Month: June, 2014

Apostle Peter 28: What Really Drives Us (Part 2)

Bible Reference: 2 Peter 3


Apostle Peter 28: What Really Drives Us (Part 1)

Bible Reference: 2 Peter 3


Receiving and Giving – Part 3

Peter Eng




Summary on why we tithe

The reasons we tithe are rooted in Abraham, the father of our faith. He tithed and all Israel tithed. We who are the true Israel of God, the spiritual sons of Abraham, and we receive even greater blessings than the sons of Abraham after the flesh. We can therefore do no less than to worship God with our tithe. This worship is a confession that God is sovereign in our life.

Next we see the tithe as an expression of gratitude to God. Abraham tithed his spoils; Jacob vowed to tithe all that God will bless him from that time on. Gratitude is the second reason we tithe.

The third reason for the tithe in the OT is the support of the Levites. In fact, in practical terms, the tithe went primarily to support the Levites. In those days, they had no land to farm and the Lord is their inheritance. If the people do not tithe, the Levites starve. If the Levites starve, they will need to provide for themselves and will no longer be in a position to minister to the people spiritually.

The term “tithe” is a good and convenient term to be retained for spiritual Israel. All three reasons for tithing remain true for the Kingdom of God: worship, gratitude, and material blessings for spiritual blessings.

Christians who argue that we are only obligated in freewill offerings are suggesting that the reasons for the tithe are no longer there. Every reason for the tithe remains. If there is no tithe in giving when we function in a developed community of believers, then there is no need for a full-time minister of the Word. The minister of the Word should also serve out of his free-time. The principle in the NT is the same as the old. “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain,” and “The worker deserves his wages.”The minister of God works and must not be cheated out of his work. The fact that he does it out of love for us does not mean we abuse that love and do not show him our love in return as the Corinthians did to Paul. By contrast, the Philippians understood the principle of receiving and giving, and supplied Paul’s needs.

The tithe may not be commanded in the NT, but that does not make it optional.  At the same time, the duty to tithe does not make it a law.  For instance, Christians are to evangelize. But there is no rule on when we begin to evangelize.  When we finally come to the realization that a wonderful privilege it is to evangelize, we do it. Yet it is only with encouragement and some cajoling that we evangelize. At the same time, it would be wrong to say evangelism is optional. We must not think of our faith in terms of the bare minimum we need for salvation.  We must think in terms of the abundance we receive from God when our faith is exercised fully.  It is not about minimum obligations to keep God from getting angry at us, it is about the maximum appropriation of God’s blessings.

How do we calculate the tithe?

“I’m a business man just starting out in my business. How can I assign 10% of my profits to God’s work? I really don’t see how I can survive that.” One person asks me recently.

The first hindrance to the tithe is the wrong understanding of what constitutes the tithe. We don’t have extensive discussions in the Bible on how to calculate the tithe, but I present the following for your consideration.

Let’s go back in time. The tithe of the produce of the land involved the major crops. The minor crops, like the herb garden, were not tithed. The land itself was not tithed. From this, it is fair to say that we are not called to tithe the business or a tenth of the business income. We are to tithe our personal income. Let’s say you are a business owner and your net business profit is $300,000. You reinvest $200,000 into the business and your personal income is $100,000. Your tithe is based on your personal income of $100,000. This is based on the idea that we are called to tithe the income, in the same way the farmer tithes his harvest and not his land.

Another reason for this thinking is derived from the third reason for the tithe in the OT. The tithe goes towards supporting those called to serve the Lord. The Lord’s servant is paid a 110% of the average income of the tithers if everyone tithes.(That is, eleven tribes tithing towards one.) The reality is that most do not give 10%, and the servant of the Lord usually gets less that 100% of the average income of people he serves. The Lord’s servant lives at the level of the people he serves. So ten working families can theoretically support one full-time person’s income.

The salaried person has an easy job of deciding the tithe because he has a fixed income. Yet, we meet the inevitable question. The first question that arises is, “Do I tithe gross or net?”

My answer is, “It’s up to you.”

I personally practice tithing gross. But the Bible is silent on it, and I have nothing to add. However, I like to suggest that if you look at the principle of 11 working persons supporting 1.  Some will not give 10% but say, 5%. Some do not tithe at all. So will 11 people who are supposed to tithe support 1 person? To further reduce the amount, we tithe net. Our net becomes the gross of God’s servant. On the side of personal consideration, I see the gross and net like before or after tax money.  If I tithe my gross, any money put aside is “after-tithe” money.  I am not expected to commit another tithe from that amount of money. On the other hand, if I tithe my net, any money put aside is “before-tithe) money. When I withdraw that money to spent, I will treat it as something I need to tithe.

Do I tithe my inheritance? The simple answer is “No.” In the OT, the land is handed from parent to child, likewise the home. We are almost certain that was never tithed. The inheritance of land is not an income, but a source of future income. Treat your inheritance like a business asset. There are, however, some people who are blessed with much and wish to expressed their gratitude to God and their commitment to a simple life, and so give a freewill offering from the inheritance. This is a special blessing which only the pure in heart know how to give.

Is the tithe always 10%? My short answer is “Yes.” I hear some people talk about a 5% tithe. The word tithe means 10%. Can we have a 10% that is only a 5%? Would you be happy when your employer cuts your salary by half and still insists he has paid you? Remember that tithe goes towards the support of God’s servant who has blessed you. If you tithe 5%, you have, in principle, cut his salary by half.

Do I have the duty to tithe when I am in debt? There is no simple answer.  First I am assuming it is a desperate debt that you have to pay up, not like a structured long-term mortgage that you pay over time. If it is a mortgage type debt, your duty to tithe remains. If you are in grave danger of financial failure and you have cut out all discretionary spending in your life, I believe you are not under duty to tithe. There are poor people in Israel or in the Israel of God. If they have cut back all discretionary spending and still cannot tithe. I don’t think the tithe applies to them. They are no longer like the famer who gets a good harvest, they are like the gleaners (e.g. Ruth) who are living on very little. But if we are paying a debt and still have money for discretionary purchases then our debt is not reason to stop tithing. Channel the discretionary spending to the Lord’s work as an expression of your commitment to tithe when you have the capacity to do so.

Do I have the duty to tithe my student grant or scholarship? The short answer is “No.” Most grants and scholarships pay tuition, room and board, etc. Under these circumstances you are still a dependent and you are receiving kind rather than cash. As much as you do not tithe for room and board at home, you do not tithe for the room and board you get in a grant or scholarship. However, if the scholarship is a merit scholarship with generous proportions, you should consider it income and tithe accordingly.

How do I direct my tithe? In our complicated society, we are faced with different ministries with different needs. Assuming that we are committed to the tithe, where does it go? We recall the tithe goes to the Levite. The more directly that is done, the less complicated it is.  For instance, if you belong to a small church plant with 10 working people and each give 10%, the minister will have the average income of the congregation (less the amount of net rather gross tithe). If there are 20 working persons and each tithe, and there are church expenses, we can assume that half of our tithe goes to the minister and half to ministries that we consume. Evangelism, new converts, programs and facilities consume our tithe. I am detailing these so we can understand that we consume resources. Our tithe must go to where we consume. There is nothing spiritual to say I give nothing to my own church and give my tithe to the poor people I meet because they need it more. If you come from a big church with excess funds it is acceptable to channel some of your giving to another need. But at no point can you cut off your giving to the place from which you get your spiritual care and feeding.

A really bad case of this is when your own church is small and short of funds to pay your pastor properly, but you still direct your tithes to where you are not getting your spiritual content and where you are consuming. If your church is unable to meet your spiritual needs and you go to different places and you split your tithes, it is acceptable. The point of the tithe in addition to worship and gratitude to God is duty to those who serve us. We must not muzzle the ox that is treading out the grain. Until the duty reciprocity is met, generosity to the poor is irrelevant. It is like telling people who work for you, “I am supposed to pay you so much, but I have decided to give part or most of it to the poor because I think they need it more than you do.” The tithe is not our money to control. God has already assigned it to his servant who serves you.

If God’s servant who serves us is amply supplied and what we consume is amply taken care of, we may direct our tithes to other ministers of God who are in need. There are many of these. The tithe is for what we consume in spiritual benefits. If you consume an expensive church building in your spiritual needs, do not begrudge your tithe to that project.  If we are not convinced there is such a need, we may choose not to participate. But the most basic need we must not lose sight of is the need to supply those who serve us spiritually.

Family in ministry. Some people may have family members in full-time ministry. Do we support them? If they have a need and their ministry is unable to meet that need, the answer is “Yes.” When there is a need, it is proper that our family members be the first recipient of our tithe. But we still cannot freeload on the community that provides us spiritual blessing. They must have something.

Special Giving

The freewill offering is beyond the tithe. If the Lord has blessed us with much and we see a need and like to give to it, it is freewill offering. Unlike the tithe where there is a duty to do so, there is no duty involved in the freewill offering. The emphasis here is that it is beyond the tithe. Anything within the tithe is not freewill offering. Some Christians direct their tithes to pet projects. That is not the best way to give. The essentials must be met before the optional. It is good that we have things we feel passionately about and wish to give to those beyond the tithe.

An example of freewill offering is when a person receives an inheritance and wishes to give part of it away. That is not the tithe, it is freewill offering.

Legacy giving is when people who have received spiritual blessing choose to leave something behind to bless others who come after them. For some it may be a fund for missionaries, or for the education of unsupported pastors’ kids, or unmarried widows of pastors, etc. It is often done in the context of a testamentary Will, though there are people who give while still alive.

In my personal experience, Singapore Christians tend to be better at tithing, and American Christians are better in special giving involving their inheritance. Many feel they have already supplied their children and choose to leave a significant portion to the Lord’s work as a blessing that extends beyond their life.


Money has a special hold on us. In our natural self, we are loathed to part with it. Without Christ, we are all grabbers and takers. We know only to give to our immediate family and any giving is out of our excess. But when we have received the richness of God’s redemption, we learn to give.

I was a wayward child and I believe that the grace of Christ saved me. I was in the “youth at risk” category. If not for the redemptive work of Christ, I may be behind bars today. Whatever hardships I face, whatever disappointments, whatever injustice, whatever failures, God has blessed me more than I deserve. There was a path I did not take. God kept me from that path. There will always be suffering this side of eternity, but I am grateful to God for the blessing of wife, children, home, and health.  We have never experienced hunger from want or the turmoil of war. God has protected us from natural disasters and the violence of wicked people. And when there are accidents, he has spared us so we can speak of his mercy. Where people have been wicked towards me, God has sent unexpected friends to uphold me in my moments of despair. I have done nothing to deserve such a good life. There is every reason for me to bow in worship and present my tithe in grateful acknowledgment of his goodness to me.


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Receiving and Giving – Part 2

Peter Eng




Let’s look at giving as taught in the New Testament and we can see the sensitivity displayed to their situation.

What is and what ought. The Apostle Paul makes occasional references to how he is or is not supported by the churches, suggesting that despite his full-time service, his income through the church is sporadic. The church in Corinth did not support him financially (1 Corinthians 9:12); but the church in Philippi did (Philippians 4:15-16), even though it appears that it is done from time to time.

We see Paul collecting money for the poor even though he is himself not rich. The early Gentile Christians in Corinth do not know how to give to those who serve them. And Paul gives them time to grow.  Yet at some point, he has to speak with them honestly about how the Corinthians treat him.

Or is it only I and Barnabas who lack the right to not work for a living?

Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat its grapes? Who tends a flock and does not drink the milk? Do I say this merely on human authority? Doesn’t the Law say the same thing? For it is written in the Law of Moses: “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.” Is it about oxen that God is concerned? 10 Surely he says this for us, doesn’t he? Yes, this was written for us, because whoever plows and threshes should be able to do so in the hope of sharing in the harvest. 11 If we have sown spiritual seed among you, is it too much if we reap a material harvest from you? 12 If others have this right of support from you, shouldn’t we have it all the more?

But we did not use this right. On the contrary, we put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ.

(1 Corinthians 9)

It is a shameful thing for a preacher to do the work of the Lord for money.  But it is also a shameful thing for Christians to ignore the needs of the Lord’s servant from whom they have received spiritual benefit. That preacher has to live.  If we do not pay the preacher who ministers to us, someone is paying.  They preacher is paying for it himself (like Paul or Barnabas) or others are bearing our share of the burden. In the vocabulary of our day, we will be called freeloaders. We enjoy the benefits at the expense of others when we can and ought to contribute.

Paul says that even animals are given a share of the food they produce. When we do not tithe and take care of God’s servants (like the Levites of the OT), we are cruel and do not even give God’s workers what we owe even to animals that work for us.

Paul did not ask for, and the Corinthians did not offer support. They pretended Paul and Barnabas did not need resources to live. They will forever go down in history as freeloading Christians. They were not people without means. They were simply people without love for those who loved them and sacrificed much to serve them.

On account of Paul being open to accusations of self-interest if he talks too much about giving and receiving, he chooses not to take from the Corinthians so the Gospel will not be hindered. This is an irregular situation where Paul has to manage the selfish “taker” Christians in Corinth, but it is not the norm.

We find a fuller picture of the norm when Paul is not talking about himself.

17 The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching. 18 For Scripture says, “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain,” and “The worker deserves his wages.”

(1 Timothy 5)

Paul is quite clear that those who serve in the spiritual realm ought to be supported. While the tithe is not mentioned, the means of supporting the Levites through the tithe is very clear. In God’s Kingdom, many will serve like Paul and Barnabas, serving without support so the Gospel may not be hindered. But that is the exception, not the rule. The norm is for the believers who receive spiritual benefit to bless God’s servants with material benefits. And when we dare to ask, “How much?” The answer is clear. It is already given.  It is the tithe.

We do not have any direct command for the early church to tithe. But the early church is not without a trajectory. The worshippers of the God of Abraham Isaac and Jacob tithe in worship, and Israel tithe to Yahweh their king. We are both children of Abraham and citizens of God’s kingdom. Should we not tithe?

Some would insist that the absence of a direct command means we have no such obligation. We need to recall that the early church was a new spiritual nation in the making. To insist that no direct command means no obligation would be the same as saying, “There is no direct command to stop slavery so we can continue to have slaves.” And, “There is no direct statement to say that we should stop polygamy or concubinage, so we can continue to have several wives and concubines.” The absence of a direct command is not the start and end of every consideration. In our day, this means tithing should not be the first thing new converts are taught. Churches who do this betray their own greed and disregard for the welfare of the babes in Christ. On the other hand, Christians who reject this responsibility forget the reasons for the tithe.

The apostles teach the people to give by first collecting for the poor.  It is always easier to start giving by calling for donations to the desperately poor and needy. The Corinthians are so mean-spirited that Paul has to arm-twist them to give to the poor. There is no need to talk about giving to those who served them spiritually; to do so would be to invite suspicions that people serve with monetary motives. But Paul speaks openly to Timothy his mentee. The church in Ephesus is stable and there is occasion to regularize matters. The picture is simple. The teaching elders are to be paid, and if possible well paid when they do their work well. And the funding for that pay is already an established pattern: the tithe. If there is no tithe, how are the Levites to be paid? How are the teaching elders to be paid?

Paul’s letter to Timothy outlines for us what ought to be the case. The true servant of God must never serve because he is paid. Yet the true people of God must never neglect the welfare of those who feed us spiritually. Many immature Christians are not ready to give. They are like little children who take from their parents and have not learned to give.  But as they grow older, we can expect greater maturity and with that, a greater eagerness to give.

There is no joy is freeloading. Until we give to those who serve us, we are freeloaders, we are children still learning and growing.

Non-reasons for tithing

Some of us who are familiar with the Bible may be surprised to find I did not include some of the most common passages for tithing. The reason is that I consider them non-reasons.

The first is from the prophet Malachi.

“Will a mere mortal rob God? Yet you rob me.

“But you ask, ‘How are we robbing you?’

“In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse—your whole nation—because you are robbing me. 10 Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.11 I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not drop their fruit before it is ripe,” says the LordAlmighty.12 “Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land,” says the Lord Almighty.

(Malachi 3)

This text is often quoted as a reason to tithe. In a short-handed fashion, it is not wrong to use this text to teach tithing. It is true that in the OT, tithing is required and the people did not tithe, thus they are robbing God. The dynamics in the church are different.

This text is talking about a confrontation between God and the people. They are a mature nation, and not giving as they ought to. As a result, God is withholding blessings from them. God will resume blessings on them if they resume tithing. In that sense, it is applicable for some people. God can withdraw blessings for the Christian who refuses to grow up and refuses to tithe to God’s work. The challenge then is to ask people to tithe so God will resume his blessings.

Let’s look at this practically and see Israel as a farming community. There are some who tithe but most do not (Malachi’s time). How does the rain fall? Does it rain on the farms of those who tithe and not rain on the farms of those who don’t tithe? If the cause and effect of tithing is so straightforward, all the farmers would tithe without being told! The nation fails as a whole and the judgment falls on the entire nation. How do Christians want to apply that to our time? Many people cite Malachi 3 as though it is a simple cause and effect in the life of the individual. “If you tithe, God will bless. If you don’t, you are robbing God and God will not bless you.” So what of the tithing farmers who get no rain?

The first point to note is the blessings in Malachi 3 are about the resumption of blessings from God. What if God has not withdrawn his blessings? That is to say, a person is not at a point in his life when God has withdrawn his blessings of account of the non-tithe. He starts to tithe and expects God to bless him more, but that is all the Lord intends for him to have. Does he then get angry that God is not giving more when he tithes?

The suggestion when we use this passage for tithing is that God will give us MORE if we tithe, not that God will resume his blessings if we tithe. This wrong reading of the text is then used to fan our greed. We want God to give us more, so we tithe. That is not the original reason for the tithe even in OT times. The tithe is to acknowledge the sovereignty of God and to worship him. When Israel becomes a nation, she is called upon to support the Levites who served them in spiritual things, and to supply the needs of worship. If we use this text for tithing, we are prone to use it to fan greed rather than devotion. We tend to induce the person to give so he will get more.

Another favorite text is38 Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Luke 6)

The meaning here is that we will get back what we give without any discount. The figure of speech is the measure of grain. We measure out a portion, we will get back the same but this time, it will be shaken, pressed down, and filled to the running brim. But it will be the same measure. If we think of this text as God blessing us when we give, God’s blessings would be quite miserable. Let’s consider this. If we use the same measure and then shake, press down, and fill to overflowing, how much more will we get? 10% more?20% more? Is that the limit of God’s blessings for those who give?

The context is about judging people. The preceding verse reads: 37 “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. (Luke 6)

The passage is about judging others and condemning others, not about giving to God.  It is about dishing out condemnation. If we are harsh in our judgment of people, and we condemn people using a harsh measure, we will have the same measure returned to us. Not only will we be judged by the same harsh measure, we will receive a full measure of it, shaken, pressed down, and brimming over.

This passage has nothing to do with giving money and receiving something good in return. It is a caution not to dish out harshness so we will not receive harshness in return.

The net effect of using this text to motivate giving is once more to induce greed in us. We will have a hidden motive to give so we can have more. That is never the reason for the tithe. In the New Testament the reason for the tithe (or “giving” if you do not like the use of the word “tithe”), is to provide material blessings for those who give is spiritual blessings. We are not to muzzle the ox that treads the grain. It is like Israel tithing to the needs of the Levites.


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Receiving and Giving – Part 1

Peter Eng




The practice of tithing among Christians is so well known that even people of other faith talk about it now and then. Like many things we know, there remains much we don’t know.

What is tithing? The very short answer is: “Tithing is returning one-tenth of our income to God in acknowledgement that he is sovereign over our life and earnings.”

This definition immediately raises questions in at least two areas:

(1) Why should we tithe?

(2) What does tithing look like in practice?

Why should we tithe?

Let’s recall the story of how God calls Abram to leave Ur and to go to a land he had promised Abram.  At this point, there is no indication that Abram knows who this God is. He may or may not know God as “Yahweh” at this point. He just knows some deity has spoken to him in a way he cannot ignore, and obeys that as a call from God. He eventually reaches Canaan and worships God the best he knows how.

Soon disaster strikes! His nephew Lot is captured by marauding invaders! Abram organizes his 318 men to rescue Lot. He sneaks up on the complacent armies, strikes them hard and rescues Lot. Not only does Abram rescue Lot, he returns heavy with the booty of the vanquished armies. (Genesis 14)

Melchizedek, the king of Salem (old name for Jerusalem), who is also a priest of the Most High God, comes to meet Abram. He gives Abram bread and wine to refresh him, and he declares to Abram,

“Blessed be Abram by God Most High,
Creator of heaven and earth.
And praise be to God Most High,
who delivered your enemies into your hand.”

                                                   (Gen 14:19-20)

The term “God Most High” appears for the first time, and that is possibly the first time God reveals his identity to Abram. The God Most High lays claim to Abram’s success. We are not told how Abram knows, but he immediately submits himself to his God whom he now knows to be the God Most High, creator of heaven and earth. What a worthy and wonderful revelation!

Abrams also knows his successful rescue is due to the God Most High.  He immediately gives one-tenth of his spoils to Melchizedek, the priest of the God Most High, now the God of Abram. When Abram gives this tithe, he is submitting to the God Most High as his God and acknowledges that it is God Most High who gives the victory.

Herein lies the most compelling reason for tithing. Abram, our spiritual forefather started this. At the point of realizing who God is, and that he owes his success to God, he offers his tithe.  By this tithe, Abram is saying, “I acknowledge you as my God and I owe you the success I have. I gladly offer this as my act of worship.”

The second instance of the tithe comes from the mouth of Jacob. Jacob, the grabber the man does not know how to give, only to take. He is not a nice man. He has just cheated his own brother and is now fleeing for his life. On the way, he stops to sleep at Luz. There God appears to him in a dream telling him, he is the God of Abraham and Isaac. And the promise given to Abraham is repeated to Jacob.

In his moment of despair and possible reflection of his own evil deeds, God speaks to him. Not in reprimand that he deserves, but with goodness Jacob does not deserve — words of promise and direction. But Jacob is a stingy man in faith and in purse. He does not come outright to confess God. Instead he makes a conditional vow, “If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear so that I return safely to my father’s household, then the Lord [Yahweh] will be my God 22 and this stone that I have set up as a pillar will be God’s house, and of all that you give me I will give you a tenth.” (Genesis 28:20-22).

God brings Jacob home with abundance after more than 14 years, and Jacob and his descendants are forever bound by the vow he makes to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and now also the God of Jacob. At the heart of the tithe is Jacob acknowledging God’s sovereign control and protection. It is worship in action. He is saying, “God is my king.” “This is the tribute I owe him.” Is the God or Abraham, Isaac and Jacob” also the “God of [insert your name]?

Israel then becomes a nation, and receives tithing regulations. There is a first tithe, a second tithe, etc. There are regulations on how the tithe(s)is(are) to be used. We will by-pass these as they apply to the nation of Israel after the flesh and we who live in Christ are the true descendants of Abraham, the spiritual Israel of God. There are, however, several principles to be noted.(Leviticus 27:30-33; Numbers 18:25-29; Deuteronomy 14:22-29).

The tithe is not optional. They are essential for the spiritual and material work of the Levites, priests and temple. This does not mean the people always obeyed. During the time of Judges, people did not tithe because nobody forced them to. This resulted in a desperate tribe of Levites willing to sell out their spiritual services to anyone willing to pay them.  But when a good king rules, tithes and offerings were collected by the king (2 Chronicles 31:5).

We tithe because

(1)   Like Abraham and Jacob, we acknowledge the Lord as our God. The acknowledgment of the Lord is not an empty acknowledgment. It is a commitment sealed with the tithe. The Lord Most High is my God, so I tithe as a spiritual child of Abraham.

(2)   National Israel declared the Lord as their God. In acknowledgment of God’s person and goodness they tithe. We are the Spiritual Israel of God and we ought to acknowledge God as our King with the tithe.

The commands to tithe are neither repeated nor repealed in the New Testament. There are some who argue strongly on the count that it is not repeated, that the tithe is repealed. I do not find the arguments convincing. At the same time, it is true that there is no reaffirmation of the tithe in the early church.

We come close to an affirmation of the tithe when Jesus addresses the Pharisees who tithe their herb garden, but neglect the most important aspects of faith. Jesus affirms their tithing is right, but their neglect of the weightier matters of justice, mercy and faithfulness contrasts so markedly against their scrupulous tithing.

23 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.” (Matthew 23:23)

It is true that Jesus is speaking to the Pharisees, sons of Abraham in the flesh, and they have that obligation to tithe. But it begs the question that if the sons of Abraham in the spirit have received the greater blessings and inheritance, should they do no less?

I think the reasons for the lack of affirmation are quite understandable.  The first gentile Christians are not in the habit of giving one-tenth, but they are accustomed to giving offerings to the pagan temples. To make the tithe a requirement for Christian community from the get-go would pose a huge obstacle to faith. It will cause people to suspect the motive of preachers proclaiming the good news, and it will be a stumbling block on the path to faith.

Another reality is that many early Christians were slaves.  Imagine yourself a slave with no income and you are required to tithe. What will you do? You did not choose to refrain, you simply have no means. Do you become a second class church member because you cannot tithe?

Our situation today is much closer to national Israel than to the fledgling church. We don’t have slaves. We expect full-time people to serve our spiritual needs. We want to worship in nice buildings and have good programs. We are consumers in our faith. Someone has to pay for it. Even if we meet in homes, it is someone’s home. When we listen to the preacher, he has to take time out to prepare spiritual blessings for us.  If we want full-time preachers we need to support him as Israel supported the Levites.  The question is how they are to be supported.

The beauty and genius of the Christian faith is our flexibility. The Christian community can function on a shoe string with no full-time preacher, a self-supported preacher, or a paid full-time preacher.  In countries such as Singapore where our economy is developed, the full-time preacher is the norm—and rightly so. In addition, we demand preachers who are trained in what they do. In Singapore, there are additional laws governing where people can meet and how any church or society must be run. These require resources to comply. Someone has to pay for these.

In contrast, the underground church to this day meets in homes and often do not have full-time preachers. They don’t have the overheads of the Christian faith expressing itself in a developed society. And truth be told, many have tried to function like the early church, but they have not succeeded. The social dynamics of a free and stable country place the same demands on the Christian ministry as they did on national Israel.


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