NEVER in recent memory has making ends meet been so difficult. The cost of living has soared upward so relentlessly that the economic stability of many families, and even entire nations, is seriously threatened. Inflation has, in fact, put a squeeze on the whole world. To help offset rising expenses, husbands often have to moonlight on second jobs. Wives are forced to work outside the home. Older children, unable to make it on their own, are coming back to live with their parents. And many nations, getting deeper and deeper in debt, are forced to borrow to pay off old bills and to maintain a semblance of credibility. This is not the way things should be! How did the world come to this impasse? Years ago, in the industrial world, a husband's salary, without a second income from his wife, was usually adequate to cover the needs of his family. If he worked hard and dependably he could expect periodic pay increases that eventually gave him a higher standard of living. In many cases he was even able to buy his own house. Not so now. Even with regular and substantial raises in pay, most breadwinners are barely able to keep even. Inflation has throttled prosperity. House buying has become impossible for many. Young people are hardly able to qualify for a loan because of excessively high interest rates and through-the-ceiling prices. Gone also are the days when sending the children to college or buying new appliances and furniture were taken for granted. Families now either do without or repair and continue using what they have. With college costs going out of sight and financial aid grants getting fewer, many parents can no longer afford to give their children higher educational opportunities.
An Overlooked Obligation?
Obviously something is fundamentally wrong. But national leaders and financial experts don't know what the cause is and are unable to solve the problem. Each new administration or government eagerly and naively tries its remedy, but almost nothing works. Something else is desperately needed to bring financial stability and true prosperity. Now suppose someone told you that you could beat today's monetary treadmill by giving away part of your income. You might think he was crazy. And yet, unknown to most, that's precisely the something else that is needed to get yourself and others on the right financial track. Few realize that God has not only given life to each of us but has also spoken out on matters concerning our financial prosperity. Because He created the earth on which we live (Colossians 1:16), God is owner of all its resources. (You'll read it in Psalms 24:1-2 and 50:10-12) He therefore has the right to ask and receive something back from us for using what is His. That is why Abram, one of the richest Old Testament patriarchs, acknowledged God as the "maker of heaven and earth" and "gave him a tenth of everything" (Genesis 14:20-22, RSV). "Well," you say, "that's all right for Abram's time, but he didn't have to cope with today's inflation and taxes. Besides, that's Old Testament stuff. I've always been told that tithing or giving a tenth isn't New Testament teaching. Where are we told we should still give God 10 percent of our income?" Granted, Abram (or Abraham) may not have had the tax burden we have today. But it wasn't too long after his time that ancient Israel set the stage for our present economic woes. They went the way of neighboring gentile nations and rejected God's rulership and tax-free economic system. Maybe you never read how today's economic woes really began. If not, it's time you did. It began in the 11th century B.C. Samuel, a prophet of God in Israel, appointed his sons as judges. They didn't carry out their office properly. They took bribes. The nation Israel became angry and demanded of Samuel that he appoint a king over them like the other nations had. In asking for a king the nation was, in fact, asking for a human king in place of God who was their real, though invisible, king. Samuel warned them that such a ruler would conscript their sons and daughters into various services. He would confiscate their best land, and tax them by taking at least 10 percent of their produce and livestock. But ancient Israel refused to listen. They rebelliously embraced an economic structure that has increasingly burdened the world ever since. The whole story is found in I Samuel 8.
Tithing Not Abolished
But did having to pay taxes to a civil government negate the people's financial obligations toward God? No, it did not. After Abraham's time the nation of Israel was instructed to give a tenth or tithe of their increase to God. The nation prospered. God in turn authorized the Levites to use it as payment for their work in assisting the priesthood at the Tabernacle (Numbers 18:21). But notice that this tithe still belonged to God, not to Aaron or Levi. All of it was holy to God (Leviticus 27:30). Consequently, this part of Israel's increase was not to be used for their secular needs in any way. The prophet Malachi centuries later warned that withholding the tithe means robbing God (Malachi 3:8), not the Levite. Even though ancient Israel chose to pay civil taxes, Israel's obligation to give God His prior due never ceased. Nowhere does the Bible do away with this continuing duty. In the New Testament Jesus stated that we are to "render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's, and unto God the things that are God's" (Matthew 22:21). Some have argued that man no longer needs to tithe because the Temple was destroyed and the Levitical system collapsed when the city of Jerusalem was conquered by the Romans in A.D. 70. This line of reasoning is total error! It is based on a wrong assumption — that tithing was connected only with the Levitical administration. But Abraham's example shows clearly that tithing was known in Old Testament times nine centuries before the building of the Temple and nearly five centuries before appointment of the Levites. Consequently, authorization for tithing does not depend on the existence of a Temple or Levitical administration! Tithing remains in effect because the tenth has always belonged and still does belong to God. All that changed in A.D. 70 was the administrative function of the Levitical priesthood. God no longer authorized payment to the defunct Levites, but instead to the priesthood of Jesus Christ (Hebrews 7:11-17).
The Teaching of Jesus
It may come as a surprise to some to learn that Jesus taught people to tithe. Though others readily acknowledge this fact, some still have doubts about whether Jesus' words have application today. They wonder if His teaching about tithing was only for the Jews of His day. Christ's reference to tithing is found in Matthew and Luke. What most have missed is that these two records are describing what was said on two separate occasions to two different groups! Notice the significance of this vital fact. Jesus' earliest reference to tithing is described by Luke in chapter 11. Verse 37 shows that Christ accepted a dinner invitation from a certain Pharisee. It was during- this meal that Jesus talked privately to him (verse 39), stating practically the same words about tithing (verse 42) that are also recorded by Matthew. But notice that the setting of Matthew's account is different! In this instance Jesus' reference to tithing was made during His last public discourse when He was addressing the multitude and His disciples and denouncing the hypocrisy of Pharisaical practices (Matthew 23:1). This second, though similar, reference to tithing is to a totally different audience! Jesus was not talking to just a single Pharisee. While Matthew 21:45 and 22:23, 34 and 41 show that Jesus had been addressing both the Pharisees and Sadduccees, Matthew 23:1 clearly shows that Jesus then preached to a different group. "Then spake Jesus to the multitude, and to His disciples." The point most have overlooked is that the entire 23rd chapter of Matthew contains Jesus' instruction to His disciples and the multitude at the Temple (Matthew 24:1). Jesus was teaching a New Testament message to this varied group of people. He told them how to please God and practice true righteousness instead of religious hypocrisy. It is in this context that tithing is mentioned. To illustrate the contrast between true righteousness and the apparent righteousness of the Pharisaic leaders of the Jewish community, Jesus laid bare their practices. Many of the Pharisees were in hearing distance. He broadly rebuked their conduct and pointed out that their meticulousness in tithing the least of the herbs was in stark contrast to their failure to live up to the big spiritual principles of love, mercy, justice, etc. But instead of denouncing and abolishing tithing, He quickly pointed out to everyone present, which included worldly minded listeners as well as His disciples, that tithing cannot be neglected — "these ought ye to have done" (Matthew 23:23). This instruction to His disciples is New Testament instruction. Jesus' command concerning tithing is nowhere later negated or changed in the New Testament. Paying God His 10 percent of increase clearly has not been done away. It is an ongoing responsibility and obligation that applies to all people during all ages. Jesus also taught His disciples, "That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:20). Therefore, if the Pharisees ought to have tithed and not neglected the weightier matters of the law, anyone who seeks to obey God and follow Christ must also tithe and keep the weightier matters of the law if he hopes to attain the righteousness and Kingdom of God.
A Practical Law
But how can giving God 10 percent of your increase enable you to beat the high cost of living? How can one possibly meet today's rising costs by giving to God part of one's income? God states in a prophecy for our day in Malachi 3:10 that He will "pour you out a blessing" if you are willing to prove His promise by paying a tenth to Him. This blessing can come from many different directions. God promises in the next verse that He will protect your goods and sources of income. He can also provide what you lack and need in unforeseen and marvelous ways. And since God is the source and giver of wisdom (James 1:5), you can also ask for and get a wiser insight in how to use the remainder of your income. And how to eat to stay healthier and cut out needless medical bills. Material goods take on a different look when God guides your mind. You'll come to see more clearly what's important to spend money on and what isn't. Tithing is somewhat similar to keeping the seventh-day Sabbath. Man thinks he has to work all seven days of the week to make ends meet. But God says that man should work only six and rest the seventh (Exodus 20:8-11). If he does so he'll be more rested and refreshed and better able to make more efficient use the next week of the six days he works. The same is true in matters of finance and economics. Most people think they have to use all their increase to get the bills paid. But God promises that He will enable you to live well or better on 90 percent of your increase if you will work hard and honor Him by presenting to Him the 10 percent that is rightfully His. God is a living and practical God. He knows what you need. So if you really want to beat the high cost of living, you need to begin tithing to where Christ is doing His work of announcing the good news of the coming Kingdom of God. The world is in its financial mess because it has cut itself off from God's instruction and blessing. It has forgotten that He is the owner and sustainer of the universe, and the blesser of those who obey Him. Therefore, if you want God to help you get through this time of economic hardship, don't neglect to seek His will and obey it, and honor Him with a tenth of your increase.