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By Richard Gunther
When I was in my teens I was sent some literature by a world-renowned
evangelist, Oral Roberts, who had, by some mysterious means, managed to obtain
my postal address. At the time I was a zealous Christian (and still am) but I
was also rather ignorant about certain Biblical doctrines. It is many years ago
now, but I still remember the large newsprint pages of colour photographs and
attractively presented text. There were testimonies of healings and pictures of
a grand project, which Mr. Roberts was appealing for funds for, and an article
about a ‘Prayer Tower’. I was impressed.
Throughout the newspaper-size promotion, as I recall, was a theme which
went like this: “If you send us $10 God will multiply it by a hundred and you
will receive back from God 100 times what you give to us.” To back this
wonderful promise the promotion quoted from Malachi. Here is the whole passage:
God? Yet you have robbed me. But ye say, “How have we robbed Thee?” In
tithes and offerings.
You are cursed
for you have robbed me, even this whole nation.
the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat (food) in My house
(Temple), and prove me now, say the LORD of hosts, if I will not open you the
windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be
room enough to receive it.
for your sakes, and he shall not destroy the fruits of your ground; neither
shall your vine cast her fruit before the time in the field, says the LORD of
blessed: for you shall
be a delightsome land, says the LORD of hosts”.
At the time I read these words I was convinced that Mr. Roberts had a
very good case. It seemed reasonable to me, based on the above promise, that
tithing was the best way to personal wealth. Apparently, if I tithed, God had a
contract with me in which He undertook to multiply whatever I gave to His work
and return a huge increase to me the investor. The promise seemed so ‘cut and
dried’ that God Himself could not avoid it. In fact he seemed to have no
choice. By making my tithe investment I could actually control God! He had no
choice but to honour His contract.
And not only was I guaranteed great personal wealth, but also great
agricultural blessings, and “all nations” would eventually call me
I duly placed some of my hard-earned pocket-money in the enclosed
envelope and posted it away to America. I also did some calculations, because I
wanted to see the exact promised financial return arrive. I ignored the ‘small
print’ in the promotion, which suggested that God might not return the tithe
blessing in monetary terms, but might bless some other, less obvious area of my
life. And then I waited.
After some weeks another promotion by Mr. Roberts arrived. I read the
articles with a little skepticism this time, and decided not to send him any
more cash until I saw the financial return for the first tithe I had sent. I
also bought an Oral Roberts New testament, which had quite an emphasis in the
footnotes on the subject of healing.
As the weeks went by I continued to ask more mature Christians about the
subject of tithing. I also began to read many articles and books on the subject,
as I tried to pull together a full, and balanced understanding, and gradually a
clear picture began to emerge. Looking back at this time I can also see that
many Christians (like myself at that time) are led into clumsy and useless
doctrines because they lack the skills to investigate them. Young Christians are
at the mercy of both good and bad teachers because they are not taught how to
investigate with a Bible and concordance what they are taught. They accept one
line of teaching because they are ignorant of alternatives, and they don’t
know how to test what they hear.
Tithing in the Old Testament.
Tithing is giving. There is no question that God commanded tithing, in
the Old Testament, as part of His great Law for Israel. For those who are
interested in exploring all the fine details of this subject I suggest that you
get busy with a Bible Dictionary or some such work. I am not intending to repeat
what has already been extensively written by scholars far more able than me.
However, I can supply a short summary of Biblical tithing, and then go on to the
Christian perspective at the close of this article.
Concerning tithing, it was a requirement that Israelites give one tenth
of their income. But it was not with Israel that the tithe first began. The
practice of tithing goes back to long before the Law was given to Israel through
Moses on Mt. Sinai, because we see that Abraham tithed to Melchizedek (Gen.14:22
and Heb.7:2,6), and also Jacob knew about it, because he offered to give back to
God a tenth of all that God gave him (Gen.28:22).
By the time the Law was given, tithing was a clearly established pattern,
so all God did was formalize it in the Law so all the Israelites would know
exactly what God required. (Num.18:21 forward) There are many small difficulties
surrounding the fine detail of the tithe laws, which have been debated for many
years, but the simple principle remains – all the tithes were to be given
to the Levites. The Levites had no inheritance in the land of Israel,
because the Lord said He Himself was their inheritance. (Num.18:23,24) They were
give possession of 48 towns so they could care for their families and flocks
(Num.35:1-8, Josh.21:1 and forward) but no tribal territory.
Every Israelite was expected to give one tenth of all produce – grain,
fruit – and the tenth animal born to his flock each year to the Lord
(Lev.27:30-33). If he wished, he could give the tithe in money rather than
produce, but if he exchanged goods for money he had to add one fifth to its
value (Lev.27:31) He also had to select the tenth animal regardless of whether
it was a good one or a bad one (Lev.27:32). If he was caught swapping a good for
a bad he had to give both to the Lord (Lev. 27:33)
So under the Law, the principle was clear. Israelites had to give their
tithe regardless of whether it was inconvenient, difficult, or hard on them.
Rich or poor, sick or well, the tithe was demanded by God.
When the Levites received the tithes they were able to eat them, and feed
their families with them (Num.18:31,32) but they were also expected to pay, from
what they were given, a tithe to the high priest and his family (Num.18:25-28).
It was not to be just a tenth, but the very BEST tenth – the finest grain,
stock, herbs, wool, whatever. (Num.18:29). Also, the high priest received all
the meat and grain offerings at the altar, except for the burnt offerings and
best portions (Num.18:8-11, Lev.7:28-36, Lev.6:8-13, 1:9). As well as the best
of the tithes and the other things from the altar the high priest was allowed to
take the first fruits of each crop and the first born of each flock
So God provided a system of giving which was meant to supply all the
Levites and high priests needed.
But there is an important thing to notice here. Tithing was an obedience
thing. Israelites had to give a tenth, no more and no less, whether they liked
the local Levites or not. Even if the Levites were starving, the Israelites were
not breaking God’s Law if they refused to give more than a tenth. Legally,
once a tithe was given the requirements of the law were met and all legal
obligations, as far as the tithe was concerned, were finished.
But God also wanted to help the poor and needy in His nation, so He made
other provisions for them. For example a passage in Deuteronomy 14 indicates
that God also required a special tithe every three years for the Levites, the
aliens (immigrants), the fatherless and the widows. There are also other Laws
for the underprivileged, which we will not go into.
So tithing, under the Law, was mainly for three reasons: religious
worship and celebration, support of the Levites and for the care of the poor
and needy. God has a lot to say about this last point. For example in
Proverbs God says that those who keep to themselves will end up poorer
(Prov.11:24,25) and those who share will end up richer. He says that those who
give to the poor are actually giving to Him (Prov.19:17) and he promises to
repay them. It is God’s blessing that brings wealth (Prov.10:22) and a
generous man will be blessed (Prov.22:9). A hard worker will have abundant food
(Prov.28:20), and the ideal wife is she who “opens her arms to the poor, and
extends her hands to the needy” (Prov.31:20). There are many other passages
about God’s care for the poor and needy.
It is in this context that we must read Malachi 3.
When we come to the book of Malachi, we need to place in its correct
context. Although there is no certain date for his book it seems reasonable to
place it at about 400 - 455 BC, around about the time of Ezra and Nehemiah or
soon after them. The Jews had come back from Babylon and rebuilt the Temple and
walls of the city, and the decline of the little Jewish nation was setting in.
The spiritual life of Israel was dying and a dead formalism was replacing it.
This state of hypocrisy and priest-rule lasted 400 years, until Jesus came, but
nothing He did or said could change the religious leaders’ minds. They refused
to give up their control over the Temple, so Jesus predicted its destruction.
Looking through Malachi’s book we see references to the leaders of the
Jews: God points out their failure to bring acceptable offerings, failure to
teach the Word of God correctly, failure in some other areas, and failure to pay
the tithes. So in the context of the book, the passage which Mr. Roberts was
using to drum up funding was a pretext. He was trying to use an injunction from
the Law to draw money from Christians who are no longer bound by the Law.
However noble his aims, Mr. Roberts was dishonest and misleading. He was
preying on ignorant and good-hearted people, building his castles on the blood
and sweat of the humble, gullible Christians who knew no better. He was also
twisting Scripture to foster a certain amount of greed, because many who gave
were also expecting great personal gain.
Christian giving in the New Testament.
Nowhere in the New Testament are Christians told to keep the Old
Testament Law. In fact, there are many warnings against going that way.
Galatians warns us to avoid people who try to have circumcision reintroduced
(Gal.2 and 3), Ephesians tells us the barrier of the Law has been taken away
(Eph. 2), Philippians contrasts the Law path with the resurrection path
(Phil.3:4-10), Colossians warns us about the danger of slipping into legalism,
such as keeping of Sabbaths (Col.2), Titus tells us no works of righteousness
are sufficient to earn us a place in heave (Titus 3) and so on.
There are so many clear warnings through the New Testament that it really
is a wonder that Mr. Roberts could send Christians back to the law in order to
gain a flow of funding!
In my search for answers I came across a sentence in a book which went
like this: “If you have a choice between giving money to the church and
spending that money on your hungry children, spend it on the children”. In a
way, this sums up the whole subject, because Christian giving is voluntary,
guided by the Spirit, and not compulsory in any way. Under the new reign of
grace we are not required to keep the Law, but also under grace we will be
prompted to give (or not give) in many different ways.
We may decide to give to our local fellowship, support the pastor, or
send the money to a missionary. We have total freedom to do whatever we like
with our money.
The best N.T. passage about tithing is in 2Corinthians 8and 9.
Christian giving is here revealed to be an expression of grace and love.
Those who have much should share with those who have little. There is no mention
of a mere, pathetic, legal tenth. In fact, the tithe was really the barest
minimum required by God, and only misery Christians will stick to it, whereas
the Spirit-filled Christian will go way beyond the bare minimum, and give
generously. Tithing under the Law was also about material things, like bags of
wheat, counted numbers of corn cobs and so on, whereas Christian giving involves
the generous gifting of time, love, care, hospitality and dozens of other
There are several wrong ways to give, such as:
The Punishment way. Some people think they should be poor so they
give all they can as a sort of self-punishment. They think God will be more
pleased with them if they are miserable and needy. They think poverty equals
The Duty way. Some people do not give because of love, but merely
because they feel obliged to. The hat comes round, or the appeal turns up in
their letterbox so they dutifully poke some money in, not really caring about
the cause. For them giving is a habit, a part of life, a mild irritation like
taxes, which must be paid.
The Scared-to-give way. Some people think money equals security,
and in some ways they are right, but they are scared to give away any money in
case they are short themselves. They think God will not keep His promises, and
they will end up as beggars – see Psalm 37:25 and Mat.6:28-33.
The Hoard-more-give-less way. Some people think they will be
happier the more they have in the Bank. They think they should give as little as
they can and thus preserve their precious bank balance. They suffer under the
‘fear of giving’. For them the bank balance is the only trustworthy and
stable thing in their lives.
The Bribe-God way. Some people think God is impressed by what they
give, and that they can earn ‘Brownie points’ in heaven by giving to
‘worthy causes’. It is in fact better to give one dollar to something which
God wants you to give to than a million dollars to something he is not
Christian giving is really very simple.
First it pays to check with God about what He wants us to give to.
Sometimes God impresses it on our hearts to give to someone or something, and
other times He tells us “no’. In
both cases we must be obedient to the leading of the Spirit, no matter how
difficult it may be to turn down some appeal.
In my own life I have come across many instances of this principle.
Recently a man whom I have never met suddenly stopped me as I was biking past
him and gave me $40 and some fruit. Other people have sent me small sums of
money as gifts because “God laid it on my heart to give you this”, two
strangers came up to me another time and gave me $20 because, as they said
“God told them I was meant to have it”, a church in another country decided
to take me under its wing as one of its “missionaries” and sent me some
money as their way of supporting my work, I have also had people call in off the
street – people I have never previously met or seen since – who have said
“the Lord told me to stop and pray for someone in this house”, and so on. In
turn I have also had many times when God has told me to support some other
saint, but of course this is private. The marvel is that giving is quite
wonderful and interesting when we come under the leading of the Spirit, and we
never know what God is going to do next. (You may like to read my essay
“Blessings Connected with being a Christian”)
Christian giving also involves giving only what God requires, no more, no
As God says “I prefer obedience to sacrifice” (1Samuel 15:22), which means
that God would rather we gave Him simple obedience than a whole heap of
sacrifices, such as big efforts, and self-troubling trials. Imagine a father
asking his little son to fetch the newspaper from the kitchen, and then seeing
his son wash the entire kitchen, paint the table and chairs, sweep the floor,
prepare a huge meal, and replace all the glass in the windows, and then bring
the newspaper to him! There are Christians who do exactly the same sort of
thing. All God requires of us is simple obedience, not slavish effort way and
beyond His requests.
Giving to the Church.
I not want to be critical of Christian giving to the Church. Many
Christians pay a tithe to the local church as a duty, and also because they
think tithing is required by the Church. It is not my place to criticize this
practice, and I ask forgiveness if this essay has offended anyone. God may lead
Christians to support a pastor, or contribute to the maintenance and upkeep of
the church building, or support the ‘missionary fund’ or the ‘building
project’ or whatever program the church is running. In a word, this is none of
my business, and I am not interested in looking for trouble.
Because tithing seems to go back as far as history allows us to see, back
beyond Moses, right back to Abraham and probably earlier, it seems that it is
based on love rather than law. This tends to imply that because tithing is older
than the Law, it may still be a perfectly legitimate thing to do, but the motivation
for tithing is far more important than the practice.
Paul says “Each person should give what he has decided in his heart to
give, not reluctantly, nor under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver”
(2Cor.9:7 and also Acts 11:29)
What Paul is saying here is that giving should be a voluntary thing, not
something driven by compulsion. If we feel pressured to give, then we should not
give. If our motivation is to get rid of the people at the door, or to save
face, or to copy other people as the bag comes round, then we are not giving for
the right reason.
Paul gives us some instructions as to who in the Church ought to be
supported, presumably by our gifts. It is the Christians who labour in the
gospel in each fellowship who are supposed to be supported by the fellowship –
if they need support.
“Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honour,
especially they who labour in the word, and doctrine. For
the scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle
the ox that treads out the corn’. And, ‘The labourer is worthy of his
– 1Timothy 5:17,18 What
this means is if there are one or two or more Christians who work very hard,
teaching, preaching and helping the fellowship grow and expand, these people
should be helped in their work. If they have to work long hours just to pay
their bills, they will have less time for the really important work, and the
whole fellowship will suffer.
In 1Cor.9:7 Paul again quotes the Law about not muzzling an ox, but also
suggests that those who go to war are paid to fight, and those who plant a
vineyard get to eat of the grapes, and those who raise a flock also get to drink
the milk. In other words, the people in the fellowship who work on the gospel
and teaching should be supported by those they help. It is a valuable ministry,
and not every Christian can do it.
In 1Cor.9:14 Paul states his case openly – “the Lord has ordained
that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel”.
In Galatians 6:6 Paul says that those who are taught should look after
their teachers. (See also 1Cor.9:12-23)
‘Missionaries’ (or Gospellers, Preachers, Evangelists) come under the
support of Christians, because they are fulfilling the command of Jesus to go
into all the world and preach or teach the gospel. (Ma.28:18-20, Mark 16:15-20,
Acts 1:8 and so on) It is therefore a good thing to give to local and foreign
missions, or outreach work, but again, we must be careful to give only to those
workers we are led to support, as the Holy Spirit decides. It is all too easy to
give because the missionary envelope keeps coming, every month, with an
attractive and appealing format. The child’s face with the big, sad eyes is
not as important as the leading of the Spirit.
And it is good to give to the poor, or to those who have genuine needs.
(Ps.41:1-3, Prov.19:17, Mat.25:31-46.) Well-off Christians should support not so
Giving and getting.
There is no doubt in my mind that when we give the right way, the right
amount to the right thing, we can expect a return. The return is not only
promised by God, but He even specifies that it will be proportionate.
This is an amazing promise!
Whenever we give to God we should expect a return from Him. (Luke 6:35-38
– “your reward shall be great”)
“Give, and it shall be given to you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken
and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that
ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again”. Luke 6:38
We must never take the above promise from the Lord Jesus Himself lightly.
Whatever we give will be multiplied back to us, and it will come back in
proportion to what we give. I have found this principle absolutely true in my
own life, and I have seen it working in the lives of other Christians. It goes
against our natural, sinful instincts however. The world would say “Don’t be
ridiculous! If you give something away its gone. You don’t have more when you
give something away, you have less!” But God is good at turning things upside
down. He challenges us to use our faith, believe what Jesus said, and try His
promise out. This means money, or whatever the Spirit prompts you to part with.
God can supply all our needs, and not just the bare minimum. He often buries us
under huge blessings, giving us such a surplus we can give even more to those
who need it. As someone said “I shovel it out, and God shovels it in!”
If you would like to pursue this further, look up Proverbs 3:9-10,
I would like to close this little study with a verse. If you look at the
verse you will see that God wants to increase our Christian work so that we have
a surplus. Just as on seed produces many when it is sown, so too our ability to
reach people for Christ increases the more we do it. It reminds me of a brother
with whom I worked for many years. At the beginning of his outreach work he
managed to produce a ‘street paper’ which went to a few hundred. The success
of this first venture led to more literature, and finally there was a day when
he and I produced some gospel tracts numbering about a million! That was amazing
enough, but in the years since then his ministry has expanded towards reaching
every country in the world, and many millions of new tracts have been
distributed. I think he is still increasing. Who knows how big his outreach work
will be when God calls him home? The point is, he was faithful with the little
and God has multiplied his work in proportion to his giving.
So be encouraged. God can do mighty things through you too, if you tap
into His promises and power.
“Now he that ministers seed to the sower both minister bread for your food, and multiply your seed sown, and increase the fruits of your righteousness” 2 Corinthians 9:10
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