The Tithe for Today

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" What shall I render unto the Lord for all his benefits toward me?"-Psalms 116:12

"There are three conversions necessary: the conversion of the heart, the mind, and the purse."-Martin Luther

Our study begins with a dramatic account from the life of the Patriarch Abraham (then known by his birth name of Abram). In Genesis 14:1-16, we read about Abraham going to war against a group of pagan kings who had captured his nephew, Lot . He successfully rescues Lot, and also recovers his lost wealth. As he returns home, Abraham travels through a place called the Valley of Shavah (the King's Valley, v.17). It was there that he encounters a mysterious figure known as Malki-Tzedek, or Melchisedec.

Overall, very little is known about Melchisedec, but we do know that he was a very great man in God's eyes. Among the lofty titles he held were "Priest of the most high God," "King of righteousness" and "King of peace (Hebrews 7:1-2)." He is also described, as we shall see, as being a type of Christ (Psalm 110:4; Hebrews 5:6). Acting in his priestly role, Melchisedec presents Abraham with bread and wine, and bestows a profound blessing upon him: "Blessed be Abram of the most high God, possessor of heaven and earth, and blessed be the most high God, which hath delivered thine enemies into thy hand (Genesis 14:18-20)." Abraham's response to this blessing set a precedent which was to become an eternal ordinance between God and man: He gave the priest a tithe.

This means that Abraham gave Melchisedec a tenth of all his spoils from the battle (Genesis 14:18-20; Hebrews 7:1-11). As we read the subsequent chapters, we see that this event was a major turning point in Abraham's life. After honoring God with the tithe, his destiny begins to unfold as never before. Immediately God promises to be Abraham's shield and reward (15:1). He also promises to miraculously provide Abraham with innumerable offspring (v. 4-5), and with a rich homeland for them (v. 18-21). Because of his obedience to God, Abraham eventually became the "father of many nations" (Genesis 17:4). And it all began with the tithe.

The word "tithe" is not, in and of itself, a specifically religious term. It is simply a mathematical term meaning "tenth." In our modern currency, the tithe from one dollar is one dime. The tithe from ten dollars is one dollar. The tithe from one hundred dollars is ten dollars. There are no shortcuts, i.e. there is no such thing as an "8% tither." However, don't let this intimidate you. God's commandments are not grievous (1 John 5:3). Rather, as we shall see, they are avenues for tremendous blessing in our lives. As the saying goes, tithing doesn't cost, it pays!

A common misconception about the tithe is that it was only "under the Law" and therefore, is not for Christians today. For those who hold this view, keep in mind that Abraham's above-mentioned tithe occurred 430 years before the Levitical Law was established. Abraham's grandson Jacob also paid tithes before the Law (Genesis 28:22). The giving of Moses' Law only encoded the tithe further into man's relationship with God. Under this Law, the first tenth of all increase was declared holy and belonged to the Lord (Leviticus 27:30). This principle became the basis for ancient Israel's entire taxation system, which actually consisted of three distinct tithes:

This concept became so ingrained in the Jewish mindset that it impacted every aspect of their lives. For example, the reason devout Jews refused to eat with Gentiles was that the Gentiles' food had not been tithed from. The Jewish Encyclopedia gives us further insight:

The Rabbis emphasize in more than one instance the importance of tithes. Tithing is one of the three things through the merit of which the world was created...and by virtue of which the Israelites obtain from God their desire. He who partakes of fruit that has not been tithed is like one who eats carrion...One of the interpretations of Proverbs 30:4 is that he who fulfills the duty of tithing causes rain to fall, and that he who fails therein causes drought ...(1)

Perhaps nowhere in the Bible are these truths seen more vividly than in the prophetic Book of Malachi. Written in the 5th Century, B.C., this powerful Book is a call to a backslidden nation to return to God (3:7). When they ask God how they were to return, God responds that by withholding the tithe, they were in fact robbing Him (v. 8)! By doing this, they had brought a curse upon their lives, as well as on the entire nation (v.9). In order to return to God, the first thing they had to do was to make things right with their tithing. In fact, He openly challenges them to test Him in this area! By doing this, God promises to bless them immeasurably (v. 10).

Moving on to the New Testament, we see that Jesus clearly did not do away with the tithe. In fact, He emphatically stated that it should continually be practiced (Matthew 23:23; Luke 11:42). This is not surprising, as Jesus taught more about money than any other subject. In fact, He closely tied our attitude toward money to the condition of our hearts:

Given statements such as these, it is easy to see why Jesus would retain the tithe as a foundational part of our stewardship toward God. However, the larger picture becomes clear in light of the resurrected Jesus' present day ministry, as illustrated in the majestic Book of Hebrews.

Recounting Abraham's tithe to Melchisedec, Hebrews 7:8 draws an interesting parallel: "And here men that die receive tithes; but there he receiveth them, of whom it is witnessed that he liveth." The word "here" in this verse is the Greek word hode and means "in this same spot." In other words, the spot where the author was standing as he wrote these words was the very spot where men (present tense) receive tithes. Since this was written roughly 35 years after Jesus' death and resurrection, it is obvious that the receiving of tithes had continued into the New Testament age. Furthermore, note the latter part of the verse: "...but there he receiveth them (also present tense), of whom it is witnessed that he liveth." This could not refer to anyone but Jesus Himself.

Jesus is called "a priest forever after the order of Melchisedec" (Hebrews 6:20; 7:17, 21). The key word here is "forever." The eternal nature of Christ's priesthood was foreshadowed by Melchisedec, and is to be honored and supported through the exact same avenue, through the people's tithes. As head of the Church (Ephesians 5:23), Jesus receives them as a testimony "...that He lives." If the mortal priests of the Old Testament were deserving of tithes, how much more is the eternal Son of God worthy to receive them? This clearly shows that not only does the principle of tithing carry over into the New Testament era, it also becomes a beautiful and indispensible aspect of our devotion to Jesus. This concept of the New Testament tithe is further underscored by numerous early church fathers:

These verses also give us instruction on how the tithe is to be received. Note that Melchisedec received the tithe from Abraham after presenting him with bread and wine (Genesis 14:18). This is a prototype of what we know today as communion, the covenant meal through which we commemorate Jesus' death (1 Corinthians 11:23-26). Today, it is the local church that presents us with the communion elements. Therefore, the church is to be the avenue to receive our tithes. Although giving to ministries and charities is certainly to be encouraged, the purpose of the tithe is to provide for the House of God (Malachi 3:10). To be in covenant with God is to be in covenant with the church, and a part of that covenant is our financial support (1 Corinthians 16:1, 2; 2 Corinthians 8, 9).

As our modern churches cry out to God for revival, we are reminded of a disturbing statistic: According to Christian pollster George Barna, only 8-10% of active church members are faithful to God's ordinance of tithing. Until this problem is corrected, it seems unlikely that we will see any significant revival in our midst. Ultimately, the real issue with the tithe is not one of money, but rather, it is an issue of heart. The tithe is an act of faith that the God who created the universe can care for our own daily needs. After all, if we cannot trust God with our money, how can we trust Him with our souls?

This is where it all begins. Like the rich young ruler who turned away from Jesus (Luke 18:18-23), maybe you have been unwilling to trust God with your money. Billy Graham once told of a circus tight rope walker who asked his audience if they believed he could successfully walk across the high wire. Of course, all of them said they did. He then invited an audience member to sit in a wheel barrow and let him push him across the wire with him! Not surprisingly, no one took him up on his challenge. Often, this is how we are with God. We give lip service about our faith in Him, but when that faith requires something of us, we back away.

James 2:17 tells us that faith without works (corresponding action) is dead. This is especially noteworthy in regards to our financial stewardship. In numerous places, the Bible draws a direct connection between our giving and the effectiveness of our prayer life. For example, 1 Kings 17 tells us about a widow woman who, along with her young son, were on the verge of starving to death. No doubt she prayed and sought God with all her heart, but this was not what moved God to help her. Rather, her answer was conditional on her willingness to put God first by feeding His servant, the prophet Elijah. When she did this, God miraculously provided all the food she needed (v. 15-16). Similarly, when Cornelius (the first Gentile convert) was seeking God, he learned that his giving was the very thing that got God's attention (Acts 10:1-4,30-31). These verses serve as living illustrations of Jesus' promise "...but seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things (material needs) shall be added unto you. (Matthew 6:33)"

Wherever you may be in your life, turning to God with your whole life, including your money, is the wisest decision you will ever make. He is a good God with good plans for our lives (Jeremiah 29:11). If you do not yet have a relationship with Him, why not ask Him into your heart right where you are? (5)

2006 JHB


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