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Tithing And Giving

Old Testament tithing

The origin of the tithe is lost in antiquity. We can say with assurance however that the giving of the tenth to God is an ancient procedure. Abraham observed it in the rather special circumstances of Genesis 14:20 and Jacob promised it to God in the first vow in Scripture, that is Genesis 28:22. In both cases it was "a tenth of all".

Some centuries later God recognized the nation of Israel as His people, and gave them His comprehensive law. In this, for a particular purpose, He specified His minimum requirements from the substance of His people. To this they might add any amount of freewill offerings. The basic minimum was the tithe, the tenth part of the individual's annual business increase. This increase related to the seed, the fruit, the herd and the flock, as in Leviticus 27:30-32.

This tithe, or its monetary equivalent as in v.31, had to be handed over at the house of God in the Place of the Name (Deut. 12:5,6) with joy and feasting. It was the Lord's portion, holy unto Him, and God was robbed if it was not presented (Mal. 3:8).

The reason for the tithe was that the Levites had no inheritance in Israel's land and God's provision for their substance was:

(i)In the case of the priestly family, their portion was "all the heave offerings of the holy things which the children of Israel offer unto the LORD" (Num. 18:19).

(ii)In the case of the Levites, their portion was "all the tithe in Israel for an inheritance in return for their service which they serve (Num. 18:21). From this tithe the Levites had to offer the tenth part to the Lord as a heave offering (v.

25,26).

The tithe of all the increase of every third year was required by the law to be handled in a different way. Instead of taking it to the house of God, the Israelite had to lay it up at home, to be distributed to the Levites, the stranger, the fatherless and the widows who lived nearby, after which he would go to the Place of the Name and there record his gratitude (Deut. 14:28, 29; 26:12-15).

One further point may be selected as relevant to tithing generally. Only the tenth part of the best was worthy of God. For example Abraham (Heb. 7:4) gave a tenth from "the chief spoils" ("primarily the top of a heap"

Vine). In Israel's case the tithe was "of all the best thereof' (Num. 18:29).

So far we have considered what was mandatory in Israel. The tithe took care of the needs of the Levites, the priests and the needy among the people. That was all. Israel had no expenditure on outreach to the other nations. They were a people who in that sense, "dwelt alone".

New Testament giving

Here the picture changes. The mandatory element of the law disappears. Grace now reigns in giving as in all else. Yet the old principle remains - only the best is worthy of God. We lay out now some of the scriptures in which the Holy Spirit has given certain principles backed up by actual experiences as general guidance for disciples in the churches of God:

Rom.12:8 - he that giveth, let him do it with liberality.

1 Cor.16:2 - let each one of you lay by him in store, as he may "roster.

2 Cor.8:3 - Beyond their power, they gave of their own accord.

8:12 - if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according as a man hath, not according as he hath not.

9:6 - he that soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully.

9:7 - let each man do according as he hath purposed in his heart; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver.

Phil.4:18 - I am filled, having received the things that came from you, an odour of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, well-pleasing to God.

The givings referred to here were in general collections taken in the

churches on the first day of the week. They were in response to the needs of brethren engaged wholly in the extension of the Lord's work such as Paul and Barnabas, and to the needs also of fellow-saints in the churches who were in financial distress, such as occurred in the churches of Judea. There was a very close parallel between the needs met by Old Testament tithing and New Testament giving.

But the New Testament giving was not tithe-bound. It was rather, as the above verses indicate, according as the saints prospered and purposed; given ungrudgingly, spontaneously, cheerfully and liberally, even to the point of additional hurt to some already in poverty. It was all as "unto the Lord" in appreciation of the "unspeakable Gift" of God which had so enriched them.

Such then briefly was the spirit of giving under grace. The question of tithing did not arise. Love in reciprocity simply met the need, whatever the cost. And as it was then so will it be by the urge of the Spirit today. The people of God are not tithed. They are not restricted in their giving in response to need and to the ongoing demands of the Lord's work. Yet some readers might be stirred in their response were they to compare what they give financially to the Lord with what amounts to one tenth of their income. It is all a matter of personal exercise in the Lord's presence, but pressing nevertheless.