You’ve heard all the sermons and attended all the financial seminars. They all tell you the same thing. If you aren’t giving 10% of your gross income to the church, you’re a disobedient Christian.
I’ll believe it when I see it. Let’s ask some questions. Sixty-six books of material ought to give us something.
Malachi in Context
What’s the primary passage that Christian financial experts use as their defense? Malachi 3.
Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, “How have we robbed you?” In your tithes and contributions.
Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need.
Dig into the entire book of Malachi, and you’ll see what this is about. It seems that the priests decided God wasn’t worthy of honor because He wasn’t doing His job well. Presenting an offering before this God? No big deal.
Their people followed suit, either bringing their second best, acquiring it unethically, or lying about it. Or a, b, and c.
God scolded them and offered them a second chance. If they would bring their very best with an attitude of reverence, the Lord would honor it. The Lord’s name is to be feared, end of story.
Is the point of Malachi 3 the tithe itself or the method and attitude with which it is brought? Is this passage intended to be applied directly to 21st-century Christians? If so, how?
The Old Testament Tithe
The concept of a “tithe” is undoubtedly pervasive in the Old Testament. As with any other issue specifically pertaining to a particular person, or group of people, in a particular context, we must ask if it pertains also to us as New Testament believers. What does Jesus say about the tithe? Does He command it, teach it, reinforce it, or speak about it at all?
The average evangelical church of the 21st-century advocates the tithe as an important part of the Christian’s participation and the church’s function.
The New Testament speaks about the church to a great extent. Does it ever mention a tithe?
What can we learn about the tithe from the Old Testament? How should it be applied to the New Testament church? What passages or aspects regarding the tithe in the Old Testament are confirmed in the New Testament?
The New Testament Tithe
To answer your question, the New Testament speaks of a “tithe” (or “tenth”) in a grand total of three instances. Let’s briefly explore each.
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe [apodekatoo] mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel! Matt 23:23
But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe [apodekatoo] mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. Luke 11:42
In these parallel passages, Jesus does not condemn the religious people of the day for tithing. Rather, He condemns them for placing the tithe above matters of greater importance. They should have given attention to all of the above.
I fast twice a week; I give tithes [apodekatoo] of all that I get. Luke 18:12
In the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector, the “righteous” one of the two boasts of his religiosity. He tithes his “gross income” and anything else he happens to obtain.
For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him, and to him Abraham apportioned a tenth [dekate] part of everything.
See how great this man was to whom Abraham the patriarch gave a tenth [dekate] of the spoils! And those descendants of Levi who receive the priestly office have a commandment in the law to take tithes [apodekatoo] from the people, that is, from their brothers, though these also are descended from Abraham. But this man who does not have his descent from them received tithes [dekatoo] from Abraham and blessed him who had the promises. It is beyond dispute that the inferior is blessed by the superior. In the one case tithes [dekate] are received by mortal men, but in the other case, by one of whom it is testified that he lives. One might even say that Levi himself, who receives tithes [dekate], paid tithes [dekatoo] through Abraham, for he was still in the loins of his ancestor when Melchizedek met him. Hebrews 7:1-2, 4-10
A reference to Genesis 14, this passage points to Jesus as the “priest who rises after the likeness of Melchizedek” (Heb 7:15-16). The author of Hebrews gets to the heart of the matter in the verses following: “For on the one hand, a former commandment is set aside because of its weakness and uselessness (for the law made nothing perfect); but on the other hand, a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God” (Heb 7:18-19).
Is it possible that, in the New Testament, the “tithe” is simply understood as a natural part of religious life? If Jesus doesn’t condemn or dismiss the tithe, why does He barely speak of it?
The Tithe and The Church
That being said, I am not convinced that Christians today are commanded to give 10% of their gross income to the church.
What are we supposed to do with that 10%? Or rather, 100%?
To be sure, God spends a great deal of time talking about money and how the Christian should use the resources God has given. But in those discussions, He never mentions a tithe.
God also spends a great deal of time talking about the church and the Christian’s responsibility therein. Yet He never mentions a tithe.
Regarding the Christian’s approach to money, Jesus says things like, “Give to the one who begs from you” (Matt 5:42, Luke 6:30), and, “Sell your possessions and give to the needy” (Mark 10:21, Luke 12:33).
Notice James 2:15-16:
If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?
Take a look at the following scenario. Perhaps this could be considered an example for the 21st-century church to emulate. Here, we have a “collection,” yet no “tithe” per se. Actually, we find something quite different.
And he sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. And a poor widow came in and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny. And he called his disciples and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” Mark 12:41-44
Consider also the following description of how the body of believers in Macedonia used their resources.
We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints—and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us.
And in this matter I give my judgment: this benefits you, who a year ago started not only to do this work but also to desire to do it. So now finish doing it as well, so that your readiness in desiring it may be matched by your completing it out of what you have. For if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have. For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness. As it is written, “Whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack.” 2 Cor 8:1-5, 10-15
Contribute to the needs of the saints, and seek to show hospitality.
One further lengthy passage is found in 2 Corinthians 9 which speaks of the “generosity of their contribution.”
Lots of talk about needs and giving and generosity. Not a word about a “tithe.”
If I may condense all that has been said and make two observations for consideration. Fair warning: #1 is no good without #2.
1. In all that God says about money as it pertains to the church, He never mentions a “tithe.” Perhaps we err to press the “tithe” as the Christian’s responsibility in the church in our day.
2. In all that God says about money as it pertains to the church, He declares a lifestyle of “generosity.” None of this “let-me-calculate-10%” stuff. Christians are to give above and beyond to meet the needs of others.
It’s a thought.
[image credit: huffingtonpost.com, journeyoftheword.com]