Will God really "throw open the floodgates of heaven" if I start to tithe?

Perhaps. But we must recognize that this oft-quoted passage (Malachi 3:10) was written not as a blanket promise to Christians in all times and all places, but to a very specific group of people in history—the impoverished, insecure Israelites living in the land after their return from exile in Babylon. God requires more here than just tithe (Malachi 3:5): He requires His people to be generous in mercy and justice. Similarly, the Pharisees during Jesus' time were scrupulous tithers, but Jesus told them that they were condemned, for they preferred giving a fixed percentage of crops to the more demanding, more radical and more important (or as Jesus said, "weightier") pursuit of justice and mercy and the love of God with their resources (Matthew 23:23Luke 11:42. The command to give generously is not limited to a set percentage either in the Old Testament or the New. Instead, we are called to love our neighbor as we ourselves want to be loved (1 John 3:16-18), just as Jesus loved us (2 Corinthians 8:9). Of course, God in His gracious sovereignty may decide to bless us if we give generously. For instance, the apostle Paul taught the Corinthians they would be blessed if they contributed to the collection for the poor, so that they would "be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion" (2 Corinthians 9:11). But we should not tithe or practice any other form of giving solely for the economic benefits it might bring; our chief goal should be to glorify God (2 Corinthians 9:12-15).

If I choose to tithe, what are some healthy ways to use the tithe?

In general, we need to trust and support our church leaders, since this is largely their domain. For those of us in church leadership, we might be tempted first to build a budget based on our perceived needs and then to try to meet it with our tithe. But this may not be the best model. Our perceived needs likely will be influenced by ministry models, past experiences and what we see at other churches or organizations while the Bible's priorities may not even play an important role. Therefore, we as leaders should diligently pay attention to Scripture's priorities for our offerings and tithes, prayerfully keeping God's Word before us as we weigh our use of God's money.

I'm taught that the tithe should go to the church budget. How were the three tithes used in the Old Testament?

The three tithes in Israel were used for three main purposes:

(1) to support the full-time religious workers, who were not given land of their own,

(2) to provide a meal for community celebration and religious fellowship and

(3) to provide for the needs of the poor.

Together these three tithes added up to about 23.3 percent of one's agricultural income produced in the promised land. Numbers 18:8-32 explains that the tithes were given to the Levites, who, unlike the other 12 tribes, had no inheritance in the promised land. In Deuteronomy 14:22-29  a tithe of crops and livestock was to be shared in celebration with one's family and the community—especially the Levites. "Every third year, however, the tithes would go to the local storehouses so that they could be distributed not just to the Levites but also to other poor and marginalized people: 'the aliens, the fatherless and the widows' (Deuteronomy 14:28-29)" (Craig Blomberg, Neither Poverty nor Riches, 46). Even though the tithe no longer applies in the same way for Christians, God's priorities for giving—ministers, mission, fellowship and charity—have not changed.

The complete version of this article can be found on GenerousChurch.com. Used with permission.

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Publication date: November 9, 2012