TITHES AND OFFERINGS IN THE NEW TESTAMENT CHURCH: RIGHT AND WRONG TEACHINGS
Most modern preachers tend to emphasize miracles more than the Miracle worker, gifts more than the Giver of life, prosperity more than righteousness, church attendance more than holiness, noise more than meditation, signs and wonders more than the fruit of the spirit, tithes and offerings more than feeding the poor and building projects more than missionary work. We rarely, if ever, hear these pastors preach passionately about Christ crucified (1 Cor 1:23) in the same manner that they solicit for money.
KEY POINT: The Lord God desires our soul (life) and not our resources.
Previously saying, “Sacrifice and offering, burnt offerings, and offerings for sin You did not desire, nor had pleasure in them” (which are offered according to the law), then He said, “Behold, I have come to do Your will, O God.” He takes away the first that He may establish the second (Heb 10:8-9).
Being born again means becoming a child of God and a steward of God’s Kingdom. As stewards, we have to know the mind of God on matters affecting our very existence. And His mind is clearly enunciated in His word.
The primary responsibility of a steward is to husband the life God has deposited in her–run the race without wavering in the prescribed manner until she meets God in glory.
Part of that race is to use the talents, time and resources God has given her in accordance with the will of God…And the way to knowing God’s will is through radical (total) obedience to God.
Jeremiah prophesied that in the new covenant, God will write His laws in His children’s hearts. Knowing this, a steward, with the aid of the Holy Spirit, must examine old covenant practices and doctrines through the prism of the new covenant or he would be led astray. In addition to being the Seal of our salvation, the Holy Spirit is the Teacher of God’s word; and it is impossible to live a victorious Christian life without His guidance (Heb. 8:10-11).
We shall now examine the subject of tithes and offerings using God’s word. As for me and my house, God’s word supersedes every other teaching on the subject.
My prayer is that the Lord God will use the above subject matter to open our eyes of understanding so that we may situate the subject matter within the context of Christ’s finished work at Calvary. The most important work for Christians on earth is the presentation of the salvation message (Christ crucified for our sins) to a dying world in both words and deeds (i.e., the world must see Christ in us through our changed lives if the gospel is to believed).
2. TITHES AND OFFERINGS IN THE OLD TESTAMENT (OT)
The laws on tithes and offerings were part of the covenant between God and Israel. No one has the right to teach others to obey only one out of the laws in that covenant and to discount the rest. God’s covenant with Israel was holistic, the people did not have the option to pick and choose. Disobedience in one meant the loss of favor with God, and there were severe consequences.
- Tithes: a tenth of the first fruits and livestock.
- Offerings (peace, burnt, sin, trespass, free will, etc).
2.1. TITHING BEFORE THE LAW WERE FREEWILL OFFERINGS]
“Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything” (Gen 14:20-24 NIV).
Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me, and keep me in this way that I am going, and give me bread to eat and clothing to put on, “so that I come back to my father’s house in peace, then the LORD shall be my God.”And this stone which I have set as a pillar shall be God’s house, and of all that You give me, I will surely give a tenth to You” (Gen 28:20-22).
2.2 OFFERINGS IN THE OLD TESTAMENT
In addition to the commanded offerings (peace, sin, trespass, etc.) in the OT, there were also freewill offerings.
- Materials for the construction of the Tabernacle: “All whose hearts were stirred and whose spirits were moved came and brought their sacred offerings to the LORD. They brought all the materials needed for the Tabernacle, for the performance of its rituals, and for the sacred garments” (Exod 35:21 NLT).
- Offerings for the construction of the second temple: “When they arrived at the Temple of the LORD in Jerusalem, some of the family leaders made voluntary offerings toward the rebuilding of God’s Temple on its original site,” (Ezra 2:68 NLT).
3. LAW OF THE TITHES
(i) Tithes for the Levites:
“Behold, I have given the children of Levi all the tithes in Israel as an inheritance in return for the work which they perform, the work of the tabernacle of meeting” (Num 18:21).
(ii) Tithes for the Benefit of the Congregation:
“You shall truly tithe all the increase of your grain that the field produces year by year.”And you shall eat before the LORD your God, in the place where He chooses to make His name abide, the tithe of your grain and your new wine and your oil, of the firstborn of your herds and your flocks, that you may learn to fear the LORD your God always.”But if the journey is too long for you, so that you are not able to carry the tithe, or if the place where the LORD your God chooses to put His name is too far from you, when the LORD your God has blessed you, “then you shall exchange it for money, take the money in your hand, and go to the place which the LORD your God chooses. “And you shall spend that money for whatever your heart desires: for oxen or sheep, for wine or similar drink, for whatever your heart desires; you shall eat there before the LORD your God, and you shall rejoice, you and your household. “You shall not forsake the Levite who is within your gates, for he has no part nor inheritance with you” (Deut 14:22-27).
(iii) Tithes for the Benefit of the Stranger, the Widow, the Fatherless and the Levite:
“At the end of every third year you shall bring out the tithe of your produce of that year and store it up within your gates.”And the Levite, because he has no portion nor inheritance with you, and the stranger and the fatherless and the widow who are within your gates, may come and eat and be satisfied, that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hand which you do” (Deut.14:28-29).
As we can see from the above Scriptures, tithes were for the Levites (who had no inheritance in Israel), the Israelites to eat and rejoice in the presence of the Lord, and for the poor.
4. OFFERINGS IN THE NEW TESTAMENT (NT)
(i) The Early Church:
“Nor was there anyone among them who lacked; for all who were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of the things that were sold, and laid them at the apostles’ feet; and they distributed to each as anyone had need” (Acts 4:34-35).
(ii) The First Christian Council:
This council defined what the gentile Christians would be held accountable for: “Since we have heard that some who went out from us have troubled you with words, unsettling your souls, saying, “You must be circumcised and keep the law”–to whom we gave no such commandment…For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things: that you abstain from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well” (Acts 15:24-29).
(iii) The Heart of giving:
“But this I say: He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver” (2Cor 9:6-8).
(iv) Paul’s Life and Ministry:
Paul’s life is both a challenge and a model for all ministers (General Overseers, Bishops, Pastors, Teachers, etc.) of the gospel of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
“I have coveted no one’s silver or gold or apparel. “Yes, you yourselves know that these hands have provided for my necessities, and for those who were with me. “I have shown you in every way, by laboring like this, that you must support the weak. And remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive'” (Acts 20:33-35).
- DOCTRINES OF HUMAN BEINGS
In no place have God’s commands been more mutilated by the leaders of the Pentecostal and Evangelical churches as in the area of wealth (tithes, offerings, sowing a seed to get money and or promotion, etc).
God’s commands have been replaced by a panoply of teachings that take away God’s grace and love. Before and during the Lord’s first advent, it was the Pharisees and the Scribes (religious leaders) who were teaching the doctrines of human beings.
Any surprise then that before the Lord’s second advent, many church leaders (general overseers, bishops, pastors, and elders) are either teaching the commandments of human beings or have embraced aspects of them or have kept quiet even though their consciences continue to prick them that they should speak up.
The Lord’s warning is as germane then as now:
“Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying: These people draw near to Me with their mouth, And honor Me with their lips, But their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men'” (Matt 15:7-9).
Before the 15th century, it was the sale of indulgences to obtain eternal salvation. But is there really any difference between the Roman Church’s teaching then on indulgences and the teaching on “tithes and offerings” by 21st century churches and denominations?
Blessings (more wealth, health, promotions, children, etc) for those who faithfully deliver 10% of their monthly income and obviously little or no blessings for those who fail to pay up.
Is the erroneous teaching linking the payment of tithes by faithful “tithers” and the giving of large offerings by rich donors to increased wealth here on earth not subliminally linking their payments to their inheritance of eternal life?
I want to believe that those who started this doctrine and their latter day acolytes had good intentions. But good intentions are not enough. They have led many astray. If we excuse them, should you and I still be excused knowing what we know now?
Is it any wonder that young men and women, rather than get a good education and acquire skills that would enable them to feed themselves and their families, jump into ministry.
For many, being a pastor or founder of a ministry is the key to wealth. Would that have been the case if tithes and offerings had not replaced Christ and the cross? How many young people would really have gone into ministry if they knew that they would have to fend for themselves and their families just like Brother Paul?
- Putting new wine in an old wineskin has not had a very salutary effect on the Body of Christ. Christ had warned us of the consequences.
- It is difficult to apprehend God’s word when one is in God’s service for things other than following the Lord. Balaam, who loved the wages of sin, is a good example.
- You cannot serve God and mammon. The apostles determined that their business was to pray and minister the word. They left serving the table (which includes such administrative duties as collecting and sharing offerings to the needy) to selected persons.
- The involvement of presidents, founders, and pastors of churches in the management of finances calls into question their sincerity.
- CONTEXT OF MALACHI 3:10-11
Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, That there may be food in My house, And try Me now in this,” Says the LORD of hosts, “If I will not open for you the windows of heaven And pour out for you such blessing That there will not be room enough to receive it. And I will rebuke the devourer for your sakes, So that he will not destroy the fruit of your ground, Nor shall the vine fail to bear fruit for you in the field,” Says the LORD of hosts (Mal 3:10-11).
How often and how loud have we heard those verses of the Scripture from the pulpits?
How many have felt obliged to pay tithes and give heftily for one church project or the other in the mistaken belief that God would be ‘angry’ with them if they defaulted? Many are convinced that they will inherit eternal life because they have been tithing faithfully and giving very generously even though they do not have a good testimony.
It is a sad testimony of how the rot has eaten so deep that a Bible-believing-practicing Christian would be giving and paying tithes because she wants God to pay her back a hundredfold.
How much did God repay those early Christians who gave their lives rather than accept the mutilation of the gospel? Had the early Church had the 21st century Christianity mindset, there would have been no Christianity today.
The early adherents of the gospel of Christ faced persecutions wherever they went. Many died in the Roman Coliseum; they sang even as they were being torn apart by beasts while the Roman pagans jeered at them. The courage of those saints inspired others. And that’s how the gospel spread rapidly.
Those men and women torn apart by beasts did not pay tithes. They paid with their lives because they knew that they belonged 100% to Jesus. I am persuaded that the Lord Jesus Christ stood, just like He did when Stephen was being martyred, as each of them gave their lives for the sake of the gospel.
How many times has your pastor given the context of Malachi’s warning?
Malachi was a prophet of God in the time of Nehemiah. “His message of judgment was to a people plagued by corrupt priests, wicked practices, and a false sense of security in their privileged relationship with God.”
Malachi was pleading with the people to return to the covenant God had with Israel. The message in Malachi is about corrupt leadership and false teaching that has led the people to profane the Lord’s altar; the priests were even sacrificing items the Law specifically said were unfit.
“A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If I am a father, where is the honor due me? If I am a master, where is the respect due me?” says the LORD Almighty. “It is you, O priests, who show contempt for my name. “But you ask, ‘How have we shown contempt for your name?’ “You place defiled food on my altar. “But you ask, ‘How have we defiled you?’ “By saying that the LORD’s table is contemptible. When you bring blind animals for sacrifice, is that not wrong? When you sacrifice crippled or diseased animals, is that not wrong? Try offering them to your governor! Would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you?” says the LORD Almighty (Mal 1:6-8 NIV).
- GOD WANTS ALL OF YOU–YOUR LIFE (SOUL), TIME, RESOURCES AND TALENTS.
- Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matt 11:29-30)
- We are God’s children, purchased with the blood of His Son. Are we not really cheating God when all we are happy to give Him is 10% of our earnings? What happens to the other 90%?
- What happens to 100% of our life (soul, spirit, and body) that He had paid for? What happens to 100% of our talents and time?
- Those who believe that tithing (giving God only 10% of their earnings and keeping 90% for themselves) is for the New Testament Church are really cheating God. They can’t have it any other way.
And to those pastors and elders who insist on this erroneous practice, I plead with you to hear Brother Paul’s admonition:
Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood (Acts 20:28).
- THE WISE WAY TO INVEST IN GOD’S KINGDOM
Many of us are guilty of writing cheques and feeling satisfied that we have done the Master’s bidding. This is far from the truth. We have a responsibility to ensure that the resources God has committed to our care are utilized wisely. We must be involved in the management of our investment through active participation in evangelism and mission-related activities.
We have a responsibility to ensure that the resources God has committed to our care are utilized wisely. We must be involved in the management of our investment through active participation in evangelism and mission-related activities.
We must not be the reason for the fall of an otherwise humble brother or sister because we committed resources in his or her care that could make him or her lose his or her vision and calling.
There must be safeguards and controls in all ministries and churches to ensure proper accounting and management of resources. The onus rests on all the members of those ministries and churches. We are all priests and kings before God unlike in the old dispensation where there was the high priest, priests, Levites and then the congregation.
and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler over the kings of the earth. To Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood, and has made us kings and priests to His God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever, Amen (Rev 1:5-6).
- WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE? CHALLENGES FOR THE 21ST CENTURY CHURCH
Abraham paid a tenth of the spoils of war of his own free will. Jacob’s tenth was a freewill vow. The Law institutionalized tithing for the maintenance of the Levites who had no inheritance in Israel, the poor in the land and for the enjoyment of the people that paid the tithe. The Law of the Tithe was part of Israel’s covenant with God.
Before faith came, we were kept under guard by the law, kept for the faith that would afterward be revealed. Therefore the Law is the tutor to bring us to Christ that we might be justified by faith (Galatians 3:23-26).
We became sons of God by faith in Christ’s finished works at Calvary. Believers are priests under the high priesthood of the Lord Jesus Christ. We are not part of the covenant between God and Israel. We are part of the new covenant in Christ Jesus. Our Christian walk must continue by that same faith if we are not to lose focus and make a shipwreck of our testimony.
Whoever insists that you must pay tithes does not know the Scriptures. If you decide you have to, then you should also keep the whole law (this includes the sacrifice of animals and the sprinkling of blood) that is intrinsic in God’s covenant with Israel.
Because those who are led by the Spirit are the children of God, the believer must seek the Lord’s face in all things including “giving”–what, how whom and when to give.
God is interested in our growth from carnality into spirituality and this can only be achieved by a total surrender of our total being (life, time, talents, and resources) to God, not just 10% only of our income.
In effect, the spiritual man knows he has been purchased by God through the sacrifice of His Son at Calvary. Therefore all he is and has belonged to God 100%. A faithful steward must do his master’s bidding at all times. This means that the steward must protect all the master’s investment–chief of which is his soul–and must invest all the resources his Master has committed to his care very wisely.
We want to hear from you. You may have some questions. We will prayerfully answer them using the Scriptures. We are here to equip the saints with life-giving and life-changing messages. It is part of our mandate. And whatever resources we are led to share is yours for free.
NOTE: Scriptures taken from the New King James Version except where indicated otherwise. The New Open Bible, New King James Version, (commentary), p. 1078.