This weekend (February 19th/20th), we will conclude our current series “The Good Steward” by talking about understanding generosity from a biblical perspective. And like we’ve done for the past three years, I will issue a challenge to all our members to demonstrate generosity by making a commitment to begin to tithe/continue to tithe or begin to give above the tithe/continue to give above the tithe.
Every year when we issue this challenge, the same question is always raised. “Is tithing for the New Testament believer?” Let me answer that question.
First, I don’t believe in tithing because I believe that we, as New Testament Christians, are somehow obligated to follow the Old Testament law. It’s true that the tithe was a part of God’s plan for His people in the Old Testament under the old covenant. The most common scripture referenced for the tithe is Malachi 3:10 where we read, Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house… (NIV) But the tithe is also referenced in the New Testament. In Matthew 23:23, Jesus talks to the Pharisees, condemning them for tithing to the penny but neglecting the more important issues of justice, mercy, and faith. He goes on to tell them that they should practice justice, mercy, and faith without neglecting the tithe. The truth is, many practices in the Old Testament don’t make sense for us today, and yet many of them carry over to the New Testament law of grace as part of God’s promise to not abolish the law, but to fulfill it (Matthew 5:17). For instance, we no longer sacrifice animals, but as Christians we offer ourselves as living sacrifices (Romans 12:1). Men are no longer required to be circumcised as a sign of belonging to God, but as Christians we experience the circumcision of the heart through the Holy Spirit (Romans 2:29). Most of us don’t have grain and produce to bring into the storehouse (Malachi 3:10-12), but we do have incomes, and we can bring the first tenth into the church. In other words, just because something is written in the Old Testament doesn’t mean it lacks application to us today in some way or another.
Second, because I believe in tithing as the standard…even the starting place for giving…doesn’t mean that I believe that it’s a percentage that is “mandatory” or “required,” as if it’s something that creates bondage in our lives. This is a common reason so many people reject the tithe today…they see it as bondage. I believe in the tithe as an “eternal standard” that demonstrates the truth that God has first place in our finances. The Old Testament records Abraham offering a tithe to Melchizedek (Genesis 14:18-20), who many Bible scholars believe was a pre-manifestation of Jesus, of all he had gained in battle. This was hundreds of years before the Old Testament law was in place. In Genesis 28:20-22, Jacob made a vow to give a tithe of everything God blessed him with back to God. Now, if you know the entire story, you know Jacob’s motivation was a little shaky. But it’s interesting that when it came to giving back to God, the standard he chose was a tithe, or 10[PME1] %. Again, this was hundreds of years before the law was in place. From the very beginning, tithing was the standard for giving to God. So the standard of the tithe (giving 10%) was in place long before the law commanded it. Here’s a good question. Do God’s standards keep us in bondage? God’s standard for personal relationships is to love one another; God’s standard for sex is that it should only be experienced within the relationship of marriage; God’s standard for giving is the tithe. I believe God’s standards are in place to protect and to bless. We are not saved by works, and no amount of money will get you into heaven, just like failing to give, on its own, will not keep you out of heaven. Some church leaders may try to coerce or guilt people into giving a tithe. That’s not my motivation. My desire is to share God’s truth in a way that leads to blessing.
Third, giving less than a tithe is inconsistent with Jesus’ call to a higher standard of righteousness. I don’t think there can be any argument about the fact that when Jesus came into the world, He continually called God’s people to a higher standard of spiritual life and commitment than what they were currently practicing (look back at Matthew 23:23). Given this reality, how can we believe that Jesus expects any less than the giving of the tithe, the eternal standard for giving, as New Testament Christians today?