Almost 3,500 years ago, God made provisions for the support of widows and orphans. Here is how this ancient plan is being administered in a modern world.
The poor. The sick. Widows and orphans. The unemployed. Elderly people who can't support themselves. It seems every society has its less fortunate people, and ours is no exception. Jesus Himself said it would always be so (Mark 14:7)! How these people are helped and the extent to which they are helped varies from place to place. In the United States, for example, the government provides Social Security, welfare, the Food Stamp program, unemployment insurance and Aid to Dependent Children. In the private sector, there is the Red Cross, the United Fund and the Salvation Army, to name only a few. There has even been another revival of "soup kitchens" to assist those in dire need. Each country has its own ways of assisting the needy. The numbers of these people and the variety and costs of benefits avail able seem to be increasing. In most areas of the world, though, the difficulties do not seem to be solved. Instead, the problem grows more complex and the various systems grow further from really providing properly for those in genuine need.
God's plan — the overview
God, too, has a plan for caring for people in need. Let me quote from a comprehensive article entitled "Never More Urgently Needed — God's Plan to Help the Poor," which appeared in The Plain Truth: "Situations may arise where someone in need has no relatives to help or resources to draw upon. God's program also provides for such eventualities. Every third year that the land was cultivated and harvested (which is the same as saying every third and sixth year out of a seven-year cycle, for the land was to rest on the seventh year — Lev. 25:1-7), a special tithe was to be collected. Its purpose was to provide for whoever 'has no portion nor inheritance with you, and the stranger and the fatherless and the widow ... [that they] may come and eat and be satisfied...' (Deut. 14:28-29; 26:12-15). Those who observe this law even today can testify how liberally God renders his blessings in return." Let's focus on that statement and explain in more detail exactly what God has instructed and how it is being carried out today in His Church. This special tithe is sometimes called the poor tithe. However, it is not specifically designated in Scripture as a tithe for the poor as a class of people; rather, it is for people who are in certain specified categories. Sometimes it is called the third tithe, though this designation is confusing to some people. It is called by this name to distinguish it from the first tithe, which is for the direct support of the Work of God (Mal. 3:8-12), and the second tithe, which is for each person's own use in keeping God's festivals (Deut. 14:22-27). One of the two places where this tithe or tenth is mentioned is Deuteronomy 14:28-29: "At the end of three years thou shalt bring forth all the tithe of thine increase the same year, and shalt lay it up within thy gates: And the Levite, (because he hath no part nor inheritance with thee,) and the stranger, and the fatherless, and the widow, which are within thy gates, shall come, and shall eat and be satisfied; that the Lord thy God may bless thee in all the work of thine hand which thou doest" (Authorized Version).
The third year tithe
Notice that this tithe is to be paid the third year, not every year. This means during the third and sixth years of a seven-year cycle, as mentioned in the next verse, Deuteronomy 15:1. The stated purpose of this tithe is to provide food for four classes of people. The spirit and intent of this law obviously includes not only food but other needs of sustenance. These people would not be "satisfied" with food alone, if they were not also provided clothing, shelter and other needs. Notice the four categories of people mentioned. The first had "no part nor inheritance." The second might be called an itinerant stranger or guest who was not a part of the local community, possibly unemployed and looking for work. He might have needed assistance until he found employment; for him the assistance would have been a sort of "pump priming" until he could help himself. The third, the widow, might not have been able to be gainfully employed if she had minor children or was elderly. The fourth, the fatherless, were minor children who had no father. They mayor may not have had a mother, and could not support themselves as minors. There seems to be a common denominator in these categories: The people were not necessarily poor, but they all might either temporarily or permanently have been unable to help themselves. Another important point is mentioned in the last part of verse 29: God would bless the tither in all that he did. See also Deuteronomy 26:12-15. Obedience to God's law brings blessings. From a purely physical point of view, giving an additional tenth of one's income every three years would seem to be a curse, not a blessing. But there is an added dimension here — God! A little later in this article we will read of living proof that God does bless people who obey this little-understood law.
Should apostles serve tables?
In the New Testament there are two passages that have a bearing on this Old Testament law. The first is found in Acts 6:1: "Now in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplying, there arose a murmuring against the Hebrews by the Hellenists, because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution." The newly established Church of God had its growing pains. The apostles did not have time to take care of the physical assistance to widows that was required. These physical duties would have kept them from taking care of important spiritual duties. The solution was to ordain seven specially chosen men to the office we call deacon today. The Church took care of the need by appointing and ordaining these men to administer the distribution of food and other necessities for these widows. The second text is I Timothy 5:3-16. Paul stressed that the responsibility for widows' support is primarily on children and grandchildren (verse 4) or other relatives. Those widows who had no converted relatives to rely on had to rely on the Church. Some have become confused over verse 9, thinking it refers to qualifications for support by the Church. On close examination, though, it should be evident that this verse is referring to a class of widows who apparently performed some kind of special service to the Church at that time. This passage concludes with verse 16: "If any believing man or woman has widows, let them relieve them, and do not let the church be burdened, that it may relieve those who are really widows." The last phrase in this verse reads as follows in the New English Bible: "so that it [the Church] may be free to support those who are widows in the full sense of the term." The Church, was applying the instructions of Deuteronomy 14 and 26 in the spirit and intent of the law by providing for widows who had no support from their own physical families.
The administration of this law must obviously be slightly different now from when Moses wrote it down almost 3,500 years ago. At that time it applied to the physical nation or congregation of Israel, but the administration was handled locally in each town or city — that is, "within thy gates." Today, instead of a physical nation, we are a spiritual body of believers — the Church. These funds are administered and accounted for by the headquarters or by regional offices around the world, but the local ministers of God's Church evaluate all local needs or requests and then request checks for the appropriate amount each month for each qualifying person. Headquarters or regional accounting offices prepare and mail the checks. For temporary or immediate need, the minister may issue checks locally. Details, including the name of the recipient and amount, are then reported to the accounting office. In ancient Israel need was handled mainly by contributions of foodstuffs from an agricultural community. Today assistance is through monetary contributions. The Church under this program is assisting those who cannot help themselves. For those who are neither widows nor fatherless, assistance is usually offered on a temporary basis. In such cases it is usually the "pump priming" application, or temporary help until the person can support himself again. When the amount received by the Church exceeds the needs of the "widow, fatherless and stranger," the remaining funds are used for salaries or expenses of the "spiritual Levites," or the ministry of the Church, as provided for in Deuteronomy 14:29 and 26:12.
Here are examples of the blessings!
And now, here are actual quotes from those who have been the contributors as well as the recipients of this third tithe. The experiences of these people prove that God keeps His promises!
Third tithe assists those who can't help themselves. Both contributors and recipients have learned that God keeps His promises!
First, let's look at excerpts of letters from contributors. Here is one from a family blessed with pay bonuses, low heating bills, a new baby and more:
It is our third tithe year, and we have been blessed for trusting God to take up the slack. My place of employment has had much business — in fact, it has been booming, which meant excellent bonuses this past winter. Also, in spite of a bitterly cold January that witnessed midnight deliveries of LP [liquid petroleum] gas to two of our neighbors, our bills were incredibly low. Now, with the coming of spring and the end of the heating season, the financial outlook is brightening. We are out of debt, with money in the bank, and are considering the purchase of a second car. God has also blessed us with the expected arrival of a new family member by the year's end. We have truly been blessed in the Church of the living God. Minnesota
The employment outlook in many countries is indeed bleak. Many are out of work or only working part time. Does contributing third tithe make sense in such a situation?
I just finished my third tithe year. I must admit that since I didn't have much work, I had to learn to have faith in God to provide for my needs. But it is true that God does provide for everything we need if we seek His Kingdom and righteousness above all else. Recently I received a rather large sum of money, totally unexpected, and a full-time job. Our Creator is certainly very generous and merciful. Minnesota
God has blessed the entire family of this tither:
This has been my third tithe year and God has blessed me abundantly. I started a new job a year ago and have missed only two and a half hours due to sickness. So He has blessed me with good health. My daughter got married two months ago to a very nice, clean-cut man. Also my son and his wife were baptized just a few days ago, which was a very happy occasion. I could go on and on — my cup runneth over. I give God thanks for blessing me so abundantly. Oklahoma
If you have not previously contributed third tithe, doing so for the first time may seem strange or even difficult. Here are some comments from people paying third tithe for the first time:
We have been in our new home for just a week now, so we thought we'd write and let you know about our third tithe year. It's the first one we've ever had and it has been an exciting learning experience. We approached it with anticipation but also with some wondering of how we were going to make ends meet. To begin with, we were able to buy very cheaply enough good quality carpet to cover the floor of most of the rooms of the flat we were living in, and also our little vegetable garden yielded exceedingly well. My husband received a healthy pay rise and also was allocated a new office which just happens to be in an area away from all the cigarette smoke that used to be a part and parcel of his other office. Then we sold our flat and were able to buy this house. The house was the only one on the market that was really in our price range, and it has almost every feature we requested in our prayers, so we're thrilled. As well as all this, there have been more than the usual number of invitations to share meals with others. We have been given material and clothing, blankets for all the family and groceries and food. New Zealand
We have just completed our first third tithe year and would like to tell you how very much God has blessed us throughout this year. Just after our third tithe year began, finance for our first home was made available to us. Previous inquiries in this area, made a few months prior to the start of our third tithe year, had met with no success. In August of last year, God provided us with a fine, comfortable home complete with a beautiful, established garden. Then the government announced that first-home owners would qualify for a special tax rebate of up to $1,000 a year for five years. What a bonus! We had several pieces of furniture for our home given to us and managed to acquire others at very reasonable prices. Just after we moved into our new home, I was given a promotion in my job, and a few weeks later, my husband was also given a raise in income. Our budget on paper just did not seem to work out, but we found that we always had enough finance to pay any bills and to buy the things we required. We even had enough for a week and a half's holiday in the South Island. New Zealand
Does it sound like paying third tithe would cause undue hardships? Contributing in this way is an act of faith, which God will abundantly reward! Notice these next experiences:
God is blessing me this third tithe year with warmth, a job, a ride to work, food, clothes, good health, peace of mind, etc. — where do I stop with all my blessings? I strive daily to really thank God for all He gives. We've been having cold, icy weather, but I am still able to get to work. I really like my work and have the opportunity to set a good example every day. Oklahoma
My third tithe year will soon end, so I wanted to take the time to let you know about the many blessings my family and I have received. I am self-employed and for the first few months of the third tithe year, my business began to drop. I lost several important accounts and became very concerned about being able to provide for my family. However, I decided to trust God and continue to tithe. Since that slow start, God has worked overtime to get in all the blessings. Not only has my business picked up the loss, but it has increased by almost 50 percent. I have been able to take my oldest son into business with me as well as purchase expensive, needed equipment and a new business van. I have also seen my son and daughter baptized into God's Church and a second son accepted to Ambassador College in Pasadena. North Carolina
My third tithe year has just been filled with blessings. I found an apartment just 10 minutes from my work, and for a very reasonable price. I also had unexpected income and received a raise in my work. I am certainly very thankful to God. France
I just want to tell you that I have recently finished my third tithe year. When I started it I received an inheritance. During my third tithe year I retired, being 65 years old, and soon after I completed my third tithe year my husband gave me a completely new kitchen. I am indeed well blessed. Canada
Once again I'm enclosing a check for third tithe. It's a wonderful feeling experiencing third tithe. Instead of being burdened by more bills and less money we are being blessed with just the opposite. We've just paid off our major credit card that we haven't been able to payoff in three years, leaving us with more money than if we hadn't gone into the third tithe. Also I'm getting a raise and a possible promotion. Not only that, but in this time of economical gloominess I've even got a part-time job doing something I've always wanted to do. To top it off, when we come out of our third tithe year our car loan will be completely paid off. We just thank the eternal, loving God for a wonderful truth and third tithe because it works — it really works. Canada
Since commencing my third tithe year I have been truly blessed in many ways. Three outstanding examples are: 1) Compensation for damage caused in a car accident. 2) A pay raise and five months back pay from the beginning of the year. 3) A new interest of my wife in sewing clothes for the family, giving us better quality clothes at much lower cost. Praise and thanks to the almighty God who has devised and ordained the tithing system! It really is a blessing to be under God's government. Australia
Our family went to the Feast this past year with the realization that it was the beginning of a third tithe year for us. While we were gone to the Feast a representative of an oil company that has had a capped well on our land since we purchased the land six years ago left papers at our house regarding piping the gas out. The oil company offered us a substantial amount per acre of the land they would use for the pipeline. Four weeks later the man was back with the papers for us to sign, but the amount of the original offer had doubled. We knew it was God fulfilling His promise of Malachi 3:10. We were giving double to God and He gave double right back. God's laws truly are living laws. How wonderful it is to know that the third tithe is going to help people in need. Canada
It just doesn't seem to make sense, at least on paper, does it, that you could pay an extra 10 percent of your income and yet end up with more than you started with? Well, read these examples:
This year is my third tithe year and I've been blessed more than ever. Not only has God blessed me with my everyday necessities but also with things I thought I could never obtain — or at least would have to wait until I "strike it rich." He even healed me from a sickness I had for about eight years. Spiritually, I'm learning, understanding more and growing. I feel good these days and I have peace of mind, joy, contentment and a craving for God's inspired Word. I've never in my life felt so blessed! Yet, I don't deserve one bit of it. It's the result of the love of God for striving to keep His commandments. This time last year, I was struggling along trying to make ends meet. This year, I have enough money to pay my debts and even to give to those in need. The strangest thing in a third tithe year is that no matter how hard you try to figure it out on paper, it never works — you always come up short. But when you, do what you have to, it always • works out. God has not failed me yet and I don't think He ever will. Washington, D.C.
It never ceases to amaze me how a third tithe year is always full of surprises. Each month I make up a budget to let me know where I stand money-wise. Many times when the budget is made up I find that I am way into debt. But at the end of the money, when the real figures are put down, I learn that I am either breaking even or that I am saving $5. I still have roughly six more months to go before my third tithe year is over, but I am looking forward to see what other surprises God has in store for me. Canada
My wife and I would like to share with you some of the incredible blessings we received during this third tithe year. At the beginning of the year it just didn't seem possible to be able to make it through the year, paying three tithes on the income I was receiving. But we both decided to step out and obey God regardless. It certainly paid big dividends. Our mighty Creator certainly backs up HIS promises in wonderful and mysterious ways. During this year our every need was supplied in abundance, enabling us to give and share many of our blessings with others. These were some of our blessings, with estimated value: new car ($4,000), clothing and outings to restaurants (hundreds of dollars), new Bible ($30), free car repairs ($500), car insurance paid ($120), anonymous money sent in mail ($120), food — meat, honey, eggs, etc. — supplied every week (hundreds of dollars). And the list goes on — blessings too numerous to record in this letter. God's way of giving certainly pays off, as this year has proved to my wife and me. New Zealand
This next writer actually regrets that the third tithe year is ending!
I must say I am in no hurry to see my third tithe year end. The benefits have been obvious, and I would like to share them with you: 1) Three substantial pay raises in the first six months. 2) Full-time use of a company vehicle. 3) The ability to save far more than ever before in my life, far out of proportion to the pay raises. 4) A free return trip (at the firm's expense) to my distant hometown, where I spent the most wonderful time ever with my parents. 5) Was given a watch, a calculator and a good jacket, hardly worn, by my employer. 6) On top of this, I have made breakthroughs in overcoming and have a greater sense of direction in life. I am so thankful to God for blessing one so unworthy. New Zealand
Would you like to hear another story of third tithe year blessings? Since last fall my husband has received a 15 percent salary increase plus 15 percent of the previous year's salary in a bonus. In our last third tithe year he received a 33 percent increase in salary. However, this year's income, including the bonus, should be approximately 320 percent above our last third tithe year. Truly, God does bless us, and one cannot ever outgive Him. And of course the spiritual blessings, the peace of mind, the knowledge of where world events are really going, etc., are even more important than the physical. Our third tithe year is now ending, and with the blessings God has given us, it is with a certain amount of regret on our part! We sincerely hope that those who pick up the torch for this next year will be as blessed as we have been. Oklahoma
The previous writer commented that one cannot ever outgive God. And it's true! Notice these remarks:
We started this, our fourth "third tithe" year, with great anticipation because in times past we have had it amply proven that you truly can't outgive God! In addition to that, though, is the genuinely great feeling of helping people through this great system God has set up. This is only the start of our sixth month in this third tithe year and we have had our rent lowered by $50 per month. In December we received a gift of several hundred dollars from my husband's employer. My husband has received a large increase in his car allowance (when many are losing their car allowances) and he received an increase in salary (when many are out of a job)! Our income tax return appears to be sizable. So by the end of this year, it is entirely possible that God will have returned most, if not all, of the third tithe we have sent in. We are certain that we receive a miracle at the grocery store each week as well. I carefully make my grocery list, pricing each item, and try to stay within it. These are the same foods we buy every year, and although my grocery money has been decreased, we always seem to have some money left over. The blessings I have listed above are only financial ones. There is no possible way to evaluate the spiritual blessings and miracles that occur in our lives each day. We hope and pray that all God's people will stand still and look for the blessings God is pouring out upon us. What a sad thing it is to miss a miracle or an answered prayer. Canada
Truly we cannot outgive God. How He really loves and blesses the cheerful giver! This I have proven when I began to give an additional 10 percent of my income. God's blessings in healing us, giving us peace, protection against our foes, happiness in our home — these are beyond material valuation. Besides, our Income has soared to such a tremendous increase that in one month alone it was equal to my previous one and a half years income!" Philippines
Even prior to my third tithe year finishing, God has blessed me greatly. Who says the payment of third tithe does not reap blessings? Most probably those who endeavor to disprove the doctrine or falsely assume they cannot afford to pay it! Australia
It takes faith to trust and obey God, but when one does walk by faith, God opens the windows of heaven in unexpected ways, just as He promises in Malachi 3:10: "'Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in My house, and prove Me now in this,' says the Lord of hosts, 'if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you such blessing that there will not be room enough to receive it.'" Blessings may not come immediately, but they will come at the proper time to the faithful. And they may not always be financial blessings, but could include many other, even spiritual, ways. Truly, it is more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:35). Now here are some letters from those who have been the recipients of this generosity. Here is one from a widow who has been assisted for several years:
In this letter I would like to let those who may not fully understand third tithe know what it is used for and who gets the benefit of it. I know firsthand. I have been a disabled widow for nine years, and have been a recipient of third tithe assistance for a long time. For two and a half years, until I began receiving my widow's pension, God's Church supported me totally. Know of any other church that would do that? I don't, either! The check I now receive each month arrives exactly the day it is supposed to and, believe me, it helps! I've never written about this before. Not many even know about it, but I suddenly began to feel maybe I should write and tell people that even though third tithe years can be hard, the money is a great blessing to people like me! We don't hear about the third tithe too often, so I thought if people understood it from the point of view of a recipient, the sending might be a little easier. Thank you for obeying our Father and being faithful, and I thank Him for calling me and providing for me. Ohio
Third tithe helped these widows and their children through times of serious need:
I just had to write in and thank all who have helped to support those of us who have been blessed to receive help from the third tithe fund. Were it not for your continued assistance, the children and I would have had to live at a much lower standard, without a lot of the basic necessities. After being a widow, I was grateful to be able to stay home and rear my children without having to work full time. That would not have been possible without help, We are at a point now where we are able to do without the financial assistance from the third tithe fund and ask that you remove our names from the list of third tithe recipients. Thank you from our hearts for the care and generosity that you all have shown to us. We are glad to share in that kindness by sending in our third tithe as our third tithe years come around. Thank God for showing us that His way of giving and sharing really works. Texas
Thank you for the third tithe assistance that I have been receiving. Until one is in a position of absolute need, you don't realize why God set this program in operation. I know God will bless those who are faithful with this tithe; one day they will know just how and why it was necessary to pay it, besides the obedience factor. From my three daughters and myself, thank you again. Australia
God's way — God's government — works! Here's proof:
Here is a money order to be used as first tithe. This is my proof that I do stand by you 100 percent. This money is very special to me. To be able to give it is a miracle. The past two years have been a living hell for my children and myself because of a divorce between my husband and myself. During this time we were brought very low. Following God's teachings, you have a system which takes care of widows and orphans. Through this I have been able to get Church assistance for one year now. During this year I prayed for God to give me a chance to give instead of take. He has now given me that chance. He has made it possible for me to completely get off of Church assistance. God's government does work! Thank you so much. West Virginia
There you have it — modern examples of how this law, given to God's people so long ago, is still put into practice by God's Church in the 20th century. This article is not intended to be comprehensive. Administrative needs vary from country to country. Please write to us if you have questions. Today this need is still provided by God's Church. Conditions have changed, which makes necessary some changes in how the plan is administered in today's world. Thank God for His plan to take care of this need!