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Forget About Tithing

June 24th, 2009 · 19 Comments

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.” (Matthew 23:23-24)

Wow.

I was just looking for a scripture on tithing. I wound up in a shouting match with Pharisees. But let me tell you how this all started.

Remember my last letter? We had just finished up an eleven week series on ‘thriving in tough times’ and at the end of the letter I made the comment that I didn’t have a clue on what we should discuss next, but that I’d go ask (Him). A few hours after the letter went out a suggestion came in.

“I have an idea about what to write next about! Tithing! Your thoughts please! If it is that the Lord so leads you.

Given these tough economic times – churches are feeling the pinch and thereby pinching their parishioners. As we have already discussed privately through emails – I find no evidence for tithing 10% in the New Testament at all. Why not share with the rest what you believe the Bible says on the topic? God bless! Carol”

*****

At first I didn’t want to tackle this. Do I really need to poke my thumb in the eye of the establishment? Don’t I do that enough already? I’m not a pastor or an elder or a church accountant. And I’ve never been accused of being an expert on church doctrine. Tithing is a church thing (boy, did I find out how true that statement is). So I really don’t have a horse in this race … do I?

But tithing is also a money thing and I’m always talking about money. The reason I talk about money so much is that we’re so hung up on money; most of our waking thoughts and decisions revolve around it and our obsession with it tends to screw up more important things in our lives.

There’s something more important than money? Yeah, I know it’s a shock, but it’s true. There are things in our lives right now that will last forever and things that won’t. Money is one of the things that won’t. Those things that do last forever should never be at the mercy of those things that don’t.

If tithing is a church thing and a money thing, it’s probably a biblical thing too. So I’d better look into it. For an amateur, I think I have a pretty good idea of what’s in the Bible. Of course, every time I actually look in the Bible I’m disappointed by how little of it I really do know. Tithing was like that.

What I figured I knew about tithing probably isn’t very different from what a lot of folks think they know about tithing. You give 10% of your money (up front – not after expenses) to the church – that’s the part you owe God. Tithing is biblical … it’s got to be, or else we wouldn’t get the tithing sermon when things around the parish are tight. And, as Carol put in her note, now that we’re in tough economic times, “churches are feeling the pinch and thereby pinching their parishioners.”

So, according to the Bible, are we supposed to tithe 10% to the church? Well, tithing is biblical; according to Strong’s Concordance ‘tithe,’ ‘tithes,’ or ‘tithing’ shows up thirty-nine times – thirty-two in the Old Testament and seven in the New. On the other hand, ‘Philistine’ or ‘Philistines’ shows up 285 times – all in the Old Testament. ‘Philistines’ are statistically 7.3 times more biblical than ‘tithing’.

But I can’t remember the last time I heard a really good sermon on Philistines. My father was a preacher and he called me a Philistine when I exhibited less than exemplary table manners, but other than that, I don’t remember a lot of pulpiteering on the subject. The reason that Philistines are so unfairly underrepresented compared to tithing may be that Philistines are more or less irrelevant to church finances.

Another reason that we don’t hear a lot about Philistines in church may be that they’re not mentioned once in the New Testament – they may be more or less irrelevant to the church. A good example of what not to do, maybe, but not a people we deal with on a regular basis like the Israelites did.

It’s unfair to lump Philistines and tithing together in the same basket; I know that. And it’s sure unfair to imply that pastors only preach on tithing for the money. But they do.

Tithing isn’t really as irrelevant as the Philistines, is it? All thirty-two Old Testament mentions are telling the Israelites how and when to tithe and what’s going to happen to them if they don’t. A passage in the third chapter of Malachi is a tithing sermon favorite:

“Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me. “But you ask, ‘How do we rob you?’ “In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse – the whole nation of you – because you are robbing me. Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this, says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.” (8-10)

Using the scripture above in a tithing sermon, we church members are supposed to be the Israelites robbing God and the church is supposed to be the storehouse. Problem is, Malachi was talking to real Israelites about bringing real food into a real storehouse. He wasn’t talking to Christians about bringing cash into church. We just apply the passage that way.

What about those seven mentions in the New Testament? We’re New Testament people, that makes it relevant to us right? I checked into that.

Technically, Jesus only mentioned tithing twice; once in Luke 11:42 (Matthew 23:23 is a repeat) and once in Luke 18:12. Neither mention was complimentary – he was beating up the Pharisees for the hypocrisy of their tithing. The balance of tithing mentions (in Hebrews) is part of a short passage recounting Abraham giving a tithe of war spoils to a priest named Melchizedek (which is a pretty interesting story in itself and we can discuss it if you guys want a ‘Tithing Part II’).

The verdict? Bad news. Tithing is not a New Testament teaching. It’s not a church teaching (at least it’s not supposed to be). It’s an Old Testament teaching and it was for the Israelites. It’s as irrelevant to Christians (at least the Gentile ones) today as eating pork and circumcision. My advice to pastors? Never preach another sermon on tithing. My advice to parishioners? Never pay another tithe to the church. You’re not supposed to. Tithing died with the Law.

Before you get all worked up, let me mention one other thing.

Jesus came to fulfill the Law, not do away with it. Jesus didn’t kill the Law, he made it irrelevant. The Law says ‘Thou shalt not kill.’ Jesus said that even if you call your brother ‘empty head’ you’re in danger of the fire of hell. The Law says, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ Jesus said that if you even look at a woman in lust, you’ve already committed adultery in your heart. The Law says bring ten percent of what you own to the priests. Jesus said, ‘go and sell everything you have and give it to the poor.’

Nobody preached about tithing in the early church because it was irrelevant.

“All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.” (Acts 2:44-45)

“There were no needy persons among them. From time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he has need.” (Acts 4:34)

We lost that somewhere along the way. The church became The Church instead of you and me. The Catholic Church (which was The Church) reinstituted the tithe back in the seventh century as a way to finance buildings and get people paid. The Baptists (who weren’t around in the seventh century) reinstituted tithing in the 1870’s. Tithing as a church doctrine is a man thing, not a God thing.

But giving as a church doctrine is a God thing (there’s a lot more to be said on that subject).

Tired of tithing sermons? Here’s a cure – give. When you were born again in Christ, you died to this world. You don’t own anything. If you can’t give up one tenth of what you think you possess, you deserve the tithing sermons. And if your pastor actually experienced church members giving away 10% of what they earned, tithing sermons would fall into extinction faster than the Dodo.

*****

One last thing … Don’t sell old Malachi short. The Law requiring tithing may be irrelevant to us but the principle isn’t. I loathe preacher clichés, but this one’s got me backed into a corner. “You can’t out-give God.” What can I say? It’s true.

“Test me in this, says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.”

Tags: Courage · faith · Fear · Heaven · love · money · peace · Prayer · suffering · Thriving in Tough Times · Trust

19 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Wes Smith // Jun 24, 2009 at 11:28 am

    Steve, You nailed this one, baby! Pastors all over America have whipped the poor Christians into actually believing that the “tithe” belongs to THE CHURCH, especially THEIR CHURCH. This way they make sure they get their SALARY, their PARSONAGE, and their EDUCATIONAL and SPIRITUAL trips to WHEREVER they please . . . not to mention the power that comes with managing a huge checking account. I have taught for many, many years that we Christians should listen to the voice of the Lord and place our financial gifts into His Kingdom where he tells us to place them. Then it is so fun to give! So fun! So satisfying! And the results are eternal. What could be more boring than throwing your check into the plate each week as it comes by (and it surely will), and hoping that the powers that be actually are in tune with Jesus and are listening to him direct them (and I, for one, do not have that much faith). Of course, the question always emerges: Well . . . how can we run the church if we don’t have the money. # 1—Maybe WE should not be “running” it. #2—What about praying-in the money, instead of begging for it week after week. That would keep the “powers that be” DEPENDENT on Jesus. Now there is a twist! Of course, if a prayer meeting is announced, the people leave like rats off a ship. I know of a 3,400 member church that can’t get even 20 people out to pray. O.K., Steve, that’s my yap of the day! Great Work! Finally, someone has the courage to tell the truth on this subject.

  • 2 Maria // Jun 24, 2009 at 11:42 am

    Thank You, Thank You !!!! Please bring on the Part II and all the ones that need to come after. For such a time as this – Truly, thank you. I am free to give all and as much as I want with out fearing being curse with a curse.. Halleluya !

  • 3 Xio // Jun 24, 2009 at 12:05 pm

    Amen to this message. I thank God for people as yourself. I recently was ‘scolded’ by my pastor for not tithing as much as we used to. Reason being my Husband was laid off and the only income in our household is mine. I thank Jehovah that I still have not been cursed, I know Jehovah provides He is Jehovah Jiret. I now ‘tithe’ to those who really need it. Amen & Praise God for his understanding.

  • 4 Faith // Jun 24, 2009 at 12:47 pm

    Steve, I thought this was a great explanation! The Lord has taught me through His Word that “giving” was a matter of the heart! Why would Pastors LIMIT giving to 10% when the Lord may lay on ones heart to give more than 10%? JCPenney gave 90% and lived on 10%. I started out giving the Lord a certain amount of my income and little by little have increased over the years more than 10% because that is what I felt in my heart to do. When you truly understand the Grace that has been given to you, you do not need a serman about tithing! :0)

  • 5 Richard Musser // Jun 24, 2009 at 1:04 pm

    Thank you Steve. I have felt this way a long time and you have taken away the felt guilt that has been given by the leaders why have profited from the giving

  • 6 Anonymous // Jun 24, 2009 at 1:18 pm

    Thanks for your article. I totally agree that tithing isn’t meant for the New Testament church but one thing you mentioned I thought was a little contradictory. You said, “If you can’t give up one tenth of what you think you possess, then you deserve the tithing sermons.” 2 Cor. chapters 8 & 9 outline giving for the New Testament church. We should give out of our abundance and according to our ability, cheerfully and not grudgingly. There’s no set percentage. I disagree with the above comment because whether or not you give ten percent of what you possess, no one deserves an unbiblical sermon aimed at dishonest gain. The tithing doctrine has caused believers to become “fearful” givers and not “cheerful” givers, fearing being cursed if they don’t tithe. You also mentioned the scripture in Malachi which states, “Test me in this…” This doesn’t apply to believers either. The windows of heaven means “rain,” not money. Again, believers should refer to 2 Cor. 8 & 9 for principles of giving. I’m in the midst of an intensive study on tithing, lots of research and seeking God. If you’d like an excellent commentary on the book of Malachi, Russell Kelly’s is it. Website is russ-kelly.com.
    Grace and peace

  • 7 Steve S. // Jun 24, 2009 at 2:10 pm

    Dear Anonymous,
    Good comments.
    There is no set percentage; we should be open to 100% if that’s what God requires (Matthew 19:21). My ‘one tenth’ comment points back to the fact that many Christians begrudge God the Old Testament concept of a 10% tithe, let alone the New Testament concept of giving whatever God asks, even if it’s everything. I was being facetious when I wrote that those ‘believers’ that are tight fisted toward God with 10% of what ‘they own’ deserve tithing sermons. Their hearts, like the Pharisees, are still playing the letter of the Law.
    The concept of God honoring givers in Malachi 3 does apply to believers. Although pouring down blessings from heaven can, on one level, mean rain (the context of the chapter is agricultural) the passage context and specific wording (check your Hebrew) certainly doesn’t limit itself to rain, but God’s blessing in a much greater sense. God promises to “pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.” ‘Rain’ doesn’t make sense in this context. Also God’s agricultural blessing (v. 11) includes no pests and healthy plants. The promise of God’s blessing in Malachi harmonizes very well with II Corinthians 9.
    I agree with you in recommending II Corinthians 8&9 as Christian giving chapters.
    Again, great comments – better than blasting me for speaking against the church’s ‘holy’ tithe.
    BTW – I browsed Russell Kelly before writing this post – good work.

  • 8 Don // Jun 24, 2009 at 3:51 pm

    One other thing, where is the church in the new Testament? ( as it is today ) all I have found is a home type group with an elder. To Pope or other administrating body tell you have to think or believe.

  • 9 Carol // Jun 24, 2009 at 5:52 pm

    Whooo Hoooo! Thank you for taking a stand on this very touchy issue! I am SO passing this on to SO many people, but frankly, not too many of my Pastor friends. Bless their hearts. One Pastor friend who is in agreement that tithing is not a New Testament principle asked another Pastor why they preached about tithing? They even both discussed this is not a New Testament principle but the Pastor said, how else would the church get the money?

    Can you believe that? WOW – this was SO logically laid out, SO well done! And I concur – WE NEED PART II!

  • 10 Anonymous // Jun 25, 2009 at 5:33 am

    Thanks, Steve, for clarifying. Your article definitely speaks TRUTH!!!! The church is totally deceived concerning giving due to deception and trickery in the pulpit. My husband and I have been victims of it for a LONG TIME. We cried out to God for truth and boy did we get it. 🙂 Anyone part of a “Word of Faith” ministry, ASK THE HOLY SPIRIT TO REVEAL THE TRUTH TO YOU CONCERNING GIVING AND STUDY THE SCRIPTURES. If not, you’ll be totally deceived and living in fear of being cursed when Jesus took care of the curse on the cross. Steve, please continue to write on this topic. Believers are in desperate need of the truth about tithing. Thanks again. Grace and peace.

  • 11 John Reynolds // Jun 25, 2009 at 7:17 pm

    Steve,

    What can I say except that I am truly glad to be in the fields with you brother!

    Tithing and the way it is put forth today is simply part of a large collection of unbiblical nonsense to be found as common place in this slice of Laodicea known to
    the world as the Church. Give your money up to the storehouses where you are FED is what was written. Literally. As in food! Problem is that over the centuries they have continually spiritualized the texts in one area or another and if a lie is told enough times, it becomes tomorrows truth. This even applies to Christmas and Easter but that is another in a long list of problems with the Sun worship Constantinesque doctrine being thundered from the pulpits today…

    The disciples of Christ and the early bereans had jobs and would fellowship in each others homes, not at the synagogue etc. This is how it should be today and I appreciate the fact that you took this on. Interestingly enough, here in Philadelphia we have small groups forming all over the place. It would appear that the flock is beginning to see the fur under many, if not the majority of the shepherds cloaks.

    God bless you brother…

    In Yeshua,

    John Reynolds

  • 12 maggie // Jun 26, 2009 at 7:38 am

    Steve, thank you! you have confirm and made clear my search on this topic.
    It is our100% that belongs to our God!!
    Keep on with your work and do continue to exposed these charlatans.
    Maggie

  • 13 Millie Ninowski-Gelb // Jun 27, 2009 at 11:39 am

    Steve, Loved the article it was right on. I love your honesty and the way you point out the truth. I agree the church is missing it and our Lord is our Source and everything belongs to Him…we are just His stewards to allow Him to have whatever He desires. Surrendering all to Him and letting Him be Lord. Blessings to you and your family. Thank you for your willingness to be all that He desires. Millie

  • 14 Linda Glazier // Jun 30, 2009 at 7:06 am

    God so loved that He gave and continues to give,the message of the Scripture from the gitgo is give. Everything we have is a gift from God, perhaps we believe we deserve it but it is only by God’s blessed grace that we have the necessities and luxuries of life. Scripture teaches us to be good stewards of God’s gifts and talents. These gifts came from the Lord and in gratitude we return to Him a portion of what He has given us. Giving for me boils down to one thing that we love and trust God with everything we have.

    Rather than being “grudge gifts” our offerings to God are to be joyous expressions of love, faith, trust & gratitude. God desires surrender of everything we are and have to Him. I question if one is unable to give a tenth how in the world will one ever be able to surrender all to Him? In my opinion money is the easiest to give it is the surrender of our hearts and being to Him where the rubber meets the road.

    Our family for one is daily discovering the unfathomable love of our Father. We have learned the blessings of giving and we started the journey with Mal. 3:10 and we have been blessed beyond our wildest dreams.

    May all your journeys with the Lord be blessed!

  • 15 Roger // Jul 1, 2009 at 7:50 am

    I do hope that this note finds you not buried to deeply in emails! Pastors preach on tithing for a variety of reasons – mostly wrong ones. Steve, in regards to giving and tithing, I often think that pastors get the cart before the horse. Permit me to explain: If we had more church members grounded with sound doctrinal stability, filled with love for their Savor, and driven with child-like enthusiasm for His Word, our churches would discover themselves in a wonderful position to be effectively empowered by God to reach the lost. (Realistically, this is what we are to be about in the first place.) In addition, without any doubt, our churches in this condition would then be more equipped to be instruments of God in steering and stabilizing this hurting nation then anything both saved and lost have known and will know in our lifetime. Oh how our churches need pastors who will get along with God, hear from God, rightly divide what God has said, apply it to themselves, and then proclaim it to others!

    Where does all this fit into stewardship? You and I know that stewardship includes every aspect of our lives. We need only to remember what Jesus said, “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” (Mat 6:33)

    Lastly, we need always remember that many ignorant pastors attempt to use their Bibles as toolboxes to brow beat parishioners into conforming into preconceived plans for their pastorate.

    Some never realize, and may never accept, that many of their parishioners may be walking with the Lord, living in His Word, and discovering that God is leading then differently.

    I must go for now. Just remember, when the dust settles I will be standing in your corner. Hang in there. I admire your courage!

  • 16 Beatriz Garza-Spillman // Jul 1, 2009 at 5:11 pm

    I remember your brother (Dave) telling me this once…I thought he was crazy…go figure–he was correct-o. My bad…
    Thanks Steve, love, B

  • 17 Tomi Johnson // Jul 2, 2009 at 7:10 pm

    Tithe 10% before expenses and not after? Ok…my husband is a general contractor. A client wanted a very expensive granite counter installed and as a contractor my husband submits his bid as $10,000.0o of which $9,000.00 was for expenses (the countertop) and $1000.00 was his profit. If we had to tithe 10% before expenses then he would have done the job and given every penny of his salary to the church thereby bringing home zero. Aren’t there exceptions to what you are saying? Thanks

  • 18 Steve S. // Jul 3, 2009 at 6:08 am

    Tomi,
    You missed the point. This letter is entitled, “Forget About Tithing.” As a Christian, you’re not bound to tithing at all. You’re bound to giving.
    But if you were bound to tithing, it would be on your income, not on gross receipts. Your husband’s income for the counter job was $1,000, not $10,000. But again, beside the point. Tithing doesn’t apply to Christians. Give as the Lord directs you; 0% or 100%, it doesn’t matter, as long as you’re doing what He wants you to do.

  • 19 John & Margaret Marshman // Jul 8, 2009 at 2:42 pm

    Yes indeed – it’s all a question of learning to live in the Holy Spirit as Jesus did. Forcing the OT tithing law is like legal governmental dictate to pay Income & other taxes upon pain of judgement and penalty. If one is truly born of GOD the Holy Spirit and cooperate with his leads to freely and cheerfully give as and when we can without fear or prejudice, churches will always have their bills paid and money to meet their needs. It’s really a true test of learning to live by faith with the only true Jewish-Christian God in the dynamic relationship that Jesus made possible for us to enjoy. Churches that rely on teaching tithing to meet their finances are not living in the Holy Spirit. Freely we have received – freely & cheerfully we give and not under legalistic compulsion! Of course we can never be in God’s debt as he always blesses those who financially bless the brethren freely in a responsible manner so lets get our Lord’s teaching properly understood to his glory.

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