Many Christians seem to think that we are set free from sin because of Grace, but we must absolutely pay tithes or suffer consequences from God. They seem to think that if they become a believer and then commit a sin afterward that the Lord will forgive if they confess and then they move on with no other consequences. The exception to this is tithing. They believe that because tithing was instituted prior to the Law of Moses that the Lord handles that sin of disobedience differently and will curse them with failing to obey that commandment. They receive this belief because many preachers teach that very doctrine.
These teach that God had instituted tithing before he instituted the Law and so the act of tithing is separate from the Law and Grace issues of salvation and obedience. But is this a true doctrine that is supported by the scripture? Did God only institute tithing before the Law and so separate the lack of tithing from other sins? Does God hold you accountable because Jesus fulfilled the Law? If Jesus only fulfilled the Law and somehow the command to tithe is exempt, did he save anyone from condemnation? I move that God did not only institute tithing prior to the Law and so is expected with believers under grace, but that he also instituted the general law of righteousness and expects believers to adhere to those also. For now let us look at the tithe doctrine.
Where do we get this doctrine? Well, there is a story way back in Genesis that predates Moses and the giving of the Law in Exodus. This story involves Abram (Abraham) and Lot. When Abram was living in the plain of Mamre, which is in Hebron (modern day location is in the West Bank). In this story his nephew Lot and he had separated because of issues with their herdsmen and the resources available to feed their flocks. Lot went towards Sodom and Abram to Hebron. Sometime after there arose a war between the kings of the region, and Lot got swept up in the ones who were taken as slaves and pillage from several of the nearby kingdoms. Just on a short side note. This might serve as a good lesson on being to close to the world. Ok, back to the main topic of this writing.
When Abram heard wind of it, he took his men and “smote” the enemies and brought back all those who were captured and all of the things that were pillaged. When this occurred there was a king that came to honor Abram for his righteousness and obvious blessings of the Lord. The name of this king was Melchizedek. He was the king of Salem (Peace). He brought bread and wine as a gift to Abram. Abram in return gave him a 10th of everything he had to show honor to God’s king and priest, and to give thanks for the blessing God gave him. This is affirmed by the writer of Hebrews, see Genesis 14:20 and Hebrews 7:2, in the King James Version, for comparison.
Genesis 14:20 – And blessed be the most-high God, which hath delivered thine enemies into thy hand. And he gave him tithes of all.
Hebrews 7:2 – To whom also Abraham gave a tenth part of all; first being by interpretation King of righteousness, and after that also King of Salem, which is, King of peace;
Now a little more on Melchizedek and Salem. Melchizedek (Melchisidech) was a king and priest to El ‘Elyon (Hebrew for “God Most High”), of Canaanite origin. The name Melchizedek is an old Canaanite name meaning “My King Is [the god] Sedek”, or “My King Is Righteousness”. Salem is believed to be Jerusalem in later texts. The name Salem means “complete or perfect peace”. You can probably see where the writer in Hebrews was headed. Jesus is considered by the writer of Hebrews to be a king and priest after the order of Melchisidech. This then shows that with Christ there is a change in the priest hood. The priesthood of Melchizedek was changed to the Levitical priesthood under the Law of Moses. Now the priesthood in the manner of Melchizedek could pick up under Grace. This would show that tithes were expected prior to the Law, and now after the Law.
Further we see that Jacob also offered tithes to God. Now this tithe was a promise to be faithful to God because God was faithful to Jacob. It is put a little differently, however, it can still be seen of the giving of 10% of everything that God had given Jacob.
Genesis 28:20-22 – And Jacob vowed a vow, saying, If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat, and raiment to put on, So that I come again to my father’s house in peace; then shall the LORD be my God: And this stone, which I have set for a pillar, shall be God’s house: and of all that thou shalt give me I will surely give the tenth unto thee.
Once more we see that the tithing of Jacob was prior to the Law given in Exodus. One could even make the argument that the requirement of tithes for Israel comes from the vow that Jacob made to God, that he would give the place Bethel as a temple and he would give a tenth of all he had from the Lord back to the Lord as gratitude.
Here next we can see the command and the purpose of the tithe.
- Leviticus 27:30 – Tithe is declared the Lord’s
- Numbers 18:21 – God says tithes are for the support of his priests
- Malachi 3:8 – God says that to not tithe is robbing him
- Haggai 2:8 – any treasure we have belongs to God
- Deuteronomy 12:11-14 – bring all sacrifices, offerings, and tithes to the house of God
We an see that before the Law, Abram honored God by giving to his servant priest because of the priestly duties of king Melchizedek and in honor of what God had given Abram. We also see that Jacob, who is Israel, performed an oath before the Lord to place a temple and to tithe. Under the Law we see that the reasoning that God applies. The Hebrews in their exhale seem t have forgotten the vow and the reasoning of the tithe, so God reminds them in the Law. The tithes are a thanks offering to God for what he has given. Since God does not need what is made by man, the tithes are used to support the priest in their duties and the maintenance of the temple. In this tithe offering to God the priests gain the ability to concentrate on their priestly duties. In the modern-day church this is reflected in church practice of paying a pastor, providing a parsonage, or giving a love offering to an evangelist, or charity to a missionary. We are commanded to care for our clergy.
1 Corinthians 9:9-14 – don’t muzzle an ox, he needs to eat while working
Luke 10:7 – ministers should eat what is given them by their hosts
Philippians 4:16-19 – shows Paul giving thanks for provisions given to him by the church
There is therefore a clear precedence for the continuation of tithing. Now, if we cannot under grace ignore such a decree of God that he finds pleasing, how can we then ignore other items that please him? Did you just get a confused look on your brain?
Remember the premise. Many Christians believe that Grace covers us from sins like lies, murder, sexual immorality and such. They believe this because scripture does tell us this. “For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace.” (Romans 6:14). That is straight from the Apostle Paul. In this chapter of Romans, Paul goes at length to explain how it is that we are dead to sin, all is forgiven, and we are not held accountable to the Law unto death anymore. Well, those who believe on Jesus the Son of God as both Savior and LORD, and I mean the only LORD who is God, they are saved -and only those. The Apostle of Christ even explains how when we sin, it is not really us who have been redeemed, but this flesh that is still holding us. Paul tells us that we can rejoice because we are no longer slaves to sin, we can choose who we submit to, we do not have to submit to our flesh and transgress… Uh oh. That means that since we have been set free from sin, we should be servants not to sin, but to righteousness. That means we are now set free to choose to be morally upright like Jesus our Master.
So how does all of this relate? Well first let us see the truth. This does not only apply to the Law of Moses, but to the Law AND the prophets… the entirety of scripture. Jesus said,
“Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:17-20)
Now without getting too theological, there are those who will say that Jesus was talking to the Jews. I will agree with that. There is evidence that God deals with different people in different manners depending on his purposes. He is God and I must concede this point, much as I treat my children different according to age, maturity, trust worthiness, and so forth. I think it reasonable that God knows that people are different and must be dealt with by different methods. Keeping in mind the truth of the Gospel that anyone who truly believes and submits to Jesus as the Son of God who is both savior and Lord of their life is saved, Jew first then Gentile. However, it still appears that Jesus is referring to his kingdom, that would mean that it covers his servants, wether under the Law or Grace. Jesus expects that you will still be righteous in heart and actions. We call this sanctification.
That aside, is there precedence on other sins other than the lack of giving tithes that God has revealed prior to the Law of Moses? Yes, there is. He is a short list (that means not all inclusive).
- Genesis 3:1-20 – Fall of Adom and Eve = lies, deceit, covetousness, not trusting the Word of God, disobedience; false god; idolatry; lust; covetousness; unrepentance
- Genesis 4:5 – Cain and Able = Disobedience, False Worship, Vanity, Pride
- Genesis 6:5-7 – Cain and Able = wickedness evil imaginations, lust
- Genesis 6:9 – Cain and Able = Lies; unrepentance
- Genesis 6:8-10 – Cain and Able = Murder (killing); lack of honor for parents
- Genesis 6:11, 13 – Noah and the Flood = violence; disobedience; unrepentance
- Genesis 9:5-6 God holds murderers accountable to death
- Genesis 9:21-25 – Drunkenness; disrespect to parents
- Genesis 11:1-9 – Babel= False gods, idolatry, pride, disobedience
- Genesis 19:1-38 Sodom and Gomorrah; sexual immorality, violence, idolatry, disobedience, lack of fear of the Lord, unrepentance
All the above are just a small portion of the things that man did that God disapproved of prior to the Law of Moses. Tithing is not mentioned in any of the things that resulted in punishment in these texts. However, if we hold that the reason, we must tithe is because that it was demanded prior to the Law of Moses then we must also be in compliance with these other items that are identified prior to the Law. So, either grace covers all our sins or it does not. Don’t worry, it does cover all sin and no works are necessary (Romans 11:6).
Do we then have an excuse to refrain from tithing? Paul says, “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?” (Romans 6:1) That seems like a valid argument. Paul is quick to answer. “God forbid”. If we are truly dead to sin, then we cannot, and must not sin just because our sins have been forgiven. Instead, we should live a new life. A life of love and gratitude towards God. Our lives and everything in them are a gift of what God has already given. Out tithe is then an offering of thanksgiving for what God has already done. Not for what he might bless us with. Certainly not an obligation under or outside of the Law. Indeed, our tithe is no longer a tithe, but 100% of all we are and posses.
If we see the tithe as an offering to God, as the ancient Hebrews saw all their sacrifices, then this is a different issue all together. The Hebrews viewed all their possessions as actually belonging to God. Without the blessings of God, then they would have nothing at all. Therefore, they gave God back the best portion of what he had given them. The tithe was not only in money, but in grain, livestock, currency, etc. The motivation was not for the blessings but rather, it was to be pleasing to God. God had already given the blessings. This tithe was simply a show of respect and gratitude in honor of God’s provisions. It is a reasonable service. This it the same thing that Paul says concerning our sacrifice of love towards God and one another.
I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. (Romans 12:1-2)
Here, Paul says that Jesus Christ has given us life. How do we just give 10% of life back to Christ? We do not. We must give all that he has given us. For if we are truly dead to sin, then we died. The only life we have now, is in Christ. That means 100% is now our offering. The first fruits of life is love. We must give love back to God. We do this by presenting not part, but all of our lives as a living sacrifice, sanctified – set apart for him in Jesus Christ. He has become not only our savior, but our Lord. Not just Lord but the one and only LORD.
With this mindset the heart is freed to give. This is just one part of what Paul was trying to explain. Since we have been set free from the penalty, we are now free to love God of our own choosing. We can now give not only our tithes, but so much more. We can not only chose obedience in tithes but in not bearing false witness, no gossiping, no showing respect to some people and disrespect to others, no murders, no abortions, no sexual immorality, etc.
We know that God is not trying to steal from us, nor is he trying to keep us from good things. But we are simply allowing God’s plan to work. What plan? His plan of redemption. The furtherance of the gospel is supported with your sanctification and your giving. The tithe is for the maintenance and care of the temple (church), and the food and caring of the priests (clergy) so that they can perform their duties before God and man. It is reasonable that we should care for these things before God. It should be understandable that we are the manner in which God cares for his servants.
Many times, I receive calls from people who desire to take from the church, and even expect that the church should give to them. However, if the storehouse of the Lord is empty because his people have neglected to fill it, then the Lord will not be pleased, and the outreach cannot be sustained. Without the tithing the building falls in disrepair, and the pastor must make choices between service to the Lord of feeding of his family. From the unbeliever, seeing a church in disrepair, or clergy that are starving and in debt or working two jobs is a sign on unbelief from the congregation. Who would want to believe a God who cannot take care of his own clergy and temple?
Look at Malachi chapter one. The Lord says that bringing second best is a show of disrespect. Giving with bitterness in your heart of contempt from feeling like your have been forced or coerced to give is not love, and neither is giving in expectant of blessings in return. He says that you profane the altar of the Lord when you hold back from him. I often have eyebrows raised when I tell those in attendance that if they cannot give their tithes with a happy heart then they should not give at all. The altar of mercy is desecrated by complacency. Even with that stern rebuke the Lord is still merciful. Even though we should not expect a blessing in return for tithing, the Lord will bless you for giving joyfully.
“Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, Smith. The LORD of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.” (Malachi 3:10)
Therefore, we cannot say that tithing is different than any other commandment under the Law. We cannot say that tithing is not covered under Grace. We can say that obedience in tithing, like obedience in not committing other sins, brings blessing that are inclusive of Gods good nature. For the Lord says, “Hear, O my son, and receive my sayings; and the years of they life shat be many.” (Proverbs 4:10) So then should we not tithe? No, rather we should tithe, but for the correct reason.