Tithing, Yes or No?

What do you think about tithing? Is it Biblical and God-honoring for Christians to regularly tithe?

First, to be clear on definitions, “tithe” literally means “1/10”. It is wrong to say you are “tithing” anything that doesn’t equal 1/10 of your possessions.

Now, the evidences I’ve been given for Christian tithing are:

  1. The O.T. focuses on tithing, and this law is never abrogated by any N.T. teaching.  God says, “I do not change…I am the same”.  Yet you are claiming He has changed on tithing without telling us in the N.T. that He has changed.  And though parts of the Law no longer apply to Christians (such as what to eat), other parts do (such as “do not commit adultery”)…tithing seems to apply to the latter category, because it is a moral principle (giving) and not a physical principle (such as eating).  See point #2, for further evidence on this…
  2. Jesus says, “But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe 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 other words, Jesus is saying to the Pharisees, “Tithing is not the main focus of God’s Law, but should still be done.”  Do we believe that justice and love no longer apply to us because they are in the law?  If not, then tithing should also apply to us.
  3. In Hebrews 7, Abraham is praised for giving a tithe to Melchizedek.  This tithe predated the law (see Gen. 14), so you cannot say that the tithe is only a matter of the O.T. Law.  In the N.T., we may not follow parts of the law, but we still tithe, as it was practiced even before the Law.
  4. Related to #3…In Hebrews 7, Jesus as High Priest is compared to Melchizedek.  Since Abraham gave a tithe to Melchizedek, Christians ought to still give a tithe to the church, which is the expression of Christ on earth.
  5. In 1 Cor. 16:1-2, Paul writes, “Now concerning the collection for the saints: as I directed the churches of Galatia, so you also are to do. On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come.”  The teaching on giving a portion of your income each week seems consistent with tithing.

(If there are other evidences I didn’t think of, please send them my way).

Initially, this list may seem impressive.  But I am not convinced.  Consider the following responses to each “evidence”:

  1. Yes, in some major ways, the Law still applies to the Church today.  Jesus said, “I did not come to abolish the law…but to fulfill it,” (Matt. 5:17).  However, Jesus lived in perfect obedience to the law, and, therefore, all who trust in Him are judged as perfectly fulfilling the law.  Jesus’ obedience to the law covers us, so that even disobedient sinners like us are judged by God as obeying the law: “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” (Rom. 10:4).  Further, God’s Spirit indwelling us brings us to fulfill the law: “the righteous requirement of the law [is]…fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit,” (Rom. 8:4).  God’s Spirit in us empowers us to obey God beyond the letter of the law, and, instead, obey Him in the substance of the law–in things like “justice and love” (Luke 11:42).  Thus, “If you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law” (Gal. 5:18).  Why?  Because the law was just a shadow of Christ.  It gave ideas of what it looks like to live obediently (like a shadow gives ideas of what a person looks like), but it is not the substance.  The law established principles to follow that take us beyond a mere obedience to rules.  For instance, Paul writes that, although the Law talks about not muzzling oxen when they are treading the grain, the principle of that passage can be applied to paying ministers for the work they are doing (1 Cor. 9:9-10).  So, by paying ministers, you are fulfilling the law in its principles, which is more what God’s after than fulfilling it by the letter.  With all of this in mind, as will be shown below, there are ways Christians fulfill the principle of tithe that goes FAR BEYOND giving 1/10 of your income to a local church.
  2. See answer for #1.
  3. Yes, the tithe predates the Law, but so does circumcision (see Genesis 17), and yet Paul explicitly writes, “if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you,” (Gal. 5:2).  Thus, whether a thing predates the law is not the determiner of whether we should obey it still today.
  4. I think there is a far better way of fulfilling Hebrews 7 than urging Christians to give a tithe to their local church.  See below.
  5. 1 Cor. 16:1-2 is talking about them saving money for a special collection that Paul would take to Jerusalem (v. 3), and is not a reference to a regular tithe.  The purpose of saving a little bit every week was so that, “there will be no collecting when I [Paul] come,” (16:2).  Meaning, Paul is advising a better way for them to provide a gift for the saints: save a little each week (notice: no mention of saving a “tenth”), instead of giving a one-time lump sum to Paul when he arrives.  This was not a practice they were already doing, and was something that would find its conclusion upon Paul’s arrival, so using such a passage to support a regular and consistent tithe is a stretch, to say the least.

Finally, the O.T. law of tithing commanded that the Israelites give 1/10 of  what they gather to support the priests (Num. 18:21) and other needs within Israel (Deut. 26:12).  Elsewhere they are also told to give the firstfruits of their produce (i.e. the stuff that came out of the ground first) to the priests, and ultimately to the Lord (e.g. Prov. 3:9; Neh. 10:35-39).  It is unclear to me if the tithe = the firstfruits, or if these were 2 separate offerings (if someone knows, please share).  But suffice to say that Israel gave tithes and firstfruits to the priests, to use and distribute as needed.

So now turn to the New Testament.

First, look at the practice of the early church:

Paul writes: “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not…under compulsion,” (2 Cor. 9:7).  This would contradict an obligation to tithe.

Now, consider the O.T. practice of giving tithe/firstfruits to the priests and the temple…

Who/what is the firstfruit?  “Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that WE [Christians] should be a kind of FIRSTFRUITS of his creatures,” (James 1:18).  Christians = firstfruits.

Who/what is a tithe? Well…Paul says in Romans 9 that only a small number of Israelites are Christians.  He calls this small group a “remnant” (Rom. 9:27 cf. Is. 10:22-23) and an “offspring” (Rom. 9:29 cf. Is. 1:9) of Israel, quoting specifically from Isaiah 1 and 10.  And in the middle of those chapters, in Isaiah 6, we read more about this “remnant” of faithful Israelites.  In Isaiah 6:13, they are called a “stump” (compared to the whole tree), but they are also called “A TENTH”.  In other words, the relatively small portion of believing Jews are considered to be God’s faithful “tithe”–similar to the 1 leper (out of 10) who returned to praise Jesus after being healed (Luke 17:11-19).  Thus, “faithful remnant” = God’s tithe.

And who are the priests?  According to 1 Peter 2:9, Revelation 1:6, and elsewhere, all believers are priests.  So, believers = priests.

And who/what is the temple? Ephesians 2:21 says the church (i.e. the body of believers) is the temple.  So, church = temple.

In summary, then, all Christians are part of God’s spiritual tithe and firstfruits.  We don’t give 10% and keep 90%.  We must give 100% of ourselves to God and see that 100% of what we have belongs to God.  We are the tithe!  We are the firstfruits!  If you don’t give everything, you are holding back part of God’s tithe.  This does not necessarily mean selling all of your possessions (though it could), but instead means that we completely remove O-W-N from our vocabulary.  As it says of the early church, “no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was HIS OWN,” (Acts 4:32).  And when we see that all of “our” resources are really God’s resources, and are considered “God’s tithe,” we recognize that they are primarily used to serve the church (who are the priests and temple), just as the tithe was primarily for the O.T. priests and temple (note that the tithe was also used to serve the poor [Deut. 26:12], and other needs, just as our resources can also be used to minister to poverty, etc. in the world…but the focus is still on the church, first [Gal. 6:10]).  As it is written…

Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common…There was not a needy person among them…” (Acts 4:32-34).  This, I believe, is God’s tithe in action.

Blessings,

Brian

 

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