“The Church just wants your money!”
How many times have you heard that? Search Google images for “Money and Church,” and you’ll get everything from the satirical to the downright sad. Unfortunately, that’s revealing of popular sentiments on the subject. …And, no wonder, since history has seen people threatened with Hell or even God’s “chastening” and withholding of blessing, if one does not give his “tithe.” Conversely, if one tithes and can pay for various “sacraments,” or gives generously to church building projects, then he is thought well of and seen as “in good standing” or “full of faith.”
Then, there are greasy swindlers (of which the Bible clearly warns) who either want to “buy power from God” or use ministry as a money-making venture and preach God as a “get rich quick” sugar daddy. The Apostles had one thing to say about that, “Your money perish with you” (Acts 8:20). The Apostle Paul went to great sacrifice that all the nations would know the Gospel is free (2 Cor. 9:8-27).
If people get turned off from God because they feel like they must buy God’s favor, then something is wrong! Heaven is not for sale, and God’s blessings are not for the rich only. If anything, God, His blessings, and Heaven are for the poor, because God only requires faith… and “God has chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith” (James 2:5).
Did you catch that? The poor of this world are chosen by God to be rich in faith. It is not about riches; it is about faith, but sometimes riches hinder us from simply trusting Jesus for the saving of our soul.
A rich young ruler once came to Jesus. He was seeking eternal life, and so, he had come to the right One. Through a series of questions, Jesus uncovered the fact that the rich young man was self-righteous. “All these [laws] I have kept since I was a child,” he said. Then, the Lord (who knows the hearts of mankind) delivered a challenge to the young man’s trust. “Go, sell all you have; give it to the poor, then come and follow me.” Tragically, the young man went away saddened, because he loved his riches more than eternal life. (Mark 10:17-27; Luke 18:17-30)
No, you don’t have to give all your money in order to have eternal life. That was not Jesus’ point then, and it is not mine now. The point is faith, trust, belief. Money is at the core of our trust. Practically speaking, we can not eat or provide shelter for ourselves without money. Do you think God is unaware of that fact?
In another place, Jesus spoke of God’s faithfully and lovingly caring for creation, particularly flowers and birds. “Are you not more valuable to God than many sparrows?” He rhetorically asked. Then Christ added, “Do not be consumed with the thoughts ‘what shall we eat; what shall we drink; with what will we clothe ourselves?’ That is what godless people do.” Rather, seek first to be a part of God’s kingdom and to receive God’s righteousness. (Matthew 6:19-34)
Neither is God up in Heaven shaking His fists and saying, “Give me what you owe me, or I’ll punish you.” The Old Covenant which national Israel had with God certainly stipulated a tithe, but that was for the sake of the theocracy. If someone were not to pay a tithe, then he was refusing to pay Israeli taxes. That was understandably punishable in that governmental/religious system. Yet, the present time knows nothing of that theocracy for its government. This is the New Testament era.
So, what about giving? Where does that properly fit in? It fits in with grace and the heart. A pagan view demands that one give sacrifices in order to appease a god, to earn that god’s favor and blessing. The true God “loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor. 9:7). In other words, there is nothing that delights God’s heart more than someone who gives happily out of his own desire. Furthermore, God states that when someone gives, he should not give what he doesn’t have or what would make himself suffer unnecessary need (2 Cor. 8:12-15).
To quiet the insistent objector, the tithe (giving 10% of one’s material increase) certainly predates any Law, and is therefore timeless. Strict scholars will point out that Abraham gave a tithe to an independent priest called Melchizedek after Abraham rescued relatives from captivity. Abraham had just gained a lot of money from spoiling his enemies. Notice, though, that he gave it willingly, not at Melchizedek’s demands. Beforehand, Abraham told a king that God was to be known as the one who gave the victory and booty. If anything, it is safe to say that Abraham gave to God out of humble acknowledgment and out of thanks. The patriarch was exercising grace, and as much as grace is timeless, so is giving out of a grace-filled heart.
Willingness is the main concern. Sure, the principle still applies that one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly (2 Cor. 9:6). Yet, the true giver focuses on God. If God supplies seeds for sowing and bread for food, then God is able to supply all your needs according to His riches (2 Cor. 9:8-11; Phil. 4:19). And, God is plenty rich!
Why does the Christian give? He does not give in order to please God or to earn his blessings and favor. That’s the pagan way to think. Instead, the Christian gives, because He has God. He trusts God, and so, doesn’t worry about money as if there is no God. Where you see one in need, give in the name of Jesus (Matt. 10:40-42; James 2:15,16); when a man of God faithfully and accurately preaches the Word to you, give (2 Cor. 9:9-14; 1 Tim. 5:17).
The Christian knows that what he has comes from God. Giving is therefore meant to be an expression of trust in the One who consistently and unfailingly supplies needs. The more trusting the Christian is toward God, the more he desires to be generous. That’s grace!
If you are left asking what was Jesus’ goal in Matthew 23:23 (a commonly quoted passage assumed to promote New Testament tithing), one would have to say Jesus meant to sharpen the Pharisees’ understanding of the Law, so that they would feel its unbearable burden (sin within)… leading them to the opportunity to repent and believe on the Messiah (Jesus) as their only righteousness. He was trying to get them to see the Law for what it is (schoolmaster), so that they could see themselves for what they are (desperate sinners), so that they could see Jesus for who He is (The Savior). Matthew 23:23 is in the New Testament for sure. Think about this, though. Jesus had not yet died and risen again; neither had the Holy Spirit been sent, marking the start of the Church. So, at the point in Matthew 23 and in Luke, Jesus was addressing those “under the Law” who thought themselves righteous by the deeds they did. Jesus pointed out to them that: 1) they were not as righteous as they thought; 2) they focused on the minuscule parts while neglecting the bigger picture. At that, Jesus (from the OT standpoint) tells them that their responsibility is greater than they thought… Once again proving that man cannot fulfill righteousness through trying to keep the Law.
Again, God wants our loving trust. And, He will correct our thinking (especially about money) by many means if we don’t trust Him. But that is far different from God making threats and demands as if He needs our money or that it will earn His blessings/favor.
About Malachi 3:10: That’s a great OT passage, which clearly shows what that old covenant (Law) demanded of Israel. Israel had not been keeping up their part of the covenant which made provision for the tribe of Levi (priests) based on the tithes of the people. And, that system was one of works and reward, obedience met with blessing, disobedience met with punishment (Deut. 30:19). [The purpose of that old way was to show us we cannot choose the right always, because our natures are sinful, needing to be redeemed and born anew through Christ (John 3; Gal. 3:24).] But, once Christ is accepted, the old way with its conditional acceptance/approval is not needed (Gal. 3:25), because Christ satisfied God’s Law on the believer’s behalf (Rom. 10:4). Now, God has only acceptance and love for the believer, and the believer (because of his identity “in Christ”) is motivated to be live out his identity as a child of God with a new nature. What God asks now is that we give according to the parameters set in the New Testament.
Luke 18:12 is not a good choice for proving the point of a mandatory tithe. In that passage, Jesus is exposing the sort of religious pride that keeps one from humble repentance.
In conclusion, I hold that there is no proper mention of a tithe in the NT, which has with it the promise of reward or the threat of punishment. That way belongs to the Old Covenant made between God and national Israel. I leave you with this quote from Jesus found in Luke 6:30, 38:
“Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back… give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you”
For liberating resources on the subject of giving, please see:
“Money, Possessions, and Eternity” by Randy Alcorn
“The Treasure Principle” by Randy Alcorn