This is the first question for the new millennium and it’s about a subject near and dear to all our hearts: Money. Does giving a tenth of your earnings to God always mean giving money?”
In past columns we’ve dealt with whether or not tithing is still an act of obedience (it is), whether or not we can legitimately give our tithe to sources outside the organized body (we can’t), and whether we can substitute our time for tithing (nope). But what about tithing something that isn’t money? Would that be a legitimate “tithe”?
The concept of the tithe is delineated in the Old Testament, specifically in the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Old Testament, known in Jewish circles as the Torah, of Books of the Law). Certainly, by Jesus’ day it is clear much, if not most, of the support to the organized religion was through cash donations. In Luke 21.1-4, we see Jesus in the Temple courts teaching the crowd. Across the court was the Temple Treasury, a collection box where people brought their gifts to the Temple. As he sat there a widow came in and gave two copper coins to the work of the Temple. Jesus comments favorably on her gift and makes mention of the many others who brought their “cash” gifts to the Temple. Then, on another occasion we read of Jesus becoming angry at the money changers who set up shop in the Temple Courts (Matthew 21.12-13). Again, the primary task of the money changers was to deal with the gifts and offerings being brought to the Temple. Thus we see, at least by Jesus’ day, the primary support of the organized religion was through monetary offerings.
But is cash the only offering medium acceptable for tithing as far as God is concerned?
Aside from the obvious answer that most churches also accept checks, some accept direct account debits, debit cards, and some even accept credit cards, the fact is, the Bible doesn’t limit the tithe to money. In fact, the opposite was primarily the case when tithing was instituted.
In Leviticus where we read the “rules of the tithe,” it is clear money isn’t what God’s after. “A tithe of everything from the land, whether grain from the soil or fruit from the trees, belongs to the Lord; it is holy to the Lord. If a man redeems any of his tithe, he must add a fifth of the value to it. The entire tithe of the herd and flock—every tenth animal that passes under the shepherd’s rod—will be holy to the Lord. He must not pick out the good from the bad or make any substitution. If he does make a substitution, both the animal and its substitute become holy and cannot be redeemed”(Leviticus 27.30-33). Here we see that the tithe comes from the production of the worker—it is from the fruit of one’s labor.
Money came into the picture when the laws changed and people were no longer able to offer their tithes at the local sanctuaries, but had to travel to the Temple in Jerusalem. At that point, allowances were made to exchange the tithe for cash and take it to the Jerusalem Temple (Deuteronomy 14.24-25).
So, what of today? Can we offer our tithes without taking money? With the crisis of the family farm in America, there are fewer and fewer in the direct agribusiness, so most of us aren’t able to offer our lambs, our cattle, or even a couple bushels of peaches as a tithe of our “income.” In reality, the fruit of most of our labor is money, and so it is appropriate for most of us to give of that fruit—and, like the Levitical law above, it would be the first dollar from every ten we earn.
On the other hand, there are a number of folks who actually can tithe legitimately and not use money—those who are in the production of a tangible product and who solely own the business so they can rightfully give of their produce as their tithe. For instance, an artist could donate every tenth piece of artwork for the religious organization to dispose of at their discretion (any gift given with an expectation of use is not a tithe—tithes are purely for the support of the organization). Or a sole-proprietor home builder could give every tenth house they built to the church to sell (or use). And so on. So long as they give every tenth and every tenth is the full worth of the other nine.
As for the rest of us, we’ll have to settle
for actually tithing from the fruits of our labors—which
for me, at least, is a paycheck.