For the first thirty-one years of my life, I was committed to a teaching that as Christians, we are to give 10% of our income to the church in order to be obedient to God and to worship God. Not wanting to be disobedient and not wanting to dishonor God, I faithfully gave at least 10% of my income each time I got paid. I mean, who wants to be disobedient and dishonoring to God? Not me!
As I look back, I can still recount much of the teaching by men and women who truly loved Jesus. Some of the most motivating teaching was the teaching that went something like this:
“God is going to get what is His. If you don’t give your tithe, God will get it one way or another. Your car will break down. You’ll get a huge medical/hospital bill. You’ll pay it one way or another so just go ahead and give it to the church.” And, of course, the tag would be included, “But you better pay your tithe with a happy heart, for God loves a cheerful giver.”
Well, I didn’t want my car to breakdown, and I certainly didn’t want to end up in the hospital, so I made sure to give at least 10% because if I didn’t then God would….
Other common teaching I recall was something to the effect of, “You pay your tithes and then you give an offering.” So 10% isn’t even the requirement. The 10% is just the starting point. The 10% just settles the obedience factor. Now, if a person really wants to worship, if one really wants to be generous, if one really wants to show love for God, then give above the required tithe! So now 10% isn’t even enough. I needed to present an “offering” to God.
I didn’t just practice the tithe, I also preached it! As a youth minister, I recall putting baskets out in front of the teenagers and playing some quiet, somber, reflective music and warning them to “not rob God.” If they made $10 mowing grass, they needed to put $1 in the basket in order to be obedient and even more if they wanted to give an offering to God.
Admittedly, I’ve not been exposed to all the teaching on this that is out there. So I may not have the best of exposure to what is the typical teaching on tithing. All I can speak to is my experience. I realized a few years ago at a meeting of hundreds of churches that this teaching is very wide spread when there was a unanimous vote at this meeting to affirm the requirement of the tithe by christians.
So I don’t know what your experience is with this thing called tithing, but my guess is that if you’re still reading this, you have at least heard of it. I would like to share nine and half thoughts as to why I no longer preach nor practice the tithe.
- Because I’m not Jewish –
Believe it or not, the requirement to tithe was a command to the Jewish people as a part of what we call the “Mosaic Law.” As a part of this Law, God allowed eleven of the twelve tribes of Israel to own land and possessions. However, there was one tribe that was not permitted to own land or make money—the tribe of Levi. The tribe of Levi was set aside by the Lord to maintain and manage everything having to do with God’s Tabernacle and the subsequent Temple. God wanted their complete focus on serving Him and the people as His priests. These Levitical priests were solely responsible for the sacrificial offerings presented to God during the Old Covenant. They were busy! Some have estimated the nation of Israel as millions of people. This one tribe worked non-stop offering sacrifice after sacrifice for the sins of the Israelites. There weren’t even chairs in the Temple where they could sit down and take a break. The Lord knew their time would be needed to do this endless work of sacrificing (it’s endless because the blood of bulls and goats can never take away sins). So the Lord provided for these Levitical priests by commanding the other eleven tribes of Israel to give 10% (tithe) of all their possessions to the Levites so the Levites could live. God used this commandment to provide for the needs of His Old Covenant Priests.
I no longer preach nor participate in tithing because I am not Jewish. As far as I know, I am not a descendent of Jacob, therefore, I am not an Israelite, therefore, I was never given the Mosaic Law, therefore, I was never commanded to tithe in order to support the Levitical Priesthood. As far as I can trace, my heritage is Gentile. Gentiles were never invited to the Mosaic Law. In other words, Gentiles were never commanded to tithe in support of the Levitical Priesthood.
- Because I am dead to the Law –
Let’s just, for a brief minute, concede to the fact that I, as a gentile, was commanded via the Mosaic Law to tithe in support of the Levitical Priesthood. Even if that is the case, I still would not preach nor practice the tithe because I am dead to the Law.
Throughout many of Paul’s letters, we learn that we have died to the Law. We died to the Law so that we could be joined to Someone else—Jesus Christ Himself. In fact, 2 Cor. 3, says that we are only qualified to serve the New Covenant. What does this mean? Well, just as a server in the restaurant serves you your drinks, dinner, and the bill, you and I are only qualified to serve, or dish out, the New Covenant. The New Covenant is not the Old Covenant of Law PLUS Grace. The New Covenant is nothing like the Old Covenant. In fact, one of God’s promises about the New Covenant is that it is nothing like the Old (Jeremiah 31, Hebrews 8). The Old Covenant was a perfect collection of 613 laws that the children of Israel must do in order to be blessed. The New Covenant is nothing like that. In the New Covenant we “have been blessed with every spiritual blessing” already in Christ Jesus (Eph 1:3). The Old Covenant was based upon the ability of the Israelites to keep their end of the bargain—perfectly obey. The New Covenant is based upon the perfect ability of Jesus. In fact, we don’t even have an end of a bargain to keep in the New Covenant. If we did have a side to keep, then what would happen when we failed to keep it?
Think of it this way, what are the wages of sin? Death, right (Romans 6:23)? So if God were to keep track of our sins today in the New Covenant and hold them against us in any way, what would we earn? DEATH. Far too long I changed the scriptures to say that the wages of sin isn’t death but distance. It isn’t termination, but rather tension in my relationship with God. NO! The wages of sin is death. God counted all our sins (past, present, & future) against Jesus and Jesus died. He died because He became my sin and the wages of my sin is DEATH. This is how God can get away with declaring that He no longer counts our sins against us (2 Cor 5; Romans 2). It’s because He already counted them! This is the New Covenant. We are forgiven.
When I trusted in Jesus, I died. I was crucified with Christ and I died to both Sin itself (Romans 6) and I died to the Law (Romans 7; Galatians 2:19). The Law has no jurisdiction in my life anymore. Paul calls the Ten Commandments the “ministry of death” and the “ministry of condemnation” in 2 Cor 3. We should call it that too! For what is the penalty for violating the Ten Commandments? Death and Condemnation! Don’t believe me? Read Exodus. When Moses walked down the mountain with the stone tablets in his hands and found the people already violating nearly half of them (remember the golden calf), what was their judgment? DEATH. Three thousand Jews died that day because they violated the Ten Commandments. “The Letter KILLS” (2 Cor 3). By the way, this was the first pentecost of the Old Covenant.
Do you happen to recall what happened on the first pentecost of the New Covenant. Thousands of Jewish law breakers heard a new message. This time, instead of being killed, these Jews were given life! How many in Acts 2 were saved? That’s right! Three thousand were saved and baptized on the first pentecost of the New Covenant. “The letter kills, but the Spirit gives life!” Now how could those Jews be given life instead of the death they deserved? Surely they had violated at least one of the Ten Commandments. They were given life because God no longer was counting their sins against them. His accounting of sins ended at Calvary. The sin debt had been paid…in full.
This is the Covenant we are qualified to serve one another, not the covenant of law, but the covenant of grace. So I no longer preach nor practice the “tithe” because I died to the Law and now live united to Christ Himself!
- Because Abram paid tithes to Melchizedek –
A common objection to the idea that we are no longer held to the tithe is the fact that the tithe existed prior to the giving of the Law. Therefore, since it predated the Law, and the Law is what has been removed, tithing remains because it was already a thing before the Law. Well, I’ll concede to the truth that tithing did exist prior to Moses. It did. There is one incredible passage in Genesis where Abram paid tithe to Melchizedek. However, instead of examining the “why” behind the “what” of this amazing passage, the general take away is, “See! Tithing predates the Law so we are still supposed to do it!”
Ok. If we are going to take this approach and think that Abram paying tithe to Melchizedek was only to give us a precedent as to how we are to tithe today in the New Covenant, then let us examine how Abram did it and see if that’s how we do it today:
- Abram gave Melchizedek 10% of all the loot Abram took from the kings he had just defeated! It’s a long story (read Genesis 14), but Abram fought against some other kings and defeated them and took all their belongings as his own. On Abram’s way home, this mysterious priest named Melchizedek blesses Abram by giving him some bread and wine (sound familiar? Matthew 26:24) and Abram decided to bless Melchizedek with 10% of all the “spoils of war.” It wasn’t even Abram’s belongings that he “tithed” to Melchizedek. So if this is our example of how to tithe today, then does it mean we are to take things from others and bring it to the local church lawn to drop off?
- Abram tithed to Melchizedek one time! This is really important to see! If Genesis 14 is our precedent for New Testament tithing, then I guess we are only supposed to tithe one time! Abram didn’t come back to Melchizedek every two weeks after his pay check was directly deposited to pay tithe over and over. He did it once.
- Abram wasn’t commanded to tithe. As I referenced above, the majority of my church experience centered around the idea that we are to tithe so that we can be obedient. Well, who commanded Abram to tithe? I don’t see a commandment. So if Abram didn’t tithe, would he have been “disobedient?” How could he be disobedient for not doing something he wasn’t told to do! So why did Abram do it? Because he wanted to! We’ll get into that later.
Abram tithing to Melchizedek is NOT our precedent for continual tithing to the local church in the New Covenant. NO! It is something so much bigger than that! If we look at Abram and Melchizedek and come away with some precedent about tithing, then we are totally missing the greater glory of the interaction. Fortunately, Hebrews 7 reveals what this incredible interaction between Abram and Melchizedek is really a precedent for. Hebrews 7 says that when Abram paid tithes to Melchizedek, it proved that the Priesthood of Melchizedek was greater than the priesthood of Levi. Hebrews says that Levi was in the loins of Abram. So when Abram submitted to the priesthood of Melchizedek, so was the priesthood of Levi. What’s the big deal about that? Only the fact that Jesus came from the Priesthood of Melchizedek and not from the priesthood of Levi. This means that the entire Levitical Priesthood had already submitted to the Priesthood of Jesus a couple of generations before Levi himself was even born!
- Because the Law is not of faith –
In Galatians 3:12, Paul says, “The Law is not of faith.” It would seem to me that our righteousness, our intimacy, our closeness, our union, etc. with the God of the Universe is all, 100%, by grace through faith. This means that we have what we have—perfect intimacy with God—based on His goodness and not on ours. Having died to the law, we no longer have any relationship to it. We do not look at the accomplishments of our flesh of doing good behavior and then say, “Look! Now I’m closer…now I’m cleaner…now I’m a little further along in my pursuit of God.” NO! This is law based living. It is living by sight and not by faith. It is determining your closeness with God by your performance. This is not “grace by faith.” Grace by faith means that God has fully, 100%, given you Himself completely. This gift is not based on your performance, but rather, it is based on the performance of one Christ Jesus. God is not waiting for you to write a check before He dwells fully within you!
To accomplish the giving of one’s tithe and then feel better about one’s proximity to Jesus is not of faith. Jesus wasn’t crucified, buried, and then raised from the dead so that we could spend the rest of our life here on earth trying our best to get closer to Him. He did what He did so that we could be where He is NOW—raised and seated with Him.
To practice or preach that tithing is a means by which you receive blessings, intimacy, and nearness to God is nothing more than putting a price tag on God’s presence. This is not of faith.
- Because I am not a Levitical priest –
As discussed above, tithing in the Mosaic Law was God’s means for financially supporting the Levitical priests. They were not permitted to own land, etc. The Levites were 100% dependent upon the obedience of the Israelites or else they would starve. I no longer practice nor preach the tithe because I am not a Levitical priest. I am not a descendent of Aaron, Levi, or even Jacob for that matter. This means that, as a pastor, I have complete freedom to own land, to provide for my family however I want, etc. It also means that no one has any legal obligation to give me 10% of their income.
Because I’m not a Levitical priest, I am free to own houses, cars, land, in any way that pleases me. I’m free to take a job with any employer I would desire. There are no restrictions (there may be careers that are more beneficial than others). So if I want to work for a church and draw an income from a church as an employee of that church, then great! However, if I want to be a realtor, a nurse, a lawyer, an engineer, or a taxi driver, I am free!
The only thing I’m not free to do, however, is to put people under a law that they’ve died to in order to manipulate them into giving so that I can benefit from it. There’s nothing grace-based in that!
- Because no New Testament apostle teaches the tithe –
I no longer practice nor preach the tithe because no New Testament apostle practiced nor preached the tithe. Don’t you think that, if tithing was such a vital element in our closeness with God that Paul, Peter, John, or James would have mentioned it somewhere in their writings to the early church? I do! Perhaps this is an “argument from silence,” but it is true—the apostles are silent on this! Sure they talk about giving, generosity, helping each other, etc. But none of them even hint at the teaching that I used to practice and preach that one’s obedience to God is determined by whether or not one faithfully gives 10% of income to a local church.
This is very similar to the common teaching of continual forgiveness of sins as I used to practice and preach. For years I would teach that we must confess our sins to God daily in order for Him to forgive us of our sins. Again, to my amazement, the apostles didn’t teach this either! They taught that we have been forgiven, “once and for all!” Take John’s word for it in 1 John 1:9. He says if anyone would “confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from ALL unrighteousness!” When I was thirteen years old, I began trusting Jesus. When I was thirteen years old I agreed (confessed) with God that I had sin that separated me from Him. Based on 1 John 1:9, that day in 1993, I confessed and God was faithful and just and cleansed me from ALL unrighteousness! How much unrighteousness? ALL!! Just past unrighteousness? NO! ALL unrighteousness! Hallelujah!
I understand that tithing (and continual forgiveness of sins) is taught in the church today (I used to teach it!), but it’s critical to see that the apostles didn’t practice nor preach it. So why would we?
- Because I’ve been made obedient from the heart –
Usually, not always, but usually the teaching about tithing is linked somehow to a call for the people of God to be “obedient.” The way I taught it was that you couldn’t possibly be obedient if you were stingy and didn’t give at least 10% to the local church—God’s storehouse. Therefore, by accomplishing the law, I, and those others who did it, became obedient to God by doing so.
But there’s a huge problem with this. Romans 6:17 says that when you are born again, “you became obedient from the heart.” That’s not a typo! Obedience isn’t something you achieve. Obedience is a gift that has been given to you by a hyper-grace God.
Christian, your new heart is obedient! You are not spending the rest of your days on earth trying to bring your heart into conformity to Christ. Your new heart is born of God, compatible with God. Just as Eve was suitable with Adam because she was “bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh,” you are now 100% suitable with God because you are “bone of His bone and flesh of His flesh” having been born of Him!
It is my opinion that religion, legalism, law based living (call it what you wish) is anchored in a view that I am still a dirty rotten sinner still at my core. Jesus has saved me, He loves me, but I am, as Martin Luther said, “snow covered dung.” The snow of Jesus’ righteousness covers me, but at my core, I am still unrighteous dung. A scheme of the Enemy is to keep us from seeing the truth of who we are! Yes, we were dung! Yes, our hearts were deceitfully wicked. Our hearts were Jacob. But something happened!
You see, we all believe that Jesus did something “for us” at salvation (and yes, He did!). But Jesus didn’t just do something “for us” at salvation. He did something “TO US:”
- He Circumcised us – Colossians 2 reveals to us what the whole circumcision thing of the Old Testament really foreshadows. It was all a shadow of a day that would come when Jesus would cut away the inner man from the outer man. The old inner man that was created in the image of Adam (Genesis 5) was cut away from the flesh. The union of the outer man and the inner man was severed. Sin still lives in the flesh, but it is no longer joined to the inner man.
- He killed us – Galatians 2:20 “For I have been crucified with Christ…” After the old heart (the inner man) was cut away from the flesh, it was crucified with Christ. It was killed. It no longer lives. It was buried with Christ. It is dead and gone. Any nature from Adam, any identity from Adam, any connection with Adam totally ended the day you were crucified with Christ. Jesus himself is the “last Adam,” meaning by Him a new people have been created!
- He created us new! – 2 Cor 5:17 “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creation. The old is passed away, behold the new has come.” You are not snow covered dung! You are the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus. You are not a sinner saved by grace. You are a saint—born from the very loins of God Himself. You are not slowly trying to improve who you are. Your old self is dead. You are a new creation. You are obedient from the heart because your new heart is everything God wanted it to be, for He made it!
- Because Jesus is my High Priest –
I no longer practice nor preach the tithe because Jesus is my High Priest! Remember, in the Old Testament, the tithe was established to support the Levitical priests for they didn’t own anything and they were in need. Tell me, what need does Jesus have? What need does Jesus have that our 10% is going to supply? According to Paul in Colossians 1, wasn’t it Jesus’ voice, the Word of God, which rang out in eternity past, “Let there be…?” How does our 10% enable the one “who calls into being that which does not exist” to have things He didn’t already have?
How silly I was to have thought that, because I had given my 10% to God, He was now able to do things He couldn’t have before. As I sit here and think about that, it just reveals my ignorance and arrogance!
Jesus’ priesthood came from the priesthood of Melchizedek and not Levi. There are zero instructions anywhere in the Bible to tithe to Melchizedek. Of course, Abram did tithe to Melchizedek, but why? Did he do it because he was commanded to? Did he do it in order to be obedient to Melchizedek? NO! He did it because he wanted to!
- Because we are taught to both “set aside” and even “cast out” the Mosaic Law –
Some of the most scandalous passages in all of the Bible are Galatians 4 and Hebrews 7. In Galatians 4, Paul tells the believers to “cast out” the Mosaic Law! In Hebrews 7, the author speaks of the “setting aside” of the Mosaic Law. You can see why these are so scandalous! Our natural response is something like, “Wait! If we throw away the Mosaic Law, then how will we know how to live? How will we know what to do? How will we…”
Simply put, the Mosaic Law was never given as a guide by which Christians are to live. The Law was/is an excellent tool at doing what it was intended to do! It is the “ministry of death and condemnation” (2 Cor 3). It was designed to lead us to Jesus (Galatians 3:24), but it was never designed to give us life nor manifest life. This is why the Apostles taught to now set it aside and cast it out. It has done its job! It revealed our death and condemnation. It led us to Jesus. We now salute the Law, we thank God for what it did, and we set it aside because it has done its job! It has led us to Jesus!
We now have Jesus living in us! We no longer look to laws written on stone tablets to live. We now live by Jesus Christ within us.
The 1/2 – So how do we live?
Let us listen to Jesus, in His own words, for the answer! “ As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats Me, he also will live because of Me” (John 6:57). How did Jesus live in this world? By union with and depending upon the Father! How does Jesus tell us how to live? The same way! By union with and depending upon Jesus. Jesus is our example on how to live. As Jesus lived by the Father, we now live by the Son. We don’t live by looking at external stone tablets. We live by looking within and seeing the Christ, Jesus Himself, now abiding in us. One with us…joined to us…suitable—a true divine romance! What love He has for His bride! As we soak up His love for us, we are then able to wring that very love out towards those around us in whatever ways Jesus motivates us to do so.
In the scriptures, 2 Cor 9:7 says we give from our new hearts! Whether it’s money, time, energy, love, support, encouragement, etc., we give from our new hearts! We give from the place where Jesus now dwells. We give as we are being inspired to give as we see the depths of God’s intimate love with us at our core.
To give 10% in order to be “obedient” completely short circuits the glory of what we now have. We don’t have a Law to look at to tell us what to do. We have Life within us inspiring us at the deepest of levels. How will we ever learn to live by His life within us, if we simply resort to looking at a list of rules to tell us how to live?
Remember the interaction between the Queen of Sheba and Solomon in 1 Kings 10? The Queen had heard reports of how much wealth and wisdom Solomon had acquired. She had heard the stories. She had heard the rumors. But she had never seen it with her own eyes. So she traveled to Jerusalem to see it for herself. She was blown away! She couldn’t believe her own eyes. It was more magnificent, glorious, and elaborate than she ever dreamed. Do you remember what she said? She said, “Behold, the half was not told me.” Not even the half had been told! The reality of Solomon’s kingdom was more than double what she ever had heard or dreamed.
Listen saints! Not even the half has been told of what we now have in Christ, the fullness of the riches of God’s grace that have been lavished upon us, the width, breadth, length, and depth of His love for us, and the sheer radiance of His beauty and grace. NOT EVEN THE HALF HAS BEEN TOLD!
I may be wrong in all of this, but it is my opinion that Christianity is not at all about finding a list of rules in the Bible and trying our best to live by them. Christianity is the life long discovery of the riches of God’s grace that He has already lavished upon us and living in this world of darkness based upon the reality of who we now are and what we now have, fully, in the kingdom of Heaven. We don’t look to laws to discover this. We look to the Christ who lives within us!
“Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith” Hebrews 12
Frequently asked Questions:
1. If I don’t preach tithing, then people will stop giving, won’t they?
Well, it’s likely that the people don’t currently give 10% to start with. Some may, but most don’t. So instead of placing a Law upon free people, how about teaching them who they are now in Christ and trust Christ to inspire them to give. Scripture tells us in 2 Cor 9:7 that God trusts our new hearts to give. Why shouldn’t we trust our new heart if God does?
2. Is there a place for giving to the local church at all?
Sure! But the point is that we don’t promote Law in order to create financial giving. We promote Jesus and invite people to contribute as they desire.
3. What if nobody gives? What then?
Well…I’m not sure! I know one thing for sure. We cannot place God’s sons and daughters under Law in order to create payroll and rent payments. We can certainly reveal the need to the people and encourage them to seek the Lord’s direction, but to use tithing as a form of creating closeness with God, erodes the joy and freedom of the gospel. Personally, I would rather find alternative employment than to put God’s people under Law. I’m not just saying this “theoretically.” I’m, currently, in the process of examining several employment options in the event we don’t receive the funds needed to fund both my salary and the other expenses for our church.
4. Didn’t Jesus promote tithing in Matthew 23:23?
Absolutely He did! He said, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law…” Galatians 4 tells us that Jesus was born of a woman born “under the law” so that he could redeem those who are under it. Jesus preached the law a lot! Why not! The law is good! It serves death and condemnation, and it leads people to Jesus. Why not promote it! But Jesus never promotes any law based living to any born again Christian. Why? Because Christians are not under law but under GRACE!
Also notice what Jesus calls tithing. He lumps tithing in with “the law.” The Pharisees and scribes were doing the easy aspects of the law (tithing from their gardens), but they were not doing the harder parts of the law.
5. Is it really that big of a deal?
Well, Jesus said that we cannot put new wine into old wineskins. To do so would be to ruin them both. The new wine is the New Covenant of the good news of the Grace of God. We cannot put that into the old wineskins of the Old Covenant of Law. It ruins them both. God wants them both preserved. God doesn’t want the Law’s ministry of death and condemnation to be watered down. The LETTER KILLS. For it is the law that leads people to Jesus. Likewise, God doesn’t want the New Covenant of Grace to be mixed with Law for that totally ruins the work Jesus has done of giving us righteousness, holiness, life, etc. as a gift. The goal is to put old wine in old wineskins and new wine in new wineskins so that the two never mix.
Many will say, “Shouldn’t we balance grace with law so that people don’t go crazy in their sins?” I’ve heard it said well, “What man calls balance, God calls mixture!” Adding law to grace doesn’t curb sinning! In fact, Paul says that law increases sinning (Romans 5:20). It is Grace Himself —Jesus Christ— that instructs us on how to say no to sin (Titus 2:11-14)