Romans 12:11-13; Tithing?
Romans 12:11-13; Tithing?
Thank you for joining us tonight as we continue in our verse by verse study of Paul’s letter to the Romans. We have been in Romans for fourteen months now and have arrived at chapter twelve, and verse eleven:
Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.
In these verses, Paul states some Christian living basics, perhaps the most fundamental: zeal, service to God, rejoicing because of the hope we have, patience that builds endurance from tribulation, prayer, and giving. In chapters 12-15, Paul states many different Christian living principles with a very short commentary on each. Is this the Cliff Notes on a comprehensive catalogue of Christian living topics? I suspect it is. Paul plunges the depths of justification in Chapters 1-11, and now states the most important principles of Christian living in the rest of the letter along with a short commentary on each. Much of the New Testament canon, especially the Pauline epistles, address these topics in more detail. Our main focus tonight is giving, but I will first touch on the other principles.
Paul says to serve the Lord with zeal. You see, the first eleven chapters are the what of justification which is completely God’s work. Chapter 12ff. is the how of our work. Someone might say, “Oh yes Paul, our works flow from our understanding of chapters 1-11.” No, that is not what I am saying at all and that is a lie from the pit of hell. The first eleven chapters are a definition of justification; 12ff. is instruction concerning WORSHIP which is the same thing as Christian living. As Andy Young so aptly taught in lesson 8 of our Acts series, assembling together on Sunday or any other day is not worship, Christian living is worship. I once saw a sign above the entry doors of a sanctuary that stated, “Enter Here to Worship.” That’s really, really bad theology. That’s the woman at the well theology Jesus corrected in their Sunday school lesson at the well.
Therefore, you would expect worship as Christian living to introduce chapter 12ff., and that is exactly the case:
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.
“But Paul, it says ‘I appeal to you therefore,’ which means 12ff. is predicated on 1-11.” But in what way? I will tell you: 1-11 defines a finished work of God that cannot be affected in any way by us—it’s a settled issue out of our control, “therefore” we can zealously pursue righteousness in the Christian life. To the degree that 1-11 is intrinsic with 12ff., our zeal must be tempered with caution, for how we interpret 12ff. can then reflect on 1-11. The two must be radically separate; one is a definition of God’s finished work, and the other is instruction for work yet to be accomplished by us. This reality speaks directly to the zeal of our worship (g2999. λατρεία latreia; “service”).
This also speaks to the giving issue when we arrive there and the whole consideration of “tithing”—the subject of our work versus God’s work. This question of dichotomy and difference between the two is in fact a biblical hermeneutic. We can also borrow more understanding on the subject of zealous service in this same chapter:
2 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. 3 For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. 4 For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, 5 so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. 6 Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; 7 if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; 8 the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.
If our thinking is conformed to the world, will that hinder our zealous service? Yes. As we experience discernment and growth, will that provoke a zealous spirit within us? Certainly. Will we be hindered if we are unaware that we have a spiritual gift specifically designed for a particular function in the Christian body? Absolutely. Perhaps these are some things Paul had in mind when he instructed the downtrodden Timothy to “stir up the gift within you” (2Timothy 1:6). It is not uncommon to see commands to master our emotions in the Bible. Feelings are an extremely important element of life quality, and we are given hope that there is a way to experience a happy life in service to God. A most important principle follows: right feelings follow right doing; we command our feelings by what we think and do (Gen 4:6,7, Phil 4:9).
For the most part, “rejoice in hope” speaks for itself, but I will add that an ambiguous definition of our eternal future will dampen hope. We will have more rejoicing in a hope that is well defined versus some ambiguous idea of eternity in heaven.
What does “patience in tribulation” mean? Again, 12ff. is an extensive list of topics in regard to Christian living, and further research is assumed. James wrote of how tribulation can be used to strengthen our resolve and endurance in the Christian life (James 1:2-18). Many important facts about trials can be found in the first chapter of James’ letter to the twelve tribes.
Then we have “constant in prayer.” We can be constant in prayer because prayer has many applications to the Christian life. I am only going to address one. Worry should always be replaced with prayer. This would pertain to things that are out of our control. Worry will destroy you; therefore, if there is something you can do to rectify the cause for the worry, do so. If nothing can be done, put off worry and put on prayer (Phil 4:6, 1Pet 5:7). In Christian circles, prayer often replaces action because Christians don’t know what to do.
This brings us to the target of our message tonight:
Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.
Conspicuously missing in this long list of Paul’s Christian living principles, and under the nomenclature of monetary giving specifically, is a word that saturates the Protestant psyche, the “tithe.” The word means, “a tenth.” The idea that Christians should give a tenth of their income, on the gross (of course, even though Christ clearly said the tax belongs to Caesar), is a gargantuan normality in the Christian church. Yet, where is the word here among these other major concepts of Christian living in chapter twelve and where is it in the New Testament? The word “tithe” appears twice:
Matthew 23:23 – “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. 24 You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!
Luke 11:42 – “But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.
The word “tithes” (plural) appears as follows:
Luke 18:12 – I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get. ‘ 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘ God, be merciful to me, a sinner! ‘
The remaining appear in Hebrews chapter 7:1-10 only:
For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him, 2 and to him Abraham apportioned a tenth part of everything. He is first, by translation of his name, king of righteousness, and then he is also king of Salem, that is, king of peace. 3 He is without father or mother or genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God he continues a priest forever.4 See how great this man was to whom Abraham the patriarch gave a tenth of the spoils!
5 And those descendants of Levi who receive the priestly office have a commandment in the law to take tithes from the people, that is, from their brothers, though these also are descended from Abraham. 6 But this man who does not have his descent from them received tithes from Abraham and blessed him who had the promises. 7 It is beyond dispute that the inferior is blessed by the superior. 8 In the one case tithes are received by mortal men, but in the other case, by one of whom it is testified that he lives. 9 One might even say that Levi himself, who receives tithes, paid tithes through Abraham, 10 for he was still in the loins of his ancestor when Melchizedek met him.
like the verse we are looking at tonight, the tithe never appears as a New Testament imperative among multitudes of passages that contain instruction on giving such as the following:
Matthew 6:1 – “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. 2 “Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
Luke 14:12 – He said also to the man who had invited him, “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. 13 But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”
Acts 2:44,45 (KVJ) – And all that believed were together, and had all things common; and sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need.
Acts 4:32-35 (KVJ) – And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common. And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all. Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, and laid them down at the apostles’ feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need.
Romans 15:25,26 (KVJ) – But now I go unto Jerusalem to minister unto the saints. For it hath pleased them of Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor saints which are at Jerusalem.
2 Corinthians 9:7 (KVJ) – Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver.
Galatians 6:6 – Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with the one who teaches. 7 Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. 8 For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. 9 And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. 10 So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.
1Timothy 5:3 – Honor widows who are truly widows. 4 But if a widow has children or grandchildren, let them first learn to show godliness to their own household and to make some return to their parents, for this is pleasing in the sight of God. 5 She who is truly a widow, left all alone, has set her hope on God and continues in supplications and prayers night and day, 6 but she who is self-indulgent is dead even while she lives. 7 Command these things as well, so that they may be without reproach. 8 But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.
9 Let a widow be enrolled if she is not less than sixty years of age, having been the wife of one husband, 10 and having a reputation for good works: if she has brought up children, has shown hospitality, has washed the feet of the saints, has cared for the afflicted, and has devoted herself to every good work. 11 But refuse to enroll younger widows, for when their passions draw them away from Christ, they desire to marry 12 and so incur condemnation for having abandoned their former faith. 13 Besides that, they learn to be idlers, going about from house to house, and not only idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying what they should not. 14 So I would have younger widows marry, bear children, manage their households, and give the adversary no occasion for slander. 15 For some have already strayed after Satan. 16 If any believing woman has relatives who are widows, let her care for them. Let the church not be burdened, so that it may care for those who are truly widows.
17 Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. 18 For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages.”
James 1:27 – Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.
James 2:14 – What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? 17 So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
Besides the fact that “need” seems to be the standard for New Testament giving, I would like to direct your attention to Matthew 6:1ff. We have the tithe spoken of a mere three times in the gospels, and in a context that is non-specific to giving. The rest of the references are in Hebrews 7, and again, giving is not the specific subject. But note Matthew 6:1. Like the rest of the New Testament, righteous giving refers to giving that meets need. And this is just reality from someone who has been an evangelical for a long time: the tithe is very difficult to execute in “secret.” In fact, in some evangelical churches, they will bring you up on church discipline if you don’t give 10%. I was at a pastor’s conference and ended up in a debate over cash-in-the-plate tithing. The argument I got from a fairly well known pastor in this area was that cask-in-the-plate tithing was for those who didn’t want to be “accountable” to the church leaders. That’s not secret giving. And listen here, we have all seen it: the politics of big tithing in the church. Few pastors will back down from a big tither on any issue. The “tithe” in and of itself, has created a huge culture of politics in the church.
Last week, I made a request to those who visit the PPT blog for a good information source on tithing/giving. As you know, I usually don’t do that and prefer my own personal study, but the subject of giving is a pretty massive subject that would set me back at least a couple of weeks on this Romans series. Well, I think I hit the jackpot when someone referred me to a book entitled, “Tithing Today, a 19th Century Blunder” by Pastor Gary Arnold © 2009. Before I get into some things that are learned from the book, I want to quote an objection to not tithing cited in the book:
Some will say, if tithing ended, how is the Christian church supposed to be financed? That topic will be covered later in this book (p.21).
He then states later in the book:
These principles apply not only to giving to a church, but for giving in general. Since tithing ended at the cross, the Christian Church must be supported entirely by free-will gifts. We find in the scriptures guidelines for this giving (p.38).
This is where I am going to just pull the cat out of the bag and confess where I have landed on all of this, and this study on tithing has pretty much closed the deal. I believe the New Testament model of home fellowships was not a temporary model, I believe it was meant to be permanent till the Lord returns. I don’t think there is any institutional church to support with a tithe, I believe Christians meet in homes and give their money according to need. A tithe to support a brick and mortar church institution is undoubtedly the biggest scam ever perpetrated on mankind. Churches teach tithing because institutions are cash hungry beasts. As far as the whole institutional church infrastructure and academic caste system—I just don’t see it in the Bible. This study is just one more example of the many things we have learned in the past year that will never be learned in the institutional church or its seminaries. The whole system is controlled by the traditions of men and what is expedient for the institution.
Before we get into the finer details of Pastor Arnold’s book, let me state our position by launching off of the aforementioned quotation: “the Christian Church must be supported entirely by free-will gifts.” We agree according to the church expressed in local home fellowships, NOT the institutional church. Giving should be free-will and based on need. Arnold seems to base his argument on the abrogation of Old Testament law that pertains to the tithe. In reference to Colossians 2:
This shows that the written code (the law) was cancelled. In Verse 16 this is repeated by “do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, ………. or a Sabbath day.” Verse 17 explains that these laws were “a shadow of the things that were to come,” again showing that the laws were done away with. The word “shadow” was translated from the Greek word “skia” which means darkness of error.
We would only part ways with Arnold here because the text doesn’t say “things that were to come,” but rather, “things to come.” Hence, much of the Old Testament is yet future, and pertaining to Israel. As we have discussed previously, Old Testament covenants as well as the New Covenant build on the foundation of “The Promise” and culminate at the new heavens and new earth. Some of the covenants are “passing away” but are not abrogated. This is the way we look at covenants and eschatology. Here at the Potter’s House, we do not hold to Covenant Theology, New Covenant Theology, or Dispensationalism, but rather Remnant Theology. This statement can be obtained for free by emailing us your snail mail address.
With that said, the last part of this message will summarize Pastor Arnold’s excellent points on what the tithe was in the Old Testament. And, I wholeheartedly recommend that you download his book at,
TithingToday.com, or NewTestamentGiving.com
Our one disagreement is noted, and I am going to summarize some very important ideas that I have been challenged to consider from this book. Arnold’s presentation of these ideas in the book are very in-depth.
1. Western culture has made the word “tithe” a religious term. In the Bible, it simply means “tenth” or a “tenth” part. It was strictly a mathematical term.
2. The contemporary teachings on the tithe make no distinctions between “assets” and “income.” Arnold argues that the Old Testament tithe was based on assets and not income. Hence, that would be very contradictory to the contemporary approach that calls for at least a 10% tithe on gross income. Arnold also argues that this idea is congruent with when Old Testament believers were supposed to tithe.
The book obliterates all arguments that use Abraham’s tithe and Joseph’s vow as an argument for New Testament tithing.
3. The book makes a distinction between man’s work and God’s work. This subject is ever so important in our day. A man plows, plants and waters, but God gives the increase. Arnold argues that assets primarily come from God’s work, and income is primarily man’s work. He argues that the Old Testament tithe was based on God’s work, or assets, and not ours. Again, his treatise is in-depth in defending this position.
4. The book makes a distinction, by word study, between “giving” and “payment” in the Old Testament and New Testament. “Giving” is freewill, “payment” is compulsory. How these words are used in conjunction with Old Testament and New Testament giving is very interesting.
5. The book makes the case that the Levites were supported by tithes. The tithe never went to God, it went to the Levites. The often used Malachi verse to warn parishioners about robbing God by not tithing was actually addressed to the priests of that day, not God’s people in general:
Nehemiah 13:10 (KJV)
And I perceived that the portions of the Levites had not been given them: for the Levites 10 and the singers, that did the work, were fled every one to his field.
I believe this verse is telling us that the priests stole the Levites portion of the tithe; therefore, they had no food to eat at the temple, and they went back to their own fields. We must interpret this verse in this way because nowhere does it say that the priests had also left the temple. The priests had the food. Read chapter 13 of Nehemiah to get the complete picture.
So Malachi 1:14 shows the priests robbed God of the offerings, and Nehemiah 13:10 shows the priests robbed God of the tithes.
Next, in Malachi 3:10 God says to bring all the tithes to the storehouse. The people took the tithes to the Levites who lived in the Levitical cities, not to the temple. The Levites took the required tithe of the tithe to the temple. (See Nehemiah 10:37-38) Only those tithes ever made it to the temple. The priests then took those tithes to the storehouse. It only makes sense if God is speaking to the priests in this verse.
Therefore, I believe that the evidence shows that Malachi 3:8-10 is being addressed to the priests, not the people.
All in all, the book completely dismantles the popular arguments for tithing. I want to conclude this message by drawing from another idea found in this book. Another distinction made by this author was between “definitions” and “interpretations.” I want to add a closing thought to that distinction. When we approach the Bible, are we looking for definitions, or some sort of interpretation? The Ethiopian Eunuch didn’t ask Philip for an interpretation, he asked for an explanation. When we approach life questions concerning how we please God, we need definitive answers. Institutions encourage the following of Interpretations; we call that “orthodoxy.” Whether it be giving or some other life issue, we don’t need interpretations, we need definitions. New Testament giving is defined by need, not the payment of a tax.