Do Christians Have to Tithe?

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  • December 12, 2012

Every week in our service, I stand up and say something like:

At this time in our service we worship God through our giving. God has given us all that we need for life and faith. And so we respond to God by giving generously, joyfully, and sacrificially as He has given to us.

You want to know where I got that language? I was a seminary student in Massachusetts attending Seven Mile Road Boston (at the time Edgeworth Community Church). Matt Kruse preached a sermon on giving from Exodus. I remember sitting there thinking, here we go. He’s going to hammer us with the 10% rule. Instead of law, I was overwhelmed by grace. Matt taught how God gave Jesus to us generously (He didn’t hold back), joyfully (He was glad to give to us), and sacrificially (it cost Him something to give to us) and that the gospel transformed how God’s people give. We give in response to and with the same marks as God’s giving to us. I have never looked at giving the same again.

Yesterday, Matt preached at 7MR Boston on tithing from Malachi 3. Do yourself a favor and listen to the sermon. In the meantime, I took copious notes that you can read below (remember this is not a manuscript, just notes).

Bring the Full Tithe (And then Some): Matthew Kruse

Some questions are such no-brainers that you almost don’t need to ask them. The answer would be, “Yes! Of course! And then some.” For example, if you were offered Red Sox season  tickets (remember Matt’s preaching in Boston), first row, behind the dugout, and the only requirement was that you needed to make it to at least 10 games – would you be interested? Would you be able to meet the requirement?

The answer would be, “Yes! Of course! And then some.”

Well, this is the same response for a New Covenant, born-again, going-to-heaven, Christian if you ask, “Do you tithe?”

The answer would be, “Yes! Of course! And then some.”

Money exists, like everything else, to show off the glory of God. And one of the ways that God’s people make sure that they are not mastered by money is by giving lots of that money away to God. If money is your god, then you hold on to it tightly and many of us do that. But if God is your God, then money is given away. This has been how God’s people have acted in the Old and New Covenant.

In the book of Malachi, the people of God had grown apathetic about God. The prophet writes, “Will man rob God?”

One would expect, “No!” to be the clear answer. And yet, the text goes on to say, “Yet you are robbing me.”  The word robbing here is not a one time mistake or a bad day. Instead, it is ongoing, habitual – every day, every week. God is saying, you are holding back and taking from me.

Three Questions:

1. What did income look like for an Old Covenant saint? 

Today, we get a paycheck on Fridays or cash in our hands. But when you think of an older covenant member of Israel, when you think of income, think harvest. A harvest of grain or wheat or grapes or fruit. And think increase. An increase in your flocks, more sheep, larger herds. Harvest + Increase = Income.

So for good income, you needed lots of rain, no bugs or epidemics, no robbers and raiders. A year free of all these things meant a good economic year. And in a good year, you had lots of barrels of wheat and grains, and large growing flocks, etc.

2. How much of that income or prospering was an Old Covenant saint required to give to God?

Scholars disagree on this. But at the least (and it probably was more), a tithe (one-tenth) of your income was given every year, and then in every third year, two-tenths were given. So at the minimum, it was year 1 = 10%, year 2 = 10%, year 3 = 20%.

3. Who was the tithe given to and what was it used for?

The tithe was given to God. But that didn’t mean that the people left their offerings in the fields and said, “Here you go God.” There was a storehouse outside the Temple where the tithes were brought. Here the offerings were used for the life of the covenantal people of God. One use was to feed the Levites, the priests who served in the temple. How would they eat? Could they go and grow crops and shepherd flocks? No. They were dedicated to serving in the temple and so they were provided for by the people whom they served. Food would also be in the storehouse so that when there were feasts, all of God’s people could eat from the tithe. And lastly, the offerings were also used to feed the poor.

God established a beautiful covenantal system: I’m going to prosper you. When I do, you will bring a portion of that back to me, so that my house will be filled with food, so my leaders will be provided for and they can shepherd you, so that we can feast together, and so that the poor will be provided for.

In light of this, how would you expect the Old Covenant people to deal with their harvest and increase?

You expect them to bring in the barrels and the flocks. And yet what do you find because of the wickedness of the human heart? Holding back. Skimping. Chintzy giving. They were giving a “onth” or a “twoth” but not a tenth. In Malachi’s day, things were not going well (crop failures, poor harvests, etc) and so the people felt justified to give less. They figured their difficult economic conditions meant that they didn’t need to give. It was okay to rob God.

Who of us is not the same way? “If I had more money, then I would give!” “If God was blessing me, then I would be generous.” You will always be able to justify chintzy giving. “I don’t have as much money as I’d like right now. And so I’m not going to give to God.”

God responds to the people by telling them that blessing doesn’t precede obedience; it follows it. In the Older Covenant, the laws of Moses established that obedience = earthly material blessing. Disobedience = earthly material curse. And so God invites His people to test Him with their obedience. Will He not give them rain, and stop locusts, and give them grapes the size of tennis balls! How are you going to be cheap with a God who is for us like this! Giving is about God being for us.

How do we take this to the New Testament? How do we move across to the New Covenant in light of Jesus, and His Cross, and His resurrection.

Does the New Testament demand tithing like the Old Testament? That is not a bad question, but it’s the wrong question. Like with everything else in the New Covenant, on this side of the Cross, there is something deeper and richer going on with tithing.

In 2 Corinthians 8, the church in Jerusalem was in bad shape. So, the Apostle Paul does fundraising in Corinth to help the church in Jerusalem. In compelling the Corinthian Christians to give, he doesn’t say a word about tithes, or laws, or requirements. Instead we read:

We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For 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 this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us. Accordingly, we urged Titus that as he had started, so he should complete among you this act of grace. But as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you—see that you excel in this act of grace also. I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine.

The Macedonian Christians are in extreme poverty. Economically, they are in the same condition as the people in Malachi. Times are tough. But they have an abundance of joy and a wealth of generosity. Percents and tenths and tithes are not even categories for them. They gave according to their means..and beyond their means. They were begging to give!

This is a people whose hearts have been grabbed by the gospel. Laws are fine. Benchmarks (like 10%) are good. But the gospel creates willingness, so that there is no need for compulsion. There is begging to give rather than trying to side-step giving. Paul doesn’t need to command them to tithe like Moses did or give them a minimum requirement. The church will blow the command away because of the gospel. The church doesn’t respond with, “No command? Fine, here’s one percent. Here’s five percent.”

When asked, “Do we require members of Seven Mile Road to tithe?” You can’t help but scratch your head. Minimum? Requirement? Command? Jesus saved you. He forgave your sins you. He has promised heaven. How do words like minimum requirement fit into that?

We don’t talk like this about other areas of our life. What would you say if a new husband asked, “What’s the minimum times I should make love to my wife in the first year of marriage?” You would go, “What! That doesn’t make sense. Something’s wrong.” Or if someone said, “I want to be a great father. How often should I read to my daughter? How many books a day?” Here, benchmarks could be helpful (ex: 5 books, 20 minutes a day). But obviously there’s no law here. And if the dad responded by saying, “Well if there’s no law, then 1 book a week is fine” you would know something is wrong with his heart. He’s missing the point. You don’t have to read to your daughter. You get to read to your daughter. Benchmarks are fine. But if you are shooting for a minimum, something is wrong with your heart.

So the proper question is not, “How little can I give and God be okay with me?” When it comes to giving, New Covenant Christians respond by saying, “Of course. Absolutely. And then some.” Where Old Covenant saints lived in the shadow of the gospel, we live in the light of it. Our giving is shaped not by the law, but by the gospel now.

2 Corinthians 8:9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.

This is why we give the way that we do.

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About Ajay Thomas

Ajay lives in Philadelphia with his wife Shainu and their kids Hannah and Micah. He is responsible for preaching and vision as a pastor at Seven Mile Road. He loves God, family, food, and football - in that order.

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