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Does the New Covenant Require Tithing?

This week's question delves into world of high finance. "Is tithing under the new covenant or does it belong in the Old Testament?"

The New Testament clearly assumes there was a new covenant established between humanity and God through the advent of Jesus Christ (cf. 2 Corinthians 3.6; Hebrews 7-9). Many have claimed that grace has replaced law, which was the keyword of the old covenant. Paul wrote repeatedly that grace was superior to the law, and it seems the Church came to a similar understanding.

However, I'm not sure Jesus would agree that the old covenants with God are null and void. Indeed, he said, "Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished" (Matthew 5.17-18). Some have said that what was to be "accomplished" was the cross-resurrection event; however, the sense of what Jesus says in the remainder of this passage seems to belie that notion: "Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5.19).

So, to the question: Should tithing be a thing of the past? One of the little known facts is related to this very issue. Did you know that Jesus had more to say about money than he did any other subject? More than about loving your neighbor? More than about loving God. He even had more to say about money than he did about his own death and resurrection. Finances were important to Jesus.

So, what did he have to say about money? Well, mostly he had to say that if we were preoccupied with money then we were in a lot of trouble. "I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God" (Matthew 19.24). He also said, "Therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions" (Luke 14:33). Pretty harsh words about our "worldly possessions" and what it means to be a true follower of Jesus. On the other hand, he never asks us to do anything he hasn't already done himself.

Jesus only once mentioned tithing by name - and that was to condemn the Pharisees who were abusing the system (Luke 11.42). The only other time the word tithing occurs in the New Testament is in Hebrews 7.5-9 where Abraham's tithe is used as an example about the high priesthood.

On the surface, it looks like the tithe just might be an old covenant issue, since it is referred to so rarely in the New Testament - and then never by command. So, why does the church still hang on to it? Because of one particular reminder by Jesus.

That reminder in found most clearly in Matthew. On Tuesday, the week of Jesus' ultimate arrest, the religious leaders were trying trump up a reason to arrest him that would stand in a Roman court. They tried a variety of trick questions, and finally got around to asking, "Is it lawful for a Jew to pay Roman taxes?" It was a loaded question. If he answered, "Yes" he would become rather unpopular with the crowd who were anti-Roman. On the other hand, if he said, "No" the Romans could arrest him for sedition. Instead he replied, "'Show me the coin used for the tax.' And they brought him a denarius. Then he said to them, 'Whose head is this, and whose title?' They answered, 'The emperor's.' Then he said to them, 'Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor's, and to God the things that are God's'" (Matthew 22.19-21). His answer astounded the crowd because he had tricked the religious leaders: (1) They were in the Temple and coins with engraved faces on them were not allowed there (and the religious leaders knew better), and (2) the fact that they were using a governmental provided coin implied they owed the government for services rendered.

But for the Church, the point is this: Jesus here implies that responsible disciples are expected to contribute to the work of God appropriately. And the standard contribution to the work of God was, and still is, ten-percent.

It is written that where your treasure is, there you will find your heart. If offering ten-percent of one's income to the work of God through the church seems high, then an accounting of our checkbooks will reveal most clearly where our heart really is.

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