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Tithing – A Biblical Perspective

My heart was stirred by the Holy Spirit in response to an email I received a few days ago.  My deep love for the Church and the spread of the gospel to all nations (people groups) compels me to write the following.  Let me begin by asking a few questions to get you thinking and hopefully, turning to God’s Word to find His answers, not man’s.

  • Where in the NT is the Church told or taught to tithe?
  • Did Paul exhort the Church to tithe?
  • Did Jesus teach the disciples to tithe?
  • What was the tithe in the OT for?
  • Is the Church to follow the Law or the Holy Spirit?

If we look carefully at the tithe in the OT, it was first introduced by Abraham to affirm the priesthood of Melchizedek.  Tithing was then given to Israel through Moses in the Law as a means of supporting the Priests and Levites who had no land or means of providing their own income since they served God in the tabernacle and temple on a full-time basis.

When we come to the NT, Jesus referred to tithing Mt. 23 and Luke 11 to expose the hypocrisy of the Pharisees, NOT to teach the disciples to tithe.  In Luke 18:12 the Pharisee used tithing as a reason to justify himself.  Jesus points out that he left the temple not justified by his self-righteous claims.

So what is the basis of giving in the day of the Spirit and the Church?  Many refer to Malachi 3:10 to support tithing in the Church.  But that Scripture was address to disobedient Israel, not the Church even though the Church may be in serious disobedience to God’s Word (see Rev. 2 & 3)!  Paul’s burden in writing his first letter of Galatians was because some were teaching a false gospel; seeking to provide justification under the Law.  His language is very strong.  “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” (Galatians 3:3).  Earlier in chapter two he says, “For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God.” (Galatians 2:19).  Doing what is pleasing to God (whether giving or anything else) is because “…it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:13).  Not only that, James draws a clear contrast between “law keepers” and “the perfect law, the law of liberty” (James 1:25 – 2:13).

Further to Malachi 3:10, “test me in this”, Jesus said to Satan in Mt. 14:7 and Lk. 4:12, “Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’ ”” (Matthew 4:7).  The day of the Spirit is one of faith and obedience to His leading.  This is a proof in itself of who we are in Christ.

It is clear from 2 Cor. 8:1-9:15 that giving in the Church is based on grace, genuine love, and cheerful generosity.  I also notice that Paul urges believers to work with their own hands (Eph. 4:28; 1 Thess. 4:11) to provide there own needs.  This is so important to all believers since we are all priests (1 Peter 2:9).  Paul and those with him set the example.  “For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God.” (1 Thessalonians 2:9).

All the above does not prohibit the giving to the Lord’s work as we see in Phil. 4:18.  But we must maintain a biblical perspective if we are going to see a rapid expansion of the gospel and the Church as in the Book of Acts.  Roland Allen in his book, Missionary Methods – St. Paul’s or ours? says that financial “arrangements, what ever that may be, affect the minds of people, and so promote or hinder the spread of the Gospel.” (pg. 49).  Two paragraphs later he states; “There seem to have been three rules which guided his (Paul’s) practice: (1) That he did not seek financial help for himself; (2) that he took no financial help to those to whom he preached; (3) that he did not administer local church funds.”  These are wise observations that will accelerate God’s work today.  I fear that much of God’s work has been hindered because we have placed so much emphasis on money and not the power of God through the gospel.

My desire in responding as I have is that believers, and especially those who preach and teach the body of Christ, will get their minds on a biblical foundation.  We should be far more concerned that our ministry be led by the Holy Spirit and based on God’s Word rather than funded by money.  Hudson Taylor, missionary to China, said “God’s work done God’s way will not lack God’s support”.  My earnest prayer is that we will return to a biblical model and see God do an indigenous work, thus speeding the return of Christ.

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