The Bottom Line on Christian Tithing (Part 2)

“Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor 9.7).

Part 1 suggested Malachi 3.10 is about far more than instituting a Christian tithe.  Rather it was part of Malachi’s whole message to an apostate Israel.  Many preachers and churches lift Malachi 3.8-12 out of the context, overlay it on the church and impose a 10% requirement on Christian giving.  These sermons typically arise at the beginning of capital campaigns or during seasons of sluggish giving.

Of course, this leads to questions about where to start calculating your tithe.  Do we tithe on our gross pay or net pay?  What about bonuses, Social Security checks, tax refunds or annuities?  I suppose if you tithed on your pre-tax retirement contributions you need not tithe when you withdraw them.  If you tithed on your gross paycheck then you need not tithe on your Social Security check during retirement lest you double up.  In a culture driven by the bottom line we are wont to ask what anything is going to cost us.  How much do we actually have to give?

These questions quickly lead us far afield from both Malachi’s context and its gospel applications.

Malachi 3.8-12 must be considered in light of Malachi’s whole message.  Israel’s thieving was one part of their whole spiritual demise.  Malachi was exposing various (six, to be exact) areas where Israel held a dismally low view of God.  How Israel viewed their tithing was connected with how they viewed everything else God was confronting.

Their lack of “tithes and offerings” was a natural by-product of a cheap view of God’s electing love (1.2-5), a low view of worship (1.6-2.9, pathetic brotherhood and marriages (2.10-16), distortions of justice (2.17-3.6) and a spirit of entitlement (3.13-15).

Malachi’s message was not to prepare Christian tithers.  It was to prepare sinners for Christ who would restore hearts and stave off God’s curse (Mal 4.4-6).

In Part 3 I will offer specific propositions that inform Christian giving.  Until then, I offer these general considerations in light of the New Testament and the gospel.

1.  The Old Testament refers to paying tithes (10% of one’s produce) some thirty times or more.  The New Testament mentions it only six; and all those are either quote or refer to the Old Testament!  The sovereign election of one son over another, the function of the priesthood, Christian brotherhood/marriage, God’s grace and justice, and the temple economy all converge in the person and work of Jesus.  He is the Beloved Son who is both perfect priest and perfect sacrifice.  He never robbed God or received offerings on the cheap.  He never fleeced the people he represented or short-changed their worship.

2.  Many argue Jesus reaffirmed and thereby instituted the Christian tithe.  He demanded a self-righteous Pharisee pad his tithe with justice, mercy and faith (Mt 23.23; Lk 11.42).  But the issue was not about how much or what the Pharisee was giving.  It was what he wasn’t giving.   Jesus was not commending the tithe but using it to expose the hypocrisy of legalistic giving without lavish loving.  Jesus was not telling all Christians they should give 10% and more.  He was condemning the Pharisee for giving his tithe but no more.

Jesus also told a rich young ruler (who followed the letter of the Law) to sell everything and give it to the poor (Mt 19.16-22).  The amount of money is never the issue in Christ’s kingdom.  The amount of the heart is.

3.  The early church never asked any apostle about tithing.  Granted, that could be said about several important issues and perhaps tithing was simply assumed.  If the case, however, we might wonder how Gentiles would know about its supposed importance (cf. Acts 15.29).  Gentile churches had no problem giving and needed no instruction about how much (cf. 2 Cor 8.1-5; Phil 4.15-16).  How did they know how much to give if no apostle ever told them about the tithe?

I suggest the coming the Holy Spirit simply made tithing a non-issue.  Those filled with the Spirit of Christ do not reduce kingdom matters to lowest common denominators.  They do not ask about legalistic minimums or pride themselves on meeting baseline requirements.  Those in Christ renounce all claims on anything in this life.  Jesus does not make tithers.  He makes worshipers.

Stand by for Part 3.

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