Some of you have asked me for my thoughts on tithing. Well here they are nicely wrapped up by Paul Anderson Walsh’s wonderful note.
“It was not until a recent visit to my barber s shop that I realised the full extent of the problem. It was not so much the now relentless advance of grey hair which disturbed me as it was the hair-raising conversation with the barber.
We had been idly chatting about careers when he said, re a Pastor, aren’t you? , his genial but somewhat loaded opening remark unnerved me. My normal barber was away. Yes, I said with more than my usual note of caution. I could sense something coming but thought that any pre-qualification as to the errant concept of Pastors versus the priesthood of believers would probably be a waste of time. Hey, now that is a good business. There is real money to be made there!
Although he was a non-Christian, he went on to cite various tele-evangelists who were, by their own admission (nay, boast), rich . I squirmed and sensing my discomfort, he pressed home the advantage by regaling me with one lurid story after another which he had seen on Christian television , so-called. It was truly awful. He had seen it all the Profits of God masquerading as Prophets from God. Of course, my unsaved barber does not have the whole story but he has seen something and he, if you will, named it and shamed it!
I am not going to state the obvious here about much of what is portrayed on television as I told the barber that those who teach godliness as a means to financial gain have perverted the Gospel. Instead, I want to address an equally insidious problem the question of insisting that we, who are free from the Law, are under the law of tithing.
When we do conferences, we are often asked, Is tithing for today? In answering, let me stress two things
What is not at issue is whether a Christian should or should not give but rather, how we should give, now that we are under grace and free from the Law;
Our experience is that tithing is the tip of the Legalism iceberg; Law and grace are simply incompatible with each other.
Tithing is a highly sensitive issue and I believe that rather than our robbing Gob by not tithing, we are being robbed of God by enforced tithing. The insistence that tithing was to be commuted into the New Covenant hangs by the slenderest of threads. It is argued that tithing is for today because Abraham (the father of all who believe) paid tithes before the Law. The reason the case is so precariously balanced is that there is only one reference to tithing in the entire New Covenant corpus.
The rationale for the tithing argument goes something like this
Abraham is the father of all who believe;
Abraham paid tithes;
Abraham paid the tithe before the Law was introduced;
Tithing is pre-Law and therefore, is still applicable.
In response, we make the following observations
If Abraham provides the paradigm for tithing, we may also assume that the tithe is a one-off and is paid from the spoils of war;
If the pre-Law argument validates tithing, why do the same people not argue with equal alacrity that circumcision is a New Covenant requirement?
The initial question which I want to explore concerns our motivation for giving. The following may simply be a commentary on my heart and not representative of the Christian community and I trust that you will not find me unduly cynical. However, my experience is that most Christians give for one of two reasons and neither is very honourable
Insurance God will get me if I do not give.
Investment God will bless me if I do give.
Therefore, we say that tithing, for many a Christian (whether consciously or unconsciously) serves as their divine fire insurance premiums. Perhaps I am now parodying the point but it seems to me that what we are doing in the main is on the one hand, paying God protection money to leave us alone and on the other hand, investing into the Kingdom with a view to maximising our returns. We are seeking to protect and/or increase our asset base. What we are not doing is giving without any expectation of reward other than the reward of giving.
DOES THE HEBREWS TEXT SUPPORT THE ARGUMENT FOR TITHING?
Even the most cursory consideration of the Hebrews text casts doubt on the tithing argument. To begin with, Abraham tithe to Melchizedek evidences a fundamentally different spirit notice that Abraham refused any gift in return from Melchizedek. He wanted nothing and thus, at the material level, he had want for nothing. The suggestion promoted by the legalistic linearity that giving can be employed as a mechanism for receiving, even if it were true, would be disturbing indeed. Moreover, it is intriguing that nobody, to my knowledge, has ever taught tithing without any anticipation of receiving in return. As one man once quipped, If the only guarantee which I could give you was that if you tithed, you would have 10% less than you had before, would you still tithe? There can be few verses which are better known or more misapplied than Malachi 3:8-10.
Mal. 3:8-10 Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing Me. But you say, How have we robbed You? In your tithes and contributions. You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing Me, the whole nation of you. Bring the full tithes 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.
If the only guarantee I could give you was that after paying your tithe, you would have 10% less money than before you gave it, would you still give?
A RESPONSE TO MALACHI
As with all Scripture, the section we are considering must be seen firstly within its historical and cultural setting and context.
- To whom were Malachi s comments addressed?
- Can you think of a verse in the Bible which addresses you, a Christian, as a child of Jacob?
- Under what Covenant was God speaking to Israel the Old or the New?
- Under the New Covenant, will God curse you if you do not tithe?
Whilst it is evident that Malachi 3 is inspired, we simply ask that standing on New Covenant grounds, the reader interprets this and all other Old Covenant verses through a New Covenant lens.
Moreover, by the simple expedience of beginning the Malachi text two verses earlier, we can see how dramatically that alters one s perception. For example, in the New Testament, there is a verse which every Christian in the world knows, Work out your salvation with fear and trembling I imagine that most Christians are familiar with this verse but how many can complete the sentence? for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure [Phil. 2:12-13].
Now, if it is true that we have to be careful to set verses in their context, it is imperative that we also set the text into its historical and cultural context. In order to see these verses in their proper light, we must first ask the question, Under what Covenant was Malachi writing, the Old or the New? Quite clearly, Malachi is both Old Testament and Old Covenant. Therefore, any exposition and contemporary application needs to take that context into account.
Unlike the New Covenant where we are a priesthood of believers, in the Old Covenant was a priest-class a specific tribe designated as Priests and this was the tribe of Levi. The Levitical Priesthood, as it was known, is the concern of the Malachi passage. The over-arching argument of Hebrews is that the Priesthood of Jesus is better than the Levitical Priesthood. The writer to the Hebrews insists that
The Levitical Priesthood was inferior to the priesthood of Melchizedek;
The Levitical order is both outclassed and replaced by the new order and has become redundant.
Under the now redundant Levitical system, the priests acted as representatives for the people and served as mediators between them and God. Whilst having priestly privileges, a Levite had no worldly comforts. For example, he had no income and no property. A Levite had no independent means of support whatsoever. Moreover, when Jacob divided Israel s inheritance, there was not even an allotment to Levi. In such circumstances, the other eleven tribes met the day-to-day needs of the Levites. It was, if you will, an Old Covenant quid pro quo the other eleven tribes not being allowed to minister unto the Lord was tempered by the Levites not being able to work.
The solution was an entirely practical and pragmatic one. Each tribe would be responsible for bringing, into a central storehouse, one-tenth of their produce to meet their everyday needs. The Malachi passage is a rebuke to those who were withholding their support and thus, compromising this system.
I am of the view that tithing is one of the things in the Bible which is biblical but not Christian. I readily admit that for some, that is a bitter pill to swallow but we take it for granted that circumcision is clearly biblical and yet, not viewed as Christian. The same can be said of polygamy. My fundamental objection is that those who press the hardest the case for tithing demand that we give like Israelites but they do not themselves live like Levites.
Moreover, if tithing is a New Covenant praxis, why does the Apostle Paul not mention it when he writes a thoroughgoing passage on giving? I do not think it sufficient to argue from silence that tithing was an axiom of the Christian life. Accordingly, I raise the following objections
The Levitical Priesthood belongs to the now obsolete Old Covenant;
The entire book of Hebrews makes the argument that Jesus and His Covenant are superior to Moses and his covenant;
The point to note is not that Abraham paid the tithe but that Levi paid it. His purpose in doing so is to pose the question, Which is the greater priesthood, the one who paid the tithe or the one who received it? ;
The Book of Hebrews confirms that there has been both a change in the priesthood and a change in the law;
In the New Covenant, there is no such office as Priest but rather, we are a royal priesthood; Priest and Pastor are not interchangeable terms;
The Apostle Paul not only supported himself but also supported others.
ONLY WHEN I LAUGH GUIDELINES FOR NEW COVENANT GIVING
It occurred to me recently that during the fourteen years in Pentecostalism, I had never brought anybody to the church where I was on staff. On reflection, one of the central reasons for not doing so was that I was so embarrassed at the way in which we asked for money. The church , because of giving, has alienated many Christians. How tragic that is when one considers what a wonderful joy it is to give. The Apostle Paul himself tells us, It is more blessed to give than to receive [Acts 20:35]. What he did not say was that it was more blessed to give in order to receive.
The insistence on tithing as a praxis has had the effect of eclipsing the true typological value of the tithe. It is well-accepted that many things in the Old Testament are types or shadows of things in the New Testament. These types find their fulfilment in the New Covenant and the tithe is an excellent example. My suspicion is that the tithe is just
such a type because in the Old Covenant, it was seen as the first fruit . Since the tithe is the first fruit, it is actually a type of the believer. In the New Covenant, the believer is the tithe. In effect, it is not that the Christian pays the tithe but that the Christian is the tithe and that puts pay to discussions as to whether we tithe nett or gross. Abandonment means that we have been tithed 100%.
It is not that a Christian pays tithes but rather, the Christian is the tithe.
In the Old Testament, the tithe was the portion which was set apart for God. We can see from the New Covenant that the word sanctified means set apart . Thus, we are the set apart portion.
This idea seems to cohere with the Apostle Paul s teaching in 2 Corinthians 8, the only sustained teaching on giving in the Pauline corpus. There, he made an illuminating comment. The Apostle Paul spoke of the people of Macedonia who, in spite of severe affliction and chronic lack, gave liberally as they
- gave joyfully (verse 2);
- gave voluntarily (verse 3);
- gave sacrificially (verse 3);
- gave beyond their means (verse 3);
- gave of their own free-will (verse 3);
- begged the Apostle Paul to allow them to give to the saints (verse 4).
What was it that prompted them to give in this almost irresponsible way? The Apostle Paul told the Corinthians in 2 Corinthians 8:5
2 Cor. 8:5 And this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us.
If Christians are the fulfilment of the Old Covenant tithe, could it be that if we are robbing God, the nature of the crime is that we are withholding the tithe, i.e. ourselves, from Him and in that sense, we are the real losers?
The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has made up his mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful [hilarious] giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. As it is written,
He has distributed freely, He has given to the poor;
His righteousness endures for ever.
He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way for all your generosity, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God. 2 Cor. 9:6-11
As can be seen in 2 Corinthians 9:6-11 above, the grace and principles of giving may be laid out as follows
- Only give as the Lord leads;
- Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly and whoever sows bountifully will reap bountifully;
- Each one must give as he has made up in his mind;
- Giving should never be done either reluctantly or under compulsion;
- God loves a cheerful (hilarious) giver;
- Give no more than what you can give hilariously;
- When you give hilariously, God is able to make all grace abound to you;
- Hilarious givers never lack the means to continue giving hilariously;
- What you have was given to you freely;
- It is God who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food;
- The reason He multiplies your seed is to enable you to sow (and not store) and increase your harvest of righteousness;
- When you give in this manner, you will be enriched in every way.
If you are not free not to give, you are not free to give.
My heart is to see hilarious giving replacing payola (spiritual coercion). I have simply lost count of the number of people who have been taught to their way out of debt and give what they do not have so as to what they do not, in any event, need.”