Sermon: Why We Tithe (Part 2)
Growing in Giving
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Given 22-Jul-00; 60 minutes
Last week we began to look into tithing, and I purposely de-emphasized somewhat the command to tithe. It is not that the command is not there. It certainly is, but I de-emphasized it so that I could highlight the spiritual reasons why we tithe. Certainly the command to tithe runs throughout the Bible. That is a given, so we should make diligent effort to tithe the full ten percent to God. But if we tithe out of grudging obligation just to fulfill the commandment to tithe, we miss the point entirely.
We saw last time in Amos 4:4 that God showed that those Israelites there that Amos was sent to, were tithing very diligently, even to the third tithe. We saw that they gave their tithes every third year under the command, but He says that "it was transgression, and multiplied transgression." So once you think that through, it is not the fact that they were giving their tithes that was the transgression, it must have been the reason why they were tithing that God considered transgression. God wants us to tithe for better reasons than just simply to fulfill the obligation in an "Okay. I've got to do it" type manner.
Let us go to Matthew 5. You will remember that I spent quite a while here in Matthew 5 in the section about Christ fulfilling the law. I also mentioned Isaiah 42:21, which is a companion scripture to Matthew 5:17 about Christ would come to magnify the law and make it honorable. I showed that one of His purposes for coming was to give us the understanding of the spirit of the law.
Matthew 5:17-18 Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.
Now if we believe God, we should see that this is a very simple statement, that He says the law has not been done away. In fact He said, "What I've come to do is make it even broader in scope."
Matthew 5:19 Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
This adds emphasis to what He just said. "Not only did I not come to destroy the law, or do it away, whoever breaks even the least of the commandments, and teaches men to break them as well, is going to be least in the kingdom (if he is going to be there at all). But whoever teaches to keep them, and keeps them himself, that person will be great."
Matthew 5:20 For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven."
This is where I launched into my explanation of the spirit of the law, because the Pharisees have been known, ever since they existed down to our day, as people who (I cannot think of a better term than this) wallowed in the letter of the law. They are known for the assiduous keeping of the letter of the law. And Christ said that unless our righteousness—our right doing, our keeping of the law—exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, we will by no means enter His Kingdom.
He wants His disciples—His brothers and sisters—to go beyond the letter of the law. Anybody with half a brain can keep the letter of the law. It is not that easy, because human nature even rebels against doing that much. But He says that His people—His brothers and sisters, the sons of God—must go far beyond just the keeping of the letter of the law.
Remember I gave the illustration of the candy in the candy jar, and that one inch of candy at the bottom of the jar is merely the keeping of the letter of the law. It is our understanding of the strict interpretation of the law. Fulfilling the law like Jesus did is understanding all that remains in the jar. That is the spirit of the law. That is the added understanding of the law that Christ brought. It is all the additional principles and situations that the law can cover, and handled by them as God does.
The letter of the law is just the mere statement of what God expects. If we interpret it very strictly, it merely is going through the motions of that law. But if we apply all the principles, then we are beginning to launch into the area covered by the spirit of the law.
Let us notice here in Matthew 5 where Jesus takes this argument. In the next nearly twenty verses He goes into an explanation using three of the Ten Commandments as His illustration. He goes into commandments number 6, 7, and 9—that covering murder, adultery, and bearing false witness. What He does here is He begins our education in how to magnify the very simple commands: "You shall not kill." "You shall not commit adultery." "You shall not bear false witness." He sets us on a path, and He says, "This is the way." He starts understanding of the spirit of the law.
So what did He say? He said, "You have said in old times that 'You shall not kill.'" And of course that is correct. Everybody should say, "Yes. Yes. That's correct. That's the sixth commandment." And He says, "But I say unto you," meaning, "I've got something more than just the understanding of 'You shall not kill.' " He says, "But I say unto you, if you even think about killing that person, if you even hate that person, if you have bad thoughts about that person, you become guilty of breaking this law."
It reaches farther than merely taking a knife and plunging it into somebody else's heart, or shooting him with a gun, or strangling him with a string or whatever it happens to be, however one would kill. It is much more than that. This law—the sixth commandment—reaches into our hearts and minds rather than just our physical actions of our body.
And then He goes onto adultery. He says it is not just the physical act of adultery that breaks the law, but it is looking in lust upon a man or a woman. He uses the woman in this case. Once again, it is not just the physical act of fornication or adultery. It is the thought. It is the intent. It is "the drive" in a way. It could reach even that far if we are not under control internally.
And then He goes into oath-making, which is covered under the ninth commandment—bearing false witness. It is very interesting that He goes to these things, magnifying them. Interestingly, He magnifies them by going into the negative area, that this law will bite you negatively. It will impact you negatively far more than what appears on the surface in the letter of the law. In a way, the letter of the law is not very strict in this case. Think about that.
You only break this commandment under the letter of the law if you actually plunge the dirk into the man you are trying to kill. But under the spirit of the law, if you think about plunging the dirk into this man's side, you are guilty. He has taken this law and made it far, far reaching. He has made it much broader in the negative aspect, that it is much harder to keep the law in the spirit than in the letter. There are many ways under the letter to get around the law.
Take the example of murder again. You could hire somebody else to murder, and you never physically murdered that person, and under the letter of the law there might be some judge who would say you are not guilty because you actually did not kill the person. But under the spirit of the law, it was your thought, your plan, your intent, and therefore you were guilty. You see how the letter of the law is in a way easier than the spirit. See how Christ is expanding our understanding of law, but even though this law—"You shall not kill"—is four words long, it encompasses a huge amount of territory; not just killing, but hatred of another.
He does not leave us in the negative aspects of the law however. By the time we get to verse 38 He switches gears, and He wants to show us how the spirit of the law affects us positively.
Matthew 5:38 You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' But I tell you not to resist an evil person.
Do you see the change here? He is beginning to talk about our relationships with others, even our enemies, and how we are to treat them.
Matthew 5:39-42 But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also. And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away.
Some might think this is negative too, but it is really not. It is positive. He has taken this one law—"an eye for eye and a tooth for a tooth"—and He has turned it, not to the point where under the law we give back as much as we take, but that you do good to those who do you wrong. Jesus says, "The way I magnify this law is to say that if someone does you wrong, you do him good." You see how we are looking at a more positive aspect of things.
Now our human nature says, "Well, that's negative. I don't want to treat this bad guy good." But He says, "This is how you grow positively, by answering something against you with something good."
Matthew 5:43-45 You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. . .
Now we are getting to the crux of the matter. We are seeing where the spirit of the law in its positive aspect is leading us. What He is saying here is that the positive side of the spirit of the law makes us like God. If we were just to obey the letter of the law—"You shall love your neighbor, and hate your enemy"—that is not good enough to become God. Even applying the letter of the law in this instance does not make us like God. You have to apply it in the spirit; not love just your neighbor, but also love your enemy, and do good to him besides. That is the way you become more like God. That is how it affects us in a positive sense. It helps us to grow.
Matthew 5:45 . . . that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust."
That is how He operates. He gives the sun for everyone.
Matthew 5:46 For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?
Keeping the letter of the law puts us about on the same level of the tax collector He is saying here. "They love those who love them," just as the letter of the law says, but if we are to apply the spirit, we are to become greater than that.
Matthew 5:47 And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? . . .
Everybody would do that.
Matthew 5:47 . . . Do not even the tax collectors do so?
And then, the capstone on His argument.
Matthew 5:48 Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.
If we want to put this in the context of the spirit of the law, He is saying that once you understand the spirit of these laws that He gave in the Old Testament, then we are on the road to perfection, that there is no way possible for us to be perfect like God in heaven is perfect by keeping the law in the letter. You must have the rest of the understanding in the candy jar. We must begin like Christ to fulfill the law, and magnify it in our own lives. If we do not do it, we will not be like God the Father. But if we do it, then we are well on the road to living perfectly as He does.
Now we need to start beginning to tie this into tithing. If we do apply this to tithing, we can see that mere commandment-keeping in this area falls far short of the ideal. It is just grudging compliance if all we do is write a check every month out of obligation because we feel we need to keep the commandment. We should keep the commandment, but there is more. Not only does God want us to pay tithes, He wants us to give them with the proper attitude, for the proper reasons, and to learn how to give as He does.
Now this has been my review, and I have taken too long on it, but we will have to go on from here to understand how this applies to tithing.
Let us go now to Malachi 3. Remember when we went through the Israelites in Amos 4 last time. Now we are looking at the Jews after they had come back from exile in Babylon, and Ezra and Nehemiah, along with Zerubbabel, had set up things in Jerusalem for the worship of God. They set up the priesthood again. The Levitical system was set up again, and tithing along with that.
By the time Malachi came on the scene there was a problem, and much of that problem had to do with sacrifice and offering. As a matter of fact, the first chapter talks about how these people would sacrifice. They would sacrifice the worst of the flock. They knew that they had to give a sacrifice, and so they looked over all their herd, their flock, and saw the animal that they would like to part with the most. They then gave it to God rather than doing what He instructed in the law, which was to give Him the best, the one that they prized the most.
And so God asked through Malachi and said, "If you did this to your governor for his evening meal, would he accept it? Why don't you give Me the same honor that you would give the governor?" By the time we get to chapter 3, He has left the subject of sacrifices and gotten to tithes.
Malachi 3:8 "Will a man rob God? Yet you have robbed Me! But you say, 'In what way have we robbed You?' . . .
And like, "We're not guilty. We're giving You tithes. We've not robbed you." And God says:
Malachi 3:8-10 . . . [You have robbed Me] In tithes and offerings. You are cursed with a curse. For you have robbed Me, even this whole nation. [Everybody is doing it. Everybody is robbing God.] Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in My house, and try Me now in this," says the LORD of hosts, "If I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you such blessing that there will not be room enough to receive it."
What was happening here? What Malachi is saying here is that the Jews in his day were just like the Israelites in Amos' day, but with a twist. The Jews did tithe out of obligation. That is how they were like the Israelites in Amos' day, but this is the twist that the Jews put on it. They gave the worst. They gave what not even their governor would accept, and kept the best for themselves, and they kept back part, like Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5.
Do you know how I know that? Because it says in verse 10 "Bring all the tithes into the storehouse." They were seeming like they were tithing, whether it was a full ten percent or all the different tithes, but God knew that they were holding back on their tithes. And you know the reputation the Jews have about money. Even the Bible says that they kick over the boundary stone in order to get more for themselves.
We know that in the first century the Jews were known for meticulously searching out the loopholes in the law so that they could get more for themselves. Remember Jesus in Matthew 23 says that they would rather give their money to the Temple than to provide for their own, because at least when you gave money to the Temple you got recognition for it. There is something about the Jews, and I am sorry that that is a stereotype, but they seem to have this thing about money. They seem to be avaricious, greedy. It seems to be a trait, and it is brought out in the Bible, and in this section that they kept back for themselves. They only gave as much as they felt was necessary, and no more, and it is a sad thing.
Now the other way they robbed God was not something that is shown here in "this is why they robbed God" type of terminology. But you could tell that it was the attitude that was wrong. They were not giving God the respect, the honor that He should have been given. They were not doing it in the way that He hoped they would, and tried to teach them that they should.
In this book God does seem far less concerned about how much they gave than how they gave it. He is much more interested in their attitude about it. In the first chapter He was pointing out their attitude of keeping the best for themselves and giving the worst to God. That is exactly the opposite from the way that He intended it. In chapter 3 He is talking about the amounts they gave, yes, but they were trying in every way to keep as much for themselves than to give large gifts like God gives. That is where the attitude comes in.
We can see from these Old Testament examples of the Jews here in Malachi, and of the Israelites back in Amos, that God has always looked not just for the amount that we give, but for the attitude in which we give it. I think that is very clear. He wants not just compliance, but growth in giving; learning the give way.
Now it did not stop with the Old Testament. Turn to Hebrews. We are going to go through this book in a hop-skip-and-jump manner, because what happens is that the Jews again in the New Testament church were beginning to fall back into their old habits. This is something that we need to be careful about because we could also have this same approach to giving to God.
The book of Hebrews is a gem in the way Paul sets up his argument, and tithing is only a small part of it later on in chapter 7. He is really after a larger principle, and this is what it is. These Hebrews are a people that know what God expects of them, just like us. We know what God expects of us. We have been studying, we have been hearing sermons and Bible studies for a long time, and we know the law pretty well, but in this case in the book of Hebrews, they never really went beyond the most basic compliance, and we will see that.
What Paul is saying is that under the New Covenant basic compliance is a very grave failing. It is not commendable just to keep the letter of the law, because what we are doing in effect if we just barely comply with the law, is that we are denying the message that Christ brought. Remember what He said? "I came not to do away with the law, but to fulfill." That was one of His primary teachings in His ministry. He came to bring us up a level from mere letter-of-the-law compliance.
We are going to start in Hebrews 2 because I want you to see how Paul develops his argument here.
Hebrews 2:10 For it was fitting for Him [the Father], for whom are all things and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the Author of their salvation perfect through sufferings.
It was proper that God the Father, in bringing us into His image as His sons and daughters, should make the Forerunner [the Author of our salvation, the Captain of our salvation, the One who went before (obviously Jesus Christ) perfect through sufferings—what He went through in His life as well as what He went through on the cross.
Hebrews 2:14-15 Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, [We are human], He Himself likewise shared in the same [He also was human.], that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.
Remember I spent quite a while last week talking about redemption. This is what we are talking about here.
Hebrews 2:16-18 For indeed He does not give aid to angels, but He does give aid to the seed of Abraham. [That is what we are. We are the seed of Abraham.] Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. [He was the sacrifice by which our sins were forgiven.] For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted.
One of Paul's foundational ideas is the fact that Jesus came as a man, just like us, to do His redemptive work. In doing so He gave us an example of true righteousness and holiness. This is where Paul begins his argument.
Because Jesus went through this, because He was like us, because He died like we do, He can be a faithful High Priest and give us aid when we need it. He did all this so that we could be like Him, so we could be sons and daughters of the Father. If we are going to be like Him, then does not John 14:6 say, "If you've seen Him, you've seen the Father"?
The reason He came was to die, to be our example, was to make sure that we could be forgiven so that He could go back to heaven at God's right hand and be our High Priest, to give us aid, to bring us to the same level that He is. And if we are to the same level as He is (meaning "in the image of God"), then we will be like the Father. We will all be one big happy family. That was the purpose. He laid that as the foundation.
Go now to Hebrews 3. Paul makes a conclusion here of what this should mean to us.
Hebrews 3:1-2 Therefore holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the apostle and High Priest of our confession, Christ Jesus, who was faithful to Him who appointed Him, as Moses also was faithful in all His house.
He starts making a comparison between Jesus and Moses. Remember, these are Hebrews. Do not forget this. The Hebrews really revered Moses as the lawgiver, as the prophet above all prophets.
Hebrews 3:3 For this One [Christ] has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses, [We are dealing with someone far greater than Moses.], inasmuch as He who built the house has more honor than the house.
Paul is saying that Christ and Moses are on different levels. Moses was a mere servant, whereas Christ was the Son. Understand this. One of the main themes of Hebrews is that everything with Christ is better in every way than the way it was before.
Hebrews 3:4-6 For every house is built by someone, but He who built all things is God. And Moses indeed was faithful in all His house as a servant, for a testimony of those things which would be spoken afterward, but Christ as a Son over His own house, whose house we are, . . .
Moses was a servant in the house. Christ is the Son, and we are the house. Very interesting. It is an analogous metaphor as "the body." We are Christ's body. Just keep this in the back of your mind. He says we are Christ's house.
What he is saying is that we have been given an opportunity to be in a place, in a level, in a position even above Moses. He is saying, "Look, you Hebrews. Look how much you revered Moses and what he did. Because of what Christ did when He was here, and because He is now our faithful High Priest, we have an opportunity to be even greater than Moses was."
What he is doing is piling on proof of their obligation to do things like Christ did. He said what we need is to be faithful, and to be good stewards like Moses was. Remember it says here that Moses was faithful as a servant. We need to be faithful like Christ. So we need to be faithful. We need to be enduring all the way to the end. This is what it is going to take.
He is really making it tough on them. He is saying, "You don't have any excuse because you have been put in a place of great honor, great potential, and if you want to be like God, then you have got to do things like Christ, because He is the pattern we are supposed to follow." He is really turning the screws on them.
The rest of chapter 3 and the first part of chapter 4 he is telling them, "You guys had better make careful that you don't miss out on the Kingdom of God. You need to be faithful." This is a very strong admonition for them to put their heart into things.
Hebrews 4:11 Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest, lest anyone fall after the same example of disobedience.
He is talking about the way the Israelites were in the wilderness. We have got a far higher potential than the Israelites in the wilderness.
Hebrews 4:12-13 For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.
There is another turning of the screw you might say. He says, "Look. It's the Word of God, and you can look at it in two ways. Either as Christ Himself, or as the Bible that is there in front of you."
Remember that Christ Himself is the Word in the flesh (John 1.1 and those verses afterward). But we also have the word in print. What he is saying is that what has been revealed to us through God's Word, through the example of the Son, through what we read in the Bible, is very powerful and can work in us, but it also reveals things to us about ourselves. It gets all the way where? Not just to the bone, not just to the marrow, but to the thought and intent of the heart.
Remember he is talking to Hebrews here who had a great tendency to want to fulfill the letter of the law to the hilt, but give no thought to the spirit. But Paul is saying, "Look. We have this great potential. Let us not lose that potential by not using the tool that has been given to us," because he says there in verse 13, "God sees everything, and He's going to call us into account, bring us under judgment for how we use what we have been given."
Hebrews 4:14-15 Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession, [Do not bail out now. We have got a great High Priest working on our behalf.] For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.
He is saying, "Look. We've got someone on our side who knows exactly what we're going through, so this isn't as bad as it may seem at first. We've got help."
Hebrews 4:16 Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
This is a kind of pick-you-up after the way he had sternly admonished them. "Look. It's not as bad as it looks. There's help. Christ our High Priest will help us."
I am just setting up this argument. We are still two chapters from chapter 7 here, because he does get into tithing.
In chapter 5 he mentions Melchizedek just in passing. He says that "Jesus is a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek"—just like Melchizedek, on the same level as Melchizedek. Then he goes back and castigates them again. He mentions Melchizedek, and he says,
Hebrews 5:11 of whom we have much to say, and hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing.
What he means is, "If you had been growing like you should have been, you would understand what I'm getting at here about 'a priest after the order of Melchizedek.'" And then he says, "But I have to explain it to you again."
Hebrews 5:12-13 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God [meaning the most basic and elementary principles that God has spoken]; and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe.
Now listen to, let us say, understanding the spirit of the law.
Hebrews 5:14 But solid food belongs to those who are of full age [mature], that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.
Now very simply what he says is, "The understanding of the spirit of the law comes to those who are mature [i.e., who are very serious about this], who have grown up in this way, and exercise [practice] the keeping." He has finally come to a point where he can start explaining things.
Hebrews 6:9 But, beloved, we are confident of better things concerning you, things that accompany salvation, though we speak in this manner.
Remember I said one of the themes of Hebrews is "everything under Christ is better." He says, "I'm confident that you could reach this better plateau."
Hebrews 6:9 But, beloved, we are confident of better things concerning you, things that accompany salvation . . . .
Now think of this in terms of the spirit of the law. What does the letter do? The letter kills, but the spirit gives life. It (if we understand it) will lead us to salvation, to eternal life.
Hebrews 6:10 For God is not unjust to forget your work and labor of love which you have shown toward His name, in that you have ministered to the saints, and do minister.
He is patting them on the back again. After he kicked them in the pants, he pats them on the back to give them a little bit of encouragement, and he says, "God won't forget all the good works that you have done and how you've served the brethren." God is not a type of God who would do that. He remembers us in our totality, in what we have done.
Hebrews 6:11 And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence to the full assurance of hope until the end.
He says, "Don't stop doing it. Keep on in being diligent in doing good works and serving the brethren. That's one that's on your side. That's one thing to your credit, that you've reached out to your brethren." And then he says:
Hebrews 6:12 That you do not become sluggish, [that you do not slow down, that you do not become lazy, that you do not become entrenched in doing things the way you are doing things], but imitate those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.
What did he say there? He said, "We need to be going back into the Word of God and seeing the examples of those who we know have made it." Whom does he talk about first? In the next verse he talks about God making a promise to Abraham, but it is kind of a side issue. He really gets to the example in chapter 7. Do you know what it is? It is Abraham giving tithes to Melchizedek.
We have the father of the faithful (as the example we are to follow), giving tithes to this priest (after whom Christ came, was ordained) and we have him performing an obligation in a way that is supposed to be an example to us of how to live in the spirit. This is where all these ideas start to come together in this example of Abraham giving tithes to Melchizedek.
You might say, "Well, is it? The primary example of Abraham as the one we should look to in how we live is his giving of Isaac on Mount Moriah. Wouldn't you say that's his primary example of being faithful and godly, and doing God's will?"
I have to say "Yes." But Paul did not choose that illustration to use talk about how you are supposed to go beyond just the basics. He chose the example of Abraham giving tithes, which is to me very interesting. I would say, with my own opinion, that his giving of tithes to Melchizedek is the number two example of his faithful obedience to God after the giving of Isaac on Mount Moriah. And this is what Paul goes to, because remember he is talking about the priesthood of Christ and how we are to follow that.
I think I should explain Paul's argument here about tithing. Paul gives a very simple argument. In Hebrews 7:1-10 is an argument that he makes to prove that the priesthood of Melchizedek is higher than, better than, the priesthood of Aaron. His argument is, "First of all, look who this Melchizedek was." The word "Melchizedek" means King of Righteousness, which should tell you something. He was the King of Salem it says. That means King of Peace.
Now just by his name we should know that this priest is something special, who is the King of Righteousness, and who is the King of Peace. But back in Genesis 14 when he is introduced, he is not introduced being the son of anybody, but he has neither father nor mother. He is without genealogy at all. Who else could he be, but eternal. He's a priest who has an endless life. And who are you then going to think that this actually is? You and I would probably say it was Christ Himself who was the King of Salem, the King of Righteousness, the King of Peace, who had neither father nor mother, and lived eternally. And then Paul says, "Consider this that Abraham gave tithes to this person."
You know that the lesser person gives tithes to the greater person. Putting this in terms of a feudal system, it is always the vassal that gives tithes to the lord. It is never the other way around, and so this priest, Melchizedek, must have been greater than Abraham, and was not Abraham great in the grand scheme of things?
Now let us take this one more step. Levi, from whom Aaron came, was not even a twinkle in Jacob's eye by this time. Jacob was not even born yet as far as we know. So what he says is that Levi was still in the loins of Abraham. As a matter of fact I know that Jacob was not born yet, because Isaac was not even born yet. And so what he says then is that Levi, because he was still in the loins of Abraham, gave tithes to Melchizedek, and so obviously Melchizedek is greater than Levi, and if he is greater than Levi, he is greater than Aaron.
Once he has come to that point, he has proven basically that tithes, under the New Covenant, go to Christ, and that if this Melchizedek is Christ, and if Christ is greater than Levi, and greater than Aaron, and if He is become our High Priest, then the tithes are Christ's. This is the position we are in.
Hebrews 7:11 Therefore, if perfection were through the Levitical priesthood (for under it the people received the law), what further need was there that another priest should rise according to the order of Melchizedek, and not be called according to the order of Aaron?
He says, "It's a rhetorical question here, that there was a need for a priest to arise more than Aaron, beyond Aaron."
Hebrews 7:12 For the priesthood being changed, of necessity there is also a change of the law.
He is getting back to the fact that in the Old Covenant, in the law, says that Israel was to give the tithes to Levi, and he says, "Because the priesthood of Christ is greater than that of Aaron, then therefore there must be a change in the law."
What is this change in the law? Does this "change in the law" mean that we are no longer to tithe? No. He never even considered that as an option. Do you know what the change in the law was? That the tithes should be given to the priesthood of Christ. That was the change in the law. The change of the law was to whom the tithes belonged.
It may be easier to understand this if we put one word in verse 12. "For the priesthood being changed [from Aaron to Christ], of necessity there is also a reversion of the law. Not a revision. A reversion. Think of it. Was not the law given because of sin? Right? It was given because of their sinfulness in the wilderness, and God appointed Aaron and his sons and Levi, and all his sons to work as the priests and those who administered to the tabernacle and all the holy things. He gave that around the time that they were there at Mount Sinai.
But what did the law originally say? To whom, by Abraham's example, were the tithes to go? To Melchizedek. The tithes were to go to the Priest of God—the King of Peace, the King of Righteousness. And for the time being God said, that while Israel existed as a physical nation with the Temple (or Tabernacle), that the tithes were to go to Levi. But when Christ, came there was a reversion of the law back to the priesthood of Melchizedek.
Does that make sense, that the original law was that tithes go to the Melchizedek priesthood, but in the meantime there was this nation Israel, and God said for this period of time the tithes go to the priesthood under Levi? But when Christ came, because He became the High Priest, there needed to be a change of the law—a reversion back to the priesthood of Melchizedek.
Hebrews 7:15 And it is yet far more evident [it is so much more clear] if, in the likeness of Melchizedek, there arises another priest,
What he is saying is, "It becomes really clear if you understand that another priest has risen after the order of Melchizedek." It becomes a no-brainer, that if there is a priest of God greater than Aaron, then the tithes must go to this new priest. Is that not clear? You do not give tithes to the lesser. You give tithes to the greater.
Hebrews 7:15-16 And it is yet far more evident if, in the likeness of Melchizedek, there arises another priest who has come, not according to the law of a fleshly commandment, but according to the power of an endless life.
Do you understand what fleshly commandment he was talking about? It was the law that the tithes were supposed to go to Levi, to Aaron, who was high priest in the flesh. This was a commandment that was for the time that these things were in the flesh. Do you understand that?
Jesus has not come according to the flesh, not according to the law of a fleshly commandment, but according to the power of an endless life. One of the ways we know that His priesthood is greater than Aaron's priesthood is that Aaron was a fleshly man who would die, and there needed to be priest after priest after priest after priest. But Christ came as a priest who lives forever. So that is the proof that there is a greater priesthood under Christ.
Hebrews 7:17-18 For He testifies: "You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek." For on the one hand there is an annulling of the former commandment because of its weakness and unprofitableness.
You could say that He set aside this commandment that the tithes were to go to Levi, to the Aaronic priesthood. He set this aside, and you can understand why He would do that because there is a greater priesthood. Of course you do not want to continue in the lesser. You want to go straight to the greater.
Hebrews 7:18 For on the one hand there is an annulling of the former commandment because of its weakness and unprofitableness.
Remember, that was the letter of the law. The letter ends in death. The spirit gives life—eternal life. It was unprofitable. It did not get us anywhere. Remember, there was no way that you could be saved under that Old Covenant law. Not even the sacrifices could cover the sins. There was no way to even approach God. One man, the high priest, could get into the presence of God one time each year on the Day of Atonement to sprinkle some blood on the mercy seat. That way did not work. It was unprofitable. It is weak, but he said:
Hebrews 1:19 for the law made nothing perfect; . . .
Remember what I said earlier, that if you keep the letter of the law you will not become perfect, but if you keep the law in the spirit as Christ showed, that we can become perfect like God in heaven is perfect? He is saying here the same thing that Christ said there in Matthew 5—"For the law made nothing perfect."
Hebrews 7:19 . . . on the other hand, there is the bringing in of a better hope, through which we draw near to God.
A re-statement of his argument that everything under Christ is better. And tithing (the illustration here in chapter 7) is better like we have it now than it was under the Old Covenant because it leads to perfection. It leads to salvation and eternal life the way we understand it. To the people under the Old Covenant, it was just an obligation. It did not profit them a thing, but under Christ's priesthood it can help to bring us to eternal life.
The reason why I went through all of this is not only to explain this letter- and-the-spirit principle, but I wanted you to see that Paul, in this argument, never once says we should not tithe. He uses it as an illustration as though it should be ongoing. And the law, the commandment, that he says was annulled, set aside, was not the commandment to tithe, but the commandment to whom to tithe. That is all that changed. The priesthood was changed, not the law of tithing.
We have Paul, who was the chief apostle to the Gentiles after Christ's death and resurrection, telling us that tithing is not done away; just to whom the tithes are to be paid.
Let us get it from the Master's mouth Himself. Turn to Matthew 23. Here we are going to pick on the Pharisees a bit. They are easy to pick on because they had so many flaws, but they had not been called. They were trying to do the best they knew how, but were wrong.
We need to set the stage here in verses 1 through 5. Christ sets up these first five verses or so as His introduction, and all the rest of the chapter is an illustration of what He meant in these first five verses.
Matthew 23:1-3 Then Jesus spoke to the multitudes and to His disciples, saying: The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat. [They have a position of authority to teach the law.] Therefore whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do.
He is not saying that just because the scribes and Pharisees said something should be done that we should do it. What He means is that what they teach out of the law that is true, we are to observe it. Remember, they were in the seat of authority. He was not giving the Pharisees carte blanche to teach whatever they wanted to teach from Moses' seat. Jesus would never do this, and we know that in many other places in the gospel that He corrected them on matters that they taught wrongly, so He is not giving them a blank check to teach whatever from the law. He is telling us, His disciples, that we need to obey what they teach that is true. That is very simple.
Matthew 23:3 . . . but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do.
He says the Pharisees have a problem, that they tell everybody what to do, and it is the truth in the main, but they are hypocrites. They do not do what they say others should do. This is a big problem with them. They sit in Moses' seat. This is an allusion to the synagogues when they sat when they preached. They stood to read the Bible. Remember, Jesus stood in the synagogue and He read the Scripture from Isaiah. But when they taught, they sat. When they expounded, they sat.
So what He is saying is, "When the Pharisees sit and teach, if they're teaching the truth, observe that, but don't look to their example, because their examples stink. Now I'll give you some examples of that." And that's the rest of chapter 23.
Now He gives a general summation of their hypocrisy.
Matthew 23:4 For they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers.
That was one thing that they did. They made things very hard on the people. They were very rigorous in pointing out what people should do, and castigating them for not doing it. He said that they would not in any way try to alleviate the burdens of the people that they laid on them. They would not lift one of their fingers, (not even their pinky finger), to help people obey God better, and be less oppressed by what they taught.
Matthew 23:5 But all their works they do to be seen by men.
This is the second area. They bind heavy burdens, and whatever they do, they do for the applause of the crowd. Remember, Jesus in another place said, "They have their reward." That is all they are going to get for that.
Now the illustrations come on. We will not go through any of them but verse 23.
Matthew 23:23 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! [He is showing an example of their hypocritical way of approaching God's law.] For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone.
Remember, He said, "Do as they teach from the law, but not as they do themselves." In this case He is saying that they taught tithing properly, but when it came to the point of them actually tithing, they made a big mistake. They placed more emphasis on tithing exactly ten percent of everything, even to the smallest matters: little leaves of mint, and anise. How small is the anise seed? And cummin is very, very, very small. They would put maybe even one seed by one seed, making sure that they got exactly ten percent for God.
They spent all kinds of time making sure that they were meticulous in giving the tenth to God, but they placed a greater emphasis on that than on their relationships with people: justice, mercy, and faithfulness. They should have been spending their time not neatly dividing all these things out into the tenths, but in showing justice to the people who were oppressed, they should have been spending their time in being merciful to those who were oppressed by being faithful in their obligations as leaders of the people.
What Jesus castigates them for is not that they tried to give the tenth, but that they left out something. They left out the things that were so much more important. He is saying that they had their priorities all mixed up, that they neglected the weightier matters while being so fastidious in giving the tenth. And then He says, "These they ought to have done, and not left the other undone."
What could we learn from this? They should have had justice, mercy, and faith. They could have learned how to do this if they had taken the time to do it, but they were too busy counting their tithes. It would have been better for them to have learned to give like God, and say, "This is a tenth or more," and given it to God, and then spent their time doing good. He is showing them that they were hypocrites in the way they prioritized things.
Now notice. Jesus does not say tithing is done away. He said, "This should not be left undone," but He is saying that we need to learn what the priority is in tithing. It would have been better to spend far less time being meticulous about the tithe, and giving more than the tenth, than to be so parsimonious with it.
The spirit of the law in this case is an understanding of its importance in relation to being generous rather than being stingy and particular and meticulous. God wants us to be profuse rather than parsimonious. God is a giver. Literally hundreds of scriptures show us that God is a giver. I did a word search on my computer, and I came up with over 550 instances for the word "God" and the word "give" in the same sentence in the same verse. Give, given, gave, have given, all these types of things. It is all through the Bible of the things God gives.
What He is saying here in Matthew 23 is that these Pharisees had not learned how to give as God gives. God does not give parsimoniously. He gives more to what is needed, and He spends far more of His time helping us in matters of justice and mercy and faith than He does in being exacting on these matters. Let us see that.
James 1:17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.
God just does not give us things because He is bound to. God gives us good things, and perfect things, and He gives and gives and gives only the best to us. See, that was the opposite way of what the Pharisees were doing.
Ephesians 3:20-21 Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
God the Father and Jesus Christ not only give, they give us abundantly, superfluously more than we can even ask or think. Whenever we come to Him in prayer and ask Him for things, He gives us far more than we ever dreamed. I am not only talking necessarily materially in terms of money. I am talking He would be much more willing to give us things that we can use to enhance our spiritual relationship.
Matthew 7:9-10 Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent?
There is no one among us who would give to our children that way.
Matthew 7:11 If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children [If even ordinary humans know how to do what is good in giving gifts], how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!
God is far more than man; far better and good than any man, and if we ask Him for something, He is going to give it to us, and as we saw there in Ephesians 3, far more than we could ask or think; far more than we could imagine, and in ways we cannot imagine, He will give to us.
Now notice what immediately follows this. The Golden Rule. A conclusion follows. This is what we conclude.
Matthew 7:12 Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.
He is saying, "This is what I've been trying to get you to understand in all of these pages in the front part of the book. "Give as you wish to be given to," he says. "If God gives like this, why can't you be like that too?"
And in another way, if God gives such things to us, what should our response be to Him? If He lives by the Golden Rule—"Do unto others as you would have them do to you"—what does that mean He wants from us? If He gives us everything, what does He want in return? Everything. He wants us to treat Him in the same manner of giving as He treats us. And Jesus says that this is the sum, the overriding principle of what He was trying to get through to us in the Law and the Prophets, meaning all that went before was leading up to this overall principle. Learn to live like God. Very simple.
Turn now to I John 5. This is the extent that God gives to us.
I John 5:11 And this is the testimony; that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.
Not only does He give us everything we need for our physical lives, He gives us eternal life. In this life He has given in His Son, whom He gave in death. He gave His Son for us and for the whole world. God's giving is boundless, and that is the way He wants us to be, and it does not stop with God the Father.
I John 5:20 And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us an understanding, . . .
Christ not only gave His life, but He left for us a record, a testimony, of the understanding of the way to live.
I John 5:20 . . . that we may know Him who is true [He gave us the understanding to know God the Father]; and we are in Him who is true [He gave the understanding that we are in God, and that we will be God if we continue in this way.], in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life.
This is the way that will lead to being God and to living eternally. This understanding we were given by the Son in His life. Remember we saw that in Hebrews.
Galatians 2:20 I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.
Ephesians 5:1-2 Therefore, be imitators of God as dear children. And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma.
He gave His life for us, for His church. Giving such an offering, it says here, was a sweet-smelling aroma to God. Do you know why? Because it was just like Him. It is the kind of life that God would live, and did live in Jesus Christ. He is saying then that this is the life that we need to live. "Be followers of God as dear children." That is the way we should be. Giving and giving and giving, just like Christ.
Romans 12:1-2 I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice [just like Christ gave of Himself], holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.
In other words, we are to give ourselves as Christ did, to transform ourselves into His image so that we can prove in our own life the way that God lives. Mr. Armstrong called this "the give way" in his way of making things very simple for us to understand.
John says, "God is love." Mr. Armstrong always defined love as outgoing concern: the give way. That is our goal. That is a reason why we tithe, because we are learning to give just as God gives, and if it takes sacrifice, well then, that is what it takes. But it is an exercise that we have every week, or every two weeks, or whenever we pay our tithes, in learning how to give.
God commands us to give tithes and offerings to teach us to give as He does so that we will be like He is. He is forming us in His image, and that image is as the Giver of every good and perfect gift.
The next time I speak, which will be in the middle of August, we will look at the specific tithes in more detail. I just laid the groundwork for understanding the tithes that were given in the Old Testament in their spiritual sense.