Comment by Russell Earl Kelly,
PH. D.: Piper, like myself, teaches that most Christians can and should disregard any mention of a fixed percentage of giving
and give much more than those who gave a tithe in the Old Testament. Piper correctly
points out that OT tithes were only from food. He does not discuss the fact that those who earned their livelihood from crafts
and trades were never required to tithe and that the poor were never required to tithe.
Does Piper teach that Christians
should tithe? No. Does Piper teach that many Christians should give much more than a tithe because of missionary needs? Yes.
Does Piper teach that even the poor and sick should begin their giving level at ten per cent? I personally do not read this
interpretation into Piper’s intentions.
2 Corinthians 12:15; And so as I pondered the possibility of preaching
on tithing, the text that lay closest to hand was in the verse just before the words, "I will most gladly spend and be spent
for your souls." In verse 14 Paul says, to the church at Corinth,
"Here for the third time I am ready to come to you. And I will not be a burden for I seek not what is yours but you." I seek
not what is yours but you! What a great sentence. That is the flag waving over this sermon. It is the preface, heart and conclusion.
I seek not what is yours, but you. I seek to build up a church of whom it can never be said, "They honor me with their tithes
[[MISQUOTED: lips]] , but their heart is far from me" (cf. Matt. 15:8). Of whom it will never be said, "Woe to you,
for you tithe every honorarium, birthday gifts and before-taxes-income, but have neglected the weightier matters of the law:
justice, mercy, and faith" (Matt. ). I seek not what is yours but you.
How many marriages deteriorate into empty
motions because husbands do not hear the silent yearnings of the wife: "I don't want your money, I want you." How many parents
have lost their children because they failed to interpret the signs: "I don't want your presents, Daddy, I want you." And
how many tithing churchgoers will be lost to the kingdom because the word of God never reached their hearts: "I will seek
not what is yours but you." So let there be no mistaking it, in this sermon on tithing I seek not what is yours but you. My
desire is to spend and be spent out for your souls not your silver. Things are utterly subordinate. Life essential
is the life of the heart.
What I would like to do then is get before us an overview of the Old Testament and New Testament
teaching about tithing and then draw some implications for how people today who have first given themselves wholly to God
should then give of their possessions to the work of God. You may want to look up the passages with me or jot them down for
The oldest reference to tithing in the Bible is found in Genesis 14 where Abraham pursues a king named
Chedorlaomer to rescue his kinsman Lot who had been captured. With 300 armed men Abraham defeats Chedorlaomer and not only saves Lot, but regains all the goods stolen from Sodom. On the
way back a mysterious figure named Melchizedek, called priest of the Most High God in verse 18, met Abraham and blessed him.
Verse 20 simply says, "And Abraham gave him a tenth of everything." There is no command in the later Mosaic Law or anywhere
in Scripture that men are to give one tenth of their captured booty to the priest. But Abram did it, evidently as a token
of gratitude to God who had just given him such a great victory. So our first encounter with tithing is one where the giver
is not paying God to stir him into action, but one where the giver is responding to God who has just fought for him
and given him victory and great blessing. That is a pattern we must not forget.
The next time we hear of tithing is
in Genesis 28:22. Abraham's grandson, Jacob, had a dream at Bethel in which God promised to be with him and give him a great land and many descendants
(Genesis 28:13-15). Jacob responds with a vow in verses 20-22 which climaxes with this promise: "And of all thou givest me
I will give the tenth to thee." Notice well that Jacob recognizes everything that he has disposal of as a gift from God. Therefore,
his tithe is not really something he has produced that he then transfers over to God's possession. Instead the tithe seems
to be a symbolic statement that all we have is from God and that we do not count it our own. It is all at God's disposal
and we signify that by letting a tenth of it go completely out of our control for some uniquely religious purpose. Surely
Jacob did not mean that since God gave him everything therefore he would glorify God with a tenth, but not with nine-tenths.
Surely if God gives us anything it is for us to handle in trust for his glory. Giving a tenth to him in a burnt offering,
or the service of the temple or the like is a token, a pledge that all we are and have are at his disposal all the time.
the time of Moses, tithing was made part of the law which governed the people of Israel.
There are two key texts. The first is Leviticus 27:30-33. "All the tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land or of
the fruit of the trees, is the Lord's. It is holy to the Lord. If a man wishes to redeem any of his tithe, he shall add a
fifth to it. And all the tithe of herds and flocks, every tenth animal that passes under the herdsman's staff shall be holy
to the Lord." Here the law made explicit what is to be tithed: namely, the produce of the field—grain, and the produce
of the trees—fruit, and the herds and flocks.
In Deuteronomy 14:22-29 some instruction is given as to how to
give the tithe and what it is for.
You shall tithe all the yield of your seed which comes forth from the field year
by year. And before the Lord your God, in the place which he will choose, to make his name dwell there (Jerusalem), you
shall eat the tithe of your grain, of your wine and of your oil, and the firstlings of your herd and flock; that you may learn
to fear the Lord your God always. And if the way is too long for you so that you are not able to bring the tithe, when the
Lord your God blesses you, because the place is too far from you, which the Lord your God chooses to set his name there, then
you shall turn it into money, and bind up the money in your hand, and go to the place which the Lord your God chooses, and
spend the money for whatever you desire, oxen or sheep or wine or strong drink, whatever your appetite craves; and you shall
eat there before the Lord your God and rejoice, you and your household. And you shall not forsake the Levite who is within
your towns, for he has no portion or inheritance with you.
At the end of every three years you shall bring forth all
the tithe of your produce in the same year and lay it up within your towns; and the Levite because he has no portion or inheritance
with you, and the sojourner and the fatherless and the widow, who are within your towns, shall come and eat and be filled;
that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands that you do.
Let me make six brief observations
from this passage about the practice and purpose of tithing.
First, according to verse 23, there was to be a yearly
trip to the holy place, the place God puts his name (later Jerusalem). The people were to take their tithe to that place and then eat it there, or at least
eat part of it in a feast of joy. Tithing was not to be reduced merely to the pragmatic function of paying the priests and
sustaining the temple. It was an expression of joy and gratitude. God did not need the tithe. In commanding it, he was
seeking not what was theirs but them.
So the second observation at the end of verse 23 is that the purpose of the
tithing feast was "that you may learn to fear the Lord your God." Take a tenth of your year's produce, go to the holy place,
offer it to the Lord, eat it (or part of it) to his glory in gratitude "that you may learn to fear him." Tithing was a means
of remembering how dependent they were on God and how much one should fear to displease such a God by joyless ingratitude.
provision was made for those whose grain was too heavy and flocks too many to take them all the way to the holy place. They
could sell them and then use the money to purchase substitutes when they arrived in the holy place. Fourth, the tithe is not
to be totally consumed by the family bringing it. The Levites who were scattered through the tribes of Israel
with no land of their own were to be supported by the tithers of the other 11 tribes (v. 27). The Levites were set apart
for special religious purposes and had no crops or herds [[WRONG]]. The tithe was given to God not only in the sense that
it was eaten in a feast celebration of his faithfulness (cf. 'blessing" in v. 24), but also in the sense that part of it supported
God's institution of the Levitical order.
Fifth, verses 28 and 29 describe a triennial tithe which was designed not
only to support the Levites, but also the three most helpless groups of people in that society: the refugees, the orphans,
and the widows. It seems that a sort of benevolent fund was replenished every three years for the needs of these people, by
the calling in of a special tithe.
Finally, the section closes with a promise of blessing on the people if they are
faithful in this act of mercy to men and gratitude to God. And this is a good place to remind ourselves of two things. One
is that the way most tithes were "given to God" was by giving them to people [GOOD]. God cannot be enriched by us. He
has no needs that our possessions can satisfy. But he can be honored by the way we treat others in his name by special acts
which celebrate his bounty and by our willingness to trust him to supply all our needs when we give.
***And the other thing we must
remember is that God always honors people who tithe from a good heart of faith. The promise is not to make us rich, but
it is this: those who love and trust God enough to honor him with at least a tithe will never lack the resources they need.
I believe that is still true today.
Two other important passages on tithing in the Old Testament are Numbers
and 2 Chronicles 31:4-18 which I won't read for lack of time. But the point of both is that the tithes are especially for
the Levites. Numbers 18:24 says, "The tithe of the people of Israel which they present as an offering to the Lord, I have given to the Levites for an inheritance."
And 2 Chron. 31:4 says that Hezekiah, "commanded the people who lived in Jerusalem to give the portion due to the priests and the Levites, that they might give themselves
to the law of the Lord." Thus, tithing was God's prescribed way of supporting certain ministries which he had ordained.
summary, then from the Old Testament tithing goes back to the very beginning of Israel's history before the law was given
and seems to have been an expression of gratitude to the Lord who fights for his people and gives them all they have.
Then as a part of the Mosaic law, tithing was made a part of Israel's formal worship and its various forms and purposes were prescribed. It was used to support religious
orders; it was used for religious feasting in celebration of God's goodness; and it taught the people to fear the Lord, that
is, to fear not trusting him to meet all their needs.
we come over to the New Testament the picture changes significantly. Jesus mentions tithing twice, both times in reference
to its legalistic abuse. He says in Matt. , "Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you tithe mint and dill and cummin
and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice, mercy and faith; these you ought to have done without neglecting
the others." In Luke 18:9-14, "He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and despised
others: Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed
thus with himself, 'God, I thank thee that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax
collector. I fast twice a week, I give tithes of all that I get.'"
Obviously Jesus did not regard tithing as a spiritual
cure all. He does not reject it. He affirmed it for Israel. But he is much more intent on the
weightier matters of the law like faith. You can tithe everything and not trust God. Jesus was not seeking what was theirs,
he was seeking them: the love of their soul, not the load of their silver.
The apostle Paul never once even refers
to tithing. Whether he taught his churches to tithe when he founded them we don't know. But his rules in his letters seem
to be as follows. First: "On the first day of the week each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper"
(1 Cor. 16:2). And second in 2 Cor. 8:3, "they gave according to their means and beyond their means of their own accord."
And third in 2 Cor. 9:7, "Each one must do as he has made up his mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves
a cheerful giver." And finally 2 Cor. 9:8, "God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that you may always
have enough of everything and may provide in abundance for every good work."
The only other place in the New Testament
where tithing is mentioned is Hebrews 7:4-12 where the reference is back to Genesis 14 and the point is simply to show that
Christ is like Melchizedek. Therefore, with regard to positive, explicit teaching on tithing, the New Testament is almost
I have a growing conviction why this is the case. I think God took the focus OFF giving a tithe
in the early church because he wants his people to ask themselves a new question. The question that Jesus drives us to
ask again and again is not, "How much should I give?" but rather, "How much dare I keep?" One of the differences between the
Old Testament and New Testament is the Great Commission. By and large the Old Testament people of God were not a missionary
people. But the NewTestamentChurch is fundamentally a missionary people.
The spiritual hope and the physical and emotional sustenance that Jesus brought to earth is to be extended by his church to
the whole world. The task he gave us is so immense and requires such a stupendous investment of commitment and money that
the thought of settling the issue of what we give by a fixed percentage (like a tenth) is simply out of the question.My own conviction is that most middle and upper class Americans who merely tithe are robbing God. In a world where
10,000 people a day starve to death and many more than that are perishing in unbelief the question is not, what percentage
must I give?, but how much dare I spend on myself?
It is a Biblical truth beyond all dispute: that all your money
is God's (Ps. 24:1) and has been loaned to you as a steward to use in ways that maximize the glorification of God's mercy
in the world (Matt. 25:14-30). And it is irrational to think that giving ten percent of that money to the church settles
the issue of good stewardship. In a world of such immense need, and in a country of such immense luxury, and under the
commission of such a powerful Lord the issue of stewardship is not: Shall I tithe?, but rather, How much of God's trust
fund dare I use to surround myself with comforts?
I had every intention, as I began to write this message,
to argue that even though the New Testament is almost silent on tithing; yet, surely we who know Jesus should do no less
than the Old Testament saints who did not know him.
***I was going to urge everyone
to tithe and give reasons why you can always afford it. I still believe that is true.
But that is not the lightning
bolt of God's word in the New Testament. The word of God is always more radical than percentage.
tithing as the ideal simply does not capture the New Testament view of discipleship. "He who has two coats let him share with
him who has none. And he who has food let him do likewise" (Luke ). That's 50% not 10%. Zacchaeus stood and said, "Behold,
Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor" (Luke 19:8). Again 50%. Jesus said to the rich young man, "If you would be
perfect, go sell what you possess and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; and come follow me" (Matt. ). That's 100%.
"So therefore, whoever of you does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple" (Luke ). Again
100%. "A man said to him, 'I will follow you wherever you go.' And Jesus said to him, 'Foxes have holes and birds of the air
have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head'" (Luke 9:57f). "All who believed were together and had all things
in common; and they sold their possessions and goods and distributed them to all, as any had need" (Acts 2:44f). "There was
not a needy person among them for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what
was sold and laid it at the apostles' feet" (Acts 4:34f). "In a severe test of affliction their abundance of joy and their
extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of liberality on their part. For they gave according to their means... and beyond
their means" (2 Cor. 8:2,3).
The best way that I know how to capture the spirit of the New Testament generosity is
simply to say: the issue is not, How much must I give?, but How much dare I keep? Not: Shall I tithe? But: How much of the
money that I hold in trust for Christ can I take for my private use? The financial issue in the church today is not tithing,
but exorbitance of life-style. The question is not can I afford to tithe, but can I justify the life-style that consumes
90% of my income? And behind that is the question: Do I love to use God's money to spread justice and mercy and spiritual
hope in the world, or do I prefer to embezzle his money to purchase more and more personal comfort? The question whether the
work of Christ here at Bethlehem in 1982 will be adequately supported is really the question of where your treasure is. And where
your treasure is there is your heart. Therefore, I do not seek what is yours but you. Amen.