Friday, January 11, 2008

Is Tithing for Today?

Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings. Ye are cursed with a curse: for ye have robbed me, even this whole nation. Mal 3:8-9

It is commonly believed in most churches and Christian denominations today that tithing is a God mandated activity to which we are all beholden as believers. It is taught in such a way in certain circles that tithing must be done even upon pain of eternal damnation.

Is this the Gospel, i.e. good news?

All one has to do to have eternal life is to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, right? Can anything be added onto what He accoplished at Calvary? Was it not there where He said, It is finished- Jn 19:30? And yet tithing is presented in churches today as a kind of additional item to faith in Christ. Like, "Oh, you're a Christian because you trusted in Christ? Great! By the way, have you payed your tithes? No? You're robbing God, did you know that? And as a thief, you're going to hell..." This is at least how I've heard it preached back in the day. This may be an extreme example (I hope), but this is the logical conclusion to this line of thinking. The doctrine may be presented more subtley, but its implications as a contradiction of sola fidei are obvious.

What does Scripture actually teach on tithing?

Aside from the Old Testament, which I say is entirely focused on National Israel, or on ceremonial requirements of the priesthood, I will only concern myself with New Testament thought. That being said, I will mention that the text with which we began this topic refers to the Children of Israel as understood by the prophet Malachi.

A final Old Testament mention of concern is the famous reference to Melchizedek when Abraham met him (Gen 14:18-20). This is often used, especially as the author of Hebrews refers to it (Heb 7:1-10). But given the context, the author of Hebrews is not mandating tithing, but is comparing the priesthoods, the Aaronic v.s. the Melchizedeccan priesthood, temporal v.s. eternal. The point has been made that since Abraham paid tithes to Melchizedek, and the priesthood, to which our Lord is High Priest forever, is eternal, then tithing too is an eternal principle.

The above is one of two examples of tithing given in the New Testament:

1. The Hebrews 7 reference; and 2. Jesus's statement to the Pharisees (Mt 23:23).

Lets briefly deal with each one:

1. Hebrews 7:1-10 is dealing with the eternal and heavenly Priesthood to which Christ our High Priest belongs. When it speaks of tithing, as in the text, And here men that die receive tithes; but there he receiveth them, of whom it is witnessed that he liveth. Heb 7:8; and, And verily they that are of the sons of Levi, who receive the office of the priesthood, have a commandment to take tithes of the people according to the law, that is, of their brethren though they come out of the loins of Abraham v.5.

First of all, the Temple was still standing when this epistle was written prior to its destruction in 70 A.D. (V.5, and 11). Thus the tithing mentioned here pertained to the Temple service. In Christ receiving tithes in heaven, as it is testified that He lives, it is to say that the tithes given to mortal men, Christ the High Priest received them in their true substance and meaning, and not the physical coinage, or currency. It is a recognition, and assertion of Christ's eternal priesthood being spoken of, while the earthly Temple yet stood.

Second, the command to take tithes was given to the Levitical Priesthood in relation to their brethren the children of Abraham, that is, the Jews. This command to tithe was according to the law, of which we no longer are justified by the keeping of the law, but rather by faith in Jesus Christ (Rom 3:21-28).

2. Jesus' statement to the Pharisees (Mt 23:23): Woe unto you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.

First, Jesus spoke to how the Pharisees were so focused on the smallest matters of the law, which in this case was tithing off of the very plants (Lev 27:30; Dt 14:22), while neglected the more weightier, and more important issues of law, judgment, mercy and faith. He's saying take care of the weightier matters first, then do not neglect these lighter obligations. Because these Pharisees were still under law, Christ fully expected them to fulfill even their tithing obligations which included tithing off of all plant-life.

Second, if we take what Jesus is saying here as our mandate to tithe, then we must take it all the way, and tithe off of all our plants in our garden, trees in our yard, and spices off our spice-rack.

What then is our approach to giving to be in the New Testament? As the apostle Paul said, But this I say, He which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully. Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver. 2Cor 9:6-7.

This then is the conclusion, that the doctrine of tithing is a remnant of Old Testament law, in effect under the Levitical Priesthood while the Temple yet stood in Jerusalem. But performing these deeds of the law can by no means justify us, nor are we made righteous thereby. Instead, by faith in Christ's blood are we justified. As for giving in the New Testament Church, if we're sparing with God, He'll be sparing with us. If we're bountiful, and hilarious ( the Greek meaning for "cheerful") in our giving, God, too, will be bountiful with us. But it will be in accordance, not to Old Testament law, but as we purpose in our hearts, so we give. We are not to give grudgingly according to selfishness, nor yet out of necessity, which is in obedience to some mandated law (such as the doctrine of the tithe), but cheerfully in accordance to how we purpose in our heart. Christ Jesus inaugurated the service toward God that is of the heart, toward the spirit and intent of moral law, which is love, and not according to the letter of a carnal commandment. This approach of the heart includes how we give to Him, not of the necessity of law, but the free-will motivations of a heart in love with Him.