The topic of tithing has been percolating in my mind for quite some time. Before I continue, I must make one or two things absolutely clear. First, what I am absolutely not advocating is an excuse to discontinue giving ten percent of one’s income as an act of worship if one is presently doing so. Second, I also submit that I could be wrong about my conclusions so I am not dogmatic on this subject. It is something Christians can agreeably disagree about. Third, I acknowledge that the majority of pastors who teach tithing do so in such a way that that grace is not invalidated. I also understand the vast majority of people who faithfully tithe (and sadly, there are not many) do so out of a pure and righteous motivation. The only reason I spend the time to put a few my less than stellar thoughts on this subject to the written word is because I have been deeply grieved by first-hand knowledge of egregious examples of a misunderstanding of the tithe, the result of which is a legalism that is absolutely counter to the grace of the new covenant. Following are some of the aforementioned examples of the damage caused by an errant teaching of the tithe.

I have heard more than once, from well-meaning Christians, the proposal that because one tithes, God prevents bad things from happening in one’s life. Perhaps because one tithes, one’s car does not break down or perhaps some illness does not befall them. The unintended implication is that if one does not tithe, God’s providential protection is removed and fate may have it’s way with you; God is unintentionally reduced to something akin to a cosmic protection racket.

I have spoken to people who seem to use the tithe as a means to gain divine favor in their business and personal financial life. The thought is that because one meets this obligation to give ten percent, God will bestow His favor upon one’s business and personal finances. God is essentially being used as a means to a selfish end. God does indeed bless His children, those who give from a generous heart, but He will not be used.

I have heard advice given to one about to enter bankruptcy that, before all other financial obligations, one must give ten percent to God. Perhaps rather than extracting the tithe from this individual, maybe this is the person to whom the church, under the covenant of grace, should give and minister.

I have heard church leaders state from their stage/pulpit that they will, if hiring from within the church, look at a prospective employees tithing record before they can be considered for employment. What about Christ’s call in the Sermon on the Mount on not letting the left hand know what the right hand does in relation to giving?

I know of at least one person who has quit attending church out of guilt, a church that is often quite manipulative in how it teaches the tithe, because they simply could not afford to consistently give ten percent of their income due to financial setbacks.

The bottom line and perhaps unintended implication of the errant presentation of tithing by some in the clergy is that our status with God is a result of our performance with all the attendant pride and attendant guilt that comes from attempting gain God’s favor by works.  At the root of the misapplication of the tithe is, I believe, a failure to understand the demarcation between the old and new covenant, the divide between Law and Grace. It is, at the root, a misunderstanding of context. Often Malachi 3:8-10 is given as a proof text for tithing. “Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How have we robbed you?’ In your tithes and contributions. You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you.”

Much could be said about how some pastors manipulate their flock with the misapplication of the Malachi 3:8-10. That being said, I read in Romans 8:1 the following: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

We must understand who God is speaking to in our exegesis of Old Testament text. God is speaking of the Levitical priesthood in Malachi. He is not speaking to the church of the new covenant. If we insist that the tithe is to be pulled into the covenant of grace, then we should, for example, also refrain from eating bacon, from wearing clothing made of two different materials.

If we insist that the tithe is applicable to the covenant of grace, then we must bring the rest of the Law with it. We do not have the liberty to pick and chose which parts of the Law we wish to adhere to and which parts of the Law we can reject. It is all or nothing. The same arguments given to the continuation of the tithe under the new covenant can be equally applied to circumcision for believers in Christ. I have also heard pastors, in defending the obligatory tithe for the church, state that the tithe predates the law. So does circumcision. I believe the subject of the circumcision was well attended to by the Apostle Paul.

If not the obligatory tithe as the model for giving, then by what measure do we give? I believe it is this:

If you are redeemed by the law, give by the law. If you are redeemed by grace, give by grace!

  • Matthew 17:24-26
    When they came to Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma tax went up to Peter and said, “Does your teacher not pay the tax?” He said, “Yes.” And when he came into the house, Jesus spoke to him first, saying, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do kings of the earth take toll or tax? From their sons or from others?” and when he said, “From others,” Jesus said to him, “Then the sons are free.
  • 2 Corinthians 9:7-8
    Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.

Quite a while back, I posted the following article on giving to this blog. In fact, it was my second post to this WordPress blog, though I originally posted it on another blog. In closure:

An Observation on Generosity

December 15, 2007

I passed by a church recently. They were having a public fund raiser for an infant in need of medical care. This was not, judging from the size and architecture of the sanctuary and the selection of cars in the parking lot, a financially poor church.
These are my thoughts that revolve around this scene. First, with the best of intentions, why does the church offer trinkets, services (car washes, for example), tickets for chances at winning things, or baked goods in order prompt others to give, to raise money for someone in need? Is this not the antithesis of giving as taught in the New Testament canon? Are we, as the body of Christ, so petty that we must be given to, even on a symbolic level, before we give?

How are we to live and give in relationship to our risen Savior? Perhaps if one or two or a few people in that church quietly and anonymously cashed in some of their stock portfolio, the medical needs of the child’s family would be met. Perhaps instead of buying a $30,000 dollar bass boat, the money could be spent to help a family that finds themselves unemployed. Perhaps the money for that vacation fund for the family getaway to Cancun could be sent to a team of missionaries to aid Sierra Leone in building medical facilities, churches and schools. My own words are not merely a hollow, self-righteous polemic against others; they absolutely condemn me in my own self-absorption.

  • Acts 2:44-47 All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
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2 thoughts on “A Polemic on Law and Grace – The Tithe

  1. Brother,
    Your words are well taken. Thanks for sharing them. I had just wrtten the enclosed thoughts prior to reading yours. My apology that I have not proofed or corrected this rough draft. I would be happy to know your thoughts about the copy enclosed…..

    About the Law and Tithing….. By Dwight Lowrie, April 23, 2008

    There are many convincing messages, writings, and discourses that help us understand that we are free from the Old Testament Law. We live in the day of Grace. We are set free from the binding stipulations and requirements of the Law. The Law was only a schoolmaster to help us understand our sin and our need for Grace. “Now, we should not be made to feel guilty if we do not live by the Law and give the tithe.”

    There is an element of truth to this argument. Certainly we should not Tithe out of a sense of Law and obligation. We are not under legalism. The Law only condemned. No one was ever saved by keeping the Law. No one could ever be made right with God by keeping the Law. Our works are as “filthy rags” before God.

    If we are not careful, we will miss something very important that Jesus taught us about the Law. He said you have heard it said, “Thou shalt not kill.” “I tell you that if you have hatred in your heart for your brother, you are guilty of murder.” You have heard it said, “Thou shalt knot commit adultery. I tell you if you have lust in your heart for a woman who is not your wife, you have committed adultery.”

    While the Law was fulfilled in Christ, while we are set free from the legalistic demands of the law, the law has not been set aside as a guide and a challenge to help us love and serve our God. The Ten Commandments are even more relevant to the Believer in Jesus Christ than they were before Jesus came and set us free from the Law. They fulfilled their purpose in condemning us in our sin. After salvation, they serve as the “Base-line” for our living under Grace. We are to strive for more than avoiding physically committing murder or adultery.

    In the same way, surely the Law of Tithing has the same kind of “Base-line” guidance for the believer in the practice of Stewardship and Tithing. If the requirement of the Law was ten percent,” how could we think that we could be set free observing the principles taught by the Law. Not one penny should ever be given our of obligation or coercion. Our tithes and offerings should go far beyond the obligation stage. We are under grace. We give out of a cheerful heart. We give because we love the Lord. We give because He has given so much. How could we ever desire to give less than was required under the law?

    Just the absence of killing and adultery does not meet the desired life style of the believer. Our attitudes and our relationships with people are the ultimate fulfillment of God’s plan for us as mature Christians. The tithe is only the beginning. The ten percent of our increase is not the essential factor. The essential factor is the attitude of our heart as it relates to our possessions and our weekly, bi-weekly, monthly, and /or annual increase. All of our possessions belong to the Lord. We grow toward the mature position beginning with the tithe and progressing on to express God’s grace in our lives through our generosity.

    Malachi said, “bring ye all the tithe into the storehouse and see if I will not open the windows of heaven and pour out a blessing that you cannot receive.” We don’t give so we will get God’s blessings. We give because we love Him. We give because we must fulfill the desires of our heart. Then, God opens the windows of heaven over us. According to His Sovereign Grace, He blesses us in the ways that will best glorify Him and prove His love to us. His blessings can come in many ways — spiritually, physically, socially, materially, emotionally, and domestically. The blessing might be just the sweet fellowship of His presence in our life, knowing we have expressed our love for Him.

  2. First, thank you sending the draft of your essay on tithing. Second, let me state that I am still learning more about the relationship between law and grace. Following are a few hastily put together thoughts on the tithe and your essay.

    The subject of the tithe is controversial and complicated, and I admit I have so much to learn. That being said, the tithe presented in the Old Testament is not simply ten percent off the top of your gross earnings. I have read that there is not one, but three (some say four) tithes in the Old Testament. There were jubilee years when no one tithes. Often, the poor were not required to tithe. The tithe was used to feed the priests, travelers and the poor in the tither’s home. The tithe of Abraham to Melchizedek, king of Salem, was a one time, voluntary tithe of the spoils of war. The tithe was agricultural in nature, and this culture did have currency. The tithe was given to the Levitical priesthood so that they may eat. There are also monetary taxes required in the Old Testament. Only a Levite could collect the tithe. If the church is going to teach the tithe, teach it in whole and teach it in biblical context rather than bending it to conform to current tradition. Hold in your mind when reading about the tithe in the Old Testament that we who are redeemed are all priests in Christ.

    Also, church history shows that the tithe was not taught until Constantine made Christianity essentially the state religion in the fourth century. It then became a building tax for the most part. Again, the early church did not teach tithing. All instances of giving in the New Testament show believers giving to believers who were in need and often giving sacrificially. There is no New Testament command to tithe. It is interesting to note the difference in how the apostle Paul addresses the church at Corinth as compared to how he addresses the church of Galatia. I have no need to remind you how carnal the church at Corinth was. Paul states his apostolic authority, sends greetings, and then has an earnest talk about the carnality within that church. He does not question, and I find this remarkable, the salvation of those being disciplined in the church. However, when he encounters the legalism of the Galatian church, he boldly states his apostolic authority, kicks the door down in chapter three, calls them foolish, and essentially accuses them of departing from faith.

    The tithe is today used mostly for administrative purposes of the church perhaps, from what I have read, to the order of 85 percent. This shows me that today the tithe is not used, for the most part, to feed the poor or to send missionaries to the harvest. It is essentially a building fund. Remember Martin Luther and his thoughts on the Roman Catholic practice of charging money for indulgences? The RC church needed more money for buildings, so they sold indulgences.

    Understand, too, my perspective and how it colors my thoughts. I used to attend a mega-church that was terribly manipulative (think Malachi without Romans 8:1) in teaching giving, especially when the church is engaged in a building campaign. I have heard of people asking how this pastor could live in a $500,000 dollar home (his wife is a doctor for what that is worth) and ask people to cut off their cable TV to meet the tithe. Trying hard not to be unrighteously judgmental, I do not know how to answer that question. .

    I agree, for the most part, with your essay. However, the following statement made my ears perk up a bit: “In the same way, surely the Law of Tithing has the same kind of “Base-line” guidance for the believer in the practice of Stewardship and Tithing. If the requirement of the Law was ten percent,” how could we think that we could be set free observing the principles taught by the Law. Not one penny should ever be given our of obligation or coercion. Our tithes and offerings should go far beyond the obligation stage. We are under grace. We give out of a cheerful heart. We give because we love the Lord. We give because He has given so much. How could we ever desire to give less than was required under the law?”

    I sense some dissonance within that statement. On one hand you say that not one penny should be given under obligation and that we are under grace. On the other hand, you ask how we can we desire to give less than the requirement of the Law. Though I think unintentionally, such is still legalism and a prompting to give under coercion.

    Regarding your statement, “The Ten Commandments are even more relevant to the Believer in Jesus Christ than they were before Jesus came and set us free from the Law. They fulfilled their purpose in condemning us in our sin. After salvation, they serve as the “Base-line” for our living under Grace”, I agree, in principle, with whole heart. However, does the command to tithe appear in the Decalogue?

    Regarding your statement, “We grow toward the mature position beginning with the tithe and progressing on to express God’s grace in our lives through our generosity”, I do not believe you can start with a foundation of legalism to build a home on grace. As I stated in my essay, if you are redeemed by the law, give by the law. If you are redeemed by grace, give by grace.

    I deeply respect your opinion as a brother in Christ. I believe you believe in grace, and forgive me if I come across as too critical. It is just that I am so very jealous for the grace of my Redeemer, Christ Jesus. I believe we are close to harmony on this subject, but I still reject the tithe as the biblical guide for Christian giving. It was useful for the house of Israel, but it is not for the New Covenant.

    In conclusion, here are my thoughts on giving: https://ronclick.wordpress.com/2007/12/15/an-observation-on-generosity/

    In His grip,

    Ron

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