UNDERSTANDING GIVING BIBLICALLY (PART VII)
By Akin Ojumu
Going by the mystical awe with which certain men of God have shrouded tithing, this ancient practice has taken on a sacred meaning. Tithing is seen as the ticket to eternity and thus, it is sacrosanct.
At the slightest push back against the tithing practice, a dreadful feeling and foreboding fear descend like dark clouds on the minds of many Christians. They become too scared to even entertain any real dialogue about why they tithe, afraid that a ray of light might be shone on what they believe.
As though under a powerful spell, these folks have been conditioned to believe that to withhold their tithe is to be eternally doomed. Some Pastors have gone so far as to even say just that. Here’s one such example.
Addressing a ministers’ conference, a couple of years ago, Pastor Adeboye, the General Overseer of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, told the awestricken ministers in the audience:
“I am going to give every one of you pastors an opportunity to repent tonight. And then to go back immediately after this convention and restitute your ways with your congregation. Make it clear to them, anyone who is not paying his tithe is not going to heaven. Full stop.”
You can imagine the paralyzing fear such a categorical statement on tithing created in the hearts and minds of believers everywhere. For a man of Pastor Adeboye’s stature to so erroneously ascribe eternal value to the giving of ten percent of temporal resources, greatly diminishes the Cross of Christ. Anytime tithing is elevated above everything else, we devalue the grace of God by which we are saved.
A proper and contextual understanding of Biblical tithing is important and vital to a full spiritual growth. The reason is not to simply scratch an intellectual itch or a vain preoccupation with the minutiae. It is an obedient response to the call by Apostle Paul to each of us to be “an unashamed workman who accurately handles the Word of Truth.”
The Bible is the sole authority for validating our acts of worship. It doesn't matter how holy or spiritual a practice seems, it is still erroneous if it is not based on, and supported by, Scripture. When we invent our own individual religious practices based on our own faulty interpretation of Scripture, we are practicing syncretism.
The first tithe of the Israelites, the Levites Tithes, were the taxes that funded the national entity, i.e., the theocratic government of Israel. This taxation paid the salaries and livelihood of the public servants who were the Priests and Levites. The second tithe, Festival Tithe, took care of the social and religious life of the nation and provided the feast in Jerusalem. The third tithe, the Poor Tithe, which was paid every three years, was for a welfare system for the needy. The three tithes added up to 23 percent.
Tithing, under the Mosaic Law, is never to be confused with Freewill Giving or offerings to God. It was taxation to fund the government, and it was mandatory. In addition to the Tithes, however, the Israelites also practiced Freewill Giving.
Freewill Giving Under Mosaic Law
This includes first fruit giving and freewill offerings. Now the emphasis here is not on the quantity or the percentage, but it's on the attitude of the giver and the quality of his gift.
Numbers 18:12: “All the best of the oil and all the best of the wine and of the grain, the firstfruits of what they give to the LORD, I give to you.”
This was the first fruit offering. Even before the crop was harvested, the individual would collect the very best yield in the field and would offer it to God in the temple. That was the beauty of the first fruit offering. Without knowing whether the harvest was going to be bountiful or sparse, the individual would gather the best and give it to God.
First fruit offering was a declaration of trust in God’s faithfulness. It was a faith in a God that provides. In the first fruit offering, God was saying, “if you will give me the first fruits right off the top before you even know how much you're going to have, and trust me, I'll bring in your full harvest.”
Proverbs 3:9: “Honor the Lord with your substance, and with the first fruits of all thine increase.”
First off, you honor God with everything that you have. Second of all, you give him right off the top sacrificially the first fruits. Then He will fill your barns and your presses will burst out with new wine. That's God's promise to Israel.
So, what was God’s plan for Freewill Giving under the Law of Moses? First fruits!!! Whatever you've got, give the best. Freewill giving was independent of the taxation system or the tithes. Giving to the Lord was always a matter of freely giving Him the best and that's what God is after, the choicest thing.
This principle is also found in Proverbs 11:24-25:
“There is that scattereth and yet increases. And there is that witholdeth more than is fitting and it tends to poverty. The liberal's soul will be made rich and he that waters shall be watered also himself.”
In other words, the one who gives liberally, increases. You keep it back and you're going to be poor.
Under the Mosaic Law, Required (i.e., Mandatory) Giving, i.e., tithes, was always taxation. Freewill giving was whatever came out of the willing heart. Tithing was taxation for the theocracy.
Today, we don't live in a theocracy, but the government is still ordained of God. The taxation in many countries today isn't far from what the Jews paid in those days. Tax rates around the world today are patterned after the tithes under the Mosaic Law which all added up to 23 percent.