Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Tithing vs Giving

The practise of tithing is quite interesting to me. I find it interesting partly because I was brought up in a tradition that did not practise it, but also because as I understand scripture, tithing is only a requirement if you are Jewish and are living under the Mosaic covenant. Yet tithing is big in so many churches, particularly of the pentecostal persausion.

Old Testament References to Tithing
In the Pentateuch, Gen 14:20, 28:22; Lev 27:30-32; Num 18:21-28 and Deut 12:6-17, 14:22-28, 26:1-12 deal with tithing or giving of a tenth. The Gen 14:20 passage refers to when Abraham gave Melchizedek a tenth "of everything". The Gen 28:22 passage refers to when Jacob said "if God blesses me then I will give Him a tenth". However the majority of the treatment of the Pentateuch on tithing is in Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy, and this is where God states tithing as a requirement for His people when they have come into the promised land. At this point in the Old Testament, there was no King in Israel other than God, and the Mosaic Law was how God intended His people, the state of Israel to live. The law formed part of the covenant that God had with the state of Israel, which is different from the covenant He has with us.

According to Lev/Num/Deut the purpose of the tithe was as the inheritance of the Levites as they were not alloted any land in Israel (Num 18:21-28). It seems in some of these passages that the tithe of grain and meat was actually eaten by the giver in the presence of God (Deut 12:17, 14:22-28). Every three years the tithe was collected and given to the Levite, the fatherless and the widow (Deut 26:1-12).

There are further references to the practise in the historical and prophetic writings of the Old Testament; 2 Chron 31:5-6, 12; Neh 10:37-38, 12:44, 13:5-12; Amos 4:4; Malachi 3:8-10. The 2 Chronicles passage shows that no only was the tithe in the law it was practised by the Israelites. Nehemiah 10 records the renewal of the covenant between God and His people after the rebuilding of the wall in Jerusalem, so is a restatement of the Mosaic Law. Nehemiah 12 records the rededication of the temple, at which point people presented tithes and offerings. Nehemiah 13 records Nehemiah's final reforms. During a period of absence, Tobiah the Ammonite had moved into one of the rooms in the temple, such that the offerings could not be stored in the temple which had driven the Levites back into the fields to provide for themselves. The Nehemiah references really reinforce the covenant that God made between Himself and the Jews, and also shows some of the implications for the Jews when the Law was not obeyed in this regard. The Amos passage is a call for His people to return to God, as is the Malachi passage. The book of Malachi is about how the people of Israel have failed to meet God's requirements and have passed off blemished sacrifices, the teachers have failed to teach God's word, Judah has been unfaithful, and broken covenant with God.

New Testament References to Tithing
In the New Testament tithing is referred to in three places Matt 23:23; Luke 11:42; and Heb 7:2-9. In the Matthew and Luke passages Jesus is rebuking the Pharisees for being legalistic and tithing even down to their "mint, dill and cumin" but neglecting the weightier matters of the Law "justice, mercy and faithfulness". Now this passage is often used to prove that Jesus approved of tithing, however it is interpreted out of context. Jesus was speaking to the Pharisees, who were under the Law and as such definitely should have been tithing. But note that Jesus' concern is more that there are more important matters of Law that they neglect, justice, mercy and faithfulness.

The Hebrews passage goes back over the Abraham and Melchizedek incident recorded in Gen 14:20. It does not state an opinion on whether tithing is required for Christians, but rather recounts an historical event to prove another point, which is that the priesthood of Jesus is superior to that of the Levites (because the Levites paid their tithe through Abraham to Melchizedek, and Melchizedek is a type of Christ.)

What is a New Testament view on Christians obeying Mosaic Law?
The issue of whether Christians should have to obey the Mosaic Law came up early in the years following Pentecost. This particularly came to a head when Gentiles started to become Christians. Many Jewish Christians felt that the Gentiles had to follow the law in addition to believing in Jesus to be saved, so they pushed for Gentile Christians to be circumcised. This all came to a head at the
Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15:1-29. A decision had to be made as to whether the Gentile Chritians should be circumcised and made to follow the Law. The determination of the Council was that "It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things." (v28-29). This does not mention tithing or almsgiving.

The issue of circumcision was a biggie in Galatia, and Paul deals with it very strongly at one point in chapter five encouraging them that if they like circumcision so much, why not go the whole way and emasculate themselves. (Ouch!). Gal 3:3-5,18,29 is illustrative. The problem with the whole circumcision thing (and I would argue tithing) is that it shifts people from a position where their relationship with God is based on Grace to one of Law and works. Paul says to them, "After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?" And that is what I see happening with the current teaching on tithing, is this idea that the blessings of God are attached to how much you give, which is to say on our "human effort" not the Spirit. Verses 18 and 29 are clear, the inheritance that God gave Abraham was before the Law, it is dependent on God's promise, and we are heirs of Abraham if we belong to Christ. The blessings of God are ours not because we obey the Law, not because we give our tithes, but because He has promised them to us freely and of His grace.

Galatians 5 goes on to tell us that we are free in Christ and we shouldn't let ourselves be reburdened by a "yoke of slavery", by which Paul is referring to obedience to the Law. So we don't have to tithe, but does this mean we shouldn't give? Galatians 5:13 says, "You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love." Serving one another in love is the basis from which our giving should spring...

So how should a Christian Give?
It is interesting that although there is not continuity of teaching from the Old Testament to the New Testament on tithing, there is on giving. There is reoccuring teaching on genorosity and on caring for the poor, widows and orphans throughout both the Old and New Testament. I think this is really God's heart, and I'm reminded of Jesus' rebuke of the Pharisees, "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness..." Mt 23:23. They have forgotten why God wanted the tithe, which as discussed earlier was to care for the Levites, the poor, the widows and orphans. I think this is really the transition point from the Law of Tithing, to the Spirit of Giving. Generosity is encouraged, beyond 10%. Jesus commends the giving of a glass of water, and instructs rich people to sell all they have and give it to the poor. Paul commends the church in Macedonia for giving beyond their means.

Some key passages on Giving:
Old Testament -
Deut 15:10-11; Prov 11:24, 21:26, 25:21, 28:27
Gospels - Matt 5:42, 10:42, 19:21, 25:34-46; Mark 9:41, 10:21; Luke 6:30,35,38, 12:33, 14:12-13, 18:22
Pauline - 2 Cor 8:1-15, 9:1-15; 1 Tim 6:17-19

Some key passages on the Poor:
Pentateuch -
Lev 23:22, 25:25,35,39; Deut 15:1-11, 24:10-15
Wisdom Literature - Pro 14:31, 17:5, 19:17, 21:13, 22:9,16,22, 28:27, 29:7
Prophetic - Isa 3:14-15, 10:1-2, 14:30, 25:4, 32:7, 41:17, 58:7, 61:1; Jer 5:28, 22:16-17; Eze 18:12, 22:29; Amos 2:7, 4:1, 5:11-12, 8:4-6; Zec 7:10
Gospels - Matt 19:21; Mark 10:21, 12:42-43; Luke 4:18, 7:22, 11:40-42, 12:33, 14:13, 18:22, 19:8, 21:2-3
Epistles - Ro 15:26; Gal 2:10; James 2:2-6
Other NT - Acts 10:5,31, 24:17; Rev 3:17

The other aspect of this is support of ministries. This one is pretty clear, Paul says in 1 Corinthians 9:1-14 that those who preach the gospel should earn their living from it, although Paul himself chose to work as well so that he would not be a burden on those to whom he was ministering.

So practically what does all this mean?
Well it means give as the Spirit leads you, out of a sense of love (1 Cor 13:3). We should be generous and willing to share, this should come out of a love for God and our neighbours, not out of a sense of compulsion or legalism. The key issue here is one of the heart, are we giving out of freedom and gratitude for all that God has given us, or fear that if we don't He won't look after us? Jesus gave us the answer for that; seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and all these things (food, clothing etc) will be given to us as well (
Matt 6:25-33)

God bless,


Teknon said...

I have heard people sometimes excuse their failure to do the right thing by saying "I didn't feel led." If we wait passively for the Spirit to move us to give to others, there are many in great need who will be waiting a long, long time.

We must not lazily wait for the Spirit to move us. Rather, we must deliberately and actively choose to pursue the Spirit's involvement in every dark corner of our lives.

Jesus said, "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied."

Jesus is Lord. We must make the practice of our daily living relationship with Christ the Son of God the clear number one priority in our lives. "For if you live according to the flesh, you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live." (Rom 8:13) Only then will our hearts be moved to the same loving generosity that we receive so freely from our God.

Only the giving that comes from living by the Spirit of God will be acceptable and pleasing in God's sight.

Bec said...

Thanks Teknon, I think you pinned my objection on what is wrong with the "compulsory" tithe - it doesn't come from living by the Spirit but often out of guilt.

God bless,

georgia87 said...

Yeah, but...
Abraham wasn't under the Mosaic law. Maybe tithing is a universal principle, a guideline for what is healthy for us. I agree that there is no New Testament law, but our righteousness should exceed the righteousness of the Pharisees. Tithing has given me a baseline, kept me grounded in the fact that the money I have doesn't belong to me and that I have a responsibility to God for what He has blessed me with.
There is also a lot of freedom in it. How much is enough? Should I give until I am poor? The universal law for humans is the tithe. Now, we exceed that. But I don't feel any guilt if I go out to eat because I haven't been generous.