The New Testament Tithe!
By Raymond D. Sopp
Realizing people can get really touchy when you talk about money, and knowing I will be going against conventional wisdom -- in some eyes, even being radical -- your first inclination may be to dismiss this commentary altogether. But, I implore you to do as the people in Berea did in Acts 17:10-11 and examine God's Word to see if what I say is true or not. If true, it then becomes another one of those times where we must ENDURE sound doctrine.
We begin where Jesus was about to become so radical in His teaching about the Law that He had to preface His teaching with Matthew 5:17-18, "Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass away from the Law, until all is accomplished." Jesus was about to show everyone who was willing to listen that, in reality, following the letter of the Law was in fact NOT fulfilling the heart of the Law. Jesus' teaching was about to become so radical -- so hard to follow -- that the religious community of His time would actually accuse Him of trying to abolish the Law. This allowed them to turn a deaf ear to what Jesus had to say, while at the same time, in their own eyes, retain their piety. What was this radical teaching? It was that the Law could only truly be fulfilled by a change in our heart, i.e., having the Kingdom of God within us. To illustrate the ENORMOUS difference between following the LETTER of the Law and fulfilling the HEART of the Law, Jesus proceeded to give us several examples. I'll cite just one:
Matthew 5:21-22: "You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘You shall not commit murder' and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.' But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever shall say to his brother, ‘Raca (empty headed),' shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever shall say, ‘You fool,' shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell." Here Jesus allows us to see the enormous difference by exposing that the mere outward application of the LETTER of God's Law came nowhere near the actual fulfilment of the HEART of the Law.
Actually, to say this was an enormous difference would be an understatement! No wonder Jesus had to preface His teaching with, "I'm not abolishing the Law, but fulfilling it!" No wonder the religious community was up in arms! Why, if this teaching were accepted, it would totally destroy their self-proclaimed piety. This was an impossible teaching! Who then could be saved? Who then could boast? This was just unacceptable! Therefore, the religious community proclaimed that Jesus was trying to do away with the Law of Moses and labeled Jesus, in essence, a heretic. This enabled the religious community to continue to deceive themselves and turn a deaf ear to Jesus' teaching, allowing their self-proclaimed "piety" to remain intact.
The religious community completely missed the purpose of the Law. The Law was not given to us so we may have something to boast in, or so we could save ourselves, but rather to allow sin to become utterly sinful, and alive within us -- to make us conscious of its existence. Romans 7:9-10: "And I was once alive apart from the Law; but when the commandment came, sin became alive, and I died; and this commandment, which was to result in life, proved to result in death for me."
Allow me to explain. If you were driving down a road at 80 miles per hour and saw no posted speed limit, you would continue to drive without fear -- without condemnation. Nevertheless, what if the posted speed limit was 70 and you simply missed the sign? Since you missed the sign, you remained without condemnation or fear. But were you innocent? No! You were still going over the speed limit. Now what if you saw the sign with a posted speed limit of 70, would not the sin you were committing immediately come alive (conscious) within you? Would you not begin to feel an expectation of judgment? Therefore, although the posted speed limit caused the sin to come alive within you and allowed you to feel condemned, its purpose was to ultimately save you from judgment.
Galatians 3:23-26: "But before faith came, we were kept in custody under the law, being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed. Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ that we may be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus." This is exactly what Jesus was trying to tell those who were trusting the letter of the Law for their salvation when He said, "Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court. But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever shall say to his brother, ‘Raca (empty headed),' shall be guilty." Jesus was saying, it was now time for us to mature, tossing aside our tutor -- the Law -- and by way of our rebirth, begin to aspire, begin to press toward the very heart of the Law.
The Law of Moses was given to us as a restrainer, to restrain our madness -- to restrain the depravity of our corrupt nature, to keep in check our natural inclination for self-destruction. It was to be a road sign in our life to SLOW DOWN our 80 miles per hour descent into total destruction. Nevertheless, the Law being weak inasmuch as it could not change our nature; it only succeeded in making us conscious of sin. Jesus was trying to point out that it was our corrupt nature which produced the need for the Law in the first place. It was our corrupt nature which produced the corrupt seed -- enticing us to say to our brother, "Raca, (empty headed)." Left unrestrained, such an attitude would grow into hate -- and hate into murder; hence, the need for the Law.
Because of our corrupt nature, the Law of Moses could only truly be fulfilled by changing that nature, i.e., being born-again. The Kingdom of God could now reside within us through the blood of Jesus. Therefore, those who are born-again have no need for the external Law, since the Law is now residing within us, teaching us to say no to sin at its conception. In other words, our new spirit stops the corrupt seed -- "Raca" -- at its source and allows it no soil in which to grow. 1 John 3:8-9: ". . . The Son of God appeared for this purpose, that He might destroy the works of the devil. No one who is born of God practices (or perpetually practices) sin, because His seed (Spirit) abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God."
Those of us who are born-again should no longer have the need to be restrained by the Law because we are now restrained by God's Holy Spirit which dwells within us. This moves us far beyond our tutor, the Law, unto the fullness -- the maturity -- of being God's sons and daughters. We are no longer content with just fulfilling the letter of the Law, but we strive -- we press -- into the fullness and perfection of the Law. Our new nature encourages us to press into God's holiness, and to heartily embrace the Spirit which gave birth to the Law -- God's Holy Spirit. This fulfilment or perfection, according to Jesus, implied much more than just the application of the LETTER of Law in our lives.
Which brings me to the "law" of the tithe and why we cannot find the word "tithe" in the New Testament as defined as 10 percent. Yet we seem to tenaciously cling to that definition. Luke 5:39: "And no one, after drinking old wine (Law) wishes for new; for he says, ‘The old is good enough.'" This is particularly true as it pertains to money, for the tithe -- the 10 percent -- is MUCH more palatable than its fulfilment -- its PERFECTION. Since the old is so much more palatable to us, we quickly cling to the Old Testament for our instruction, without giving much thought to why we cannot find the word tithe connected with the giving of our finances in the New Testament.
Keeping all this in mind, let's take a look at the word "tithe" in the last place it is mentioned in the Bible, except when Jesus used it as a reference to chastise the religious community. Malachi 3:10: "‘Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in My house, and test Me now in this,' says the Lord of hosts, ‘if I will not open for you the windows of heaven, and pour out for you a blessing until it overflows.'" You must admit the Church, as a whole, REALLY likes this verse! But let us examine it in the light of New Testament fulfilment. This is where my commentary begins to get really radical, deviating greatly from conventional teaching, even as Jesus did in Matthew 5:21-22 as He defined fulfilling the Law.
Many teachers of our day will point out with glee that this is the ONLY place in the Bible where God allows us to test Him, as if we should be proud of the fact that God gives us permission here to test Him. But at the same time they turn a blind eye to the fact that throughout the Bible God actually deplores being tested. It is true that God's permissive will allows us to test Him in Malachi, but should His sons and daughters be content with God's permissive will instead of His perfect will? As we read Malachi, we discover a time in history when all God was receiving from His people were their leftovers. Therefore, in order to deal with their hardheartedness, God gave permission for His people to test Him. Yes, even today this remains a great verse to overcome hardheartedness and raise money. But now as His sons and daughters, should we be proud of the fact we still need to use this verse? Are we not in fact actually exposing our own hardheartedness by embracing God's permissive will of testing Him?
Let us compare this to another example in God's Word concerning His permissive will. Matthew 19:7-8: "They said to Him, ‘Why then did Moses command to give her a certificate of divorce and send her away?' He said to them, ‘Because of your hardness of heart, Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way.'" Notice God's permissive will on divorce was formulated to deal with the problem of our hardheartedness. Certainly this is nothing for us to boast in. So we find this duplicity today within God's Church. We wisely teach against divorce, although it's permissible, yet shamelessly, and with glee, we continue to propagate the fact that we have God's permissive will to test Him as it concerns our finances.
What about the motivation God had to use, i.e., ". . . if I will not open for you the windows of heaven, and pour out for you a blessing until it overflows." Even today this will still pry open our checkbooks, but do we really want this to be our motivation? Even the unbelievers will give in order to receive a return -- a profit! 1 Corinthians 13:3: "And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing." When Jesus gave His life for us -- literally everything He had -- the only motivation He needed was His love for us. If Jesus now lives within us, through our rebirth, should we need a greater motivation than love?
What about the tithe as it is defined as 10 percent of our income? The reason you will not find the word "tithe" in the New Testament to describe the giving of our finances to our Lord's work is that, as God's sons and daughters, we are to follow Jesus' example of complete surrender. Therefore, to fulfill the tithe unto perfection (maturity), we must be willing to move from God's PERMISSIVE will into His PERFECT will; we must finance evangelism, the needs of others, and the teaching of God's Word selflessly without an imposed limit. Giving not under compulsion, but from a sincere heart, motivated only by love -- a love birthed by God's Holy Spirit which now lives within us.
2 Corinthians 8:12-15: "For if the readiness is present, it is acceptable according to what a man has, not according to what he does not have. For this is not for the ease of others and for your affliction, but by way of equality, at this present time your abundance being a supply for their want, that their abundance also may become a supply for your want, that there may be equality; as it is written, ‘He who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little had no lack.'" Here Paul clearly describes the perfection (maturity) of giving as being without a set limit. Could it be that God originally set a 10 percent limit (tithe) as a way to deal with our old nature -- our covetousness, our hardheartedness?
Because of the security money represents in this world, this concept may seem very radical; which is exactly why Jesus made it very clear that it would be ABSOLUTELY impossible to serve both God and money. We would either serve (hold on to) our money and turn a deaf ear to God, or serve (hold on to) God and let go of our money. Jesus clearly stated that if we would be willing to seek God and His righteousness that He would take care of our daily needs, i.e., become our security in place of money. Jesus NEVER taught us to pray for God to supply our future needs by increasing our bank accounts, thereby, exposing our trust in money instead of God.
Matthew 6:19-24: "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. The lamp of the body is the eye; if therefore your eye is clear (single in focus), your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will hold to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon (money)."
Indeed, this may seem extremely radical but Jesus really does not leave us any leeway. We cannot go before God boasting in our piety by either pointing to our fulfilment of the letter of the tithe, or having as the motivation of our heart to lay up even more treasure upon earth -- can we? Luke 12:20-21: "But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?' So is the man who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God." And Luke 16:8-9: "And his master praised the unrighteous steward [or steward of unrighteousness, i.e., steward of money] because he had acted shrewdly; for the sons of this age are more shrewd in relation to their own kind than the sons of light. And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by means of the mammon of unrighteousness; that when it fails, they may receive you into the eternal dwellings."
In combining the above two parables, Jesus clearly indicates that the fulfilment of the tithe unto perfection is to use everything you have to make friends (disciples) in the Kingdom of God. Mark 10:21: "And looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him, and said to him, ‘One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess, and give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.'" And Mark 10:26: "And they were even more astonished and said to Him, ‘Then who can be saved?'" Although both we and the disciples may read this verse with astonishment, we should not try to explain it away as some try to do.
Although I wrote this commentary, I know (perhaps along with you) that I have not arrived yet. Nevertheless, we should, with the help of God's Holy Spirit which now dwells within us, aspire to endure sound doctrine and press into the VERY HIGH calling of God in Christ Jesus. Yet, as we continually strive to press toward perfection (maturity), we still have nothing to boast in, because we are only doing what we are suppose to do. Luke 17:9-10: "He does not thank the slave because he did the things which were commanded, does he? So you too, when you do all the things which are commanded you, say, ‘We are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done.'"
Lord, as this ministry continues to grow, may I never use its increase to live in extravagance, but only to further Your Kingdom. May my eyes remain clear -- single in focus, serving and trusting in You only -- so no darkness may be found in either me or this ministry. 1 Timothy 6:5-8: ". . . men of depraved mind and deprived of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain. But godliness actually is a means of great gain, when accompanied by contentment. For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. And if we have food and covering, with these we shall be content."
I end this commentary with a prayer that I would never use this ministry's increase to live in extravagance, but only to further God's Kingdom. I choose the word "extravagance" to establish a difference between living in EXCESS, as compared with living WELL. Therefore, please don't misunderstand me; I'm not saying you must live in a mud hut in order to be perfect. But at the same time, I do not want you to turn a deaf ear to God, thinking that you have fulfilled your obligation; nor do I want you to become proud thinking you "fulfilled" the Law based on a percentage; nor should you feel condemned if you are not able at this time to give a certain percentage.
As far as defining the line between living in extravagance and living well, it is not something for me, nor anyone else, to judge; that is between you and God. What I am simply saying is, we should be open to God's direction in the matter of giving -- giving NO thought to percentages. Be willing to prayerfully examine your lifestyle, and continually ask God to examine your priorities in this life. If you do this simple thing, you would be amazed at how "fulfilling" this life can be. 2 Corinthians 9:10-12: "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."
The main purpose of this ministry has been, and remains to be, to provoke Christians around the world to take a second look at their doctrine and lives. I have never wanted anyone to follow me in lockstep, but for everyone (including me) to take a long look at WHAT we believe, and WHY we believe it. And then begin to live out what we believe in our day-to-day lives so all of us may hear one day from God the most sought after words in the human language, "Well done!" If indeed Jesus is coming back soon, as many of us believe, would He not admonish us beforehand and shake us up a bit in order to get us ready for His coming?
From my heart to yours,
Raymond D. Sopp
All above Bible references are from The New American Standard Bible, (La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation) 1977.
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