What Is The Proper View of Tithing?
Let me begin by saying that this is not an attack on Christianity or the faith act of tithing. The purpose of this article is to provide a balanced perspective to what has become for the so-called “prosperity gospel” a means of generating great wealth for ministries, while many of the members still struggle economically.
There is among a plurality of Christians the belief in the false notion that the practice of “tithing” and “giving offerings” in itself produces financial prosperity. This inaccurate view of the Biblical practice of tithing accounts for much of the staggering debt, poor credit and undisciplined money management practices of many Christians.
The incorrect use of Malachi 3:8-10 is often at the core of the issue.
The purpose of book of Malachi is not to promote material wealth or financial prosperity, but to call a people who have forgotten God and marginalized His law into account. The writer, Malachi, uses a form of rhetoric known as dialectic, “investigation through discussion and reasoning” to address the spiritual apathy and blatant disregard for God’s law among the people of his day.
The book of Malachi addresses the same sins noted in the book of Nehemiah some twenty years earlier, namely the practice of divorce and the marrying of heathen women (cf Mal. 2:11 with Nehemiah 13:23-31) by Israelites, and the failure of the people to bring their gifts to the temple ( cf Mal. 3:8-10 with Nehemiah 13:10-14).
During the time of Nehemiah and later Malachi this practice ceased (Nehemiah 13:10-14).
What is the purpose of the tithe in the historical context of Malachi? A careful review of the Pentateuch reveals God’s plan for the Levites or priests. A portion was to be given to the Levites (Numbers 35:2).
Tithing was instituted under the Law of Moses to provide support to the Levites, the priestly order. They were not given land, but were compensated for their service to God in the temple, by receiving a portion of the peoples “gifts” to the “treasury” or “storehouse.” A portion of what was offered to God was reserved for the benefit of the priests in the temple. The tithe in essence was how the priests were sustained in the natural for their spiritual service. A loose analogy would be paying today’s ministers a salary.
Tithing is not a “magic bullet” which overrides or ignores the poor stewardship or undisciplined financial behavior of the individual giving the tithe. There are countless unsaved or unbelieving individuals who, because they practice good stewardship, and understand the principles of financial management, enjoy debt free living and excellent credit.
Tithing, then, is an outward manifestation of the inner condition of an individual’s heart toward God. Tithing demonstrates obedience, brokenness, and a reverential fear of the Lord that reflects the giver’s recognition that everything comes from God.
Would God reward a person for performing a religious act while they violate another equally important one? No.
Unfortunately, Malachi 3:8-10 has been abused by both ministers and lay persons in an attempt to mitigate poor habits and lack of discipline.
Malachi 3:8-10 read in the context is just one of many examples the prophet gives to illustrate the spiritual bankruptcy of God’s people.
Divorce, marriage to unbelievers (heathens), giving defiled offerings, and the abandonment of spiritual integrity are the major themes of the book, and they speak to a greater problem than debt or poor credit.
God is calling His people to account for their actions and to spiritual revival. He starts first with the leaders who have led the people astray because of the condition of their own hearts. They operate out of selfishness rather than from a heart that is broken and yielded to God.
The book of Malachi paints a sad picture of a condition that is pervasive even today. That condition is spiritual apathy and complacency. That condition produces a loss of focus on that for which we were created, to love God and glorify Him forever.
If you’re mired in debt or if you have poor credit, giving “tithes and offering” beyond the spiritual mandate of obedience to the scripture alone is not in itself the path to financial prosperity. Tithing again reflects the condition of our hearts.
Debt and poor credit are an indication of a deeper issue, one that is internal, not external. Financial bankruptcy can usually be traced to a lack of discipline, ignorance of or disregard for the principles of financial management.
Paying tithes alone will not correct the underlying problem. There is a way out of debt and you can rebuild your credit. Deliverance from debt requires honesty and discipline.