Tithing is mentioned only 4 times in the New Testament, three times in the gospels and once in the letter to the Hebrews. In the gospels, Jesus acknowledged that the Pharisees were very careful about tithing (Matt.23:23; Lk.11:42; 18:12) to the point of over-emphasizing it. They were so focused on tithing that they lost sight of the great goal of the Law, i.e. love and justice to our fellow-man. Also, they trusted in their tithing to give them merit before God.
Now remember that the Pharisees were under the Law, and by law had to tithe. All people in Israel were under the Law. When Jesus was crucified He ushered in the New Covenant, and the Old was finished. Tithing was established under the Law and has no place in the Church. It is no light thing to choose to adhere to the Law, even with a seemingly small issue as tithing. Every person who chooses to keep any part of the Law of Moses is obligated to keep the whole Law and is therefore exposed to its curse.
This point is made in the solitary reference to tithing in the New Testament epistles, i.e. in Hebrews 7. Heb.7:5 reads “And indeed those who are of the sons of Levi, who receive the priesthood, have a commandment to receive tithes from the people according to the law, that is, from their brethren [Israel]”. Note three things from this verse: 1) There was a commandment concerning tithes in the Old Testament; 2) They were to be given to OT priests (not the Church); 3) They were required by the Jews, not Christians.
Hebrews 7:12 notes that “when there is a change of the priesthood, there must also be a change of the law”. In other words, that commandment that did exist under the Old Covenant has been changed, because the priesthood to which it related has now also been changed under the New Covenant.
Hebrews 7:18 says that this commandment has now been abolished. That priesthood, because of its inability to bring perfection, is now annulled. The Old Covenant is obsolete, and the laws which required tithes to be given to the Levites are obsolete. These Hebrews, i.e. Jewish converts, were mixing the law with grace, and were told in chapter 7 to stop tithing! The Gentiles had no need of this message. The Gentile church was never under the law.
Is God in our debt, or are we in His favour?
In Rom.4:4 and 11:35 Paul makes it clear that if our doing any works, including tithing, meant that God was obligated to us in any way then we would not be in His favour but He would actually be indebted to us. Whenever you hear that you must do something for God in order for Him to bless you, be careful! If you believe this, you will be taken out of God’s grace and brought back into the realm of Law. And the Law will actually become a curse to you, because even if you keep it all in one area, say tithing, but not in another, then you will experience its curse.
If we do not tithe, how will God’s work get done and how will the pastor’s needs be supplied?
First, let me say that there is a hermeneutical principle that has always been helpful when interpreting the Bible and it is this – Major on majors. Jesus told 38 parables, 16 concern how we should handle money. He spoke more about money than He did about heaven and hell combined. One out of 10 verses in the gospels deal with possessions or money. In the Bible there are approximately 2500 references to money and possessions and only 500 references to prayer and faith. It is a major issue in the Bible. Many of these verses teach us that the way we handle finances reveals much about where we are at spiritually. Where your treasure is there will your heart be also.
The gospels contain more warning on the misuse of money, than any other subject. The first recorded sin amongst God’s people related to giving. Ananias & Sapphira dropped dead giving. So the way we handle our finances is an important issue in the New Testament.
Moses (the Law) said “Tithe,” but Jesus says, “Give.” The New Testament teaching was on “giving,” never on “tithing.” Giving is a result of the energy of God’s grace in our lives. Giving expresses a quality of living that reflects the nature of God. “God so loved… that He gave…” The Father loved to give all things to the Son. Jesus gave His life for the world. In doing so has gained an everlasting kingdom. But He will, one day, give it back to the Father. God desires to have a family that reflects His nature. It is the way of the Cross. “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” The Cross opens the heart, expands it, causing it to reach out to others.
When we are under law we have to be told to tithe. We reveal our immaturity under legalism by asking childish questions, such as, “Should I tithe on my gross income, or my net income?” Grace treats us as mature sons by not legislating. Grace takes us into the purposes of God’s heart, family and kingdom and allows us to be involved with Him. But our involvement is not solicited by fear-manipulation or guilt-manipulation, but as a result of the operation of the energy of grace in our hearts. So that which we give we do so freely. God loves a cheerful giver.
It is clear from passages such as 1 Cor.9:7-14 that we have responsibilities to ensure that God’s servants who preach the Word are free to do so unencumbered by secular work. But still there is no legislating this. We approach this matter as responsible sons, not as intimidated servants.
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