Tithing: A Response to Grace
Giving God a tenth of all one makes or has is an ancient practice, the origins of which are lost in the unrecorded past. Abraham is the first tither mentioned in the Bible. With his armed servants, Abraham defeated a pagan army led by four kings. Returning with the spoils of war, Abraham encountered Melchizedek, the king of Salem and priest of God. This king-priest blessed Abraham and blessed the God who had given him victory. In response, Abraham “gave him a tenth of everything” (see Gen. 14:18-20).
The next tither we meet is Jacob, a grandson of Abraham. Jacob was fleeing through desert country when the Lord appeared to him, promising to be with him, to watch over him, and to bring him back home safely. In gratitude for the promised blessings Jacob vowed, “Of all that you give me I will give you a tenth” (see Gen. 28:10-22). Jacob’s offspring became the nation of Israel, a nation formed by God.
When God delivered Israel from slavery, He made a covenant with them and brought them into the Promised Land of Canaan. The people of Israel were to be governed by laws given by God through Moses. The Law of Moses, as it came to be called, included tithing the produce of the land, the flocks and herds, or the money when crops and animals had been converted to cash. The law declared that “a tithe of everything . . . belongs to the Lord” (Lev. 27:30). It didn’t become His when it was given; it was already His. Not to tithe, therefore, was to rob God. Restoring the ancient practice, in contrast, would bring prosperity to the nation (see Mal. 3:8-12).
Some have argued that Christians need not tithe because they are under grace, not under law. This is nonsense. First, no Christian should do less for God than did an ancient Jew. Second, Jesus endorsed the practice of tithing (see Matt. 23:23). Third, tithing responds to a law older than the Law of Moses. It responds to the law of gratitude. The tithe is not a means of bribing God to secure a blessing. Rather, the tithe is a way of acknowledging God as the giver of every blessing received and promised. When Abraham tithed to Melchizedek, it was not to obtain a blessing. He was already blessed and was properly thankful.
Jesus is our King-Priest, “a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek” (Heb. 6:20). That certainly makes Him a tithe-receiving priest. He has blessed His people with the greatest of blessings—their salvation. This blessing was purchased at the greatest of costs—His death. Our gratitude for that should make us joyful tithers to Him.
Israel’s tithes supported the temple and priesthood. Our tithes support the church and its ministry. Tithing makes it possible for preachers to occupy their pulpits and pursue their rounds of varied services. Tithing makes it possible for missionaries to make disciples among all the nations of earth. Tithing underwrites the mission of the church to feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, care for the sick, and evangelize the lost. Tithing provides the buildings, equipment, and supplies needed by the church for its global task. Tithing was not invented by some church finance committee. Tithing is God’s financial plan, and it cannot be improved upon. It is His basic plan, and devoted Christians gladly add freewill offerings to their tithes. Those who do so are the happiest of the Lord’s followers.
Tithing initiates nothing. It places no claim upon God. It is not a bargaining chip. Biblically understood and practiced, tithing is humanity’s response to divine grace. We give to God because He has already given to us. He is no poorer if we fail to tithe, but we are impoverished. He is no richer if we do tithe, but we are enriched. Tithing is rewarded, for God rewards all obedience to His Word. But we do not give in order to get; we give because we have received.
Written by William E. McCumber who resides in Gainesville, Georgia. McCumber has served the Church of the Nazarene as an educator, pastor, evangelist, and writer. Article previously published in the January–March, 1998 issue of the Dynamic Steward magazine on Partnership.