The Impact of Tithing
As we saw last week, tithing is an important expression of faith.
It is one way to reveal, or test, the reality of our profession.
“Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?— unless indeed you are disqualified” (2 Cor. 13:5, NKJV).
The first biblical reference to tithing is Abraham’s giving tithe to Melchizedek (Gen. 14:18–20, Heb. 7:4). The Levites also took the tithe for their services at the temple (2 Chron. 31:4–10). Today, the tithe is for the support of the gospel. When rightly understood, it serves as a spiritual measurement of our relationship with God.
The impact, use, importance, and methods of distribution in tithing are designed for our spiritual growth in supporting God’s work and providing the financial foundation for preaching the gospel. This is God’s plan and has been called the first step that a faithful steward takes.
This week, we will continue our look at tithing: its distribution, what it means to others, and what impact it has on our spiritual lives.
* Study this week’s lesson to prepare for Sabbath, February 24.
Jesus commands us to “ ‘preach the gospel’ ” (Mark 16:15) and to “ ‘make disciples . . . , teaching them to observe all things’ ” (Matt. 28:19, 20, NKJV). Thus, God wants us to be involved in the most important work on earth: bringing people to Jesus. Funding this mission from resources entrusted to us by God is the steward’s responsibility.
Participation deepens personal commitment in presenting Christ to others. Every disciple, steward, and worker is to bring the entire tithe for this sacred work. We must pray for unity to be faithful in funding the mission, just as a successful mission strengthens our unity of faith.
As we have seen, people have been paying tithe since the days of Abraham and Jacob (Gen. 14:20, 28:22) and probably before. Tithe is part of a system that funds God’s church. It is the greatest source of funding and the most equitable method for carrying out His mission.
In today’s cultures, the majority of Christians give relatively little to fund the mission of God. If every Christian gave an honest tithe, the result would be “almost unimaginable, simply astonishing, nearly beyond comprehension.”—Christian Smith and Michael O. Emerson, Passing the Plate (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008), p. 27. In every age, God has had people who were willing to fund His mission.
All of us have a responsibility to understand and work together to finance this global task. We cannot afford to be disorganized, careless, or haphazard about funding the mission. Our challenge is far greater than when the people and the Levites said to Nehemiah, “ ‘We will not neglect the house of our God’ ” (Neh. 10:39, NIV) and more daunting than what faced believers in the 1800s. Today, members and clergy must be united spiritually and pull together financially in a way that meets global objectives and funds the mission.
As we saw in Malachi 3:10, God promised a great blessing to those faithful in their tithe. Yet, God’s blessing is not one-dimensional. To emphasize, for instance, the accumulation of material assets as a blessing, at the expense of everything else, is a very narrow view of what God’s blessing really is.
The blessing in Malachi is spiritual as well as temporal. The meaning of God’s blessing is evidenced by salvation, happiness, a peace of mind, and God always doing what is best for us. Also, when we are blessed by God, we are obligated to share those blessings with the less fortunate. We have been blessed in order to bless others. Indeed, through us God is able to extend His blessings elsewhere.
From tithing a double blessing comes. We are blessed, and we are a blessing to others. We can give out of what we have been given. God’s blessings toward us reach inwardly and to others outwardly. “ ‘Give, and it will be given to you. . . . For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you’ ” (Luke 6:38, NIV).
The greatest blessing tithing teaches us is to trust God (Jer. 17:7). “The special system of tithing was founded upon a principle which is as enduring as the law of God. This system of tithing was a blessing to the Jews, else God would not have given it them. So also will it be a blessing to those who carry it out to the end of time. Our heavenly Father did not originate the plan of systematic benevolence to enrich Himself, but to be a great blessing to man. He saw that this system of beneficence was just what man needed.”—Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 3, pp. 404, 405.
Paul writes to Timothy: “ ‘You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain,’ and, ‘The laborer is worthy of his wages’ ” (1 Tim. 5:18, NKJV). He is quoting Moses in Deuteronomy 25:4 regarding the ox and Jesus from Luke 10:7 regarding the laborer. The phrase about the ox appears to have been a proverb, and it means it is fair for the ox to eat grain while working. In the same way, the second proverb means that devoted laborers who preach the gospel should be rewarded with wages.
God creates and operates in systems. He has designed solar systems, ecosystems, digestive systems, nervous systems, and many more. The tithing system was used by the Levites (Num. 18:26) in caring for the tabernacle and for their support. The modern equivalent would be those who devote their lives to preaching the gospel. God’s tithing system is His chosen means for supporting the ministry, and it has been in use throughout salvation history. Supporting such laborers with tithe, then, is foundational and fundamental to God’s work.
When Paul said, “I robbed other churches, taking wages from them to minister to you” (2 Cor. 11:8, NKJV), he was speaking of receiving wages from a poor Macedonian church while ministering to a rich Corinthian church. His point to the Corinthian church was that those preaching the gospel deserve to be paid.
Tithe is to be used for a particular purpose and must remain so. “The tithe is set apart for a special use. It is not to be regarded as a poor fund.
It is to be especially devoted to the support of those who are bearing God’s message to the world; and it should not be diverted from this purpose.”—Ellen G. White, Counsels on Stewardship, p. 103.
God has a storehouse for wind (Jer. 10:13), water (Ps. 33:7), and snow and hail (Job 38:22), over all of which He has total control. But God’s most precious storehouse is the one involving tithe. “ ‘I give to the Levites all the tithes in Israel as their inheritance in return for the work they do while serving at the tent of meeting’ ” (Num. 18:21, NIV).
This verse is the first mention of where the tithe is kept and is known today as “the storehouse principle.” God further instructed the Israelites to bring the tithe to a place of His choosing (Deut. 12:5, 6). During the time of Solomon, tithe was returned to the Jerusalem temple. The Israelites easily understood what and where the “storehouse” was when the prophet Malachi said to them, “ ‘Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse’ ” (Mal. 3:10, NIV). The storehouse represented the location where religious services took place and from where the Levites were supported.
Bringing the sacred tithe to the storehouse is the model presented in Scripture. In every dispensation, God has had a central storehouse to manage the tithe. Seventh-day Adventists make up a worldwide religion/church in which the storehouse principle is accepted and practiced. Members are encouraged to return their tithe to the conference/ mission through the local church where they hold membership. That conference/mission treasury is where pastors receive their salaries.
“As God’s work extends, calls for help will come more and more frequently. That these calls may be answered, Christians should heed the command, ‘Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house.’ Malachi 3:10. If professing Christians would faithfully bring to God their tithes and offerings, His treasury would be full. There would then be no occasion to resort to fairs, lotteries, or parties of pleasure to secure funds for the support of the gospel.” —Ellen G. White, The Acts of the Apostles, p. 338.
The gist of the biblical message is that all of us are undeserving of redemption (Rom. 3:23). If we deserved it, it would be by merit, or by works, and that idea is contrary to Scripture.
Thus, salvation is a gift (Eph. 2:8, 9) given to the undeserving.
Salvation comes because the merits of Christ’s own perfect sacrifice are credited to our account. As for the matter of tithe, there is no credit obtained from God by returning it. After all, if the tithe is God’s to begin with, what merit could there possibly be in giving it back to Him?
Tithing is not an act that saves us any more than any of the other good deeds that we have been created to do as Christians. “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10, NKJV).
Nevertheless, the returning of tithe does reveal an attitude that is either humble and submissive or opinionated and defiant regarding that which God has asked us to do. If we love God, we will obey Him.
Tithe is an outward expression of our realization that we, indeed, are just stewards here and that we owe God everything. Just as the Sabbath is a weekly reminder of God as the Creator and Redeemer, the returning of tithe can function in a similar way: it reminds us that we are not our own and that our life and salvation are gifts from God. As a result, we can recognize that reality and live a life of faith, acknowledging that the returning of tithe is a very tangible expression of that faith.
Further Thought: It is so easy to forget that every breath, every heartbeat, every moment of our existence comes only from the Lord. In Acts 17, Paul talks to the Athenians about the true God, who is not only the Creator (the “ ‘God that made the world and all things therein’ ” [Acts 17:24]) but also the Sustainer (“ ‘For in Him we live and move and have our being’ ” [Acts 17:28, NKJV]). The Athenians didn’t know about the true God. We as Christians do, and this realization must be central to how we live. God has many claims on us; as a result, we have to live in accordance with those claims.
“So it is with God’s claims upon us. He places His treasures in the hands of men, but requires that one tenth shall be faithfully laid aside for His work. He requires this portion to be placed in His treasury. It is to be rendered to Him as His own; it is sacred and is to be used for sacred purposes, for the support of those who carry the message of salvation to all parts of the world. He reserves this portion, that means may ever be flowing into His treasure house and that the light of truth may be carried to those who are nigh and those who are afar off. By faithfully obeying this requirement we acknowledge that all belongs to God.”—Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 6, p. 386.