The Gospels only mention tithing twice: once in Matthew 23:23 & Luke 11:42 (parallel verses) and once in Luke 18:12. Both times, Jesus condemns the Pharisees who believed they were righteous because of how carefully they tithed. The Pharisees believed tithing was more important than doing justice, showing mercy, having faith, or sharing the love of God. But Jesus attacked their hypocrisy and the wrong attitudes in the held in their hearts. Jesus explained that God cares more about how you love others and what is in your heart than about how carefully you follow the tithing laws.
9 He spoke also this parable to certain people who were convinced of their own righteousness, and who despised all others. 10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray; one was a Pharisee, and the other was a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood and prayed to himself like this: ‘God, I thank you, that I am not like the rest of men, extortioners, unrighteous, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week. I give tithes of all that I get.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing far away, wouldn’t even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Luke 18:9-14 (WEB)
Condemning the Self-righteous
Jesus did not use this parable to support the idea that only those who tithe would go to heaven. Instead, He explained that those who exalt themselves above others and believe themselves to be righteous because of the things they do will not be justified before God. Rather, we are to humble ourselves and accept the righteousness that comes by faith in Him.
The Pharisees looked down on others because they felt that they were the only ones keeping the tithe correctly. They used very strict rules about tithing and made it a point to tithe even the tiniest herbs that grew in their gardens. Since most other Jews did not observe the tithing statutes so strictly, the Pharisees believed they were more righteous than everyone else.
I see this today among those who believe Christians are bound to tithe if they are to glorify God. Among those who support tithing as a requirement for Christians, you have some who believe you must tithe on your gross income and others who believe you can tithe on your net income (after taxes). The gross-tithers often seem to have the same attitude toward the net-tithers as the Pharisees had toward the other Jews. Tithing on your gross income is obviously more righteous than just tithing on your net…
Again, those who believe tithing is a requirement for Christians and practice it themselves often believe themselves to be more righteous than those Christians who do not tithe. I have seen numerous comments on blogs and forums where tithers condemn Christians who do not tithe. I’ve seen people say that the church (their church) is only able to keep going because of their tithes and those who do not tithe are just “free-loaders”.
Tell me, after reading Luke 18:9-14, what do you think Jesus would say about such attitudes? Those who exalt themselves will be humbled. I don’t care if you believe tithing is a requirement for Christians or not – if you boast in your giving and believe you are more righteous than others because of how much you give, you will not be justified before God! God is more concerned with the state of your heart than He is with how much you give. We see this reflected in Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount.
23 “If therefore you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has anything against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”
Matthew 5:23-24 (WEB)
God desires that you offer your gifts with a humble, pure heart. The gift given with self-righteousness, unforgiveness, or neglect of God’s love will not be honorable to God.
No Support of Tithing
As I said before, the Gospels only mention tithing twice – here and in Matthew 23:23 & Luke 11:42 (which discuss the same event). When Jesus taught about giving He never said “tithe and you’re good”. Instead, He focused on making sure your heart is right before God – humble and sharing His love. He told us to give generously and freely to anyone who asks. He told us to give to the poor – not the rich. When He taught about the Law, He rejected legalistic interpretations of God’s Word and taught us to live according to God’s nature by seeking the guidance of His Spirit.
To understand what I mean, read the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). Every time Jesus teaches about the Law he starts by saying, “You have heard that it was said…but I tell you…” Where the Law says “Do not murder.”, Jesus says “Don’t even get angry with another person.” Where the Law says “Do not commit adultery.”, Jesus says “Don’t even think sexual thoughts about (lust after) another person.” This pattern of teaching shows that Jesus desires us to strive not just for some minimum standard – He wants us to seek God’s nature and conform ourselves to Him.
Now let’s apply that same line of reasoning to giving. Where the Law says “You shall tithe all the increase of your fields and livestock.”, what would Jesus say? Perhaps He would tell us to give to anyone who is in need as much as we are able. Although He didn’t give us any teaching about tithing in the Sermon on the Mount, He often spoke of giving to poor and needy throughout His ministry. That alone should give us some indication as to the type of giving God is interested in. Yes, we may need to support our churches and those who labor in teaching and preaching the Word, but meeting the needs of the poor and showing them love are far more important to God than buildings or giving to people who have more than they need.
Consider this, would God rather we feed, clothe, and shelter a poor, homeless person or have us go to a religious conference? Would God rather that we give water to the thirsty or build bigger churches?
I’m not saying these are always either/or questions or that it’s wrong to go to religious conferences or build bigger churches. I’m simply saying that the needs of the poor hold a special place in God’s heart. We know that through His Word and through the life of Jesus. And if we are to reflect His nature and become like Him, we must approach giving with the same mindset – a mindset focused on needs and not legalistic requirements. We must look at how we can meet the needs of the poor by carefully examining our own needs and wants.
Only One More
We have just one more Scripture to examine about tithing, and then I’ll finish up with a summary post of what we’ve learned so far. Please feel free to share your thoughts so far in the comments below!