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Written by Ángel Manuel Rodríguez
Some church members have been telling me that I should give my tithe to persons who will use it correctly, even if they are not ministers of the church. Is there some biblical evidence I can use to oppose this teaching?
I sympathize with your concern and desire to resist those whom you consider to be misinterpreting Scripture. However, we should study the Bible in order to find the truth—that is, what the Lord is revealing to us—and not primarily to accumulate “ammunition” to attack those whose views we dislike. We should allow biblical truth to defend itself.
Please don’t misunderstand. Sometimes it’s necessary to do apologetics in order to show the biblical foundation of our faith and practice. But this should be done carefully and in the spirit of Christian love.
Now, we can rephrase your question: “Who, according to the Bible, should be the recipient of our tithe?” Fortunately, the Bible provides a significant amount of information about tithe and tithing, making it rather easy to deal with your question. Here we can only summarize some of that material.
1. Tithe Belongs to the Lord: The most important theological statement about tithe is recorded in Leviticus 27:30: It “belongs to the Lord; it is holy to the Lord” (NIV). This is a clear definition of the very nature of tithe; it is holy. God placed something holy in our hands, and if we handle it properly, we also are sanctified by Him. The holiness of tithe resides in the fact that it is not ours to use as we please; it belongs to the Lord.
We may get the impression that the tithe is ours because it seems to have reached us as a result of our effort and work, but God is saying that He sanctified our work by placing among its benefits something that is exclusively His, the tithe.
In the practice of tithing the Lord allows us to handle the holy and to function as priests for Him. Since tithe is holy by nature, we don’t make it holy through a vow or act of consecration. Tithe does not belong to the common, the secular; the only thing we can do with it is to recognize its holiness and return it to God.
2. Tithe Is Given to Those Appointed by God: God identities those who should receive His tithe. These individuals never appoint themselves to perform this holy task. In fact, His people give the tithe only to Him and not to a human being. And He gives it to those chosen by Him to receive and use it (Num. 18:21).
In other words, when the Israelites returned their tithe to the Lord, they were not paying the levites for their services in the sanctuary, but simply recognizing the tithe’s holiness and giving it to God through those chosen by Him.
3. Let God Be the Judge: It’s possible that some of those chosen by God to be recipients of His tithe may become unworthy of this privilege. This was the case during the time of Malachi. The priests were showing “contempt” for God’s name by defiling the altar (Mal. 1:6-8). The corruption was so rampant that the Lord wanted them to close the door of the Temple (verse 10). The people, aware of what was taking place among the clergy, stopped bringing their tithes and offerings.
Through the prophet God rebuked the priests for their corruption and called them to repentance (Mal. 2:1-9). But He also addressed the people, accusing them of robbing Him by not bringing their tithe and offerings to the Temple and calling them to repentance (Mal. 3:7-10). They seemed to have concluded that the Temple personnel did not deserve their tithe and stopped tithing.
They had forgotten that tithe, by its very nature, is holy and that it belongs to the Lord. Retaining it was therefore an act of rebellion against God, a sacrilege.
Perhaps a final, pertinent question would be Whom did the Lord choose to be the recipient of His tithe today? The only model we have is the biblical one: those within the church—as an organization and a spiritual body—who were called by Him to the gospel ministry are entitled to receive God’s tithe. In addition, we have the counsel of Ellen White, through whom God also addressed us in such matters. It would be good to listen to both of these sources of revelation.