BEYOND TITHING

Not a Formula but a Relationship

Phillip Walters www.backyardbelievers.com

For some time now I have wanted to tackle a practice which is such a sacred cow that to oppose it makes me feel a little like Martin Luther (just a tiny little) standing in front of the church door with a hammer in his hand.

It’s the modern practice of tithing, a practice that, while it has little or no foundation in the New Testament, stands in some churches almost alongside belief in the Trinity or the Virgin Birth. However it is my belief that it is a sacred cow that is made of much the same material as the calf that Aaron built and needs to go.

It is untouchable because much of modern church practice relies on it; and it has to go because, just as Aaron’s calf was a way of worship without relationship, tithing has become for many a similar substitute for being led by the Holy Spirit.

MY JOURNEY

Before getting into dismantling your confidence in the tithe as a thoroughly New Testament practice, let me first give you some of my own background.

Tithing for me started not long after learning to sing ‘Hear the pennies dropping …’ a ditty that I sang fervently every week in Sunday School as I struggled to untie the penny that mum had tied up in the corner of my handkerchief. My parents, though not Christians, sent me and my brothers off to the local Salvation Army and thus my Christian walk began. Thank God for the Salvos!

And, being the good evangelical mob that they were, my youth was spent imbibing everything that was necessary to being a good Christian soldier, including tithing which probably started with my first pay packet (to the dismay of my father). I believed in it and finished up practising and preaching it through most of my adult Christian life, good times and hard times, up until four years ago.

And I preached it well – and not just because my income depended upon it. I preached it from a grace aspect and with no compulsion – well, unless you call the Malachi threat of a curse ‘compulsion’ … but I’ll cover that later.

When the recent teaching about the need to tithe to the one who represents Christ to you came along I was excited and embraced that as well. We separated tithes and offerings, with tithes going for the Ministry, the equivalent of the priesthood (?), and the offering going to pay for the new Worship Centre, the equivalent of the temple (?).

Did those equivalents unsettle anyone? No? Well let’s move on.

So what happened four years ago? I think what happened was I began to be uncomfortable with the way some were interpreting the importance of the tithe and what seemed like a dread of the consequences of not having the tithe into the ‘storehouse’ on time. A week late, it seemed, could seriously dry up the flow of God’s provision and a cheque that the office girl had forgotten to post become a dam to God’s supply, even to those who walked in a lifestyle of extraordinary generosity.

So the questions started. Was God as legalistic as this? Did this at all reflect his character? Where in the New Testament do we find such fastidiousness in giving – except among the Pharisees? What about the ‘grace’ of giving? It was these questions and more that led me to take another look at the tithe, and especially as it related to New Testament practice.

And my conclusion? There is no basis in the New Testament for the modern practice of tithing. Rather the New Covenant writers present a new way of giving, no longer based on fixed percentages but based on relationship and listening. Not based on set formulas but on the unpredictable leadings of the Spirit.  Read on.

 

 

JESUS AND THE TITHE

Have you ever noticed that the only time Jesus refers to tithing is in the context of a rebuke to those who were tithing? Come with me and take a look. The first passage is in Matthew 23:23 (also quoted in Luke 11:42)

 

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.

Although this passage is often used as an example of Jesus teaching tithing – ‘this you should have practiced without neglecting the former’ – in closer look it is in fact nothing of the kind.

To start with, the ‘former’ that he is referring to is the tithing of their mint, dill and cumin. Even the most ardent evangelical tither would, I think, feel that this was not Jesus’ intent for his followers, and certainly I know of no one that obeys this ‘command’.

No, Jesus was not talking to his followers but to the Pharisees, a group of legalists who epitomised the religious system of his day, a system that was diametrically opposed to the way that was to come, the way of the Spirit, centring instead on the maintenance of mindless ritual and self-centred deeds as a means of salvation. Their attitude was epitomised by the Pharisee noted in Jesus’ second reference to tithing, Luke 18:11-13.

‘The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

I believe that what Jesus was in fact saying to them was this. If you want to live by the law then you are right; you do have to be fastidious about it and tithe your mint, your dill and your cumin. As Paul would later remind the Galatians, those who seek righteousness by the law are ‘obligated to obey the whole law’ (Galatians 5:3).

But Jesus was quick to point out that that particular law was not basically about giving a tenth of your wealth. It was about using it to promote justice, mercy and faithfulness. And by slavishly obeying the letter of the law you have missed God’s heart, and in so doing have failed in your objective, righteousness by the law.

THE FAILURE OF THE LAW

The truth is that the laws of God were good; however there was always an element of the law that could only be perceived and grasped by the Spirit. Jesus revealed that when he exposed people’s attitude to murder and adultery.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not murder… But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment … You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery. But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (Matt 5:21, 27)

 

The unspiritual mind cannot grasp the deeper things of the Spirit, cannot go below the surface and take hold of the greater sweep of God’s heart contained in the written code. Unspiritual man can be quite comfortable, however, with the surface details of the written decree. That’s because it’s a lot easier, and a lot less costly, than listening to the Spirit. But it seems that without the Holy Spirit the human heart, at its best, simply settles for those minimal aspects of the law of God that make a man look good, usually with the least amount of sacrifice or cost.

And the laws pertaining to tithing suffered from this as much as any other law, e.g. the laws pertaining to murder and adultery. This was the failure of the law as a means to produce righteousness and the reason that God sent his Spirit, to take us beyond the letter and into his heart.

And it’s the reason why the early church and its leaders left tithing behind and stepped up to another level.

PETER, PAUL AND JOHN – AND NO TITHE

Apart from a reference in the letter to the Hebrews (which I’ll come to) there is no reference to tithing in the rest of the New Testament. Nothing in Acts or any of the pastoral or doctrinal letters attributed to Peter, Paul, John or the other named writers.

Rather, when we step into Acts we find a pattern and level of giving which has nothing to do with set percentages or ‘planned giving’ programs but everything to do with responding to the Holy Spirit as he made needs known to a listening people.

The early Christians discovered that the Spirit was like the wind, invasive and unpredictable. He invaded their comfortable, earthly-secure lifestyles with a vision of heaven that changed their attitudes to material possessions and this world’s priorities. He released their heart from the grasping, accumulating mind-set that they’d inherited from Adam and set them free to be like Jesus, extravagant and fearless in their giving.

He also rattled their dependence on the need for things to be patterned and predictable. He wanted them to become listeners rather than have them settle into rote patterns of behaviour. The tithe may have been necessary for a people whose hearts were hard, the kind of immature church-goers that Malachi was wrestling with at the close of the Old Testament, but it was not the way of the Spirit.

And nor was it the way of the champion of the Spirit, the apostle Paul.

PAUL AND A BETTER WAY

There can hardly have been a church in New Testament times that was not influenced by Paul, a man sovereignly appointed by God to lay a bedrock of teaching that would become a foundation of church life and practice for generations to come. The sweep of subjects covered in his letters to the new churches is breathtaking.

Here is a man who knows the Old Testament scriptures well and has no trouble drawing on them to undergird his teaching on a huge range of subjects, from individual conduct to church life to the life to come. And he is not neglectful of the need to set in place some sound principles on the subject of giving, devoting two whole chapters to it in 2 Corinthians alone.

And yet, given an abundance of Old Testament passages on tithing to draw from, he uses none. Not a word, not a syllable. Tithing, it seems, is just not an important part of the equation for Paul when it comes to giving. It is certainly not the kind of key principle that is commonly taught today.

Paul’s teaching on giving (which I’ll cover in more detail later) is basically this.

Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.’ (2Corinthians 9:7-8)

There is a grace of giving (2 Cor 8:7) and a level of provision (2 Cor 9:11) that we are meant to step into – and indeed excel in – and all that is required is the nurturing of an attitude of joyful abandon and extravagant generosity in relation to material things. There is nothing there about a tithe needing to be in place first of all or a distinction made between tithing and giving.

For Paul ‘deciding in your heart’ had to do with walking in constant fellowship with Jesus, imbibing His values and priorities, and listening to His Spirit. This involves a lot more than putting a rote ten percent in the bag each week and leaving it to ‘the church’ to decide where the Spirit wants it used. And then going home feeling good because you are a faithful tither.

Granted that many tithing believers reading this do not have such a lazy attitude, regularly give way above the tithe and are walking in abundant provision and the grace of giving. I’d like to suggest, however, that this grace has nothing to do with tithing and everything to do with stepping up into freedom in regard to this world’s values.

SO WHAT DOES THE NEW TESTAMENT ACTUALLY TEACH ON GIVING?

One of the main principles of the NT is that we have moved into a new life in which we are no longer directed by a system of rules and regulations (or percentages) but by the inner voice of the Holy Spirit, God Himself indwelling the believer and directing his ways. This is the promise of Ezekiel 36:26 –

“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.  And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.

Those laws, according to Jesus, were now simply defined as ‘loving God with all your heart and loving your neighbour as yourself.’ And the new way that we would do this was by the power of his indwelling Spirit, not by following a set of rules or techniques. We would do it by living as He lived, listening and obeying.

It was into this new lifestyle that the early church was baptised at Pentecost as the Holy Spirit fell upon the individual believers and the church as a whole. His presence changed the way they operated in every aspect of their lives, including giving.

Consequently the book of Acts does not give us a picture of a new community that now repents of their slack attitudes to the tithe and tithes more conscientiously, but one that goes beyond tithing and is typified by a whole new outlook and abandon in regard to earthly possessions.

New Testament giving is typified by a quality of giving that is outside the natural. For instance

  • the widow with her mite who ‘out of her poverty put in all she had’ (Luke 21:1)
  • the believers in Acts sharing ‘everything they had’ even houses and land (Acts 4:32)
  • the Macedonians giving out of … their extreme poverty … beyond their ability’. (1 Cor 8:2)

 

If we are tied to a percentage this can sound frightening. However, if we are tied to the Spirit this can sound like getting a life worth living!

 

TO SUM UP

There is more that I’d like to tackle but for now let me finish with a summing up of the apostle Paul’s teaching on giving found in 2 Corinthians chapters 8 & 9. Here are his basic points.

  1. Everything belongs to the Lord and has been entrusted to us.
  2. We are to excel in the grace of giving as with every other grace.
  3. We are free and responsible to determine for ourselves the level of our giving (also 1Cor 16:2)
  4. Our giving should however take into account the following guidelines
    1. We are to give first to the Lord, the firstfruit of our increase.
    2. We are to be liberal, sacrificial and generous in all our giving with an understanding that he who gives abundantly reaps abundantly.
    3. We are to be systematic and regular. (1Cor 16:2)
    4. We are to give from a joyful heart.
    5. Our giving is to be a considered and thoughtful offering, taking into account our income. (also 1Cor 16:2)
    6. But it should also be by faith and take into account God’s ability and His desire to meet all our needs.
    7. We are to honour and bless those who are over us and who live by the gospel (1Tim 5:17)

Phew! That’s enough for now. I think I’ll take a break – but I will follow soon with PART II in which I’ll try to tackle some of the following questions.

  • Is it okay to tithe as a considered part of my giving?
  • What about the great testimonies that follow tithing?
  • How can my ‘offerings’ be blessed if the ‘tithe’ is not first in place.
  • What about Hebrews 7?
  • What about Malachi?
  • Where is my ‘storehouse’?
  • How should ministry be supported?
  • Why are some churches afraid to question the tithe?

 

Phillip Walters www.backyardbelievers.com

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10 thoughts on “BEYOND TITHING

  1. Other questions:
    1. In your summing up, the explanation on ‘giving’ is this focused on money per se?
    2. Do we ‘need’ a church building? Does this just tie up money and waste money that comes in/resources? ….And allows us to be comfortable seated there whilst not being out there where the biggest needs are….
    3. Should what we give financially be prioritised? – to those who preach the Gospel, to outreach, ministry, missions????
    4. Mt 23:23: Jesus encourages justice, mercy, faithfulness for us as NT believers to follow….so IS this passage saying to pratice both these without neglecting tithing?

  2. I could not resist this one , Yes I remember you Phil with your little hammer , and tithing , not quite as you do , but yes I do remember tithing and the hammer.

    The main reason you cannot have tithing for today is that is is a different teaching from what Paul taught , see Gal 1:8-9 “dont teach different to Paul”.

    Did Paul teach on giving ? Yes he did , and was it different teaching to tithing , oh yes it was , so Gal 1:8-9 tells it all . If you teach tithing you teach different to Paul . Paul told how he stood with Peter on this Gal 2:11 .

    Did Jesus speak on tithing ? Yes , but Jesus was under the Law . The law did not end for believers till after his death, and even more it did not become a practice till Paul brought in the body of Christ , the great mystery of Ephes 3:1-8.

    Peter kept the law , Acts 10:14 sees Peter reject anything unlawful , Acts 15:5 believing Pharisees request circumcision , Acts 20:21 James applauds Jews who keep the law.

    It was paul who began the Grace covenant which included Gentiles and excluded law . It was Paul who taught keeping the atonement laws as forbidden acts , thus tithing , which was used to finance the Levites became forbidden. Gal 2:21 says it best, “Did Christ die in vain”.

    Why do we see tithing create many good testimonts of finanacial sucess ? because tithing is a promise that will not be withdrawn , but it is not to be used by believers , for it was used to fnance Levites. Tithing still works , you gain financially , but lose your position in the “body of Christ” . Those who uses tithing come under Pauls teaching in Gal 3:10-13 , and gal 5:1-4 , “you will fall from grace” and thus became under the law , as we all were before we became believers .

    If the Law was not to apply today for unbelievers why did Paul tell that if you keep one law you must keep them all , Gal 3:10-13 .

    Christ took us out of the responsiblity of keeping all the atonement laws when we believed, but if we go back to the law, as Paul explains in Gal 5:1-4 , and Gal 3:1-13 by going back to atonement laws , we fall from Grace.

    It is good to learn what are atonement laws and what is forbidden law , there are actually 613 laws , 248 “donts” and 365 “do’s” , of course we still abide by the donts , but if we go back and do the “do’s’ “then Christ died in vain” .

    1. HELLO dougie, I was waiting for you to get wind of this article. While I agree with some of your sentiments above I have to say that the idea that a person who tithes ‘falls from grace’ is far fetched and basically not on. Any more than a person who gets circumcised or has their sons circumcised falls from grace. And it was, after all, circumcision that Paul was attacking in Galations – or at least the insistence of the rite as a means of salvation.

      However Paul has no problem with the practice itself, as observed by his circumcision of Timothy when he joined him on his travels. This, it seems, was purely for convenience purposes, and likewise, if a person chooses to tithe as a considered part of their giving there is no problem.

      What we must avoid is turning ‘not tithing’ into a law!

  3. Hi Phil, I am not too theological so I don’t understand why you think tithing is a sacred cow. From my perspective it seems a huge blessing for every believer – I mean which part of the blessings which God promises in Malachi 3 wouldn’t any believer want? I do understand that God wants us to give with joy & to be sacrificially generous -[all that is grace from Him] – in our offerings & giving what is in our heart to give. Surely God says “prove me in this”. I had never heard of tithing or understood it before I came to Peace & even though I am not in a position to tithe as other Christian women are with Christian husbands I just love to tithe when the Lord blesses me with the opportunity. It is my great delight to give it along with the offerings. God is far more faithful to bless when we do things such as honouring marriage and dedicating our children to Him when we have no idea of the spiritual blessings that we have just reaped for ourselves & our children, even when our heart attitudes aren’t all they should be. That doesn’t change His word & what He says because we get religious about things or do things out of wrong understanding or motives. And thenkfully He is indeed merciful. I just see that God has given us this extraordinary blessing when we honour Him with the tithe & offerings
    Mal 3:10 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.
    Mal 3:11 I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it will not destroy the fruits of your soil, and your vine in the field shall not fail to bear, says the LORD of hosts.
    Mal 3:12 Then all nations will call you blessed, for you will be a land of delight, says the LORD of hosts.
    Maybe I am wrong but I would think Jesus wouldn’t have had to teach about the tithe because in Jewish society it was already a given that one tithed. All I can say is I am grateful for the understanding I have received in regard to tithing and offerings & I look forward to the day when Rob & I will bring the tithe as well as the offering – what a joy that will be! Hallelujah! God gave us all the freedom to choose & He sees our hearts in all these things far more clearly than we do. Thank You LORD for Your grace & mercy in all of this.

    1. Thank you Trish for your inspiring and passionate response. I have longed to publish my thoughts on tithing for a long time just to engender some dialogue on an issue on which public dissent or criticism is not encouraged. My beef is basically that the teachings of the New Testament should be the basis for all of our practices as New Covenant believers – that Christ brought in a totally new way of living and only those good things that are clearly carried over from the Old should be part of the New.

      It seems clear to me that tithing, like circumcision, the priesthood, the sacrificial lamb, the temple, the sabbath, etc., was not brought over but was replaced by something better. In this case a better way of giving – and a way that still attracted all the blessings that Malachi speaks of but was the product of the Spirit rather than the law.

      I will write more of this in my next article but simply put, the separation of tithes and offerings had a purpose under the old system and Malachi was addressing those under that system. In the new system there was no need any more for that separation and so Paul, addressing those under the new way, simply speaks of the grace of ‘giving’. Both are looking for a response from the heart and both expound the blessings that come from heart felt obedience.

      I believe that the teaching that a tithe must be in place before the offering is blessed is not NT teaching, is unnecessary and is basically kept in place to maintain a regular income to the church and its ministries. My argument is that that is not the practice of the New Testament and that there is a better way. But more of that in the next installment. And thanks again for taking up a conversation that we all need to have. Bless you, Phil

  4. hi! Is there a verse in the bible that says tithing is no longer a practice in the New Testament? or a specific verse that would say that the people are no longer required to give their 10% tithes?

    On your example Matthew 23:23 (also quoted in Luke 11:42)

    “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.

    Does it say not to give your tithes? What he is only teaching is that practice tithing and also justice, mercy and faithfulness.

    1. Hello Cathy. No, there is no specific verse in the NT instructing us to no longer tithe, nor is there one instructing us to continue with this Old Testament way of giving – unless Jesus’ words to the Old Covenant Pharisees is meant for New Covenant believers. In which case it surely would be an important aspect of the teachings of his followers. But it isn’t. As I show in my article, Paul simply instructs the early believers to be generous and joyful, especially to the poor and to those in ministry. This doesn’t mean that we cannot use tithing as a way of thoughtful and regular giving. We simply have to make sure that it doesn’t become something we are locked into which overrides the urgings and freedom of the Holy Spirit.

  5. Hi Phil – I was very interested to find your website and especially read your article on tithing. I am wrestling with a great many things at present – tithing being one of them – but also mainstream church, (and by that I mean the modern pentecostal church we’ve been involved with for some years, which is now ‘mainstream’), as well as worship, communion and other issues. I don’t want to get into a protracted discussion on tithing, but suffice it to say, I agree with what you are saying. I think the church has missed the point with the whole giving thing and in my obvservation, tithing simply guarantees a regular income for ministries and their programs and doesn’t (necessarily) represent the direction of the Spirit. Naturally I believe the Lord is still intimately interested in the welfare and spiritual health of all believers and doesn’t cease to be active in their lives simply because they don’t fully understand something. But I agree: I think He has a better way and always intended giving to be something more than tithing. I believe tithing stifles real giving. We are ‘between’ churches at the moment over such issues and really looking for fellowship with believers who ‘get it’ – ie what Jesus has done for us and wants for us. I am saddened that after almost thirty years as a believer I am more disgruntled than ever with church. My most recent experience has been that of being involved in a major church that religiously tithes each sunday but doesn’t bother to take communion more than every four to six weeks! They worship the way they worship, they worship the way they do things, and people are reduced to a commodity with which to both fund and man programs. All such things only serve to further de-personalise a believer’s relationship with the Lord. Jesus spent a lot of time challenging accepted beliefs and practices so that people could be set free. People like the Pharisees would then come along and try to bind them up again. Have things changed that much? I applaud your courage in taking on this topic.

    1. Thanks for your comment Russell. You’re not alone on the journey and are probably a part of a great multitude of mature believers who God is preparing to bring the church up to another level – or back to the simplicity that we have lost. God is preparing a sharp spear head of people who are not simply interested in ‘new and more exciting ways of doing church’ (they’ve become disillusioned with the many well-meaning methods that have been tried so far) but are returning to Jesus as author and finisher. And, like the shaft of the spear, many will follow. The Church has not yet seen her full measure. God bless you as you prepare to enter a new phase of your life in God.

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