge it or not, so if I am to be a faithful shepherd I must preach the whole counsel of God. And, quite frankly, the Scriptures have a lot to say about money.
So, with no small amount of trepidation, this morning we will take a look first at the tithe in Scripture and then about giving in a New Testament context. We will begin by looking at the origin of the tithe – where the idea of a tithe comes from. Then we will look at how the tithe was presented in the Deuteronomy 14:23-28 – you may be surprised to find out how the tithe was interpreted. After that we will consider the real reason for the tithe and then finally look at the tithe in a New Testament context.
To get a good grasp on this difficult subject it is important to understand the basis for the tithe. We first see it hinted at in Genesis 4:3. Although not strictly called a tithe, the implication is there. Cain and Abel each brought a portion of their produce as an offering. Abel, rightly, made it from the first portions of his flock, while Cain just brought some of the produce from his field, hence leading to his offering being rejected. So a tithe is to be a specific portion – the first, and best portion – of our produce.
The first place we hear of a tithe per se is in Genesis 14:18 when Abraham gives a tenth of the spoils of war to Melchizedek, the priest-king of Salem. His tithe comes in response to the Melchizedek offering a celebratory meal and blessing Abraham after he defeated Lot’s abductors. So a tithe is also a response of thanksgiving, honoring God’s providence.
The idea of the tithe continues to stalk the pages of the Old Testament until it is brought front and center as part of the Law of Moses. It seems that the first place the tithe is mentioned is in our text for this morning, Leviticus 27:30-32. But the practice of a tithe is more fully described in Deuteronomy 14:22-28 and Deuteronomy 26.
Although interpretations differ, the Law of Moses appears to call for three separate tithes to be exercised among the Israelites. The first tithe went to support the priestly ministry. The Lord was the inheritance of the priesthood in Israel, so they were not allotted land as the other tribes. Instead they were to concentrate on ministering before the Lord. To see to their physical needs, a tithe was instituted.
The use of the second tithe went toward the caring for the poor and disenfranchised. This tithe was to be brought into the Temple storehouses so that it could be used to feed the widow, the orphan and the downtrodden. The final use of the tithe (this one was taken every third year) was to be used for a celebration of God’s grace – it was a festival tithe. If one takes all of these tithes into account (and accepts this reading of the tithe structure in the Mosaic Law) the Israelite was called upon to tithe 23 1/3% of his annual “salary” (i.e. produce, flock, proceeds from sells).