There’s a difference between bringing first things and bringing leftover things to the Lord. Genesis 4:2-7 is the earliest reference in Scripture to God placing a value on the first things being brought to Him. God doesn’t want some; He wants “first.” We cannot put God first by giving what’s last. That’s why the tithe isn’t just about giving God something - it was about giving to God first things.
This is simply where the idea of giving first to God comes from.
"After Abram returned from defeating Kedorlaomer and the kings allied with him, the king of Sodom came out to meet him in the valley of Shaveh. Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, and he blessed Abram, saying, “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth. And blessed be God Most High, who delivered your enemies into your hand.” Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything." - Genesis 14:17-20
Some versions say a “tithe” of everything. Now this is the first thing Abram did after his victory – he gave a tithe or a tenth of the spoils to Melchizedek a priest of God. The Hebrew word translated “tithe” is actually a mathematical term – it means “a tenth part.”
But why a tenth?
In ancient culture the number 10 was a symbol of completeness. The concept of giving a tenth of one’s resources to a king or deity was a custom that symbolized their giving of everything – their surrendering of all they had to their god or king.
In giving a tithe to this priest of God, Abraham was making a statement to his culture and those around him that he was surrendered to this particular God and King.
Now what’s interesting is that several hundred years later, God commands His people to bring a tithe on all they harvest to the Temple as a form of worship and to enable the ministry of the Temple. But the first tithe was given not in obedience to the Law but out of faith.
The Spiritual Meaning Of Tithing
Through Tithing We Are Materially Expressing Our Spiritual Surrender.
This is why giving a tithe can be considered an act of worship and surrender to God. Through the tithe we are making a statement about who we worship with our resources and are surrendered to when it comes to our resources. We are surrendered to God first. Later, God will say to His people:
"The purpose of tithing is to teach you to put God first." - Deuteronomy 14:23 (Living Bible)
Through Tithing We Are Confessing That God Is Owner Of All Things And Provider Of Our Things.
It’s a profound statement of faith to say after something you’ve bled, sweated, and worked for – that it’s really God’s and ultimately He’s the Provider of it. We have a hard time believing that – that’s why we’re not great at giving God first things. Through tithing on what comes in, we are regularly confessing God is Owner of all things and Provider of our things.
That’s what tithing is – it’s a thanks-giving first to God every time something comes in.
"Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God, otherwise when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down…then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God. You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” But remember the Lord your God, for it is He who gives you the ability to produce wealth." - Deuteronomy 8:11
Responding To The Good News Of What Jesus Has Done And Providing Resources For Others To Experience It.
It’s interesting that the words “hospitality” and “hospital” have the same root word – which means healing.
In our tithe we are both responding with gratitude for what Jesus has done on our behalf to heal us and yet also enabling others to experience healing through the good news of Jesus and ministry done in His name.
Sacrifice and Blessing
Whomever or whatever we give to first
is, in essence, an admission of who or what we think really has the power to bless our life and who is at the source of our blessings. There’s a healing that takes place in hospitality. God uses our tithe to bring blessing and healing to others. When you think about Jesus, bread, and wine and healing what do you think of? I think of Communion and what it stands for – His sacrifice upon the cross – His broken body – His spilled blood – and the healing that’s a result of it. It’s been said before that the Old Testament is Jesus Christ concealed and the New Testament is Jesus Christ revealed. Our tithe is not just an acknowledgment of God as Owner and Provider, but also Savior. Have you ever thought about this? That Jesus is God’s tithe – God sacrificed His first and only Son for the sake of us.
Have you ever noticed how many times in Scripture Jesus is described as “the firstborn?” Through our tithe we’re responding to the story of God’s tithe.
Paul said when encouraging the Corinthians in their giving:
"For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich." - II Corinthians 8:9
From The Spiritual To The Practical
Tithing is not a response to the law but a response to grace.
400 years after Abraham tithed, God made tithing a Law for His people in the Old Testament where they were required to bring a tenth of everything they brought in to the Temple. Today we are not under that law, but are under grace. This is why you’ll find no requirement to tithe in New Testament. Why do we teach the practice of tithing then?
The practice of giving a tenth preceded the Law in the story of Abraham – the first tithe was given in faith and in response to the grace of God. We can’t find any biblical examples of those under grace doing less than those under law. Just read through the book of Acts and see how many times people are selling pieces of property and homes and bringing the proceeds to the leadership of the church to be distributed. You see, I think in the New Testament church “the tithe” is the floor of Christian giving as opposed to the ceiling. When we say, “We give under grace, not under law – we don’t have to give 10%,” that usually means we’re looking to work down from 10% when grace compels us to work up from 10%. Paul comes along in talking to the Corinthians and says:
"But just as you excel in everything - in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in your love for us – see that you also excel in this grace of giving." - II Corinthians 8:7
Tithing is not a matter of funds, but a matter of faith.
One of the most powerful lies we believe is that we’ll be able to tithe when we have more money. The truth is statistic after statistic will show you that the higher the income bracket in our country the less percentage-wise people give to charitable causes. Tithing is not predicated upon having a certain amount of funds – tithing is an expression of faith with our present funds. Do we believe God is Owner and Provider – will we confess that by tithing on what comes in – as it comes in?
Here’s the question – will you go First and Ten with your harvest?
Let’s trust God together and see what the potential is – not to mention the blessings that’ll come. People who seek the kingdom of God first are never the last to give. And they never give the last. Why? Because they’ve been blessed by their Father who gave His first and only Son – first.