Freed from Tithing, Free to Give
In the past I’ve mentioned that I want to do a series of posts on “the tithe.” Well, here I am, finally doing it! Why am I doing this? It’s been my observation that “the tithe,” as it’s taught in various Christian (“New Covenant”) churches in various ways, has put people under a lot of unnecessary bondage in their walks with God. Various Old Covenant scriptures are used in the teaching of the tithe in Christian churches, with various assumptions being made as to how these scriptures apply to the New Covenant Church. But are these scriptures being used properly? Are the assumptions proper? I don’t think so, and I’m going to show from the scriptures themselves how they are terribly misused in the teaching of “the tithe” in the church today.
First Things First
In almost all “tithe” teachings in the Christian church, one scripture in particular is used predominantly, and one assumption in particular about that scripture is predominantly made. You probably know the scripture well. Malachi 3:8-11. The words in this passage that most people are familiar with are “bring all the tithes into the storehouse.” The assumption that is made is that “the local church” is the storehouse.
We’ll get into that a little later, but we really need to put first things first. See, while many Christians start with Malachi 3 in their teaching of the tithe (or at least highlight it in their justification of teaching Christians to “tithe”), Malachi 3 was actually the last thing said in Old Covenant scripture about the tithe. Malachi was not giving instructions about tithing. Rather God, through this prophet, was reprimanding His people for not keeping the tithing laws He had already given them. If we start with Malachi 3, we’re destined to get it all wrong right from the start.
If we want to see what tithing is really all about, then we need to look back to the scriptures that show the original tithing instructions. As we do this, my hope is that we’ll begin to dispel some of the false assumptions that the New Covenant church has made in regards to tithing. Is the New Covenant church to be a people who give? Surely! I think we find that idea supported all throughout the New Covenant scriptures. But how about New Covenant people “tithing” ten percent of their income to a local church? Do we find that idea supported anywhere in the scriptures? I think the truth about all this will unfold as we start with first things first, and move on from there
How Much Should I Tithe?
The word “tithe” means “one-tenth.” A common question that I’ve heard all throughout my Christian life is, “Should Christians tithe off of their gross income or net income?” Please excuse my incredulity, but come on! – The whole basis of the question is wrong! It assumes that “tithing” is for Christians, and that it has to do with money! Let’s begin, through the scriptures, to put those ideas to death. I do want to point out as we get into this that I am differentiating between “giving” and “tithing.” “Giving” is part of the Christian’s new nature, and is done through grace – just like the rest of the Christian life. Unlike the 10% tithe, “giving” has nothing to do with a set amount or a legally prescribed amount, but rather has much more to do with a cheerful heart that truly desires to give. Christian giving is by no means limited to money, but may involve the giving of possessions, time, talents, services and other resources. Tithing, however, is a completely different story.
More Than One Tithe
It may come as a surprise to many people that Malachi 3 is really only a small portion of the scriptures that talk about tithing. Did you know that? Judging by all the tithing teachings that I’ve heard in my life, you’d think that Malachi 3 was “IT” when it comes to the teaching of tithing!
Notice the Malachi passage says “bring all the tithes (plural) into the storehouse.” What tithes? And what storehouse? It seems the modern church is ignorant about all this (doesn’t really have a clue what this really means) – and in fact has, in its ignorance, turned the Malachi passage into something that it is not! However, Israel – the actual people to whom the laws were given – knew exactly what was meant. Under the system of law that they lived in, many instructions had been given in regards to various tithes, and each tithe had various purposes. As we go through them, take note as to whether or not any of them had to do with income or paychecks – or money in any way! Also take note as to the frequency of each tithe (weekly? monthly? yearly? every three years? etc). And take note as to where the tithes were taken to, and how they were distributed and used. And finally, take note as to whether the people had a free choice on whether to tithe or not! (In other words, could they decide in their hearts to give cheerfully, or did they have to give).
Abram’s Voluntary Tithe
The first mention of a “tithe” in the Bible is in Genesis 14, and it actually wasn’t a legally prescribed tithe, but rather a voluntary one. I’ll summarize the story, but make sure you read the story for yourself. Again, it’s found in Genesis 14. It’s a quick and easy read! In short, a handful of kings had gone to war against another handful of kings. During one battle Abram’s nephew, Lot, was captured, along with his goods. So Abram planned and executed an attack, and was able to bring back Lot and all of the goods that had been taken. Then Melchizedek king of Salem blessed Abram, and Abram “gave him a tithe of all.”
I don’t know how many times I’ve heard this story used to teach the “principle” of tithing. I’ve heard it said that it was through “Abraham, the father of our faith,” that the principle of tithing was introduced, and so we can follow Abraham’s actions as an example of the principle of tithing since we’re his children by faith. Well, remember – Abram’s tithe was a one-time tithe! It wasn’t something Abraham continued to do, nor did it have anything to do with his salary or employment earnings. He won back the goods that had been taken from his people, and he offered a tenth of it to Melchizedek. It’s that simple.
Tithing Not a “Type” for New Covenant Giving
This one-time tithe of Abram was never meant to be used to promote or teach a principle of tithing or giving in the New Covenant church. In fact the writer of Hebrews gleans something out of this story that does have to do with the New Covenant, but it has absolutely nothing to do with Christian givng! You perhaps know that many things in the Old Covenant are “types and shadows” of the “substance” of the New Covenant. It seems that many Christians reckon Old Covenant “tithing,” and the Old Covenant “storehouse” as a type and shadow of Christians giving money to a church. But nothing could be further from the truth!
The book of Hebrews is the only place in the New Testament where we find “tithing” represented as a “type.” In Hebrews 7, Abram’s tithe to Melchizedek is used to show the need for something greater than the Levitical priesthood (i.e. the need for perfection through the priesthood of Jesus). It says, “Even Levi, who receives tithes, paid tithes through Abraham, so to speak, for he was still in the loins of his father when Melchizedek met him.” If you read all of Hebrews 7, you’ll see that the whole point of Abram’s tithe being brought up has nothing to do with Christians following some principle of tithing, but it has everything to do with showing how the Levitical priesthood was not the way in which perfection was to come about! More on this in Part 7. The point here is that Abram’s tithe is not used in the New Testament as an example of Christian giving.
Abram’s tithe was given out of abundance and out of thanksgiving, not out of sacrifice or obligation. It wasn’t given as a result of being “convicted” by a sermon on “giving.” It wasn’t given to a local church or congregation of people of faith. It wasn’t given to help a given cause. It wasn’t given to pay a salary to Melchizedek or his “staff,” nor to pay for building costs or church programs. It also had nothing to do with a principle of sowing so that he could reap. It was simply a voluntary one-time offering. Let’s please take it for what it was, and not make it into something that it wasn’t!
Jacob’s Voluntary Tithe
In Genesis 28:22, Jacob said to God, “of all that You give me I will surely give a tenth to you.” This, again, was a voluntary tithe, and it was only one man. Jacob said this of himself. All of the rest of the people didn’t make this same pledge. I don’t know of any other examples of the voluntary giving of a tenth. There could be more but I don’t know of any. (If you know of any, please let me know). The thing I want to point out is that there is hardly enough evidence, in my opinion, to conclude – or even to merely suggest – that tithing (giving a tenth) was ever meant to be a normal part of the lives of people of faith. It’s conjecture at best, with a stark absence of other examples of voluntary tithing in the lives of the Old Testament saints.
We do see plenty of examples of giving all throughout the Bible! Giving is done by all sorts of people in all sorts of ways and in all sorts of sizes and amounts. Giving is done in corporate ways and in ways that are much more personal. (More on this in Parts 9 and 10). But to me there seems to be an underwhelming amount of evidence that would support the idea of tithing (giving a tenth) as a principle in the lives of believers.
Let’s Make it Clear Again: Tithe, or Tithes?
I’ve entitled this series “The Tithe,” but to repeat a point I made earlier, we’re talking about tithes (plural). “The tithe” (ten percent of your income, given to your local church) is what is (wrongfully) taught in churches today. But contrary to what seems to be a common belief, there is more than one tithe in the Bible. There is not simply one “blanket” tithe from which we get our information about tithing. As we look closely, we see that each tithe has its own purposes. Different tithes are put to different uses. And just as a reminder (as I’ve previously mentioned), the tithes mentioned in Malachi 3 were not original tithing instructions, but rather were brought up because the Lord was rebuking the people for not keeping the tithes they had previously been commanded to keep. The reason I want to put special emphasis on this is simply because Malachi 3 is the predominant passage that the church wrongfully highlights when teaching the tithe – wrongfully in more way than one, as we’ll see in this series.
It’s also important to mention that the tithes never have anything to do with financial earnings or income, nor the handing over of finances to any individual or entity. Money does come into the picture one time in the tithing instructions, and when we get to that you may just be surprised at how it plays out in that particular tithing law! In the end, my hope here is to show the stark contrast between “the tithe” as it’s taught in churches and “the tithes” as they are taught in scripture, and to show how the teaching of “the tithe” in Christian churches is way out of line.
The Mandatory Tithes – Law
Aside from Abram’s voluntary tithe to Melchizedek and Jacob’s promise to voluntarily tithe all of what God gave him, the rest of the mentions of tithing in scripture have to do with tithes (again, plural) that were mandatory, according to God’s laws. You will thank me for not copying and pasting all of the scriptures that pertain to tithing into this series of posts (copied from my PC Study Bible), because when pasted onto a Word document it takes up about 6 full pages! My purpose here is not to give an in-depth analysis of all of the tithing instructions but rather to lay out the gist of the tithes for the purpose of showing that tithing was an Old Covenant practice that had specific purposes, having absolutely nothing to do with New Covenant saints giving 10 percent of their income to local churches. And in fact I think we’ll find that we really don’t want to use these tithes as a “type” of New Covenant giving, because it gets quite complicated due to all the rules, options and variables involved in each tithe!
The next time tithing is mentioned is in Leviticus 27. This particular passage has to do with instructions about “redeeming” people and property dedicated to the Lord. Instead of getting into what all that means (and it does mean something – within the context of the times and purposes of these particular instructions), I want to use this passage to point out the folly of taking scriptures out of context, as is always the case when teaching tithing as a Christian principle.
Lev 27:29-32 No person under the ban, who may become doomed to destruction among men, shall be redeemed, but shall surely be put to death. 30 And all the tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land or of the fruit of the tree, is the Lord’s. It is holy to the Lord. 31 If a man wants at all to redeem any of his tithes, he shall add one-fifth to it. 32 And concerning the tithe of the herd or the flock, of whatever passes under the rod, the tenth one shall be holy to the Lord.
What’s this about being put to death? What’s this about redeeming tithes, and adding one-fifth to it? What’s this about one-tenth of the tithe passing under the rod being holy to the Lord and not being redeemed? My point here is that as with ALL tithes, and ALL Old Covenant laws, ordinances and instructions, we aren’t to “Christianize” them. After all, if we’re going to grab the “tithe” verses out of passages like this, shouldn’t we also add the “put to death” verses as well? And the “redeem his tithes” verses? In the end what we are to do is to understand that these were Old Covenant practices – and we leave them in their Old Covenant contexts!
Coming up: The “tithe” instructions get even more interesting (and fun as well)! We’ll see how it’s so very easy for preachers to simply pluck out Malachi 3 and misapply it in the church today, but yet if those same preachers were to look into the true purposes and applications of the tithes, they’d have to chuck it all aside because it simply wouldn’t work in the church! (Which is kind of the point here, anyway).
The Old Covenant was a special system, set up for special purposes. The Old Covenant was set up for the people of Israel. Included in the covenant were various laws, ordinances, rituals, etc. The Levites were one of the twelve hereditary tribes of Israel. God set apart this tribe for special service to Him under this covenant (this happened after Israel’s exodus from Egypt). In the book of Numbers, we find out about the special office and functions of the Levites. In order to properly understand the tithes (which I think a large majority of the church today doesn’t understand), it’s important to know about the Levites, because they were the recipients of the tithes! The duties of the Levites varied, and were divided up among all of the Levites. At different times the duties included guarding the sanctuary, moving the tent and carrying the parts from place to place, preparing the bread of the Presence, leading music during worship, slaughtering and skinning the animals for sacrifice, and a whole slew of other important duties. I’m intentionally being very brief here.
Important Information about the Levites
Something that’s very important to note – and this is where we see the true purpose for the tithes – is that unlike the eleven other tribes, the Levites were given no territorial possessions or physical inheritance. Jehovah Himself was their inheritance (Numbers 18:20). Therefore, the way in which they were supported in return for their service to the Lord was through the receiving of the tithes of the produce and of the flocks and herds of the other tribes, as well as certain portions of the sacrificial offerings. Again we’re now getting to the real meaning and purpose of the tithes. The Lord spoke about how the Levites would be taken care of through the various offerings of food, oil, wine, etc, that the people gave, and He speaks of the tithes:
Numbers 18:21, 24 “Behold, I have given the children of Levi all the tithes in Israel as an inheritance in return for the work which they perform, the work of the tabernacle of meeting… For the tithes of the children of Israel, which they offer up as a heave offering to the Lord, I have given to the Levites as an inheritance…”
Many Christians today, who at least have a little bit of an understanding that the tithes had something to do with the Levites, unfortunately take the liberty of equating the office of the Levites and the tabernacle in which they served with that of the modern day pastor and “church.” Somewhere along the line they seem to forget the purpose of the Levites, or perhaps never really had a proper understanding in the first place. Take some time and read through all of Numbers 18 (and other passages that speak of the tithes and the functions of the Levites and the tabernacle). As you read about all of this, ask yourself if the comparison is anything close to being valid!
In Deuteronomy 12, the Lord was laying down “the statutes and judgments which you shall be careful to observe in the land which the Lord God of your fathers is giving you to possess, all the days that you live on the earth.” (Deut 12:1).
Included in this were instructions about many things, including the tithes:
Deut 12:5-7 “But you shall seek the place where the Lord your God chooses, out of all your tribes, to put His name for His dwelling place; and there you shall go. 6 There you shall take your burnt offerings, your sacrifices, your tithes, the heave offerings of your hand, your vowed offerings, your freewill offerings, and the firstborn of your herds and flocks. 7 And there you shall eat before the Lord your God, and you shall rejoice in all to which you have put your hand, you and your households, in which the Lord your God has blessed you.
What were they to do with all of this (the burnt offerings, sacrifices, tithes, heave offerings, etc)? Were they to bring it to the “local church” so that God would “open up the windows of heaven and pour out such a blessing that there wouldn’t be enough room to receive it?” No! They were to eat it!
You think this is strange (according to what you’ve previously been taught about tithing)? Wait till we get to Deuteronomy 14!
This series on “The Tithe” is, from one perspective, fairly long and in-depth, but from another perspective is not nearly in-depth enough to cover every last aspect of the tithe and tithing. On the one hand I could make it a lot shorter – perhaps even boil it down to one blog post – but on the other hand I really did want to take at least a little bit of extra time to peel through some of the layers of scripture to take a closer look at the tithes than you normally see in churches that teach tithing as a Christian principle. My main goal here is to highlight what the tithes actually were and how the tithes were actually put to use. To recap what we’ve already seen in this series, the tithing system was set up because God had set apart a specific tribe of Israel, the Levites, to perform specific functions that were required under a specific covenant (the Old Covenant), and He specifically provided for them via the tithes from the other eleven tribes.
A few times we see some odd instructions about the tithes. But it’s odd only from the perspective that this stuff is never taught in churches who seem so gung ho on the tithe! Hmmm… why is that? This passage from Deuteronomy is one of those interesting ones. Read it, and tell me if this will really preach in churches. In all my life, I had never heard this passage until I saw it for myself.
Deut 14:24-29 “But if the journey is too long for you, so that you are not able to carry the tithe, or if the place where the Lord your God chooses to put His name is too far from you, when the Lord your God has blessed you, 25 then you shall exchange it for money, take the money in your hand, and go to the place which the Lord your God chooses. 26 And you shall spend that money for whatever your heart desires: for oxen or sheep, for wine or similar drink, for whatever your heart desires; you shall eat there before the Lord your God, and you shall rejoice, you and your household. 27 You shall not forsake the Levite who is within your gates, for he has no part nor inheritance with you.
28 “At the end of every third year you shall bring out the tithe of your produce of that year and store it up within your gates. 29 And the Levite, because he has no portion nor inheritance with you, and the stranger and the fatherless and the widow who are within your gates, may come and eat and be satisfied, that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hand which you do.
Wow! Where has the church been hiding this one! The people were to take the tithe and eat it! (And drink it). And not only that, but if the place the Lord had set up was too far for them, they were to take the tithe and exchange it for money, and spend the money on whatever their hearts desired! And they were to eat and to rejoice before the Lord. This passage also highlights again the very important fact that the Levites had no inheritance, and so the people were to not forsake them with their tithes, and they were also to store up their tithes every third year for the sake of “the Levite, the stranger, the fatherless and the widow.” Again, all of this was directly relational to the Old Covenant system in which they lived.
And what about all the other instructions?
Right along with all of the passages that have to do with tithing instructions are many other instructions for the people of Israel. I think it’s very interesting that the people of the Christian church will dig into these Old Covenant scriptures, totally ignoring all the other Old Covenant practices (rightfully so), and yet pulling out “the tithe” as something they teach and practice as a New Covenant principle! Again, all of these tithing passages, along with their surrounding verses and chapters, give many more rules and instructions that were a part of that system.
So if you’re going to stick with the Old Covenant practice of tithing (which you’ll by necessity have to take out of context if you’re going to use it in the church), then please tell me that you keep the other instructions too! There are instructions about cutting and shaving, rules about what animals, birds and water creatures could be eaten and not eaten, and there were even rules about boiling a young goat in its mother’s milk! And please tell me you don’t eat bacon, ham, lobster or other “unclean” creatures!
Also, what about the instructions to stone people (Deut 13), and the instructions to go into other cities which serve other gods, and kill the people with swords, utterly destroying the city and all its livestock, plundering the city and burning it in the middle of the street? Sounds like a fun “outreach!” What about every seven years, all creditors being required to release the debts of their debtors? The point is… All of these instructions were given to the same people and in the same context as the instructions on tithing, so why do we preach “the tithe,” but leave out all the rest?
So many unnecessary questions come up in the Christian church because of how all these scriptures are manipulated! “Do I tithe off of my gross or net income?” “What is meant by “firstfruits?” “What is meant by tithing off of the ‘increase?'” The truth is, we need not be concerned with any of that because all of those passages have to do with the children Israel functioning under the Old Covenant. None of it, including the tithes, has anything to do with Christians living in the New Covenant!
To list out all of the rest of the Old Testament tithing scriptures would involve a lot of repetition and echoing of previous scriptures, so as we wrap up our look at them we’ll skim by a few and we’ll highlight a few others. And we’ll finally get to the famous Malachi passage!
Deuteronomy 26:12-13 and 2 Chronicles 31:5-12 list out some tithing instructions, and you will also see the tithes in actual practice in the latter passage. Then we get to Nehemiah, where we see many of the same things, and mention is made of a special tithe that the Levites themselves gave. Out of the tithes they received from the other people, the Levites were to “bring a tenth of the tithes to the house of our God, to the rooms of the storehouse” for the sake of “the priests who minister and the gatekeepers and the singers.” We’ll get into the issue of “priests” in Part 8, but for now I just wanted to highlight this passage as yet another one that doesn’t fit into the format of how “church” is set up today and so it gets ignored.
There is a little more about the tithes and the storehouse in Nehemiah 12:44-45 and 13:4-5. What was the storehouse? It was simply the place where the tithes and offerings were stored before they were eaten! My goodness, how we’ve taken that way out of context by teaching that a local church is the modern day equivalency to the “storehouse!”
Finally in Nehemiah we have a passage that will lead us into Malachi. First a brief background: To make a long story short, Nehemiah was allowed to go to Jerusalem and act as a governor of Judea. He arrived there and secretly surveyed the city, and he saw that many, many things were out of line (too many things to mention), and he worked to fix it all. One of the wrongs (of many) that he fixed had to do with the tithes:
Neh 13:10-13 I also realized that the portions for the Levites had not been given them; for each of the Levites and the singers who did the work had gone back to his field. 11 So I contended with the rulers, and said, “Why is the house of God forsaken?” And I gathered them together and set them in their place. 12 Then all Judah brought the tithe of the grain and the new wine and the oil to the storehouse.
As we see, among the many ways in which Nehemiah saw that the people were transgressing, they had not been bringing their tithes for the Levites. Well, a contemporary of Nehemiah was the prophet Malachi, and if you read the book of Malachi from start to finish, you will see that he prophesied against many, many ways in which the Jews were transgressing. For some reason the church likes to zero in solely on the following passage – which leads me to ask again, why only this passage? Why not the rest of the book as well?
Mal 3:8-11 “Will a man rob God? Yet you have robbed Me!
But you say, ‘In what way have we robbed You?’
In tithes and offerings. 9 You are cursed with a curse, for you have robbed Me, even this whole nation. 10 Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in My house, and try Me now in this,” says the Lord of hosts, “if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you such blessing that there will not be room enough to receive it. 11 “And I will rebuke the devourer for your sakes, so that he will not destroy the fruit of your ground, nor shall the vine fail to bear fruit for you in the field,” says the Lord of hosts.
Just as with Nehemiah, Malachi saw a host of things that were wrong, which happened to include the neglect of the tithes and offerings, and he prophesied God’s word to the people of Israel.
Do you see why I spent so much time leading up to this? As I said at the beginning of this series, the church seems to start with this scripture, or at least put heavy emphasis on it, and declare that Christians are to bring ten percent – a “tithe” – of their income to the local church. But this passage – along with all the other ones – has ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to do with the New Covenant church, nor with “income!” Even Christians who preach that we are no longer under the curse if we don’t “tithe” still wrongfully bring up this passage as Christian doctrine! Why do they do that???
In Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, 2 Chronicles, Nehemiah, Amos (a short passage that I haven’t mentioned) and Malachi, the tithes that are being spoken of are tithes that were mandated by God for the sake of the Levite tribe that He had set apart for special service under the Old Covenant. There is nothing that is “New Covenant” about the tithes.
Matthew 23 and Luke 11
In this part we’ll look at the tithes as mentioned in the New Testament. We’ll start with these two passages in which we see Jesus harshly rebuking the Pharisees, who, of course, fancied themselves as keepers of the law but were in reality steeped in self-righteousness and hypocrisy. Jesus brought up many different complaints against them, including their faithfulness in tithing while yet ignoring other parts of the law.
Luke 11:42 “But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and all manner of herbs, and pass by justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone.
Matt 23:23 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone.
Jesus said that as people who were under the law, they most certainly should bring their tithes, as was mandated under the law. And they had actually done that. However, they had “neglected the weightier matters of the law.” As Jesus saw it, they were “whitewashed tombs” who appeared clean from outward appearances but were really “full of dead men’s bones and uncleanness” on the inside (Matt 23:27). From outward appearance (including the bringing of the tithes that could be seen by everybody), they looked clean. But yet their negligence in other matters proved that they were only self-righteous hypocrites.
Here’s my point in all this: If we’re to take Jesus’ words to the Pharisees about tithing as teachings for Christians to follow, then shouldn’t we follow ALL of what Jesus spoke to the Pharisees? Read Matthew 23 and Luke 11 and tell me that you think it should be taught in the Christian church! But of course, Jesus wasn’t giving a “Christian” teaching here, was He! He was teaching law to those who were under the law.
Like I’ve previously mentioned more than once, it seems again to be the case that Christians who teach “the tithe” disregard all of the surrounding words and instructions, and zoom in solely on the tithe. I’ve tried not to be too strong in my language in this series, but is it not evident that all of this is a gross negligence of context and a vast straying away from the true meaning of all of these scriptures?
The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector
In Luke 18, Jesus spoke this parable “to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others” (Luke 18:9). Read the full parable in Luke 18:10-14. Not much is needed to say here in regards to the purpose of this series. It simply shows that the Pharisee, who faithfully tithed, is not the one who was justified.
I briefly mentioned this passage in Part 2 when I was talking about Abram’s tithe to Melchizedek, and we’ll go a little bit more in depth here. We really need to start at the beginning of Hebrews to get the full gist of what the writer is saying. At the very least, go back to chapter 5 where the writer begins to write about Melchizedek or chapter 6 where the writer begins to talk about “perfection.” But let’s quickly look at Hebrews 7:4-10 so we can see how the writer came to his conclusion after verse 11, that perfection could not come through the Levite priesthood, but only through Jesus. I rarely ever use The Living Bible when trying to explain doctrine, but in this case I think it helps to give a better understanding of this passage:
Heb 7:4-10 See then how great this Melchizedek is: Even Abraham, the first and most honored of all God’s chosen people, gave Melchizedek a tenth of the spoils he took from the kings he had been fighting. 5 One could understand why Abraham would do this if Melchizedek had been a Jewish priest, for later on God’s people were required by law to give gifts to help their priests because the priests were their relatives. 6 But Melchizedek was not a relative, and yet Abraham paid him. Melchizedek placed a blessing upon mighty Abraham, 7 and as everyone knows, a person who has the power to bless is always greater than the person he blesses. 8 The Jewish priests, though mortal, received tithes; but we are told that Melchizedek lives on. 9 One might even say that Levi himself (the ancestor of all Jewish priests, of all who receive tithes), paid tithes to Melchizedek through Abraham. 10 For although Levi wasn’t born yet, the seed from which he came was in Abraham when Abraham paid the tithes to Melchizedek. (TLB)
In short, what’s being said here is that the Levites, although descended from Abraham (born after him), in a sense paid tithes to the High Priest Melchizedek (who is a ‘type’ of Jesus) through Abraham. Now, in reality they didn’t actually pay tithes to Melchizedek, nor is this passage talking about the actual paying of tithes to Melchizedek (nor to Jesus). This passage is using the example of the tithes to show how the priesthood of Melchizedek (a “type” of the Priesthood of Jesus, who lives forever) is superior to the Levite priesthood… thereby showing that perfection could not be gained through the Levite priesthood, but that a NEW priesthood was necessary (the Priesthood of Jesus). That’s what this passage is about!
Think about it. Was the writer of Hebrews giving all this doctrine about a better covenant, a better priesthood, and so on and so forth, and then he suddenly decides, “Oh, I guess I’ll drop in a little word to Christians about tithing?” That’s silly! His bringing up the Levitical priesthood, and Abram’s tithe, and Melchizedek, ALL had to do with his pointing out the weakness of the Old Covenant and the need for, and the superiority of, the New Covenant.
The New Covenant is not a continuation of the Old Covenant, nor is it related to the Old Covenant in any way. The Old Covenant was weak and unprofitable (Hebrews 7:18) because it could make nothing perfect, and therefore a New Covenant was needed that was completely different than the Old Covenant. The Old Covenant had many high priests who had to offer sacrifices often for their own sins and for the sins of the people, but in the New Covenant we have One High Priest, “who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and has become higher than the heavens” (Hebrews 7:26) and who offered Himself up “once for all” (Hebrews 7:27).
In this series we’ve talked about the Levite tribe and priests who received the tithes that their fellow Jews from the other eleven tribes brought to support them. The New Covenant is a matter of a completely different Priesthood. There is no such thing as a set-apart “tribe” or group of Christian “priests” who are sanctioned to perform sacrifices or offerings or other duties that are a part of the covenant. In this covenant, ALL of the work has been done by One High Priest, Jesus. Please understand that the duties and functions of the Old Covenant priests were not carried over into the New Covenant in any way, shape or form. Why? Because it was all done away with (annulled – Heb 7:18, made obsolete – Heb 8:13) and the work of the New Covenant was all fulfilled (nothing left undone) in the finished work of Jesus.
In this New Covenant, ALL Christians are a new breed of priests. We are not a physical priesthood, but rather we are “a spiritual house, a holy priesthood” (1 Peter 2:5). We don’t offer up physical sacrifices to God, but rather “spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (also 1 Peter 2:5). We are “a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people…” (1 Peter 2:9).
In the New Covenant there is no “tabernacle” nor “storehouse,” nor anything that resembles them. Please don’t tell me a church building is a modern day equivalent to the Old Covenant tabernacle! “The church” is not a place. It’s not a building nor a location. It’s true that local bodies of Christians gather together to meet in buildings, but these buildings are not tabernacles, and they are not storehouses and they are not “the house of God.” The “house of God” is the people in whom He dwells. It is a spiritual house, not a physical house (see Eph 2:19-22). Again, we are a royal, spiritual priesthood.
This royal priesthood is one body. This one body of new-creation priests (including you and me!) happens to have many parts (see Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12), and each “part” has specific functions and giftings within the body – but none of the parts are set apart for ministry in any sense like the Levites were. Rather all the parts “are individually members of one another” (Rom 12:5), and each part is to minister to one another for the profit of all, according to the gifts given them by the grace of God (1 Cor 12:7, 1 Peter 4:10, Romans 12:6).
Let’s let that sink in a little. One body, many parts. All parts individually members of one another. All parts ministering to one another for the profit of all. Can we see from this that the body of Christ – the spiritual house of God – is nothing like the Levitical system in which one tribe required the support of tithes from all the other tribes. In Christ, the entire body is to support the ministry of the entire body.
Now, Paul does indeed say that God “gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers.” Does Paul lift these people up as being higher on the totem pole than other members of the body of Christ? Does Paul say that they are an extra-special type of “priest?” Of course not! The people in today’s church seem to lift them higher, but as far as I can see in scripture they are simply playing their part in the body just like all the other parts are doing!
In 1 Timothy 5, Paul talks about “elders who rule well” being counted worthy of double honor, “especially those who labor in the word and doctrine.” Now, instead of getting into what all of this means, I’ll simply point out what it doesn’t mean. None of it has anything to do with bringing a “tithe” of income or of any other physical possession to “a church.” Can it mean that other members of the body can give a portion of income, or food, or possessions to support those people? I’m sure it can mean that. But the point is that there is no set amount (such as a “tithe”), and it’s most certainly not based upon anything that has to do with the Old Covenant Levite/tithing system!
True Christian Giving.
Giving is a most wonderful part of the Christian life. It’s not meant to be a “teeth pulling” experience, but rather something that is done joyfully and with grace. As the Apostle Paul said, “let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work” (2 Cor 9:7-9). A person who gives cheerfully from their heart doesn’t give so they will get something in return, nor does that person give because some law or some church rule tells them they have to give. Giving should never be done according to a rigidly set method or principle. Giving cheerfully as we decide in our hearts to give – what a freeing way to give!
The church of today seems to put a heavy emphasis on two things in particular: financial giving and giving to a church. And you know what? Giving to a church is fine, as long as all the people who give “to” that church have decided in their hearts that that’s what they want to do. However, when the church leaders teach giving as a “must,” or worse yet, when they teach “tithing” ten percent of their income to the church, then they’ve moved completely out of Christ-land and into a doctrine that is not of the New Covenant. (I hope this series has done a sufficient job of establishing that fact!).
Everybody’s financial circumstances are different! Some people have careers that provide a ‘healthy’ living for them and it may be quite easy for them to give liberally and freely. Other people work two or three jobs and barely scrape by, even in the necessities of life. For them, giving even a small amount may mean missing their next meal. Some people have small families with only a few mouths to feed and bodies to clothe, and other people have huge families that cost a lot more money to provide for. The circumstances are wide and varied. There simply can’t be a “set amount” that should be expected of anyone. In many cases, instead of a church asking all the people to give money to them, shouldn’t the more prosperous people of the church instead be reaching out and giving to those who are in greater need? Again, we’re a body, and all the members minister to one another, each according to how God has fitted them within the body.
Often the very best things that we can do in our lives in Christ is to give of ourselves to other people in all kinds of ways that aren’t financial. This can be in the context of “a church” or in can be in the context of any of our relationships with other people! The church of today has unfortunately seemingly become a financial institution (!) with everything revolving around how much money people give. That said, I do want to also highlight that there truly are legitimate ministries, church programs, etc, that are dependent upon the generous financial giving of others, and if our hearts lead us to give financially, then let’s give as generously as we can!
But the point here is that we can all give of ourselves according to what God has given us individually, whether it be finances, talents, time, service, friendship, food, hugs, mercy, love, or in a million other ways. Think about the ways in which you are able to give to others that have nothing (or little) to do with money and nothing (or little) to do with “a church.” ALL of it is legitimate Christian giving! God said that His grace would abound toward us so that we would always have an abundance for every good work. Why do we always interpret that as referring to finances and churches?
One more post to go! I realize this has been a long series, but I sort of wanted to do a “once for all” series on the tithe. While I think I’ve covered a lot of bases in this series, it’s never really complete, but I think for the most part I’ve touched on some of the more common issues involving tithing and giving.
In Christ we are fully God’s. The blood of Jesus has brought us near to Him (Eph 2:13), and we are in Him (1 Cor 1:30), He is in us (Col 1:27) and He is our life (Col 3:4)! The Apostle Paul said, “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else… ‘For in Him we live and move and have our being.'” (Acts 17:24-25, 28). We don’t give because God needs us to give or compels us to give. We give because God has freely given us all things and because we are wholly His.
When it comes to giving, I like to consider the life of the Apostle Paul, who is easily nominated as one of the hardest gospel workers of all time. He didn’t preach that the people should provide for him! At various times people willingly took up collections for him and even gave sacrificially, but it was never because he preached “the principle of giving.” It was simply because they wanted to. In 2 Cor 12:14 he was talking about coming to visit them in Corinth and he said, “I will not be a burden to you, because what I want is not your possessions, but you. After all, children should not have to save up for their parents, but parents for their children.”
Paul’s words to the Philippians were of the same spirit. In Philippians 4 he was commending them for how they had provided for him unlike any other church had done. And here’s what he said, “Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that abounds to your account.” He was happy about the things they had sent him (it’s not bad that they gave to him!), but what he was really happy about was that their gift to him was “a sweet-smelling aroma, and acceptable sacrifice, well pleasing to God.” It was selfless, and not given under compulsion but out of love, from their hearts. Paul adds, “And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.” Why will God do that? In return for their giving to Paul? NO! It’s simply because that’s who God is! He makes all grace abound toward people, that they, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work.
It seems that almost all of the teachings I’ve heard in my life in the church have been based on a “duty” or “obligation” to be a generous giver. But true, generous Christian giving is done from a heart of love. You can’t force or oblige love to do something. True love does everything freely. The bottom line for me is that we give by grace, just as we live the whole of our lives in Christ by grace! “Tithing” and “grace-giving” are very different things. In Christ, we are grace-givers. He doesn’t want our “tithes.” Giving by grace, as with the entirety of our lives being lived by grace, involves trusting in a Father who is full of grace and provision, who is never lacking in anything and who cares tremendously for us and loves us with a never-ending love!
Written by Joel Brueseke