QUESTION: “Do Christians have to follow the practice of tithing (giving 10% of their income to the church)? Wasn’t that an Old Testament practice that doesn’t apply to us anymore, since we are no longer under the Law?”
ANSWER: The fact that Paul says, "we are not under law but under grace" (Romans 6:14) doesn't apply to this question at all. In that context, Paul is talking about the law or grace as a means to salvation and victory over the power of sin. We are always under God's law as the rule book for life. Christ fulfilled the purpose of the ceremonial laws (i.e., the temple rituals and sacrifices, the priesthood, the cleansing laws, the dietary laws) as they pointed to His nature and work as the Messiah, so they no longer apply to us. The command to give ten percent of your income wasn’t in any way a shadow pointing forward to the person or work of Christ; it was a moral law, and obedience to it was a testimony to God’s ownership of us and our resources, and a reflection of trust in God’s provision. The moral laws, as they are summarized in the 10 Commandments, are still intended to govern our lives every day. We are not saved by keeping the moral laws, but Christ saved us so that we might be freed and enabled by His power to keep them. Jesus said, “If you love Me, you will obey My commands.”
So the relevant question is whether or not the requirement to give ten percent of your increase was considered part of the ceremonial law or the moral law in the Old Testament. A careful study of both Old and New Testaments will show that the practice of giving to the Lord a tenth of your increase was a part of the lives of God’s people before, during, and after the period of time that the ceremonial laws were in effect:
- It is important to notice that God's people tithed before the Mosaic Law was given (Abraham - Gen. 14, Jacob - Gen. 28).
- Jesus condemned the Pharisees' legalistic attitude toward tithing, but upheld the practice of tithing itself (Luke 11)
- Paul instructed the Corinthians to "set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income" on the first day of the week, which would seem to be a reference to tithing (I Cor. 16).
- Moses said that the tithes were to be used to support the work of the Levites in the Tabernacle (Numbers 18:21-24). Paul uses this passage and principle to support the practice of tithes being used to support the work of preachers of the Gospel (I Cor. 9:13,14).
The burden of the argument would rest upon those who say that the command to tithe was ceremonial in nature and has been abrogated. I see nothing in the New Testament to support this argument.
QUESTION: “Should I give my whole tithe to my local church, or is it appropriate to give some of it to other Biblical ministries?”
ANSWER: Answer: This question isn’t specifically answered in God’s Word, but I think that a look at the basic principles of the tithe can guide us here. According to Leviticus 27:30-34 the tithe "belongs to the Lord; it is holy to the Lord". To withhold it is considered stealing from the Lord (Malachi 3:7-9). God goes on to say, "Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse [of the temple]" (Malachi 3:10). By submitting it to the leadership of the church we give it to Him. The leadership is accountable before Him for how it is used. I think that as long as we are able to fulfill our vows to our congregation and recognize the leadership as being legitimately called by the Lord, we should entrust the entire tithe into their hands, since it is holy to the Lord. Any giving beyond the tithe can be directed to other ministries that we would like to support. We should avoid the temptation of trying to lead the church ourselves by personally redirecting where our tithes are used.
QUESTION: “Should I tithe on my income before taxes are taken out or after?”
ANSWER: This question isn’t specifically answered in God’s Word, but I think that a look at the basic principles of the tithe can guide us here. According to Leviticus 27:30-34 the tithe "belongs to the Lord; it is holy to the Lord". To Tithes are to be given on the increase of our possessions, period. I don't see any Biblical basis for considering the (large) portion of income that we use to pay to the government as being exempt from tithing (in other words, we should tithe on gross income, not net). Few Christians would consider the money they use to pay sales taxes at a store to be exempt from the tithe, so why should income taxes be different?
QUESTION: “How do I keep from seeing the practice of tithing in a legalistic way?”
ANSWER: It's helpful for me to think of the proper attitude behind tithing as being like that of keeping the Sabbath. Just as our whole income and our whole week belongs to the Lord, so He has required us to set apart a tenth of our increase and a seventh of our time as "holy", belonging to the Lord in a special way. It shows our submission to His Lordship and it shows our trust in Him to provide the resources that we need to serve Him. Also, for the believer, giving to the work of the Kingdom and the preaching of the Gospel is to be seen as a good investment, resulting in far more satisfaction, joy, and reward than using those financial resources for earthly possessions and purposes. "God loves a cheerful giver" (II Cor. 9:7) and "It is more blessed to give than to receive." (Acts 20:35). So this isn't legalism - tithing is worthless if it isn't from the heart, given joyfully due to trust in the Lord and excitement about seeing our resources used for His glory.