"Set apart a tithe of all the yield of your seed that is brought in yearly from the field. In the presence of the LORD your God, in the place that he will choose as a dwelling for his name, you shall eat the tithe of your grain, your wine, and your oil, as well as the firstlings of your herd and flock, so that you may learn to fear the LORD your God always. (Deuteronomy 14:22-23 NRSV)
There is great misunderstanding about the nature of giving in general, and about tithing in particular. Christians are called to be givers; we are called to give from the abundance we have received, in joyful thanksgiving to God for his amazing grace. In this context, tithing can be understood as placing a limit on how much we give in the New Testament Church many Christians gave all that they had, rather than just a portion. Tithing limits one’s giving to just 10% of one’s income, leaving 90% for the needs of one’s family, for extra offerings and giving for designated causes, emergencies, the poor and needy, and for the "Second Tithe."
The Second Tithe, as outlined in Deuteronomy 14, was a tithe on the remaining nine-tenths of one’s income which was to be set aside and used by one’s family to enable the necessary observation of, and participation in, the religious festivals and feasts of the Hebrew people. These religious holidays often required the family to travel to Jerusalem and participate in the temple’s sacrificial rites; the second tithe was intended to fund these pilgrimages, provide food and lodging while in Jerusalem, as well as the actual costs of the religious rites (i.e., the animals to be sacrificed). These expenses were understood to not be included within the first tithe, but rather were covered by the second tithe a second 10% which was deducted from the nine-tenths of one’s income left-over after the first tithe.
The second tithe is part of the Torah the Law of Moses and, hence, many Christians consider it to not be binding upon Christians today. And, indeed, it is true that we are not saved by obedience to the Law but by Grace, through faith in Jesus Christ. Faith is grace-inspired action, precipitated by belief and compelled by comprehension of the truth of the Gospel. If one is attempting to obey tithing laws out of fear of going to hell, I would rather they not tithe at all. I’ve actually said this to people: give as you feel God has called you. If you are true and honest with yourself and with God, and not being selfish on the one hand or over-zealous on the other, you will usually discover (barring unforeseen circumstances, emergencies, disasters, or any other financial crises) that you are giving somewhere between 10 - 20% of your Time, Talents, Gifts, and Service. I have discovered this to be true no matter where I have gone or with whom I have spoken. Even those who oppose tithing as being "from the law" usually agree that one should give as the Holy Spirit prompts and if the Holy Spirit prompts you to tithe, you should tithe. The role of the tithe within the Law teaching us to be regular, consistent, and proportional in our giving is equally important and, in my opinion, should be applied to ensure one is not giving so inconsistently that one fails to provide for the needs of the Family of God. Above all, as is true with all Christian giving, tithing should be a joyful expression of Faith and a powerful Means of Grace, not a legalistic "must do."
As for the Second Tithe, far from being an unacceptable burden on believers it is an aid to enable the Children of God to participate in the worship life of the Family of God. Is it a "must do?" No ... that would be legalism. Rather, it is a "get to do" ... a gracious gift from God to help us participate in the worship life of the community, to grow and be the people He wants us to be. Its presence in the Law means that it serves as a Schoolmaster for us, showing us how much we need to learn and grow in Grace. "You mean God means for me to study, grow, learn, and participate in the worship life of the church to the tune of 10% of the remainder of my "Prayers, Presence, Gifts, and Service", after I give the First Tithe?" Yes, indeed! The Second Tithe’s role, today, can be understood as providing a guideline for your religious expenses relative to your personal spiritual growth and your participation in the life of the church. If you need to buy a bible, it comes from the Second Tithe. If you need to buy religious literature or art, it comes from the Second Tithe. If you are donating communion bread, grape juice, or other items for the worship life of the church, it comes from the Second Tithe. If you’re making Agapi gifts, or serving on an Emmaus Team, it comes from the Second Tithe. If you’re serving as Scripture Reader in worship some Sunday, that participation is part of your Second Tithe of your "Prayers, Presence, Gifts, and Service."
The Second Tithe is a gracious gift from God, enabling us to see and comprehend the importance which God places upon personal spiritual growth and our participation in the worship life of the church. It may include money given to the church for targeted, designated ministries or projects, but the giving of time, talent, gifts (money), and service is all at the direction of the giver under the grace of Jesus Christ. In this respect the Second Tithe is quite a bit different from the First Tithe (which is God’s money, time, attention, and service, and does not belong to us).
Here’s a challenge for us all. When was the last time we made a Second Tithe Contribution to our own spiritual growth and participation in the worship life of the church? I dare say, for many of us it’s been a long while.
© 2005, Rev. Gregory S. Neal
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