Question: Why do we need to tithe? It seems like the reason we tithe goes along with the prosperity gospel concept which says that when I tithe consistently, God will bless my situation. Is this true? Some churches even do a "90 Day Tithe Challenge" where if God hasn't blessed you after tithing for 90 days, then the church will give your money back. Is this biblical?
Answer: No, friend. Neither the so called Prosperity Gospel nor the "90 Day Tithe Challenge" is biblical. But before you decide to stop giving all together, let's make sure that we all understand the same thing by the term “tithe.” Then I'll be able to discuss Christian giving and dismiss the Prosperity Gospel outright.
Money touches everything—even the Kingdom of God. So it is important to have a sound biblical perspective on our monetary lives (as well as everything else!) Since today’s answer requires a correct understanding of the New Testament church, let me affirm some important truths about God’s people.
Every Christian should belong to a local Bible-believing church. Now, every true believer in Jesus Christ already belongs to the Church—the Body of Christ—whether or not they also belong to a local congregation. However, the Bible shows (and common sense teaches) that we should gather in local assemblies to administer both the practical and spiritual aspects of discipleship. We should be in continual preparation to fulfill the Great Commission (Mat. 28:19), and we cannot do this legitimately unless we insist upon the faithful preaching and teaching of Scripture. This requires spiritually gifted individuals working together as a body.
Furthermore, we need to gather together with flesh-and-blood people for encouragement and ministry (both given and received). We must baptize new believers, and we must remember Christ’s sacrifice by taking the Lord’s Supper. These all require an assembly. So, although it is possible for a lone-wolf Christian to serve Christ, such service is outside of God’s design. The Christian enterprise is designed to work through local assemblies, and local assemblies require prayer, participation—and money! But how much money? What percent? And for what purpose? These are your questions, and these are the questions that divide.
My life would be easier if God would rearrange the order of canon. If he would just move Malachi one book forward and pop it into the New Testament, then I could say, “There! Tithing is in the New Testament. It is plain as day!” But I can’t say that because it’s not true…and even if you think that’s debatable, it is certainly not as plain as day. The Old Testament is very clear, however. So what happened to tithing when the Temple veil ripped in two?
Jesus said that he had come to fulfill the law (Mat.5:17)—and I am glad! I no longer have to make those Temple sacrifices to please God. But did he fulfill every aspect of the law? So much so that I now have to do nothing at all? Somehow, I don’t think he was going for that.
During the period of the Mosaic Law, the tithe compensated the Levites (who performed the required sacred services) for not owning any land (that tribe did not receive a physical inheritance in Canaan [Num. 18:21-24]). But now that the Levitical services have officially ceased (as symbolized by the ripping of the Temple veil), the purpose for tithing ceased too…or did it?
Tithing was always more than just a way to compensate the Levites (although this was its largest practical purpose). Did you know that the Levites also had to give a tithe from their received tithe? (Num. 18:25) What was their tithe for? It went to a higher holy office—to the Aaronic priests (Num. 18:28). This shows us a principle of tithing: a person tithes to the greater. In this case it was the greater in ceremonial office. So the people tithed to the Levites, the Levites tithed to Aaron and his sons and Aaron sacrificed to God for the entire people. Tithing is not about a percent or an amount of money. It is about honoring that which is holier than you are (Heb. 7:7). Does that imperative stop at the Cross of Christ?
We must consider also that, although tithing was well-defined and well-known under the Mosaic Law, it was not exclusive to the law…hey, even the pagans tithed! But Abraham (who antedated the law by centuries) gave a tithe to Melchizedek, the high priest of Salem (Gen. 14:18). This was a big enough deal for the author of Hebrews to connect Melchizedek and Jesus through a specialized symbol known as a biblical type (Heb. 6:10). One may argue, therefore, that although we Christians are free in Christ, Melchizedek’s connection to Jesus when combined with his fulfillment of (not the abolishment of) the Mosaic Law, keeps the onus of tithing squarely upon the Christian. Since tithing is a universal sign of respect (and one which is not restricted to the Law) a Christian would show disrespect by not tithing.
On one hand, I cannot find anything even resembling a doctrine of New Testament tithing. On the other hand, God has revealed that he considers a certain portion as honoring to him. As I weigh these two elements, here is my personal opinion: Our salvation is so free from works-bound encumbrances (that is, we can neither earn nor maintain our salvation) that the New Testament believer could live his entire life giving nothing and still wind up in heaven. However, do you think that Jesus bought us those tickets so we could sleep on the train? Hardly. To live our lives as God designed them, we should give to God’s work. The fact that we have no longer have a legal requirement to give does not void the Old Testament’s revelation—and it certainly does not make God’s Old Testament number (1/10) a New Testament anathema. But to your question, tying the God-honoring activity of tithing to the world-honoring and non-biblical notion of formulaic prosperity is sociologically and theologically horrific. Let’s explore that.
Churches that focus on prosperity teachings have abandoned God, and they have reduced their services to game shows. First of all, if these congregations focused on prayerful and earnest Bible study, they would be teaching the Bible rather than teaching this stuff, because prosperity teachings are not compatible with Scripture. Second, the fact they employ such strategies as the "90 Day Tithe Challenge" in a church shows that they have no understanding or (or respect for) the purposes of the New Testament church. Third, huge “church” organizations sell this “get rich quick in Jesus’ name” scheme to a biblically illiterate public which asks, “Why not?”
But what about the testimony of the many people who have become prosperous under this teaching? I can account for this easily. The Propserty Gospel is a pyramid scheme, and a pyramid scheme requires saps. The fact that some are successful just means that, when it comes to saps, the world is a target-rich environment.
Here’s the question I usually ask people who subscribe to prosperity teachings. “If God’s will opposed your will, which would you rather came to pass?” That is the question concerning all this by the way, because God might want you poor—now and in the future!
Indeed, most people in the world are poor; millions are desperately so—and all on God’s watch! How should these respond? Should they arm-wrestle money out of God by using positive utterances (as in the Word Faith movement) or by using marketing gimmicks that could only fool the deluded? Or should they rather pray, work hard and seek sensible opportunities for relief—all the while remaining content in their current state? (Phil. 4:11) The latter is both biblical and sensible.
Let’s go out on a limb for a minute here. Since Christianity gets its name from Jesus Christ, perhaps we Christians should heed his teachings and look to him as a model for Christian living. With that in view, here’s my “90 day Bible Challenge.” Study God’s word prayerfully for ninety days. If Jesus either taught or modeled prosperity, then go for it! If not, disavow prosperity teaching. As to the rest, I call upon prosperity teachers everywhere to stop teaching this heresy! But if you cannot, at least stop teaching it in Jesus’ name. Choose some other name whose personal testimony and teaching you will ignore. What would be the harm? You’d just be making stuff up either way.
Jesus’ quintessential teaching was the Sermon on the Mount. These teachings do more than impart information; they tell us his philosophy on many things including the relative value of riches.
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
(Matthew 6:25–34, NIV)
Jesus taught people to focus on God rather than on sustenance…let alone on riches! This philosophy cannot coexist with prosperity teaching. Let us now examine his life to see if he “walked the talk.”
While Jesus Christ walked on this earth, he never accumulated money or goods. Even his miracles, although replete with heavenly provision, reflected his earthly poverty. He fed the multitudes by borrowing one lad’s lunch (John 6:9). He paid taxes through the supply from a fish, not a purse (Mat. 17:27). He rode into Jerusalem on another man’s mule (Mat 21:2). He administered the Last Supper in someone else’s house (Mat 26:17). He died on a foreign cross and was buried in a borrowed tomb (Mat 27:60). Well! It seems to me that the Son of Man did not have much of a portfolio.
In addition to Jesus’ teachings and personal example, no less a scholar than the Apostle Paul opposed prosperity teaching. He was content in his current state, which is another way of saying that he was not seeking advancement; he taught Timothy to do the same.
“Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.” (Philippians 4:11, ESV)
“But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness.” (1 Timothy 6:6–11, ESV)
In spite of the clear counsel of God’s word you’ll hear an unfortunate amount of blather from false teachers who say that Jesus was rich or that God wants you rich. But as we can see, the Bible teaches just the opposite—both as instructions to believers and by the example of the Lord himself. Jesus used the goods and services of this world only as necessary to advance his Father’s will, and that's an attitude that we should elevate and imitate.
We cannot leave a discussion about prosperity teaching without examine the famous Malachi 3:10. Let us do so, but paying particular attention to the context.
“From the days of your fathers you have turned aside from my statutes and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you, says the Lord of hosts. But you say, ‘How shall we return?’ Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How have we robbed you?’ In your tithes and contributions. You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you. 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. I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it will not destroy the fruits of your soil, and your vine in the field shall not fail to bear, says the Lord of hosts.” (Malachi 3:7–11, ESV)
Preachers love that soaring verse ten…and how could they resist? It’s a command to tithe…and better yet, it’s linked to a promise of resultant prosperity! A simple view of the context, however, should serve to dampen any excitement. Why? Because although every word in the Bible is for us, not every word in the Bible is to us, and this passage in Malachi was written to some God-robbing Jews who lived over 2000 years ago. It was not written as a behavioral objective for today's Christians; they are instructive for us but not binding to us. Therefore, we cannot take its instructions as our commands.
Therefore, beware of any preachers who connect earthly returns with Christian giving. Terms like ten-fold, hundred-fold, thousand-fold return, are the inventions of man and not the revelation of God. Shun prosperity preachers. Shun the Word Faith movement. These spew doctrines which are, not only non-biblical, but are warped and evil.