Frequently asked questions about tithe
1. Do I “pay” tithe?
No, it is “returned” to God. He owns it (see Leviticus 27:31). We are trusted to manage the blessings God gives us. Tithing is a test to see if we are loyal to God.
2. Can tithe be used for all of God’s work?
No, it is for the support/wages of those employed in gospel ministry (see Numbers 18:21-32, 1 Corinthians 9:13-14).
In the Old Testament, the Levites were to receive the tithe. The Levites were those who were employed at the “Tent of meeting” (Leviticus 18:21, Numbers 1:50-53), and later at the temple, to serve the people. They assisted with sacrifices, cared for property, and were gatekeepers, doorkeepers and custodians of the treasuries (1 Chronicles 26). They were musicians and singers, and gave thanks to the Lord for the people (see 1Chronicles 6:31-33+48, 15:16-23, 16:39-42, 23:3-5, 25:1-7, 2 Chronicles 5:12-14, 35:15, Nehemiah 7:73, Psalm 42ff). The Levites also served in towns away from Jerusalem (see Deuteronomy 14:27, Nehemiah 10:37). They lived amongst the people. They instructed the people in the Law, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people could understand (see Nehemiah 8:7-8). Tithe was to be used for their wages (see Numbers 18:31).
In the New Testament, the apostle Paul wrote, “Don’t you know that those who work in the temple get their food from the temple ... In the same way the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the Gospel” (1 Corinthians 9:13-14). Therefore, today, those who are employed by the church for the spreading of the gospel should be paid from the tithe.
If God’s people today returned tithe faithfully we would be able to employ many more people with diverse talents to further the Gospel commission.
“Offerings” are to care for other needs for God’s work, not tithe.
3. Can I send tithe to where I like?
Not if you follow what the Bible says. The Bible says we are to bring the whole tithe to the storehouse in the community where we live (see Malachi 3:10 and Nehemiah 10:37).
Levites did not just live in Jerusalem. They lived with other people in many towns (see Deuteronomy 14:27, Nehemiah 10:37). Nine tenths of the people lived in towns away from Jerusalem in Ezra’s time (see Nehemiah 11:1). Tithe was to be brought to the Levites as God’s ministers, wherever the people lived.
The Levites then brought a tenth of the tithes they received to the temple — the spiritual hub (see Nehemiah 10:38 and Numbers 18:25-32).
When people value and respect the ministry of their local pastoral staff they will want to express appreciation by returning tithes locally — not that that should be their motivation — loving obedience should be our motivation whether we appreciate the local pastor or whether we do not.
4. Did Jesus say anything about tithing?
Yes. He said we weren’t to neglect it (see Matthew 23:23).
The Jewish leaders of Christ’s day, particularly the Pharisees, were meticulous in their tithe paying. Jesus acknowledges that they should have been paying tithe, keeping the Sabbath and observing the other biblical laws, but that they had lost sight of the laws as a reflection of Gods character.
If we are a disciple of Jesus, and if we want to get the best out of life, we too will do what Jesus says. He didn’t haggle about tithing; He affirmed it for His kingdom builders and said that we shouldn’t neglect it.
5. What about the tithe of Deuteronomy 14 and 26?
Deuteronomy 14:22-29 describes a tithe to be eaten by families at the tabernacle so that they may “revere the LORD your God... [and] rejoice.” Then every three years this tithe was to be shared as a feast for aliens, the fatherless and widows. Levites were welcome to share in these celebrations each year.
This tithe is quite distinct from the first tithe that was solely for the wages of the Levites. The first tithe Moses wrote about (and he wrote about both of them with a forty year gap between them), was to sustain only the Levites throughout the year. By contrast, the tithe of Deuteronomy 14 and 26 was to be consumed by everyone. It was to ensure that the landless could also rejoice in God. It cared for the needy. It was nothing to do with wages. It was to do with everyone rejoicing in God together. It must therefore be an additional tithe.
The different tithes in Jesus day could have amounted to 17-20% of income. Roman taxes were on top of that.
Today we do not go to the tabernacle because it is “done away.” We no longer have a spiritual hub for worship (see John 4:21-24). But we still need to have festive occasions to praise God together and we still need to care for the needy. Today we should still give to assist the poor and rejoice in God with them. We also pay government taxes to help care for the poor. We must not think that because we have returned the tithe of Leviticus and Numbers that we do not need to care for the needy.
So it can be seen then that the first tithe is a minimum in supporting God’s work. However, the tithe of Deuteronomy 14 and 26 was additional to the first tithe. Two thirds of it was for when there was a central place of worship. One third of it was for celebrating God with the landless.
6. What do I get out of returning tithe?
Blessings — many of them, as the Holy Spirit pours life into us (see Malachi 3:10).
It is an enormous privilege for humankind to partner with God in His mission to the world. Tithing is part of that partnership.
Tithe should be returned to God by giving it to appointed ministers in the place where we live. It should be used for the wages of those employed by the church to spread the Gospel.
Accordingly, it is an enormous privilege for those who receive the tithe to be supported by it.
While the tithe of Deuteronomy 14 and 26 are not for the same purpose as the first tithe and whilst the temple system has been surpassed, yet Christians should still sense a financial responsibility to care for the disadvantaged in order that they too can celebrate and praise God with us.
In the context of faithfulness in returning tithe, Malachi (3:16-18) says, “... A scroll of remembrance was written ... concerning those who feared the LORD and honoured his name. ‘They will be mine’ says the LORD almighty.... And you will again see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not.”
No wonder Jesus said, “Don’t neglect it.”