Giving in the Church: Transition from Law

Editor’s Note: This is the third full article in the series on giving. The first article demonstrated the great importance and benefit of giving. The second article and associated Q&A explained in some detail how people gave in the Old Testament and the Gospels. With the accomplishments of Jesus Christ, much has changed since the day of Pentecost. This article begins to explore giving in the New Testament church. As believers in the post-Pentecost church, we want to understand to the best of our ability what God wants us to do in this day and time. 


In several previous articles, we have seen that the day of Pentecost as recorded in Acts 2 changed how men and women can interact with the Almighty. As such, we would expect for much to change between the old covenant style of giving and the new covenant style of giving. And what we find in Acts and the Epistles certainly looks different from the letter of the Law. However, as we will see, there are common threads that weave throughout the Bible on the subject of giving. What does the Bible say about giving in the post-Pentecost Church?

First, it is important to recognize that Christ eliminated the need for the entire sacrificial system. The sacrificial system, in part, was designed to cover for the sins of the people of Israel (Psalm 32:1-2 in conjunction with Leviticus 4). Christ has forever atoned for the sins of humanity (Romans 3:24-25, among many others). Thus, Christ was the end of the sacrificial system as given to Moses. Hebrews chapters seven through ten really illustrate this well.

Hebrews 7:25-8:6 (ESV)
Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.
For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens.
He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself.
For the law appoints men in their weakness as high priests, but the word of the oath, which came later than the law, appoints a Son who has been made perfect forever.
Now the point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven,
a minister in the holy places, in the true tent that the Lord set up, not man.
For every high priest is appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices; thus it is necessary for this priest also to have something to offer.
Now if he were on earth, he would not be a priest at all, since there are priests who offer gifts according to the law.
They serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things. For when Moses was about to erect the tent, he was instructed by God, saying, “See that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown you on the mountain.”
But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises.

Hebrews 8:13 (ESV)
In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.

 

Hebrews 9:11-14 (ESV)
But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation)
he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.
For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh,
how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.

 

Hebrews 10:11-14 (ESV)
And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins.
But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God,
waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet.
For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.

Look at the difference between the old and the new covenants! God sent Jesus, in part, to end the sacrificial system. There is no need for the Old Testament (old covenant) sacrifices, because a greater covenant has taken its place through Christ.

What are some of the practical differences between the old and new covenants with respect to the sacrificial system? Under the old covenant, there were sin offerings and trespass offerings to ask for forgiveness for sins, whether you were aware what you were doing was sin or not. What do Christians do now?

I John 1:9 (ESV)
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Christians no longer make a physical sacrifice to achieve forgiveness—they confess the sin. Christians now decide that they will repent and change their mind to no longer sin in that category.

What is another example of the differences between the old and new covenants? Every year, there was the Passover sacrifice as part of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Now, Christians claim Christ as their Passover (I Corinthians 5:7). Another yearly ritual was the Day of Atonement, and the section in Hebrews 7-10 shows that Christ has atoned for us completely (even using the language from the Day of Atonement). The book of Hebrews, as we have seen, shows that there is no need for sacrificing animals as in the Old Covenant. Jesus Christ’s sacrifice is completely sufficient for this. In addition, the word sacrifice is used of certain actions a believer can take in his daily life.

Hebrews 13:15-16 (ESV)
Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.
Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.

 

I Peter 2:4-5 (ESV)
As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious,
you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

 

Romans 12:1-2 (ESV)
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

In Hebrews, the use of our time and energy to praise God is considered a sacrifice. Also in Hebrews, doing good and sharing what we have is considered a sacrifice. In I Peter, as a spiritual nation we are to offer up spiritual sacrifices, and there is more on that in the later context of I Peter. In Romans 12, we are to present our lives as a living sacrifice unto God, performing what is good, acceptable, and perfect according to the will of God. Praise, worship, giving, doing good, rejecting sin and evil, choosing the transformed and renewed mind over our old nature—all of these are sacrifices under the new covenant. So we can definitively conclude that the old covenant sacrificial system[1] (including the fourteen types of offerings noted in the last article) is no longer applicable.

So, is the tithe part of the Old Testament sacrificial system? Yes! How can we determine that? First, tithing is defined in the same area of the Bible as the rest of the sacrificial system. For example, burnt offerings are defined in Leviticus 1; tithing is defined in Leviticus 27. By and large, the book of Leviticus is concerned with the sacrificial system—how the ancient Hebrews were supposed to give to God and cover their sins through sacrifices. Here are some additional verses that tie the concepts of tithes to other sacrifices and offerings:

Deuteronomy 12:6, 11 (ESV)
and there you shall bring your burnt offerings and your sacrifices, your tithes and the contribution that you present, your vow offerings, your freewill offerings, and the firstborn of your herd and of your flock.
then to the place that the LORD your God will choose, to make his name dwell there, there you shall bring all that I command you: your burnt offerings and your sacrifices, your tithes and the contribution that you present, and all your finest vow offerings that you vow to the LORD.

 

Malachi 3:8 (ESV)
Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How have we robbed you?’ In your tithes and contributions.

 

II Chronicles 31:12 (ESV)
And they faithfully brought in the contributions, the tithes, and the dedicated things. The chief officer in charge of them was Conaniah the Levite, with Shimei his brother as second,

Second, although giving is mentioned many times in the New Testament, the word “tithe” is never used in a Christian context. Here is a comprehensive list of the times that the tithe is mentioned in the New Testament: Matthew 23:23, Luke 11:42, Luke 18:12, and Hebrews 7:5-9. The Gospel accounts occur before the Law was fulfilled in Christ. The Hebrews account refers back to Abraham tithing of war spoils to Melchizedek. Never once is the word “tithe” used to describe Christian giving.

Third, modern Jewish rabbis agree that tithing is no longer possible. In Ernest Martin’s book The Tithing Dilemma, there is an entire section dedicated to understanding this.[2] The basics of the argument are as follows: the tithe requires a Levitical priesthood operating in the Temple. Since there is no Temple in operation and no Levitical priesthood, the tithe (as defined in the Bible) is not possible. However, modern Jews still give freewill offerings to their synagogues, and it is clear that Christians should give freely and cheerfully as God leads them.

So, should churches teach tithing? No! Christians should absolutely give in every category of life in accordance with clear Biblical teaching. Churches should provide opportunities for their members to give in as many categories as are practical given the size of the church. However, giving and tithing are not synonymous. While the word “tithe” simply means “tenth,” in the Bible, the word “tithe” is used specifically of an offering given by ranchers and farmers to support the Temple, the priests and Levites, the celebration of festivals, and the poor. Even under the Law, giving was not limited to the tithe. As a result, even if a Christian were to consistently give 10% of their income to their local church, it could not be considered a tithe—it would be a freewill offering of 10%. In conclusion, instead of teaching tithing, churches should focus on Biblical aspects of giving as described in the New Testament.

So if the word tithing is not used, what are the Biblical aspects of giving as described in the New Testament? Here are some examples from the post-Pentecost sections of Scripture: offerings (Acts 24:7) and sacrifices (Romans 12:1; Philippians 4:18), sharing (Ephesians 4:28), giving and receiving (Philippians 4:15), alms (Acts 10:2), help for my needs (Philippians 4:16), all things common (Acts 2:44), distribution (I Timothy 6:18), daily distribution of food (Acts 6:1), relief (Acts 11:29), ministering (II Corinthians 8:19), remember the poor (Galatians 2:10), giving people required items (James 2:15-17), loving in deed and in truth (I John 3:17-18), collection (I Corinthians 16:1), abundance supplying a need (II Corinthians 8:14), and gift (II Corinthians 8:20). This is not a comprehensive list; however, it details how frequently giving was discussed without the utilization of the “tithing” vocabulary.

What alternative is there to the tithing terminology? Perhaps the most descriptive title is “freewill offering” or “freewill giving.” This is based on the section in II Corinthians 9:

II Corinthians 9:7 (ESV)
Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.

How much simpler can it get? Each individual must give as he decides in his heart: freewill giving. Should every Christian give? Yes! I believe that all Christians should give as liberally as possible in every category of life, including the financial category. But there is no basis for implementing a standard for this, especially one based on the Old Covenant Law (which would include tithing).

I Corinthians 16:1-3 (ESV)
Now concerning the collection for the saints: as I directed the churches of Galatia, so you also are to do.
On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come.
And when I arrive, I will send those whom you accredit by letter to carry your gift [charis] to Jerusalem.

Paul said, by revelation, that each of the Corinthian believers were to “put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper.” Everyone can give something in the financial category, whether it is big or small. And I believe that this section shows the planning that can assist us in being better, more intentional givers. However, yet again, we see the importance of heart, not law. The word “gift” in verse three is the Greek word for grace, charis. Christians are under grace—our giving comes from hearts of love and grace, not minds compelled by the Law.

In this article, we have seen that the Old Covenant is over in Christ. We now have a New Covenant relationship with God. Because of this new relationship with God, we no longer have to offer the sacrifices and offerings of the Old Covenant, including the tithe. However, this does not mean that Christians should not give. Christians should give as they desire to give, and that desire to give should grow as they mature in Christ. In the next article, we will see more on how the New Testament describes giving in the post-Pentecost church.

 


[1] Another term for the sacrificial system is the phrase “tithes and offerings” as used in Malachi 3:8 and referenced in Deuteronomy 12:6, 11; II Chronicles 31:12; Nehemiah 10:37; Nehemiah 12:44; and Nehemiah 13:5. Yet another phrase to consider is the phrase “offerings and sacrifices” as used in Ephesians 5:2; Mark 12:33; and throughout the Old Testament, notably in Exodus 10:25; I Samuel 15:22; and II Kings 10:24, among other places.

[2] This book is available online for free online. The information in question can be found here: http://www.askelm.com/tithing/thi003.htm

Comments

comments

7 Comments

  1. Pingback: Questions and Answers on Giving in the Church – Study Driven Faith

  2. Russell G. Jacquay

    Will, you have failed to give credit to who taught you the Word. You also ignored the Biblical beginning of the tithe, which was by Abraham, many centuries before the Law Administration.Tithing works. Abundant sharing works. Stop trying to talk people out of the goodness of God.

    1. Will Barlow

      Russell,

      I’m sorry that you feel this way and that this is your conclusion after reading this series (or part of it). Like you, I’m very concerned about what God says about giving. Like you, I’m a firm believer in giving. I make that clear throughout the series, most notably in the last article. I, too, believe that giving works. I’m not trying to talk people out of the goodness of God. Tithing was never meant to be the standard for Christian giving. The standard for Christian giving is seen in II Corinthians 9:6-8: people are to give as they purpose in their hearts, not because of necessity or rules. The themes of God’s provision for the giver and the need for Christians to give liberally weave throughout the whole series (most notably in the first and last articles).

      As for ignoring the Biblical beginning of the tithe, I understand your perspective. The moment when Abraham gave a tenth of the war spoils to Melchizedek is an important point to consider, and it’s covered in the second article in the series (http://studydrivenfaith.org/2018/02/the-history-of-giving-in-the-bible/). The series is intended to be read progressively to get a fuller perspective of the subject of giving.

      I have endeavored at all points (both in this series and outside of it) to give credit where credit is due. I have learned many things from many teachers. In this category of life, giving, I believe that I have mentioned Russ Kelly (his website is here: http://www.tithing-russkelly.com) and Earnest L. Martin (his book is available here: http://www.askelm.com/tithing/index.asp). I’m not sure of anyone else who has contributed more to my views on this subject than those two, and I have cited them throughout the articles here. If you are concerned that I haven’t cited a specific person who you think I agree with, then I’d appreciate a follow-up to this comment.

      If you have any further questions, I’m always here.

      In Christ,
      Will

  3. Rick

    Will, you have clearly worked this subject and let the word speak for itself. Many organizations have used the tithe as a way to steal from there own people. It’s clear God made precautions in the grace administration to protect free will offerings focused on the heart instead of legalism. So many born again believers are in bondage and don’t even realize it. Once again it’s our personal responsibility to work the Word ourselves and not just follow dead men’s false teachings. Thanks for your heart to present the Word clearly and justly!

  4. Suzanne Grilliot

    Couldn’t agree more with Rick. Will, this is a well-researched and we’ll-documented series of articles that quite thoroughly explain the subject of giving in the Bible. The tithe CLEARLY was never intended for the Church of the Body, and any church or organization teaching it as doctrine today is practicing legalism and putting people in bondage!

  5. Pingback: Giving in the Church: What about Malachi 3? – Study Driven Faith

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