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*Frequently asked questions*
The Bible, the written word of God, is our sole authority in answering all questions pertaining to our spiritual life. However, in reading the Bible, we must keep in mind that the Bible is not written like a book of science where each statement is exact and complete in itself, nor like a book of law where the goal is to elaborate matters in sections and sub-sections so as to avoid loopholes. The Bible is written for the heart, and can be understood in its proper sense only by those who are spiritually minded (1Co.2:14), and who desire to do the will of God once it is revealed (Jn.7:17). Those who want to argue against the word of God can always find arguments, and those who do not want to obey what God says can appear to find words of God themselves to support their stand. Please read the following with an open heart and a willingness to know God's ways and obey them.
1. What is tithing?
Tithing generally means to give one tenth of one's income to God.
2. Who started it?
The first time we read about it in the Bible is when Abraham gave a tenth of what he received as spoils from a war to Mechizedek who was a prophet of God (Ge.14:18-20). It is not clear if God had given him a commandment earlier to give a tithe, or if Abraham gave it on his own when he heard from Melchizedek that it was God who really owned everything. But it was not a part of the covenant God made with Abraham, which was only marked by the ritual of circumcision. Just the fact that Abraham gave a tenth to Melchizedek does not make it obligatory on us to do the same.
But God gave a commandment to the children of Israel through Moses to give a tithe to God from their income, whether it was crops or cattle (Le.27:30). The tithe was to be 'holy' (set apart) to the Lord, and the people had no rights to it. It was to be given to the priests and the Levites (for whom this was the only income).
3. Is tithing one of the ten commandments?
No, it was one of many instructions given to the people of Israel regarding what they were required to do.
4. What is the purpose of the tithe?
It was to teach the people of Israel to respect God (De.14:23). They were to allot a tenth of their income to God in order to remind them to give God His place in their lives. This was the same reason why God gave them the law of the Sabbath also, to give God a place in the way they spent their time (Is.58:13).
5. Is tithing relevant in the new covenant time?
To understand this, we must first understand what difference the new testament made to the old testament commandments, rules and regulations. Jesus came to fulfil the law (Mt.5:17). In this sense, He showed us the perfection and fulfillment of what the old testament law was pointing to. For example, the OT law against murder is actually fulfilled when we stop getting angry with another (Mt.5:21,22), and the law against adultery when we stop looking at women with lust (Mt.5:27,28). In other words, what was an external commandment found its fulfilment in the heart. The OT commandment about keeping one day in seven as the Sabbath--dedicated to God--gets fulfilled when all our time is dedicated to God and we do all things to honour Him (1Co.10:31). Therefore in the new covenant keeping the Sabbath has become irrelevant once we have the attitude that every minute of our life belongs to God (Co.2:16,17). In the same way, the OT commandment regarding tithing becomes irrelevant if we recognise that all our money and everything else we have been given actually belongs to God. The old testament was replaced with the new testament (He.8:13). Now we are under the law of liberty where we are to be led by the Holy Spirit, being free from having to keep rules and regulations (2Co.3:17;Ro.8:2-4,14).
If the old testament rule was that one tenth of one's income belonged to God, its perfection that is taught in the new testament is that all our income belongs to God. For that matter, everything that 'belongs' to us - our body, soul and spirit, our wealth, time, etc. - belongs to God. Jesus has purchased us with His blood (Ac.20:28). We are not our own (1Co.6:19). Therefore, just to give a tithe to God (and spend the rest as we like) is meaningless in the new testament.
6. Are you saying that in the new testament we should give 100% to God and not just 10%?
We should recognise in our heart and in our attitude to our income that 100% belongs to God. I am not saying that therefore we should give 100% to God. (God asks some people, now and then, to do just that - Mt.19:21.) We must give out of love to God, as much as we are happy to give. At the same time, we must recognise that all our wealth belongs to God, and that we have no right to spend it as we please. He may tell us through the Holy Spirit at times to give more than what we would normally give to God.
7. Then in your opinion, how much should we give to God?
I am not giving you an opinion about how much you should give. You should listen to the Holy Spirit, and allow Him to lead you. He may ask you to do differently at different times. He will never force you to give something unwillingly or grudgingly (2Co.9:7). You may give what you can give cheerfully. At the same time you must remember that if you give only sparingly, you shouldn't complain if God blesses you sparingly also (2Co.9:6).
If you take advantage of this freedom and stop giving to God, it shows you don't love God. The one who loves God will give as much as he can manage to give.
God has sometimes asked some people to give 100% as He did to a rich young ruler in the days of Jesus (Mk.10:21). But this is only under special circumstances. (It's like God asking someone to remain single, without getting married.) If we really love God more than everything else, we would be willing to do this. For most people, it will be according to our ability, even though those who specially love God will try to give even sacrifically, beyond their ability (2Co.8:3). God will take special note of that, and reward them bountifully (2Co.9:6).
If we have come into a new covenant relationship with God, we would want to give. If we cheat on giving, it shows something is wrong with our relationship.
8. Some people say that Jesus Himself said we should give tithes.
They refer to Mt.23:23, where Jesus was talking to the Pharisees. He told them that they were taking so much pains to tithe things like mint and cummin, while negelecting to address more important matters like mercy, justice and faithfulness. He clarified to them that He did not mean that they should stop tithing.
Now we must remember that Jesus Himself came as a Man under the old covenant. Remember He was circumcised on the eighth day and His mother Mary made an offering after giving birth to Him, both according to the law of Moses. All His life, He went to the Jewish synagogue and took part in the Jewish festivals. In this verse, He was speaking to Pharisees who were also under the old covenant. He could not have told them to disobey the laws of Moses which was still relevant at that time. Remember that even though this verse is in the part of the Bible called 'New Testament' the new testament (covenant) came into existence only when Jesus shed His blood and died. In other words, when Jesus spoke this to the Pharisees there was no new covenant.
9. People say that since Jesus said in the New Testament that we should not neglect tithing, it is applicable to us also.
Of course the new covenant is not the same as the "New Testament", the second part of the Bible. Even though the words 'covenant' and 'testament' mean the same, I am using the word 'covenant' to distinguish it from the parts of the Bible which are usually referred to as the old and the new testaments.
The old covenant was an arrangement between God and the people of Israel on Mount Sinai through the giving of the laws through Moses. The new covenant was a another arrangement that replaced the old one, through the death and resurrection of Jesus. See FAQ on the old and the new covenants. Once the new covenant was esablished, tithing was no longer preached in the Bible.
10. Aren't all the old testament laws carried over to the church?
Just as the church began to be established, there was a controversy between the Jews and the Christians about the requirement for Christians to keep the Law of Moses. The main issue was that some Jews insisted on the Christians having to follow the law regarding circumcision. Peter argued that the new Christians should not be compelled to keep the law which the Jews themselves had never been able to keep (Acts.15:10). His main argument was that both Jews and Gentiles were going to be saved, not by keeping the Law but by grace (v.11). At the end of the discussion which the apostles had over this subject, finally it was decided only to insist on the Gentile Christians having to keep a few laws. This list included abstaining from things contaminated by idols and from fornication and from what is strangled and from blood (v.20). What we need to see here is that keeping of the Sabbath, which was one of the ten commandments, and tithing, which was one of the laws of the Old Testament were not insisted on.
11. What is the new covenant teaching on giving?
God wants us to give cheerfully, and not under compulsion (2Co.9:7). He would like us to make a plan for giving (1Co.16:2). If we give abundantly, we shall reap also abundantly, and if we give sparingly, we shall only receive sparingly (2Co.9:6). We must know that it is more blessed to give than to receive (Acts.20:35). We must seek to give secretly without seeking honour for it (Mt.6:3,4). If you are unable to give, your willingness to give is accepted by God as if you had actually given (2Co.8:12).
12. My pastor insists on my giving my tithes to him. What shall I do?
If you see that a man is after your money, it is better to leave him. But perhaps he is not after your money for himself, but believes that it is good for you to give tithes to the Lord and His work. Give to the Lord and His work, and also to His people.
12. Should I give only to the church I belong to?
You certainly have a responsibility to give for the work of the Lord which your church is involved in. You have a responsibility to contribute to the church while you are deriving benefits from there. It is also right to support the people who are taking care of the church. But since your church is only a part of the larger work of God (the universal church), you are not restricted to giving only to your church. If you feel a burden for a work which someone else is doing for the Lord, you may give for that work also.
14. My pastor quotes De.12:11 and 14:23 to say that we should give our offerings only to the church we welong to.
These verses refer to the people of Israel first of all, who had special places for sacrifices and offerings. They were not allowed to do these things anywhere they liked. For us the meaning could be that we should give our offering only to those ministries where we can see the Lord at work. Is your church the only place where the Lord is at work? At the same time, don't forget your responsibility to the church you belong to. God has placed you there as a part of that part of the body of Christ.
15. My pastor tells me that my 'tithe' should only be given to the church, and if I want to give to anyone else it should be from the remaining money.
This comes from the teaching of tithes and offerings that it is the tithe that belongs to God, and that once you have given the tithe the rest of the money belongs to you to spend however you like. They say that once you have paid your tithes, you are free to make extra offerings from the remaining money. We have already seen that all money (and everything else) belongs to God. Remember that when we give to God, it doesn't have to be only to the church, because Jesus said that whenever we give anything in His name to 'the least of His brothers' it is the same as giving to Him (Mt.25:40).
16. I have been in heavy debts, and I am now trying to clear up my debts. I don't think I can afford to give much to the Lord.
In your case, as also in situations where your expenditure is high because of things such as a sickness in the family, you must know that your Heavenly Father understands. He is compassionate, much more than an earthly father would be under such circumstances. Don't feel bound to give more than you are able. If your heart longs to be able to give to the Lord, the Lord will count that just as if you had actually given (2Co.8:12). Also, even if you may not be able to give money, there may be other ways you can "give" to the Lord, for example, by praying for His work. Jesus said that even a cup of water given to His servants will not go unnoticed (Mt.10:42).
What I am saying is that you need not feel compelled to give when you are unable to give. Our Father is not a cruel taskmaster. At the same time, if you would still like to give something to the Lord sacrificially, the Lord will honour you for that.
Also, we must not make our difficulties as excuses to stop giving to God, because that will indicate where our priorities are right.
17. Some people are telling me that even though I am not able to give any money to the Lord, I should give in faith, quoting Mal.3:10, and see what the Lord will do in return.
This was written to the people of Israel who were very much backslidden from the Lord, having neglected Him in every way. The Lord was challenging them to see what He would do for them if they returned to Him. If God places this on your heart in a special way and you receive faith, go ahead. Don't do it out of fear, a sense of compulsion, or as a business investment. Remember God loves a cheerful giver.
18. Some people quote the story of the widow who gave two coins, which were all she had, to teach that even if we don't have anything for ourselves, we must give the tithe to God that belongs to Him.
This is how tithing can be preached as a law, and the law brings bondage. Now we are in the age of grace and liberty. There is no compulsion in the new covenant. There is no indication here that the woman was paying her tithe. The woman gave voluntarily, out of the abundance of her heart, and Jesus admired that (Mk.12:41-44). We all admire those who give sacrificially to the Lord. But we can't use this example to show that we are compelled to tithe even when we won't have anything left to survive.
God may test us sometimes by asking us to do something extraordinary, to see if we would be willing to obey Him. Think of how He asked Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac. But do you think that as a Father He likes to put us under the pressure of a law saying that no matter how things are with us, He wants His tithe?
19. Isn't it good as a discipline to keep a value, say 10%, to give regularly to God?
Yes. This kind of discipline is good, especially when we realise that we have a tendency to forget God. However, we must still be open to listening to the Holy Spirit who might lead us to give more or to a different purpose at different times. At the same time, we must avoid the feeling that we have given what belongs to God, and then become careless about how we spend the rest of God's money.
20. As a pastor I feel that if I preach tithing, people will at least remember to give to God. But if I stop that I am afraid people will take advantage and stop giving altogether.
There is some validity for the fear that if you stop reminding people to give, they might stop giving to God. But you can emphasise giving to God out of gratitude of the heart, the love for His work, concern for others, etc., instead of in terms of tithing as a rule. The usual mistakes preachers make are to indicate that tithing is good investment for getting hundredfold returns, that if one doesn't tithe he will invite the wrath of God, and that once a person gives his tithe the rest of the money belongs to him.
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