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Hi, my name is Dean Smith, and in this podcast, I want to discuss one of the more thorny issues in the church today and that is giving.
More specifically, do believers need to tithe?
This topic was recently thrown into the limelight through the surprising admission by a popular televangelist, Creflo Dollar, who stated publicly that he was wrong about tithing.
As a prosperity preacher, Creflo basically taught if people gave, God would bless them. Of course, tithing was a foundational part of his prosperity message.
But in that sermon he preached on June 26, 2022, entitled ‘The Great Misunderstanding”, Creflo basically admitted that his teaching on tithing was wrong.
He told his congregation quote:
“… I will say that I have no shame at all at saying to you throw away every book, every tape, and every video, I ever did on the subject of tithing, unless it lines up with this (held up his Bible).”
“So why is this important?,” Creflo continued. “Because religion is sustained by two factors, fear and guilt. And there’s one subject that the church has used, for a long time, to keep people in fear and guilt, it is the subject of tithing, and it has to be corrected. And it’s got to be corrected now.”
Acknowledging that he will probably lose some ‘friends’ over the sermon, code for other fellow televangelists and prosperity preachers, Creflo added that the concept of giving 10% of your income is an Old Testament law and does not apply to the church, which lives under grace.
And he did take some heat for this and bizarrely some who had previously criticized Creflo for his prosperity message are now criticizing him for changing his opinion on tithing.
Creflo summed it up by stating that giving is an act of worship. There is nothing wrong with giving 10%, but here is the key, he said it is not mandatory.
So is Creflo right?
In a nutshell, I believe he is.
But to answer that question, we need to find out what the Mosaic law had to say about tithing. There were actually three tithes mentioned in the Old Testament law.
1. The Sacred Tithe
The first was called the Sacred Tithe and it’s the one we are most familiar with.
Found in Numbers 18:21-24, the Israelis paid 10% of the increase of their flocks and crops to the tribe of Levi.
This is because, when the 12 tribes of Israel claimed their inheritance in the Promised Land, the land was divided among 11 tribes, not twelve, as the Tribe of Levi did not receive any territory.
Though the Levites did not receive actual land we are told in Numbers 35:1-8, that the tribes had to designate 48 cities for the Levites to live. They were also given pasture land around the cities, but the land did not belong to them. It belonged to the tribes where the cities existed.
You see, the Levites had a different role in Jewish society. Living scattered in cities across Israel, they were responsible for teaching the law to the Jews. They also served as workers assisting the priests in the tabernacle and the temple, and as well served as musicians and singers.
But we also see from certain passages, such as Numbers 1:53, that the Levites had a police role, guarding the temple and tabernacle. As part of this, six of the Levite cities were designated as cities of refuge, where people who accidentally killed someone could flee and the Levites would provide protection from retaliation.
In Numbers 18:25-28, the Levites were then instructed to give a tithe of their tithe to the priests who performed the sacrifices in the tabernacle and temple. The priests, who were also of the tribe of Levi, differed in that they were descendants of Israel’s first High Priest Aaron.
2. The Pilgrimage Tithe
The second was the pilgrimage tithe mentioned in Deuteronomy 14:22-27. The Israelis actually set this tithe aside for themselves, providing them savings they would need to attend the three pilgrimage feasts on Israel’s religious calendar, Passover, the Feast of Pentecost, and the feast of tabernacles.
Though there was a religious element to these feasts, it was also break from farming and could be considered a family or vacation time when they journeyed to Jerusalem.
Considering that one of the feasts, the Feast of Tabernacles, involved setting up booths mimicking Israel’s journey in the wilderness, the kids would have loved it.
This is the unique thing about this tithe, it was set aside for the person and the family.
3. The Poverty Tithe (collected once every three years)
The third involved a tithe for the poor mentioned in (Deuteronomy 14:28-29). It was collected every third year by the community and was set aside for both the poor and the Levites.
The Church and tithing
As we move into the New Testament and the formation of the early church, we see some major structural changes.
This is largely because the Levites and priesthood were no longer relevant to the early church, because in 1 Corinthians 3:16-17; and Ephesians 2:20-22 we are told that the church and believers are now the temple of God. And the Apostle Peter writes in 1 Peter 2:9, that every believer is now a priest and the priests were the only ones exempt from paying a tithe.
This was all finalized when God allowed the destruction of the Jewish Temple by the Romans in 70 AD.
Essentially the Mosaic tithe is no longer relevant or applicable to believers because the tribe of Levi was no longer needed.
Other examples of tithes
Now there are those who hold that believers should pay tithes and point to a couple of things.
First, there were two instances of tithing prior to the Mosaic law, which may suggest that tithing was a universal principle, that existed before the law.
The Melchizedek Tithe
The first involved a one-time tithe that the Patriarch Abraham paid to a Priest-King Melchizedek shortly after Abraham had successfully defeated several kings who had taken Lot and his family captive.
But, it was not actually a tithe of what Abraham owned, rather it was a tithe of the plunder he collected from the battle with the five kings.
4 See how great this man was to whom Abraham the patriarch gave a tenth of the spoils! (Hebrews 7:4 ESV)
Because the writer of Hebrews states this Melchizedek priesthood is actually superior to the Levitical one and continues to this day through Jesus, some suggest this tithe is still applicable to the church.
But, even so, it was a one-time thanksgiving payment and one that Abraham voluntarily gave.
Jacob’s tithe to the House of God
The second tithe involved one that Jacob pledged to the House of God in Genesis 28:22. This was the spot where Jacob had a dream of a stairway or ladder to heaven with angels going up and coming down.
Jacob took the stone that he had used as a pillow, declared this small rock to be the House of God and then pledged a tithe to the House of God.
Of course, there was no tabernacle or temple in existence at that point, so who did Jacob actually pledge his tithe too?
It was a problem that the ancient rabbis picked up on as well, and they said that Jacob, who was later called Israel, actually paid this tithe when one of his sons, Levi, would be dedicated to the work in the House of God. They believe this was Jacob’s tithe.
Did Jesus promote tithing?
Those who promote tithing for believers also point to a statement that Jesus made that seemed to support tithing.
23 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. (Matthew 23:23)
Even though Jesus said tithing was less important than justice, mercy and faithfulness, the Lord did imply they should practice it.
But along a similar vein in Matthew 5:23-24, Jesus also encouraged people to reconcile with anyone they may have offended before making their sacrifices at the temple.
In the same fashion are we to take from this statement that believers should continue making animal sacrifices?
Of course, not.
Obviously, Christ’s death on the cross brought a massive change in the Kingdom of God.
The temple and its sacrificial system were no longer needed, and along with it, the tithe needed to keep it running.
Paul’s teaching on giving
But since believers, are no longer under the law, are Christians expected to give?
The answer is Yes.
And in 2 Corinthians 9:6-7, the Apostle Paul lays out several principles about giving.
6 The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. 7 Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. (2 Corinthians 9:6-7)
From this passage we can pull five principles about giving:
- It’s your decision: Nowhere in this passage does Paul mention tithing. You are to give what you have decided to give in your heart. In other words, it’s your choice and tithing is not mandatory.
- Don’t give under compulsion or out of guilt. Even Creflo noted that guilt is one of the major driving forces behind giving. We feel guilty that we haven’t given enough, but this is not why we should give.
- Don’t be reluctant to give. Though we are no longer obligated to tithe because we are no longer under the law, at the same time, we are not to use this freedom as an excuse not to give.
- Give Cheerfully: Whatever you give, make sure it is an amount that you can give cheerfully. If your giving results in regret, you have given too much.
- Give proportionally: If you have decided to give $100 a month. Rather than giving a flat $100, calculate that as a percentage of your income, closest to that amount. Then, when God blesses you and gives you an increase, your giving will increase proportionally.
And finally, throughout the New Testament, we find multiple encouragements to support those who are preaching the gospel and as well to support the poor.
But even among these several references, there is no mention of tithes.
I think Creflo is right.
Giving is an act of worship and there is nothing wrong with tithing if you want, but it is not mandatory.
Instead, God prefers we give, because we want to give.
READ: Creflo Dollar: Some of My Teachings About Tithing ‘Were Not Correct’ AND US Pastor Creflo Dollar tells congregation to throw away his books and tapes on tithing, says he got the subject wrong