I’ve written several posts on tithing and they are, by far, the most viewed posts on Average Us. It seems that a lot of you are interested in this subject and have questions about the typical Christian teaching you hear on it. In those previous posts, I reason that the tithe which God commanded Israel to give has nothing at all to do with Christian giving.
[Christian Giving: What's the tithe got to do with it?]
However, I’m concerned that my posts could be seen as justification for a half-hearted financial commitment to the kingdom of God, or a less generous attitude toward those in need, or to excuse self-centeredness in one’s financial habits.
I want to clear up any misunderstanding in this post.
What was the tithe?
First, let’s get some definitions out on the table. As I’m sure you know, a tithe is a tenth of anything, whether set aside and saved, or given away freely, or required by law, or taken by force.
So much for a dictionary definition, but what was the tithe which God required of Israel? That tithe was one of many ritual giving laws required under God’s covenant with Israel, called the Old Covenant, of which Moses was the mediator. The purpose of the tithe and all giving laws under the old covenant was two-fold:
First, the tithe reminded Israel that all her wealth, property and prosperity was a gift of God’s gracious covenant with her. And second, it was imposed to support the complex, ritual sacrificial system (Priests, Levites, animal sacrifices, etc.) that foreshadowed Israel’s need for a perfect, once-for-all, final sacrifice for sin.
Is the tithe renewed in the New Covenant?
Christians never were, and never will be, under the Mosaic covenant God made with Israel. In the language of the New Testament book of Hebrews, the old covenant has been replaced with a better covenant–what Jesus called the New Covenant in His blood (Luke 22:20). Jesus made this covenant with everyone who trusts and follows Him, whether Jewish or Gentile. This covenant offers better promises, given through a better mediator (Jesus), and secured by a better sacrifice (also, Jesus).
The tithe became obsolete, when the Old Covenant it belonged to, and the sacrificial system it supported, became obsolete. This explains why the apostles never taught a single word about the tithe: It would be a contradiction to financially support a sacrificial system that had been replaced by the perfect sacrifice.
Why should Christians give if they aren’t commanded to tithe?
But, does this mean that Christians may de-prioritize giving, and give casually? Surely, no. Do we not need to learn, as Israel did, that God is the source of every opportunity to earn every dime? Surely, yes. Is there not New Testament instruction about generosity? Surely, yes. Do Christians not have a mandate to spread the good news of Christ’s kingdom to all the peoples of the earth? Surely, yes.
Christians, we must be about His kingdom. Seek it first, Jesus said (Matthew 6:33). And seeking it first requires that we orient our finances around the priorities of spreading the gospel of the kingdom, and supporting those in need. With each increase in salary, with each bonus, each obligation paid off, and each annual budget we should look for opportunities to increase our giving to these priorities.
How much should Christians give?
But, how much you give is a private matter of conscience between you and God. It is not a public percentage you agree to, nor has it anything to do with the Old Covenant tithe. If you give 50% of your annual income, you having nothing to boast about before God, and no one should ever know of it. But if you’re struggling to give just $5, you have nothing to fear from God, either. His acceptance of you depends on Christ’s sacrifice, not your giving.
Now, if you’re average like me, you’re frequently self-centered with your money, wasteful, and in debt more than you should be. If this is the case, don’t let your past choices and current circumstances strangle your ambition to give generously in the future. Let’s repent of our consumerism and greed. And whether you’ve sinfully spent yourself into a hole, or simply lost your job, seek the kingdom as your first priority, and plan for future growth in giving as your financial position recovers.
Over time, let’s learn to earn more, spend less, live more modestly, reduce our debt, and give much, much more.
Surely, we have a mission.
- What Jesus and His Apostles Taught About Giving (And How You Can Find Joy in It)
- Why Pastors Shouldn’t Teach Tithing
- Why the Apostles Didn’t Teach Tithing (And Why You Shouldn’t Feel Guilty About It)
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