Should believers in the Lord Jesus Christ practice the principle of Tithing? That’s a good question that many new believers have asked, as well as in recent days many long time Christians. I want to answer that question as best I can from the scriptures and show you how believers ought to behave when it comes to the issue of giving.
1.) Our Firm Foundation – In order to understand why Christians ought to practice the principle of tithing there are some basic facts that function as the foundation of this Bible doctrine.
a.) Christians are not Under the Law They are Free – Sometimes when preachers and teachers present this truth they don’t do a very good job of explaining what that means. It means that believers do not have to observe the rituals, succeed in getting every minute command right, or suffer the consequences of failing the Old Testament Covenant. It is not that the law expired, but that rather it was fulfilled. It finished. It taught us the holiness and righteous standard of God, and brought us to the realization that we could not keep it, but Jesus did, and so we will stand in Him by faith, and have His righteousness and obedience imputed to us. He represented us as human beings to God, and God in turn bestows “fulfilling redeeming righteousness” on those that genuinely come to Christ.
b.) Christians are to Learn the Principles of the Old Testament – The issue or the question of the tithe is not a “law” issue, but rather an Old Testament issue. There are many people today who do not believe that Christians ought to tithe, because Christians are “free from the law.” While they are absolutely correct about being free from the law, the tithe is not an issue confined or limited to the law. It has been rightly pointed out that it existed before, during, and after the law. It existed after the law in the sense of the oft quoted Matthew 23:23 in which Jesus said instructed the Pharisees to “not leave the (tithe) undone.” Many point to that verse to support tithing, and many point to that verse to oppose the tithe. We will do neither here except to say, that “the law and the prophets were until John, and since that time the Kingdom of God has been preached.” A case can be made that the law was not fulfilled until the veil of the temple was rent at Calvary, and a case can be made that the law was until John. Either way we want to look at our relationship to the Old Testament. Hebrews 7 is also a NT passage that deals with the issue. We’ll pick it up in a few minutes.
Much of the Old Testament today is still stunningly current with our times. The prohecies of Daniel, and Zechariah, and Ezekiel, concerning the millennial reign, and the tribulation, have yet to come to pass, and so we still vigorously study them. I say that to say this, no Christian ought to get the idea that the Old Testament has nothing to do with us anymore. While we are not under the law, there is much more than law in the Old Testament. The Apostle Paul wrote in Romans “For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.” Old Testament scriptures are still scriptures intended to be for our learning.
c.) The New Testament has no Command to Tithe – It is true that there is not a specific command in the New Testament for believers to give a tenth of their income to the church. You can read it for yourself, and it’s not there. Without going into right now, we will in a minute, the fact is that even though there is not a specific command about tithing, there is much more. There are other commands given, that in order to be obedient to them, then my heart will want to practice the principle of the tithe.
2.) Our Stable Structure – Where then does this compulsion to tithe come from for the New Testament Christian? It first comes with having a New Testament understanding of the Old Testament Law. What does it mean for us?
a.) It (The Law) is a Picture of the Heart of God – There are several statements that the Apostle Paul makes concerning the nature of the law, and how New Covenant people are to view it. Romans 7:12 – “Wherefore the law is holy, and just, and good.” A few verses before that, he said in verse 7 of that chapter, “What shall we say then? is the law sin God forbid.” Over in Galatians 3:19-25 the Apostle really explains that the fundamental purpose of the law was to be our “school teacher” to teach us to come to Christ. Well if you’re saved, you’ve graduated.
I graduated high school in 199o. Since then I have not had to follow one rule or one teacher of Mountain View High School. I have not had to answer to the principle, nor have I had to pass any tests, make any grades, or labor over any of their papers. I am free. I have moved on. I am no longer under my school master.
But . . . the things I learned are still with me. I still know how to read. I’m free not to, but I do. I can generally still add and subtract and work the occasional algebra problem. I have a basic understanding of the princples of correct grammar that even though I don’t have to follow them in order to not sound like a moron I do.
Now that being said what did the law, or the school master do? To quote the King James Study Bible, “The law is an expression of God’s righteousness and is intrinsically good.” It demonstrated for us God’s righteous character and plan. Why are we not to steal? – Because God does not want us to. Why are we not to kill? Because God does not want us to. Those commands reveal to us the desires of God’s heart. He desires for us not to be murderers and thieves. The fact is that in principle, God’s demands are portraits of God’s desires. He only demanded what He desired. He only commanded what He cared for.
Now that being said, Paul instructed us in Romans 12:2 to be “transformed by the renewing of your mind that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” Not to murder is an issue of the “Will” of God. Loving one another is an issue of the “Will” of God. Preaching the gospel is an issue of the “Will” of God. Praying is an issue of the “Will” of God. Within the New Covenant we are told that “all scripture is given . . . for . . . instruction in righteousness.” – Not merely “new covenant scripture,” but all of it rightly divided and rightly understood. This is why Paul could say in Romans 7:22 – “I delight in the law of God after the inward man.” Paul was saying that “my desire” is to do what “God desired.” That being said, understand this; God does not desire more sacrifices. The book of Hebrews straightens that out for us, Jesus is it once and for all.
b.) It is to be the Principle Precept of our Desires – We are to want to do what God wants us to do. Do you realize that every command God ever gave was not a command to do something, but to want to do something. When God instructed Jeremiah to “go down to the potter’s house” in essence that was a command for Jeremiah to “want” to go down to the potter’s house. To obey without wanting to, is not obedience. When God instruct us to do something He is instructing us to want to do something, because He is telling us to get our will’s in line with His. His aims are squarely at our “wanters”. Now that being said, whether we are talking about praying, we ought to want to be praying. Whether we are talking about witnessing we ought to want to be witnessing, whether we are talking about giving, we ought to want to be giving. So whatever it is that we are “obeying” if we are not “wanting to” then regardless of how to the T it is, it is still not obedience. See Colossians 3:23, 1st Peter 1:22, and Ephesians 6:7.
Now all of that has been said to say this. When I want to give, I want to give to the pleasing of my Father. I want to do what He desires. Where do I start, and what do I find? I start with the scriptures, and I find where He has taught us the tithe. With all the Old Testament written for our learning, what do we learn?
We learn according to Hebrews 7:4-5 to learn of Abraham who gave a tenth of his spoils to Melchizedek.
We learn in Leviticus that when it came to giving, or furnishing the necessary supplies of the Levites, and the Old Testament ministry that a “tenth” was the place that God began. Most of the OT tithes dealt in food and seed, and animals which were means of support for the OT ministry.
We also learn according to Hebrews 7:8 that at the time of the writing of that book the practice of tithing existed. “And here men that die receive tithes . . .” which language scholars, (of which I am not) tell us that this is a “present active indicative,” indicating a current and repeated practice at the time of writing.
Now we no longer give in food, seed, or animals for the support of the ministry, or generally anything else for that matter, except for money. Now we can see a principle in the command to give the seed in Leviticus 27:30 and 32 that “a tenth is holy unto the Lord.” – Holiness doesn’t change. Holiness is. Whatever I am doing for the Lord I am to “be holy, for He which has called me is holy.” Whether I am called on to give seed, food, oxen, chickens, eggs, or hot dogs, I know that 10% of whatever I have to give is the number of holiness unto God. That is what He has said to man when man was in school.
3.) Our Personal Option. – Man is no longer in school. I am free to give as I please. The question is what pleases us? If I am pleased with something that God is not pleased with then I am pleased with the wrong thing. “To know to do good and doeth it not, to him it is sin.” I have complete freedom, but there is only one right thing I can do with it, and that is to give it back. The law is an expression of the righteous heart of God. For me to be taught what is in God’s heart and not want to do what is in God’s heart is a sin. To repeat Paul, “I delight in t he law of God after the inward man.” I believe this principle is also taught in Romans 8:3-4 – “For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: 4 That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” Not that we fulfill the law, but that it’s righteousness might come out in our lives.
What’s the bottom line here. God has shown us what He wants, and has set us free to do as we please. What will we do with our freedom? Tithing is not a matter of obeying rules, it is a matter of CORRECTLY using our freedom to willfully do what we know God did. Because it is “Freedom” does not mean that there is not a Right way and a Wrong way to use it. There is only one right way to use our freedom and that is the way the the Lord has taught us. Any time we do not desire what God desires we are missing the mark. Freedom is never intended to let our wills run wild. Freedom is intended for us to want to be in complete submission to the Word of God, the Will of God, and the Spirit of God.
I encourage you to want to practice the princple of tithing. I believe that it is wrong for a Christian to not want to. When you change your will to run along side God’s will in any thing and everything you have found a change worth making. In fact that is really the only change in life worth making. That’s not all, but that will do for now.