Thursday, January 10, 2008
A Biblical Look at Giving
"The tithe" as part of the Law is no more applicable to us than making a pilgrimage to Jerusalem three times a year is. It is mentioned in the New Testament only a couple of times, generally in the context of rebuke to the Pharisees concerning fastidious observance of the ceremonial Law.
If God had intended to carry tithing over into the New Covenant, then the chance was missed in Acts 15. You will note tithing is not mentioned in the Acts 15 Jerusalem Council rulings; though for modern legalists this is a favorite extra-biblical "exception" or "carryover" from the Old Covenant Law.
Christians in general reject the idea that we are "under the law", yet tithing somehow gets exempted. But it is all or nothing, when it comes to the law, is it not?
Gal 5:1 (NKJ) Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage.
Gal 3:10 (NRS) All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: "Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law."
Gal 4:21 (NIV) Tell me, you who want to be under the law, are you not aware of what the law says?
So clearly, to embrace old covenant tithing is a dangerous thing indeed, however popular.
But there is another problem as well, and that is in the understanding of what the tithe really is. To find this out, Acts 17:11's advice would lead an honest inquirer to Deut 14:22, if it could be found... (Yes, I will explain.) The reality and fulfillment of the biblical tithe will likely shock a few, but is useful to understand in the new covenant.
The tithe is perhaps one of the most artificially twisted doctrines in the modern church. In fact, I detect a minor conspiracy. As evidence of this, please note that you will not find Deut 14:22 and the rest of the chapter--the largest single text in scripture concerning the tithe and its formal definition (it is even so headed in many versions)--in most Bible concordances. I have checked a dozen or so Bibles around the house here, and not one of them has this text listed under "tithe". Hmmm...
Here is a sample from the middle of the text of interest, but you ought to read the whole and in context--thus, I am deliberately leaving out the meat of it. I encourage you to stop now, go get your Bible, and read Deut 14:22 and onwards with your own eyes...
Here is a section giving specific instructions concerning "the tithe":
Deut 14:26 (NAS) "And you may spend the money for whatever your heart desires, for oxen, or sheep, or wine, or strong drink, or whatever your heart desires; and there you shall eat in the presence of the Lord your God and rejoice, you and your household."
As you can see, the Lord in the Old Testament Torah describes a very different practice of the tithe than what we moderns have been taught in our religious traditions of men.
For the Jews the tithe was a "party" (or feast, if you like) and was to be "consumed in the sight of the Lord". God's command to tithe includes consuming "whatever your heart desires", including "strong drink"! Imagine using up a tenth of your agricultural increase every year in a single party! Wasteful, extravagant, and flesh mortifying; yet God's clear command. With this Jewish (and historic) perspective, no wonder the prophet Malachi (3:8-11) asks: "How have we robbed from You, Lord, by not tithing?" If you understand the Jewish idea of party-tithing, you will appreciate his question. God commands His people to enjoy themselves by bringing the bounty together so that "There may be food in my house" and then feasting and enjoying themselves in His sight.
Beyond debunking modern misconceptions, understanding the tithe properly makes for a richer understanding of scripture. As you read Deuteronomy 14 and see the concepts of "throwing a feast", and "not forgetting the poor" and making sure to invite "the Levites (who have no allotment or inheritance of their own) and the aliens, the fatherless and the widows"... does this not have a familiar ring with teachings of Jesus? For yet another example, Moses wanted "to go the place our Lord has commanded" to... guess what? The feast of Shavuot; to tithe (Ex 5:1), and this staged the basis of the ensuing conflict. Pharaoh said "OK, but only the men... without the livestock... at the place I [Pharaoh] choose...," and Moses said, "No, we have to go to the place God selects... with all."
Rom 15:4 (NIV) For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us...
Let us consider for a moment the spiritual meaning of the Old Covenant Law of the tithe. God commands the Jews to consume a tenth of the year's agricultural increase in festive and lavish celebration. Think about the ramifications of this in actual fact. A father might spend this much money on a wedding for many guests, but consider if everyone present were spending the same amount. Some reception, eh? It would be hard to figure out how to spend it all! The message is clear... God wants His people to enjoy themselves in His presence. From a carnal point of view, it would seem better and more pragmatic to horde and/or save for a rainy day. Why should this money and wealth be wasted? While God does not discourage good planning, savings and thrift, it would seem that with the tithe He is also trying to get us to see how ephemeral this world is. "Go ahead and use it up before I burn it up," seems to be the message. "He who dies with the most hoarded... loses!"
And Jesus says, "When you throw a feast [party], do not just invite those who can pay you back or help you share expenses. Rather... do not forget the poor..." (Luke 14:13). Hmmm... Sound familiar?
Jesus was accused of being a "winebibber" and glutton, and of associating with low-life people (Luke 7:34) while on earth.
"Use your mammon to buy friends for yourself in heavenly places..." (Luke 16:9)
I must return, unfortunately, to the conspiracy of deliberate collusion to maintain false "religious" notions and man-made traditions about the tithe. The pathological twist usually goes something like this. "The Bible speaks more about money than about prayer" (true). "Thus, my sermon today is on tithing..." (All wrong--about tithing--of course... and a great leap from money (oft spoken of) to an emphasis on a subject largely absent from New Testament teaching--excepting a few (negative?) references in rebuke to the Pharisees or concerning the law.) And here we must be more sober-minded than we may like, and see the situation as it really is; for many of these preachers and teachers have been to seminary, have read the Bible (including Deuteronomy 14) many times, and so ostensibly know better. Perhaps it is time to recognize that the Holy Spirit was/is right and that there are "many false prophets" among us... preferring the way of Balaam (a prophet for profit)--just as Jesus told us there would be.
Hey, the way of Balaam has paid off many a church mortgage!
Sin breeds even more sin...
2 Cor 2:17 (NIV) Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit. On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, like men sent from God.
The New Testament--and the whole of scripture--encourages giving and offerings of many kinds, just as the Old Testament has other forms of tithing, taxation, and spoils-of-war sharing as well. Generosity is a personality trait of those who have been born from above. God has proven Himself rich and lavish in His grace and loving care towards us, and if we really have His life in us, then we will be like Him.
In fact, the New Testament teaching is much more radical than the paltry Old Testament tithe. We have an entire Bible study on Money posted--accurate to the proportionate emphasis on how money is spoken of in Scripture, at: http://www.acts17-11.com/money.html if you have not seen it already.
The verse that most sums up the New Testament teaching on giving is:
2 Cor 9:7 (NAS) Let each one do just as he has purposed in his heart; not grudgingly or under compulsion; for God loves a cheerful giver.
This is a good one-verse answer to give to the tithing legalists spreading their leaven among us nowadays. And let us admit that there is something in us that hankers to be "under the law," even if just a little bit.
2 Cor 9:7 (NIV) Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.
The verse is clear enough. Each one must give what the Holy Spirit has led him/her to in each and every situation with two conditions: never grudgingly, and never under manipulation (compulsion). It is impossible to imagine how legalistic adherence to the Old Testament tithe (and that woefully misunderstand!) could be compatible with this instruction.
The teaching of 2 Cor 9:7 is much more difficult than "rue and mint and cumin" at 10%. It is a John 3:8 sort of thing. There is no "law" about it (Gal 5:23b), this new wine will surely break the old wine skin. God wants us to give what He is asking now!
And this amount may be all, as in the case of Acts 5. God made a rather deadly point to underscore how serious He is about the new instruction of giving that was instituted in the New Covenant.
Heb 8:13 (NAS) When He said, "A new covenant," He has made the first obsolete. But whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to disappear.
Let us not, then, trifle with the form of things. The reality is here. Jesus is our Sabbath rest, our tithe feast, our Lamb of sacrifice, and our leader, example, and reason for sacrificial giving and living.
Tithing is no more appropriate for believers than killing a bull in our front yards next Saturday as an "offering" with the idea that "Hey, it is commanded in the Bible, isn't it?" (Isa 66:3). God has no interest in such (Ps 50:8-9,13) and to hanker after things like the tithe may well be an indication that we like the old wine better than the new (Luke 5:39).
Gal 5:9 (NRS) A little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough.
James 2:10 (NIV) For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.
2 Cor 9:6-7 (NIV) Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.