“..so that you may learn to revere the Lord your God always…”
The world is a hurting place.
Everywhere you look, someone is in need.
For most Christians, there is too much to do and too little time. With images bombarding us about the starvation in Africa, the drug problem in America, and sex trafficking in Asia, it becomes dizzying to find a step one, let alone a comprehensive game plan for helping.
The good news is God has given you a template by which to help your broken world.
He showed the ancient Israelites how to use their giving dollars – by way of the tithe. Believe it or not, God was very specific on how the Israelites were to tithe in the Old Testament. (For a great visual on Old Testament tithing, follow the link.)
Their ancient tithe template is something that we can use today. We do not need to follow the strict rules like the Israelites did. According to ancient sources, they gave three separate tithes. (Which, when factoring in a seventh year of no tithing, came out to 20% of their gross annual income.) Instead, most Christians give 10% of their income to their local church and then give to charities on top of that. I find nothing wrong with this practice, so long as we understand how the three tithes were used in ancient times and how we can practice the same principles.
1. For The Care Of The Clergy
Leviticus 27:30-33; Numbers 18:20-24, 30-32; 2 Chronicles 31:4-6
The first thing the Israelites used their tithe money for was the care of the Levites. The Levites were the ones responsible for the care of the Temple, serving the Priests, and instructing the people in the Law of God. They were to remain ceremonially clean so as to act as a buffer between a Holy God and a sinful nation.
Today our giving money should go primarily to our clergy. They are responsible for training the church in Godly discipline, counseling those in need, evangelizing those seeking, and caring for the church. (Despite the impression that they just out to lunch with people, pray for hours, and improve their golf game.) And a full time wage should be given to those that devote themselves to our betterment.
2. Rejoicing Before God
Deuteronomy 12:4-19, Deuteronomy 14:22-27, Deuteronomy 26:10-11
The second thing the tithe was used for was festivals at the Temple.
Yep, part of the tithe was used to party before God.
Choice drink, well-cooked meat, and baked bread – all were to be consumed before God at His Temple. It was a time of rejoicing and sharing. The people were commanded to share their food and drink with the poor, widow, orphan, stranger, and Levite. It was a communal meal meant to make the heart glad over everything that Lord had done.
I think Sunday morning fills this bill in a lot of ways; it takes money to maintain a building, pay for sound equipment, projectors, computers, doughnuts, coffee, tea, Sunday school supplies etc. All of this is purchased and maintained so that we can come together and worship God, to sing His praises, and listen to His Word.
But it does not completely fulfill it.
The Festival tithe was meant to be a time of pure rejoicing and sharing. Nothing does that better than a meal. With a meal you can relax, enjoy the food and other people’s company.
As outdated as church potlucks are, they are a way for people to relax and enjoy each other’s company while sharing with everyone around them. We need these times together. So whether it is a potluck, small group meal, or any other type of gathering, Christians should have times where they share a meal and each other’s company.
3. Caring for the Needy
Deuteronomy 14:28-29, Deuteronomy 26:12-16
The last tithe on the list is the Charity tithe.
The Israelites were commanded to take this tithe to a local storehouse so that those in need and the Levites could come and take, as they needed. We do not know how it was administered, but presumably the elders of the town or Levites rationed it out as need arose.
So to, we as Christians should be concerned with those in need.
It is imperative that we tangibly show the love of God with our giving. It is by being there for those around us that we are God’s hand extended to a desperate world. This means that we should care for those around us by making sure their basic needs are met. Whether is be through a local food bank or sending money to feed people around the globe, we should help where we can.
To Sum It Up
I find it interesting that in all three of the tithes, the Levite was given part or all of it. This suggests to me that our modern practice of giving 10% to the local church is an appropriate one. So first, we should give our money to the local church and its staff to meet their fiscal requirements.
Second, we should want to share meals with believers and rejoice in what God has given us. We should take time to enjoy spending time with each other and God.
And third, be generous to those that are in need around you. Make sure that you care for those that are less fortunate and bless them monetarily in their times of trouble.
If you can do those three things, you have done your part to establish His Kingdom, encourage those around you, and care for those in need. I think Paul sums it up best when he says:
“Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.” 1 Timothy 6:18
Ken Mafli is a blogger at Glass House Theology. He is passionate about God, the Bible, and anthropology. When not obsessing about the faith/science interface, he likes chilling with his wife and daughter.
Great article…when I tithe I give it to charities that help children with medical needs. St. Jude and Cure International are my favorites. I do not give to the local church, though my wife does. It’s ‘her’ church, I just go with her. It is a christian church, but I strongly disagree with some of the views of the denomination so I do not give to them.
Ken Mafli says
Jebidiah, thanks for the sentiment! I can sympathize with were you are at. I have counseled more that one couple that are at odds with which church they should call home. Might I suggest that it is very important to find a church home in which you both feel comfortable and can tithe there. It is quite telling that in each of the tithes the Israelites gave, all of them included supporting their local Levites. It was very important to God that those that shoulder the burden of the spiritual welfare of the community be compensated. I think you will find a richness in being able to support a local church that you feel proud to call home.
I appreciate the advice, but the situation isn’t that easy. My wife has been singing at this church since she was 7, and is now the music director there. In fact, after I first proposed and she said yes, the first thing she wanted to discuss was how important the church was to her and how she wanted to stay there. It’s a sacrifice I had to make. But she sacrificed too. I expressed to her that I felt her church didn’t put enough focus on the bible itself, so she agreed to go to bible studies with me once a week. It’s worked for us.
DC @ Young Adult Money says
I think it’s very important that Christians step up and make donations to organizations such as Feed My Starving Children, WorldVision, and others who are helping to feed the hungry across the globe. It’s a simple call – to feed the hungry – and something that we should all be taking part in.
I also agree with fellowship. Sundays after church a lot of people usually go out to eat and I see it as a welcome expense because of the fellowship that we get to experience.
Ken Mafli says
DC, You are correct, donating to worthy causes that feed, shelter and clothe the needy are a much needed discipline of the Christian faith (along with giving to the local church and fellowship). I am currently researching “micro loans” as a way of giving. (small loans designed to help the poor start small businesses) To me, it reminds me of the “Law of Gleanings,” in which the Israelites were commanded to leave the fringes of their fields unharvested. That way the poor could come and glean the fringes. The poor could work for their food, feel the reward of labor, but it was still charity. Win, Win, Win in my book.
Peter Anderson says
I think people get tied up a lot in the “how much” of giving sometimes, and not enough on the “why” of tithing. Why are we doing it? To care for our clergy, to show gratitude and rejoice/praise God and to care for others when they’re in need – to show God’s love through us.
Whether it’s 10%, 20% or whatever you can afford, I think the important part is that we’re giving back to God, and with a joyful heart!
Jason @ WSL says
This was really a great article and I appreciate you breaking it all down for us. We tithe 10% to our local church and do some other charitable giving outside of that, but I never was really aware of the meal thing. That’s extremely interesting!
Ken Mafli says
Thanks for the kind words. I think that the 10% + charitable giving is a very common practice and one that should be encouraged. And allowing yourself and those around you to rejoice in the good things God has given is much needed in this hectic world. Thanks for stopping by!
Still not clear. We are retired. We give to our church but have never added to see if it’s 10%. We also give to
the homeless and a couple of charities. If it all combined comes out to 10% or more, is that considered tithing. Or does it have to be 10% to church no matter what, then give to others if we want.
Tracy Allen says
Yolanda, I give 10 percent. But I don’t give the full 10 to my church. I have a portion of the 10 to the church. The remaining 6 or 7 percent is in a snack bag ministry the Lord has led me to. Christian are not under law, but grace. The tithe is not legalistic. Millions of Christians have wrong concept of the tithe
Steven Thurman says
I want to tithe as commanded by God.
However, sometimes it is hard to trust in the goodness of what my money will do. I drive a 20 year old vehicle and live in a small apartment and receive very little in gifts from any source. My local preacher buys a new car every year and lives in a very large, comfortable home. He is always preaching about tithing, giving so much it hurts, and how much you should give. Little time is spent on speaking about the rest of the words in the bible.
So how can I trust the money I give to the church is being used properly?