Tithing is one subject that churches in America normally have to talk about at least once a year. It is also an area that causes many Christians to stumble. We are often quoted from the book of Malachi that we must give generously if we want to blessed. Yet, Jesus was curiously silent on making tithing a commandment. While making a principle of sowing and reaping is important, grace flies in the face of principles. The message of the gospel is that God saves. We love and forgive because we realize how much we have been loved and forgiven. I have learned to be suspicious of Mosaic covenant teaching overlaid onto the new covenant that Jesus offers. That is a mixture.
What do the scriptures originally say about tithing? You might be surprised. The first occurrence of the term occur in an exchange with Melchizedek. Melchizedek means king or righteousness in Hebrew (melek – king, tsedek – righteousness). In context, Abram has just rescued Lot and his household from Sodom and was given victory over king Chedorlaomer (meaning handful of sheaves) and the kings that were with him.
Gen 14:18-20 (NET)
Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. (Now he was the priest of the Most High God.)
He blessed Abram, saying, “Blessed be Abram by the Most High God, Creator of heaven and earth.
Worthy of praise is the Most High God, who delivered your enemies into your hand.” Abram gave Melchizedek a tenth of everything.
A high priest brings a covenant meal of bread and wine, pronounces a blessing over Abram and lets him know that God is his deliverer. Salem in Hebrew means peace. Sound like anyone you know? In Hebrews 7:3 we’re let in on a secret that Melchizedek typifies Christ, “having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God remains a priest forever.”
Abram gave his tithe (a tenth) after having been blessed, not before. Abram gave out of a place of gratefulness, not out of command or obligation.
Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 9:6-7:
“Remember this: The person who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the person who sows generously will also reap generously. Each person should do as he has decided in his heart — not reluctantly or out of necessity, for God loves a cheerful giver.”
Is there a principle of generosity here? Sure. Do we give in order to get? That doesn’t seem to be of the right spirit. Paul also writes in 1 Corinthians 13:3, if I give all my money away to the poor, but don’t do it out of love, it counts for nothing.
Remembering that God loves a cheerful giver has been one of my guiding principles behind tithing and giving in general.
Giving teaches our hearts to be generous. When I first began going to church, I didn’t want to part with “my” money. I now understand that everything I have came from him. While my willingness to be generous cycles up and down, I have learned to listen, be in unity with my wife on quantities, and to give when my heart is willing.
Love is the fulfillment of the law. Who needs your generous heart this season?