A mega-church pastor, whom I respect and often watch on his TV show, teaches that if you don’t tithe, you place yourself under the curse of the Old Law. True? (Updated Nov. 9, 2015)
Let’s take this step by step.
1. Here’s the Scripture the otherwise insightful pastor uses:
8 “Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me. “But you ask, ‘How do we rob you?’ “In tithes and offerings. 9 You are under a curse—the whole nation of you—because you are robbing me. (Malachi 3:8-9, emphasis added)
Seems clear enough.
Not so fast.
We have to learn how to interpret the Old Testament or Old Covenant Scriptures before we apply them pell-mell to New Covenant believers.
Let’s stay, however, with the Old Testament for a moment.
2. Here are some Old Scriptures that command tithing:
I don’t need to quote them because I don’t want to make this post too long. You can click on the links.
3. Here are the Old Testament curses that are put on the ancient believer if he doesn’t follow the Old Law:
Those verses are also too long to quote here, but if you’ve read them, the curses are serious, aren’t they?
4. Did Jesus command the tithe in a direct, extensive teaching?
Now we begin to enter the New Covenant–or just before it was ratified at the cross, the empty tomb, glorification, and Pentecost.
This fourth step gets more complicated. The mega-church pastor uses this verse to prove Jesus upheld the tithe (implying he did this for us too, after Pentecost):
23 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former (Matthew 23:23, emphasis added)
The “former” things in the list are the spices that should be tithed.
It is difficult to imagine Jesus, before the cross, the resurrection, his glorification, and Pentecost telling Jewish people to break the law. How would that be an effective witness to his Jewish listeners?
But it’s also clear this is a passing comment, not an extensive and direct teaching devoted to the topic of tithing per se.
5. Analogy: Did Jesus command a kosher bird offering every time a believer after Pentecost is healed of a skin disease?
This effective witness to his original Jewish audience before Pentecost is further illustrated in another passage.
In Matthew 8:1-4, Jesus heals a man of leprosy. Then in v. 4 he orders the healed man to do the following: … “[S]how yourself to the priest and offer the gift Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.”
The offering Moses commanded for the healing of skin disease is found in Leviticus 14:1-7, which says the priest shall kill a live, kosher bird (among other things).
So did Jesus teach in v. 4 that every time a New Covenant Christian living today (after Pentecost) is healed of skin disease, the healed man should let an Old Testament priest (or a rabbi today) kill a live, kosher bird as a sacrifice?
So in some (not all) cases, there is a difference between how we apply the words of the four Gospels, particularly Matthew, Mark, and Luke, before Pentecost and the direction that the New Testament believers should take after Pentecost.
That is, please use wisdom in interpreting the words of Jesus when he is speaking to his original Jewish listeners before Pentecost. After all, Matthew is considered the most Jewish of the four Gospels.
Another example of teaching coming after Pentecost, but not brought up before: His Spirit after Pentecost guided the church to embrace justification by faith alone and grace alone. The Gospels (faithfully recording the words of Jesus aimed at his original audience before Pentecost) don’t discuss this vital doctrine in detail, but the Epistle to the Galatians and the Epistle to the Romans do.
6. A believer is never under the curse of the Old Law.
This is one of the main themes of Galatians. Paul’s issue in that epistle was circumcision, a ritual that physically showed that a man was part of the Old Covenant. In other words, the ritual was essential in belonging to God and his former covenant.
1 It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. 2 Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. 3 Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. 4 You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. 5 But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope. 6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love. (Gal. 5:1-6)
Paul says here that if a believer after the cross and Pentecost and life in the Spirit insists on following circumcision, then he is obligated to follow the whole law in all that it commands. That’s a trap and dead end, Paul says.
I believe this principle of living under old ritual and ceremonial commands—like tithes and offerings—can become a “new-old” law that we should be careful of, if we bring it forward to the church today.
Still another very important passage says that by dying on the cross Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law.
13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.” (Gal. 3:13)
Progress in revelation is a fact of the Bible. We don’t apply wholesale everything in the Old Testament—particularly not the curses—to the New Covenant believers after the cross and Pentecost.
Please note: This post does not solve the question of whether you are under command to tithe or not.
And the post does not answer whether the tithe before the law of Moses was given on Sinai is valid (Genesis 14:17-20).
If you want to tithe ten percent off your gross pay, then go for it. You are under grace in any kind of giving (2 Corinthians 8:6).
Here’s the main point of this post:
If you don’t tithe ten percent off your gross pay, then you are not placed or you don’t place yourself under the curse of the Old Law, because by dying on the cross Christ redeemed you from its curse.
That’s the essence of Galatians, the cornerstone epistle about the gospel of grace after Pentecost. If you miss that, you miss a lot and can get in bondage to the Old Law.
Dear mega-church pastor, I’ll still listen to you, for you are insightful in other areas. But I wish you would stop scaring people with Old Testament curses when they don’t obey this or that command of the Law of Moses (Hebrews 8:13).
For me the bottom line is this:
Living in the New Covenant, no one is ever cursed by the Old Covenant.
It is for freedom that Christ has set you free.
On Nov. 8, 2015, the pastor was on TBN defending his theology that a believer is under a curse because a curse just means “consequences.” If we sin, we suffer the consequences, don’t we?
But hold on.
A curse is much more than a consequence, for both Malachi and Paul. It comes about within the Sinai covenant. If you disobey the old Law, you’re under a curse spelled out in Deuteronomy 11:26-28 and 28:15-68.
However, Christ has set us free from such curses. It seems to me the pastor jumped to conclusions by taking Malachi’s guarantee of a curse for not tithing as applying to us today.
If you really believe that when you don’t give ten percent off gross pay you are committing a sin, then here is a verse to ponder that goes in the opposite direction of an old, obsolete curse:
But where sin increased, grace increased all the more (Rom. 5:20).
So when you commit the “sin” of not tithing off gross, be prepared for God to offer you a whole lot of grace, not condemnation or old-Law curses.
Live as free people.
Update, February 1, 2017:
I made incidental changes here and there and added some links.