This section is from the "How To Pay Church Debts And How To Keep Churches Out Of Debt" book, by Rev. Sylvanus Stall. Amazon: How To Pay Church Debts And How To Keep Churches Out Of Debt.
To arrive at a clear understanding of the difference between tithes, offerings, and free-will offerings, it will be necessary to state them connectedly. The tithe is the one-tenth (as the name indicates) of a man's yearly increase, or income, which God has reserved, and appointed to be returned to him. The tithe is "holy unto the Lord," and in rendering the tithe man gives nothing of his own to God, but simply returns to God that which was always his, and which he only entrusts into the hands of man as his steward, and by which to attest his honesty and remind him that God is the supreme Sovereign even of the nine-tenths which he is permitted to retain. The term tithe, then, comprehends the first one-tenth of the yearly increase of the people, which God requires the people to return to him, and which, under the Mosaic dispensation, was assigned by him for the maintenance of the Levites. It also comprehends the one-tenth which the Levites were to give of all the tithes they received from the people, and which is called a heave-offering, which the Lord assigned for the maintenance of the Priests. Technically, the term "tithe" does not include the second tenth of the annual increase which was devoted to a sacred feasting before the Lord in the place which he should appoint; nor does it include the third tithe used every third year for a local feasting of the Levite, the stranger, the fatherless and the widow - these tithes are classed among offerings. Strictly or technically, then, the term tithe refers only to that first tithe of the people and the heave-offering of the Levites, which was holy unto the Lord.
The term offerings, in its more comprehensive sense, includes all that man gives in any shape to God as an expression of love and obedience, or for the service of his fellow-man, after having rendered to God the one-tenth of all his increase. Between tithes and offerings, there exists a difference as to property. In sacrifices and offerings man gives of his own to God; he gives to God that which he might withhold, and not defraud God of that, the right of which he has never ceded to man. By withholding his offerings, man dishonors God; by withholding the tithes, he defrauds God of that which is, and always was his, and which was never man's at all. In offerings man is permitted, in a large measure, to exercise his reason and to gratify his wishes, but in the payment of the tithe, God both appoints the measure and designates the use.
While the term offering includes the free-will offering, it comprehends much more. The free-will offerings of the people were those gifts which were contributed for the erecting or the repairing of the tabernacle, temple or any place made sacred to the worship 35 of Jehovah, or to provide outward things necessary for the service of God's house.*
The free-will offering is obligatory in character, although unprescribed in amount, which is left to each one's conscience and love to God - hence they are called free-will offerings. "Every man shall give as he is able, according to the blessing of the Lord thy God which he hath given thee." - (Deu. xvi. 17.)
God has designed that in every age and nation and clime there shall be living illustrations of the condition of dependence and want to which Christ condescended for our salvation. "The poor shall never cease out of the land," saith the Lord. The way in which they are ever to be treated is clearly manifest in the Mosaic dispensation. The grain was not to be reaped from the corners of the fields, but was to be left for the poor, the gleanings of the fields and of the vineyards belonged to them. The poor were to participate in the second tithe, or festival tithe, and every third year a special tithe was levied for their especial benefit. The products of the Sabbatical year were theirs, besides the cancelling of their debts, the restoration of their freedom, and returning of their estates upon the return of every year of Jubilee. The Old Testament abounds with instruction concerning our treatment of the poor: "If there be among you a poor man of one of thy brethren within any of thy gates in thy land which the Lord thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not harden thine heart, nor shut thine hand from thy poor brother: but thou shalt open thine hand wide unto him, and shalt surely lend him sufficient for his need, in that which he wanteth. Beware that there be not a thought in thy wicked heart, saying, The seventh year, the year of release, is at hand; and thine eye be evil against thy poor brother, and thou givest him nought; and he cry unto the Lord against thee, and it be sin unto thee. Thou shalt surely give him, and thine heart shall not be grieved when thou givest unto him: because that for this thing the Lord thy God shall bless thee in all thy works, and in all that thou puttest thine hand unto. For the poor shall never cease out of the land: therefore I command thee, saying, Thou shalt open thine hand wide unto thy brother, to thy poor, and to thy needy, in thy land." - (Deut. xv; 7-11).*
*See also, Lev. xxiii. 22; xix. 10; Ex. xxiii. 11; Deut. xv. 1, 2, 12; Ex. xxi. 2.
*See Ex. xxv. I, 2, 3; Lev. xxii. 18, 19, 24; xxiii. 38; Ezra i. 4; iii. 5; viii. 28; II Chron. xxxi. 14. See also, "The Scriptural Plan," Chapter V., page 175.
"It was the practice of the Lord Jesus to direct funds from their treasury, from time to time, to be given to the poor. So common a thing was it to make such drafts on the treasury, that when Jesus at the table told Judas, 'What thou doest, do quickly,' the other disciples thought he meant that a donation should be made to the poor."
The early Christians so excelled in their acts of charity that this remarkable feature of their religion excited the wonder of the heathen world. "But whoso hath this world's good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?" - (I John iii. 11).
The same duty still exists, and if the Christian church had not so far forgotten her duty in this matter of caring for the poor, there would now be no score of societies organized outside of the church for the purpose of doing the church's work.
But we have introduced this section to show by contrast what alms-giving is in the light of God's Word, and also to show that this is a special and distinct portion of Christian duty. That portion of our goods which we give to the poor is not to take the place of our offerings to the Lord. Neither are our alms to be drawn from that portion of God's bounty which is "holy unto the Lord." "If we give to the poor out of God's tenth, we give what is none of our own; we rob God to pay man, and commit a sacrilege for the sake of charity."
That tithes, offerings and alms are still expected of Christian people there can not exist the least doubt in any well-informed mind. But how have we discharged the obligation? Have we been faithful stewards, and are we ready to render an account of our stewardship? No; many have not heeded, most have not even known their duty, and all have come short of both privilege and obligation. God has not deprived us of the blessedness of giving. The same unchanged command guards the limits of the least, while the promises and offered blessings of the New Testament invite the worshiper to offer more under the Christian than under the Mosaic dispensation. The same impending judgments are still attendant upon the violation of these laws. In the days of Haggai, at the close of Judah's long captivity, when the people came back to their desolated land, their thought was not of worship, of sacrifice, of tithes and of offerings, but of the rebuilding of their own houses and the enriching of themselves while they neglected their duty to God and to his house, God said: "Consider your ways. Ye have sown much, and bring in little; ye eat, but ye have not enough; ye drink, but ye are not filled with drink; ye clothe you, but there is none warm; and he that earneth wages, earneth wages to put it into a bag with holes. Ye looked for much, and, lo, it came to little; and when ye brought it home, I did blow upon it. Why? saith the Lord of hosts. Because of mine house that is waste, and ye run every man unto his own house. Therefore the heaven over you is stayed from dew, and the earth is stayed from her fruit. (Haggai i. 6, 9, 10.)
Are not these same sad consequences being realized to-day in the spiritual history of the church? Look at the thousands of churches all over this broad land, struggling with debts, treasuries empty, people disheartened, current expenses not met, the great work of the church impeded, the poor and destitute neglected, the heathen left to die in darkness, the servants of God in a state of humiliating dependence - not a few struggling with debts, many in want, and some in positive mental and physical distress. The picture is not overdrawn, nor the facts overstated. As God's husbandmen, we "sow much, and bring in little," the church "drinks, but is not filled, is clothed, but is not warm, it gathers, but it puts it into a bag with holes."
Have we not an answer to the cause of all this? It is the same now as when Malachi reproved the priests in his day, saying: "Ye are departed out of the way; ye have caused many to stumble at the law; ye have corrupted the covenant of Levi, saith the Lord of hosts. Therefore, have I also made you contemptible and base before all the people, according as ye have not kept my ways, but have been partial in the law. Have we not all one father? hath not one God created us? why do we deal treacherously every man against his brother, by profaning the covenant of our fathers? Even from the days of your fathers ye are gone away from mine ordinances, and have not kept them. Return unto me, and I will return unto you, saith the Lord of hosts. But ye said, Wherein shall we return? Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings. Ye are cursed with a curse; for ye have robbed me even this whole nation. Bring ye all the tithes into the store-house, that there may be meat in mine house, [i. e. support for my ministers and my service] and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it. And I will rebuke the devourer for your sakes, and he shall not destroy the fruits of your ground; neither shall your vine cast her fruit before the time in the field, saith the Lord of hosts. And all nations shall call you blessed! for ye shall be a delightsome land, saith the Lord of hosts." - (Mal. ii. 8-10; iii. 7-12.)