Because I find etymology fascinating, let’s learn about two key words which will serve as topic for our conversation today.
tithe: ma`aser מַעֲשֵׂר
(occurs 33 times in 27 verses in the Bible)
meaning: tenth part
primitive root word: `asar עָשַׂר, to tithe, take the tenth part of, give a tithe, take a tithe
firstfruits: bikkuwr בִּכּוּר
(occurs 37 times in 15 verses in the Bible)
meaning: the first of the crops and fruit that ripened, was gathered, and offered to God according to the ritual of Pentecost
primitive root word: bakar בָּכַר, to be born first
All together there are approximately forty-two verses that specifically mention tithe and/or firstfruits. Beyond that, there are numerous other occasions that discuss the topic farther. But today I would like to share with you a story about my own personal experience.
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. (Malachi 3:10)
I started my story by putting God to the test. Not that I was eager to prove Him wrong (as if I could), but I wanted Him to prove Himself to me in this very sensitive area of life. I wanted to know that I could trust Him. The earliest I actually recall tithing was when I was seventeen, probably because that’s when life got interesting. I had just moved out of my parent’s house, got my own apartment, started college full-time, and was working part-time. I lived by myself and funds were tight. But I knew no matter how challenging making ends meet turned out to be, I wanted to tithe.
The first of the firstfruits of your land you shall bring into the house of the LORD your God. (Exodus 23:19)
God had already provided for me financially in that I qualified for just about every form of scholarship and grant that my community college offered. I was essentially being paid to go to school! Not to mention He provided me with a work-study job there on campus, in the financial aid office (how convenient!). And about that same time God started burdening my heart for international travel and missions. I’m still not entirely sure where the money came from for that delightful and somewhat unnecessary expense, but it did come.
Honor the Lord with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your produce. (Proverbs 3:9)
After getting my Associates degree I started working full-time. I remember being so excited that I was able to give a larger amount of tithe because I was making a little more. I have always understood and believed that tithe meant a tenth, and tithe meant the first tenth. Now I have not always been so good with the “first” part, but I believe the idea is to give the first 10% of your income out of faith, before you even know if the remaining 90% will be enough to live on. And believe me, there were times when my entire 100% wasn’t even close to being enough to live on. But then again, somehow I managed.
Every tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land or of the fruit of the trees, is the Lord’s; it is holy to the Lord. (Leviticus 27:30)
That is the disconnect I believe Christians face with faith and tithing. Giving a portion of your income without knowing if you’ll have enough does not make sense. It’s “bad business.” But faith doesn’t make sense, does it? Neither does lying down my life for sinners. Neither does turning the other cheek. Neither did it make sense to Abraham when God asked him to sacrifice his beloved son. None of it makes sense. So why then do we try and rationalize what is clearly a call of faith? So why then do we rob God?
Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How have we robbed you?’ In your tithes and contributions. (Malachi 3:8)
When I was twenty-one I got engaged. I moved in with my precious grandparents to save up money for the wedding. I essentially paid for the majority of the wedding myself. Sure I made sacrifices, but through contributions from a couple of family members, a Christmas bonus from work, and my fiancé selling his cherished and very expensive guitar, God provided the money we needed. When we got married we shared one vehicle and a couple of months later the business my husband was working for closed down leaving him in search of a new job. I remember a “game” we would play called, “we have fifty dollars to buy groceries that must last a month.” So we would go to the cheapest grocery store and buy as much food as we could for a very little amount of money. (We call this “marital bliss.”)
But then my husband got a good job, and then a better one, and now he has an even better one. Now he makes almost twice as much as me and it has only been four years! All the while we were intentional about tithing. No, it wasn’t easy. And yes, sometimes we were disobedient and robbed God. But dear friend, read the following verse very carefully because it has proven entirely true in my life:
One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. (Luke 16:10)
Year after year God has provided for me. I have a good job, my husband has a good job, we eat well, we have a beautiful house, two vehicles, and we have nice possessions. We may have less than some of you, yet more than most people in this world. But beyond the physical, He has provided for me in much more important ways. He knows what I truly need far more than I do. Sometimes what I need is to face a challenging season. Sometimes that means a season of very strict finances where we don’t know how on earth we are going to pay our mortgage.
On that note, when we bought our house we were so excited to have a place that would be a blessing to others. But about a year or two into it we ran into tough times. I will be honest, we faced those challenges partially because we started to be irresponsible, there will always be negative consequences for negative actions. We were still tithing, however, but we were not being entirely faithful in our perspective. I remember getting mad at God. I would think, “Why are you allowing this to happen? We are tithing!” But then again, God knew what we needed more than we did. We needed to learn something, and so we did.
The result? Somehow we were able to qualify for a loan reconstruction that allowed our payments to drop without affecting our interest rate or anything else. And we were told to not make any payments while they got everything approved. It just so happened to take them six months! What a strange and mysterious blessing it turned out to be. First of all we recognized how incredibly gracious our loving Father is, but also in that time we were able to get ahead on some things we had let slip behind.
Now to address the argument I hear most often from other believers: “tithing is an Old Testament thing.” Below is what I found to be an adequate counter-argument (source).
“There are many practices in the Old Testament that don’t make sense to us today, yet many of these ancient ways carry over to the New Testament law of grace as part of Christ’s promise to not abolish the law, but to fulfill it (Matthew 5:17). For instance we no longer sacrifice animals but as believers we are called to offer ourselves up as a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1). Men no longer are required to be circumcised, but we all have a circumcision of the heart through the Holy Spirit (Romans 2:29). Most of us don’t have grain and produce to bring to the storehouse, but we do have incomes that we can bring the first tenth of into the church. In other words, just because something is written in the Old Testament doesn’t mean it lacks application to us today in some way or another.
Jesus sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny. And he called his disciples to him and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” (Mark 12:41-44)
Jesus understood that even though this widow gave a small amount compared to the others, her heart was more giving because she gave a larger percentage of what she had than all the others. This verse is also interesting because this widow gave all she had to live on. There are many people today who say they can’t afford to tithe but this woman realized she couldn’t afford not to.
The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. (2 Corinthians 9:6-7)
God knows we are naturally inclined to be selfish and will want to keep our money. So while, yes, we should give cheerfully, sometimes we need to take the step and actually give regardless of our internal feelings. The act of giving allows God to change our hearts so that ultimately we end up doing so cheerfully. Many of us, if we let our natural minds decide how much to give, would likely opt for a lot less than 10%. Having a standard keeps us accountable.”
I look forward to the time during our Sunday services where my husband and I get to offer our tithes as a part of our worship. It is a beautiful, nonsensical act that feels wholly right. Sure there are times when it is difficult, because let’s be honest, the more money you make the bigger that ten percent number is. But that portion isn’t yours anyways. It never belonged to you. God gives and He can take away. Don’t rob Him because He sure doesn’t rob you. But if this is something you’re wrestling with, put Him to the test. I promise He’ll pass, He never fails.
Every man shall give as he is able, according to the blessing of the Lord your God that he has given you. (Deuteronomy 16:17)