Cain & Abel were the first record in the entire Bible of someone bringing an offering to God. Remember this was long before the Law & the 10 Commandments were ever introduced, and they gave God an offering out of free will. There was no stipulation that demanded they should give anything to God or to the church, because the church didn’t even exist yet.
In Gen 14 we have the first record of someone actually “tithing” in the Bible, and then he didn’t even tithe from out of his own possessions, but gave a tenth of the spoils from a battle he’d just won. Abraham had just defeated the 4 kings with his 318 men: [Gen 14:17 When Abram came back from his victory over Chedorlaomer and the other kings, the king of Sodom went out to meet him in Shaveh Valley (also called King’s Valley). 18 And Melchizedek, who was king of Salem and also a priest of the Most High God, brought bread and wine to Abram, 19 blessed him, and said, “May the Most High God, who made heaven and earth, bless Abram! 20 May the Most High God, who gave you victory over your enemies, be praised!” And Abram gave Melchizedek a tenth of all the loot he had recovered] (GNB).
There was no person nor any law that forced Abraham to tithe, because the Laws of Moses were only introduced 430 years later: [Gal 3:17 What I mean is that God made a covenant with Abraham and promised to keep it. The Law, which was given four hundred and thirty years later, cannot break that covenant and cancel God’s promise] (GNB).
Because so many ministries these days are facing financial difficulties, they often “encourage” their members to “give” generously to the work of the Lord. Unfortunately most of the time the Bible verses used and the motives given are Law-based. Note the following saying: “If it’s God’s will, it’s God’s bill. If He leads He feeds”.
If a ministry were really commissioned by God and the people established in Grace, the leadership would never have to preach on tithing because the members would automatically give out of a motive of love. They would feel they are actually contributing towards something significant and not feel they HAVE to give just to help their ministry’s struggling cause. When God really commissions a ministry He always provides for that ministry and its people supernaturally. God equips the called.
Teaching people to tithe out of Malachi 3 is Old Covenant Law! Remember that the entire Bible was written FOR us, but not the entire Bible was written directly TO us. This section of the prophetic book of Malachi was written specifically to the nation of Israel who was still living under the Old Covenant Laws and had at the time turned away from God. The following is a short extract from Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Book of Malachi: [Malachi was the last of the Old Testament prophets, and is supposed to have prophesied B.C. 420. He reproves the priests and the people for the evil practices into which they had fallen, and invites them to repentance and reformation, with promises of the blessings to be bestowed at the coming of the Messiah.]
The prophet Malachi was rebuking the nation of Israel for forsaking God and not keeping the Law of Moses, which included tithing. And what were the results of breaking these laws? Curse upon curse (see Deut 28:15 onwards). But we know that we are not under the Law of Moses and its curses anymore, because Christ became a curse for us (Gal 3:13). Now with this in our minds, let’s read these often misunderstood verses:
[Mal 3:6 For I am the LORD, I do not change; Therefore you are not consumed, O sons of Jacob. 7 Yet from the days of your fathers you have gone away from My ordinances and have not kept them. Return to Me, and I will return to you,” says the LORD of hosts. “But you said, “In what way shall we return? Mal 3:8 Will a man rob God? Yet you have robbed Me. But you say, In what have we robbed You? In the tithe and the offering! 9 You are cursed with a curse; for you are robbing Me, the nation, all of it. 10 Bring all the tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in My house. And test Me now with this, says Jehovah of Hosts, to see if I will not open the windows of Heaven for you, and pour out a blessing for you, until there is not enough room. 11 And I will rebuke your devourer, and he shall not decay the fruit of your ground against you; nor shall your vine miscarry against you in the field, says Jehovah of Hosts].
Often verse 10 (above) is used by preachers to encourage people to give and to “test” God’s faithfulness. This is Law-based preaching again because this teaches that only if people do their part then God will do His part. But actually God has already proven His love and faithfulness towards us: [Rom 5:8 But God has shown us how much he loves us – it was while we were still sinners that Christ died for us!] (GNB). In fact God never has to do a single thing again to prove Himself faithful, because He has already given his most treasured gift: His own Son!
And the most ironic thing is this: When people are recommended to “test” God’s faithfulness, they are normally also given the bank account details or very conveniently told where they can deposit this money with which they intend to “test” God…
What we should really be doing is to not even call it “tithing” in the first place, because “tithing” refers to the giving of an exact amount of money (10% percent of your income), turning it into a stipulation or law again. If believers wish to give money to the work of the Lord, they are commanded to do so cheerfully: [2 Cor 9:7 So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver]. If giving 10% of their income does not make someone cheerful, then they shouldn’t give at all! If giving 5% or 40% or even 1% of their income is what makes them cheerful, then that is what they should give. In the end, whatever a person chooses to give, it’s all about their motive. If somebody isn’t giving anything at all and they do so cheerfully, then that is their choice: they shouldn’t give just because the feel they need to give, read 2 Cor 9:7 again. So let’s not call it “tithing” but instead “giving”.
So in the light of the New Covenant, where then does “giving” fit in? The answer is two-fold:
The first part of this answer relates to our positional standing with God; our identity in Him: Giving fits in exactly where holy living, obedience & loving other people fit in – it is something that happens simply because of who we are. Our inner nature, our born again spirit is now holy and set apart unto God and good works is something that just flows out from us as naturally as breathing. There is no effort or striving, but simply rest and a motive of returning love to the One who loved us first. His love for us is so complete that nothing we do can ever make Him love or accept us more. And if He cannot love us anymore than He already does, then giving money to the church to earn His love really becomes meaningless and perverted, just like all other works of self righteousness.
Secondly this answer relates to the natural realm, to our physical lives and the expansion of God’s kingdom here in the earth. God made the earth in the way that almost everything functions by means of money. Therefore in order to mobilize missionaries, build churches, resource evangelists, etc. the church needs financial resources to function. Paul preached that people, who put their lives into spreading the gospel, should be able to live off the gospel:
[1 Cor 9:3 My defense to those who examine me is this: 4 Do we have no right to eat and drink? 5 Do we have no right to take along a believing wife, as do also the other apostles, the brothers of the Lord, and Cephas? 6 Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working? 7 Who ever goes to war at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat of its fruit? Or who tends a flock and does not drink of the milk of the flock? 8 Do I say these things as a mere man? Or does not the law say the same also? 9 For it is written in the law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain.” Is it oxen God is concerned about? 10 Or does He say it altogether for our sakes? For our sakes, no doubt, this is written, that he who plows should plow in hope, and he who threshes in hope should be partaker of his hope. 11 If we have sown spiritual things for you, is it a great thing if we reap your material things? 12 If others are partakers of this right over you, are we not even more? Nevertheless we have not used this right, but endure all things lest we hinder the gospel of Christ. 13 Do you not know that those who minister the holy things eat of the things of the temple, and those who serve at the altar partake of the offerings of the altar? 14 Even so the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should live from the gospel].
And because this is true then it means that those who draw benefit from the message (the hearers) have a responsibility to care for the needs of the ones who are bringing the message. But even so, the most important thing is that it should be out of a motive of love and a cheerful heart. Believers are not supposed to be manipulated into giving for whatsoever reason. The amount we give should be “as we purpose in our hearts” as we have read in 2 Cor 9:7 (above). There are churches where people are “motivated” to give so much to the church that they take out second mortgages on their homes, whilst the pastor spends luxury holidays on his yacht. Come on!!! We didn’t give up our right to think logically when we became Christians; clearly there is something wrong with this picture!
Where should we give? The answer is most definitely in our local church or the place where we are fed (spiritually) in order to financially support those who feed us with the words of life. When we sow into a ministry that produces life and bears fruit, we become partakers and partners of that life because we have sown into it and the Word teaches that every seed brings forth fruit after its own kind (Gen 1:11). Offerings can also be given to people or ministries that we believe are making a difference in the world in reaching the unsaved and getting the gospel to the nations. And lastly alms are given to the poor and needy to the extent we are able to. The Bible further teaches us to give to apostolic fathers (like the churches that sent offerings to the apostle Paul to support him, see Phil 4:14-17) and to live a lifestyle of generosity & sharing (Acts 4:32-36 and also 1 Tim 6:17-18).
On the other hand when we are sowing into a ministry that is promoting Law-motivated living (that teaches God will not bless us if we don’t tithe, or where we are constantly made to feel guilty about our lifestyle or about this and that sin or for not giving enough), we are sowing into a ministry that produces death. [1 Cor 15:56 The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the Law]. We needn’t worry however that we will reap death or curse from such a ministry because Christ became a curse for us [Gal 3:13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, being made a curse for us (for it is written, “Cursed is everyone having been hanged on a tree”)]. However we will not reap life from this ministry either since they are not producing any life. It is always best to sow into the place where we are spiritually fed and where life is imparted to us; the place where we can see that people are being saved and healed.
We can trust that God is always good and that He will always bless and love us, regardless if we give our entire salary away or if we don’t give a cent. Will God not love and bless us the same and even more than He does the lilies in the field and the birds in the air that don’t even give Him anything…?
Yours in Grace
Andre van der Merwe