‘To Tithe or not to Tithe’ Deuteronomy 14:22-29 August 30, 1992

Text Comments

v. 24       A provision which anticipates the new situation in the promised land.

v. 28       The third and sixth years of the sabbatical cycle.

Israelites were required by the law of God to tithe. To give one tenth of their income to the Lord. They were required to use all of their income in a godly way, of course, but one tenth of it had to be given as an actual gift to the Lord. There were stipulations as to the method and manner of the gift which had to do with the particular circumstances of Israel’s life in an agricultural economy and with a single central sanctuary for the entire nation and so on, but the central fact is that Israel was required to tithe.

Now, it makes all the difference in the world to how we read and to how we are to respond to this text we have read, whether we too are required to tithe! It is a question concerning which Christians have very decided opinions. Some are absolutely persuaded that we are just as obliged to tithe our money as the Israelites were to tithe the production of their livestock and fields and that any Christian’s failure to tithe is a robbing of God and will inevitably curtail God’s blessing in his or her life. Others are just as certain that to require tithing today is pharisaical and legalistic and lays an axe to the root of that free love which should be the sole motivation for a Christian’s giving.

What do you think? What do you hope is the answer which the Scripture gives? Well, I hope that all that matters to you is that you know what God’s will is, his good, pleasing, and perfect will, so that you may do it with all your heart, in full expectation that in the keeping of the commandments of God there is a far greater reward than you could obtain for yourself by your own efforts.

This morning, in three parts, I want to commend to you the general requirement of Deuteronomy 14:22-29. There are obviously aspects of this chapter, the tithing of agricultural products and the tithing cycle of three years, for example, which didn’t even entirely apply at the end of the OT period, much less today. But the general requirement which is here given a temporary particular shape and form is what we are interested in. This is the divine law for us also in the church today, as I think I can demonstrate to your satisfaction.

First, the continuing requirement of the tithe is suggested by the nature of the tithe itself. Deuteronomy 14, with its stipulations about tithing grain and oil and taking the tithe to the sanctuary and providing for the Levites may strike us as quite alien. We could hardly obey the precise stipulations of these laws. For that reason, I think, it is easier for some Christians to think that the tithe was something that belonged to the epoch of Moses and passed away with the coming of the Lord Christ and his apostles and the Gentile church.

But, like other obligations which are given specific shape and form in the Mosaic law, this law of the tithe also was not original to Moses and was being kept by godly people centuries before God gave the law at Mt. Sinai. The law was given a particular set of applications appropriate to Israel’s life in the promised land, but the general requirement did not originate with the Mosaic law. Indeed, tithing as a practice was not unique to Israel in the ancient world: the Mesopotamians and the Egyptians practiced it as well, surely raising, if not answering the question whether the practice originated at the headwaters of human life as a practice God ordered for the life of mankind.

In any case, we have instances of the godly tithing long before Moses. Abraham paid a tithe of his war booty to Melchizedek after receiving a priestly blessing from him (Genesis 14:20) and Jacob vowed a tithe to God at Bethel following his dream of the ladder reaching to heaven (Genesis 28:22). Given the fact that neither of these instances of early tithing is reported as if the practice were new, we are left with the impression in Holy Scripture that the practice of tithing stretches back to the furthest reaches of antiquity.

What is perhaps still more important to observe is that the New Testament reaffirms the principle of the tithe in its teaching.  It is true that we are nowhere told in so many words that we should tithe. The Lord himself does acknowledge the obligation of the tithe in one conversation he had with some pharisees, but someone might argue that in that situation he was still speaking to a specifically Jewish set of circumstances which have now passed away.

But, it cannot be denied that the Apostle Paul virtually restates the principle of the tithe when he commands the members of the church to give to the Lord in keeping with his or her income. In other words, Christians are to give proportionately — those to whom God had given more, should give a larger amount, those to whom God has given less, are to give less. Proportionate giving is the principle of the tithe. A tenth of a great income is much more money than a tenth of a small income. The only specific difference between Paul’s instruction and Moses’ is that Moses specifies that the proportion is to be one tenth.

Now, it should be remembered that the tithe was not all that a godly Israelite gave to the Lord. His offerings would be given above and beyond his tithe, so, in specifying the tenth, Moses was hardly determining the exact amount of livestock or produce or its money-equivalent that would be given by any particular Israelite. He was only saying that it must be at least a tenth.

Paul does not mention that it must be at least a tenth of one’s income that is given to the Lord. But, I certainly hope there is no one here thinking that, therefore, in our day, one might conceivably get by with giving less. Surely, in the day of the Lord, in the epoch which follows the cross, the resurrection, and the Lord’s Ascension to the Right Hand, in which nothing remains to be fulfilled except the consummation of all things, in the epoch in which the Holy Spirit has been given to the church that she might take the gospel to all nations so that the end might come, I say, surely, no Christian can think that we are to give less than Israelites were required to give in the days of Moses.

Remember, even the poor Israelite was required to tithe. Allowances were made for variations in the substance of the tithe, but all were required to tithe. The poor must, for their own souls’ sake and the Lord’s sake, participate in the support of the church and its work; they many not leave it for those better off to do. We cannot argue that we could never give a tithe because we haven’t the resources. Godly folk with much less than you have were required by divine law to give a tenth of their income.

So, I am inclined to believe that we are under obligation to tithe, because of the generality and antiquity of the commandment and because it clearly does not specifically belong to such ceremonial and specifically Jewish laws of the old epoch which were done away with when the church made its way out of the Jewish nation and embraced all the world.

We know that we are to give a portion of our income according to the measure of the Lord’s blessing, and it is perfectly natural for a Christian to ask: ‘What is an appropriate proportion?’ And if you interrogate the Bible to seek an answer to that question, the only answer ever given is ‘one tenth.’ Excluding, you understand, special offerings which were always additional to the tithe.

I say, I am inclined to say that we should tithe our income. But, what is still more clear to me is that if one wishes to argue that we are under no command to tithe, let it be understood that the consequence of that argument must be that, by the principle of proportionate giving laid down again in the New Testament, Christians today certainly must not give less than a tithe.

Second, the continuing requirement of the tithe is suggested here by the lesson the tithe was intended to teach God’s people. Moses spells out the lesson of the tithe in v. 23. God’s people are to tithe, to make a regular gift to God of one tenth of their income, ‘so that they may learn to revere the Lord your God always.’

Regular tithing was God’s appointed way to drive home to his people and to keep always in their remembrance that their prosperity did not depend, as appearances might suggest, on the bounty of the land or their own skill as farmers and herdsmen, but upon the blessing and the provision of their Heavenly Father. It was a most practical method of practicing and expressing the saints’ dependence upon the Lord. The people, with their produce and income, gave back a portion to the one who had given it all to them in the first place: year after year they had to reckon with the fact that what they had was God’s gift to them, and every third year they were reminded in a most powerful way that not all were as fortunate as they. The poor and needy were cast for the necessities of life upon the provision of the Lord which came through the gifts of his people, and so too the priests and Levites, who were likewise required to tithe the tithe they received from the people of God.

Everyone in the church, was in this way kept looking to the Lord and to his provision for their lives.

This is precisely the interest which is front and center in the teaching about money and giving in the New Testament as well. ‘What do you have that you have not received, and if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you did not?’ It is precisely the cultivation and preservation of a genuinely Christian view of our money for which the tithe is intended.

The regular giving of it is the perpetual reminder and expression of our dependence upon God, of our conviction that he has given us what we have, that in all of our thinking about money and handling of money we have to do with God, that faith — our sight of the unseen world — has as much to do with our money as with any other part of our lives, and that nothing is better suited to our happiness, prosperity, and fruitfulness where money is concerned, than that we honor the Lord with it and be generous in our gifts to him and to others in his name.

The beginning of wisdom regarding your money is not the faith by which you give it away, but the faith by which you receive it. It is the lack of a taking faith or receiving faith, which is the reason why so many have so little giving faith. If they saw more clearly and felt more deeply that what they had God himself had given to them, they would find it not only an easier thing but a much happier thing to part with more of their money for Christ’s sake. [Moody Stuart on John Duncan, p. 115] That is the good tithing does for Christians; it keeps them thinking about and remembering the fact that God is the source of their income, they have what they have as a gift from their Heavenly Father. If more of us reckoned with that fact more than we do, it would make a huge difference in many ways and not least it would give us a completely different spirit about giving up our money.

I love this account for what it illustrates of the difference the supernatural perspective of faith makes to a heart and a hand. In the late 17th century the Scottish covenanter army was in the field fighting for its life and the faith. One man, from a country church, was on his way to join the ranks, but stopped to ask the minister if he had any messages to deliver the men in the field. The minister thought instead that it would be good to send along an offering from his small congregation. It was taken in the church and was far larger than anyone might have guessed it could have been. One poor woman gave eight pounds sterling, a preposterous sum in those days for a person of modest means. When asked about her liberality she replied that the money had been long saved as a dowry for her only daughter. ‘The Lord has been pleased to take my daughter to Himself, and I thought I would give Him her dowry too.’ [Walker, Theology…of Scotland, p. 172]

So speak and so act those who actually see God’s hand placing the money in their wallets, purses, and bank accounts. And so speak and act those who know that money, therefore, has far higher and purer and more wonderful significance and purpose than the world ever knows.

Third, and finally, the continuing requirement of the tithe is here suggested by the blessing which God promised to attend it. There is nothing here in Deuteronomy 14 which comes from the tithe that should be any less eagerly sought and hoped for by God’s people today. There is nothing here that is not just as needed and just as important today as it was in the days of Moses.

I find at least three separate blessings which attend the faithful tither in these verses.

First, the individual and his or her family are provided that worship which it is the joy of every believer to participate in. In the case of the Israelite in Moses’ day and later, as we read in vv. 23 and 26, that worship involved a special meal at the sanctuary, a meal that would have been one of the great occasions of the year for an Israelite family. And their tithe was put against the cost of the meal. That, I think, is one of the Lord’s characteristically lovely and generous touches. He requires you to give him a tenth of your income and then turns around and uses some of that money to take you out to dinner.

And the same thing happens today. Your tithes provide the worship which week by week sustains your Christian life and which, we hope, is one of the great happinesses of your life. And not just the worship itself, but all that sustains the life and ministry of the church. As vv. 27-29 indicates, the ministry of the church and their work are likewise supported from this source of revenue. The church, its ministers, its building, its services, all that it provides each member and each family, all the blessing and the spiritual sustenance which the church provides to believers is the product of that tithe, of the faithful giving of God’s people.

No true believer here can begin to appreciate how desperately impoverished his or her life would be without the church and what spiritual harm would come without her ministry and her worship. All of that is paid for from the tithe. No one who tithes fails to reap many benefits far, far more valuable than money, benefits which carry into the life and world to come.

A second benefit or blessing which attends the faithful tither is that in so doing he or she cares for others. In these verses that is seen in two different ways. First, as we said, the tithe went to the maintenance of the church’s ministry, and not of one’s own ministers only, but of the whole church. It is similarly that money given today which pays for missionaries to scatter the world with the good news, for evangelists to establish new churches in our own land, and so on.

But, the money the church receives is also put to the use of Christian charity in many ways, both locally and to the ends of the earth. In a far more comprehensive way than individuals could manage by themselves, the church, funded by its tithing people, can and does conduct a world-wide charity which, though it could certainly be larger, is staggeringly large already. You would be hard pressed to find around the world well-established institutions of relief, of education, and of medicine which did not originate as efforts of the Christian church funded by tithing believers.

God promises to bless those who care for the poor, and this is a most important, though by no means the only way for Christian people to do that to great effect.

I hope you see, in these first two blessings that come to the tithing believer our own church here, as in a mirror. The money we receive goes for just the same things that the tithe was used for in the days of Moses: it supports the life, ministry, and worship of this congregation; it supports the wider ministry of the church; and it is put to charitable uses. Another argument, wouldn’t you say, for the tithe today: that the money is put to precisely the same uses that it was put to in the ancient church. If the needs and uses are just the same, how likely that the means of meeting them should be the same.

Then, as a third blessing of tithing, there is the general promise of prosperity which God makes in v. 29: to bless the work of our hands, if we are faithful in giving to the Lord. I know that that promise has been terribly abused and misused in our day by preachers who are now in jail, or have been exposed as frauds, or have sold the gospel for personal gain. But, our abhorrence of those practices must not blind us to the Lord’s clear promise. He doesn’t promise to make anyone rich, but he promises prosperity in life to those who faithfully serve him and out of true love honor him with their money.

If he does not give you more and more money, he will give you more and more of what is much more valuable than money: himself and his smile.

I grew up in the home of a man who never was paid very much but honored the Lord with what God gave him and, consequently, always had much much more than was needed. And you will very rarely meet a Christian family that tithes faithfully that is not obviously being blessed for it: either in the wisdom with which they have been taught by God to handle their money, or in the pleasure they get from it, or in the love many others have for them for the good they have done, or in the satisfaction they receive from participating in the advancement of the Kingdom of God, or in the heavenly-mindedness which is the fruit of their turning away from the love of money, or in a thousand other blessings not directly related to money, but which their Heavenly Father has rained on them because they have honored him.

Charles Simeon, about whom I have been telling you these past weeks, cheerfully turned down a huge inheritance from his brother — an inheritance that would have made him a very wealthy man — because he feared it would interfere with the work God had called him to do and in which he was joyfully spending his life. I would rather have a life like Charles Simeon, than the life of any rich man I know or know anything about. A life full of high purpose in the Kingdom of God, full of the love of others whom you have served in Christ’s name, full of the Savior’s smile and blessing, a life that will stand the test when we must all stand before the Lord to give account.

So then, there is Deuteronomy 14:22-29 before you. The Lord himself, your Maker and your Savior and your Father, is speaking. What are you going to say to him? What is your response? Are you going to think about your money as everybody else does, or are you going to think about it like someone who lives in the real world — the world where everything we have is from God, and it is all a stewardship, and all most important for what it allows us to do for Christ’s sake.

You do not hear many sermons from this pulpit on money. But that is not because it is not an important subject. The most sensitive nerve in the body is the pocket nerve and there are multitudes of Christians who are unmanned by money and are a disgrace to the faith for the way in which they handle money, think about money, love money, and misuse money. If you would faithfully do what God is telling you to do here, you would not be one of those Christians, or supposed Christians, but would be one of the favored few upon whom the Lord bestows this great blessing: always enough money and a grateful and cheerful and generous spirit with your money!

Tell the Lord now that you will tithe — at least tithe — not next year or next decade or when you have enough, but tithe the money he has given you now, and that you will begin teaching your children to do the same, and that you will do so in the sure expectation that he will surely provide all that he promises to those who love Him more than they love money.