Volume 20, Number 2
HOW HOLY IS THE SACRED TITHE?
On Handling the Sacred Tenth With Integrity
Learn from Scripture what it means to maintain the integrity of God’s sacred tenth. We are in a time of Adventist history when both stewards in the pews and employees of the church need greater integrity in handling God’s sacred tenth! God is seeking to prepare His bride for her marriage to the Bridegroom. Will you be a part of her when her nakedness is finally covered? (Revelation 19:7, 8.)
A man—a woman—both knew and feared the Lord God of Heaven. The man was a fifth-generation believer; the woman a new believer not yet baptized. The man lived on the African continent in ancient times; the woman lived in Eastern Europe in the 20th century. The man endured the 40-year judgment of a generation that wandered in a wilderness until a rebellious and unbelieving generation had died off.1 The woman lived through the rule of a government declared to be the only atheistic state on Earth, a period of nearly 50 years.2
The man enjoyed the privilege of entering the literal Promised Land, yet was the first judged worthy of what we know today as capital punishment. The woman lived in faith of the blessed hope, yet died in 1997 at the age of 94, without seeing her Lord return. The man died along with his family, in disgrace before the Lord and the church, all of Israel. The woman was honored by her church for her faith and was voted a delegate to the 54th General Conference session that met in Utrecht, Netherlands, in 1995.
Both Achan of ancient Israel, and Meropi Gjika of modern Albania, had been tested in the same manner, yet how each responded to the test could not be more striking. There are lessons that you and I can learn from both, but only if we have a humble spirit and are open to both the teachings of Scripture and the leading of the Holy Spirit. Now we must turn to the subject of their test–how to handle what God declares as holy, and to the Scriptures that teach us specifically about the sacred tithe.
While we find tithing a practice of the patriarchs in Genesis,3 it was not until the corporate church was encamped at Mt. Sinai that God gave the principles/laws that govern tithe. How much instruction Meropi Gjika received in being a steward, and specifically concerning the tithe, we can never know. However, she is a sterling mentor by her example, especially to those parts of the SDA family that live in Western democracies open to so many financial temptations.
It is vitally important for each Seventh-day Adventist to understand from Scripture the necessity to maintain the integrity of tithe’s sacredness, the four dimensions of the holiness of tithe. Let’s get the four principles before us and then proceed to understand each from Scripture. The lesson becomes easy to remember as well as to apply in one’s experience.
1. To be holy in its first dimension, the tithe must be the Right Portion—a Tenth, 10%.
2. The Right Portion must be returned to the Right Person. The tithe belongs to God, and it must be returned to Him personally as an act of submission and worship.
3. The Right Portion returned to the Right Person must be used for the Right Purpose. God chooses to bestow the tithe upon those engaged in ministry.
4. The Right Portion returned to the Right Person and used for the Right Purpose must find its way to the Right Place. God designated where the first storehouse could be found and we can know today just where His treasury is. Let’s now learn from God’s Word these four principles.
The Right Portion—the Tenth–“Again the Lord spoke to Moses, saying . . . ‘Thus all the tithe of the land, of the seed of the land or of the fruit of the tree, is the Lord’s; it is holy to the Lord. . . . ‘And for every tenth part of herd or flock, whatever passes under the rod, the tenth one shall be holy to the Lord’” (Leviticus 27:1, 30, 32).4
Within this passage God defines tithe as the tenth that is His alone, and also declares the tithe to be holy. Anything less than a tenth would not be tithe, irrespective of how we designate such an amount on a tithe envelope. While no other person might ever know the degree of honesty that accompanies each steward’s tithe, one cannot hide his actions from the God That is worshipped when tithe is returned to Him.
An outdoor billboard bears a message from “God” that reads: “WHAT PART OF ‘THOU SHALT NOT’ DON’T YOU UNDERSTAND?” There is a commandment that states, “You shall not bear false witness . . .” (Exodus 20:16). Is it possible that the worship of God expressed by one bringing less than an honest tithe is in fact an expression of a false witness? If an amount is placed in a tithe envelope and marked “tithe,” yet it is not a tenth, the person’s dishonesty has robbed what is being given of its very identity, tithe. Since it is not the right portion, it cannot be considered tithe; neither is it holy. Tithe is denied its first dimension of holiness if it is not the right portion, 10%!
The Right Portion must be returned to the Right Person. The author personally believes this to be the most significant of the four dimensions of tithe’s holiness, simply because this principle not only defines our relationship to God as our Creator, Sustainer, and the only One Who owns anything, but this principle also constantly keeps before us our relationship to material possessions and their power. Notice God’s instruction to Israel’s first high priest: “So the Lord said to Aaron, ‘For the tithe of the sons of Israel, which they offer as an offering to the Lord, I have given to the Levites for an inheritance . . .’” (Numbers 18:1, 24).
Is it possible that we, who live so far removed from both the ancient culture of the Old Testament church as well as its geography, have little to remind us of the personal nature of returning our tithe to the Divine Person, God? While His presence was symbolized by both a literal pillar of fire and a cloud which could be seen hovering over the tabernacle complex;5 while He was represented by a white-robed priest who alone could enter the holy place to represent a repentant worshipper;6 just where is He present in our Western culture when one returns tithe to Him?
An implied lesson that comes from this Scripture is that when the Right Portion is returned to the Right Person, one must “let go” of the tithe. What is the point of this lesson? We come to learn from experience just what kind of power money has associated with it. The Devil also knows both the value and the power of money. He’s busy trapping some Adventists with the idea that tithe funds can be used as leverage on the leadership of the church. This could happen with one individual or even a part of the corporate body. So the questions are asked: Is the tithe to be used to pursue one’s agenda or goal? Is tithe even an asset of a church body that can be used as leverage on other leaders?
Let’s consider a realistic but hypothetical situation. For six months an Adventist congregation has been without a minister to serve as a pastor. At a monthly board meeting, a church officer asks the first elder if he has received any word from the ministerial director or conference president regarding a pastoral candidate. The elder has nothing to report. The following motion is made: “Be it moved to authorize the church treasurer to withhold all tithe funds from the conference until a pastor has moved into our district to serve our congregation.”
Either individuals as stewards, or various parts of the corporate body, can rob tithe of a dimension of its holiness when it is not placed in God’s hands and used only for His specified purpose. How do we show respect for that which is holy even when it is money? Is there a difference between the common and the sacred? We recognize relationships as sacred within marriage. Likewise we recognize the holiness of time in the observance of each seventh-day Sabbath by “keeping it holy.”
We must let go of that holy tenth when returning it to the One Who claims it as His Own! Is there not also a commandment that forbids coveting what belongs to another?
The Right Portion returned to the Right Person must be used for the Right Purpose. God chooses to bestow the tithe only to those engaged in ministry. “‘And to the sons of Levi, behold, I have given all the tithein Israel . . . in return for their service which they perform, the service of the tent of meeting. . . . it is your compensation in return for your service in the tent of meeting’” (Numbers 18:21, 31).
It is one of the financial hallmarks of the Seventh-day Adventist Church (SDA) that we maintain an auditing system to assure the corporate body that God’s will concerning His tithe is adhered to in its use within the church at every level.
The official policy of the church reflects the Biblical principle. “The tithe is to be held sacred for the work of the ministry and Bible teaching, including conference/mission/field administration in the care of the churches and field outreach operations. The tithe is not to be expended on other lines of work such as church or institutional debt paying or building operations.” General Conference Working Policy, 2005-2006, Section V, The Tithe, V 0 5 Principles and Procedures in Tithing, V 05 05, page 671.
It may surprise some that up to 30% of a church schoolteacher’s salary can come from the tithe fund. While we know that the teaching of Bible will happen each day at an Adventist elementary school, we also expect that each teacher will begin the day by conducting a worship exercise. In addition, if there happens to be too much competition on the playground during recess, how fitting for a teacher to call the students around her and suggest, “Let’s pause and ask Jesus to give us a better spirit while we play.” Is that a ministry worthy of funds from tithe? Or if Alicia or Joshua is having difficulty with a subject, we would be pleased if the teacher would come to either student’s desk and offer: “Let’s ask Jesus to help you understand and comprehend what you are finding difficult.” Is that not ministry? Indeed, the church was counseled to use the tithe to support teachers in their training of young minds.
At the secondary level in Adventist education, the principal, deans in the dorms, as well as all in the religion or chaplaincy service of a school can receive 100% of their salary from the tithe fund. The remaining instructional teaching staff members at our academies have 20% of their salary coming from the tithe; this also corresponds with positions at the college and university level. When policy is understood and followed, we can expect God to bless His church in all branches of its work.
The Right Portion returned to the Right Person and used for the Right Purpose must find its way to the Right Place. Once again, let’s examine God’s Word on this principle. The book of Deuteronomy was written by Moses to specifically prepare the generation of the church that was going to move into the Promised Land and engage in the battles of conquest. Note carefully and well what God now adds to the system of law that governs His tithe funds.
“But you shall seek the Lord at the place which the Lord your God shall choose from all your tribes, to establish His name there for His dwelling, and there you shall come. And there you shall bring your burnt offerings, your sacrifices, your tithes, the contribution of your hand, your votive offerings, your freewill offerings, and the firstborn of your herd and of your flock. . . . You shall not do at all what we are doing here today, every man doing whatever is right in his own eyes. . . . Be careful that you do not offer your burnt offerings in every cultic place you see, but in the place which the Lord chooses . . . and there you shall do all that I command you” (Deuteronomy 12:5, 6, 8, 13, 14).
Is it not a bit fascinating that God reserved for Himself the right to choose where the Temple would eventually be built even before the church got to plant its feet within the Promised Land? When Israel did arrive, what was their first test? How to Handle Holy Stuff Correctly! It happened during their first campaign of conquest at the city of Jericho. For sake of space and time, we will move to day seven of their campaign and note the instruction Joshua gave. “And it came about at the seventh time, when the priest blew the trumpets, Joshua said to the people, ‘Shout! For the Lord has given you the city . . . and all that is in it belongs to the Lord. . . . But as for you, only keep yourselves from the things under the ban, lest you covet them and take some of the things under the ban, so you would make the camp of Israel accursed and bring trouble on it. But all the silver and gold and articles of bronze and iron are holy to the Lord; they shall go into the treasury of the Lord’” (Joshua 6:16-19).
Clearer instruction could not have been given. Let’s note the record again. “And they burned the city with fire, and all that was in it. Only the silver and gold and articles of bronze and iron, they put into the treasury of the house of the Lord” (Joshua 6:24). It is obvious that God recognized their obedience; He had it recorded for us to read and learn from! The church knew not merely what was holy but also where it was to go. But the question begs to be asked, “Was there full compliance?” The record continues in the next chapter, Joshua 7. “But the sons of Israel acted unfaithfully in regard to the things under the ban . . . therefore the anger of the Lord burned against the sons of Israel” (Joshua 7:1).
Upon my first study of this passage I was puzzled—no, I was intensely frustrated—with the apparent inconsistencies of God’s Word!! When Achan is the only one identified as a transgressor in Joshua 7:1, why does the Bible use a plural term to charge the disobedience to “the sons of Israel”? Again, when only one is noncompliant–the least possible–why does the anger of the Lord burn against “the sons of Israel?” As a parent of two children, I mused that when one disobeyed, I neither declared both to be guilty of disobedience nor did I discipline both. I did not know what to do with this part of God’s behavior!
Have you ever measured the intensity of the Lord’s anger when it “burned” against His church? The rest of the story in Joshua 7 tells of their eventual defeat at Jericho’s suburb, Ai. The headline of the Hebrew Chronicle might have screamed, “36 Lives Lost at Battle of Ai.” And when God finally had Joshua’s attention again, among other things He said to the leader, “Israel has sinned. . . . They have even taken some of the things under the ban and have both stolen and deceived. . . .Therefore the sons of Israel cannot stand before their enemies, for they have become accursed. I will not be with you anymore . . .” (Joshua 7:11, 12).
The Lord answered my dilemma by using passages from the New Testament to awaken me and make me receptive to the important lesson: The disobedience of only one member within the body of Christ causes all the members within that body to suffer. Achan’s disobedience was charged to “the sons of Israel,” and they all suffered as God withdrew from His people and allowed a major defeat at Ai. He also assured His church that it would not be able to face any of its enemies until proper action was taken. You can read of that in Joshua 7:10-26.
Today you and I are faced, as modern-day stewards, with the same tests that Sister Meropi Gjika faced in Albania when Communism took control of its government. Will we handle the sacred tithe by the principles of God’s Word, or allow every man to do what is right in his own eyes? Over the last twenty years it has been scientifically calculated that within the North American Division (NAD), on an average Sabbath, only 65% of Adventists are in attendance, and fewer than 50% of attending members are faithful in tithing. Answer this question: If Moses recorded the action of Achan and God’s resulting disfavor due to the noncompliance of just one to reveal how He feels when only one disobeys, how do you suppose God feels about His Adventist family of the NAD?
For nearly 50 years, Sr. Gjika put the tithe away in a safe place. She hoped for the day when she could be baptized. She reinforced her faith by feeding on the Word of God, three chapters each day and five on Sabbath. When Communism fell and Adventist leaders of the Trans-European Division went to Albania, they found Sr. Gjika among a small group of the faithful. She brought out of hiding the security box in which she had placed her tithe during all those years! What integrity; what faithfulness!!
Living in the poorest country of Eastern Europe, do you suppose Sr. Gjika was ever tempted by the Devil to “just borrow from the tithe to meet your family’s needs”? She remained true as a steward, knowing that the Right Portion had been returned to the Right Person, her Lord and God. It could only be used for the Right Purpose, to support those engaged in ministry. It needed to go to only one place, the Lord’s treasury.
God longs for a whole church of faithful saints like Meropi Gjika. By His Word and by His Spirit, they will make themselves ready. See Revelation 19:7, 8. May He find you such a one, handling holy stuff correctly, with integrity and faithfulness, bringing blessing to the whole body where you worship and serve.
1 Numbers 14:20-23; 32-35.
2 Adventist Review, November 7, 1991, art. “Believers Found Faithful After 50 Years of Isolation.”
3 Genesis 14:17-23; 29:22. “Jacob made his vow [Genesis 28:20-22] while refreshed by the dews of grace, and invigorated by the presence and assurance of God. . . . Long years intervened before Jacob dared to return to his own country; but when he did, he faithfully discharged his debt to his Master. He had become a wealthy man, and a very large amount of property passed from his possessions to the treasury of the Lord” (Ellen G. White, Counsels on Stewardship, pp. 98, 99.
4 Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture is taken from the New American Standard Bible.
5 Exodus 40:34-38.
6 Leviticus 4:1-18.
Note on Author
*Elder Paul Pellandini is a native son of San Francisco and a convert to Adventism from the Roman Catholic Church while a young boy. He received his Adventist education at San Francisco Junior Academy, Golden Gate Academy, and Pacific Union College, with a BA in Religion from Union College. He studied for one year at the Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews University. His 26 years in pastoral ministry was shared: 12 years in the North Dakota Conference followed by 14 in the Michigan Conference. For the past 10 years he has served as Stewardship & ASI director, and then also Adult Sabbath School director for 5 years. He is married to Linda L. (Pierce) and has two adult children and one grandchild.