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What Tithing Is And What It Is Not

By Andrea Lucado


Tithing is a subject that can evoke strong feelings and opinions among those who practice it, and also those who do not. The first time we read about tithing in the Bible is in Genesis, when Abram is blessed by a priest named Melchizedek. In response, Abram, who has not yet been renamed Abraham, gave the priest “a tenth of everything” (Gen. 14:20). (“Tithe” is an Old English word for “tenth.”)  


Abram began what became a primary practice of the Judeo-Christian faith. Tithing becomes part of the law under Moses in Leviticus: “‘A tithe of everything from the land, whether grain from the soil or fruit from the trees, belongs to the Lord; it is holy to the Lord’” (Lev. 27:30).


Other types of tithes are introduced throughout the law, including a tithe to support certain religious festivals (Deut. 14:22), a tithe for widows and orphans (Deut. 14:28-29), and a special tithe when Moses was building the tabernacle (Ex. 36:2-7). It’s estimated that the Hebrews actually gave 23 percent of what they owned per year, not just ten.


People often misconstrue the purpose of tithing. It’s easy to see the basket being passed as just a ploy to guilt church members into giving money to the pastor or to the building. While tithing does support pastors, and it does keep the lights on in churches, tithing is so much more than simply dropping a check or wad of cash into a basket.


Tithing is an act of worship.


From the very first act of tithing in Genesis, we see that tithing is an act of worship. Abram gave a tenth of everything he owned as a response; not because he was asked to. This is how our tithing, or giving, is also supposed to be—a response to the goodness of God rather than an obligation. In this, tithing is the same as worship. It is an active response that celebrates the glory of God.


Tithing reminds us that everything belongs to God.


God made all things and so, all things are his. As the Psalmist wrote, “The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land” (Psalm 95:5). The practice of giving reminds us that nothing is really ours. Whatever God has made is actually His, and He made everything. When we write a check or make a donation, it teaches us each time to hold the things of this world loosely and with open hands. If we do this, then we remain in a giving posture, willing and ready to let go of that which is God’s to begin with.


Tithing is an act of social justice.


Scripture is incredibly concerned with the marginalized and the oppressed. Throughout the Old and New Testament we see that God gave voice to the weak and weary, he cared for the broken in spirit (Psalm 34:18), and Jesus, in one of his most quoted sermons, said blessed are the disenfranchised, the meek, and the hungry (Matthew 5:3-10).


The fact that the Law of Moses required a tithe to foreigners, widows and orphans (Deut. 14:28-29) proves that behind the act of tithing was a heart for social justice. We give to those who have been oppressed in this life so that they might be pulled in from the margins and know they are loved and accepted. In doing this, we reflect the heart of God.


As you consider giving this year, keep in mind that tithing was not a pastor’s idea; it was God’s, and it is so much more than passing a basket. Tithing comes from a worshipful, surrendered heart that truly seeks to give a voice and hope to the oppressed. You can read more about what the Bible says on the subject of tithing in our Bible Study on stewardship.



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