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"Ever since the time of your forefathers you have turned away from my decrees and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you," says the LORD Almighty. "But you ask, 'How are we to return?' Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me. But you ask, 'How do we rob you?' In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse—the whole nation of you—because you are robbing me. Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this," says the LORD Almighty, "and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it. I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not cast their fruit," says the LORD Almighty. "Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land," says the LORD Almighty. (NIV)
A Question About Tithing in the New Testament
Before I say anything about the content of this text I want to try to answer this question: Why is the Old Testament command to tithe not used by Paul in the New Testament to enforce his efforts to raise money from the churches?
First Three Things That Are Not the Answer!
1. Jesus Abolished It
It is not because Jesus abolished the tithe.
You never read anything like, "You have heard that it was said to you, Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse! But I say to you, Five percent will do, or even two."
On the contrary Jesus says in Luke 11:42, "Woe to you Pharisees! for you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God; these you ought to have done, without neglecting the others." So Jesus warns against making the tithe a religious cover for injustice and lovelessness. But he doesn't throw it out. He says, "These you ought to have done."
2. Proportionate Giving Has Ceased to Be the Rule
The reason Paul doesn't use the command to tithe is not because proportionate giving has ceased to be the rule.
In 1 Corinthians Paul says, "On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that contributions need not be made when I come."
In other words, proportionate giving is still the rule. If you prosper more, you give more. If you prosper less, you give less. And that is exactly what tithing is. So there is no conflict here. Proportionate giving is still the rule, and that can't be why the command to tithe is not used.
3. Ministry Needs Less Money Now
It can't be that the ministry needs less money in the New Testament.
In Galatians 6:6 Paul says, "Let him who is taught the word share all good things with him who teaches." And in 1 Timothy 5:18 Paul talks about the payment that preachers and teachers should receive and says, "'You shall not muzzle and ox when it is treading out the grain,' and, 'the laborer deserves his wages.'"
Not only that, he expects the disabled poor in the church to be supported by some kind of systematic collection. This includes elderly widows in 1 Timothy 5 and the poor saints in Jerusalem (Romans 15:26). All that takes money.
Not only that, he teaches that the churches should support financially the missionary enterprise of taking the gospel to the unreached peoples of the world. In Romans 15:24 he asks the Roman church to assist him on his way to Spain. And in 1 Corinthians 9:7 he says, "Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard without eating any of its fruit? Who tends a flock with out getting some of the milk?"
In other words, the teaching and preaching and caring and mission of the church all cost money, just like the temple service did in the Old Testament—in fact it probably cost a lot more because the mission of the church stands so much more in the forefront.
So the reason the tithe is not commanded by Paul is not that Jesus abolished it. He didn't; he approved it. Nor was the reason that we should no longer give proportionately. We should, "as we may prosper." The more you make, the more you give. Nor was it that the need of the ministry is less in the New Testament. It's not. Teaching, preaching, caring, missions all take money.
Why, then, did Paul not use the command to tithe when encouraging this kind of giving in the church?
1. He Wanted to Emphasize Willingness
He didn't command a tithe because he wanted to emphasize willingness rather than constraint.
2 Corinthians 9:7 says, "Each one must do as he has made up his mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver."
Another example of the principle here is when Paul writes to Philemon. He says, "Though I am bold enough to command you to do what is required, yet for love's sake I prefer to appeal to you." And he says in 2 Corinthians 8:8, "I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine."
So Paul downplays the possibility of commanding a certain level of giving because he wants to emphasize loving willingness rather than constraint.
2. He Wanted to Emphasize Liberality
He didn't use the command to tithe because he wanted to emphasize liberality rather than limitation.
He wanted to urge people beyond the old constraints of simple proportionate giving. For example, in 2 Corinthians 8:3 he commends the poverty stricken Macedonians like this: "They gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints."
And in 2 Corinthians 9:6 he says, "he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully." In other words the issue isn't meeting a minimum limit. The issue for Paul is how to unleash the maximum liberality. The command to tithe just doesn't suit this approach.
3. He Wanted to Emphasize Our Designs for Giving
He didn't use the command to tithe because he wanted to emphasize that all our getting should be designed for giving.
He says in Ephesians 4:28, "Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his hands, so that he may be able to give to those in need."
In other words the alternative to stealing in Paul's mind is not working in order to get and have, but working in order to get and give. Everything we spend on ourselves should be to build a platform for giving, that is, for loving. Or, as Jesus taught, he is the Owner of all we have. We are just stewards commissioned to invest his money for his glory. And what glorifies him most is loving liberality from a simple base, not tithing from a palace.
So the reason that Paul did not use the command to tithe in order to enforce his teaching about giving was that he wanted to emphasize
- willingness over constraint, and
- liberality over limitation, and
- a sense that all our money is God's not just a tenth.
How Do We "Set Aside" This Command?
Now what does all this have to say to us about how we use Malachi 3:7–12? Verse 8 says that not tithing is the same as robbing God. "Will a man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, 'How are we robbing thee?' In your tithes and offerings." And verse 10 commands tithing: "Bring the full tithes into the storehouse."
Now how does Paul's approach to giving help us put this text to use? What Paul's approach does is show us that there is a proper New Testament way to, as it were, "set aside" this command and there is a wrong way to set aside this command.
We have three guidelines.
1. Sin Lurks at Both Doors
If we are going to "set aside" the command to tithe in these verses because it feels slavish and legal, and because we want to promote freedom in our giving, then let us beware of jumping out of the frying pan of legal slavery to a command into the fire of carnal slavery to fear and greed. Sin lurks at both doors—the self-righteous door where sin welcomes the command to tithe in order to boast in its piety; and the self-indulgent door where sin . . .
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