Thursday, January 13, 2011

Is Tithing for Christians? Part Four

Tithing and the Curse

Now we are coming down to the meat of all the tithing messages that I have ever heard; the Malachi curse. I will be getting into that verse in depth, but I have a passage that I wish to discuss because much of what is said in it confirms what I have already written about regarding the tithe as laid out in Deuteronomy. This passage is one that I have never heard preached on in any tithing message I have heard, and for good reasons.

Amos’ Rebuke

Amos is a pre-Babylonian exile prophetic book that gives us a taste of some of Amos’ preaching to the wayward Israelites. In Amos 4:4-5, we find the first mention of tithing in the Old Testament prophetic books. What we find is that in their zeal for pagan worship the Israelites were paying tithes to the false gods they worshipped, as opposed to every third year as prescribed in Deuteronomy.

It is interesting to me that so many pastors, who advocate the tithe, advocate it in a religious manner. In fact, I heard one pastor speak about what you owe if you miss paying tithes off one pay cycle. He said that from the next paycheck, a tithing person owes another 20% interest on the tithe he missed. Obviously this pastor was making God an advocate of exorbitant interest rates that even this pastor would in no way, shape, or form pay creditors!

Malachi’s Curse

This is the passage used by pastors who believe in enforced giving. This passage is used to beat those who do not tithe into thinking that tithing will somehow stop God from blessing their lives. Not tithing, it is said, not only stops God from blessing you, but it gives the enemy the right to curse the non-tithers finances, health, and other areas of life.

This use of highly emotional language is often a key part of any sermon given by any pastor that believes that the curse in Malachi is applicable to Christians.

Before we go into this book further, we must also explore the historical context that surrounded Malachi’s preaching. Malachi is in the post-Babylonian exile prophetic books. It is part of three books that show samples of the Holy Spirit inspired preaching of the day. These books are also to be read in light of the post-Babylonian history books, in particular Nehemiah 10:37-38.

The question must be asked, however, whether or not those under the New Covenant are under any of the curses described in the Old Testament curses. As we have stated in previous posts, the Old Testament never make the requirement that the tithe be given away. Ironically, Malachi confirms the fact that there were two tithes, and that the tithe in question was the third year tithe.

So let’s look at the passage in question, Malachi 3:6-12 (ESV):

"For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed. 7 From the days of your fathers you have turned aside from my statutes and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you, says the Lord of hosts. But you say, 'How shall we return?' 8 Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, 'How have we robbed you?' In your tithes and contributions. 9 You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you. 10 Bring the full tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need. 11 I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it will not destroy the fruits of your soil, and your vine in the field shall not fail to bear, says the Lord of hosts. 12 Then all nations will call you blessed, for you will be a land of delight, says the Lord of hosts.

What are the main points of this passage? First, Israel had robbed Yahweh by not giving to the third year tithe to the Levites as required by the Mosaic Law. Second, the consequence for their disobedience was that the “windows of heaven” were closed to them. Third, a curse was pronounced on their land by Yahweh. Fourth, Israel must respond with the whole tithe in order to have the curse lifted. Finally, this tithe was to be brought into the Temple storehouse.

How is this passage to be understood? Is this passage linked to any other passages, particularly in the Mosaic Law? There is a direct parallel found in Deuteronomy 26:12-15 (ESV):

"When you have finished paying all the tithe of your produce in the third year, which is the year of tithing, giving it to the Levite, the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, so that they may eat within your towns and be filled, 13 then you shall say before the Lord your God, 'I have removed the sacred portion out of my house, and moreover, I have given it to the Levite, the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, according to all your commandment that you have commanded me. I have not transgressed any of your commandments, nor have I forgotten them. 14 I have not eaten of the tithe while I was mourning, or removed any of it while I was unclean, or offered any of it to the dead. I have obeyed the voice of the Lord my God. I have done according to all that you have commanded me. 15 Look down from your holy habitation, from heaven, and bless your people Israel and the ground that you have given us, as you swore to our fathers, a land flowing with milk and honey.'

Only when Malachi is contrasted with Deuteronomy can we understand what Malachi was inspired to preach against. The Israelites were instructed to declare that the “Sacred portion” had been removed from the home of the tither. They called on Yahweh to look down on them from His heaven and they called on Him to bless the people of Israel and their land which He had given them.

Malachi was preaching against Israel’s failure to pay the tithe, as required by the Law, and pronouncing the consequences of said failure against the people. The consequences of robbing Yahweh were that the windows of heaven were shut to them, and that they were not able to live under God’s blessing, but rather they had to suffer under God’s curse. With this in mind it is therefore necessary to conclude that the curse spoken of in Malachi applies only to those that were under the Mosaic Law, and it does not apply to any believer that is under the New Covenant.

The purpose of teaching the tithing curse is NOT to cause God to bless those that give. Rather this curse teaching was designed by greedy pastors that do not want to work, but would rather have people support their lavish lifestyles.

The Punishing Tithe

This tithe can be found in 1 Samuel chapter 8. This tithe is the consequence of Israel’s desire to have an earthly king to rule over them. This tithe was essentially a tax levied on the people by the king in order to support his family and the kingdom. Interestingly, this tithe is closer to what so many pastors demand from their parishioners than what the Mosaic Law described.

Another interesting fact regarding this tithe is that this passage was used by the Roman Catholic Church to support the concept of tithing since at least the 6th century A.D. This concept was also carried on by the Protestant churches, and is especially prevalent in Pentecostal churches.

Concluding the Matter

Ultimately, it is clear that any pastor who teaches the tithe and uses Malachi 3 as a stick to beat his congregation into submission is guilty of ripping this Scripture out of its proper context and shoving it into the New Covenant. I will discuss what New Covenant giving consists of in future posts, but for now it is clear that there is no president for this sort of enforced giving to be imported into the church. There is no reason for any believer to think that God will curse them if they do not tithe. It is my hope and prayer that believers in these sorts of churches will prayerfully consider their future in these churches. It is also my prayer that pastors who may read this blog will reconsider their traditional teaching on tithing, and instead go back to the Biblical teaching of giving.

Next on the blog: Responses to various arguments for tithing.

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