What does the Bible say about tithing and money?
Does Tithing Apply to New Testament Christians?
It was a good week to skip church a couple weeks ago: the tithing sermon! Just kidding, of course, but it can certainly feel that way can’t it?
Tithing (giving 10% of your income to the local church) has become a debated issue in some church circles and theological circles. New Testament (new covenant) Christians are not under the Old Testament (old covenant) law, so can churches teach tithing based on the Old Testament commands for it?
Here are some key things to consider:
Tithing existed before the Law ever existed. In Genesis 14:18-20, Abraham tithes to Melchizedek the priest. This would have been ~800 years prior to God giving Moses the law that contains the tithing commands. Not that it’s an open-and-shut case for tithing to be an indefinite command, but it does put a pretty big hole in the argument that “We aren’t under the Law, so we don’t have to tithe.” Abraham wasn’t under the Law, and he tithed.
Jesus teaches to continue tithing. In Matthew 23:23, Jesus tells the Pharisees they are to continue tithing. He is chastising them for only tithing and not doing the more important matters of the law such as justice, mercy and faithfulness. He tells them they are to do both: just because you tithe doesn’t mean you can neglect justice, mercy and faithfulness, but the opposite is also true. Just because you do justice, mercy and faithfulness doesn’t mean you should stop tithing. This is a direct teaching from Jesus to continue tithing. Set in a book where several times Jesus says “you’ve heard it was said, but I say…” and he re-teaches something found in the Old Testament law (see Matthew 5:21-48), he never does this with tithing. He then caps his earthly ministry off with the Great Commission in Matthew 28:19-20, “go and make disciples…teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” There’s no reason to think his tithing teaching from Matthew 23:23 wouldn’t be included in the “everything I have commanded you” of Matthew 28:20.
After sneering at Jesus’s teaching that they can’t serve both God and money, the Pharisees of Matthew 23:23 are given the derogatory label of “lovers of money” in Luke 16:13-14. Sadly and ironically, these money-worshipers who have picked money over God are still out-giving anyone who doesn’t tithe 10% today! That should make us think if we aren’t willing to at least match the percentage of money they were parting with.
First fruits. Ultimately, this is where this question is answered. We see the principle of first fruits in many places throughout the Old Testament (e.g. Proverbs 3:9). The basic idea being: if I have 10 sheep, my first and best sheep will go to God, with the other 9 being for my family. “Go to God” meaning go to the temple to feed the priests who did not have their own land but served in the temple instead. While tithing is debated on if it applies to New Testament Christians or not, there is no way the principle of first fruits can be debated. First fruits is a heart condition. One of the primary texts people look to in teaching on tithing is Malachi 3:8-10. The set up for 3:8-10 comes from two chapters earlier. Malachi 1:8 and 14 make the problem clear:
8 When you offer blind animals for sacrifice, is that not wrong? When you sacrifice lame or diseased animals, is that not wrong? Try offering them to your governor! Would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you?” says the LORD Almighty.
14 “Cursed is the cheat who has an acceptable male in his flock and vows to give it, but then sacrifices a blemished animal to the Lord. For I am a great king,” says the LORD Almighty,c “and my name is to be feared among the nations.
These verses are all about first fruits and the shriveled up, greedy hearts of God’s people. Rather than giving their best sheep to God, they would give him their diseased or useless sheep, keeping the best for themselves. This showed a direct problem of priority. God calls them to the carpet, revealing that they care more about honoring people than they do God himself. Ultimately, they are more about themselves than they do God. He brings up the question of who is the king of their lives, for the king is worthy of the first fruit. Whoever you give your first fruit to is your king (or queen).
If God were coming over to your house for dinner, which of these slices of pizza would you serve him:
The answer is obvious.
The reason God calls out his people in Malachi 1:14 as “cheats” and in Malachi 3:8-10 as “robbing” him is because they were serving them their moldy leftovers, not their first and best. This had nothing to do with money, and everything to do with their hearts.
Do you think God had a cash flow problem in Malachi? Do you think he looked at his ledger for the year and was like, “Oh man Gabriel, we had a bad year this year, I better go down and drum up some greenbacks from the flock or else we might not be able to pay the heat bill.”
Do you think God has a cash flow problem today?
No, he doesn’t.
Do you think God wants you to acknowledge him as your king over everything else in your life?
Do you think God wants to unshrivel the greedy hearts of his kids?
I see the best way to teach first fruits in our economy is to teach tithing. Almost every time I hear an argument against tithing I sense the motivation as, “How can I give less to God and feel okay about it?” and/or “How can I keep money as my money and not God’s money?”
Not only did Jesus teach that the tithe should continue, we see the principle of first fruits all throughout the New Testament. We also see it in the Didache, a 2nd century “church manual” for the Early Church:
13:1 But every true prophet desiring to settle among you is worthy of his food.
13:2 In like manner a true teacher is also worthy, like the workman, of his food.
13:3 Every first-fruit then of the produce of the wine-vat and of the threshing-floor, of your oxen and of your sheep, you shall take and give as the first-fruit to the prophets;
13:4 For they are your chief-priests.
I quote the Didache not to make it equivalent with Scripture, because it isn’t, but just to show the continuity of the first fruits teaching. It definitely never went anywhere.
Reasons not to tithe:
- If you are tithing because you feel obligated to obey the law, don’t do it. This is not the heart God wants. A law-based motivation is anti-gospel and is the opposite of the heart God longs for you to have.
- If you feel you can’t trust your church or pastor with your tithe, you shouldn’t be at that church anyway. Yes, plenty of churches and pastors sinfully abuse money and some are downright charlatans. Why would you entrust your faith and shepherding to leadership like this anyway? There are plenty of pastors who care so much about the ministry of the local church and how God can use it to bring his Kingdom to earth. Find one of these churches and become a key part of it.
Some people say they “can’t tithe.” This statement can be true, and is for a very very small percentage of the population. For most though, this statement is a lie. They can tithe, but they prefer their “governor” over God when it comes to their first fruits. They will say God is their king when asked, but the whole point of Malachi 1 and 3 is that the proof is in the pudding. None of the following things are sinful, but if you “can’t tithe” but spend your money on any of these things, just be more truthful in your words. Rather than lie by saying “I can’t tithe,” say “I could tithe but the following item is a higher priority than God is in my life:”
Put God first by giving him your first fruit tithe, then let all these other things come after that, not the other way around.
No matter what your hermeneutical understanding of the tithing command is, there is no mistaking that first fruits show our heart. God doesn’t need your money, but he does long for your heart. If you’ve put money above him in your heart, which plenty of people have done over the years, repent and get re-aligned. Put him first, and there is only one way to show this. The Pharisees sneered when Jesus told them they can’t serve both God and money. How do you respond?
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