To hear some pastors you would think you are under a curse if you give 9.999% of your income to their church, but pass into blessing if you give 10.001% or more. What does scripture actually say about tithing?
Genesis 14:18-20 is the first mention of tithing, where Abram gave 10% of the spoils to Melchizedek, Priest from the nearby city of Salem. I personally believe Melchizedek was a pre-incarnate appearance by the Christ for several reasons. First is Hebrews 7:4-7 makes the point the lesser gives to the greater. His name means 'king of righteousness' and 'king of peace'. Hebrews 7 says he was 'made like the Son of God' and brought bread and wine to Abraham, which is a type of the body and blood of Jesus to be shed centuries later. He has no genealogy. He was King of the city of Salem. In Hebrew the word 'Jeru' means 'city of' and Salem or shalom means 'peace'. Melchizedek we are told was King of the city of peace, Jerusalem. Just some thoughts...
Back to the tithe
Abraham's tithe was given voluntarily, not of coercion, nor to get something from God. If we believe Melchizedek was the Lord giving Abram a picture of Him coming as the Lord Jesus centuries later, the passage shows that the tithe is given in the heart first to God, in voluntary giving.
The word 'righteous' in Hebrew is tzedakah. It is also the word 'charity' or giving with good reason. Righteousness is both vertical in our walk with God where He gave to us, and then horizontal to our fellow man as we give of this Life to others. The idea is that because we have been made righteous vertically, that Life flows horizontally to our fellow man. Righteousness is more than just being right before God, it also means being right with your fellow man.
That is why the whole of the OT law hangs on 2 commands, as stated by Jesus in Mark 12:29-31:"You will love the Lord your God with all your heart and mind and strength, and the second is similar; You will love your neighbor as yourself." Tzedakah. Love fulfilled the Law. Love God, love your neighbor. Romans 13:8
But Israel wasn't born again. They were unbelievers whose forefathers had entered into covenant with God. How does the Lord incorporate care for one's fellow man to a people who only care about themselves? Enter the tithes and offerings of the Old Testament, which were and remain to this day, vertical AND horizontal. Tzedakah is at the very heart of the tithe - giving vertically and horizontally.
The 4 tithes of the Old Testament; 'tithe' means 'the tenth'
The first is 'terumah', or the 'first fruits offering' - it went to the Levite priests who served in the temple.
The second is 'ma'aser rishon', or first tithe - it went to the people of the tribe of Levi not serving in the temple.
The third is 'ma'aser min hama'aser, the tithe of the tithe - the Levites gave the tithe of what they received to the priests who served in the temple.
The fourth is 'ma'aser sheen', or the second tithe - this was given back to the people who gave it.
These 4 were offered at different times over a 6 year period, with no tithe given that 7th year, a Sabbath year.
On years 1, 2, 4 and 5 the 'second tithe' was taken to Jerusalem and offered to the Lord, and after the priests took their portion, what was left over was given back to the people who offered it. When they received the remainder of their tithe back, they used it to provide a big party for all, to celebrate God's goodness.
On years 3 and 6 the 'second tithe' stayed within the community, not even going to the temple, and was used to care for the poor, fatherless, and widows and all in need around that person's community and neighborhood. It was the responsibility of each tither to spend the tithe on those around them in need, as they saw fit.
The priests had no inheritance of land or other business, so they were considered the same as the poor, entitled to be supported by the community. The purpose of the tithe therefore was in large part the support of the people. Tzedakah or righteousness is demonstrated in giving both to leaders and to each other, as seen in the OT tithe. But remember, its foundation is grace, for one first gives to God in their heart, and then to the people.
Paul mentioned this same thing in NT giving in II Corinthians 8:4-5:"They urged us to take the donation, so they could participate in serving the saints in what we are doing, and this they did after first having given themselves to God, and then to us."
Freedom to give 10% and more; You and Christ in you must decide
When the temple became obsolete on the day of Pentecost because God moved from the building into people, the people just transferred their tithing and giving to leaders and those around them. They realized with Christ in them, they had become living temples and a kingdom of priests to God, so they could both give and receive from other people who have Christ in them for they were all living temples of God.
So they and we are justified in giving to leaders, to each other, as needs arise. Ancient Israelites gave an estimated 22% in tithes and offerings. When Christians set aside their tithe or offering, and remain open to give to those in need as they are able, they will find they give over and above 10% as well.
Paul told the Corinthians in I Corinthians 16:2 to 'set aside something weekly according to how God blessed you'. It's up to us and Christ in us to decide who we give to. If you are moved by a mix of discipline to set aside a percentage and also have some uncommitted money to give, you'll find you will end up giving more than 10% and will be blessed and surprised by the freedom.
For the historical record:The first mention of Christians tithing came after they moved out of homes and into buildings for their meetings, which required giving to maintain the buildings. First formal mention of a rule was Charlemagne in the 788 AD, king of France, who imposed the tithe on those he had conquered as a requirement to support the 'church'. From there it became imposed on all.
Yet it still exists today in the form of the grace and free-willed giving as did Abraham. Today, you and I are living temples of God and a whole kingdom of priests. We have the freedom to set aside 10% and more coupled with the freedom to give to one another that there be no needs in our midst.
Set aside money to give as God has blessed you. You are a temple of God, you are a priest of God. We have a responsibility to be righteous vertically and horizontally, but the Father relates to us through the blood of Jesus, not your bank account.
New subject next week, until then, blessings,
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