Is There a New Testament Tithe?
Have you ever found a scary bug in your bedroom? The other day, there was a huge spider on my bedroom wall. This thing was the size of a silver dollar. This kind of spider is fast and can move into hiding places very quickly. They can also jump. I don’t have a spider phobia, but one this big staring at me makes me feel very uncomfortable.
Spiders are great in the garden and in the yard. They eat many harmful insects and spiders. There are several articles online about the density of spiders. Many of them are so tiny they are hard to see, and according to many of these articles, we are probably always within three feet of a spider. Spiders can be very beneficial and have a part in the ecosystem. But not in my bedroom, and especially not when I am barefoot and in my bathrobe! There are a couple of options when you come across a scary-looking spider in your home. You can try to catch a big spider like this and safely release it outside, or you can find a shoe or a rolled-up newspaper and kill it. I found a third option, I used a vacuum cleaner and sucked it up, and then put it out in the garbage (so it couldn’t make its way back out of my vacuum cleaner). It may have been a little dizzy, but otherwise, it seemed no worse for the experience.
So what does this story have to do with tithing? Well, there are many churches that dispute whether tithing is just an Old Testament command or if it is still viable in the New Testament church. It depends on whom you ask. If you are the one paying the church bills, you are more likely to sing the praises of paying tithes.
If you are a pastor you have probably preached at least 100 homilies on tithing. You probably have many examples of a person giving when they couldn’t afford it who experienced an unexpected windfall that covered all their bills. These stories are common and easy to find.
There was a Pastor from New York who spoke at a church I was part of when I was a young man. It was one of those sermonettes I will never forget. This man was a friend of our pastor, and he bragged about how he could take up the best offering he ever took. He told the congregation he was not taking up a regular offering, but rather this was a “Protection Offering.” He explained that this offering would be one that God was requiring everyone needed to participate in because it would ensure the Lord would watch over us and not remove his hand of protection. He then told the story of a family who ignored his words, did not give in the protection offering, and died the same night. The guest pastor told us if we didn’t have any money to borrow something from our neighbor to put in. That kind of charlatan money collection left a bad taste in my mouth.
This blog entry is not to determine whether it is scriptural to require a tithe in the New Testament, Church Age. Rather, it is about the spiritual discipline of giving. The Apostle Paul talked a lot about Christian discipline. In 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 (ESV) he wrote: “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.” In this passage, Paul talks about how a runner must discipline himself to win the prize at the end. It’s not talking about working harder to win salvation, but rather to finish strong. Just as an athlete has to practice discipline in exercise, how they eat, and sleep so a Christian disciple needs to have spiritual disciplines.
Paul wrote to the young pastor Timothy encouraging him to practice discipline. He wrote in 1 Timothy 4:7, “Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.” Paul knew that if you want to develop into being more Christ-like, you must follow spiritual disciplines. There is an old saying, I’m not sure where it comes from, but it rings true. “Sow a thought, reap an act; sow an act, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny.” Spiritual disciplines when practiced regularly become good habits that lend themselves to spiritual formation in our lives.
There are many different spiritual disciplines. I have talked about several of these in different blogs. One that is often overlooked is the spiritual discipline of giving. Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 9:7, “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” Giving, just like exercise, can be difficult at first. But the more you do it, the easier it becomes, and you will begin to look forward to it. With practice, you will become better at it, whether exercise or giving, and it will bring joy to your life.
At New Hope Church where I pastor in Redding, CA, we take up an offering every week. We believe in giving as a spiritual discipline. The Old Testament talks about giving your first fruits to God, which is described as a tithe. A tithe is literally ten percent. In other words, if you made $100, you were expected to give $10 back to the Lord. If you made $1000, you were expected to give $100 back to the Lord, and so on. We teach at New Hope to give cheerfully to the work of the Lord. We also suggest 10% as a good target. For some people this is very hard, so I encourage them to start with a set amount each month. Perhaps give 1% to start. But don’t stay there. Over time, as the Lord blesses them, they can try giving 2%, then 3%, and so on. This involves discipline, but as you give you will find yourself wanting to give more to the work of the Lord. This is part of your offering of praise to the Lord.
Just like that scary spider on the wall in my bedroom, in the right place it can do a whole lot of good. Paying a tithe should not be a matter of pride or a requirement of righteousness, but it is a spiritual discipline that can be given with cheerfulness and joy as we serve the Lord.