Paying of TITHES: “That There May Be F O O D”.
Jesus mingled freely with the scribes and the Pharisees – who were at their own time deeply respected and widely regarded as the “experts” on the “Scriptures” as then was (presumably as much as Genesis to Malachi). When it was time to commend them, he generously commended them; but when it was time for him to correct him, he did so very sternly.
One of those days, he told them “search the scriptures” (John 5: 39). Now, I would really want you to do that in the very literal sense – S E A R C H the scriptures. I have had the privilege of taking time to read through the Bible from Genesis to Revelations – just for the pleasure of it. And I did read the very “unbelievable” parts and the very “boring” parts as well as the “very funny” ones. I did that as a very young man. I told myself something like this; “imagine that you were a cow, you will have to eat grass in bulk and find a convenient place and time to ruminate”. So, I read the Bible like a cow – for subsequent ruminations – and I still have a cow sense of it.
These days, though, I just S E A R C H the scriptures. If I need to find out what the Bible says about Jesus, for instance, I simply log on to www.biblegateway.com and type “Jesus” then click search. It will bring up every place in the Bible where the name “Jesus” occurs. If I needed to find out what the Bible says about TITHES, I do just the same. Just search the scriptures – then you will find what you are looking for in wherever it is mentioned as well as the cross-references.
One other thing I must say, though, is that truth is a “spherical phenomenon”. Unless you are God, you cannot see all the sides of “truth” at once. And look out there, you would see that the basic building block of everything that God made comprises of spheres and circles. From the smallest atoms to the biggest planets, what we find in God’s natural world is mostly a system of spheres in which each sphere rotates on its own axis and revolves in a circle around another sphere. That’s where truth lies. You can’t see all the sides at once – while you are looking at truth’s western hemisphere, the other person is seeing just the eastern hemisphere; while all you see is the northern hemisphere, all that the other person sees is the southern hemisphere. So, cool it down; and don’t draw out daggers because the other person doesn’t see things the way you see. Just testify of what you can see, and hear, and handle, concerning the word of life, (1 John 1: 1) and be quick to hear but slow to speak and slow to get enraged (James 1: 19) when the other persons render their own testimonies too.
Those were preambles, what I want to really talk about is the place of tithing in the Christian faith. Last week, I had to put one or two thoughts here and there – especially on the Facebook walls of certain friends, because of the hemispheres from which I have looked at the subject. I have actually searched the scriptures and found all the references to tithes. I made some research outside of the Bible too, but we won’t need to go into that.
I wish I could take time to expatiate and expound the subject but time and space will fail us. See, as you go through the Bible, you will find that the first Biblical character that paid tithes is Abraham (as Abram). You will find that record in Genesis 14. One significant thing you will see in there is that contrary to what some popular preachers wants us to believe today, it wasn’t paying of tithes that made Abraham rich or secured. As you move backwards into Genesis 12, you will find that God blessed Abraham and said “I will bless those who bless you, and curse those who curse you, and through you will bless the whole world” (Genesis 12: 3). In order words, God would bless Abraham and “rebuke devourers for his sake”, even though he was yet to pay tithes – and God didn’t demand from Abraham a tithe in return for this blessing. You would see how Abraham went on to be very rich “in livestock, and in silver and gold” (Genesis 13: 2) while he was yet to even pay tithes. Then you would see how Abraham went to war against the kings that took his nephew captive and got victory on every side – not as a result of paying tithes, contrary to what we are being made to believ in many “prosperity churches” today.
However, then, Abraham met “a stranger” – someone we might call a “normadic preacher”, whose roots Abraham did not know. That normadic preacher blessed Abraham (Abraham who had earlier been blessed by God). So, Abraham paid a tithe of the bounty, or loot, that he had taken from the war and paid it to that “stranger” man of God – Melchizedek. Please note that Abraham had been blessed before he paid the tithe, and did not obtain the blessings because he paid tithe. Rather, he paid the tithe because he appreciated the blessings that were upon him. And you can see from the story that he paid not because of what he did desire that God should do, but in appreciation of what God had done.
Second you would also see that he didn’t tithe his own “livestock, and silver, gold” which he had abundantly but tithed the loot. The rest of the loot he dispersed and refused to take anything personally from it, so that it won’t be said that “the loot made him rich” (Genesis 14: 23).
Abraham’s son, Isaac, inherited wealth and prospered amidst famine, and dealt securely amongst his enemies (Genesis 26) not as a function of tithes either paid by him or by his father but by a covenant that God made with his father, a covenant that precedes the paying of tithes by Abraham. (Genesis 26: 2- 5). There is no record of Isaac paying tithes yet “He continued to prosper and became a very rich man” (Genesis 26: 13, NIV).
Then there was Jacob, Isaac’s son, who encountered God in a place he named “Bethel” and pledged to God that he would return to pay tithes to God in that place if God would protect him and prosper him on his journey. (Genesis 28: 22). I wondered what mode of delivery he intended to use to pass this tithe to God. However, interestingly, God told Jacob to return to Bethel and live there (Genesis 35: 1). Somehow, Jacob did not remember to pay the tithe he had vowed to pay (or the Bible writers forgot to write it down) and neither did God remind him or demand of him, or accuse him of robbery.
Then again we encounter tithes in the Laws that Moses gave the children of Jacob (or, Israel, as he would be later known). Mind you, God did not demand of them to pay the tithe as a result of Jacob’s/Israel’s failure to honour his tithe vow. It was entirely not connected.
Please search the scriptures and you will see how God instructed the tithes to be handled and used. Time and space constraint will not allow us to go into all the details, but let me summarize:
1) Tithe was essentially about FOOD. Throughout the scriptures God paid particular attention to food. Interestingly, the first commandment that God gave to man in the Garden of Eden had to do with “eating”. So, tithes were to serve one primary purpose – to prevent starvation in the nation. First, God had barred the tribe of Levi, which he was separating into priestly service, from owning lands – and therefore from becoming farmers – so that they would be completely sold out on their priestly duties. And having committed them to that work of the altar, he made the provision for them not to starve. Second, “foreigners, fatherless, and widows” and the poor generally MUST not starve. That essentially was what tithe was all about. In fact, when you carefully read Malachi 3: 10, you will see that there was only one reason why God wanted the children of Israel to bring the tithes into the storehouses “so that there will be plenty of FOOD there”. (Malachi 3: 10, NIV)
2) Tithe was NOT money. When you carefully study the scriptures, you will see that God didn’t ever want to receive tithe as money. He always wanted it as FOOD. Search the scriptures, it’s all laid out there. Primarily, under the laws of Moses, the tithe was solely agricultural. It was not demanded from all and sundry, but from those who had lands and livestock. And they may NOT pay money in lieu of their tithes. If they lived in a place that was so far from where they had to transport the tithes to the where it would be paid, such that transporting the tithes would be cumbersome, they were allowed to sell the agricultural products that constituted the tithes, move the money to the destination city where the tithe would be paid, BUT they won’t pay the money in lieu of the tithes. Rather, they would use the money to buy any other FOOD available in that city and then take the FOOD (NOT the money) in “God’s storehouse” (Deuteronomy 14: 24 – 25). (I’m wondering why Moses didn’t want them to simply deposit the money and leave it to the keepers of God’s storehouses to purchase food as the need arises, and why he insisted on them changing the money back to food in order to make it “tithe”.
3) Summarily, the tithe was a sort of “social security” for the ancient nation of Israel – it was to provide for the basic needs of those who were in full-time religious and community services, and those who were poor, and/or without their own direct sources of income. It builds upon the same principles that God had taught that nation in the wilderness, when he provided them with manna and instructed them to gather only what they needed and not keep anything overnight. Paul would later reflect on that “manna experience” and wrote to the Corinthians:
“for you to share with them when you have so much, and they have so little. Later, when they have more than enough, and you are in need, they can share with you. Then everyone will have a fair share, just as the Scriptures say, “Those who gathered too much had nothing left. Those who gathered only a little had all they needed.” (2 Corinthians 8: 14 – 15).
4) In “giving tithes to the Lord”, what made it “given to God” was not the fact that it was taken to the Temple or to the storehouses but that it met the needs of those who couldn’t meet their own needs by themselves. God doesn’t eat food (Psalm 50: 12 -14) and He doesn’t spend money. When the foods were “paid” into God’s storehouses as “tithe”, God wouldn’t come down to eat them. It was by reaching the full-time priests, and the poor, including the fatherless, the strangers, and the widows, that it got to God. (Deuteronomy 26: 12)
“If I were hungry, I wouldn’t tell you, because I own the world and everything in it. I don’t eat the meat of bulls or drink the blood of goats.” (Psalm 50: 12 – 14)
Then the king will say to those on his right, “My father has blessed you! Come and receive the kingdom that was prepared for you before the world was created. When I was hungry, you gave me something to eat, and when I was thirsty, you gave me something to drink. When I was a stranger, you welcomed me, and when I was naked, you gave me clothes to wear. When I was sick, you took care of me, and when I was in jail, you visited me. Then the ones who pleased the Lord will ask, “When did we give you something to eat or drink? When did we welcome you as a stranger or give you clothes to wear or visit you while you were sick or in jail?” The king will answer, “Whenever you did it for any of my people, no matter how unimportant they seemed, you did it for me.” (Matthew 25: 34 – 40, CEV)
So it was; God did not eat the tithe, he only ate it through the poor and the dedicated ministers who didn’t have their own channels of provisions.
5) Jesus, at his time, and his apostles after him did not receive tithes. Jesus was not from the tribe of Levi and was not a priest. His apostles were also not priests of the Levitical order and they did not receive tithes. Thus, the Christian church did not receive tithes for the first several hundred years. That is why you see no mention of tithes in the Acts of Apostles and in the epistles. The only epistle that mentions tithe is that to the Hebrews and the purpose was not to instruct the church to pay tithes. Rather it was to demonstrate how the “New Covenant” supersedes the “Old Covenant”.
6) Apart from the Epistle to the Hebrews, the only other place where tithe is mentioned in the New Testament is where Jesus spoke of it to the Pharisees:
You Pharisees and teachers are show-offs, and you’re in for trouble! You give God a tenth of the spices from your garden, such as mint, dill, and cumin. Yet you neglect the more important matters of the Law, such as justice, mercy, and faithfulness. These are the important things you should have done, though you should not have left the others undone either. (Matthew 23: 23)
First, you would see again from this passage that the tithe was agricultural – it was FOOD. The tithes commanded under Moses were not to be paid from wages but from agricultural products. Second, you would see that Jesus implied that “paying tithes is not as important as showing mercy and being faithful”. I don’t know whatever the word “mercy” might mean to you. But like He had earlier said in the Sermon on the Mount “Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.” (Matthew 5: 7 KJV) And we also know that “It is of the LORD’S mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not.” (Lamentations 3: 22). So, I will humbly posit that when God “rebukes the devourer for our sakes”, it is by his mercies and not a matter of our paying tithes – but where tithes come into it, is because by paying the tithes (as FOOD) and thus providing the basic needs of the poor and needy, we are showing MERCY to the poor. So, it is a matter of MERCY not a trade thing where we appease a God whose nostrils streams out hot lava every time we fail to “settle him” with his “share” of our incomes. Thus essentially, when the Christian churches amongst non-Jews were commissioned, they were never instructed to pay tithes as a means to secure God’s favour, or protection, as we are now being made to believe by prosperity teachers. Rather, they were simply urged to “remember the poor”. (Galatians 2: 10). Our blessings and our prosperity and protection are always a function of God’s mercy, and not a function of tithe-paying.
7) Because Jesus had said “These are the important things you should have done, though you should not have left the others undone either” (Matthew 23: 23) many who collect tithes in the church today have used that point to argue that Jesus did not abolish tithes. Yes, indeed, Jesus did not abolish the tithes – because, for the Jewish nation, it was to provide a means of meeting the basic needs of the poor and needy in the society. But what those churches that are collecting the so-called tithes today are raking in, are not essentially tithes, because they are collecting the MONEY whereas tithes were neither paid nor collected monetarily even when the “Old Covenant” subsisted and peasants and artisans were not the ones paying it. Again tithes were not collected as a means to appease God from being angry with men, or to secure lives and properties. So, if anyone wants to pay tithes today, they should pay it as it was paid, and those who collect it should collect it as it was collected. Although, Christ does not require us to tithes today, and we should rather stand firm in that liberty – choosing to be fully committed to showing mercy, which according to Jesus is more important than paying tithes; I will recommend that those who wish to pay tithes should do so correctly. It is not a sin to pay tithes. It is in fact a good thing. And tithe-collecting churches must NOTE that tithes under the old covenant was “sacredly dedicated to meet the basic needs of full-time ministers who had no other enterprises, and the basic needs of the poor and less-privileged in the society”. If your church must collect tithes today, or any money under the guise of tithes, then those tithes must accordingly be dedicated for the use of meeting BASIC NEEDS of the categories of people earlier identified.
Under no circumstances should tithes be invested, or used to purchase non-essential properties, such as private jets, and Lincoln Navigators. Tithes may be used construct and maintain vicarages where the minister does not have his own house and is fully dedicated to church work and community service, it may be used to construct hospitals, maternity homes, schools that provide free or highly-subsidised education to children from low-income, or no-income backgrounds, building of low-cost housing estates which may be provided rent-free or at highly-subsidized rents families with low or zero incomes. It can also be used to provide supplementary allowances to low-income families, especially where such families are members of that church, and in the community in which the church is located, irrespective of the race and creed of the beneficiaries. Tithes can be used to provide health insurance cover for those who can’t afford health insurance on their own. Tithes is not for marble floors and air-conditioners in church auditoriums; if such things are needed as special collection should be made for them. Tithes is basically FOOD and essential commodities – any expenses cannot be categorized under “food (inclusive of anything that enhances health), clothing, and shelter”, in that order of importance, may not be put under the tithes account. Only if the church has sufficiently provided food, clothing and shelter for as many less-privileged as they can meet in the church’s host community, and having leftovers can the church begin to spend tithes other needs that are basic but not so essential. By the term “less privileged” I don’t mean only the “destitute” – there are so many people out there, and among us, who as suffering and smiling. Reach out to them.
(Well, it has already become an epistle and has taken out a big chunk of my day! I wish I could say more – but I will find time to come back to this. Thank you for your time. Every blessing!)