Monday, June 4, 2018

New Rules on Tithing - First and Best 4

In last week’s post, I went over the Old Testament (OT) laws on tithing. Many Bible teachers believe that Christians are supposed to tithe today. By that, I mean they teaching giving 10% (or more) of one’s income to one’s local church. As a pastor, someone who is paid by donations to the church, I would love to say I agree. A ton of ministry could happen if God’s people gave that much!

However, I cannot in good conscience teach that we have to tithe; and I have two reasons why:

(1) The OT law was fulfilled in the death of Jesus.

All the laws of the OT, numbering around 613 (yeah, one guy counted ‘em all) are rendered inoperable by Christians today. The NT tells us we are “dead to the law by the body of Christ” and “delivered from the law” (Romans 7:4,6). Put simply, we are not required to follow the law anymore to be accepted in God’s eyes.

But to say that the old law is useless, or destroyed, or replaced isn’t the best way to put it. It’s more accurate to say the law has been fulfilled.[1] And there’s a big difference between “destruction” and “fulfillment”.

Murder is still wrong. Coveting is still wrong. Adultery is still wrong. The application and punishment of these sins just looks different now.[2] We no longer kill animals in sacrifice for our sins because Jesus was our sacrifice. We no longer follow food laws, which symbolized purity when entering the temple, because our body is the Holy Spirit’s temple. We no longer have to go to priests because every believer is a priest. We no longer have to practice circumcision because our hearts have been spiritually circumcised.

Jesus fulfilled the law. We absolutely do not need to follow the law anymore. With that said, the principles of the OT law are still essential for us to apply. The “essential substance of [the law] consists of changeless principles of righteousness, and is therefore a part of Christianity”.[3]

So what is the fulfillment of the laws on tithing? What principles still remain?

Whereas God once required obedience from his people to fund ministry, he now requires generosity. I would prefer you seek to be generous with your wealth than seek to give 10% of your wealth. For some, giving 10% of their income to the church would cripple them financially. However, I believe some others will stand before Jesus one day and announce that they gave 10% faithfully during their lifetime, to which he will respond “After all I provided you with, you only returned 10%?”

If the Israelites were giving 20-23% of their financial increase to God’s work, as well as almsgiving and following all the laws benefiting the poor and needy, Christians can hardly feel benevolent giving 10%. Most people reading this are living in a rich first world country, have an income level at the top 5% of the world’s population, and are living in the best economy we’ve seen in decades. We have potential to fund a lot of ministry.

God still chooses to carry out his plans through his people. And his plans still require money. Bibles cannot be printed, wells cannot be dug, medicine cannot be produced, church buildings cannot be maintained, counseling cannot be offered, meals cannot be prepared, worship bands cannot lead worship, Bible studies cannot be written, and pastors cannot be paid without money.

There’s a second reason I believe Christians are not required to follow the laws on tithing:

(2) OT tithing is nearly impossible to follow today.

As said before, if we follow the rules on tithing, we should all be giving 20-23% of our income to the church. And 10% of it ought to be used on families as a worship festival.

And if we really take this seriously, this means way more than multiplying my paycheck by .01 or .023 and dropping a check in the offering plate. If I keep a garden, am I required to bring 1/10 of my produce? If I don’t tithe from the garden, do I give the value of a veggies plus 20% (there are laws that detail these intricacies of the tithe)? If I breed dogs or horses, do I tithe? If I ferment my own wine, do I tithe that for communion? (see Neh. 10:36ff)

These are real questions we need to answer if the laws of tithing still exist today. Thankfully, things have changed. We no longer have a Levitical priesthood, or a sacrificial system, or a temple, or sabbatical years, or a year of jubilee, or offering requirements. And we no longer are required to tithe.

So what is the principle behind firstfruits?

Give God what is first and what is best. First and best. Those in the OT gave God the first and best of their produce, their animals, and their fruit. They gave God the choice portions of unblemished animals. This gives us a principle, a pattern to follow in our giving.[4]

Think of this less as “giving away” your money or possession, and more as an act of worship, a spiritual discipline that will sanctify your heart and change who you are as a person. The OT spoke of bringing, taking, and presenting their gifts to God, not as donating or giving.[5] If we will worship with our wallets, our heart will follow suit.

Honor the LORD with your wealth,
With the firstfruits of all your crops;
Then your barns will be filled to overflowing,
And your vats will brim over with new wine.

[1] Thomas R. Schreiner, The Law and Its Fulfillment: A Pauline Theology of Law (Baker Books, 1993), 162.
[2] Schreiner, 175.
[3] Roy L Aldrich, “Has the Mosaic Law Been Abolished?,” Bibliotheca Sacra 116, no. 464 (October 1959): 331.
[4] Ken Hemphill and Bobby Eklund, “The Foundations of Giving”, in David A. Croteau, ed., Perspectives on Tithing: Four Views (B&H Publishing Group, 2011), 25–26.
[5] Alcorn, Money, Possessions, and Eternity, 176.

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