God sets apart first tithe, second tithe, and third-year tithe for specific purposes, and we are to use them in a prescribed manner.
When you hear the word “holy,” what do you think of? Commentaries on the Bible have a lot to say about this subject, but a good working definition of when something is “holy” has three elements: Something is holy when it is (1) set apart (2) by God (3) for His special purpose. For instance, we think of ancient Israel’s priests as dealing very carefully with holy things—such as their vestments, bowls, and sacrifices—in order to avoid profaning them by improper use. God gave them procedures for handling these articles, and the priests followed those procedures carefully.
The New Testament writers frequently mentioned holiness as well. They understood that God is serious about holiness and that His Church must take it seriously. Sometimes, however, we may not remember that God gives spiritual Israel some holy things to keep holy by proper use. We must not profane holy things by improper use.
God Sets Apart His Tithes for His Purposes
For instance, the holy time of the Sabbath is one thing we must keep holy. Working on the Sabbath day profanes something that God has set apart as holy. He gave us the command, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy” (Exodus 20:8), and says, “There remains therefore a Sabbath rest for the people of God” (Hebrews 4:9, WEB). The Sabbath is as holy today as it always was. Also, the name of God is holy, and we are not to profane it by taking it in vain. God said, “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain” (Exodus 20:7), and also said, “You shall not profane My holy name, but I will be hallowed among the children of Israel” (Leviticus 22:32). These holy things are so important that two of the Ten Commandments concern God’s holy time and His holy name.
In addition, the Church of God is comprised of holy people, and we must not profane ourselves with sin. The Days of Unleavened Bread are an annual reminder of this, and the Apostle Peter reminded the churches about it when he quoted Leviticus 11:44–45, saying that “as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, ‘Be holy, for I am holy’” (1 Peter 1:15–16). Members of God’s Church should always be aware of these holy things.
However, there is another holy thing that we may not remember as being holy—and, as a result, risk profaning it. It is set apart by God for His special purpose:
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. If a man wants at all to redeem any of his tithes, he shall add one-fifth to it. And concerning the tithe of the herd or the flock, of whatever passes under the rod, the tenth one shall be holy to the Lord. He shall not inquire whether it is good or bad, nor shall he exchange it; and if he exchanges it at all, then both it and the one exchanged for it shall be holy; it shall not be redeemed (Leviticus 27:30–33).
God’s tithes are holy. They are set apart by God for specific purposes, and we are to use them in a prescribed manner. The tithe is the Lord’s—not ours. Malachi 3:8 teaches us, “Will a man rob God? Yet you have robbed Me! But you say, ‘In what way have we robbed You?’ In tithes and offerings.” If we spend it for our personal use, we are taking something that is God’s, and we are profaning what is holy.
This article is not intended to be a comprehensive review of the tithing laws; rather, it is intended to be a reminder of the sanctified nature of the tithes.
The First and Second Tithes Are Holy
So, in the New Testament, what are the purposes for which God uses His tithes? The Apostle Paul instructed the Church that we are the temple of God, and our tithes continue to be set apart by God for His purposes. “Do you not know that those who minister the holy things eat of the things of the temple, and those who serve at the altar partake of the offerings of the altar? Even so the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should live from the gospel” (1 Corinthians 9:13–14). God’s ministry is to use the tithe for its support and to do the Work.
Let’s look briefly at the set-apart use of the Festival tithe, or second tithe. “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” (Deuteronomy 14:22–23).
Verses 26–27 give its specified purpose. “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. You shall not forsake the Levite who is within your gates, for he has no part nor inheritance with you.” What a pleasant command!
All the tithes are God’s, and all are holy to Him for a purpose. We give God a first tithe for His use, and He gives us an equal amount of His tithes so that we can obey Him and rejoice at His Feasts—especially the Feast of Tabernacles. The Festival Tithe is set apart by God for that purpose.
When Christ comes in glory, He will initiate the reign of the Kingdom of God, the first 1,000 years of which are pictured by the Feast of Tabernacles. That will be a time of great rejoicing! We should remember that very special picture as we save our second tithe. Our rejoicing at the Feast pictures the far greater joy that the resurrected servants of God will have in God’s Kingdom. Using the second tithe for a purpose other than what God has specified for it profanes a holy thing.
Saving our second tithe faithfully and taking it to the Feast pictures our storing of treasure in heaven, which Christ brings at His coming. Christ said, “And behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give to every one according to his work” (Revelation 22:12). For those called by the Father (John 6:44), receiving eternal life in the Kingdom of God is an unearned gift that we receive through living faith in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2:8–9). What we do in the Kingdom, however, is by reward according to our works (Matthew 16:26–27).
God commands us to attend His Feasts and to rejoice—and He does not command us to do something without making it possible. When we set aside our Festival Tithe, God is providing us with the means to obey His command to attend and rejoice. This instruction is there for our good, and a command to rejoice is certainly a pleasant obligation. But if someone fails to set aside this tithe or spends it for something other than God’s Feasts, he or she is profaning something that has been set apart by God for His special purpose—the purpose of fulfilling His command.
The Third-Year Tithe Is Holy
In the third and sixth years of a seven-year cycle, God sets apart a different tithe for a special charitable purpose: providing for the needs of widows, the fatherless, and others. The term “third tithe” is often used, but some outside the Church have misrepresented that term to mean that God’s people practice “triple tithing”—which, of course, isn’t true. The term “third tithe” can be problematic because, for instance, we keep the second tithe for our use at God’s Feasts, and this additional tithe is only set aside two years out of every seven. “Third-year tithe” is more accurate. Here are some instructions for the use of the third-year tithe:
When you have finished laying aside all the tithe of your increase in the third year—the year of tithing—and have given it to the Levite, the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, so that they may eat within your gates and be filled, then you shall say before the Lord your God: “I have removed the holy tithe from my house, [for what purpose?] and also have given them to the Levite, the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, according to all Your commandments which You have commanded me; I have not transgressed Your commandments, nor have I forgotten them” (Deuteronomy 26:12–13).
Verse 14 lists some ways that a person in ancient Israel could profane this tithe. “I have not eaten any of it when in mourning, nor have I removed any of it for an unclean use, nor given any of it for the dead. I have obeyed the voice of the Lord my God, and have done according to all that You have commanded me.” In the Church today, we also can profane it by not setting the tithe aside or by improper use of it. Of course, the special tithe of the third year is for the poor, not from the poor. If anyone believes that the latter circumstance applies to them and that paying this tithe would be inappropriate—that they are among those in need of support, not those who can provide it—then his or her local minister can help with counsel.
Tithing Brings a Special Blessing
Verse 15 gives us a request we should make of God at the end of the third year: “Look down from Your holy habitation, from heaven, and bless Your people Israel and the land which You have given us, just as You swore to our fathers, ‘a land flowing with milk and honey.’” This request can be for a blessing for God’s Church—which is spiritual Israel—and for you personally as part of the Israel of God (Galatians 6:16).
When you finish your third year, and you have kept and used God’s tithes faithfully, be sure to request that blessing.
We should not lose sight of the fact that God’s tithes are holy; God set them apart for a divine purpose. Like anything holy, misusing them profanes what God has declared to be holy. Let us remember to faithfully handle God’s holy tithes in the ways He commands.
If you have questions about the principles behind tithing, consider reading our free study guide God’s People Tithe!