"I wish those agitators would go so far as to castrate themselves!" (Galatians 5:12 NET).
That is essentially Paul's feeling toward those who were trying to obligate the Galatian Christians to obey Jewish Law through the circumcision initiation. This was a conflict between adherents of the old covenant or Testament and participants in the new covenant or Testament. Our misunderstandings about giving or tithing fall into this same conflict.
To define NT giving, we need to differentiate between its basic tenet and that of the Old Testament. The basic tenet of the Old Testament is relationship with God by obeying the Law, while in the NT, it is relationship by grace through faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ, who fulfilled all the demands of the Law.
The conflict between these two positions came to a head in the early years of Christianity as described in Acts15.
Paul had great difficulty with some of the Jews followed after him; they modified the gospel he taught to the congregations he established. They were a proverbial 'pain in the neck' or 'thorn in the flesh' as Paul put it. Although they likely meant well, these Jews were directing new Gentile Christians to be circumcised and then to come under the Law of Moses, essentially making them more like proselytes of Judaism—something often done at that time.
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel around on sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves (Matthew 23:15 NASB unless otherwise noted).
In his letter to the Galatians, Paul presents his position, summarizing the situation early in the third chapter. The Galatians had begun the Christian life by following the Spirit and they were now trying to complete it by following the demands of the Law through their flesh, by their own efforts. Paul makes the point that it will not work.
However, the Law is not of faith; on the contrary, "HE WHO PRACTICES THEM SHALL LIVE BY THEM." (Galatians 3:12)
We know from Romans 14:23 that "whatever is not from faith is sin."
And I testify again to every man who [tries to keep one part], that he is under obligation to keep the whole Law. (Galatians 5:3) [phrase in brackets is mine]
Paul discusses the conflict between grace and law in his letter to the Galatians comparing these to Hagar and Sarah. Hagar (the law) and her offspring were slaves while Sarah (grace) and her offspring were free.
It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery. (Galatians 5:1)
We are justified—made just—by faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ, and not by placing ourselves under the obligations of the law.
Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. (Galatians 3:24-25)
Because of the growing conflict between Paul and those pressing the Law of Moses, the first Council was held in Jerusalem (Acts 15) to hear the various positions and to clear up this matter.
But some of the sect of the Pharisees who had believed stood up, saying, "It is necessary to circumcise them and to direct them to observe the Law of Moses." (Acts 15:5)
Paul was incensed about this and the unnecessary burden it would place on those Christians, insisting instead that we are saved by grace and not by the Law. Paul maintained that not only are we saved by grace but we continue in life by grace.
Now therefore why do you put God to the test by placing upon the neck of the disciples a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they also are. (Acts 15:10, 11)
Paul was so sure of his teaching that he wrote, "...if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed!" (Galatians 1:8 (interesting similarity to the story in 1 Kings 13)). The word "contrary" is the Greek para from which we get our word parallel, a path parallel to or seeming to go in the same direction, but yet not the same path.
Paul was adamant in differentiating between Christianity and Judaism opposing every attempt on the part of the Jewish Christians to make Gentile Christians subject to the Mosaic Law.
During the first Christian council in Jerusalem (Acts 15) both positions gave presentations and arguments. As a result of this council the following statement was formulated and sent in a letter to all Gentile Christians to conclude the matter:
"The apostles and the brethren who are elders, to the brethren in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia who are from the Gentiles, greetings . . . For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these essentials: that you abstain from things sacrificed to idols and from blood and from things strangled and from fornication; if you keep yourselves free from such things, you will do well. Farewell." (Acts 15:23, 28-29)
How does this pertain to giving within the body of Christ? Many of us feel compelled, through the well-meaning teaching of others, that we are to tithe, meaning, we are obligated to give 10 percent of our income to the Lord, since not doing so is tantamount to "robbing God." The roots of this teaching is very much a part of Paul's same conflict as we will see.
Whenever we hear a message on tithing we inevitably hear the words of the prophet Malachi:
Will a man rob God? Yet you are robbing Me! But you say, How have we robbed You? In tithes and offerings. You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing Me, the whole nation of you! Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in My house, and test 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 a blessing until it overflows. Then I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it will not destroy the fruits of the ground; nor will your vine in the field cast its grapes, says the LORD of hosts. (Malachi 3:8-11)
These verses do not detail for us what the 'law of tithing' required, rather they admonished the Israelites for ignoring one aspect and were thereby guilty of robbing God. Aside from simply giving ten percent of their earnings, as most of us understand it, what does the 'law of tithing' require? Is there more to it? We do an injustice worse than robbing God when we present only these verses from Malachi as God's law on tithing. What the Law of Tithing entails is detailed for us in Deuteronomy:
You must set aside a tithe of your crops one-tenth of all the crops you harvest each year. Bring this tithe to the designated place of worship "the place the LORD your God chooses for his name to be honored" and eat it there . . . in the presence of the LORD your God and celebrate with your household. And do not neglect the Levites in your town, for they will receive no allotment of land among you. At the end of every third year, bring the entire tithe of that year's harvest and store it in the nearest town. Give it to the Levites, who will receive no allotment of land among you, as well as to the foreigners living among you, the orphans, and the widows in your towns, so they can eat and be satisfied. Then the LORD your God will bless you in all your work. At the end of every seventh year you must cancel the debts of everyone who owes you money. (Deuteronomy 14:22-23, 26-29, 15:1 New Living Translation)
Regarding tithing, the Law instructed the Israelites that, for two out of every three years, they were to take their tithe and spend it on a lavish party "before the Lord" for themselves, their families, and the local Levites. Having this party "before the Lord" was a reminder to them that all they had received that year had come from God. For this they were to be thankful and learn to fear the Lord. Can you imagine the celebration, the parties that would be commonplace around the tabernacle and then later in Jerusalem?
On the third year of that three-year cycle, they were to collect and give the entire tithe to be stored in the nearest town to meet the needs of the local Levites, orphans, widows, and any visiting strangers. "Then the Lord will bless you in all your work."(Deuteronomy 14:29) It was understood by the Jews that Malachi's injunction, to bring their tithe into the storehouse, pertained to every third year. There was apparently no difficulty with the requirements of the other two years.
The instruction on tithing finishes in the first verses of chapter 15 stating that on every seventh year their tithe consisted of forgiving the debts of fellow Jews.
Malachi also mentions offerings, which today, are used to suggest that our giving be more than the minimum of ten percent. Again, in the Hebrew mind this would be understood to pertain not to the giving of money, but to the burnt offering, wave offering, meal offering, sin offering, drink offering, etc.
Is this different from our understanding of tithes and offerings? Do we rob God when we present a partial or perverted version as the whole truth about tithing?
The first mention of tithing in the Bible involved Abraham who predates the giving of the Law of Moses. After defeating the army that had taken his nephew Lot and other captives, Abraham gave a tenth of the spoils to Melchizedek, king of Salem, and also a priest of the Most High God (Hebrews 7:1). There was no law to which Abram was obedient and no precedent for doing so that we know of. Was this simply something Abram had purposed in his heart as we are required to do in the New Testament model?
What does the New Testament say about tithing?
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others. (Matthew 23:23 and so too in Luke 11:42)
"The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: 'God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.' But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me, the sinner!'" (Luke 18:11-13)
In this case mortal men receive tithes, but in that case one receives them, of whom it is witnessed that he lives on. And, so to speak, through Abraham even Levi, who received tithes, paid tithes, for he was still in the loins of his father when Melchizedek met him. (Hebrews 7:8-10)
These references pertain to OT situations and are given in a negative light except the last one which is the first mention of tithing in the Bible by Abraham, who predates the giving of the Law of Moses. After defeating the army that had taken his nephew and others captive, Abraham gave a tenth of the spoils to Melchizedek, the king of Salem and priest of the Most High God. There was no law to which he was obedient and no precedent for doing so that we know of. Was this simply something he had purposed in his heart? There is no NT principle or injunction to tithe, but there is a NT principle for giving.
Paul, the apostle who championed grace through faith, gives this instruction on giving—be it money, goods, or our time:
Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. (2 Corinthians 9:7)
This New Testament directive diametrically opposes any type of pressured giving including the use of Malachi's warning against "robbing God." The obvious explanation is that this OT warning was written to Jews who received God's favor by obeying the Law. It was never intended for Christians who received God's grace by faith.
Why is it so important to avoid things of the Law? There is nothing inherently wrong with the Law; rather it is the propensity of our sin nature to use the Law as a measure of our goodness. Adherence to the Law can only affect our behavior, presenting the appearance of holiness, while our heart, the seat of our sin, remains unaffected and unchanged. We can do nothing of substance to affect our holiness, except to cooperate with God's work within, changing our heart until the renewal within begins to show without. Relying on or adhering to any part of the Law is dangerous in that it places us within the grasp of our enemy, not our God.
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..." (Galatians 3:10).
If we try to justify Gods blessing into our lives by obeying one part of the Law, we are responsible to every part of it--otherwise we come under a curse. This applies too, when we try to observe a part of the Law, as is the case with the way tithing is presented.
There is nothing inherently wrong with the Law, rather it is our tendency to use those laws and rules to appear holy externally or to justify Gods blessings and then often to compare others to our standard. We can do nothing of substance to affect our holiness or his grace, except to cooperate with Gods work within us, changing us, until the new reality of Christ in us begins to show through us. Relying on or adhering to any part of the Law is dangerous and places us within the grasp of our enemy, not our God.
When our giving is by compulsion, grudgingly, in obedience to a law, it is sin, since it is not of faith. Our giving as Christians should come out of joy, with the acknowledgment that all we have and all we need comes by grace though faith.
Paul draws an analogy between giving with plant seed for an expected crop.
"Now this I say, he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully." (2 Corinthians 9:6)
No farmer would sow seed without expecting a harvest in return for his diligence. Were he to sow little, he would reap in proportion to what he sowed. There is incentive for sowing/giving liberally in that we can expect to reap bountifully. It should however, be our love for God that motivates our giving, our love for those around us that are in need, since we love them as we love ourselves. Since we have no difficulty using money to meet our needs, in exactly the same way we should be motivated to provide for the needs of those around us.
He loves a cheerful giver, so if you have difficulty with giving, determine within yourself what you can give cheerfully and then give that, expecting to see a return which will likely motivate you to give more and more cheerfully. By kingdom standards even giving little amounts to much when it is given with right motives (Mark 12:42-44).
If the improper application of the OT tithing model met the meets of a congregation, then the NT model will be even more capable.
And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed . . . Now He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness; you will be enriched in everything for all liberality, which through us is producing thanksgiving to God. (2 Corinthians 9:8, 10, 11) (emphasis in bold are mine)
Had he wanted to, Paul had an excellent opportunity to include the matter of tithing in these verses, but he did not. He did, however, speak to the bountiful return they would receive who gave from a cheerful heart-not grudgingly or under compulsion.
Jesus said we are wise if we do the things he commanded us (Matthew 7:24). In fact, we would then truly be his disciples and his friends (John 15).
So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. "But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you. Matthew 6:2-4
Our giving needs to be discreet. No one, not even the giver, should know the details of the giving. Those who give expecting a tax receipt, which they can then declare, would be compromising Jesus intended secrecy. Aiming religiously for the ten percent goal would require that our left hand know what our right hand was giving lest we fall short.
The Law of Tithing, all seven steps, is required of Israel as is the law of circumcision. If, as a Gentile Christian, you feel compelled to tithe consider getting circumcised as well since these are part and parcel of the same unified law obligatory on all Israelites.
Our congregations should experience abundance if we present the true principles of New Testament giving. These must be principles based on grace, not law, and can include the incentive that God will "multiple your seed for sowing" and "having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed" and all this to produce "thanksgiving to God." May He be praised for his grace and mercy toward us.
©2013,Dr Steven Bydeley, a man.
All publishing rights reserved. Permission is herewith granted to reprint this article for personal use and to link or refer to it; however, no commercial re-publishing of the material in this article is permitted without prior written consent.
Steven is the author of Fathered by God and with his wife Dianne, co-author of Dream Dreams and Dreams the Heal and Counsel. He has been a guest on the Miracle Channel, Trinity Television, and Crossroads Communication, and have taught internationally on various topics.
Without Prejudice. © 2023, Steven., house of bij de Leij., of man.