Grace, The Law & Tithing I
A question came up in one of our small groups this month concerning tithing. I had recently been addressing this very same topic with the elders of our “sister church”, A Grace Place and with Dave in particular over the course of the last year. So it seemed almost fortuitous that this question should come up now while all the facts are so clearly in my mind to deal with them.
One thing I have found, and in all honesty it has been much to my surprise, is just how divided the body is over this issue. Furthermore, it is not being treated with virtually any degree of scholarly integrity nor love by those who address the topic. Most often, blogs, “Christian” forums, online articles and podcasts offer little more than postured “knee-jerk” reactionary monologues on the topic which are obviously defensive in nature. This typically leads to conclusions which are both superficial and unsubstantiated. While I understand being emotionally committed to a topic, I believe it is absolutely necessary to work through your “reasons behind your reasons” BEFORE placing something definitive before the public eye.
I will unveil my bias from the onset so that anyone reading may have the advantage of knowing from where I hail.
I grew up tithing in a Baptist church, converted to Word of Faith by the ripe old age of 12, and then dropped all titles and outward affiliations with ANY denomination or sub-culture with in Christiandom and simply attempt to honor God’s word as I understand it. Today, as an adult and as a Pastor for over 20 years, I came to see grace in terms I never before understood. I am NOT a card carrying member of the “grace movement“, and have not come to my understanding us grace by any teacher but the Holy Spirit. All of this being said, I still tithe…the funny thing is that biblically, IF the tithe still applies to Christians I fall into one of the only groups who would be exempt – nevertheless, I tithe and will never change that practice…I consider it an honor to do so.
I suppose due to my Baptist beginnings and the influence of my parents, I have always given tithe and have absolutely NEVER felt like it was being coerced out of me. While I am sympathetic to those who have had bad experiences – this simply was not part of my history. In any case however, our experience CAN NEVER BE USED as a legitimate basis for our beliefs. As Christians, the totality of all our beliefs come the the bible alone!
Tithing is something I have always felt strongly about and so I had to address that emotionally charged aspect of my theology before studying it out in the first place. However, it is worth noting that I was quite willing to forgo tithing as part of my belief system (though not my personal practice) if I were to discover that the Biblical truth pointed decidedly in the other direction and in fact, was almost suspicious that was what I was going to find. As a Pastor, I am VERY aware that I will one day stand before the ONLY true and great Shepherd of the sheep Jesus Christ, and what I teach and lead others to do, will be judged by a stricter judgement. That fact have not left my thoughts for an instant throughout this rather long and thorough study! In the end, I believe I have come to a place of understanding that is both accurate and a responsible approach to Biblical teaching on this topic.
If you listen through the audios of this series, you will undoubtedly come to some premature conclusions of my beliefs if you do not listen to them all. One thing I have come to see as a pattern is that when I have divorced myself from a “commitment” to a theology and approach the topic at hand without prejudice (as much as humanly possible) I find that I come to conclusions which nearly always surprise me. In more cases than not, I discover that the topic need not be so divided, because the truth is often somewhere closer to the middle. It is rarely an “either/or” issue…it is most often “both/and”!
Choose your corner and come out swinging!
While no hard fast categories apply to everyone, the “general temperature” of the arguments (from both sides of this polarized debate) tend to fall into one of two extreme categories.
The fundamentalist believes tithing almost entirely for the wrong reasons or at least for reasons which are profoundly over-simplified.
The “anti-tithers” are against tithing to the point of being legalistic in their interpretations of the “freedoms” we now have in Christ – the irony and humor of which is NOT lost on me.
Those who have followed me through the years, know very well that I have never pushed tithe in particular and would venture to say that the sum total of all the teachings on money throughout ALL my years in ministry could be counted on one hand with fingers to spare. Thinking back on this and realizing how MUCH the New Testament talks about money and giving, I am actually not to proud of that fact.
Furthermore, because God has always met our needs in this body of believers and in my life personally as an elder (Pastor) in particular – it is not a loaded topic for me and therefore I feel quite able to address it with a clear mind and very little bias.
That having been said, I am not afraid to face the topic head on and see what the scriptures might say (or at very least imply) about tithing under the New Covenant.
Two Covenants = Two laws?
Before embarking on this study, some preliminary issues concerning the two covenants HAVE to be addressed. I say this because it is the proverbial “hill” upon which both sides of this debate have chosen to make “their last stand”. So, it is with this goal in mind that both this week and next I will be addressing what the New Testament writers reveal was the nature of the relationship between the Law and the Christian under the New Covenant BEFORE addressing tithe head on. I will admit that there are some difficult passages which need to be confronted for both sides of this argument, but I believe the overwhelming evidence points decidedly in one direction.
Evidently, on the fundamentalist side of the issue, many church leaders use the “robing from God” or the “blessing” mentioned in Malachi 3:10,11 as their “key text” from which to teach New Testament tithing. This is traditionally followed by the example of Abraham tithing to Melchizedek over 500 years before the law.
“Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, That there may be food in My house, And try Me now in this,” Says the LORD of hosts, “If I will not open for you the windows of heaven And pour out for you such blessing That there will not be room enough to receive it. “And I will rebuke the devourer for your sakes, So that he will not destroy the fruit of your ground, Nor shall the vine fail to bear fruit for you in the field,” Says the LORD of hosts;” ~ Mal. 3:10-11
“Now consider how great this man was, to whom even the patriarch Abraham gave a tenth of the spoils. And indeed those who are of the sons of Levi, who receive the priesthood, have a commandment to receive tithes from the people according to the law, that is, from their brethren, though they have come from the loins of Abraham; but he whose genealogy is not derived from them received tithes from Abraham and blessed him who had the promises. Now beyond all contradiction the lesser is blessed by the better.” ~ Heb. 7:4-7
The only two real problems with this approach (so far as I can see), is that the blessing mentioned in Malachi is material and therefore more indicative of the “promises” of the Old Covenant – while our covenant is based upon better promises.
– The old covenant was seeking to establish an earthly nation and bloodline through which the Messiah would come. It follows then that the promises of the Old Testament invariably address mundane earthly issues like material wealth, freedom from and victory over enemies..etc..
– The new covenant has and is establishing a spiritual nation through which the Messiah rules and reigns in the hearts of men. The New Testament’s promises therefore are that God will never leave us, never let us be ashamed, and that He enables us to become partakers of the Divine Nature.
So, even if tithing is still in effect, the promised blessings reaped (if any) from doing so would be inherently different. Remember, the passage in Malachi encouraging Israel to “test” God is in effect a call to return to the Mosaic covenant promises through obedience to God’s law. While we in the New Covenant hail from Abraham’s covenant of promise. This IS a real issue and one that cannot be ignored if you wish to discover the truth!
Secondly, the example of Abraham (and Levi by association) paying tithe to Melchizedek can hardly be used as a “pattern” for regular tithe. It does, however, accurately demonstrate a greater truth – that being… that tithing is NOT purely an Old Covenant issue. Since Paul draws a THICK and cohesive connection between our New Covenant in Jesus Christ and the Abrahamic covenant due the fact that both of them attributes righteousness as being conveyed by faith and not works, we cannot simply write off this example of tithe. This is actually a very strong argument for tithe, but NOT to demonstrate tithing regularly.
The I’m under Grace “anti-tither”…
The first assertion for this group is often that tithing is entirely an Old Testament “Law” issue and so is viewed as one which is not required nor suggested for the New Covenant believer. They believe that all giving in the new covenant is supposed to be “cheerful” and not under “obligation”. Among the favorite “cornerstone” texts used to substantiate these positions are II Cor. 9:7 & Gal. 3:10-14
“So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver.” ~ 2Cor. 9:7
“All who are depending upon their own obedience to the Law are under a curse, for it is written, “CURSED IS EVERY ONE WHO DOES NOT REMAIN FAITHFUL TO ALL THE PRECEPTS OF THE LAW, AND PRACTICE THEM.” It is evident, too, that no one can find acceptance with God simply by obeying the Law, because “THE RIGHTEOUS SHALL LIVE BY FAITH,” and the Law has nothing to do with faith. It teaches that “HE WHO DOES THESE THINGS SHALL LIVE BY DOING THEM.” Christ has purchased our freedom from the curse of the Law by becoming accursed for us–because “CURSED IS EVERY ONE WHO IS HANGED UPON A TREE.” Our freedom has been thus purchased in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing belonging to Abraham may come upon the nations, so that through faith we may receive the promised Spirit.” ~ Gal. 3:10-14
I will admit that if read alone and not in context of the entire letter (not to mention the immediate topic) and while not considering everything the inspired writers of the New Testament wrote concerning the believers relationship to the law, these passages could appear to be saying something they are not. That having been said, no Christian should approach any topic in God’s Word – especially one which has such far reaching implications as this, with such a light hand.
I will deal with 2Cor.9:7 on 10/31/12 so you can read and hear about that extensively on that date. However, I will at least mention here, that II Cor. 8-9 is NOT even talking about giving in the local assembly – it is CLEARLY a NON-Regular “SPECIAL COLLECTION” of alms for the poor in Jerusalem. How this is magically being turned into a replacement for the type of giving which IS incumbent upon the believer to give to a minister in a local assembly is absolutely beyond me!
In these verses the only four words which “could” lead a person to think that it was the law itself which was the curse from which we were freed, is found in vs 13, “…but Christ hath delivered us from the curse of the law…”. The fact that the law is NOT a curse is evident to the point of being absurd if anyone even conducted a casual scan of the writings of Paul where he refers to it as – righteous, just, holy, the righteous requirement, spiritual, the tutor which brings people to Christ, that which defines sin, and is not made void by faith…etc. Never the less, I will look at this single passage as though it was the only thing Paul ever wrote by inspiration about the law and see if even with the deck stacked it appears that the law was the curse.
Predominately this verse could be understood in one of two ways. Let us use a similar sentence which is not tied directly to any cherished doctrine in order to illustrate.
“Due to a change in her schedule, Jason’s mom had to pick him up early from school and so delivered him from the curse of the spelling test.”
That Jason is being delivered from a curse seems clear … but from what curse? One assumption is that Jason may have been delivered from the spelling test and therefore conclude that the “test” itself was the curse. Equally possible, Jason may simply have a been delivered from taking the test that day which would have resulted in failure due to the weakness of his study practices. In this later case it was not the test itself which was the curse, but taking the test which would have been a curse to Jason. Others taking the same test (if prepared) may have found it a blessing.
The point is that just these words alone cannot tell us if the curse is the test or the results of the test due to Jason’s failure to prepare. Only further information about Jason’s situation could tell us which one is true.
In the case of Gal. 3:13, either we are…
1. Set free from the curse associated with the Law due to a flaw in us.
2. The Law itself is the curse from which we were delivered because it was inherently evil to begin with.
So which is true? Only consulting the rest of Paul’s writings will reveal this answer. Did Paul (or any other New Testament writer) ever state that the Law in it’s entirety is the thing from which we were delivered? The answer is overwhelmingly NO!
Below is a New Testament listing of several occurrence of the word “law” (meaning the Law of the Old Covenant)…
Acts 13:38-39 – This verse is talking about Justification by the works of the law (the ESV did a terrible job at translating this verse)
Acts 22:12 – Godliness as defined by the Law is accepted as Godliness under the New Covenant.
Acts 25:8 – Paul affirmed that he had not done anything contrary to the Law while being a Christian.
Rom. 2:12-27 – The Law is placed forth as the example of right conduct under the New Covenant and even those Gentiles who did not have the Law, found themselves keeping the things written in Law by the influence of the Holy Spirit within them once coming to Christ! Showing evidence, by their new nature, that the LAW had been written on their hearts, just like God promised He would do under in the “New Covenant” – Ezek. 11:19-21 & Ezek. 36:25-28.
Rom. 3:19-31 – The Law is not made void (καταργέω katargéō – meaning made to cease, rendered inactive, idle or useless) by faith but is instead established ( ἵστημι hístēmi – meaning to cause to stand, to set or place; to establish or confirm.) by faith. This word establish is the exact same word and grammatical usage as in Heb. 10:9 where it is used to describe the establishment of the New Covenant.
Rom. 4:13-16 – Righteousness and becoming an heir of God is not offered by being UNDER the Law. The word “under” means to be a slave of – from which we WERE delivered! However, not being a slave of the law is all together different from not having any association with the law.
Rom. 6:14-23 – You are not free to sin – you are freed FROM sinning. Sin, according to I Jn. 3, is to break the Mosaic law. So this verse is saying that though we are not UNDER the Law we are in fact freed to keep it by grace. In fact, James says that if a person “claims” to have faith and does not have works – his faith is a fraud! Ironically the example he gives of “giving to the poor” is lifted directly from Deuteronomy in the Old Testament!
Rom. 8:3-7 – The Law was not weak – the flesh was and so God sent Jesus in the flesh to overcome sin in the flesh (not to overcome the Law). Jesus is fulfilling the Law IN us (not for us). Also, being carnally minded is defined as living outside of submission to the Mosaic Law.
Rom. 9:30-33 – Gentiles obtained THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF THE LAW by faith where as the Jews did not obtain the righteousness of the Law because they attempted to do so by works. Not because they were focused on the Law – the Law was in fact the standard of righteousness – so the Law was not the problem. It was because they sought righteousness by works instead of faith. Right standing with a God that does NOT change could not allow for “new rules of right behavior” under the New Covenant. The New Covenant DID NOT CHANGE GOD so it cannot change what requirements are inherently “RIGHT”!
Rom. 10:4 -5 – Jesus is NOT the end of the Law for those who believe, but the end of the law FOR RIGHTEOUSNESS for those who believe.
Rom. 13:8-10 – Love is defined by and is confirmed as the fulfillment of the Old Testament Law. If we are free from the Old Testament Law then we must be freed from love as well for to do one is to do the other. The problem here is that people “claim” to love while breaking the law, and this verse states clearly that such thinking is false!
1Cor. 9:8-14 – The Law is referenced twice as the standard for godly behavior and for New Covenant procedure. According to Paul, the Old Testament passages he quotes from in these verses were written FOR US and given as THE example for how New Covenant believers SHOULD be giving to ministers of the gospel – meaning those whose livelihood is to minister the Word. TO BE CLEAR – Paul offered the example of the type of giving what was done for those who ministered concerning the Holy things in the Old Covenant as the example for how we should give to New Covenant ministers of the Gospel.
1Cor. 14:34 – Women are told to keep silent in the church BECAUSE it was written in the Law.
Gal. 2:19 -21 – The dying to the Law Paul is teaching about here is one in which he died to righteousness by the works of the Law. “…for if righteousness comes by the Law then Christ died in vain.”
Gal. 3 – Read in context you will find that Paul is addressing the inability of the Law to give the believer Righteousness, Justification and The Holy Spirit. It is NOT a teaching on the evils of the Law or its irrelevance to us under the New Covenant. The curse is to be UNDER (or a slave of) the Law in regards to these three things.
Gal. 5:3-4 – This is ONLY talking about those who are seeking to obtain Justification by the Law which Paul had already addressed as impossible in Chapter 3.
1Tim. 1:7 -9 – This verse says that the Law is still necessary for those who do not know the standards for righteous behavior, but is not necessary for those who know and practice them.
James 2:8-26 – Sin is here defined by breaking the Mosaic Law. Also if one claims to have faith and yet, their faith does not produce works consistent with the Law, there faith is a fraud.
James 4:11,12 – Being a doer of the Law is here stated in a positive light.
I Jn. 3: 4-7 – Here all sin is labeled as “living as though there were no Law” a.k.a. “lawlessness”. Furthermore, Jesus is said here to have been sent in order to take away our lawlessness. Finally, he makes it clear (as does James in the prior verses) that only those who practice righteousness are righteousness. This is NOT to say that we produce the righteousness by works – but that if we truly are in the faith, we will find ourselves producing righteousness (works consistent with the requirements for righteousness in the law) BY our faith.
A Summary for the Simple:
For those out there who are “simple” – meaning an obvious and straightforward reasoning is enough for you without doing word searches and the like, let me present this from that vantage point.
Jesus said of the law,
“Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.” ~ Matt. 5:17,18
“Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets“~ Matt. 7:12
So let’s ask some basic questions…
Has heaven and earth passed away? I’m guessing “no” would be the general consensus.
What did Jesus mean by fulfill? We don’t have to guess, we know. Paul told us that Jesus did not fulfill the Law FOR us but is fulfilling it WITHIN us IF we live lives which are habitually led by the Holy Spirit – Rom. 8:4.
Wait a minute…..did Jesus NOT fulfill the law? Well, that depends on what you mean by that statement.
- If you mean, did Jesus live a life which was perfectly aligned with and in obedience to the law – then YES – absolutely!
- If you mean, did Jesus fulfill everything the Old Testament said He would do? No! Jesus fulfilled everything the Old Testament said He would do in His earthly ministry, but He has yet to fulfill the promises made to Israel in the Millennial kingdom, so NO He did not.
What about doing unto others as you would have them do to you… is this anti-New Covenant, because if Jesus is to be trusted, doing this is to obey and keep the entire law? This is a rhetorical question.
Overly simplified conclusion…
If “doing good to my neighbor” is a valid New Covenant virtue, then the law must still be relevant, for to do one IS to do the other.
Have the definitions for holy, just and good changed?
“Therefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good.” ~ Rom. 7:12
Are we not still supposed to be holy, just and good in all our conduct under the New Covenant?
“Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord“ ~ Heb. 12:14
“For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “THE JUST SHALL LIVE BY FAITH.”” ~ Rom. 1:17
“And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith.” ~ Gal 6:9,10
“who “WILL RENDER TO EACH ONE ACCORDING TO HIS DEEDS“: eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality; but to those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness—indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, on every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek; but glory, honor, and peace to everyone who works what is good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For there is no partiality with God.” ~ Rom. 2:6-11
Then the law is still relevant!
Has anything really changed then?
Has NOTHING changed from being under the Law other than not being it’s slave and not earning righteousness by it’s works? NO, several things have changed, but those things which HAVE changed Paul specifically addresses!
How do those changes address giving under the New Covenant? Stay tuned to find out!
I hope this teaching will challenge you and encourage you to study the scriptures for yourself and ultimately to place your trust in the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.
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