Saturday, June 4, 2011

Tithes and offerings: What is our obligation?

"Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed Thee? In tithes and offerings." - Mal.3:8

Many, today, question whether today’s Christians are obligated to tithe. What settled that question for me (in my teens) was the fact that Jesus honored the tithe and the temple tax. If He felt He should be obedient in these things, so should I. Each of us has to settle that between us and the Lord.

So, first, I would want to share what I know and what I believe about tithing and making offerings. They are not the same. John Clark, Sr starts his pamphlet Tithes & Offerings thusly: “There is a distinct difference between tithes and offerings. They are mentioned separately throughout the Bible, even though the Lord required both to be brought to Him.”…

“Offerings are gifts brought to God beyond the tithes. The tithe was always ten percent of one’s increase, but with certain offerings, God gave His people some discretion as to the amount or number of offerings to bring. Their financial situation in life and the depth of their zeal for God was shown by their choices concerning offerings. Here are some of the offerings that God instituted in Israel for the people to bring to His servants.”…

Several years ago, a neighbor and I were discussing a church service which he had not attended. This particular neighbor had been our pastor until his retirement and we thoroughly enjoyed the company of him and his wife. I made the mistake of relating something that had happened during the offering. I used the term collection rather than the traditional Anglican term of offering. He chided me saying offering was the proper term. I responded that, according to what I knew of offerings and tithes, no offering was possible until all tithes were “collected.” He challenged me to “go home and find the Bible support for that.” I did. A few months later, he was rejoicing in a sermon he had preached as an interim pastor on the difference between tithes and offerings. He had passed the teaching on as I would like to do with you.

The tithe or “first fruits of your labors would refer to today’s income. Many ask, “Should I tithe on the gross or the net?” My understanding of that question is a reluctance to restrict the tenth as much as possible. Many will ask, “Do you want to be blessed on the net or the gross?” I’m not comfortable with that either. The “first fruits” says to me, before anything else is taken out.

A major difference between tithes and offerings is this. The tithe is a minimum obligation which must be paid regardless of any other circumstance. Only two of the offerings have the same sense of mandatory participation: the sin offering and the guilt offering. The three voluntary offerings are for surrender and thanksgiving.

The offerings in Leviticus (starting with Chapter 1) were for different purposes. The burnt offering represents giving the best of our best, complete surrender of our best. The unblemished livestock may be comparable today with an unblemished lifestyle which will give testimony to our children of our commitment to God. (That’s just my idea of how to translate this offering into today’s lifestyle.)

The second is the grain offering which, again, is voluntary but testifies to our thanksgiving for the fruits of our labors. It is an announcement of our gratitude that God has done exactly what He said He would. He has blessed us “pressed down and overflowing” (Mal 3:10).
Next is the Fellowship offering (also called peace offering). This offering is a symbol of our fellowship with Almighty God, maybe comparable to wearing a wedding ring to remind us and others of our vow. It signifies gratitude for a specific blessing or symbolizes a vow we have made to God.

Then, there is the mandatory sin offering (also called the purification offering though the offering itself does not purify us). This offering was made when someone had sinned unintentionally against another and is the representation that that sin has been atoned for, that relationship restored insofar as the sinner was able to do.

The mandatory guilt offering was made when a person had deprived another of his rights, that is had taken advantage of him knowingly, willingly or had desecrated something that was holy. Examples might include using false claims to knowingly sell someone something which was other than you claimed it to be. Another example might be the violation of marriage vows.

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