There are many ordinances and practices under the Old Testament Law for which we’ll often ask whether they are relevant or mandatory to the Christian or not?
Tithing is one of such. Some modern day Christians remark that we have said goodbye to the law because we are under Grace. They take John 1:17 as a contrast between the law and Grace. But a careful study will reveal that these two are never set up as opposites in the Scriptures. John 1:17 does not mean that Grace does away with the law; in fact one of the purposes of Salvation is to enable us to live the life that is intended by the Holy standard of God (the Law).
In an online article, The Threefold Use of The Law, R.C Sproul set forth the relationship between the law and the New Testament believer. He wrote:
Our redemption is from the curse of God’s law, not from our duty to obey it. We are justified, not because of our obedience to the law, but in order that we may become obedient to God’s law. To love Christ is to keep His commandments. To love God is to obey His law.
What Christ did was that he fulfilled the law for us. Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone that believes (Rom 10:5). This implies Christians are no longer under the law (because He has already fulfilled it for us); and hence we cannot be condemned by the Law (Romans 8:1-2). But the Bible continues to teach that although we have been released from the Old Testament Law (Rom 7:4, 6; Gal 2:19; Eph 2:15; Rom 6:15); we have been brought under the law of Christ, which the Bible also describes as the law of love (1Cor 9: 21 and Gal6:2).
The crucial point is that Christ’s death does not lower the standard for the believer. In fact, it raises it. A careful look at Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount as He expounded the law silences those who suppose that under Grace we are to do less than those under the law. Bearing this in mind, how do we tackle the question of tithing as it relates to the Christian?
We note that Abraham was the first to tithe in the Bible long before the giving of the law. However, under Moses (with the introduction of the law), it was actually taught as a covenantal practice for God’s people Israel. We also note that Biblical revelation is progressive i.e. before the law, under the law, then Christ’s work and the teachings of the Apostles (which Acts 1:1 makes us know is a continuation of Christ’s work on earth). The newer revelation always enhances our understanding and practice of the old; sometimes modifying or replacing it completely. The question that needs addressing is whether there is a newer revelation with regards to tithing in the NT i.e. by the teachings of Jesus or the Apostles, noting that we are no longer under the law?
Some have taken our Lord’s statement in Luke 11:42 (also recorded in Matt 23:23-24) as an endorsement of tithing for the New Testament believer. However, from the context we see that Jesus was addressing the Pharisees on their misunderstanding and imbalanced application of God’s Law. His statement was “You should have practiced the latter (past tense) without leaving the former undone.” He did not set a new law or re-enforce tithing for His followers as it were. Compare this with Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:2-3 for instance and it immediately becomes apparent that Jesus expected that His disciples will give to support the needy.
Others hold that the writer of Hebrews, in chapter 7:8 teaches tithing in the New Testament. However, careful study of the context reveals that the aim of the writer is to establish the fact that Christ as the priest of the New Covenant is superior to the Levitical priesthood of the old covenant (who received tithes from the people of God).
The purpose of the tithes in the old covenant was primarily to support the Levites, who were not allowed any inheritance amongst the people of Israel. Thus we read in Malachi 3:10a to “bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house” – obviously for the sustenance of the Levitical priesthood of the time. In addition, people were required to give gifts for the worship in the tabernacle (Exodus 36:2-7).
Although in the NT the Levitical system is done away with, there is still the need to support (pay) servants of God who give their lives to the full time teaching of God’s word; and also to finance the work of the ministry. 1Tim 5:18 teaches this clearly when it says “Do not muzzle the ox whilst it is treading the grain; and the workman is worthy of his wages”.
The New Testament teaching is that:
Giving is worship (Philippians 4:18).
Paul describes it as a fragrant offering (worship) which is pleasing to God. We don’t give merely as an obligation or a sense of duty, but as worship – out of love and appreciation of Christ’s loving sacrifice on the cross of Calvary to redeem us from our sins (2Corinthians 8:8). Since we are under a better covenant, we are expected to give more than those in the old covenant. It therefore comes as no surprise that the Apostle did not reiterate the giving of tithes in the New Testament.
Giving Must Be Cheerful and Sacrificial (1 Corinthians 9:7).
We see the sacrificial nature of giving in the New Testament illustrated in two Bible stories – the widow who gave her all (Mark 12:41-44) and that of the Corinthian Church (2 Corinthians 8:1-5). In the first story, Jesus remarked that the widow “out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” Similarly, Paul writes of the Macedonian Church that “out of their extreme poverty, they gave, even beyond their ability.” How sad it is that today giving is mostly taught as a quick means to gain riches. The Apostles and the early Christians did not give merely for what they would get in return; instead, they gave willingly, even in the most extreme situations of lack, to support the work of God.
Giving Must Be In Proportion To God’s Providence (1Corinthians 16:1-2).
It is possible to give less when we are privileged to earn more than when we earned little (disproportionally), if we don’t look at it in proportion to how God has blessed us. The truth is that if we give the same proportion after an increment in income as we were giving before, then we are not giving sacrificially; we are in effect giving less, and not acting in obedience to 1Corinthians 16:1-3. Paul’s teaching here also shows that our giving must be planned. We are to set aside money to give in support of God’s work, especially that of missions.
To tithe or not? My response is that we should do so much more! No longer as a law, no longer with legalities, but with this understanding of the new covenant in Christ. Donald S. Whitney, Pastor and Author put it so aptly when he said “Giving 10% is not a ceiling of giving to stop at, but a floor to move from.”