The Christian duty of tithing

Scripture text: Malachi 3:8; 3:10

Apostasy is departure from God, Malachi 3:7—…ye are gone away from mine ordinances, and have not kept them… In Malachi’s day this apostasy had affected every level of society and profoundly impacted the thinking of the nation about spiritual matters. He particularly addresses the priests who had become corrupt and were leading the nation astray as far as the right worship of God was concerned, Malachi 1:6; 3:7-9.

Departure from God carries with it a blindness to its existence, Malachi 3:7, 8, 13. The people the prophet addresses can see no need to repent or return to the Lord! We may sin seriously and not see it! Many Christians justify sin on the grounds that they have ‘no conscience’ about it! The scene is set for some plain speaking by God’s messenger in order to make them see what they are blind to.

Spiritual matters must be dealt with plainly and honestly by the preacher. Malachi forthrightly condemns sin and yet has a word of promise to the repentant. One of the issues that Malachi deals with in this context is to highlight the sin of the people in relation to their giving to God, Malachi 1:13, 8. Here is a specific aspect of right worship that had been affected by the apostasy of the day. It is a matter that, to this day, suffers from the effects of disobedience within the ranks of the Church.

I GOD REQUIRES A TITHE.

1. The tithe is the tenth part. This is the portion that God has instituted as being due to Him. It is His part. It is described in Scripture as the holy portion, Leviticus 27:30-32; a portion that is not to be tampered with or used in any other way. The tithe of our income is the basic, mandatory portion that is to be given to God. See how He also speaks of offerings – an additional, voluntary portion.

2. Is tithing relevant to the New Testament believer? The most important issue that needs to be dealt with at this point is whether or not the principle of tithing relates to the New Testament people of God. Or, is it a requirement that passed away with the Levitical economy? As with many of the ceremonial aspects of the Law that was binding on Israel, the aspects of tithing that was part of the Levitical code have been set aside, but the principle remains. You can see an illustration of this in the various kinds of Sabbaths/rest days enacted for Israel that were set aside (Colossians 2:16), but the principle of a weekly Sabbath, instituted at Creation and perpetuated in the Moral law, still remains in effect.

It is important for us to recognize that the principle of tithing is not limited to the Mosaic economy. The Levitical code simply developed a principle already in place and applied it to the nation of Israel.

  • Abraham paid tithes. “And verily they that are of the sons of Levi, who receive the office of the priesthood, have a commandment to take tithes of the people according to the law, that is, of their brethren, though they come out of the loins of Abraham: But he whose descent is not counted from them (i.e. Christ) received tithes of Abraham, and blessed him that had the promises. And without all contradiction the less is blessed of the better. And here men that die receive tithes; but there he receiveth them, of whom it is witnessed that he liveth”, Hebrews 7:5-8. The tithing principle was in effect before Israel existed as a nation and, in Abraham’s case, more than four centuries before the Levitical code was instituted for Israel at Sinai (Genesis 15:13, Galatians 3:17).

It is striking to see that Abraham paid tithes to Christ in the context of meeting Him as Melchisedec, the King of righteousness and peace (Genesis 14:20, Hebrews 7:2). He did so as he ate and drank with Him. His fellowship with the Saviour involved the willing payment of a tithe.

  • Jacob paid tithes. “And this stone, which I have set for a pillar, shall be God’s house: and of all that thou shalt give me I will surely give the tenth unto thee.” (Genesis 28:22) In this case, Jacob made a vow to pay tithes from that point forward in life. He did so in the wake of having a vision of God at Bethel in which Christ is seen in type as the ladder that reached to Heaven from earth. Such a view of Christ will ever produce a a spirit of consecrated giving God His portion.
  • The Saviour on tithing. The principle of tithing is one that is directly endorsed by the Saviour Himself. Not only did He receive tithes from Abraham prior to the institution of Levitical practice; but in His own ministry He commanded them as a duty to accompany faith,

“Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other (i.e. The tithing) undone”. Matthew 23:23

“…Then saith he unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s”, Matthew 22:21. Here the Saviour is obviously indicating that we have an obligation in financial matters to give God that which belongs to Him as legitimately as taxes belong to the Emperor.

3. The purpose of this giving is two-fold.

Tithing honours God. This is suggested by the fact that withholding the tithe is an affront to God, Malachi 3:8 and an outrage against His person. The practice of tithing gives to Him the place He rightly holds as Sovereign Lord. Tithing is the recognition of the place that God holds over us, to deal with us as He pleases. The tenor of these words in Malachi is found again in Proverbs 3:9-10: “Honour the LORD with thy substance, and with the firstfruits of all thine increase: So shall thy barns be filled with plenty, and thy presses shall burst out with new wine”. Notice that the duty of giving is described as honouring God.

Tithing is God’s instituted means of providing for the temporal requirements of His work. In Old Testament times the priests and their families, as well as the poor of the land (Deut 14:28-29) were sustained by the giving of God’s people. The temporal requirements of every aspect of God’s work was met by the giving of saints. The cause of God suffers when there is a failure to give to Him what He demands. This funding arrangement carries over into the New Testament as is clear from 1 Corinthians 9:13-14.

 

II WITHHOLDING THE TITHE AND ITS CONSEQUENCES.

To retain that which rightly belongs to the Lord is an audacious act of robbery. The prophet expresses surprise in his question, Malachi 3:8. “Will a man”—the Hebrew term here gives us the name Adam, a man made from dust—”rob God”, who is omnipotent? This is daylight robbery indeed. To ‘rob’ has the idea of subterfuge and stealth – but nothing can be hidden from God! Here is robbery that occurs in the full sight of God—however men may attempt to do it under cover. This is bold and foolish action indeed for God cannot be deceived by attempts to defraud Him.

The consequences of such action are serious.

  • The censure of God. See Malachi 3:9. Obviously this is a curse that comes upon them for disobedience and is to be lifted again when obedience is seen and replaced with blessing. In this limited sense the people of God may bring His curse upon them. They bring bitterness and ruin into their lives by defiance of God. Cp 1 Corinthians 11:29.
  • Nature itself is affected. See Malachi 3:11. God makes a direct link between tithing and the productivity of the land! Here is something that many wish to ignore. God can give or withhold such natural blessings as it pleases Him. Here, because the people were robbing Him of the tithe He simply withheld His blessing from the work of their hands. Such things suffer when we abuse God in this way.
  • Political consequences. See Malachi 3:11. Some enemy had already risen to be a devourer in the land. The land was being eaten up!

 

The lesson of this is clearly that, by withholding that which rightfully belongs to the Lord we are the poorer for it. Ye have sown much, and bring in little; ye eat, but ye have not enough; ye drink, but ye are not filled with drink; ye clothe you, but there is none warm; and he that earneth wages earneth wages to put it into a bag with holes. It never pays to rob God! Though natural reason would dictate that by sparing ourselves the ‘expense’ of paying God His due we will be better off, this is never the case.

 

III THE BLESSINGS OF TITHING IN OBEDIENCE TO GOD.

1. The prophet speaks words of comfort to those who will obey God. The sin that he has been speaking of can be reversed. There is to be a turning in repentance; restitution made where possible; and a determination to go on in obedience. For those who do so, there is forgiveness and a promise of renewed blessing. The blood of Christ avails for our sins as we confess them, I John 1:7, 9. The guilt of robbery from God may be put away for Jesus sake! It is striking to remember that the Saviour died as a thief—crucified between two thieves and identified with them—perhaps to emphasize that this sin is one of the most common we are guilty of – withholding from God what is His. His death pays the price of this sin.

2. A wonderful promise. To those who repent and obey Him in this matter, God has clearly promised certain blessings. He will open the floodgates of heaven. This expression appears in Genesis 7:11 to describe the deluge that brought Noah’s flood on the earth! Here is the measure of the blessing that God promises. Heaven will be emptied of a blessing that cannot be contained within finite limitations.

3. A promise backed by Divine power. The fact that the Lord speaks here as the Lord of Hosts, v10, 11, 12, emphasizes His power to do as He has said. He does not promise more than He can fulfil.

4. A challenge. He further emphasizes His promise by issuing a challenge – Prove me I pray you! God makes the blessings that follow tithing to be a challenge – one to which He must respond or fail to be God! Is it a challenge that you are prepared to take up? Will you prove God in this matter?

 

A fuller experience of the love of God belongs to those who cheerfully comply with this duty. “Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver, 2 Corinthians 9:7.

 

Conclusion.

Persisting in not tithing clearly implies:

  • Disobedience. Obviously the one who will not tithe doesn’t care what God says on this matter.
  • Unbelief. Refusal to tithe indicates the mindset that God cannot bless me enough to outweigh the sacrifice of giving a tenth to Him. To tithe is an act of faith. All obedience springs from faith; disobedience from unbelief.

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