OUT OF THE WOODS
by J.F.T. Woods
Q. Should believers tithe?
A. There are basically just two types of "giving" found in Godís Word: required and voluntary. Israel under Law had both. The Body of Christ (the "Church") has only one.* The Law required all Israelis, saved or unsaved, to donate a stipulated amount of their produce, animal and vegetable, to the Theocracy.1 It was a sort of Jewish Income Tax. There may have been three tithes, or tenth-parts, for the Israeli to pay. Two were paid annually and the third was paid once every three years, for an annual average tax, or "tithes," of 23 and 1/3 percent. Whether the tithes amounted to ten, twenty, or twenty-three and one third percent is still a matter of debate, even among Hebrew scholars. Also, the Israeli farmer was required by God and country to leave a portion of his crops unharvested as a provision for the poor. When these requirements were met, and only then, could the tither begin voluntary giving. Godís Word is very clear on the distinction between that which God requires and that which man offers freely. Governments are not! Governments sometimes advertise their Income Tax programs as "voluntary" and then jail people for not "volunteering!"
Law is a system of conditional blessing. The Jew under law did certain things in order to be blessed. If he didnít do these things God withheld blessing or, in some cases, imposed curses which were just the opposite of the forfeited blessings.2
Grace is a system of unconditional blessing.3 The Grace Believerís blessings having already been secured to him, he is to do certain things because he has been blessed.4 There is a world of difference between doing something in order to merit a blessing and doing something because one has already received a blessing without regard for merit or demerit. One is Law, the other is Grace.
God and Paul tell believers of the present dispensation, or stewardship, that, whether Jew or Gentile, we are not under Law but under Grace. Plainly, then, we are not under a system of conditional blessing but under a system of unconditional blessing. The Body of Christ has the mind-boggling privilege of serving Christ not because we have to but because we want to!
Legalists are "either/or" people. They can usually see two options, seldom three. If you tell a Legalist that you are not under Law but you are under Grace, he will invariably say something like this, "Oh, then you can commit adultery." There are a number of things that seem to lie just out of sight for him. Because he understands neither Law nor Grace, he fails to grasp that the Law never stopped at forbidding adultery, but went on to demand the death of the adulterer. The Law didnít prevent sin...it incited it.5 Give a command to a rebel and he will disobey it in deed or in thought, if it seems in his best interest to do so. Many times, when it seems to him to be in his best interest to obey, he will disobey anyway because he will try and fail. The poet has well said,
ĎDO THIS AND LIVEí THE LAW COMMANDS
BUT GIVES ME NEITHER FEET NOR HANDS.
A BETTER WORD THE GOSPEL BRINGS;
IT BIDS ME FLY AND GIVES ME WINGS.
But Legalists do not understand this. Failing to grasp the curse involved in being under Law,6 they also fail to comprehend the blessing involved in being under Grace.7 The Law never saved one single Jew, because while it demanded perfect obedience, it gave no power to obey. The Law never sanctified one single Jew, and for the same reason. Grace saves the sinner when he is powerless to obey and in spite of his powerlessness and then empowers him to obey, forgiving him when he doesnít. Grace calls for a higher type of life than Law, but Grace empowers the Believer where the Law did not!
What does this have to do with the question of tithing? Everything! If I am under Grace, my whole life is under Grace. If I have been delivered from the Law, my whole life has been delivered. The instructions for the Grace Believerís giving bear this out. We are not to give "of necessity" -- required giving. We are to give "voluntarily" -- unrequired giving.8 Jews under Law were to give "of necessity;" if they didnít, they paid a penalty. That is Law! We have no divinely imposed penalties under Grace. We are to give freely--to give because we have been blessed, not because we wish to be. This is the way God wants it--the Believer giving because he wishes to give, the believer showing appreciation for the Grace of God and showing it all the way down to his pocketbook. God gave us His Son! What is the proper response to such a Gift?
Notes: 1 See under "tithe" in any good Bible Dictionary.
2 See Leviticus ch. 26, Deuteronomy ch.28.
3 Ephesians 1:3.
4 Ephesians 4:1.
5 Romans 7:7-9.
6 Galatians 3:13.
7 Galatians 2:19.
8 2 Corinthians 9:7.
* Grace-giving has in view two things: the support of the ministry and
the relief of poor believers. Its principles are given in 2 Corinthians chs. 8,9.
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