Sunday Sermon: Tithing Then … But Tithing Now? A Study In Giving – Part Two

In part One, we looked at the principles of tithing in the Old Testament and examined some important examples. We continue with this subject by seeing what the New Testament reveals. But before going on, it may be good to reiterate a few of the points already noted:

Abraham voluntarily gave a tenth of the spoils of battle to Melchizedek, priest of the Most High God, who had blessed him.
Jacob made a promise but didn’t keep it (at least for the first 20 years).
There were actually three specific and different tithes, each with its own and varied purpose, regulated under the Mosaic Law.
The main reasons for tithing were for the glory of God and the blessing of man.
Neglecting to give the tenth and other offerings under the Law was the same as robbing God.

The Gospels
The only comments in the Gospels related to the tithe are condemnations by the Lord Jesus of the hypocrisy of the Pharisees (Mt. 23:23) and a proud boast of a self-righteous one (Lk. 18:12). The religious leaders boasted of their actions in obeying the letter of the Law to the utmost extent, but they slaughtered the meaning of the Law by twisting its intent. It no longer brought glory to God and blessing to men as they neglected the weightier matters of the law: judgment, mercy and faith. This would suggest that the intent of the Law was being violated by their practice and traditions (Mk. 7:7-9,13). Even where tithing was still practiced properly by a righteous remnant of the Jewish faithful, we must recognize that the dates within the Gospel narrations still fall within the confines of the Old Testament dispensation. Therefore those practices cannot be used as law for the Christian era. After all, the Church is a brand new way in God’s dealings with man – in grace – and cannot be mixed with the old, worn-out ways of Judaism (Lk. 5:36-38).

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Meanwhile it may be pointed out that the Lord Jesus never suggested that His contemporaries not pay the tithe. Even when He upbraided the Pharisees for neglecting true judgment, mercy and faith, He still encouraged them (and others) to pay the required tithes and taxes (Mt. 17:27, 23:23). He said, “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil” (Mt. 5:17 KJV). He was a true Israelite under the Law (Gal. 4:4); and as the Man who knew no sin (2 Cor. 5:21) He obeyed the Law both to the letter and its intent. But it must be repeated that this was before the Dispensation of Grace – before the Church period – and the old system of the Law had not yet been put away or cast out (Gal. 4:22-31). That could only happen after His death, resurrection and ascension.

Yes, our blessed Lord upheld the requirements of the Law while He walked this earth. But the Gospel writers also record the Lord’s great appreciation of voluntary, sacrificial giving. He commented on the widow’s offering – who gave not from her abundance like the others, but even in her poverty “she cast in all that she had, even all her living” (Mk. 12:44; Lk. 21:4). Whether under the Law or under grace, voluntary and sacrificial giving is always proper, acceptable, appropriate and appreciated – not only by the recipients, but especially by the Lord (Phil. 4:18).

In Hebrews
The practice of tithing only appears once more in the New Testament. To reiterate a previous point: the tithe that Abraham gave to the priest of the living God is specifically mentioned to exemplify the magnitude of the Lord’s office as the Great High Priest after the similitude of Melchisedec due to His power of an endless life (Heb. 7:1-28). This beautiful chapter does not address any obligation of giving, but as with most of the book it points out the greatness of the incomparable Christ.

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Acts And The Epistles
We can find nothing about tithing, giving a tenth or any laws for offerings in Acts or the Church epistles – even though they are books of doctrine or practical Christian living. The closest instructions related to the subject of giving, as a percentage of one’s income, appears in 1 Corinthians 16:2 where Paul says, “Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come.” It may be noted that this verse does not specify any definite percentage of one’s income although the phrase “as God hath prospered him” seems to suggest the probability that a “percent” measure would be appropriate.

If using such a formula, how does one calculate the amount to give back to the Lord from the amount God has given (1 Chr. 29:14)? The easiest way is to prayerfully determine a percentage that may be applied to one’s income, bonuses and windfalls. To come up with the amount that should then be set aside for the Lord would be a simple math equation: income for the week plus any bonus and windfall (such as a tax refund or a gift from others), multiplied by the percentage decided upon beforehand, equals the sum to give. Pretty simple math!

It should be pointed out, however, that in First and Second Corinthians where Paul speaks about giving (1 Cor. 16:1-4; 2 Cor. 8:1-9:15) he was dealing specifically with a collection for the poor saints in Jerusalem. These instructions were given mainly because the Corinthian believers had voluntarily promised to collect funds to be sent to Jerusalem. He wanted them to cheerfully follow up on that commitment, saying, “Now therefore perform the doing of it; that as there was a readiness to will, so there may be a performance also out of that which ye have” (2 Cor. 8:11).

Going from the Gospels into Acts and the Epistles we can see things changing from the legal requirements of giving under Old Testament Law to a new voluntary commitment to give out of grace. This does not at all suggest that Christians do not have to give away any part of their earnings. Grace actually makes bigger and better demands on us than the Law does. It emphasizes the blessing of giving – the blessings to others (2 Cor. 9:11-12) and glory to God (2 Cor. 9:13). Our Lord made at least two specific comments regarding this very subject: “Freely ye have received, freely give” (Mt. 10:8) and “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).

Concluding Question
If there has been a New Testament shift away from legal tithing requirements – and the Scriptures show that there is – why study this whole matter? While the Christian believer is not required to follow the Law (and we cannot keep it any better than those who were under it – Rom. 3:10,23), we must remember that the Old Testament Scriptures were written for our learning (Rom. 15:4). The question then becomes: “What do these things, the examples and obligations of Old Testament tithing, teach us? And what can we as Christians learn from this important subject which already had its germination in Genesis, the book of the beginnings?” I trust that the Lord will give us some needed help and guidance as we conclude this subject next month.

By Hank Blok
The Great Giver
Man would fain [willingly] make God a receiver instead of a giver; but this cannot be; for “it is more blessed to give than to receive” and assuredly God must have the more blessed place. “Without all contradiction, the less is blessed of the better.” “Who hath first given to Him?” God can accept the smallest gift from a heart which has learnt the deep truth contained in those words – “of Thine own have we given Thee;” but the moment a man presumes to take the place of the “first” giver, God’s reply is, “If I were hungry, I would not tell thee;” for “He is not worshiped with men’s hands, as though He needed anything, seeing He giveth to all life and breath and all things.” The great Giver of “all things” cannot possibly “need anything.” Praise is all that we can offer to God; but this can only be offered in the full and clear intelligence that our sins are all put away; and this, again, can only be known by faith in the virtue of an accomplished atonement [payment].
— C. H. Mackintosh, Genesis to Deuteronomy: Notes on the Pentateuch.

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