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Does “robbing God” in Malachi 3:8 apply to us today?

When you come to a subject like tithing, I think it is important to see that there are two extremes to avoid. The first is the temptation to conclude that tithing is not for this age, so that I feel no obligation to give, and can keep as much money for myself as possible. The other is to use the tithing texts to make people feel obliged to give more, and to feel guilty if they don’t. Preachers are usually the guilty ones with respect to the latter. The sad reality is that in most churches, at least half of those who attend give nothing —that’s right, nothing—at all to the Lord’s work.

In the King James Version, “tithing” (“tithe,” “tithes,” “tithing”) occurs 40 times in the Bible, 32 times in the Old Testament, and 8 times in the New. In the New Testament, 5 of the 8 occurrences are found in Hebrews 7:5-9, which are referring to the “tithe” of Abraham to Melchizedek in the Old Testament. Two of the remaining 3 occurrences occur in Luke. In Luke 11:42 we find a parallel text to the one remaining text (Matthew 23:23). Here, Jesus accuses the Pharisees of tithing in the small, inexpensive, things (mint, dill, cummin), but neglecting the weightier matters. Thus, Jesus does not condemn tithing, but says that there are more important matters. (One could point out that at this point Jesus was still talking as One in the old dispensation, and not the new.) In Luke 18:12 we see the self-righteous Pharisee, boasting about his tithing as a proof (in his mind) of his righteousness. So far as I can find in the New Testament, neither Jesus or any of His apostles taught the necessity of tithing. Neither can we find any statement that they did tithe—that they practiced tithing. Jesus did pay the temple tax (Matthew 17:24-27), but we do not read of Him paying His tithe.

The question one always must ask when dealing with Old Testament practices and commands is this: “Does the New Testament (1) embrace and continue, or (2) modify, or (3) do away with this Old Testament practice? The New Testament surely set aside the “clean/unclean” food regulations of the Old Testament (Mark 7; Acts 10-11). By and large, the Ten Commandments have been carried over into the New Testament. Those laws which pertained to the administration of justice have (at least some of them) been modified. It is no longer our duty or obligation to stone disobedient children. The state/government does administrate justice, which may even include capital punishment (this is debated by some, but lets leave it at this for the moment). Certainly we are not to stone adulterers today, though we are to “hand them over to Satan” (1 Cor. 5) for the destruction of their flesh. So, the question must be, where does tithing fit into this scheme? Has it been brought over into the New Testament age, or has it been set aside, or modified?

I would have to say that the whole tithing system cannot be brought over, in a wholesale fashion, to the church age or the New Testament saint. We are not physical Israel. We don’t live in the promised land. We don’t have a Levitical priesthood, or sacrifices to offer (literally, at least). We are, however, to support those who minister to us (1 Corinthians 9:1-14; 1 Galatians 6:6; 1 Timothy 5:17-18). We are to give to the poor, especially the saints (Acts 6:1-6; Romans 12:13; 1 Corinthians 16:1f.; 2 Corinthians 8 & 9; Gal. 2:10; 6:10; etc.). From 2 Corinthians 8 & 9 and Philippians 4, we certainly see that our giving should be out of gratitude, and something we joyfully do. The whole concept of stewardship should abolish the mindset that says, “Ten percent of what I own is to be given to God, but the remaining ninety percent is mine.” It is all God’s. As stewards, we are to wisely invest it for the glory of God and the advancement of His kingdom. In the 2 Corinthians (8 & 9) text and the Philippians 4 passage I do not see Paul appealing to the Law as the basis for giving, as though it was only our duty. I see Paul speaking of giving as though it were our delight, as it should be. All of this is to say that I would not seek to employ the Malachi text to badger saints to give. I would use the New Testament texts such as those I have mentioned to do so. We should give. Most of us should give more than we do. But I don’t personally find the Malachi text the compelling text for teaching others about giving.