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New Covenant 'Tithing'?

Is tithing taught in the New Covenant? If Christians are directed to tithe in the New Covenant then the entire issue can be put to rest. Tithing is not taught to New Covenant believers.  Tithing is mentioned in the New Covenant but we need to look at those times it is mentioned in the proper context.

The most direct statement about tithing in the New Covenant is in Matthew 23:23 where Jesus told the Pharisees and the teachers of the law that they need to keep the law and not neglect the more important matters like justice , mercy, and faithfulness. So is that statement intended for us now? Absolutely not! Jesus was saying that they needed to keep the entire law which included tithing as well as burnt sacrifices and worshipping on the Sabbath just to name a few. The Pharisees and the teachers of the law were attempting to prove how perfect they were by even tithing their spices. Jesus was exposing their hypocrisy. In fact the entire 23rd chapter of Matthew lists seven woes that Jesus was directing to the Pharisees and the teachers of the law. Jesus was both warning them about what they were doing and telling them the evil that they would be doing in the future with their ‘holier than everyone else, legalistic attitude’. Matthew chapter 23 is directed to anyone who believes and acts like the Pharisees and teachers of the law.

Jesus is not telling us now that we should keep the entire law. If so, then his death, burial, and resurrection were for nothing. Here’s the issue. Jesus had not died and rose from the dead yet so therefore the Israelites and anyone who professed to worship the God of Israel were supposed to be keeping all the laws. That was the correct thing for Jesus to say to them and the correct thing for everyone to do. There are many, many verses in the New Covenant that teach us that we are free from the law. Galatians 3:13 is one of them. Other verses include Romans 3:20-24 and Romans 6:14.   There are many other passages that teach us we are free from the law.    We are free from ALL of the laws that God gave to the Israelites.

The one other time that tithing is mentioned in the New Covenant is in Hebrews chapter 7. Even then, it does not teach us that we should be tithing but in the midst of a somewhat detailed explanation of Jesus as the great high priest, it mentions tithing in the current tense. Some have tried to use this verse to support their belief that Christians should be tithing. That is not what Hebrews chapter 7 is intended for.  Be sure to read the next section.

Study of Hebrews

A quick review of the purpose of the book of Hebrews is important.  The writer was attempting to instruct Jewish Christians that they should no longer be trying to obey the things contained in the Old Covenant law.  Starting in chapter 1, the writer speaks first of the superiority of Christ over the Prophets, angels, and in chapter 3, Moses.  Chapter 4 shows that Christ is superior to Joshua also.  It is important to illustrate these things to people that held the law and the prophets so dearly to their hearts.  The Jewish Christians were trying to hold onto the law rather than embrace the grace and power that comes with Jesus Christ so the writer had to make these comparisons.  In Hebrews 6:1-2 the writer warns that he is now moving into more mature teaching.

The writer of Hebrews goes on to explain in chapter 7 about Melchizedek and start the discussion about tithing.  Hebrews 7:4-6 first indicates that Abraham in Genesis 14:14-20 gave a tithe of the plunder only.  Contrary to popular teaching, he didn't tithe everything he had.  Abraham gave a tenth of the plunder that he took from the 3 kings that had kidnapped his nephew Lot.  Be sure to read the section titled Before the Law . The book of Hebrews goes on to explain that the Old Covenant law required tithing to the Levites by all Israelites that farmed or raised animals. The Levites were then required to give a tithe of what they received to the Lord.

Many people have a misunderstanding about Hebrews 7:8.  This verse is talking about the same person written about earlier in Hebrews 7:1-3 and that person is Melchizedek.  Melchizedek is the person 'declared to be living' in this passage.  It really doesn't matter as far as a discussion about tithing however.  In that same verse as well as verse 9 it states two critical phrases in the current tense - '...the tenth is collected...' and '...Levi, who collects the tenth...'.  The writer was doing the same as he did in earlier chapters and that was to explain what was happening at the then current time.  The writer was merely stating what was happening then and not giving a command as far as what Christians need to do now.  In fact the writer was attempting to get the Hebrews to stop trying to obey parts of the law that included tithing.

For the benefit of those Hebrews - and everyone else who is trying to keep parts of the law God gave to the Israelites - Hebrews 7:18 ends the discussion.  No matter how you choose to interpret the 'regulation' or 'commandment' mentioned - it is either talking about tithing, the Levitical priesthood, or all the laws - either way the Bible teaches that it has been set aside.  Tithing was part of the law and the law was given on the basis of the Levitical priesthood (Hebrews 7:11).  The whole chapter is explaining how very important the tithe was under the Law, but points out at the end that now we have a perfect high priest who fulfilled the Law. The Bible teaches that believers should not be trying to keep any of the laws God gave to the Israelites.  We have been given a new and better covenant (Galatians 2:16, Romans 3:28Hebrews 7:20-22, Hebrews 8:6-7, Hebrews 8:13 ).

New Covenant Giving

The Gospels and Money

What are we taught in the gospels about money?  Jesus taught about money or riches quite often.  I won't cover everything he said but I want to attempt to discover a pattern of his teachings. 

In Mark 12:41-44 Jesus is in the temple sitting not far from where people were placing their money.  Jesus wasn't counting their individual offerings, he was looking at the hearts of those who gave.  A widow gave a very small amount - smaller than anyone else - and Jesus said she gave more than everyone else.  The small amount she gave was more valuable to the kingdom of God and to her than all those who gave very large amounts.  She certainly didn't tithe.   Instead, she gave all she had.  Is Jesus saying that everyone should all the time give all that they have?  No, not at all. The lessons we should get from this are 1) Just because you give a large amount doesn't mean you are pleasing God, 2) Just because you 'tithe' doesn't mean you are pleasing God,  and 3) Giving small or giving large - God knows your heart.  

The poor widow was actually being plundered by the religious leaders.  Be sure to read The Truth About the Widows Gift. That kind of sacrificial giving is NOT a model for Christians.  Unfortunately, the same thing is happening in churches right now with messages to poor folks telling them the must 'tithe'.  It is wrong for religious leaders to plunder poor folks by telling them they must 'tithe' to please God.  The message Jesus gave to the Pharisees who plundered the poor is appropriate for religious leaders that plunder the poor now.  Jesus said

Mark 12:40
40 They devour widows' houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. Such men will be punished most severely. NIV

In Matthew 19:16-26 Jesus is asked a question by a rich young man.  This young man said he had obeyed all the laws but wanted to know the one thing he had to do to get eternal life.  Jesus saw through the young man's question and went directly to the root of the problem.  The problem was that the young man loved his riches above everything else and wanted to hold onto them.  The answer for the young man's problem was not tithing.  The rich young man needed to do as Jesus said and sell all his possessions, give the money to the poor, and follow him (Jesus).  What does that mean to us now?  What should we understand from this lesson?  Is Jesus saying that everybody ought to give all they have to the poor?   I don't think so.  Those that have the same problem as the rich young man may need to take the same cure.   

In both of these situations, Jesus clearly indicates that tithing is not the answer to two extremes of money problems - those with very little money and those who have a lot of money.  How about everybody else?  Maybe 'tithing' is for those in the middle of the two extremes!  Absolutely not!  Tithing is not the answer for any money problems.  Actually, based on Jesus' words, the fact that some Israelites faithfully gave a tenth of their income did not mean that God was pleased with their offering!  Even when the tithes did what they were supposed to do doesn't mean that the giver was storing up treasures in heaven!  That part is no different now.   Just because you faithfully 'tithe' is no indication of God's acceptance of it.   Yes, some of your 'tithe' may help keep the local church operating but don't take comfort in that.  We are told in Matthew 7:21-27 that many people will do a whole lot better than just tithe and even they will not enter the kingdom of heaven.  So what are we supposed to give?  More important than the question of how much to give is the question of how to give it.  We need to learn how to be cheerful givers not be reluctant to share with those in need - 2 Corinthians 9:7.  More on that later.

For some reason, many people associate tithing with being generous.  Tithing and generosity are not the same.  A person can tithe and still not be generous in his or her heart.   'Tithing' for Christians is an attempt to please God by obeying one of the laws he gave to the Israelites.  The law of tithing is no different than the laws the Israelites were given that instructed them to kill animals and sacrifice them to God.  God sent his son ,Jesus, to be the final sacrifice for sins.  God set all the laws including the Levitical priesthood aside because they were no longer needed.  The laws did what they were supposed to do until Jesus came and fulfilled the prophecies that were written about the first coming of the Messiah. 

Jesus explained to us in Matthew 22:36-40 what was important about the laws God gave to the Israelites.  This is repeated in Romans 13:8-10 and Galatians 5:14

The Epistles and Money

The Epistles agree totally with what Jesus said about giving.  The first incident I'll study starts in Acts 4:32-37 and continues in Acts 5:1-10.   There is a lot to be learned from these passages and I'll only mention a few things about them.  First, the believers were in agreement and sharing was common.  The apostles were teaching about the resurrection of Jesus with great power and much grace was upon them.  That means that many miracles were occurring.  Ananias and Sapphira watched as others voluntarily sold lands or houses they owned and put the money at the apostles feet to be shared with the needy.  Ananias and Sapphira decided to deceive people about the level of their generosity so they agreed to lie and say that they were giving all the proceeds from the sale of their piece of property.  Peter challenged them in Acts 5:3-4 and reminded them about the freedom they had.  The point I want to make is what Peter said to them "Didn't it belong to you before it was sold?  And after it was sold, wasn't the money at your disposal?"  They were free - just as we are - to give what they wanted to give.  Instead, they decided to play the 'look at me, I'm really religious game' and didn't recognize that they were lying to the Holy Spirit.  This incident had nothing to do with tithing.  It had everything to do with the deception that was in their hearts.

In 1 Corinthians 16:1-4 Paul instructs the believers to '..set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income....' as they prepared to raise money for the believers in Jerusalem.  It seems as though many interpret this as some kind of code word for tithing.  It is not.  It simply means that you the giver are free to decide how much money is in keeping with your income and you give that amount.  Paul is not instructing believers to tithe.

The most significant verses concerning generosity in the Epistles starts in 2 Corinthians chapter 8 and continues through to all of 2 Corinthians chapter 9.  Again, there is a whole lot more contained in these verses than what I'll cover here and I encourage you to read these and all of the verses offline.  Paul first writes about '...the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches...' as he referred to their '...rich generosity...'.  In verse 7, Paul encourages the Corinthian church and believers today to '...see that you also excel in this grace of giving...'  These are also not code words for tithing.  It means that God has provided for us some of his grace to enable us - if we choose - to be generous to those in need.  The generous Macedonian church was not rich at all.  In fact Paul writes in verse 2 '...their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity...'.   Once again, it is the condition of their hearts that mattered more than the amount they gave.  In 2 Corinthian 9:6-7 we are reminded that if you give a little you will be blessed a little and if you give a lot you will be blessed a lot.  This is referring to grace, not to the giving and receiving of money or material things.  Verse 8 clearly emphasizes this fact.   Verse 7 clearly states 'Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give...'  Believers need to search their own hearts and give what they are really happy to give.  No more, no less.

The amount you should give is the amount you should give.  God does not expect the same level of giving from two people that earn the same amount of money!  Let me emphasize that some more.  Even if two people earn the same amount of money, live in the same neighborhood, have the same number of kids, have cars that cost the same, have rent that cost the same or homes that cost the same, work at the same company, have parents and grandparents the same age, work the same amount of overtime, walk the same, talk the same, and look the same God still doesn't expect the same level of giving from each person!  God has given each person different gifts and he expects a different return on his investment of the different combination of gifts he has given each of us.  Romans 12:3-8 explains that we should look at ourselves soberly '...in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you...'.  It goes on to explain that '.....We each have different measures of faith and different gifts and God expects different results from each of us.  That includes different amounts of giving even from people that earn the same amount of money! 

God is not looking for people to tithe.  God wants his people to obey him as he speaks to your heart.  Search your own heart and determine the amount you can freely give and cheerfully give it. 

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