The unspeakable gift of God, and our "tithing"

Thanks be unto God for His unspeakable gift!”

On the issue of tithing in the Church of Christ
Teddy Donobauer 2020

One of the recurring themes in almost every Church assembly is the matter of finances. Rare is the Church that does not now and then find that the commitments of the organisation outrun the giving of the members and/or the profit from the various ministries of the church. (A church may be renting out part of it’s building for rental income for instance, or run a bookshop at moderate profit etc)

Almost invariably this shortage of funding is met with a rally from the pulpit focusing on the issue of tithing. And equally invariably the last OT book of Malachi is drawn into the arena. Preaching is then done which challenges the church to stop robbing God. Not bringing the full tithes into the fellowship is such robbery. Secondary issues are: should this tithing be based on gross or net income? Should we tithe before or after tax?

The most powerful punchline is always Mal 3:6
”For I, the LORD do not change: therefore you O sons of Jacob are not consumed”. Unspoken or spoken there is the insinuation that because God Himself does not change then also the Old Testament law of tithing is unchanged and still in place. And all our shortages, missing prosperity and lack of blessing as well as our coming short in collections are a result of our disobedience in the matter of tithing. We are also made to know that there is a deliberate curse in operation. Namely the curse that is best expressed in Deuteronomy 28:1-14.

As compelling and emotionally powerful this preaching can be, and may of course increase the giving to the common good of the fellowship, it falls short of the entire New Covenant teaching. Malachi may be useful for preaching on tithing, but nothing in the New Covenant affords a basis for teaching on tithing.

The use of an Old Testament Law in order to challenge the church of the New Covenant needs to be scrutinized in the light of what the Holy Spirit says in the writings of the New Covenant. And to a certain extent on what is not said. Because unless the difference between the first and the last Covenants are understood the use of
Scripture in support of the Old order must be challenged by the explicit teaching of the New.

Jesus and Tithing
It is startling to note that on this topic the Lord himself had only two comments to make. And both in relation to the last generation of the Mosaic Covenant. After Malachi the so called silent 400 years followed. In that time the Talmud was created and it had an elaborate system of rules regarding tithing and giving. The effects of that modification of the mosaic ruling is seen in two passages from the life and ministry of Jesus.

First: in Matthew 23:23
“Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law: judgment, mercy, and faith. These ought ye to have done and not to leave the other undone.

Note ”Ye pay” aimed at and including all the talmudic followers of tithing laws. Not once does Jesus say to the disciples that they should be like them either in their evasion of the scriptures by reinterpretation or in the matter of tithing.

Second: in Luke 11:42 the same event and meaning as in Matthew 23 is referred to again. But the unique contribution of Luke is from chapter 18:11-13. Jesus relates something obviously not uncommon:
”The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank Thee that I am not as other men are: extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican.

I fast twice in the week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’

And the publican, standing afar off, would not so much as lift up his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’

Is there a single line from three years of ministry by Jesus either demanding, upholding or verifying the matter of tithing for the Kingdom or the Church? What Jesus did teach about giving is made very clear in the teaching that arose from the trap set by the scribes and pharisees about paying taxes. Jesus demanded to see that which was used to pay the tax. He was shown a coin with the image of the emperor. ”Whose image is that?” He said. ”It is the image of the Emperor”. ”Does that mean that it belongs to the emperor?” ” Then give to the emperor what belongs to him, and give to God what belongs to him.” What bears the image of God? Our (tithing) money or we ourselves?

When you consider that the great comission was to teach everything that Christ had taught to the coming generations then surely
the very omission of tithing ought to raise a red flag before any OT preaching about tithing for a New Testament fellowship is attempted.

Objections will be raised: Jesus did not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it. He said that not one iota or tittle would cease to be law.
Yes that is true. But the application of that is very clearly NOT that the Church was bound to continue fulfilling the mosaic law.
Neither the circumcision, nor the law of the Sabbath nor the ceremonial laws were upheld by the church. The whole of Hebrews deals with the finality of Christ’s fulfillment of the law. In fact Jesus himself upheld the Sabbath law by deliberately breaking it. The laws were not written for themselves but for humanity. Christ himself came to fulfill the law so that it no longer was a curse over sinners.

The Apostles and tithing
What Jesus what silent about, the sum total of the Apostles also kept silent about. There is not a single reference to the concept of tithing in the entire rest of the New testament except in Hebrews 9 where the events of Genesis 14 are referred to and where Abraham gave tithing to Melchizedik King of Righteousness from Salem. Are we to teach that which is written or not?

Let us examine first the issue of
”being under a curse if we do not tithe.” Those who maintain that the non-tithing of the church means that they are still under the curse of the law need to read Galatians chapter 3. They need to show what Romans chapter 8 means. To claim that a born again believer may still be under a curse as severe as that from Deuteronomy 28 and in the very condemnation of it, makes considerable havoc of some weigthy doctrines. What happens to Salvation by faith if you are condemned because of non-tithing? Where is there room for remaining curses after Calvary? Is Isaiah 52-53 a mockery?

Gal 3:9-14 ”So then, those who are of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham.

For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written: “Cursed is every one who continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them.”

But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident, for “the just shall live by faith.”

And the law is not of faith, but “The man who doeth them shall live in them.”

Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us (for it is written, “Cursed is every one who hangeth on a tree”), that the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.”

To claim that the laws about tithing are to be upheld commits you to keep all of the law. Because breaking one single one of them breaks the whole law. James 2:10For whosoever shall keep the whole law and yet offend on one point, he is guilty of all.

Ananias and Sapphira Acts ch 5
Early in the life of the Church the issue of finances arose. The belief in the imminent return of Christ occasioned what we may loosely call the ’communalism’ of the Jerusalem church. Many sold all they owned and put the money into the common treasury. It was neither demanded nor as far as we know taught. And it was certainly not because of a teaching on tithing. In fact it was a free will offering which appealed to many. It is obvious that many who remained in Jerusalem after that Pentecost were far from their homes and properties. Among many other dependants the church had Greek widows depending on the church for daily food. (Which caused the beginning of the diaconal ministry Acts 6)

The generous giving by some of the members attracted the attention of the afore mentioned couple. They sold their belonging and came to the church with it. As long as it was theirs they had absolute jurisdiction over it. And there was no coersion to give any of it. None of the Apostles said to the church: ”Well a tenth belongs to God so give that. The rest is up to you.” It was because Ananias and Sapphira made a pretense of giving it all while retaining some for themselves that they were caught out as being liars. And their end was immediate. But not for not tithing.

There are a number of occasions right through the early Church years where gifts of money were made ready for the church in Judea and Jerusalem. Note: only for that Church. The persecution of the Church lead not only to the death of James and the dispersion of most of the Church, it also lead to a continual poverty. The persecutors would have confiscated the treasury at the earliest possibility. Every collection in the NT that is mentioned is for them. But never once on the basis of tithing or out of such funds.

Paul himself travelled and started church after church. But never once did he teach on tithing. Had such tithing existed he could easily have asked for assistance from the churches. He preferred to work day and night so as n
ot to be a burden on any church. He considered that he had the right to share in the material blessings in return for the spiritual blessings he gave out. But never presumed on the institution of tithing for that to be so. Had tithing been enjoined it is impossible to think it was never mentioned.

What did Paul and the others teach on the matter of giving? Precisely what Jesus taught. A life of faith is not a life of ten percent to God. It is a total 100% comittment. A death to the calculating old man. An end to the ’tit for tat’ mentality of ”blessing from God only in proportion to what you give to God”. It is Grace abounding where sin abounds. This is born out so strongly by all his writings. Listen to some of them:
 I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.

And be not conformed to this world, but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” Rom 12:1-2

Rom 14:6-12 ”He that regardeth one day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not that day, to the Lord doth he not regard it. He that eateth, eateth to the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not and giveth God thanks.

For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself.

For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord. Whether we live therefore or die, we are the Lord’s.

For to this end Christ both died, and arose, and revived, that he might be Lord both of the dead and living.

But why dost thou judge thy brother? Or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.

For it is written: “‘As I live,’ saith the Lord, ‘every knee shall bow to Me, and every tongue shall confess to God.’”

So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God.”

When speaking of the gifts of the church he numbers the gift of giving to the church out of material means as a ”gift of Grace” not an obligation for all. Rom 12:6-13 ”Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us: if prophecy, let us prophesy according to our portion of faith; or ministry, let us wait on our ministering; or he that teacheth, on teaching;

or he that exhorteth, on exhortation; he that giveth, let him do it with simplicity; he that ruleth, with diligence; he that showeth mercy, with cheerfulness.

Let love be without dissimulation. Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good.

Have kindly affection one for another with brotherly love, in honor preferring one another;

not slothful in business; fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing instant in prayer; distributing to the necessity of saints, given to hospitality.”

When he comes to the Corinthian Church to collect their contribution to the Church in Jerusalem he brings the matter into focus in a wonderfully succinct way. He came expecting their gift. He found something even more impressing.

2 Cor 8:1-5 ”Moreover, brethren, we want you to know of the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia: how in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality.

For to their power, I bear record, yea, and beyond their power they were willing to give of themselves, praying us with earnest entreaty that we would receive the gift, and take upon us the fellowship of ministering to the saints. And this they did, not as we had hoped, but first they gave themselves to the Lord and unto us by the will of God,”

There you have the core of NT teaching on giving. Membership in the church or any church is geared to ”taking upon ourselves the fellowship of the ministering to the Saints.” This comes from the concept of ”we are one body” Eph 1:23, 4:4, 4:14-16 and 1 Cor 12:20-27 ”But now there are many members, yet but one body.

And the eye cannot say unto the hand, “I have no need of thee”; nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.”

Nay, much more those members of the body which seem to be more feeble are necessary.

And those members of the body which we think to be less honorable, upon these we bestow more abundant honor; and our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness.

For our comely parts have no need, but God hath tempered the body together, having given more abundant honor to that part which lacked, that there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care one for another.

And whenever one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or when one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.

Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular.”

Neither Peter, John, Paul, James or any other of those who were filled with the Spirit and wrote what the Spirit gave them ever said one word about tithing. But they spoke volumes about giving ourselves entirely to God, to not considering anything that we have as being our own. We are never owners but stewards of God’s manifold grace. And being a member of the body puts us under obligation to care for one another.

This comes to a head in 2 Corinthians 9 where Paul now tackles this very ministry to the saints by the saints. It is hard to imagine a better opportunity to teach on tithing than this. But not a syllable of that theme is here present.

2 Cor 9:6-15
Now this I say, he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed; as it is written,

He scattered abroad, he gave to the poor,
His righteousness endures forever.”

Now He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness; you will be enriched in everything for all liberality, which through us is producing thanksgiving to God. For the ministry of this service is not only fully supplying the needs of the saints, but is also overflowing through many thanksgivings to God. Because of the proof given by this ministry, they will glorify God for your obedience to your confession of the gospel of Christ and for the liberality of your contribution to them and to all, while they also, by prayer on your behalf, yearn for you because of the surpassing grace of God in you. Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!

Just a mild exposition of this section will make it plain that giving is not to be under compulsion (You must tithe!!) but out of gratitude to God for all His mercy. Not on the basis of 10% but on the basis of meeting actual needs known. And truly they who give with liberality and out of a generous heart will not be shortchanged by God. He knows what we have need of said Jesus while on earth. But our true needs do not often coincide with our ”I wants.” We do reap what we sow. The essence of the seasoned believer is that of Paul: ” I have learnt to be satisfied both in abundance and in want.” Phil 4:12 I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need.

A common objection is this. ”Tithing is at least a way of training people in giving regularly. Is that not a good thing? Saying that everything belongs to God is an easy escape from giving anything at all.” Both statements are true in their own way. The excuse is easy and handy because after all we are also told that ’what happens happens out of sight and no man knows what another man does between himself and God’. And of course it is good to have a regular habit of setting aside on the ord’s day a sum of money to be given. It is when such a habit is elevated to spiritual duty and under the threat of falling away from faith if not carried out that the problem starts.

There are many sins of the flesh connected to our consumption and materialistic world. There are truly many ways in which we can reduce God to equal only our own belly. Indulging the flesh is the downfall of the rich young ruler who would not trade his riches on earth for riches before God in Heaven. The rich man who de cided to build bigger barns ”and live happily ever after” did not realize that the time was up for his soul to be confronted with God. Accountability to God is a red thread through the Scriptures.

Is running a Christian organisation the same as ministering to the Saints?
This then is the ultimate issue. If we read the word of God we find that God always supplies the needs for things that He asks. And here is a clou: ”He gives them to the individuals who then are asked to give back to God what they decide in their hearts to give ’without’ covetousness.”

If we have donned a suit too large for our wallet then the tailor needs to assist us in ”taking in the suit.” When the resources are getting less then it may be time to assess what they are spent on. Any longlived perceived need may be a blind spot.

Being a member of a body means that my contributions are not voluntary. My heart supplies blood to all members equally without discrimination. Constantly, come rain come shine. My hand however has a different mode of giving. In contrast to the heart the hands are idle at times. But however the task of the member is the body needs it, so it is not really a matter of doing my part when I feel like it only. Only if I have given myself to the Head first will I give my body support too with a comitted heart. As a member of a Church I have actually said that I will agree with the work of the church. That means that if the church has say 65 members then the cost of running the entire operation is to be divided by 65. My share is then 1/65th of the annual budget. That is my target for my giving and my praying. Agreeing to expenditure is agreeing to upping my share of the cost. But then of course the reality is that some have more and some less. And all can only give according to what they have and not to what they don’t have. So there will always be need for extraordinary offerings for things not in the budget. That is where prayer and Faith has an extra challenge. If all are to be treated fairly then all will be treated differently.

Stewarding the means is a most carefully undertaken task and is worthy of respect. The handling of money among people of faith in God differs however from that of those whose only hard and reliable facts are their bank balance.

Church is never left in doubt by God about the reality that whom He calls He also equips.

Teddy Donobauer.


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