Slop Bucket Religion and the Tithe

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Picture of someone scraping leftover scraps into a slop bucket.

If you’ve been around church for very long, you’ve probably heard a message from today’s Bible reading* about robbing God. In fact, Malachi 3:10 is probably one of the most-used verses when it comes to encouraging God’s people to give a “tithe”. Many preachers preach against people robbing God by withholding the tithe.

Under the Old Covenant, God required the Jewish people to give ten percent (a tithe) of their income to the nation in order to fund the government and provide for the Priesthood and those in need such as widows and orphans. It was a tax on God’s people instituted by God.

Back in Genesis, Abram gave a tenth of the spoils of war to Melchizedek after defeating the king of Elam (Genesis 14:17–20)

Many will say that since this happened before God gave the Law, the tithe pre-dates the Law, and is therefore required of God’s people, even under the New Covenant.

But is this what this passage is teaching about the tithe?

Application

Note that Abram gave his tithe to Melchizedek voluntarily. The priest and King of Salem (Melchizedek) didn’t require that Abram give him anything, much less stipulating how much. Rather than paying an obligation or tax, Abram gave a freewill offering to the priest.

So is not tithing a sin? If you don’t tithe are you robbing God?

Perhaps. It depends on where your heart is.

There is no longer a Temple. There is no longer a Jewish priesthood. There is no longer a central storehouse where God’s people give their tithes and offerings to fund the government and take care of the Jewish priesthood, and the widows and orphans.

The whole point of the book of Malachi is to condemn the people — including the priests — for profaning the entire sacrificial system. In the words of a friend of mine, the book of Malachi is about “slop bucket” religion.

I remember visiting my granddaddy’s farm as a child. After meals, I was given the chore of taking the mealtime leftovers to the cats or hogs in a slop bucket. This was food and table scraps that no one else wanted. Rather than throwing these things into the trashcan, it was put in a slop bucket and taken outside to be thrown on the ground for the animals.

That’s what Malachi is describing. Rather than bringing their firstfruits, the best they had, the people — and the priests — were presenting to God the leftovers, those things that no one else wanted. They were making a mockery of the worship of God.

So, getting back to my question about not tithing and robbing God. I’ll ask another question: Do you give God your best? Or do you give God your leftovers? Do you give cheerfully, or do you give out of a sense of obligation? Do you trust God to take care of your needs or do you hoard your income because you’re afraid you won’t be able to make ends meet? Do you give a tithe because you expect God to bless you if you do and curse you if you don’t? Do you limit your giving to ten percent simply because you don’t feel that you need to give more?

Some of us need to give ten percent of our income to our local church. Some of us need to give more. And some of us are fine to give less than ten percent.

Again, it all depends on where your heart is.

Rather than give you a percentage, let me propose that you ask God how much He would have you to give. And ask yourself if you give cheerfully. (2 Corinthians 9:7)

If you read the Old Covenant Law, you’ll see that there was more than one tithe. When all is said and done, the Jewish people tithed as much as thirty percent under the Old Covenant, plus giving freewill offerings and alms.

If you insist that Christians are obligated to give the “whole tithe”, you are putting yourself under the Old Covenant. (James 2:10) If you insist on the tithe, do you insist on living under the rest of the Old Covenant system, too? And if you insist on giving ten percent of your money, do you also give a tithe of your time and your talents not just your treasures?

* Chapters covered in today’s reading:
Malachi 1
Malachi 2
Malachi 3
Malachi 4
Psalms 50


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