Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Is Tithing for Today? A Close Examination of 1 Corinthians 9:3-18

Many see tithing as a theological relic of the Old Testament (OT) that isn’t applicable today.  It’s based upon the belief that nowhere in Scripture is tithing mentioned in conjunction with the New Testament (NT) church: that it was never given to them by commandment nor did they ever observe it on their own.  This leads to the inevitable conclusion that tithing was part of the Old Covenant and not the New; and since it’s thought to be part of the Old Covenant, then any attempt to teach that it’s still for today brings about the immediate accusation of trying to bring people back under the Law.  But the New Testament does speak of giving, and so not wanting to appear hard-hearted, those who don’t believe that tithing is for today often retort that they’ll give as “led by the Spirit” (2 Cor. 9:7).  But for them, there’s no need to set aside any minimal pre-determined amount.  But there are several problems with this rationale.

First, they misunderstand the purpose and intent of “The Law.”[1]  All aspects of the Law apply today in some form or fashion (1 Tim. 1:8), and Jesus agrees (Mt. 5:16-19; 22:36-40).  Some apply more to our spiritual walk while others focus on practical living.  Neither is exclusive of the other, but they do have their emphasis.    

Simply stated, the sole purpose of the Law was to show us that we’re not like God – that he’s holy and we’re not.  And in showing us that we’re not like God, it also revealed that we’re now under judgment for having broken it (Rom. 6:23).  The Law shows us that we’re not like God, but it also offers no plan of salvation for those who’ve already broken it, which we all have (Rom. 3:23).[2]  Thus we have a paradox between the verses that teach that the Law is good – it has to be, it came from God – and those that teach that we’re no longer under the Law.  But the answer is simple.  When the NT speaks of the inferiority of the Law and of the bondage in which it places men, it’s always done in the context of personal salvation and NOT practical daily livingIt’s speaking of man attempting to save himself by mere outward observance of the Law and by the works of the Law.  The Law is good if used lawfully, and this we see when we take the patterns and principles found in the OT and properly apply them in the New, as often taught in the New, when seen.  Non-tithers cannot make this simple distinction thus the accusation of attempting to place people back under the bondage of the Law which of course leads them into further doctrinal error.[3]  And so this isn’t a case of placing people back under the law, it’s merely taking the patterns and principles of the OT and adapting them to these NT times, which often really isn’t anything new, just a rehash of the time before the Law.   

Second, Scripture teaches that we’re to live by every Word that proceeds from the mouth of God (Dt. 8:3; Mt. 4:4); and so for this to be true, there has to be some aspect of tithing that’s relevant today – else God lied, something of which he cannot do (Num. 23:19; Tit. 1:2; Heb. 6:18).  If there isn’t, then it’s only history and not part of the Living Word; and if this is the case, then we might as well remove its mention from our Bibles because it’s of absolutely no value today – good only for history buffs, and none other.  But it is relevant because God said it was. 

Third, Scripture teaches that tithing was to be observed as a statute and an ordinance “for ever” (Num. 18:8, 11, 19).  Of course the manner in which tithing is observed has changed, but the truth of its principles are still true.  Paul perfectly explains this in 1 Corinthians 9:3-18, as will presently be discussed.  (Hint: anytime the OT says that an ordinance or statute is to be observed forever, it means forever!)    

Fourth, many suggest that nowhere in the NT is tithing taught.  They can’t find the word and so they don’t believe that the doctrine exists either.  But when Paul taught on giving, he based everything he said upon OT tithing passages; and not only that, he even told us that he was and he even told us where to look!  But most people gloss over this without giving it a thought.  To them, Paul’s teachings on giving were completely new, or based upon freewill offerings only.[4]

Fifth, Jesus said in Matthew 23:23 that we are to continue tithing.  Those that teach against it would quickly point out that Jesus said this during Old Testament times.  Technically they’re correct, but what they fail to observe is that Jesus said this only two or three days before he went to the cross; and so why even mention it if it was only going to be true for a few more days?  It would make no sense!  Technically Jesus did state this during Old Testament times; but when Jesus was water baptized, he demonstrated that there would be a changing of the priesthood because only Levites could serve as ministers and Jesus was of the tribe of Judah.  And so when Jesus was baptized he laid the foundation for becoming our Great High Priest after the order of Melchizedek over both Jew and Gentile – although it is true that his earthly ministry was primarily but not exclusively aimed at the Jews (Mt. 15:24).  But it was during his time of ministry as both King and priest over both Jew and Gentile that Jesus said to keep tithing, and so tithing is for today, even though, for his followers, this didn’t begin until after his resurrection.   

Sixth, teaching that tithing isn’t for today nullifies the purpose of the tithe.  The primary difference between the Testaments is where and when we are to tithe, but its purpose in both Testaments is exactly the same.  In the OT, tithes were used for the priesthood, strangers, the fatherless, and widows (cp. Num. 18; Dt. 14:29; Mk. 14:7 e.g.).  The same is true today except all Christians are part of the priesthood and so God wants us giving to each other – and Scripture affirms this.

Gal 6:6 Let him that is taught in the word communicate unto him that teacheth in all good things.  7Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.  8For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting.  9And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.  10As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith. 
But among the NT priesthood, some have been called and qualified to serve as evangelists, pastors, teachers, prophets, and apostles, and they are to be paid as Galatians 6:6 above refers.  1 Timothy 5:17 agrees.

1 Tim. 5:17 Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine. 18For the scripture saith, Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn. And, The labourer is worthy of his reward. 
Thus, by the mouth of two or more witnesses the thing has been established (Dt. 19:15; Mt. 18:16).  Both of these NT passages teach that ministers deserve to be paid (“especially”).  And as further justification of this, First Timothy cites two OT principles and Jesus’ own words.  “Thou shalt not muzzle the ox” comes from Deuteronomy 25:4 and the “labourer is worthy of his reward” comes from Deuteronomy 24:14-15 and Jesus in Luke 10:7.  Suffice it to say that you can’t teach that tithing is no longer for today when the purpose between the Testaments is exactly the same.  It’s illogical.    

And seventh, in light of this new understanding, the NT church perfectly practiced tithing as seen in their actions.  Never did they support a brick and mortar church building which means that all of their giving went to supporting the true tabernacle of the Holy Spirit, the individual believer in Christ!  But today, we use the bulk of our tithe and offering money to support brick and mortar church buildings thereby nullifying the purpose of the tithe which was to meet the individual and personal needs of the people and not corporate facilities.  In doing so we’ve abandoned and neglected our “Levitical priesthood” thereby falling into the same error of Israel as spoken of in Malachi, where a refusal to support the priesthood led to an abandoning of the priests in which they all suffered spiritually.  Today we do the same in only supporting pastors at the expense of the other four “offices.”  And then further burden them by telling them that they need to work a secular job and minister thus cheapening the call of the ministry, which again refers to the same exact problem as elaborated in Malachi.[5]

True, freewill offerings can be used for anything, but only freewill offerings were ever used to build, support, and maintain a brick and mortar church building (Tabernacle; Temple).  So the NT church practiced tithing and they did so by not only giving more than was required, but also in satisfying the purpose of the tithe.  Had we followed their example, we’d have the same testimony that they have, but we don’t and then wonder, Why?        


1 Corinthians 9:3-18


God never changes and so his patterns have never changed (Mal. 3:6; Heb. 13:8); and so those who teach that tithing has ceased are guilty of accusing God of having changed.  So when Paul taught on giving, he wasn’t teaching anything new, he merely took the OT teachings and showed us how to apply them in a NT setting.  The pattern is the same, the truth is the same, only its application has changed.  In doing so, Paul provided seven more justifications based upon Scripture, common sense, and Scripture based upon common sense.  Unfortunately, your average Christian knows little of the OT much less how to properly apply it; and when they do, they often do so in piecemeal fashion so as to support their favorite doctrines.  That aside…  

1.         Paul basis his authority to receive support on OT Scripture; specifically, the OT priesthood.

1 Cor. 9:3 Mine answer to them that do examine me is this, 
1 Cor. 9:4 Have we not power [authority] to eat and to drink? 5Have we not power [authority] to lead about a sister, a wife, as well as other apostles, and as the brethren of the Lord, and Cephas? 6Or I only and Barnabas, have not we power [authority] to forbear working? 
These comments come directly from Paul’s observations of the OT priesthood.  They were commanded to marry from within their own tribe teaching that Christians today shouldn’t marry (much less date) the unsaved (Lev. 21:13-15; Eze. 44:22; 2 Cor. 6:14-18).  Their work was primarily but not exclusively conducted down at the Tabernacle from where they collected tithes and offerings from the nation of Israel as well as receiving a portion of every sacrifice that was offered – unless it was a sacrifice for their own sin, teaching that there is no reward for sin.  Their ministry was “full-time” which was teaching that there is no such thing as part-time or “tent-maker” ministries (this teaching also coming from verses taken out of context and in a manner far beyond what was intended).  So based upon OT patterns and principles, Paul is making his case for how these same truths are to be observed in the NT.  The job of the OT priest was the ministry and nothing else.  They received no inheritance in the land.  In similar fashion, all Christians today are but ambassadors upon this earth; but practically, this is teaching that ministers today are supposed to have given up the relative security of a secular job and a paycheck every two weeks to be fully supported by the generosity of the rest of the saints – just like they did in the OT.  For this, God says they should be paid and paid well (Dt. 12:19; 14:27; Heb. 13:6; 1 Tim. 5:17).  As verse 11 says, “If we have sown unto you spiritual things, is it a great thing if we shall reap your carnal things?”

2 – 4.   Having made an argument based upon general observations of the OT priesthood, Paul then makes three common sense appeals based upon that same logic.

1 Cor. 9:7 Who goeth a warfare any time at his own charges? who planteth a vineyard, and eateth not of the fruit thereof? or who feedeth a flock, and eateth not of the milk of the flock? 
5.         He turns again to Scripture and uses common sense based upon Scripture.

1 Cor. 9:8 Say I these things as a man? or saith not the law the same also9For it is written in the law of Moses, Thou shalt not muzzle the mouth of the ox that treadeth out the corn. Doth God take care for oxen?  10Or saith he it altogether for our sakes? For our sakes, no doubt, this is written: that he that ploweth should plow in hope; and that he that thresheth in hope should be partaker of his hope.  11If we have sown unto you spiritual things, is it a great thing if we shall reap your carnal things? 
There’s common sense in the Law!  The idea here is that it takes a lot of work to plow a field, and the use of oxen can do more and do it faster than if we had done it ourselves; and so if we’re willing to spend a little time and resources tending to the needs of the oxen, then the additional work they’re able to provide will pay us more in the long run because we were able to plant and manage a larger field.  So with the help of oxen a whole lot more can be planted and harvested, which in turn leads to more profitability; and so Paul is making the argument that if he feeds them with spiritual food that blesses them which in turn allows them to become more prosperous in this life, then what’s the big deal if their physical needs are ministered to in return?  The ministers are the oxen in this story.  Ministers are helping you to become more spiritually prosperous and so they should be prospered by having their physical needs met so they can focus on providing even more spiritual food.  Scripture endorses this view:

Heb. 13:16 But to do good and to communicate forget not: for with such sacrifices God is well pleased. 17Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.


            At this juncture, from First Corinthians alone, Paul has already provided five reasons as to why they are entitled to receive support from the church.  Of course, most people who teach against tithing completely overlook this and focus on Verse 12.
 
1 Cor. 9:12 If others be partakers of this power over you, are not we rather? Nevertheless we have not used this power; but suffer all things, lest we should hinder the gospel of Christ. 
What Paul is teaching is that others may have received support from the Corinthians, which was fine, but they have chosen of their own free will to decline – even though scripturally they’re entitled to it.  But the opponents of tithing shout, “lest we should hinder the gospel of Christ!”  And, Voila!  There you have it!  Ministers don’t deserve to be paid or receive salaries lest the gospel of Christ be hindered!  But what they overlook are the verses on both sides of this statement and Paul’s own testimony.  What they fail to discern is that due to the carnal nature of the Corinthian church Paul decided not to ask or receive of them because they were so carnal that it would have burdened them further.  This was one of those cases where it was lawful but not expedient (1 Cor. 6:12; 10:23).  In Chapter Eight Paul was making this same argument before leading into Chapter Nine.  Furthermore, if this is the case, Paul didn’t believe it himself because he received support from others while ministering to them (1 Cor. 16:17-18).  From Second Corinthians he adds,

2 Cor. 11:7 Have I committed an offence in abasing myself that ye might be exalted, because I have preached to you the gospel of God freely?  8I robbed other churches, taking wages of them, to do you service.  9And when I was present with you, and wanted, I was chargeable to no man: for that which was lacking to me the brethren which came from Macedonia supplied: and in all things I have kept myself from being burdensome unto you, and so will I keep myself.

So there you have it.  The proper context of Paul’s argument to the Corinthians is that they were so carnal that he made a freewill decision to decline support from them while at the same time receiving support from others; and so the context of “lest the gospel be hindered” is as it applies to their local situationIt’s the carnal nature of the Corinthian church that’s hindering the growth of the gospel and not Paul’s ability to preach or proclaim it!  But people read and use this as a general catch-all to justify a bad doctrine that ultimately restricts the growth of the gospel because it places unnecessary burdens on the church and specifically ministers that God never intended.

And if tithing leads to a hindrance of the gospel, then it must be explained how it hinders the gospel when actually the opposite is true.  Furthermore, Scripture reveals that by the mouth of two or more witnesses a thing should be established, and there are no two witnesses agreeing that teaching tithing hinders the gospel.     


6 – 7.   But there’s more.  Paul isn’t finished.  He’s again about to base all that he’s said upon the Old Testament. 

1 Cor. 9:13 Do ye not know that they which minister about holy things live of the things of the temple? and they which wait at the altar are partakers with the altar? 14Even so hath the Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel. 
When Paul says, “Do ye not know…,” this means that they should’ve known but didn’t.  It must be remembered that Paul is constantly telling the Corinthian church that they need not be ignorant, which means that they are even though they’re too proud to realize much less admit it (1 Cor. 10:1; 12:1; 14:38).  But even if they didn’t know the OT, common sense should have led them to the same conclusion.  

Those who teach against tithing speak of it as though they’ve revealed to the church some great new truth when all they’ve really done is proclaim their gross ignorance.  Paul says, “Do ye not know that they which minister about holy things live of the things of the temple?”  This is a reference to Numbers 18 where we find that tithes and offerings were brought to the Tabernacle and offered up as heave offerings.  From there they were given to the Levites (Levitical Tithe) who in turn took ten percent and gave that amount to the priests (Tithe of the Tithe) – and this is where most people make another mistake.  The tithes were brought to the Tabernacle but weren’t used for the Tabernacle, but were given to the priests who then took them home to their families.  So the biblical definition of the “storehouse” isn’t the place, it’s the person.  This is one area where our denominations and churches have erred.  They emphasize bringing tithes and offerings “to the storehouse” but fail to define the storehouse as the person rather than the place.  By defining it as the place, it allows them to do with it as they please, irrespective of God’s law or purposes.  In this they greatly sin as do those who give because it’s the offerers’ responsibility to make sure the money is spent according to God’s intended purposes.  They are robbing God.  Nowhere in Scripture was tithe money ever used to build, support, or maintain the Tabernacle or the Temple, ever.  Churches are placing their emphasis on the building when they should be emphasizing the person – the true Tabernacle of Jesus Christ.  Isn’t this what the NT church did?  Spend all of their money upon one another?  And we wonder why we don’t have the same testimony as they did (Acts 2:42-47; 4:32-37).  Silly us.          

Paul then goes on to ask, Do ye not know that “they which wait at the altar are partakers with the altar?”  In Leviticus Chapters 1-7, the priests received a portion of every sacrifice that was offered unless they were offering a sacrifice for their own sins – teaching that there is no reward for sin.  So the priests not only received tithes and offerings, they were also paid from every sacrifice.  So Paul is once again basing his entire argument on two more passages of Old Testament Scripture.

He then adds, “Even so hath the Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel.”  Inspired by the Holy Spirit, Paul has written these words.  Based upon their interpretation of Verse 12, those teaching that ministers don’t deserve to be paid or receive a salary, or that tithing isn’t for today, must somehow reconcile that with Verse 14.  From Verse 13, God is talking about tithes and offerings, and in Verse 14 God has ORDAINED “that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel.”  Paul is teaching that ministers deserved to be paid and as his basis he used the OT patterns and principles of giving and applied them to the New.  Furthermore, God said in Numbers 18:8, 11, and 19 that tithing was an ordinance and a statute “for ever.”  So tithing is taught in the NT although the Word itself isn’t mentioned, but the passage that teaches it certainly is. 


Again, Paul is dealing with a local situation.  He sums:
           
1 Cor. 9:15 But I have used none of these things: neither have I written these things, that it should be so done unto me: for it were better for me to die, than that any man should make my glorying void.  16For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!  17For if I do this thing willingly, I have a reward: but if against my will, a dispensation of the gospel is committed unto me.  18What is my reward then? Verily that, when I preach the gospel, I may make the gospel of Christ without charge, that I abuse not my power [authority] in the gospel.  19For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more. 
In short, teaching that ministers should pay their own way, that they shouldn’t be paid, or that they’re not entitled to a salary so that the gospel won’t be “hindered” presents several problems: first, why spend 11 verses using seven justifications establishing the doctrine only to tear it down if it isn’t true?  Second: Paul’s own testimony contradicts this because on other occasions he received and accepted support; and third, Paul makes it clear that this was a personal choice of his based upon the present circumstances – and the “present circumstances” in this case was the carnality of the Corinthian church; and so even though Paul knew what he was entitled to, he chose of his own freewill to abstain from their support because their problems were so large and looming that he didn’t want to “burden” them with it.          



Conclusion

Teaching that tithing isn’t for today places within the mind of the hearer that they’re under no obligation to help those who’ve helped them.  It robs God’ ministers of their due and places unnecessary burdens upon them that God never intended.  They’re often told to “trust God” for their provision, but God’s means of provision is found in God’s people who often won’t give, and so they’re robbing God by not setting aside a minimal amount of ten percent towards God’s economy.  There’s more than one way to rob God.  Most of those in the denominational system rob God because they won’t use it for its stated purpose which is to provide for people and their personal needs – opting to spend more on their building programs.  Conversely, many of those coming out of the denominational system (and non-tithers, in general) rob God because they won’t give.  They want to be “led by the Spirit” in their giving – so they say, but they won’t set aside anything for the Spirit to work with: thieves, on both accounts. 

But in a last gasp attempt to retain their doctrine, people who teach that tithing isn’t for today like to point out that Israel was an agrarian society and that tithes were never paid in money.  But this logic, again, violates the purpose of the tithe which was to support people and their personal needs;[6] and so it doesn’t matter what the context is, we are to use tithes (and offerings) to meet the needs of people – and sometimes that requires money; house notes and water bills can’t be paid with potatoes: that’s exactly what they used it for in the Old which is the same pattern found in the New with a slightly different application. 

The purpose of the tithe is to support God’s economy amongst his own people.  This was done in Israel and it’s the same for the church.  Denying the tithe inherently hurts growth and maturity within the body of believers because the “five-fold” isn’t in operation.  It also harms growth and maturity within the body of believers because their practical needs aren’t being addressed.  The presentation of the gospel is also hampered because funds that could have been given to those in need as a testimony to those outside the body of Christ are being used to build and maintain some church building.  The church is to stand in stark contrast to the rest of the world and its worldly systems, but in teaching that tithing isn’t for today and that all giving is based upon freewill offerings, the church thus becomes no different than any other secular non-profit charity – and where’s the contrast in that!?      

Is tithing for today?  Yes it is; and we are robbing God because we won’t give and because we won’t use it for its stated purpose – and that was so there would be meat in God’s house (Mal. 3:10)!          



[1] As it pertains to this study, “The Law” is not only the Ten Commandments, but the first five books of the Old Testament: the Torah.  Jesus taught that in order to be saved we have to keep not only the Ten Commandments, but all the laws of God, and that we must do it with perfection all the time. 
[2] Only two men in history were born without a sin nature.  Adam later sinned and needed salvation while Jesus, born of God and led by the power of the Spirit, kept the laws of God perfectly.  And so you can be “saved by the law” if you’re born without sin and led by the Spirit, but we’re all born into sin and in need of a Saviour, and so the Law is good because it came from God, but it’s weak in that it offers no plan of salvation for a sinful man.  We therefore need the grace that comes from Christ alone. 
[3] Similar accusations are made when stating that we live under a “New Covenant” or in exclaiming that “we’re all priests.”  The basic lesson of the New Covenant is of the permanent indwelling of the Holy Spirit and not the wholesale removal of all OT truths.  This they cannot properly discern.  “We’re all priests” in terms of spiritual access to the Father, but practically we’re not all qualified stand before God’s people and minister the Word because of the qualifications of the elders which are based upon the OT priesthood (Timothy and Titus).  And so there are both spiritual and practical components of our earthly priesthood, and non-tithers cannot properly discern the difference – thus also leading them to the (false) accusations of attempting to place people back under “The Law.”  Selah.   
[4] Examples abound where the NT teaches from the Old and it does so without citing specific verses or using familiar buzzwords, and so the fact that “tithing” isn’t specifically mentioned in conjunction with the NT church should come as no surprise.  For example, when Jesus was water baptized, he was illustrating truths concerning the “ordination” of Levitical priests as they occurred at the Laver located at the Tabernacle.  When Paul wrote about how we’re all part of the body of Christ, he drew this imagery directly from an overhead view of the Tabernacle.  And when Paul wrote the qualifications of the elders located in Timothy and Titus, he based his lesson on patterns and principles found in Leviticus 19 and his overall observances of the Levitical priesthood.  And so very quickly here are three examples proving that major doctrines would be taught without specific references.  And so yes, God would teach on tithing without using the word itself – as supported by Scripture.      
[5] Here is would be wise to remember that the Levitical priesthood was a full-time position.  As well it should also be noted that when Jesus called his 12 disciples, that they went into full-time training, which Jesus also did in accordance with the Law, and so if the requirement is for full-time training, would the call for the ministry be any less?
[6] This is also factually untrue (Dt. 14:24-26).

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