“The tithe simply is not a sufficiently radical concept to embody the carefree unconcern for possessions that marks life in the Kingdom of God. The tithe is not necessarily ‘evil,’ it simply cannot provide a sufficient base for Jesus’ call to carefree unconcern over provision. Perhaps the tithe can be a beginning way to acknowledge God as the owner of all things, but it is only a beginning and not an ending.”
— Richard Foster -Theologian
On Monday, my social media feed spread the news that televangelist and prosperity gospel preacher, Creflo Dollar—who once asked his congregants to buy him a 65 million dollar jet, was admitting he had misled them with his teachings on tithing. A Black Enterprise Magazine article reported that Dollar announced during a sermon entitled “The Great Misunderstanding,” that “Today, I stand in humility to correct things I taught for years and believed for years.”
What is tithing? The dictionary defines TITHE as one tenth of annual produce or earnings formerly taken as a tax for the support of the Church and clergy; a tenth of a specified thing. In the Old Testament’s agricultural society, Jewish people gave 10% of their crops and livestock as an act of worship, to support the Levites (clergy), and as a tax for the Jewish state. Judaism was not just a religion, but a nation. They also at times paid tithes the way Uncle Sam withdraws 10-37% in taxes to offer us basic services and care for the poor.Leviticus 27:30 states, “A tithe of everything from the land, whether grain from the soil or fruit from the trees, belongs to the LORD; it is holy to the LORD.” If individuals or families withheld the tithe, it was considered ‘robbing God,’ (Malachi 3:8-12) which caused a curse or suffering for the entire nation— like some believe wealthy folks making billions not paying taxes hurts all Americans. According to Nonprofit Source, only 5% of Americans tithe. 80% only give 2% of their income. In any church only 10-25% of the parishioners tithe. Yet some are so devoted they leave entire estates to God and the church.
The Levites were not allowed secular work or land ownership. They received portions from the people’s tithe to care for their families. They also tithed as worship to God, “Moreover, you shall speak and say to the Levites, ‘When you take from the people of Israel the tithe that I have given you from them for your inheritance, then you shall present a contribution from it to the Lord, a tithe of the tithe.” (Num. 18:26) This continues today as many clergy tithe back into the storehouses of their churches. Contrary to popular opinion, 99% of us are not in the position of Creflo Dollar. 26% are bi-vocational, and growing numbers pastor more than one congregation. Churches are a benefit to their members and the community. Their work requires funding just like any other non-profit. I began giving tithes and offerings and living generously before becoming a pastor, and that will continue. I really wish I could give 90% and live on 10%.
Still…some church leaders are corrupt. This was true even in Jesus’ day, He said in Luke 11:42. “What sorrow awaits you Pharisees! For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens, but you ignore justice and the love of God. You should tithe, yes, but do not neglect the more important things.” I didn’t say that, Jesus did…it’s in red, and in the New Testament. Even more, the writings on New Testament generosity actually exceed a 10% tithe. In Luke 3:11, John the Baptist said anyone who has two coats should offer one to someone in need and whoever has food should do the same (that’s 50%). The church in Acts 2:44-45 was founded on sharing “all things in common,” selling their possessions and distributing to anyone in need. Acts 4:32 says, “The multitude of believers was one in heart and soul. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they owned.” That’s 100% but most aren’t going there…
The Apostle Paul was a bi-vocational minister— a tentmaker who chose to preach for free. Yet he said the LORD prescribed that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the Gospel. (1 Cor. 9:14) He commended the Macedonian church, who were much like Black churches who proportionately give more than their more wealthy counterparts, “2They are being tested by many troubles, and they are very poor. But they are also filled with abundant joy, which has overflowed in rich generosity. 3For I can testify that they gave not only what they could afford, but far more. And they did it of their own free will. 4They begged us again and again for the privilege of sharing in the gift for the believers in Jerusalem. 5They even did more than we had hoped, for their first action was to give themselves to the Lord and to us, just as God wanted them to do.” (2 Cor. 8: 2-5) Giving of yourself and the goods you’ve been entrusted is an act of worship. Paul instructs it should be done cheerfully, willingly, and not grudgingly or of compulsion for God loves a cheerful giver (2 Cor 9:7) Jesus shared in Mark 12:41-44 about a widow who gave two mites, the smallest coin in Judea, into the offering. While others gave from their wealth, she from poverty worshipped God with all she had, 100%. Jesus gives us free will to love and worship Him…or not.
So everyone can, and obviously has been deciding weekly (1 Cor 16:2) how much and with what spirit they want to give to God in worship. In 2 Corinthians 9 verse 8, Paul writes, “And God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others.” This is my testimony and that of many who have chosen to tithe and offer to God, give alms to the poor, and live generously. There are more Biblical admonitions about how we can handle finances. We look for rules and laws, but the Father seeks worshippers (John 4). The woman in Luke 7 broke open an expensive alabaster box of perfume at Jesus’ feet in worship, receiving much ridicule from the religious leaders. Jesus told them, “the one who has been forgiven much loves much.” Author Jim Gorge puts our choice plainly: “The basic question is not how much of our money we should give to God, but how much of God’s money we should keep for ourselves.”