Giving to the local church is biblical and important, but tithing is a self-serving remnant from a long distant age.
On numerous occasions, I have sat through Sunday services where there have been two sermons; one on tithing and the other on whatever topic the preacher had on his heart. I am not being facetious or sarcastic here, but some churches preach on tithing every Sunday. The exhortations I have heard on this subject usually take one of two forms:
- There is the appeal to God’s Law, routinely built around, what I call ‘Malachi’s mallet’; “Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me.” But you ask, ‘How do we rob you?’ “In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse — the whole nation of you — because you are robbing me” (Malachi 3:8-10). Then there is the…
- …‘let’s do a good deal with God’ approach, and here the continuation of the Malachi passage works well; “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it” (Mal 3:10-11). So, great, let’s give 10 and He will give us 100… a good deal indeed!
Does the Bible insist that disciples of the Lord Jesus give a tenth of whatever they earn? Are pastors righteous when they insist that their members tithe to their local church? Should we be financially funding our local church? My answers are No… No… and Yes!
Tithing, which is a word describing a tenth of something, has its origin in the life of Old Testament Israel and was what we today would understand as Income Tax. The tithe paid for Israel’s system of government before the advent of kings and kingdoms. The priests administered religious ritual and the judges administered justice and provided national leadership. All adult citizens paid the tithe to fund the religious and judicial systems (Leviticus 27:30, Numbers 18:26).
Do we find the concept of tithing in the New Testament? No, we do not, but we do find a few references to it. Its first New Testament appearance is when Jesus was declaring dire woes on the Pharisees; “Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone” (Luke 11:42 and also in Matthew 23:23). Advocates of tithing often link this to what Jesus said concerning the Law; “I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20). Here, Jesus is not only said to be endorsing the tithe, but also claiming that non-tithers will not go to Heaven! But is this honestly what these texts mean? I don’t think they do; in fact I think that this understanding is as back-to-front as ‘ehtit’! The address to the Pharisees consisted of woes, not affirmation. The Matthew 23 passage starts with Jesus telling His followers that they were to obey the Pharisees, despite their hypocrisy, because they were the custodians of the Law of Moses. Before Jesus died to settle the demands of the Law, the Jews were still under the Law and could only be deemed righteous before God if they obeyed all of its requirements. His statement recorded in Matthew 5:20 simply reinforces this truth. However, Jesus put to death the demands of the Law when He died on the cross of Calvary. Paul wrote of how Jesus abolished ‘in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations’ (Ephesians 2:15). He also wrote, in Romans 3:21-22 that ‘now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe’. Jesus was not endorsing the law of tithing for His followers, He was simply pointing out that outside of salvation in Him there was no righteousness for the Jews apart from scrupulous obedience to all of the dictates of the Law of Moses.
In his letter to the church in Corinth, Paul spelled out the gospel-oriented understanding of financial giving (2 Corinthians chapters 8 & 9). Giving, and especially giving to the local church, which is the extended family of God, is a privilege and a joy. It pleases God and it makes us happy. It also provides the financial means for the local church to function, serve, teach, care, and reach out into its environment with the Gospel.
Some pastors preach tithing and even demand the tithe because they sincerely believe that it is biblical, but I believe that they are sincerely wrong.
Perhaps others think that they will be financially insecure if they do not constantly exhort their people to tithe. But insecurity comes from not trusting God rather than from concern over people’s adherence to a redundant Old Testament law. I left a very well paid executive job in the banking industry to pastor a tiny church of 17 or so people. I continued to lead that church as it grew and thrived over three decades, and never in all that time did I preach tithing, and never did my family not have the essentials of life. God provided for us adequately and faithfully through the local church. God does that you know!