Tithing is a tricky subject to discuss, even in the most devout of Christian circles. Many feel that it’s discussed only to enlarge the coffers of the preacher making the request. This shows a clear misunderstanding of the purpose of the tithe.
The first mention of a tithe as such appears in Leviticus 27. In this chapter, God commands the people of Israel to give Him one-tenth of everything from the land that is produced. Also, the animals in the herds and flocks were considered part of the tithe. An Israelite could redeem the animal or harvest by paying the value of the tithe plus an extra fifth on top.
In Numbers 18, the tithe was to be used by the Levites as they kept the temple prepared for worshippers.
The concept of the tithe (without being called a tithe) actually appears in Genesis. Abraham, a hero in the Hebrews Hall of Fame, has been journeying from Ur of the Chaldees to Canaan, and he and his family have ended up somewhere around Sodom and Gomorrah. He is still called Abram. Lot, Abraham’s nephew, was living in Sodom. There was a battle of some kind, and Lot was taken hostage. Abram rallies the remaining family members and charges in to save the day. His group rescues Lot, the people with Lot, and many possessions. After the battle, Abram meets Melchizedek the King of Salem. Melchizedek gives Abram a blessing. In exchange, Abram gave a tenth of everything he acquired to Melchizedek.
God so values the tithes that He actually indicts non-tithers and issues a challenge in Malachi 3:8-10 (The Message):
“Begin by being honest. Do honest people rob God? But you rob me day after day. You ask, ‘How have we robbed you?’ The tithe and the offering—that’s how! And now you’re under a curse—the whole lot of you—because you’re robbing me. Bring your full tithe to the Temple treasury so there will be ample provisions in my Temple. Test me in this and see if I don’t open up heaven itself to you and pour out blessings beyond your wildest dreams. For my part, I will defend you against marauders, protect your wheat fields and vegetable gardens against plunderers.”
When it comes to the tithe, it’s a simple matter of faith. Who is in control of my life? Do I trust God to give up that 10%, or am I going to try to manage and control everything myself?
For me, I’ve not always had that faith. I saw it work for my parents. They’d have an unexpected bill, and miraculously a refund for something would arrive that would cover the bill plus bread and milk. However, they never really discussed why they did it or how to start. Later, I was challenged by a friend in college to try it, but I just wasn’t ready. It never seemed or felt right, but I wasn’t right; I wasn’t ready to even begin to hand over control of my life or my possessions to anyone or anything.
About ten years ago, with my life and finances in shambles, I started. It was not easy. And I can’t say that I’ve had the results my parents had. However, I think God has responded in other ways–steady work, the cast-offs from a friend, a sale at the grocery store. I have also found that each new level of faith has been preceded by a challenge to the tithe–a large bill that comes through unexpectedly, a financial negotiation that soured.
Daily, I have to take in the Truth David wrote so eloquently in Psalm 37 (NIV): I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread. As I try to put on the righteousness of Christ Jesus, I have to believe that God will provide for all my needs according to His riches in glory.