Guests: Bruce Toews and Brant Berglin
Read for This Week’s Study: Gen. 14:18–20; Mal. 3:10; Deut. 12:5–14; Lev. 27:30; 1 Kings 17:9–16; 1 Cor. 4:1, 2.
The lesson this week is precisely focused on the concept of tithing. It is commonly understood that a “tithe” is 10% or a tenth part of something. The primary text is the famous one from Malachi 3, “‘Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in My house, and try Me now in this,’ says the Lord of hosts, ‘if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you such blessing that there will not be room enough to receive it’” (Malachi 3:10, NKJV).
This text is interesting for several reasons. First, it clearly indicates that tithe makes it possible for God’s house to have food. I think this is euphemistic or allegorical language. The word “food” should probably not be seen as an exclusive term meaning edible things only, but should be seen as representing whatever is necessary to meet the needs of God’s house, to include, I suspect, the needs of those who work in serving God’s house. In Old Testament times, that would have been focused on the temple or sanctuary, but beyond Old Testament times, its meaning would have to be expanded. The location of the storehouse today is a much-debated question, but it seems logical a person would pay their tithe to the entity with which they are aligned, thereby enabling it to function and do the work of God in harmony with the person who paid the tithe’s beliefs.
The second interesting feature of this text is the rather blunt way in which God calls on humans to try or test him to see if he would not pour out such a blessing it would be hard to receive it.
- Do you know of any who would testify to the truthfulness of this promise?
- What kind of blessing might be included in this promise?
- Is this an iron-clad promise that would come true for anyone who pays an honest tithe?
- Are there occasions where someone is a tithe payer but still suffers adversities of various kinds?
It is quite interesting to note that the practice of tithe-paying is very old, much older than any definite system was in place for receiving or handling. In fact, the first mention we have in the Bible of tithe-paying is found in Genesis 14 where Abraham, after winning a battle, came and paid tithe to Melchizedek, a person who is not really defined but whose name is very interesting, “the King of Righteousness.” This indicates that tithe-paying was not instituted after the Exodus when Israel became a nation, but was in place long before. It was not exclusively a Jewish custom, either.
In the Bible, tithe is spoken of as being “holy unto the Lord.” It is portrayed as being a way in which believers testify to their trust in God, returning to Him a tenth of their gain before using their gain for other things.
The verse in Malachi has one more feature that has caused a lot of discussion, the question of what is meant by the “storehouse.” It says to bring all the tithes into the storehouse, but that storehouse in not clearly defined. In ancient Israel, we know people brought their tithe to the temple where the Levites used it to sustain the temple functions and also to sustain the Levites who ministered there. In the Christian world, in most cases, tithes and offerings are brought to the church believers are aligned with, and various church organizations have different protocols for its use. In the Seventh-day Adventist system, tithe accumulates at the local Conference level from where it is distributed to various entities. A primary use of tithe is to pay for pastoral and administrative salaries; this idea seems to be in harmony with what is recorded of tithe in Numbers 18:21, 24 where it is stated that the tithe was used to pay the Levites for their service.
There is biblical evidence that, in ancient Israel at least, people were admonished to pay three tithes, one to the Levites, one to meet expenses of travelling to Jerusalem for the various feasts, and one for the poor. This represented a full 30% of the income of the ancients, far more than what most people think of today when talking of tithe.
Another observation from the Bible is that tithe was separate from offerings, of which there are many made mention in the Bible.
One of the perennial questions that arises when talking of tithe as 10% of a person’s gain has to do with how to calculate what that is. This item is quite challenging given the very many ways in which money and assets are handled today. For example, does one pay on their gross income, or income after certain expenses are deducted? Further, are benefits to be counted as gains? And what of investments, and gains in net worth due to the appreciation of a house, for example? Or what of benefit funded now to be received later, such as Social Security and Medicare? There is no hard and fast rule given so it seems the best is for people to live by the dictates of their own consciences driven also by the understanding that penuriousness is not a thing to be admired.
We might conclude from this discussion several things:
- Paying a faithful tithe is a way of testifying to belief and trust in God.
- Tithe is a way of funding the various causes that help grow the kingdom of God on earth.
- Those who pay tithe may anticipate being the recipients of blessings from God.
- How tithe is calculated is a matter of personal conviction around the principle of 10% of gain.