In the midst of all the rules God gave Moses to pass on to the Israelites is one that seems so out of place as to rock everything I thought I knew about tithing.
We all know Malachi 3:8-10 where God accuses the Israelites of robbing Him by not bringing their full tithes into “the storehouse that there may be food in my house…”
I have tithed faithfully since the day God had quickened this scripture to me many years ago. That is, until recently. After moving to a new state, I had found a church but have been blocked time after time from giving to them until I finally asked God, “What’s going on? Don’t You want me to tithe to them? If not, then what am I to do with the money each month?”
I began to get the idea that He had somewhere else He wanted the money to go, so I raised my spiritual antenna a little higher and watched for where He directed. Within a week or so, I think I found it. A 90-year-old lady, living alone in a rundown trailer, overwhelmed with clearing off the neglected land that she wanted to sell. Now new questions flooded me. How? Cash to her? Pay a contractor to clean it up? How much? And most important of all – is this Biblical – to give my tithe money to a lady instead of to a church?
I search the Scriptures for directions on how to tithe. Among them was this passage:
Deut. 14 22 “You shall tithe all the yield of your seed that comes from the field year by year. 23 And before the Lord your God, in the place that he will choose, to make his name dwell there, you shall eat the tithe of your grain, of your wine, and of your oil, and the firstborn of your herd and flock, that you may learn to fear the Lord your God always. 24 And if the way is too long for you, so that you are not able to carry the tithe, when the Lord your God blesses you, because the place is too far from you, which the Lord your God chooses, to set his name there, 25 then you shall turn it into money and bind up the money in your hand and go to the place that the Lord your God chooses 26 and spend the money for whatever you desire—oxen or sheep or wine or strong drink, whatever your appetite craves. And you shall eat there before the Lord your God and rejoice, you and your household.
I noticed two things I hadn’t seen before. Verse 23 says “you shall eat” – not “you shall give” or “you shall leave with the priests”. And verse 26 says “If the way to too long… too far”, then “turn it into money” and “spend the money for whatever you desire… whatever your appetite craves.”
I eat my own tithe? Or if the way is too long/far, I convert it to money and spend it on whatever I want?
This is blowing my mind!
I was always taught that ten percent of my income belonged to God and it needed to be given to the church I attended for them to do with it as they chose. Isn’t that what Malachi says? But these Scriptures don’t say that. These Scriptures are saying that I am to enjoy it myself -either at the place God chooses for His name to be honored or at my own place for whatever I want.
I know better than to take one Scripture and make a doctrine out of it. And I won’t do it with this one. Yet, isn’t that what we have done with Malachi? What if God’s storehouse is not the church? What if it’s the Church? The people of God? What if we are to give to fellow believers that are in need but not necessarily through a church? This led me to search out what the New Testament says about tithing/giving.
Although I didn’t find anything about tithing, I did find plenty of places where it talks about giving. They gave to groups of other Christians, sometimes through Paul, which is what we do when we give to our churches, but the Bible also talks about giving to those we personally see who are in need. Both are equally important. Neither mentions a specific amount. We are to give what’s in our heart. And neither says to pay our tithe to the church and then give extra offerings to people in need, something else I’ve been taught. I don’t see that differentiation in the New Testament. What I read is that we give what we want where we want with the encouragement to be generous.
I know that my church needs money to do the good works they feel led to do. I know the pastors need an income. So, I know giving to my church is important, and I will continue to do so. But I think God is leading me away from the law of tithing to the spirit of giving. Not locked into a set amount to a set place – but the freedom to be led by the Spirit to give when, where, and how much as He leads.
And, surprisingly, shockingly, what if He leads me to give to myself, according to Deuteronomy? I am NOT saying I decide that I’m going to keep my money to pay for extra expenses when they come up. But I am saying that maybe once in a while, God might choose to meet my need with my own “tithe” money. That would result in as much thanksgiving and rejoicing as it would if I gave to fill someone else’s need or when my need is met by someone else.
So, back to my initial question: What is Deuteronomy 14 doing there in the midst of all those other rules? I don’t know. Without more background knowledge of the culture of those days, I don’t understand what God was telling the Israelites through those words. But for me, today, Deuteronomy 14 is the wind that has started the collapse of my tithing doctrine like a springtime breeze collapses a house of cards. When the dust settles, when every card is still, I will rebuild my tithing doctrine using only the cards the Bible provides. In the meantime, I will loosen my hand and give generously wherever the Spirit chooses.
A side note: I’ve attended churches where the pastors lead moderate lifestyles and most of the money collected goes to places with biblical principles. But as I think of megachurches today, with ministries that are not biblical and pastors who get rich off the donations they collect, I’m wondering if maybe I’m not the only one that is being led away from mandatory tithing to Spirit-led giving. I wonder how many more members of the Body of Christ will have their needs met if we follow the Spirit instead of a law.
Scriptures for Reference:
Acts 20:35; Romans 12:8, 13; 1 Corinthians 16:2; 2 Corinthians 8, 9; Galatians 6:6-10; Philippians 4:18; Hebrews 13:16; 1 Timothy 6:17-19; James 1:27, 2:14-17; 1 John 3:17