While studying Melchizedek, it was almost impossible to not think about tithing. The very first tithe ever mentioned in Scripture is mentioned along with the first (and last) appearance of Melchizedek. In case you don’t know, the word tithe means a tenth. Abraham gave Melchizedek a tenth of the spoils he obtain from battle, so we say that Abraham gave Melchizedek a tithe. (See Genesis 14:17-20)
This won’t be a long article, mostly because this is a simple matter that has been complicated by traditions and misunderstandings. Many times, when preachers and teachers stand before their people and speak about tithing, they will go to the Law of Moses, or they’ll to to the prophet Malachi. Malachi is particularly popular because it contains a challenge from God for His people to test His generosity.
10 Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the LORD of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need.
– Malachi 3:10 (ESV)
However, the way that tithing is taught by Christians isn’t congruent with the Law of Moses or what Malachi had to say. The Law actually contains three tithes, not one.
- The Levitical tithe (Numbers 18:21)
- The Tithe of Feasts (Deuteronomy 14:22-23)
- The Tithe for the Poor (Deuteronomy 14:28-29)
Scholars differ whether these are three separate, or one tithe with three uses. But for this guy, it seems that they are separate. Using the Law as an impetus for tithing is problematic. If you want to obey the tithe of feasts, you should probably be observing the feasts. If you want to observe the tithe for the poor, if you’re not a farmer, you probably need to buy ten percent more food than you need for an offering that happens every three years. The only tithe that might make sense here is the Levitical tithe, but we no longer have a special genealogy of priests who have been tasked with taking care of a Temple where everyone makes pilgrimage for yearly sacrifices.
In addition to all of that, tithing was part of a larger covenant that included blessings and curses for obedience (Deuteronomy 28). So the motivation for tithing was inexorably linked to receive God’s blessings. You could not separate one from the other. If you obey the Law – including the tithes – then you will walk in blessing. If you disobey – including if you don’t tithe – you will suffer curses.
Hear me. I tithe and I believe all believers should, but not for any of the reasons given in the Law of Moses. Look at Abraham.
Abraham gave a tithe before there was ever a command. That means at least two things.
- Ten percent serves as a baseline for generosity that existed before the Law.
- Abraham’s motivation wasn’t obedience to any law, but instead gratitude to the LORD.
Some link Abraham’s tithe to the Levitical tithe, since Melchizedek was a priest. I disagree. The law hadn’t been given, Levi wasn’t born yet, and Melchizedek was also a King and didn’t need the kind of support that the Levites needed.
No, Abraham’s tithe was pure, grateful generosity to the LORD. The LORD had given him success in battle, his nephew Lot was recovered, and Abraham was happy to give. It reminds me of a verse written thousands of years later.
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 9:7 (ESV)
Now, do I believe there is still blessing tied to generosity? Yes, I do. But again, not the blessings and curses of the Mosaic Covenant (which would include Malachi 3:10 because it calls people back to obedience to the tithes in the Law). The LORD has made the created order in such a way that we reap what we sow. That’s not some magical karma kind of phenomenon. It’s how God ordered His creation. Look one verse earlier in 2 Corinthians.
6 The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.
– 2 Corinthians 9:6
Will there be times when this doesn’t seem true? Sure. Creation is under a curse and we are in a spiritual war, so things don’t always work out the way they are designed to work. But generally speaking, God’s design is that generosity produces a harvest that is proportional. Even people who don’t know Jesus can benefit from this principle because the LORD has embedded it in the created order. It isn’t a promise, but it is definitely a principle.
But, what takes this purely into a Christian realm is our motive. God loves a cheerful giver. All Christian generosity is motivated by a glad, generous, grateful heart toward Jesus. Abraham’s example to us fixed a precedent. He gave a tenth of his spoil back to the LORD – gladly.
The tithe transcends covenants. It’s beyond obedience to a command. The LORD is generous, therefore anyone He saves and fills with His Holy Spirit will likewise become generous. It’s an issue of the new heart and new spirit that He gives us when we’re born again. Becoming like Jesus is pre-packaged with glad, cheerful, grateful generosity.
So, I leave you with this question. If your giving lacks gratitude, gladness, and cheerfulness, can you truly call it Christian generosity?