Everyone practices giving. In fact, nobody can live in this world without giving something, whether small or great. In Christianity, giving is an act of worship to God, a demonstration of our love for Him. The greatest of all giving by mankind is complete devotion/sacrifice of oneself to God, who is Love (Romans 12:1; 1 John 4:8). Through this act of worship, God teaches us an important lesson of loving one another and taking care of the needs of each other.
There are several ways of giving in Christianity. One of these is tithing which is my focus in this discussion. Opinions about tithing differ in the Christian community. Whilst some consider it to be compulsory, others believe tithing is not applicable to Christians. Furthermore, some believe the consequence of failing to pay tithe is separation from God and a risk of missing heaven.
A tithe is 10% of one’s possession. The Old Testament of the Christian Bible (which includes the Jewish Torah) describes six types of tithe which were practiced by the people of God. The different types of tithe can be categorised into two as Freewill tithing (Abraham-Jacob tithing) and Compulsory or Legal tithing (Mosaic tithing). The aim of this discussion is to objectively analyse the scriptures to understand the practice of tithing and its implication in contemporary Christian culture. In this regard, the two categories of tithing are juxtaposed against the New Testament practice of Sacrificial freewill giving.
Freewill tithing (Abraham-Jacob):
1. Genesis 14:18-20 – The first time we encounter tithing is Genesis 14. According to this scripture, Abram (Abraham) went on a military mission to recover his relative who had been captured by a warring nation. On return from his victory, a priest, called Melchizedek, provided Abraham and his men food and blessed him. Out of the spoils of the war, Abraham took nothing, but offered a tithe (10%) to the priest and 90% to be shared between the King of Sodom and Abram’s soldiers. This giving practice by Abraham can be described as a Freewill Victory tithe and sacrificial giving. There is no evidence in the text that God instructed him to do this but he sacrificed all (100%) the material spoils he recovered from the war to provide for others (Genesis 14).
2. Genesis 28:20 – 22 – The second time we encounter tithing is Genesis 28, when Jacob was on his journey to fulfill his father’s charge of marrying a wife from Padan Aram. In this scripture, Jacob prays to God for journey mercies and prosperity. In turn, Jacob then promises to give a 10% (a tithe) of everything to the Lord. This practice can be described as a Freewill Contract tithe. Here, there is no evidence God instructed him, Jacob, to give a tithe, but he decided on his own to give 10% with a condition that God blesses him.
Compulsory/Legal tithing (Mosaic tithing):
The stipulations on legal tithing are provided in the Mosaic Law, with a clear contrast on the nature of this tithing. First, the scripture explicates that this tithe was intended to serve as a State Benefit (Allowance) for citizens/residents who had no source of income, including the Priest, Levites, Strangers, the Fatherless and the Widow. I have categorised the different types of Mosaic tithes below and cited the key scriptual text for reference.
3. Numbers 18:24 – Legal Levitical tithe: this tithe was paid by non-Levites with a source of income/provision to the Levites.
4. Numbers 18:26 – 28 – Legal Priest tithe: this was paid by only Levites to the Priest after receiving the legal Levitical tithe.
5. Deuteronomy 14:22 – 27 – Legal Feast tithe: this tithe was used to organise a feast by non-Levites with a source of income/provision at a designated place chosen by God. The individual must invite the Levite, stranger, fatherless and widow to enjoy the tithe feast with them.
6. Deuteronomy 14:28 – 29; 26:12 – 15 – Legal Charity tithe: this was paid by non-Levites with a source of income/provision every 3 years within their own gates/cities. This 3-year tithe served as Benefits/Allowance for Levites, Strangers, the Fatherless and Widows.
New Testament Christian practice: Sacrificial freewill giving
The New Testament provides no evidence of tithing among the early Christians. However, there is clear evidence of a giving practice among the disciples that fulfils “the spirit of the law” of Moses rather than “the letter of the law”: i.e. providing for those without a source of income/provision in the community/society.
This act of giving can be described as sacrificial and selfless freewill giving. The basis of this giving was the principle that all the Christian community were one and everyone’s possession is not theirs but for all.
1. Acts 2:44-47; 4:32-37; Phi 4:15-19: Here, Sacrificial Freewill Giving and gifts served as Benefits/Allowance for those without a source of income/provision (including the Apostles and the needy, such as Widows- Acts 6:1). Interestingly, some Apostles (Paul) refused to claim such Benefits or make a living from the gospel though they were entitled (1 Cor 9:13-15). Paul chose to earn his own income at some points for the purpose of providing for the needy and those without a source of income/provision (Acts 18:2-3; 20:33-35).
2. Three core principles of giving are expounded in the New Testament, in contrast to the Mosaic compulsory giving:
- Acts 20:35: “It is more blessed to give than to receive”
- 1 Cor 16:1- 2: Freewill giving based on what you have or income
- 2 Cor 9:6 – 7: Freewill giving – decide in your heart what you want to give, cheerfully, sincerely and sacrificially.
God calls everyone to give as an act of worship to Him; for advancing the Ministry of the Gospel of Jesus Christ; to sustain the welfare and prosperity of ministers, all members of the Christian community and everybody in the world. The act of giving should be carried out by following the “Spirit of the law” and the New Testament principles of giving, of which the chief is giving out of genuine love, and from a cheerful heart (1 Cor 13:3).
Based on my analysis of the Old and New Testaments, I find no justification for the saying that “Tithing will determine whether you go to heaven or hell”. Rather, it is only the Gospel of Jesus Christ that saves and giving (i.e. freewill, cheerful, sincere, honourable and sacrificial) is an outcome of that salvation of love – (Eph 2:8-10; Romans 10:9-11).
One person practices tithing and another person practices freewill giving, both are acceptable, redeemed and blessed before the Lord. Thus, the gospel of Jesus has set us free (Gal 5:1) and let no one judge you or compel you in tithing (Rom 14: 13), whatever God has laid in your heart to give, give, freely, cheerfully and out of love.
In addition to promoting the preaching of the Gospel and missionary work by covering any expenses, another critical emphasis of our giving (whether tithing or freewill giving) should be to take care and provide financially and materially for those without a source of income/provision in our communities and the world.
By A. Amankwaa