Before my conversion to Full Gospel Pentecostalism, I attended the Roman Catholic church. Every Sunday a monetary collection was collected by the ushers from parishioners. I cannot recall being taught about tithes and offerings or why they were required. However, when I accepted Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour and began to attend a Full Gospel church, tithing and giving of offerings was one of the first lessons I was taught. It was a lesson received with worry and trepidation as I was told one had to give in order for God to bless.
So, whenever I would be going through a slump in my life, especially a financial slump, I automatically made a correlation between my missing a payment and God withholding his blessings until I paid up. It was quite a burdensome mindset. Today, I give God thanks and praise for freeing me from that unhealthy perspective of Him and I hope this blog post serves to bring about liberty to you readers.
In the following we will take a look at the origins, similarities and differences in tithes and offerings in the Old Testament/Covenant and the New Testament/Covenant. We will also attempt to appreciate that the purpose of tithes and offerings is supposed to be a selfless act for the glory of God and for the edification of His Church.
Our introduction to tithing took place in Genesis Chap. 14, vv 18-20, when Abram encountered Melchizedek, who blessed him. “Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was the priest of God Most High. And he blessed him and said: “Blessed be Abram of God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; And blessed be God Most High, Who has delivered your enemies into your hand.” And he (Abram) gave him (Melchizedek) a tithe of all.
The word tithe means tenth part. The Greek definition for tithe is apodeckatoo and has a more in -depth meaning. Apo meaning away from something near; denoting separation, departure, cessation, reversal etc. Dekatoo meaning to give or take a tenth, pay/receive tithes. Although the Greek meaning in its entirety is somewhat complicated, we all have a general understanding of tithe meaning one tenth (⅒).
Tithing in the Old Testament/Covenant was completely different compared to today. It was required for the needs of the Levite nation, who were ordained keepers of the sanctuary or tabernacle and servants of the priests of the same tribe. Namely, Aaron and his four sons – Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar and any other male descendant of Aaron. It was also required to meet the needs of the stranger, the fatherless and the widow.
Tithes consisted of clean, unblemished livestock, agricultural produce, new wine and oil. Money was only used to redeem the firstborn of a human, an unclean animal or for the purpose of restitution (Numbers Ch. 18 vv. 1-32).
When the other children of Israel brought their tithes and offerings to the LORD, the priests were entitled to them. However, their Levite brethren were the collectors and distributors of the offerings. They in turn, were required to receive a tithe of the offerings, then, give a tithe of their tithes before the priests’ allotted share and the needy among them (Num. Ch. 18 vv 24-32).
In the book of Deuteronomy, we are informed that there was a specific time for tithing. Namely, the Feast of the Passover —Hebrew, Peçach; the Feast of Weeks —Hebrew, Shavuot —Greek, Pentecost; and the Feast of Tabernacles —Hebrew, çukkâh. It says, “When you have finished laying aside all the tithe of your increase in the third year, which is the year of tithing, and have given it to the Levite, the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, so that they may eat within your gates and be filled…” (Chap. 26 v 12). The preceding leads me to believe that what was brought to the sanctuary on a regular basis were free will offerings.
There is however, one provision that was made for those who had to, for one reason or another withdraw or withhold their tithes. Leviticus Chap. 27 v 31 says, “If a man wants at all to redeem any of his tithes, he shall add one fifth to it.” The monetary unit used for valuations in the sanctuary during that period was the shekel. So, the giver was required to pay one fifth (1/5) worth in shekels in exchange for the offering he tithed.
The word offering is dynamic in meaning in Hebrew and Greek. The Hebrew contribution habhâb means gift (in sacrifice); used in another context, âshêm means to be guilty, to be punished or perish, destroy, trespass; and yet in another context, mekaççeh, which means, a covering. The practice of offerings originated in Genesis, from the time of Adam and Eve receiving a covering of animal skin, to Abel’s offering to God and onwards until Christ, the living and final sacrifice.
There are different subheadings of offerings. They are burnt offerings, (which in Greek is holocaust, which means completely burned or consumed), grain offerings, sin offerings, trespass offerings, offerings of restitution, drink offerings and peace offerings, which were either heaved (lifted up) or waved.
Every offering brought to the altar was burnt, even the grain and drink offerings. However, the first fruit offerings were not burned. It was a daily task which had to be done to the letter or else curses and death were the outcomes in the camp. The purpose of tithing and offerings was and still is the same today—To meet the needs of the meeting places and the people who are in charge of the upkeep and the dissemination of the word of God, as well as to assist the poor among us.
Today, tithing is more centered around monetary offerings. It has become quite disturbing, in my opinion, that a lot of emphasis is placed on tithing and offerings for the purpose of moving God on behalf of the giver. I am certain many will allude to the scripture in Malachi, where God said, “Will a man rob God? Yet you have robbed me!”
However, the preceding admonition was directed to the Levite priests who were keeping the best offerings for themselves and offering up the defected offerings to God. Remember, the Levites were the ones who collected, sorted and distributed the tithes and the offerings. So, it was their responsibility to ensure that the other children of Israel only brought the best to the altar of God. What they essentially did was re-tailor the law of Moses, given by Almighty God, to suit their own liking and convenience.
We see a similar thing happening in places of worship today. Pastors basically attempt to manipulate the giving by delegating different queues for different amounts. When God’s word clearly says a tenth. Not two tenths, three tenths or five tenths but one tenth (⅒). Anything extra should be considered an offering made because of the giver’s free will; “given willingly with his heart” and not by coercion or manipulation.
They also use scare tactics by telling the believers that God will only bless them if they pay their tithes and offerings. The methodology used by pastors misrepresents the unconditional God preached from the rostrum. Luke Chap. 6 v 35 says, “He is kind to the unthankful and the evil.” So then, how much more would He be kind to you, His sons and daughters.
Long before Paul encouraged the believers in Corinth to be cheerful givers, “for God loves a cheerful giver,” Almighty God, advised Moses to take an offering from everyone who gave willingly with his heart to construct a sanctuary for Him. He said to Moses, “Speak to the children of Israel, that they bring Me an offering. From everyone who gives it willingly with his heart you shall take My offering…And let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them.” Considering the preceding, the astute bible reader would recognize at once, that the willingness to give stimulates the joy in knowing God chose to dwell among sinners.
Similarly, Paul’s exhortation to the Corinthian believers to give willingly and cheerfully was to evoke within them a feeling of joy, as the result of their giving to the ministry causes thanksgiving through the recipient to God (2 Cor. Ch. 9 vv 1-15). At the end of the day, tithes and offerings are not only about you and your needs, wants and desires but mainly about the well-deserved praise and glory our holy, heavenly Father receives. After all, He is our provider and source of all our needs, wants and desires as, “The earth is the LORD’S and all its fullness, The world and those who dwell therein” (Psalm Chap. 24 v 1).
I beseech you readers to understand that Almighty God blesses us because He loves us and wants us to prosper and not because of what we do or give. His love is unconditional. I can hardly find the words to express the feeling I experienced the day I truly understood what that really meant. I pray that you all enter into that liberty.
By Gail Reid
All scripture taken from the New King James Version.
Greek and Hebrew translations taken from The New Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible.