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is it wrong to preach on tithing? – jonathan robinson

In my experience and discussion with other pastors in Auckland there are two types of churches in the city, those who treat tithing in a legalistic or pagan (read, prosperity gospel) way and those who avoid the subject for fear of being associated with the first kind. Especially among some ethnic minority churches, but also some neo-Pentecostal ones, tithing is taught and enforced in a spiritually abusive and destructive manner. I understand and sympathise with the position of the latter group but feel that they may have thrown the baby out with the bathwater. If we choose not to mention tithing, and often that means we don’t talk about money at all, a helpful and life giving spiritual discipline is sidelined and people are deprived of part of the Biblical teaching on wealth. (Yes, I am aware the Biblical teaching on money goes way beyond tithing!)

I have tried to carve a third way. Firstly, I am emphatic (perhaps overly so) about the fact that the Old Testament (OT) tithes do not apply as law to New Testament (NT) Christians and that living in such an unequal society means we cannot expect everyone to give the same. Secondly, I try to highlight the principles behind the OT tithes and relate them to NT theology, and the ways in which they can help our relationship with God (and our relationship with money, etc) today. Tithes may not apply as law but they may have much to teach us about being God’s people.

I’ve preached two sermons on the subject so far. The first was on Abraham’s tithe to Melchizedek (Gen 14:17-20), the second was on the three different tithes in the Mosaic Law (Lev 27:30, Num 18:21, Deut 14:22ff). Based on limited feedback and the unscientific “preacher’s sense” both messages were well received by the congregation and people appreciated exploring some unfamiliar passages of scripture.

I think if we are going to preach on tithing it is important for such sermons to be expositional because that helps keep the legal practice of tithing located in the particular historical and covenantal epoch to which it relates. It is also important to frame our response (application) to those OT passages from a NT perspective. Any sermon on giving easily turns to the gospel, because of God’s great gift to us in Jesus Christ.

As a pastor I am often very aware of the church’s need to make budget and of the detrimental effect of poor cash flow on the church’s ministries. However, by preaching expositionally I avoid the temptation to make the sermon about the church’s budget (not a Biblical concept) and have to focus instead on themes like holiness, trust in God and worship, etc. This makes for sermons which direct people to examine their hearts towards God rather than their support of the church. Of course the two things are not unrelated but it is important not to have the tail wag the dog or we could end up with a church rich in money but poor towards God! (cf. Luke 12:21)

I’m not sure about preaching on Malachi 3:6-12 though. In many ways this is the source text for most abusive and false teaching on tithing. People are so used to it being used in a certain way, even reading it aloud could be hurtful and unhelpful for many. But then again, avoiding it probably isn’t the answer either, isn’t it better to confront those wrong interpretations and educate the congregation against the false teaching?

What do you think? Do you or would you preach on tithing? Or is it just too tainted by the abuses of others?

One Comment

  1. David Julian says:

    Hey JR, I preach on tithing, partly because I preach through books of the bible and partly because I think our(baptist) view of giving is a bit on the stingy side. My focus is the generosity spoken of in the New Testament. I also personalise it which some people struggle with as I talk about real figures and percentages that I give (could be seen as manipulative but then anything I said would if that’s your pre set attitude coming in to it).
    As to Malichi, if you don’t preach it how do people get a balanced biblical perspective on that text.

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