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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:


   Malachi 3:8-12 

   Will a man rob God? Yet you have robbed me. But ye say, “How have we robbed Thee?” In tithes and offerings.

   You are cursed with a curse: for you have robbed me, even this whole nation.

   Bring all 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.

      And I will rebuke the devourer 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 hosts.

   And all nations shall call you 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 “blessed”.


   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 (Num.18:12-19)


   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 immeasurable things.


   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 godliness.


   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 interested in.


   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 less. 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 reward.” – 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 well-off Christians.


   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 together, 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, 11:24-25, 2Cor.9:12


   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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