Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Tithing: A Time for Generosity and Joy

Until tonight, I had thought of tithing as a duty similar to paying taxes. I had considered it to be a simple ritual without much appeal.

Tonight in a Bible class, Frank Lott showed me something that has changed my perspective about the Old Testament practice of tithing. He showed me a passage from Deuteronomy that revealed God's intent for tithing. God meant for it to be a time to celebrate. He wanted it to become a party in his presence. He wanted it to be a time of joy and generosity. He wanted his people to celebrate with their families, while sharing their offerings with the Levites (who had next to nothing of their own), the immigrants, the orphans, and the widows among them. Notice these powerful verses about how God originally intended for tithing to be observed:

"Be sure to set aside a tenth of all that your fields produce each year. Eat the tithe of your grain, new wine and oil, and the firstborn of your herds and flocks in the presence of the LORD your God at the place he will choose as a dwelling for his Name, so that you may learn to revere the LORD your God always. But if that place is too distant and you have been blessed by the LORD your God and cannot carry your tithe (because the place where the LORD will choose to put his Name is so far away), then exchange your tithe for silver, and take the silver with you and go to the place the LORD your God will choose. Use the silver to buy whatever you like: cattle, sheep, wine or other fermented drink, or anything else you wish. Then you and your household shall eat there in the presence of the LORD your God and rejoice. And do not neglect the Levites living in your towns, for they have no allotment or inheritance of their own.

"At the end of every three years, bring all the tithes of that year's produce and store it in your towns, so that the Levites (who have no allotment or inheritance of their own) and the aliens, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns may come and eat and be satisfied, and so that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands" (Deuteronomy 14:22-29).

At some point, the intent of the tithe may have been lost. Legalism may have transformed a party into a burden. But God never intended for it to be that way. He always wanted the offering of the tithe to be a time of celebration, joy, and generosity. He intended for it to bring people closer together as they shared with each other. He designed for it to generate awe and respect for himself as the one who had provided his people with so much to celebrate and to share.

Let's recapture the spirit of the original design for the tithe in our giving today. Let's enjoy, share, and be grateful for the blessings of God in our lives.

6 comments:

westcoastwitness.com said...

Wow - I never thought of it that way.

That's good stuff - thanks for sharing :)

-Wes

Terry said...

Wes,
Thanks for the comment! I had never thought of it in that way either. Sometimes I think I read through passages too quickly and miss the point. For years, I have followed a schedule to read through the Bible in a year, but I think that sometimes I am more focused on making my reading quota for the day rather than going slowly enough to comprehend what I'm reading. I must have been doing that every time I have read through that passage in the past. I think it may be time for me to slow down and not worry about deadlines so that I won't miss what I'm reading.

Russell Earl Kelly, PHD said...

Friend, May I offer an alternative interpretation of Malachi for your study.

From: Tithing is not a Christian Doctrine
www.shouldthechurchteachtithing.com
Russell Earl Kelly, PHD

Malachi 3 is the Most Abused Tithing Text in the Bible. The “whole” tithe never was supposed to go to the Temple!

A. Malachi is Old Covenant and is never quoted in the New Covenant to validate tithing (Lev. 27:34; Neh. 10:28-29; Mal. 3:7; 4:4).

B. In Malachi 3:10-11 tithes are still only food 1000 years after Leviticus 27:30-34 and Numbers 18:21-28.

C. Malachi’s audience had willingly reaffirmed the Old Covenant (Neh.10:28-29). The blessings and curses of tithing are identical to and inseparable from those of the entire Mosaic Law. The rain in Deuteronomy 28:12, 23-24 and Leviticus 26:1-4 is only obtained by obedience to all 613 commandments. Galatians 3:10 (quoting Deu 27:26) “For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continues not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them.” Trying to earn God’s blessings through tithing only brings curses for failure to keep all of the law. See also Galatians 3:19.

D. Beginning in 1:6 “you” in Malachi always refers to the dishonest priests and not the people (also 2:1-10; 2:13 to 3:1-5): “Even this whole nation of you --priests” (3:9). In 1:13-14 the priests had stolen tithed animals vowed to God. In Nehemiah 13:5-10 priests had stolen the Levites’ portion of the tithe. God’s curses on the priests are ignored by most tithe-teachers (1:14; 2:2 and 3:2-4).

E. Point #12 of the essay. The Levitical cities must be included in a correct interpretation of Malachi 3:10. Most tithe-recipients lived outside of Jerusalem.

F. The 24 courses of Levites and priests must be included in a correct interpretation of Malachi 3. Normally only 2% of the total Levite and priest work force served at the temple one week at a time. Subtract wives, males under the age of 30 and daughters. Therefore 2% did not require all of the tithe. See 1 Chron 23-26; 28:13, 21; 2 Chron. 8:14; 23:8; 31:2, 15-19; 35:4, 5, 10; Ezra 6:18; Neh. 11:19, 30; 12:24; 13:9, 10; Luke 1:5.

G. Nehemiah 10:37-39 is the key to understanding Malachi 3:10, The people were commanded to bring their tithes, not to the temple, but to the nearby Levitical cities. Verse 38 says that the priests were with the Levites in the Levitical cities when they received the tithes.

H. According to Nehemiah 13:5, 9 the “storehouse” in the Temple was only several rooms. The real “storehouses” were in the Levitical cites per Nehemiah 10:37b-38. Only the Levites and priests normally brought tithes to the Temple (10:38). Two rooms in the Temple were far too small to contain the tithe from the entire nation and 98% of the Levites and priests lived too far away to eat from them.

Therefore, Malachi 3:10’s “Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse” only makes contextual sense if it is only commanding dishonest priests to replace the tithes they had removed from it or had failed to bring to it.

While the 3:10 of the Law in Malachi is so important to tithe-teachers they ignore the 3:10 of the Gospel in Galatians and 2nd Corinthians. Perhaps those wanting to enforce the 3:10 Law of Malachi should also enforce the 3:10 Law of Numbers. They share the same context.

Christian giving is freewill, sacrificial, generous, joyful, regular and motivated by love. That is enough to provide the needs of the Church.

Terry said...

Dr. Kelly,
Thanks for the comment! You provided a great amount of insight about the historical practices of Old Testament tithing. I agree with your conclusion that tithing is an Old Testament doctrine. I would like for us to be generous and joyful as we give today, no matter what the percentage may be. I appreciate your input!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the information about tithing, I have wondered about the true meaning.

Terry Laudett said...

You're welcome. I'm glad it helped.