As a review, the purposes of tithing break down as: 1st tithe goes to God’s work here on earth, 2nd tithe is for attending God’s commanded festivals and 3rd tithe is to take care of the disadvantaged. We already saw in Part 1 that these tithes were not done away by Jesus, the New Covenant or any of Paul’s writings. In fact, both Jesus and Paul reinforced the idea of tithing, even though Paul sometimes chose to earn money rather than place a burden upon the church he was serving at the time.
I robbed other churches, taking wages of them, to do you service.
And when I was present with you, and wanted, I was chargeable to no man: for that which was lacking to me the brethren which came from Macedonia supplied: and in all things I have kept myself from being burdensome unto you, and so will I keep myself.
~ 2Co 11:8-9
Paul even “robbed” other churches by taking money from them rather than the local Church at Corinth for support.
Which begs the question of whether tithes should be local or centralized. Since the first tithes belonged to God, people were expected to carry them to where His name was placed. What we see in 2 Corinthians, though, suggests that collecting tithes locally is not wrong. Since the second tithes were for festivals, they would also be carried to Jerusalem to be consumed there, but they would be stored up at home prior to that.
So, how was distribution to the poor supposed to be carried out. Many assume it would have been centralized also. However, I question the logic behind this. If the poor are really poor, then how were they to get to Jerusalem to get the benefit? If they were sick and infirmed, then does that mean they would have to wait for a Levite to carry it all the way back from Jerusalem to eat?
And it shall be, when thou art come in unto the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee for an inheritance, and possessest it, and dwellest therein;
That thou shalt take of the first of all the fruit of the earth, which thou shalt bring of thy land that the LORD thy God giveth thee, and shalt put it in a basket, and shalt go unto the place which the LORD thy God shall choose to place his name there.
And thou shalt go unto the priest that shall be in those days, and say unto him, I profess this day unto the LORD thy God, that I am come unto the country which the LORD sware unto our fathers for to give us.
~ Dt 26:1-3
A quick glance at this passage makes it sound like you really do drag all of 3rd tithe up to Jerusalem so they can distribute it to the needy. Is that what it is really saying, though?
Notice what you bring is “the first of all the fruit of the earth”. This is the firstfruits! In other words, it is setting the time to come and make a specific profession before God. It is a recounting of Israel’s past from Syria to Egypt and then out. Then the profession ends with:
And he hath brought us into this place, and hath given us this land, even a land that floweth with milk and honey.
And now, behold, I have brought the firstfruits of the land, which thou, O LORD, hast given me. And thou shalt set it before the LORD thy God, and worship before the LORD thy God:
~ vv 9 – 10
Now, notice the chapter ends talking about 3rd tithe. Prior to this, it was not referring to 3rd tithe!
When thou hast made an end of tithing all the tithes of thine increase the third year, which is the year of tithing, and hast given it unto the Levite, the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, that they may eat within thy gates, and be filled;
~ v 12
In other words, it goes directly to the disadvantaged!
Then thou shalt say before the LORD thy God, I have brought away the hallowed things out of mine house, and also have given them unto the Levite, and unto the stranger, to the fatherless, and to the widow, according to all thy commandments which thou hast commanded me: I have not transgressed thy commandments, neither have I forgotten them.
I have not eaten thereof [obviously not 2nd tithe] in my mourning, neither have I taken away ought thereof for any unclean use, nor given ought thereof for the dead: but I have hearkened to the voice of the LORD my God, and have done according to all that thou hast commanded me.
~ vv 13 – 14
In other words, by the time you appear before God in Jerusalem, the 3rd tithe was already supposed to be given away!
That’s the way it was intended. Why?
- As I already stated, it makes no sense to drag everything up to Jerusalem and create such an inefficient welfare system as to be useless to most.
- Who would know better who was truly disadvantaged than the locals? There would be no “falling between the cracks” like occurs with modern welfare systems. People who tried to game the system were much more likely to be discovered as well.
- It strengthens the local community by getting everyone involved face-to-face.
- It gives dignity to the poor, which the modern sterile systems often unintentionally rob them of. They are more likely to be treated as people and not numbers.
- It reduces overhead of bureaucrats who are required to administer a bloated system and do not otherwise contribute anything to society.
So, is it wrong to have a centralized system? The commands don’t say how you are to distribute to the poor, so technically no. However, it seems rather obvious to me that it wasn’t intended to be done that way. However, if the Corinthians were not apparently pooling all their tithes and offerings with the entire collective of the Church, then it seems that it could be an administrative matter as to how to collect tithes and offerings, and that may include 3rd tithe as well. The question remains, though, if that makes a lot of sense to do it that way.
Following on the tail of that thought, though, if it isn’t specified how to distribute help to those who need it, then is it wrong to give money to the state to distribute to the poor rather than the Church? Frankly, the answer again seems rather obvious. It wasn’t intended to be done that way, but it still does not mean it is wrong.
Many countries levy taxes to the extent that it is more than the roughly 3% that 3rd tithe would come to (note that the exact amount depends upon whether you calculate every 3rd year or the 3rd and 6th years of a 7 year cycle). When this is the case, it makes little sense to require members to give even more for the same purpose.
It has to be stated, though, that a true Christian is not going to withhold good from those who need it and it is in their power (Jas 2:14-17; 1Jn 3:16-17). It is evident that a tithe every 3 years is just the starting point, the bare minimal requirement.
Knowing the purpose of tithes helps greatly in determining how to distribute the funds. It also helps greatly in determining how to not distribute them. Just as it is wrong to give 1st tithe to people who will not use it for doing God’s work on earth, it is wrong to give 3rd tithe to organizations that will use it to build luxurious homes for pastor generals or auditoriums.
God is a God of compassion. He wants to see the disenfranchised taken care of. He provided a system to do this in ancient Israel. Modern governments think they can outdo God, though, and they will learn that some things are just downright unsustainable, especially without God’s help (which He promised if nations followed his ways, but that’s been disregarded for the most part).
Liars, cheats and thieves have broken into God’s spiritual house, though, and they have appropriated funds meant for the poor and destitute for their own selfish ambitions. Remember Paul’s example? How drastically different than what some “ministers” in some of these organizations show themselves to be!
Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.
For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock.
Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.
~ Ac 20:28-30
Yes, we have seen this can even occur in a modern organization that calls itself a “Church of God”.