“Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How have we robbed you?’ In your tithes and contributions.” –Malachi 3:8
As soon as I started making money my parents taught me about tithing. I was to give to God 10% of my gross pay of every check. Before taxes, before Caesar I was to give to God first. Faithfully I kept up this practice and to this day even as a licensed minister I tithe and do so happily. I say this because I am not opposed to the idea of tithing at face value. As a minister who is seeking full time, vocational ministry I would be a fool to dismiss it. Sadly, because people aren’t tithing (or giving) people like me who invested money, years & blood into preparing for vocational ministry cannot find it.
A couple of years ago I was sitting in one of those uncomfortable “giving” services at a local church. The pastor was explaining the principles of giving and how Scripture clearly teaches that if you “sow” you will “reap.” That’s good theology. But then the theological smorgasbord got skimpy and the pastor started explaining how we rob God by not giving 10%. In fact, by not giving some people in the audience were suffering financially. Basically, God was punishing them. I moved uncomfortably in my seat as the pastor expounded on Malachi 3:6-10 not really sure what was causing my anxiety. I tithed. I didn’t disagree with the idea of tithing. But to say that someone could be judged by God for not giving 10% and that that person was robbing from God seemed a little bit of a stretch? Then the pastor related the passage in Malachi to the incident in Acts 5 where God struck down Ananias and Sapphira for holding back on giving. Here is where I checked out.
I recently was involved in a discussion on a group called Assemblies of God Ministers Under 40 concerning tithing. I related the above incident to them and explained how I do not like the idea of compulsory tithing. The first reaction to this statement was to accuse me of abandoning the Old Testament (OT). The second reaction was to call me a member of the brood of Vipers. Given that I’m petrified of snakes the latter one is not likely. But, when you get past the ad homs and personal attacks there are some legitimate concerns in their responses. This is my answer
READING MALACHI 3
I believe that all Scripture is inspired by God. I believe the OT is just as valuable to Christian believers as the New Testament (NT). I believe that principles and wisdom are still found in the books and that any Christian who throws the OT out for the NT is cutting off the theological branch they are sitting on.
In the book of Malachi we see the prophet Malachi speaking to all of “Israel” (1:1) about keeping a covenant community after they return from exile. The book is broken down into different prophetic dispositions Malachi is giving to the people about life in that community. Marriage, adultery, moral offenses are all discussed in detail in chapters 1 & 2 and when we arrive in chapter 3 the issue of Israel giving begrudgingly is brought again to the forefront.
Malachi 3:10,11 seem to imply that the people of Israel were not giving because they were experiencing a serious famine or lack of food. Instead of giving 10% of their crops (as the Law demanded) they were holding it back using the famine as an excuse. God made clear in this prophetic disposition that these natural disasters were not the cause of their disobedience but the result of it. For us today this should speak volumes about giving no matter how hard the circumstance we are in is.
For an Israelite there were three different types of tithes. Deuteronomy 14:22-26 states that the Jews were to bring 10% of their crops to the God’s house and they were to eat there. In Numbers 18:20-30 10% is mentioned again as pay to the Levites for their work in God’s temple. Another tithe is mentioned for aliens, the poor & widows but that was only for 1/3 of total income in a full year every three years. In the book of Malachi the tithe that the Israelites were withholding was the 10% to the Levites. They said they were living the covenant but were not paying the ministers who guided them into worship.
Here we have the context of the passage and we can see already tons of principles that are applicable for us today. The question now is does the practice of tithing carry over into the NT and if a Christian does not give 10% is he/she robbing God?
GIVING IN THE NEW TESTAMENT
There is not one passage in the NT that says a Christian is to tithe. Not one. It is not because there are few passages about money because there are – a lot. In fact Jesus talked about money and giving more then any other subject in the entire NT. Paul also talked about giving and did not mention it once. This is not an argument from silence but an acknowledgment that no command is given by inspired writers of Scripture for tithing in the entire NT. So what is a Christian supposed to give?
2 Corinthians 9:7
“Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver”
In 2 Corinthians 9 Paul is answering questions about giving to missionaries (himself) and to the ministers of the Church as a whole. Paul specifically says that each person must give as “his heart decides” and that giving should not be “reluctantly or under compulsion.” There is not a specific amount they are supposed to give but a principle they must follow: if they sow sparingly, they will reep sparingly (9:9). As we saw in Malachi God does not want people to give begrudgingly but loves a cheerful giver.
Jesus is talking to a rich prince and tells him to sacrifice everything. This, for the ruler, means giving his riches to the poor and coming to Christ leaving it all behind. We see this principle again and again throughout Scripture. All we have is Christ’s. It seems then that the idea that only 10% is God’s does not line up with Christ’s teaching that all is God’s and he can call on us to give all at any minute.
Here we have the religious making a show of their gifts and how grand they are. Then we have a widow who simply gives a mite which for her would be all she owned. Jesus said she gave more because it was all she had then all who gave from their riches.
When the believers were living together they shared everything and Ananias and Sapphira withheld from the community something that they promised they would always share. Peter in his rebuke of them does not mention 10% or even that they were withholding tithes. They had lied to God, been selfish & then tried to cover it up with each other.
ROBBING FROM GOD
In Malachi we see a system of giving and that the Israelites withheld their tithes when they promised they would not. In the NT we see that there is no compulsion in giving and that again and again Christians are supposed to be ready to give up everything to God and also to each other. It is because of this I cannot accept the idea that not giving 10% of your pay is robbing God. I arrived at this conclusion for the following reasons:
(1) There is not a Levitical priesthood to support
(2) No command is ever given to continue the practice
(3) One could argue that 10% is not enough
(4) Christ, the High Priest of a better covenant, did away with all sacrifices, offerrings and tithes under the Old Covenant system (Hebrews 9:11-22).
In Matthew 23:23-24 we find one of Jesus’s “woes” concerning the Pharisees. I always have found it interesting that Jesus commends the Pharisees for tithing but condemns them for doing it at the expense of the “weightier matters of the law: justice, mercy and faithfulness.”
Christ diminishes the tithe under the Old Covenant and states that justice, mercy and faithfulness are “weightier” and more important. How can a Christian carry over tithing as a law of God for today? Many Christians reject many of the laws found in the Old Testament but keep one that is diminished?
Because there is no compulsion in giving I think the church sets an extra-biblical standard on giving and also sets a false ceiling on it. Worse, many are stating that it is a command of God when no such command exists. I stated earlier that at face value I am not opposed to the idea of tithing and the reason for that is because Paul stated in 2 Cor. 9 that people should give out of their own conviction with what seems right with the Holy Spirit. I myself give 10% as a minimum because I make a lot. Sometimes God asks for all. Sometimes God asks for a mite. One of the main principles that God reminds us in the NT is this: he who sows sparingly reaps sparingly.