As a child, my parents taught me to tithe. The word tithe simply means “tenth”. And so, I was trained to give God ten percent of what I earned because it all belongs to Him, and that this giving was an act of worship. My wife and I practice this, and we are training our children to in the same way. In Christianity, there are a variety of opinions on tithing. Individuals such as John MacArthur and John Owen say that tithing is no longer required for believers, but they are still obligated to give to the church. However, such figures as R.C. Sproul and Joel Beeke argue that tithing is required of the Christian.
Who is right? It is never good for us to accept things simply because we always have. Such a mindset is at the very root of the Pharisaical error (both past and present). So our goal will be to briefly consider this very question: Does God require Christians to tithe?
The context of Christ’s complaint against the Pharisees in Matthew 23:23-24 is helpful in answering this question. Jesus does not argue against the Pharisees for tithing. In fact, He tells them, that they should have followed through with the weightier matters of the law “without neglecting the others.” (Matt. 23:23 ESV) In other words, Jesus is commending the tithe. But is this merely the Lord Jesus affirming an Old Covenant or Mosaic practice, or is He affirming for the believer the necessity of tithing? I believe both sides in this debate would see this passage as important but secondary. We must remember that the Christian does not merely have the New Testament as their book, but the Bible is comprised of both the Old and New Testament.
When we consider the Old Testament in this discussion, people who often reject tithing will say that the practice of tithing is merely part of the Mosaic covenant, and is therefore unnecessary for the believer. However, the tithe, much like questions concerning Sabbath-keeping, does not begin with Moses. We find in the patriarch Jacob that he tithes to God. Jacob says unto God in Genesis 28:22, “and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God’s house. And of all that you give me I will give a full tenth to you.” (ESV) John Currid, Old Testament scholar writes, here in Jacob’s vow we find “a lifetime commitment to Yahweh in the matter of tithing.” Jacob likely learned this practice from his father, Abraham who tithed to Melchizedek in Genesis 14:18-20. Now Abraham’s act is especially insightful for our considerations as well. Abraham, the father of the faithful, tithes to Melchizedek, a forerunner of Christ. If tithing was merely for the days of Moses, why does Abraham practice this hundreds of years before Moses is born?
As we look through the corridor of history we find tithing to exist beyond Israel. Tithing is practiced among the Greeks, the Romans, the Assyrians, and the Egyptians. In addition, tithing was the norm of the early church as seen in the ancient church as can be found in that ancient instruction guided called “The Didache.” We also find the practice in the early church among such titanic figures like St. Augustine and John Chrysostom.
In light of these facts, I believe that tithing is required of the Christian today. We are commanded by God to give sacrificially and faithfully for the care and preservation of the Church. Though tithing itself demands ten percent, this percentage ought to function as our minimum guide. But even more so, we are called to be cheerful givers, not merely giving from our abundance, but giving sacrificially. The Lord has given us everything in His Son, certainly we can honor Him with what He has given unto us. For we know in this glorious act of obedience God says, “Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the LORD of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need.” (Malachi 3:10 ESV)
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