This article is the second in a short series developed from my book, God’s Design For The Church. In the first article we considered two significant challenges when it comes to the question of how the church should raise money. Those were that money is always a sensitive topic and one that the Bible doesn’t seem to say too much about. However, all Christians are called to be partners in gospel work. And one of the ways we do this is by financially supporting our local church as well as missions. But are tithes a legitimately biblical way for churches to raise money?
Aren’t We Free From Old Testament Law?
Due to the fact that tithing is mainly an Old Testament practice, many Christians sincerely believe and teach that tithing doesn’t apply to them. They argue that through Christ’s death we have been liberated from the law and its demands. Rather, as New Testament believers, we should give much more than Old Testament believers gave in their tithes. For we have much, much more to be grateful for in the salvation that Jesus Christ has procured for us on the cross.
There is a good case to be made that tithing is the main way in which God expects his church to raise its money.
There is something to be said for that argument. In dealing with the subject of tithing, I accept that some believers will prefer to take this position, and it is not my goal in this book to convince them otherwise. However, I think there is a good case to be made that tithing is the main way in which God expects his church to raise its money.
It is true that tithing is largely taught in the Old Testament. It was a form of tax, in which the heads of homes in the nation of Israel gave a tenth of their income as a way of participating in the sustenance of the priesthood and the religious activities around the tabernacle and later the temple. God’s people were to give a tenth of the seed of the land, the fruit of the trees, and the herds and flocks.
The Principle Behind Tithes: Supporting Gospel Work
In Leviticus 27:30–32 we read, “Every tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land or of the fruit of the trees, is the Lord’s; it is holy to the Lord. If a man wishes to redeem some of his tithe, he shall add a fifth to it. And every tithe of herds and flocks, every tenth animal of all that pass under the herdsman’s staff, shall be holy to the Lord.”
It is also worth emphasising that the concept of the tithe did not originate with the law of Moses. There is evidence as far back as Genesis 14:17–20 that it was already a form of personal giving toward those who fulfilled the role of priests. In this passage, Melchizedek blessed Abram, and Abram in return gave him “a tenth of everything” (Genesis 14:20).
God’s people shared ‘a tenth of everything’ with those who ministered to them spiritually.
The Bible is careful to give us the reason why this happened. It is because Melchizedek was priest of God (Genesis 14:18). So, long before Moses institutionalised tithing into the life of the young nation of Israel, it was already a concept and principle in the lives of the people of God to share “a tenth of everything” with those who ministered to them spiritually.
In the Old Testament, the tithe was given to the Levites (Numbers 18:21; Hebrews 7:5) because they had no other means of income or inheritance. They gave their lives in service to God in the work at the tabernacle and temple. So, it was only fair that the rest of the people shared their income and inheritance with them through this form of tax.
Applying The Tithe For Christians Today
For us in the New Testament, the application of this principle cannot be missed. We do not have priests in the same way that the Old Testament had. But we do have pastors who give their lives to the work of preaching and teaching. We must support them in the same way that the Old Testament believers supported the priests. This is what Paul taught the Corinthians.
We must support pastors in the same way that the Old Testament believers supported the priests.
He wrote, “Do you not know that those who are employed in the temple service get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in the sacrificial offerings? In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel” (1 Corinthians 9:13–14).
It is only fair and logical that church members should faithfully set aside a regular percentage of the fruit of their sweat and share it with those who are sweating for them in the church context. Through the symbiosis of the tithe system, the New Testament church is sustained in all its ministries just as the Old Testament people were sustained.
Adapted from God’s Design for the Church: A Guide for African Pastors and Ministry Leaders by Conrad Mbewe, Copyright © 2020, pp. 141-143. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL 60187. Copies can be purchased at the Book Depository.