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Monday, July 7, 2014

God and tithing

Tithing is a biblical principle that has been misunderstood by some (and abused by other) "Christian" leaders for centuries. Indeed, it has been used by some unscrupulous individuals as a way to enrich the church and/or themselves. Lay members eager to obey and please God have been encouraged to give anywhere from one tenth to thirty percent of their gross income to the church.

Nevertheless, if our objective is to honestly try to apply this Old Testament principle to New Testament giving, then it is essential that we understand the way that tithing worked in ancient Israelite society. In this regard, the first thing to understand is that ancient Israel was an agricultural society. As a consequence, the principle of tithing was applied to crops and farm animals. There was a "tithe of the land" (crops) and a "tithe of the herd" (livestock). Leviticus 27:30, 32

The next thing that is crucial to a proper understanding of the practice of tithing in Israel is the fact that this was done on the "increase" or profit that was produced each year. Deuteronomy 14:22 In other words, the tithe was "paid" on the crop that was produced that year or the livestock that was born that year. In this formulation, it was understood that the farmer owned his home and land. The farmer did not receive a paycheck or have mortgage or utility payments to make. Likewise, it was understood that the farmer had to feed and provide for his family's needs.

God also designated that the tithe be brought to the place designated by God at the time of harvest. There were two harvests that coincided with the annual festivals outlined in the twenty-third chapter of Leviticus. The Israelites were instructed to bring this tithe to the feast and present offerings to the priesthood and eat it "before the Lord." Deuteronomy 14:23 In this connection, they were specifically forbidden from using the tithe at home. Deuteronomy 12:17 Hence, it was made very clear in Scripture that most of the tithe was to be used in the celebration of the religious festivals (first at Shiloh and later at Jerusalem).

Finally, as there was no central government when the tithe was instituted, the Israelites were instructed to use the tithe every third year to support the Levites and the poor among them. Deuteronomy 14:28-29 Hence, in attempting to apply this principle in modern times, one must take into account current taxation by our central government and its programs to help the poor among us.

In similar fashion, most of the people in our society are not farmers. Most of our people are paid wages for work performed for someone else. Likewise, most of us have mortgage, car and utility payments to make each month. Hence, when trying to apply the principle of tithing to modern times, we need to ask ourselves what part of our income constitutes an "increase" or profit. So, when you attempt to adopt this practice, you might want to think twice about giving ten to thirty percent of your gross income to a single church organization! Sorry preachers, I know that's going to make some of you mad.

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