WHY TITHING?
by Diakonissa Deborah

And he (Abram) gave him (Melchizedek) a tenth of all. Gen. 14: 20b

For some folks, just the fact that God seems to command tithing is enoughto encourage them to go ahead. But others need more convincing. Why is tithingimportant? Is it essential for us today? Or is it just a legalistic leftoverfrom the old days?

In this particular study, we will look at the Biblical view of tithing. Althoughwe recognize that the Bible is not a perfect book, it still has valuableinformation that can provide guidance for us even today.

The word “tithe” originally referred to the ten percent owed to God as proofof obedience to his law. “Tithe” literally means “ten percent”. Over theyears, however, common usage has lead to a meaning of “offering given toGod”. Thus we have people talking about tithing 5 percent or 20 percent;this is an obvious misnomer. Tithes are always ten percent.

The Bible speaks of three types of material gifts to God: tithes, offerings,and alms. Tithes are the ten percent giving. Offerings are anything aboveand beyond ten percent, as well as sacrificial offerings (animals, grain,wine, etc.). Alms are small gifts given directly to the poor (usually pocketchange).

Why does God need money? Obviously, he doesn’t. But in order for his workto continue on earth, his servants DO need money. This isn’t just a linethrown out by some slick televangelist; it’s the cold, hard truth. Even ifa minister (which means servant) of God is “living by faith”, someone hasto be used to provide for his/her needs. By tithing, we have the opportunityto participate in another individual’s ministry.

Let’s look at little more closely at the story of Abram and Melchizedek;you’ll find it in Genesis 14:17-20. Another account is found in Hebrews 7:1-10.Abram’s nephew Lot was living in Sodom (yep, THAT Sodom). He was taken hostagein a battle between the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah and an alliance of kingsincluding a guy named Chedorlaomer. The battles were not going well for theSodom-Gomorrah alliance. When Abram found out that his nephew had been takenby Chedorlaomer’s gang, he added his strength (and that of his allies) tothe Sodom-Gomorrah group and helped defeat Chedorlaomer’s group of kings.(You will notice the mention of “kings” here-these were more than likelylocal clan lords, not rulers of vast areas.) After the victory, Abram wentto give thanks to God. The closest place of worship was Salem, probably whereJerusalem now sits. The king/priest of Salem was Melchizedek. Melchizedekbrought bread and wine (a foreshadowing of the Eucharist) and blessed Abram.Abram gave Melchizedek the tithe of the spoils he gained in the battle. Thiswas the precedent for giving ten percent of one’s increase to God.

The word “increase” here has different interpretations. When you’re dealingwith produce from a farm, it’s pretty straightforward; the Hebrews hadregulations in the priestly laws explaining how to determine the tenth, whichbelonged to God (see Lev. 27:30-33 for an example). These days, however,we usually receive our pay in the form of paper money (or electronic money,in the case of direct deposit!), most often after having taxes withheld fromthe gross amount. Herein lies a controversy: does the word “increase” referto pre-tax or post-tax income? This might appear to be a silly issue; whysplit hairs over something like this? For some people it’s a legitimate question,though, so we’ll tackle it. At the end of the day, however, it boils downto personal choice. Do what thou wilt! “Increase” refers to any financialgain. So the tithe should be taken from the gross pay. Some individuals saythat few of us see any benefit from federal taxes, so withholding is notpart of each person’s increase; these folks advocate paying tithe on thenet income. The issue is not tackled directly by scripture, so this is oneof those issues where each person has to decide. In the big picture, theseissues aren’t worth arguing over-be sure to do what you feel led to do andleave it at that.

It’s also interesting to note that after this tithe, God makes a covenantwith Abram. Is it possible that Abram’s loosening of the money bag allowedGod to make that covenant? A fascinating thought. . . .but one for anotherstudy.

The tradition of tithing (dedicating ten percent of the individual’s increaseto God’s service) continued with Jacob, who pledged a tenth of all he gainedafter receiving a dream from God at Bethel (which means “house of God”-Gen.28:10-22). The question which arises here is: How does one give money toGod? As mentioned before, God doesn’t need it. The Psalms point out thatGod owns the cattle on a thousand hills (Ps. 50:10), and therefore needsnothing from people, as far as material things go. So if we want to dedicatea tenth of our increase to God, what do we do with it?

The general viewpoint of the Bible is that tithes and offerings go to the”house of God”; that is, a place where sacrifices are made to God, wherehe is worshipped. Malachi 3:8-12 speaks of bringing the tithes to the”storehouse”, the place where agricultural tithes were kept in the JerusalemTemple. The agricultural parts of the tithe were used to feed the Levites,who worked in the temple, and their families; some of it was used to feedthe poor, and some may have been sold and converted to cash before it spoiled.The cash tithes were used for other expenses of the temple, and other materialgiven in tithes (as well as offerings) was either used or sold. The basicidea is that the tithe covers the expenses for the maintenance of the houseof God and the provision for those who serve in the temple.

However, other types of tithes are mentioned in scripture. Deuteronomy 14:22-29outlines these. Some folks were so far from the tabernacle (which was locatedin Gilgal, north of Jerusalem) that they could not go there regularly todeliver their tithe. So God made provision for them to convert the agriculturalproducts to cash, and then travel to the tabernacle (and later the Temple),and-have a party!! Woo-hoo! It’s interesting that few pastors ever acknowledgethe existence of the “party tithe”. (Wonder why?) The idea, though, is touse the money to rejoice in what God has done for you, not to just have aparty without acknowledging God’s goodness. Read Deuteronomy 14:26; it’sall right there.

In addition, another type of tithe was to help folks in need. This tithewas to go to the Levite (God’s servants), the alien (foreigners living inIsrael), the widow, and the orphan in one’s hometown. See Deuteronomy 14:27-29.

Today, if you want to follow biblical guidelines for tithing, you have severaloptions. You can give to the church or synagogue of your choice. Hopefullythis will be a congregation that has contributed to your spiritual development.Or you can give to an individual minister who is doing what you feel to beGod’s work. Or you can give to help displaced folks, widows (or single moms),orphans (children’s outreach of various types), or the poor in general. Theseorganizations don’t necessarily have to be religious. By giving to the poor,and helping those in need, you are helping God. You are his hands reachingout to assist another human being.

If you can’t find someone who needs help, you could use your tithe to celebrateGod’s goodness. Remember that the idea behind this “party tithe” is to rejoicein what God has done for you, so be sure it’s a “thanksgiving” party, regardlessof the time of year in which you hold the event.

Malachi 3:8 mentions that the people of Israel had robbed God in tithes ANDofferings. Offerings were separate from the ten percent tithe of one’s increase.They were used either as a sacrifice (several types listed in the book ofLeviticus; that’s another study too), or as a free-will gift to God’s work,as a sort of special “thank-you”. Offerings were above and beyond the tenpercent of the tithe, but they can be given to the same places and peopleto whom you would pay a tithe.

Some folks go to the point where they talk about “paying” tithes and “giving”offerings. They see the tithe as a sort of bill they owe to God. To themit’s non-negotiable. Offerings are a free-will sort of thing, so they are”given”, not “paid”. It’s really easy to slip into legalism here; be carefulnot to get bound up in traditions. Words are important, however, and youmay at some point feel convicted to change your vocabulary a bit. Pleaseremember that these are discretionary issues, not absolute commands; enjoyyour new insights, but don’t force them on others.

Alms are (usually) smaller amounts of money, like pocket change, given tobeggars on the street. Jewish tradition advocated this practice. It had multiplepurposes: helping to get impoverished, disabled people out of their homesto station themselves in the streets-almost like going to a job every day;giving aid to the families who were supporting these disabled individuals;and allowing wealthy, able people to participate in the support of the needy.By Yeshua’s day, however, the practice of almsgiving had degenerated intoa sort of spiritual “oneupsmanship”:

When therefore you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as thehypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be honoredby men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. Matthew 6:2

The only reward you get for making a big deal out of almsgiving is a paton the back from someone who is easily impressed. Yeshua went on to suggestthat when giving alms, you don’t let your left hand know what your righthand is doing, so you won’t be tempted to make a big deal over somethingthat is really the duty of someone who loves God.

We should remember that Yeshua was referring to alms here, not tithes orofferings. There is nothing wrong with keeping records of tithes and offeringsgiven; there is nothing wrong with claiming tithes on your taxes. In fact,that might be construed as plain old good stewardship of one’s finances.Yeshua was talking about not taking undue credit for one’s generosity, notabout being unaware of your finances.

These verses bring us to the point of tithing. While tithing does help accomplishGod’s work on the earth, by supplying financial needs for those who servehim, the real purpose (perhaps we could say the esoteric purpose) of tithingis to help individuals let go of their attachment to financial things. It’sa symbol of God’s provision-dedicate ten percent to God and his work, andhe will help you use the other ninety percent to make ends meet.

There is always room for abuse here. Some church groups spend a lot of timefocusing on what they can get out of God if they follow the “five fabulousfaith formulas”. But God is not a vending machine-you can’t put in your titheand expect to get some big prize out of him. Nor will tithing make financialproblems miraculously disappear. Those who use tithing in this way will mostlikely end up disappointed. The purpose is an inner one, not an outward one.As you plan to set aside the first ten percent of your increase, you learnto let go of that money with each paycheck. That amount isn’t even part ofyour budget. For many people, letting go of money’s grip on their attitudesallows them to move forward spiritually.

Unfortunately, these issues don’t work on the basis of simple formulas. Wemay have to deal with these same things over and over again in our lives.But tithing could help you start on the path toward freedom from financialbondage. In the process, you can help others. And when you do it in God’sname, letting others know that you’re responding to his goodness in yourlife, you just might help someone else draw closer to God.

There is great potential for good in tithing. Although it can be used ina legalistic manner, let’s not throw out the whole concept because some groupshave abused it. Let’s redeem it instead, and use the tithe to bring blessingto God, to people in need, and to ourselves as well.

STUDY QUESTIONS

Copy and paste the following questions to a new e-mail, answer them, andsend to the Mystery School withthe following subject line: AOM Tithe from ____________ (your magikal name).

1. Who gave tithes to Melchizedek?

2. What does “tithe” mean?

3. What three types of giving are mentioned in the Bible?

4. T/F Tithes can’t be used for a thanksgiving part, celebrating God’s goodness.

5. To whom does the Bible suggest you give your tithe, if you can’t giveit to a local church or synagogue?

6. T/F Tithes and offerings are the same thing.

7. To whom are alms given?

8. What is the esoteric purpose of tithing?

Essay: ┬áDo you believe in tithing? Why or why not? Please support yourideas; a simple “yes” or “no” is not a complete answer. You will not be “graded”on whether you agree with the author or not, but on how well you can conveyyour own beliefs.

1stDeg Study Hall