Can tithes be used for charitable purposes?

Author: BibleAsk Team


The concept of tithing, or the practice of giving a portion of one’s income or resources to support religious and charitable purposes, is a prominent theme in the Bible, particularly in the Old Testament. The Bible provides several references that outline the purpose and allocation of tithes in ancient Israelite society. Among these tithes is the second tithe (offerings), which served distinct purposes related to religious observance, community welfare, and social cohesion. By examining biblical references and exploring historical and theological contexts, we can gain insight into the significance of the second tithe in Israelite society and its relevance for contemporary understanding of stewardship and generosity.

1. The Principle of Tithing in the Old Testament

Leviticus 27:30

“And all the tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land or of the fruit of the tree, is the Lord’s. It is holy to the Lord.”

The concept of tithing, or giving a tenth of one’s produce or income, is established in the Mosaic law as a means of acknowledging God’s ownership and provision. The tithe was considered holy to the Lord and was to be set apart for sacred purposes, including the support of priests, the maintenance of the tabernacle or temple, and the provision for the needy within the community.

2. The First Tithe for the Levites

Numbers 18:21

“Behold, I have given the children of Levi all the tithes in Israel as an inheritance in return for the work which they perform, the work of the tabernacle of meeting.”

The first tithe, also known as the Levitical tithe, was designated for the support of the Levites, who served as priests and caretakers of the tabernacle or temple (Leviticus 27:30-34; Numbers 18:19-28). The Levites, who were without territory (Deuteronomy 12:12) lived in cities of their own, dispersed throughout the different tribes. In exchange for their service to the Lord and the community, the Levites received a portion of the tithes as their inheritance. This tithe ensured the provision for those who were consecrated to the service of God and facilitated the maintenance of religious rituals and ceremonies.

3. The Second Tithe for Feasts and Charity

Deuteronomy 14:22-27

“You shall truly tithe all the increase of your grain that the field produces year by year. And you shall eat before the Lord your God, in the place where He chooses to make His name abide, the tithe of your grain and your new wine and your oil, of the firstborn of your herds and your flocks, that you may learn to fear the Lord your God always. But if the journey is too long for you, so that you are not able to carry the tithe, or if the place where the Lord your God chooses to put His name is too far from you, when the Lord your God has blessed you, then you shall exchange it for money, take the money in your hand, and go to the place which the Lord your God chooses. And you shall spend that money for whatever your heart desires: for oxen or sheep, for wine or similar drink, for whatever your heart desires; you shall eat there before the Lord your God, and you shall rejoice, you and your household.”

The second tithe provided either for the sacred feasts (Leviticus 23), or charity for the orphans, the poor, and “strangers” that lived among the Hebrews (Deuteronomy 14:23, 29; 16:11-14). It was also known as the festival tithe or the tithe of rejoicing. It was a special tithe that Israelites were required to set aside every year. Unlike the first tithe, which was given to support the Levites, the second tithe was designated for personal use during religious festivals and celebrations. This tithe served a dual purpose: to facilitate the observance of religious feasts and to promote communal fellowship and social cohesion among the people of Israel.

4. Purpose of the Second Tithe (Offerings)

Deuteronomy 14:26

“And you shall spend that money for whatever your heart desires: for oxen or sheep, for wine or similar drink, for whatever your heart desires; you shall eat there before the Lord your God, and you shall rejoice, you and your household.”

The purpose of the second tithe was twofold: to provide for the needs of individuals and families during religious festivals and to foster a spirit of joy and gratitude in the worship of God. By setting aside a portion of their resources for feasting and celebration, Israelites were encouraged to express thanksgiving for God’s provision and to share in the blessings of fellowship with one another.

Deuteronomy 16:14

“And you shall rejoice in your feast, you and your son and your daughter, your male servant and your female servant and the Levite, the stranger and the fatherless and the widow, who are within your gates.”

The second tithe was inclusive, encompassing not only the needs of individuals and families but also those of the wider community, including Levites, strangers, orphans, and widows. Through the observance of religious festivals and the sharing of communal meals, the second tithe provided an opportunity for social solidarity and mutual support among all members of society, regardless of social status or background.

5. Practical Considerations for the Second Tithe

Deuteronomy 12:17-18

“You may not eat within your gates the tithe of your grain or your new wine or your oil, of the firstborn of your herd or your flock, of any of your offerings which you vow, of your freewill offerings, or of the heave offering of your hand. But you must eat them before the Lord your God in the place which the Lord your God chooses, you and your son and your daughter, your male servant and your female servant, and the Levite who is within your gates; and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God in all to which you put your hands.”

The second tithe was to be consumed in the presence of the Lord at the designated place of worship, which was later established as the temple in Jerusalem. This requirement ensured that the tithe was used in accordance with God’s purposes and facilitated the participation of all members of society in the worship and festivities associated with religious feasts.

The fatherless and widows were invited to these celebrations (Deuteronomy 16:11, 14; 24:17, 19; 26:12). A generous spirit was to be shown to those in need (Deuteronomy 12:7, 12, 18; 14:29). The efforts were to bring gladness and happiness to both the giver and the receiver. This was the will of God to distribute cheer and joy among His children especially the needy.

In addition, God gave other laws for assisting the needy (Leviticus 19:9, 10; 23:22). Those who didn’t own a land were given the privilege of gleaning from the fields, farms and the orchards. The landowner was to spare the gleanings, and thus help the poor and provide for their needs, and at the same time could be blessed with God’s favor (Proverbs 11:24). These laws were applicable the first 6 years of the 7-year cycle during which harvests were grown.

In the New Testament

In the New Testament, the poor, charitable institutions, or church expenses, were supported from the offerings according to each person’s ability. Paul wrote, “Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7).

The apostle James voiced the same principle for the Christian church. “Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world” (James 1:27). Outward proof of a true religion goes along with what is in the heart (Micah 6:8). True religion teaches us to do everything as if it was for God.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the second tithe served a distinct purpose within the framework of Israelite society, providing for personal enjoyment and communal celebration during religious festivals. It promoted a spirit of gratitude and joy in the worship of God and fostered social solidarity and mutual support among all members of the community.

Today, the principles of stewardship, generosity, and community welfare embodied in the second tithe remain relevant for contemporary believers seeking to honor God with their resources and cultivate a spirit of joy and fellowship in their worship and service.

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In His service,
BibleAsk Team

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