Shortly after the posting of my blog on tithing I was alerted to that fact that a well-known Christian leader and pastor had published a blog on tithing and had taking an opposing view.
He argued from Matthew 23:23, that Jesus had said, “Don’t neglect tithing.” Certainly, if Jesus said this we should obey his teaching along with the rest of His instructions to disciples. But is that really what Jesus said in Matthew 23:23?
Rebuking the hypocritical Pharisees who made a show of their piety but failed to practice what they preached, Jesus said, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others.”
Do these words of Jesus mean that New Covenant believers should tithe? First, we should note that Jesus is addressing Jewish religious leaders who had disobeyed the Old Covenant law. Yes, the Mosaic Law required tithing. Deuteronomy 14 mentions three tithes. The first tithe was to be spent on travel and worship expenses for attending the annual feasts in Jerusalem (Deut. 14:22-26). The second tithe made provision for the Levites who ministered in the Temple (Deut. 14:27, Num. 18:21). The third tithe was collected every three years and distributed to the poor and needy (Deut. 14:28-29, 26:12). THIS was the tithing law that Jesus accused the Scribes and Pharisees of neglecting.
In their hypocrisy, these first century Jews were tithing their garden herbs and neglecting the virtues which reflect the very character of God—virtues such as justice, mercy and faithfulness. Yes, the law required Old Covenant Jews to tithe—an annual contribution of about 23 percent. This is what they had failed to do. At the same time Jesus called them into account for their neglect of trans-Testamental issues that are so dear to the heart of God.
The blog I read concluded with the words, “So let’s tithe.” If that is what Jesus meant, I believe that Paul would have reaffirmed this in his teaching on giving. But he never mentions a tithe—only proportionate, cheerful, sacrificial giving (1 Cor. 16:1-4, 2 Cor. 8-9). Rather than saying “Let’s tithe,” I think the New Testament writers say, “Let’s give.” Let’s joyfully invest in God’s kingdom work to the degree that we are able. And then let’s push ahead to see if we can increase our giving as the Lord provides and blesses our giving. Ultimately, it is not the amount or the percentage that pleases the Lord, it is the attitude of the heart that joyfully expresses itself in love and sacrifice for the One who gave His all for us.
About J. Carl Laney
J. Carl Laney teaches Biblical Literature at Western Seminary and is an instructor for Western's Israel Study Program. Carl has authored numerous books, including most recently, “Loving Your Enemy: A Biblical Alternative to Revenge” (Ministry: International Journal for Pastors, July 2011).