What is Tithing, really?
Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine—since he was a priest of God Most High— and he blessed Abram and said:
“Blessed be Abram by God Most High,
Creator of heaven and earth,
and blessed be God Most High,
who has delivered your enemies into your hand.”
Then Abram gave Melchizedek a tenth of everything. ( Gen 14:17-20)
So, that’s an old story about tithing. Tithe literally means‘a tenth.’ It was an old way of paying tribute to rulers and betters, giving them a tenth of your stuff so they didn’t come and take the other 90. But that’s what makes what Abram did so crazy! Abram tithes someone for blessing him. Someone who is not a threat, but just because he recognized Melchizy greatness. Melchizedek represented God well, and that, to Abram, was worth treating him as his own personal King. In front of other kings. With spoils that technically belonged to them. The Bible is filled with many ” That’s GANGSTA” moments. This is definitely one of them. But that’s another blog for another day.
Tithing is a thing…. isn’t it? Go to ( almost) any church, and they are calling for tithes and offering. Sometimes they’ll leverage how “good God has been” to you and perhaps they’ll even go so far as to teach or imply that tithing helps us remember that all the money belongs to God; we are just returning the tithe, that it all belongs to Him. Cue organist. And they’ll often quote this little diddy from Malachi:
Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings. Ye are cursed with a curse: for ye have robbed me, even this whole nation.
Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.
Well, doesn’t that sound awesome? Don’t you want the window of Heaven opened? And CERTAINLY you don’t want to miss the windows of Heaven opening, do you? Be a thief that GOD has to call out? I sure don’t. So I’ve tithed ( pretty consistently I may add) since I’ve been a child. Because I felt it was a thing that I owed God, and I felt that the discipline of dealing with my money as though it were not mine was profitable. In fact, I’ve had difficult financial times when I wasn’t returning my tithe and I presumed that it was because I wasn’t tithing at the time. I’m not sure what I attributed my financial difficulties to when I WAS ‘ returning’ tithe to exactly… but I heard testimonies from grandparents and friends about blessings that came when they decided to tithe, I wanted so blessing in my life, and so I tithe. 10% of my gross income. Faithfully. I still do actually, but the truth is… I don’t have to. If you don’t believe me, let’s look at that verse from Malachi in context. Malachi chapter 2 verse 1 says this:
“And now, O ye priests, this commandment is for you..”
This message which is usually delivered as though the congregation is robbing God by not paying tithes is actually for the priests who took the tithe that was meant for the storehouse, to be given to those in need, and who scandalously kept much for themselves. They were then told by God that they were robbers of God and whole nation and should bring all the tithes into the storehouse, where their needs would be met along with everyone else’s, and not before. The reason everyone suffered was because of the priests’ unfaithfulness, not the people. Because tithing is for the Levites, the priest tribe of Israel ( Numbers 18:20-22).
And that should be the end of it, right? We no longer have priests, so there’s no one to give tithes too. When is the last time you have seen a Levite? I don’t know any. Some may say that our pastors and preachers are the new Levites. Consider Hebrews 7:
“If, then, perfection came through the Levitical priesthood, on the basis of which the people received the law, what need would there still have been for another priest to arise according to the order of Melchizedek, and not reckoned according to the order of Aaron? When there is a change of priesthood, there is necessarily a change of law as well.”
The whole chapter is pretty heavy, but basically, the idea is that Jesus is our High Priest now. And tithing, like all of the other random laws the Ancient Hebrews had, is no longer sufficient. It, like so many of the laws they abode by, is just hinting at something much much larger. A shadow if you will. Certainly, the principles are sound: our money is not our own, just as we are not the ultimate source of the means we used to acquire it. But therein lies the lesson; by adapting tithing for spiritual purposes, God taught the Hebrews He was their King… but God is so much more than a king.
Let’s upshift a little bit:
Acts 4:32: The congregation of believers was one in heart and soul. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they owned.
God is a friend, a Father, a Fighter, a Faith, a Future-teller, and FREEDOM. He is owed much more than a tenth of our earnings. Just as our money is not our own, nothing we have is our own. The idea of ownership is ill-founded, and not nearly as pervasive in places that have not been touched by European colonization. The colonizers if you will. Every cent I own should be used to honor God, and the things that honor God that cost money are caring for the people that His Son died to save. And if you’re read carefully, this is not talking about the needy stranger or even the storehouse from the Old Testament. This is talking about family, treating our economics like we’re part of a family and not individuals set to conquer the world. If I have it, you have it. We’re all on the same data plan. Some pay more of the bill, some play less, but that’s okay because we’re family.
So, when my pastor asks for 10% of my income to help him pay the bills, to keep the lights on at the building which I enjoy worshipping at, well, that’s my brother asking for my help to continue to do a ministry we’re both working on together. I love him, so I do that. Because that’s my commitment to my church family, and I’m building something with them. But that can’t be the entirety of my commitment, because I’m not some freshly freed Egyptian slave who can’t conceive of God as anything more than a didactic ruler. At least, not anymore.
If we belong to God, then everything we have is His, by extension. So, yeah, you need a place to stay, I got a guest room. And if that’s taken I got a futon and if that’s taken, well… I got blankets and a wide floor plan. But y’all gotta do dishes or something, man. We all in this together after all.