A CLOSER LOOK AT TITHING
By: Victor T. Stephens
"People often claim to hunger for truth, but seldom like the taste when it's served up."
~ George R.R. Martin
The Pharisees and Tithes
Let’s now take a look at Matthew 23:23:
"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone." (Matthew 23:23)
Church leaders allude to this verse to support the notion that Christians are commanded by God to tithe. They maintain that Jesus had the perfect opportunity to refute tithing. Instead, however, he validated tithing for the New Testament.
Tithing advocates seem to have difficulty understanding when the old covenant ended and when the new covenant was enacted. The disjunction is not Old Testament and New Testament, but rather old covenant and new covenant.
While Matthew 23:23 is located in the New Testament, the old covenant law --- the Mosaic Law was still in effect at that point in time. The old covenant temple was still standing; the Levites and priests were still carrying out their duties. Therefore, the teachers of the law and Pharisees were required to tithe. Jesus was simply supporting the Mosaic Law which embraced tithing already incumbent on the nation of Israel.
The new covenant was not initiated until after the death of Christ in 33 A.D. Consequently, the old covenant law was fulfilled; and the temple along with the Levitical Priesthood was replaced by the bodies of all believers. In essence, the temple became a living entity. With this transition, tithing became a nonessential.
Let’s now observe what was tithed. As indicated in Matthew 23:23, the teachers of the law and Pharisees were not tithing money, but rather food items --- mint, dill, and cummin. As we learned earlier, the old covenant tithing law required food substances --- more specifically, fruit, grain, herd, and flock ( Lev. 27:30-32). While roughly 1,600 years had transpired from the time God initially commanded tithing in Leviticus 27, there had been no allusion or indication of the definition of tithing to include money.
The Widow's Offering
Many people who have attended a church facility for any reasonable amount of time are almost certainly familiar with the lesson of the widow's mite. Articulating my point of view to some leaders in the church about tithing generally brings about the story of the widow who gave two small coins to the temple treasury.
Now Jesus sat opposite the treasury and saw how the people put money into the treasury. And many who were rich put in much. Then one poor widow came and threw in two mites, which make a quadrans. So He called His disciples to Himself and said to them, "Assuredly, I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all those who have given to the treasury; for they all put in out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all that she had, her whole livelihood." (Mark 12:41-44)
This story is a convenient passage that is referenced on many occasions by leaders in the church to address generosity. Their goal is to induce guilt for not tithing and not giving sacrificial offerings. The suggestion is that since this poor widow had enough faith to sacrifice all she had to the temple, then surely Christians should have adequate faith to give at least ten percent of their monetary incomes to the church. Furthermore, some church leaders use this account to propose that congregants sacrifice vast amounts of their financial resources to meet specific and urgent ministry goals.
Contrary to their point of view, the story of the widow’s offering does not represent the manner of sacrificial giving that gratifies God. If we read the passage immediately preceding this account, we will gain a greater understanding of its meaning. That said; let’s take a look at Mark 12:38-40:
Then He said to them in His teaching, "Beware of the scribes, who desire to go around in long robes, love greetings in the marketplaces, the best seats in the synagogues, and the best places at feasts, who devour widows' houses, and for a pretense make long prayers. These will receive greater condemnation." (Mark 12:38-40)
In this passage, Jesus is depicted as expressing condemnation of the wicked spiritual leaders of His day. He was displeased on account that the teachers of the law were seeking the praise of men while concurrently exploiting widows. By definition, exploitation is not merely overt; it is also subtle using clever manipulation for personal gain.
In this account, Christ taught his disciples that insatiability for money and self-importance can be camouflaged to appear as authentic devotion to God, whereas in reality, it is counterfeit, pretentious, and dangerous reverence. Notice Jesus' warning to take heed of the teachers of the law "who devour widows' houses" corresponds to His usage of a specific widow in this story.
Under pretense of godliness, the teachers of the law devoured widows’ houses … which simply indicate that they stole money from them using deceptive schemes. These widows were brainwashed into believing that it was essential to give a certain amount of money to the temple. Perhaps they were taught that blessings could be bought; or it was their duty to give a minimum percentage; or money could be used to purchase their salvation; or as a way to bring relief from their poverty. Whatever the case may be, these widows were defrauded by spiritual charlatans who harbored selfish ambitions.
This particular poor widow contributed more than everyone else because she donated all she had to live on. She gave all her funds to corrupt spiritual leaders when she could have used it to buy food and other essential needs. Her heart was in the right place; however, it was not mandatory that she provide her entire funds to the temple treasury to prove her dedication to God.
Therefore, Jesus wasn’t praising her as one might be led to believe. Jesus was expressing to His disciples that this widow was actually a casualty of the corrupt teachers of the law rather than an example of sacrificial giving.
Something is seriously wrong with a spiritual organization that takes the remaining funds of those who are poor, defenseless, and desperate. It is the height of antipathy. False leaders in the Christian church are using the same hideous tactics as the teachers of the law during Jesus’ day. In their quest for riches, these leaders have instituted an unbiblical monetary tithing system and a disingenuous sacrificial offering scheme to embezzle money from well meaning believers.
Many of these false teachers refer to the account of the widow’s offering to preach "Give until it hurts." Some so called pastors, particularly those of the Word-Faith camp, call this seed faith theology --- "Give me your money and God will multiply it back to you at 100 fold." The most vulnerable to this false theology are those who feel hopeless or those who are greedy for money.
Sadly, misplaced loyalty has blinded numerous "Christians" to what false teachers have determined for themselves. Whatever they want is equated to what God desires for them. They have little or no concern that some believers may be unable to pay their mortgages, rent, and other monthly bills. Using enticing speech, they have deceived some Christians into sacrificing their entire bank accounts to fund a building and fund their pockets with cash, checks, and money orders. For more convenient robbery, they prompt their trusting supporters not to overlook the use of their credit cards and other sophisticated techniques to pay tithes and sacrificial offerings. To add insult to injury, in some cases the prey reward the wolves when they exhaust additional funds for "Pastor's Appreciation Day"!
During the early church period, Paul taught equality; and warned the Church to be watchful of those who love money.
"For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened; but by an equality, that now at this time your abundance may supply their lack, that their abundance also may supply your lack --- that there may be equality." (2 Cor. 8:13-14)
"For we are not, as so many, peddling the word of God; but as of sincerity, but as from God, we speak in the sight of God in Christ." (2 Cor. 2:17)
It is not God’s will for anyone to sacrifice their entire living for a pastor or church facility. There is not one place in Scripture to support that idea. On the contrary, the opposite is true.
True Christian leaders should be honored and respected. Furthermore, they have a right to receive financial support. Moreover, we should help support the physical building and needed ministries where we receive instruction in the Word of God. However, scripture twisting tactics should never be used to deceive believers into giving. Godly and unbiased men of integrity will not compromise to today’s "new normal" of fleecing the flock. They will refrain from deceptive schemes and openly denounce those who do.
Jesus wants us to be generous givers; but the Lord takes issue with those who misuse and abuse honest and heartfelt believers. Thus, false teachers should take heed; for Christ stated that these men "will receive greater condemnation."