This post is part 1 of a 3-part series on tithing and giving:
- Why the Apostles Didn’t Teach Tithing (And Why You Shouldn’t Feel Guilty About It)
- Why Your Church Does Teach Tithing (And Why You Sometimes Feel Guilty About It)
- What Jesus & His Apostles Taught About Giving (And How You Can Find Joy in It)
If you’re average like us, on any given Sunday you’ve put something in the offering plate as it passed that amounted to a tithe on your net (after tax) income, or a tithe on gross, or a super-size offering, or some random change, or five dollar bill, or 6% of your current income…
Or, nothing at all.
If you’re average like us, you’ve heard loads of pastors tell you that Christians are supposed to tithe (“Trust God!” “Step out in faith!” “Plant that seed!”), the implication being that “good” Christians tithe, and those who don’t, well…
If you’re average like us, you’ve had your share of financial ups and downs (due to emergencies, or job loss, or a blown engine or poor management, or just plain being too materialistic, or lousy decision making, or all of the above in our case) where making a decision about what you could, should, would put in the plate on Sunday was a high-stress, angst-filled mental wrestling match.
And if you’re average like us, you’ve wrestled with feelings of guilt when you didn’t tithe, and maybe even some secret, self-righteous pride when you did.
If you’re average like us, you’re blessed to attend a church that emphasizes stewardship – the wise management of all your resources for God’s kingdom – over tithing. But tithing still hangs around in your mind as this minimum standard good Christians have to meet – like the first jump for a high jumper. Miss it, and you’re out of the competition.
Are you average like us? Yes? Then you’ve wrestled with the same questions, doubts, guilt, presumption and pride we have.
Tell you what. Let’s figure this out together starting in Genesis, shall we?
A Little Biblical History
The first tither was Abraham, who gave a tenth of the spoils of war to a mysterious priest/king named Melchizedek in Genesis 14:20. We don’t read that Abraham was commanded to give that tithe; apparently it was just part of the ancient near-east cultural norms and Melchizedek blessed him for doing it.
Four hundred plus years later, when God established His covenant with Israel after the exodus from Egypt, He commanded the Jews to give a tithe of their produce to support the Priests and Levites since they were not to receive any property when the Promised Land was divided up among the tribes of Israel (Numbers 18).
Fast forward another thousand years or so, and the prophet Malachi brought God’s charge against Israel that they were breaking His covenant and robbing Him (yikes!) by not giving the tithes for the Priests and Levites. Malachi challenged Israel to repent and see how God would bless them if they renewed their obedience to the tithing regulations of God’s covenant with them.
Now jump forward another four hundred-ish years to Jesus, who gave the Pharisees (whom he was berating) a backhanded compliment for tithing their herbs and spices. And then…
As in, no other teaching on tithing any where in the New Testament. Zip. Nada. Nothing from Jesus. Nothing from Paul, Peter, John, Jude or James. Not one word.
Because tithing isn’t an obligation of the New Covenant in Christ.
Now, before you take up pitchforks and torches, lemme ‘splain Lucy…
Jesus instituted a New Covenant when He shared His last Passover meal with the twelve disciples. He broke the bread. He passed the cup. Whenever you partake in Communion you are saying, “I am part of the New Covenant God made with Christ’s followers.” Whenever you hear the gospel – that your sins are forgiven because Jesus has done for you what you could not do for yourself (i.e., pay the penalty for your sins and live to tell about it) – you are hearing the central message and blessing of the New Covenant.
The Gospel Goes Multi-Ethnic
Okay, so there’s no question that the Old Covenant administered through Moses was made with the Jews only, right? If an Egyptian or a Moabite wanted in on the blessings of that Covenant, he had to become a Jew and submit to it’s obligations – Ten Commandments, circumcision, tithing to support the priesthood, not eating pork – everything. But, the apostles Peter and Paul quickly figured out that the New Covenant administered by Jesus was for both Jews and non-Jews (like AverageUs). They understood that the blessing of the gospel of Christ, this New Covenant in His blood, was for all nations.
But this, raised a critical question for the early church leaders: If the New Covenant includes non-Jews, were non-Jews obligated to keep any part of the Old Covenant?
Put yourself in Peter’s place. You’re a Jewish fisherman. You were born under the Old Covenant and lived with an obligation to keep the Law of Moses all your life. Jesus called you to follow Him. After His resurrection, you finally get what Jesus has been trying to drum into your head for three years. It’s about redemption for anyone who believes. Now you’re the leader of the church. And now, Gentiles want in. They weren’t born under the Old Covenant. They’ve never kept the Law. Do they have to become Jews before they can become Christians? Do they have to keep the Old Covenant laws to enjoy the blessing of the New Covenant? Is this like baseball where you have to tag first before you can go to second?
And The Answer Is…
A resounding NO. The Jewish church leaders got together to discuss the matter and their conclusion was simple: Non-Jews mustn’t be forced to keep a law that we Jews have failed to keep ourselves (Acts 15:10). Instead, they gave a few instructions that Gentile followers of Christ should not eat food offered to idols or meat that hadn’t been properly butchered, and should shun all forms of sexual immorality (Acts 15:29). No requirement to be circumcised. No requirement to tithe.
In fact, in all the letters the apostles wrote to both Jews and Gentiles which explained how to live a gospel-driven, Christ-centered life, not once did they teach tithing. They taught on every conceivable subject related to Christian living: church order, prayer, spiritual growth, church discipline, leadership qualifications, worship, personal ministry, marriage, parenting. They even taught on subjects that might logically lead to a discussion of tithing like work and charity.
In short, the Apostles had every opportunity to teach the fledgling churches that they must tithe, but they didn’t. Why? Because they viewed tithing as an obligation of the Old Covenant, a covenant that Gentiles never were a part of, a covenant that Christ replaced with another, better covenant with His church.
Our Conclusions, Until the Next Post…
Christians are not obligated to tithe. (No Guilt!) Tithing is not a mark of a “good” Christian. (No Pride!) God is not displeased with a Christian merely because s/he doesn’t tithe. God is not pleased with a Christian merely because s/he does tithe. These conclusions are, we think, in harmony with the gospel.
Ah, but this doesn’t answer all of your questions, does it?
But you’re tired of reading this anyway, right?
So, let’s continue another time, shall we? For now, we’ll just hint that the New Covenant has it’s own obligations – one that touches on the subjects of giving and charity and stewardship.
If you have a specific question about tithing, leave a comment and AverageUs will try to address it next time.
Dawn and I sincerely hope this helps some of you to experience the freedom of the gospel in a new way. Be blessed.