Someone once said, “With the price of everything else going up these days, aren’t you glad the Lord hasn’t increased the tithe to fifteen percent?”
All joking aside, it’s important to consider the question: Is tithing a commandment? What I mean is, is it something God requires of us or is it more of a suggestion?
You may be surprised to learn that the Bible mentions money over 800 times. The word “tithing” is used around 40 times in the whole of Scripture. And giving is mentioned 1,500 times! Scripture repeatedly says God cares about how you manage the money he’s entrusted to you.
Tithing is not part of the Ten Commandments, but the Bible makes it clear that it is a command.
The Old Testament: Tithing Defines God’s People
In the Old Testament, Leviticus 27:30 says, “Every tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land or of the fruit of the trees, is the Lord’s; it is holy to the Lord.” When Moses wrote the law, he wasn’t coming up with it on his own. No, he wrote down word for word what God said.
Look at how the chapter is bookended. Leviticus 27 opens with, “The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them …” The words Moses was sharing were God’s words. And the last verse of the chapter confirms—just in case you forgot—“These are the commandments that the Lord commanded Moses for the people of Israel” (Leviticus 27:34). God called his people to tithe as an act of worship. Tithing was to define his people.
In the Torah, the first of anything was sacred to the Lord. He commanded that 10% of everything you earn is set apart, your firstfruits. This is your first and best. The Hebrew word for firstfruit is bikkurim—which is literally translated “promise to come.” To the Israelites, the firstfruit was a sign that God would provide. It was just the start of what God was doing, and it belonged to him.
Now if you go pick up your Bible and read Leviticus 27, you’ll quickly notice a lot of commands in there that we, as believers, aren’t required to keep anymore. Christ fulfilled the law for us. So why is tithing an exception? One of the reasons is that it came before the law. Both Abraham and Jacob gave tithes before the law existed. And Jesus confirmed the practice of tithing, as we’ll see in just a minute.
But why does God require this of us? To keep us dependent on him. So that when times are plentiful and the harvest comes in, you trust him as the Provider. And when times are tough, you’ll give then too because you’ve seen God come through for you again and again. The discipline of tithing spiritually trains you to follow the Lord wherever he leads. You won’t put your trust into your 90% because giving 10% trained you to trust in the provider for the 100%.
The New Testament: Jesus on Tithing
The word “tithing” is only used a handful of times in the New Testament. But that doesn’t mean money and generosity aren’t one of the central themes. Of all of Jesus’ parables, more than half talked about money. He even told the Pharisees in Luke 11:42, “What sorrow awaits you Pharisees! For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens, but you ignore justice and the love of God. You should tithe, yes, but do not neglect the more important things” (NLT). Jesus is incensed that the Pharisees would scrupulously tithe their herbs while neglecting God’s love for others. Both are needful.
The tithe is important to God, so it should be important to us. When you tithe, you’re giving to God what already belongs to him, what’s already his.
In another situation, Jesus was asked if the Jews should pay taxes to Rome. He famously told the crowd, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s” (Mark 12.17). You’ve heard it directly from Jesus. He says give to God what is God’s. We are made in God’s image, so we are to give ourselves back to him. All we are and all we have is from him and belongs to him. This is how we live as followers of Christ. And what also belongs to God—according to the Torah—is in Leviticus 27:30, which says every tithe is the Lord’s.
We’re now under the covenant of grace. But grace doesn’t lower the bar. No, it raises the bar of our generosity! As followers of Christ, we don’t live giving only as much as we have to—the minimum 10%. Like the early church, we live saying, “How much can I afford to give?” Ten percent might be the command. But I’d love to see reverse tithing—which is giving 90%, living on 10%—as the goal for all believers in the first-world prosperity that we live in today.
The Bible is clear that tithing is a command. The Old Testament says it. The New Testament backs it up. Jesus said it, so that wraps it up. But you don’t need a command to follow God’s will. As a born-again believer, you have the Holy Spirit.
If you’re being convicted to tithe, give more, or give radically, follow the Spirit. Keep in step with the Spirit. Follow the Lord’s will. Don’t be scared to dive right in! Wherever God is leading you with your finances, follow him.
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