Holy to the Lord
By Angel Manuel Rodríguez
QUESTION: Is it correct to return tithe to any organization or individual who claims to be doing the work of the Lord?
Money is one of those things that we consider ours in a particular way. It represents the fraction of our lives that we accumulate through the investment of our energy and time. It is life preserved in liquid form; that is to say, we exchange it for almost any goods we may want or enjoy. Therefore we usually don’t want others to tell us how to use it or what to do with it. For believers life is a gift from God, whether in the form of the breath of life or in the form of money. Therefore, it is to be used to the glory of God. With these comments as a background, let me address your specific concern.
1. The Owner of Tithe: Tithe is a percentage of the money that reaches us as the result of the investment of our time and energy. It is therefore natural to conclude that it is ours and that we should decide how to administer it. Here the Scripture surprises us by making a claim that is scientifically unverifiable. Tithe—the 10 percent of our income or increase— belongs to the Lord: “A tithe . . . belongs to the Lord [leYahweh]; it is holy to the Lord [leYahweh]” (Lev. 27:30, NIV). From the human point of view all income is the result of the investment of our time and energy. Yet this text rejects that conclusion by indicating that a portion of our income/increase is fundamentally different from the rest of it. It is described by the Lord as “holy.” In this passage divine ownership is clearly emphasized by using the Hebrew preposition le (“belonging to”) two times, along with the word “holy.” The “holy” designates that which God set apart for His divine purpose that, therefore, belongs to Him. We do not consecrate tithe to the Lord; the Lord has already declared it holy. He has placed in our hands something that is holy, and we are sanctified when we, in obedience to His will, use it the way He intended us to use it.
2. Determining Proper Use: Once we acknowledge that tithe belongs to the Lord, the next questions would be Who has the authority to determine its purpose, and who should receive it? The answer is obvious. If it belongs to God, He is the one who defines its purpose and destination. This was clearly the case in the Old Testament. “I give to the Levites all the tithes in Israel … for the work they do while serving at the Tent of Meeting” (Num. 18:21, NIV). Tithe is assigned by the Lord to a specific group within His people, and its purpose is to pay them for the work they do at the sanctuary on behalf of the people, a work assigned to them by God.
3. God Established a System: Not only were the purpose and use of tithe determined by God as the owner of tithe, but also the system through which tithe reached those appointed to receive it. The Israelites were to separate their tithe at home and bring it to the house of the Lord for the Levites (Num. 18:24; Mal. 3:10). The “storehouse” refers to rooms in the Temple employed to store the tithe that was to be distributed among the Levites. In other words, people were not free to give their tithe to whomever they wanted, or to deposit it in any other place except the Temple. Specific persons were in charge of collecting and distributing it to the Levites and priests (2 Chron. 31:12, 13, 15, 16). In the church tithe is to be used only by those recognized by the church to be God’s appointed instruments in the proclamation of the gospel (1 Cor. 9:13, 14).
We are expected to return tithe to the church through its local treasury, not send it to individuals or groups who run their own personal religious businesses. Let God’s tithe be used by the Lord as He intended it: for the fulfillment of the mission of His church.
Angel Manuel Rodríguez is director of the Biblical Research Institute of the General Conference.