(addendum12/8/11 – the thoughts below are directed more towards those who preach that the Christian or his or her finances are cursed if they do not give their church a tithe (Robert Morris, Perry Noble, sundry IFBers, etc). While I personally do not believe that tithing is required in the new covenant, I certainly do not disparage those who disagree and tithe out of love of God)
Let me offer as a prologue to this essay a bit of text from the Epistle to the Galatians.
For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”—so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.
Last Sunday, I made my third visit to a local church, one where I had previously enjoyed grace-centric preaching. However, what I heard on November 13 was not far removed from what I have heard so many times at the local mega-church. What I heard was proof-texting of Biblical text. What I am struck by is the massive lack of distinction between the Law and the Gospel offered freely to those not under the jurisdiction of the Mosaic Law. When I hear tithing positively preached, I hear an attempt, ultimately doomed to failure, to mix oil and water; I see Moses dressed in a Jesus suit.
Among the oft-repeated rebuttals to grace givers, one heard in the aforementioned sermon, is that you should look to ten percent of the gross income as a starting point in ones giving. Now, when I hear silly distinctions being made between giving off the net or gross, of using the Law as a starting point of obedience, my mind immediately connects such to the well-intentioned but damning attitude of the first century religious elite of 2nd temple Judaism putting up extra-Biblical barriers around the Law so as to protect people from breaking the Law. Jesus was harsh in His rhetoric to those people.
As said in previous articles, the topic of tithing is not so much about financial stewardship or generosity, but absolutely about Romans 8:1, ‘There is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus.” If you are in Christ, neither you nor your finances are cursed by lack of adherence to the Law of Moses. To assert such is to preach, as Paul affirms in the book of Galatians, another gospel.
If not by the tithe, then how should the redeemed give? By grace, as the Spirit leads the regenerate. To whom should we give? First, to those in the church who are in need. Second, to the true teachers and preachers for they are worthy of double honor. Third, charitably to those in the world. How much should we give? We should give sacrificially. We should also be content with what we have, not coveting the newest, latest, biggest, and best, being on guard because our hearts are idol factories. Too, sacrificial giving for one may be two percent, while another may be able to give 90 percent without sacrifice. Jesus cares more about the attitude of your heart rather than the percent of income given.
You know what? Each and every one of us in the church will fail to live up to the aforementioned standards to some degree. Left to my own devices, I will covet the next digital hand-held device though I do not need it. You will covet a newer, better automobile even though what you own is serviceable. There is grace through Christ for us as we struggle, sometimes failing, against the competing gods in our hearts, for there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus. It is by grace that those idols will be torn down.
I will conclude with a short and far from exhaustive rebuttal to some common arguments regarding the tithe:
1. The tithe predates the Law. So does circumcision and animal sacrifice. Do you suggest a return to these types and shadows, also? Those who assert that the tithe is relevant for the church also mention Abraham’s tithe to Melchizedek in Genesis 14:18-20. Understand this is a tithe off the spoils of war, other peoples property. It was a unique event.
2. Jesus seems to affirm tithing in Matthew 23:23. Jesus is speaking prior to His crucifixion and resurrection to those still under the Law. Too, is this text more about the lack of mercy and justice on the part of the Pharisees?
3. The first ten percent is holy to the Lord. All that you think, do, give, earn, all that you are, should be holy and Christ-honoring. You were purchased at great price; you do not belong to yourself, but you are a bond-servant to Christ. You don’t get a pass for the remaining 90 percent. Also, there were three tithes in the Old Testament, not just one, totaling 23.3 percent. (One tithe was performed every third year). Too, in a culture that had and used money, tithing was rarely money. Some might find Deuteronomy 14:22-26 interesting as to how the tithe was sometimes used, especially those who think all should abstain from alcohol.
English Standard Version (ESV)
“You shall tithe all the yield of your seed that comes from the field year by year. And before the LORD your God, in the place that he will choose, to make his name dwell there, you shall eat the tithe of your grain, of your wine, and of your oil, and the firstborn of your herd and flock, that you may learn to fear the LORD your God always. And if the way is too long for you, so that you are not able to carry the tithe, when the LORD your God blesses you, because the place is too far from you, which the LORD your God chooses, to set his name there, then you shall turn it into money and bind up the money in your hand and go to the place that the LORD your God chooses and spend the money for whatever you desire—oxen or sheep or wine or strong drink, whatever your appetite craves. And you shall eat there before the LORD your God and rejoice, you and your household.
Recall, too, the Jerusalem council in the Book of Acts, chapter 15 in which it was determined what parts of the Old Testament law converted Gentiles would be required to obey. Tithing is not mentioned.
“I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain. ” – Gal 2:21
If you give ten percent out of love for God, God bless you. If you give 10 percent because you think the Law requires it of you, think carefully about the Gospel and your understanding of it. You may be placing yourself under a curse by adding to the Gospel.
(addendum 6/3/2012 – Also, remember that the poor did not tithe, that those who practiced certain occupations did not tithe, carpenters and fishermen, for example. Too, when someone desired to use money rather than bring the tithe to Jerusalem, God required a 20% penalty added. God discouraged the tithing of money (Lev. 27:30-34)