Much of what we must do as pastors is to help people align their hearts with the rest of their lives, especially their finances. One of our biggest jobs is to do this in our own lives. It is so easy to become involved in the business of your calling, that you neglect giving the proper attention to your personal finances. What we consider our treasure and what we do with this treasure is one of the most important things in our lives. If we make money our treasure, there are certain consequences. If we make God’s kingdom our focus, there will be benefits to this.
Many Christians, including pastors, are confused about whether or not Christians should tithe. Tithing is a command in the Old Testament and served as an expression of worship and dedication to God. The tithe or tenth represented God’s blessing to the people who were to be stewards of all that God had given them (see Leviticus 27:30-32). It was used to support the ministry of the tabernacle (Numbers 18:18-28). It included not just money but animals, crops, and land. By tithing, the people showed themselves holy before God. God promised to bless those who sanctified themselves to Him. The challenge, however, is that tithing is not specifically commanded in the New Testament. This raises the question, should Christians tithe since we are no longer under the law but under grace?
First, this question assumes a dichotomy between law and grace. The Old Testament is assumed to be law and the New Testament to be grace. I don’t accept this separation because it is a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature, theology, and message of both the Old and New Testaments. It misinterprets what law is in the Bible. The law in the Old Testament should be viewed as a form of grace. It was God’s gift to the people to help them learn God’s holy character and how they should live as holy people in a pagan and sinful environment. Tithing was a form of grace that taught people stewardship. It took their eyes off of themselves and what they could produce, an attitude which would degrade into pride. Thus, it was a counter measure against sin.
Second, Jeremiah the prophet looked forward to a day when God would write His law on people’s hearts (Jeremiah 31:31-34). This would happen through the baptism of the Holy Spirit who empowers believers to live out the new covenant of Christ through transforming power (see 2 Corinthians 3:18). This means that the law of tithing is internalized by the Holy Spirit for Christians. Tithing is not an external law that needs to be obeyed but an internal drive that helps us conform to the image of Christ.
We must look behind the external law of tithing to the internal motive and theology it represents. Does the Holy Spirit internalize in us every law of the Old Testament? We can look at what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5. In 5:17, he says, “17Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19 Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Basically, the Christian should live beyond the law. In doing this, the Christian will fulfill the law and have a righteousness that surpasses those who rigorously obeyed the law externally. The scribes and Pharisees tithed even the small spices (Matthew 23:23).
Later in the Sermon, Jesus uses the pattern, “You have heard that it was said long ago . . . but I say to you . . . ” (see verses 21-22 for example). He was getting to the heart or principles of the written laws. He was pointing out the work that the Holy Spirit would do in our hearts as part of the transforming new covenant.
When we apply this to the law of tithing, we should quickly realize that Jesus is calling us to go beyond the tithe. Christians will tithe, not out of obligation, but because of the Holy Spirit is doing something powerful within our hearts. Our righteousness should surpass the tithe. In fact, the early church sold all they had in Acts 2:45. They realized that everything they owned belonged to God, not just 10 percent. It is significant that this act of selling their possessions came immediately after the baptism of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost. The internal work of the Holy Spirit moved them to go beyond the tithe. This act shows that their righteousness did indeed go beyond the scribes and Pharisees who were stingy with only their legalistic 10 percent.
Thus, giving and stewardship should be the natural outcome of the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit within us. Although tithing is not specifically mentioned in the New Testament, it is part of the law that the Holy Spirit writes on our hearts.
Should Christians tithe? Should pastors tithe? Surely our righteousness must exceed the legalistic interpretation of the Old Testament law. Our acts of faith must show that we have sanctified ourselves entirely to God and are His instruments to be used to reach the world for His glory.
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