Brannon S. Howse
Few things tempt teachers and preachers to misuse Scripture more than the need to raise money. Although mega-church pastors and televangelists are the most often cited examples of this, scripture-twisting for the sake of funding a ministry happens in even the smallest of churches and ministries.
Anytime people twist Scripture it’s offensive, and admittedly, sometimes it happens by mistake. In those instances, we can certainly be gracious. But other times, leaders deliberately twist Scripture for their own self-serving ends—often because of money.
One of the most common questions people ask me is: Are we supposed to tithe? People wonder if the Old Testament tithe is also meant for the Church today. The answer to that question puts most other questions about money in perspective, so let’s explore what the Bible has to say about this.
Support Your Local Church—But How?
Christians are to support those involved in ministry, particularly those involved in the full-time Gospel ministry. This includes people who are in a preaching/teaching ministry, like a full-time shepherd, or elder. An elder is a pastor, and a pastor is an elder. An elder/pastor is a shepherd of the flock. According to Scripture, these people are supposed to be paid for what they do in the Body of Christ: “Even so the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should live from the gospel” (1 Corinthians 9:14). A person who spends all of his time studying and preparing to teach should receive compensation for that.
I realize some pastors are bi-vocational, and I have tremendous respect for people who work a 40-plus-hour-a-week job, and then study to prepare a sermon for their flocks. But there are other churches in which the congregation is big enough to pay a full-time shepherd. The congregation takes on a shepherd who needs to be compensated because he has too many church responsibilities to earn a living any other way.
In 1 Timothy 5:17, the Bible reinforces the duty to support church leaders: “Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine.” Doctrine, as I’ve pointed out before, means teaching or instruction. So, those who labor in teaching and instruction and who do so according to the Scriptures, are even worthy of a double honor. This does not refer only to respect. Many theologians believe it also refers to compensation. It doesn’t necessarily mean the head shepherd’s salary should be double that of another pastor or staff person, but if a person is a gifted Bible teacher fulfilling the qualifications of an elder/pastor, then he should be compensated for using biblical gifts and honoring the Lord by rightfully dividing the Word of Truth. These legitimate leaders should be paid for their service.
The problem in teaching about giving to God’s work comes in when people twist Scripture so to solicit a target amount of money from everyone in the church. Errant teaching usually takes the form of an admonition to tithe. The pastor of one of the largest churches in my area (Memphis, Tennessee) demonstrates what I’m talking about. A video of one of Steve Gaines’ sermons reveals his position on tithing:
[quote] Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse. Now, your storehouse is your local church. Tithe does not go to some other cause. Your tithe, ten percent, goes to your local church. I believe storehouse tithing means it ought to go in an undesignated fashion to the budget of your local church. It shouldn’t go to any other ministry. It shouldn’t even go to another offering here at Bellevue. Not our love offering, not our missions offering, not to a seminary, not to a college, not to a university, not to another ministry, not to another charitable organization. Your tithe goes to your church. [end quote]
But does the Bible really teach that? Does it say we are to bring tithes to the local church and not to any other ministry, missionary, or seminary student? Would it really be biblical to do that? No, no, and no. I’ll explain why later in this chapter, but Gaines’ exhortation borders on spiritual abuse. Using Scripture, he browbeats people to manipulate them into doing what he wants by taking Scripture out of context. Good shepherds don’t do this, so I would question whether Steve Gaines is qualified to be a pastor. Gaines even warns of being cursed for not giving appropriately:
[quote] When God’s people don’t tithe, the result is retribution. Daddy used to say, “Steve, if you don’t tithe, you won’t get that ten percent. God’s gonna take it back. You’ll never get to enjoy it.” Daddy was right. The Bible says, in verse 9, “You’re under a curse. Your whole nation has been cheating me.” . . .
Let me say this to you, if you don’t tithe, it’s not because the New Testament doesn’t teach it. If you don’t tithe, it’s not because God doesn’t command it. If you don’t tithe, it’s not because God won’t bless it. And I want to say this to you: the imagery of robbing God scares me. Now, it’s wrong to steal. It’s wrong. To steal from God? Yet, if you don’t tithe, you’re stealing from God. [end quote]
Gaines even argues that not tithing to a local church interferes with a person’s intimacy with God:
[quote] Can you imagine trying to worship somebody that you’re stealing from? Do you know why some people can’t be intimate with God? You can’t be intimate with somebody you’re stealing from, can you? I’m not trying to put a guilt trip on you. [end quote]
Steve Gaines is not the only major church figure who teaches this wrongheaded thinking about the tithe. Mega-church pastor Ronnie Floyd in Bentonville, Arkansas takes a similar approach. In 2014-16, Floyd served two terms as president of the Southern Baptist Convention, a position to which he was first nominated by Al Mohler, president of Southern Seminary. It’s certainly disappointing that Al Mohler and the largest Protestant denomination in America don’t have enough discernment to know that a Ronnie Floyd should not be their president. Yet, Ronnie Floyd has preached an extreme version of this tithing gospel. For example:
[quote] The first check you ought to write when you get paid is the first fruits check. The first auto draft that ought to be made is the first fruits auto draft. When you get paid bonuses, when you get paid stock, when you get paid stock options, you should have already taken care of what’s been given to you already. But now you’ve got more added to the bucket, whatever the level of your bucket. It doesn’t matter if your bucket’s minimum wage, whether your bucket’s Social Security, whether your bucket’s just a little. . . .
Pastor Robert Morris says it’s a real shame that Christians don’t believe the importance of writing the first check, but God is the one we value first. God is the one we respect first. God is the one we honor first. God is the one we fear first. And he says it’s not the mortgage company we fear first; it’s not the U.S. government we fear first. We should live our lives fearing God first. That’s why he said it’s important. He writes a book called Blessed—The Blessed Life. You never read The Blessed Life? You ought to get a copy of The Blessed Life. It’s one of the greatest books on financial matters that I’ve ever read. Robert Morris says these words. He says, “When God blesses you, when you give the first fruits, being blessed means you’re having supernatural power working for you.” Think carefully. He says, “Then by contrast, being cursed means having supernatural power working against you.” Now, let me tell you what he says, “When we honor the Lord with the first fruits, then I’ve got the supernatural power of God working for everything else in that bucket.” Are you with me? “But listen, if I don’t want to honor God with the first fruits, I’ve got the supernatural power of God working against me in my bucket.” [end quote]
Should you support a local New Testament church? Absolutely—with your gifts but not your tithes. Tithe is an Old Testament concept. Historically, it referred to agricultural produce, so the “storehouse” was literal. Today’s church is not “the storehouse.” That is Old Testament language, so let’s trace where the term comes from.
The tithe—also called first fruits—is originally mentioned in Genesis 14:20. Abram presents a “tithe of all” to Melchizedek. The Bible doesn’t tell us much about the recipient of this tithe except that he was the king or priest of ancient Jerusalem. But what did Abram give Melchizedek a tithe from? Was it from his annual income for that year? Did he give ten percent of the money he made that year? After all, Abram was wealthy. As I always point out, to find the answers we have to grasp the context of this Bible narrative.
Genesis 14 begins with an account of four kings who go to battle against five other kings. Two of the five kings are the rulers of Sodom and Gomorrah (this takes place before God destroys those cities). The four kings who start the war are the winners and take the spoils of Sodom and Gomorrah, including some prisoners.
Abram’s brother Lot and his family are among the captives, and one of them escapes, finds Abram, and tells him of the family’s distress. In response, Abram takes 318 well-trained men to rescue Lot and the others. These “well-trained” men were essentially bodyguards, a security force. So Abram’s personal militia attacks and subdues the kidnappers. In the process, Abram’s force chases the offenders many miles, and during the pursuit, Abram and his men recapture a large portion of the goods originally stolen from the five kings. Abram brings back Lot, Lot’s goods, and some of the goods of the other kings, and even the people taken hostage: “So he [Abram] brought back all the goods, and also brought back his brother Lot and his goods, as well as the women and the people” (Genesis 14:16).
This brings us to the tithing portion of the story. Here, Abram gives Melchizedek a tithe of all the recovered goods, the spoils. Abram gives out of money and possessions that weren’t Abram’s. He was giving from other people’s money! Even the New Testament affirms that Abram wasn’t giving from his own resources: “Now, consider how great this man [Melchizedek] was to whom even the patriarch Abraham gave a tenth of the spoils” (Hebrews 7:4).
Although it was typical in Abram’s culture to give a gift like this to someone whose status was superior to yours or for whom you had great respect, it doesn’t change the fact that this was a gift out of someone else’s funds. It was a one-time tithe, and it was not from Abram’s personal wealth but from the spoils of his victory over his enemies.
The interchange between Abram and the king of Sodom, recorded in Genesis 14:21-24, offers additional insight into the principles at work in the narrative:
[quote] Now the king of Sodom said to Abram, “Give me the persons, and take the goods for yourself.”
But Abram said to the king of Sodom, “I have raised my hand to the Lord, God Most High, the Possessor of heaven and that I will take nothing, from a thread to a sandal strap, and that I will not take anything that is yours, lest you should say, ‘I have made Abram rich’.” [end quote]
In other words, Abram gave all the credit to God for his victory, and he promised God he would keep nothing as a result. Abram had undertaken the battle solely to retrieve Lot and his family, not to gain treasure. He wanted nothing “except only what the young men have eaten, and the portion of the men who went with me” (Genesis 14:24). Those who had gone with Abram deserved to eat what they needed along the way and shouldn’t have had to compensate anyone for that.
The bottom line here is that Genesis 14 recounts a one-of-a-kind incident. It is not an example of a normative action.
Let’s contrast the simplistic Steve Gaines/Ronnie Floyd approach with a biblical understanding. In “Does God Require Me to Give a Tithe of All I Earn,” an article on the gracetoyou.org website, John MacArthur delineates the scriptural position:
[quote] Two kinds of giving are taught consistently throughout Scripture: giving to the government (always compulsory), and giving to God (always voluntary).
The issue has been greatly confused, however, by some who misunderstand the nature of the Old Testament tithes. Tithes were not primarily gifts to God, but taxes for funding the national budget in Israel.
Because Israel was a theocracy, the Levitical priests acted as the civil government. So the Levite’s tithe was a precursor to today’s income tax, as was a second annual tithe required by God to fund a national festival. Smaller taxes were also imposed on the people by the law. So the total giving required of the Israelites was not 10 percent, but well over 20 percent. All that money was used to operate the nation. [end quote]
Later in the article, MacArthur also notes that “all giving apart from that required to run the government was purely voluntary. Each person gave whatever was in his heart to give; no percentage or amount was specified.”
This voluntary giving principle applied even to the building of the temple. Gifts to the construction fund were optional. As for the New Testament perspective on giving, MacArthur explains:
[quote] New Testament believers are never commanded to tithe. Matthew 22:15-22 and Romans 13:1-7 tell us about the only required giving in the church age, which is the paying of taxes to the government. The Old Testament tithe was synonymous with tax and was no longer applicable in New Testament times. [end quote]
MacArthur observes this about our current situation:
[quote] Interestingly enough, we in America presently pay between 20 and 30 percent of our income to the government, a figure very similar to the requirement under the theocracy of Israel.
The guideline for our giving to God and His work is found in 2 Corinthians 9:6-7 which reads, “Now this I say, he who sows sparingly shall also reap sparingly; but he who sows bountifully shall also reap bountifully. Let each one do just as he has purposed in his heart; not grudgingly or under compulsion; for God loves a cheerful giver.” [end quote]
Many pastors like John MacArthur rightfully divide the Word of Truth, clearly understand New Testament instructions regarding giving, and teach it correctly. Scripture allows for supporting the Gospel and men who are full-time shepherds or elders, as well as funding missionaries and ministries, such as caring for orphans and widows.
The irony of the false teachers is that, if they really believed in the tithe as being for today, they should be asking their congregations for a whole lot more than they are. Something more like 25 percent would be in the ballpark. I believe they don’t ask, though, because they know they wouldn’t get it. They’re doing well to get ten, but they know that’s at least thinkable for their “flocks.”
Another problem with teaching the church is the storehouse is that it implies a belief in replacement theology. It suggests that the Church is Israel—a highly unbiblical theology. But if you believe that the Church is now to take the tithe, then that would mean the Church is now Israel.
Church-as-storehouse thinking necessarily tips some difficult theological dominoes. Shouldn’t we also be going to church on Saturday as the Sabbath? How about stoning people caught in adultery? You can’t just pick and choose which laws of Israel you follow, just because you want the benefit that some of them offer. But let’s come back specifically to how we should understand this Old Testament notion of the tithe. There are actually three separate tithes specified in the laws of Israel. The first supported the Levitical priests and, as with all tithes, was required of the people. This was part of their national tax is described in Leviticus 27:30: “And all the tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land or of the fruit of the tree, is the Lord’s. It is holy to the Lord.” This scripture points to the seed of the land or the fruit of the tree. The tithe was always crops or cattle, and this passage speaks of the crop version.
I was singled out by a Southern Baptist pastor once for violating this verse. He claims that I was sinning by not giving ten percent of my income to his local 501(c)(3) church. I wasn’t bringing my “gifts into the storehouse.” I offered to deliver a truckload of grain to his deacons so they could bag and distribute it to widows and orphans, but he didn’t find my response attractive—or humorous, I suppose.
It’s shocking to me that so many teachers like him have gone to seminary. Some even hold doctorates in ministry, and yet, cannot rightly divide the Word of Truth. Either that or they have a vested interest in not teaching what Scripture really says.
Numbers 18:21 reflects the first tithe payment to the Levites: “Behold, I have given the children of Levi all the tithes in Israel as an inheritance in return for the work which they perform, the work of the tabernacle of meeting.” Nehemiah 10:35-38 goes into even greater detail:
[quote] And we made ordinances to bring the first fruits of our ground and the first fruits of all fruit of all trees, year by year, to the house of the Lord; to bring the firstborn of our sons and our cattle, as it is written in the Law, and the firstborn of our herds and our flocks, to the house of our God, to the priests who minister in the house of our God; to bring the first fruits of our dough, our offerings, the fruit from all kinds of trees, the new wine and oil, to the priests, to the storerooms of the house of our God; and to bring the tithes of our land to the Levites, for the Levites should receive the tithes in all our farming communities. And the priest, the descendant of Aaron, shall be with the Levites when the Levites receive tithes; and the Levites shall bring up a tenth of the tithes to the house of our God, to the rooms of the storehouse. [end quote]
Again this scripture refers to farming—produce, seed, oil, wine—not money. The people also bring the firstborn of their sons and their cattle, a reference to the Passover during which they put blood on the doors, and the Lord spared their firstborn children and livestock. In giving this way, the Israelites would leave the cattle and pay some kind of offering for their sons in recognition of what the Lord had done in protecting them before the exodus from Egypt. Those goods went into a literal storehouse to provide for the Levitical priests. Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible offers a helpful commentary about this:
[quote] Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse or treasury. For there were places in the temple where the tithe was put. And from thence distributed to the priests and Levites for the support of their families as they wanted. There were the tithe or tenth part of all eatable things paid to Levites, and out of this, another tithe was paid by the Levites to the priest. And there was another tithe which some years the owners ate themselves at Jerusalem. And in others gave them to the poor. And these were called the first tithe, the tithe out of the tithe, the second tithe, and the poor’s tithe, though they are commonly reduced to three and are called first and second and third. [end quote]
The storehouse was literally a storage room in the temple. The second tithe went to support a national festival. Deuteronomy 14:22-29 speaks of this:
[quote] You shall truly tithe all the increase of your grain that the field produces year by year. And you shall eat before the Lord your God, in the place where He chooses to make His name abide, the tithe of your grain and your new wine and your oil, and the firstborn of your herds and your flocks, that you may learn to fear the Lord your God always. [end quote]
But if the journey is too long for you, so that you are not able to carry the tithe, or if the place where the Lord your God chooses to put His name is too far from you, when the Lord your God has blessed you, then you shall exchange it for money, take the money in your hand, and go to the place which the Lord your God chooses. And you shall spend that money for whatever your heart desires: for oxen or sheep, for wine or similar drink, for whatever your heart desires; you shall eat there before the Lord your God, and you shall rejoice, you and your household.
So, again, the tithe is not money, but you could exchange the tithe for “cash” if need be. The second tithe funded a national celebration out behind the tabernacle (or eventually, the temple). Most years, Jerusalem hosted the festival, but in the third and sixth years, the people stayed home and celebrated locally. Either way, treatment of the tithe was the same. In his International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, conservative nineteenth century (1844-1913) theologian, James Orr, describes how this worked:
[quote] After the tithe was given to the Levites, of which they had to give the tithe to the priest. A second tithe of the remaining nine/tenths had to be set apart and consumed in Jerusalem. Those who lived far from Jerusalem could change this second tithe into money with the addition of a fifth part of its value. Only food, drink, or ointment could be bought for the money. Every three years, the second tithe was diverted to feed the Levites, widows, orphans, and strangers who lived in Israel. [end quote]
According to Deuteronomy 14:27-29:
[quote] You shall not forsake the Levite who is within your gates, for he has no part nor inheritance with you. At the end of every third year you shall bring out the tithe of your produce of that year and store it up within your gates. And the Levite, because he has no portion nor inheritance with you, and the stranger and the fatherless and the widow who are within your gates may come and eat and be satisfied, that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hand which you do. [end quote]
As for the third tithe, it was a yearly tithe for the poor. Leviticus 19:9-10 explains:
[quote] When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not wholly reap the corners of your field, nor shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest. And you shall not glean your vineyard, nor shall you gather every grape of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger: I am the Lord your God. [end quote]
When you total all three tithes, they come to an assessment of 23 to 25 percent of an Israelite’s income. So, to be consistent with their own interpretation of tithing, people like Steve Gaines and Ronnie Floyd should be asking for about a quarter of everyone’s income as a tithe.
Of course, they shouldn’t actually be teaching any tithe at all. There’s more to Christian giving than that.
Giving—New Testament and Now
The Church is not Israel today. And when it comes to giving, even Orthodox Jews in Israel do not tithe. There is no temple for them to give to, so no matter how you look at it, all that we think about giving is different now than in the Old Testament. Let me give you a few examples of how this plays out.
During a question and answer session at his church, Pastor John MacArthur fielded a question from a woman who asked, “What should I do about the tithe? I’m in debt due to debts I ran up before I was a believer. Am I to keep tithing, or can I cease tithing for a while, while I try to pay off this debt?” Their interchange on the subject went like this:
[quote] Woman—Okay, I’d like to know: God says not to owe any man anything, and in trying to get out of debt from pre-Christian things, I’d like to know the priorities of tithing and beyond, trusting in God to provide for our needs and reading the Bible and having faith that He’ll take care of everything.
MacArthur—Let me suggest that you get a little book I wrote, just a little thin one, at the bookstore called Giving God’s Way. It’s a real inexpensive little deal. But read it, because it’ll help you see that the priorities are these: If you’re in debt, get out of debt. And what that means is, if you owe some people, make sure you make the payments. It doesn’t mean that you can’t owe somebody something in the sense that you buy a home and you pay a mortgage, or that you borrow money for a business, and you have to pay it back as your business makes money.
You want to be careful that you’re borrowing money for increasing investments. You hurt yourself when you borrow money for a decreasing commodity. In other words, when you borrow money to buy a car, you lose in the end a lot. Now, you may have to because necessity dictates.
But if you owe a payment or anything, you need to pay it. That’s what it means; pay your debts. Pay your debts. Now, if you’re in debt, and you’re wondering, Should I give it to the Lord or pay your debt, pay your debt.
Woman—How do you fit tithing in there? And would you talk a little bit about the ten percent?
MacArthur: Well, yeah, I can give you a quick answer on that. Don’t worry about ten percent. Drop that, because that’s not biblical giving. You see, in the Old Testament, the Jews gave ten percent of everything they had to pay the Levites who were the priests. They gave another ten percent to fund the national feasts, festivals, and holy days. That’s 20 percent. Every third year, they give another ten percent to the poor and the needy, and the orphan, the widow, and the stranger. So, that makes 23-1/3 percent. They couldn’t harvest the corner of their field. So, they had to leave that for the poor. That was a profit-sharing plan, so they lost something there. If they dropped a bushel off their cart, they couldn’t pick it up; it was for the poor. They had to pay one-third shekel temple tax every year. You start piling that stuff up, and you’re looking at 25 percent of their income every year went to the temple.
But that was like taxation. Because theirs was theocracy, ruled by God, and that’s how they paid their taxes. So, the tithe was never free-will giving; it was taxes. Then the Lord also said to them, “Give whatever you want out of the first fruits of your substance.” So, the principle of giving is this: pay your taxes and give God what you want. But know this, 2 Corinthians 9, “You sow sparingly, you’ll reap sparingly. You sow bountifully, you’ll reap bountifully.”
So, remember this, whatever you give, you’re going to get a return on. You give a little, you get a little return. You give a lot, you get a big return. Also know this, that God wants you to give not of necessity—but what? Cheerfully. Cheerfully. And liberally. The Macedonians, out of their deep poverty, gave liberally. So, that’s all in the Giving God’s Way little book. Okay? And that will help you. [end quote]
Setting aside the Old Testament taxation laws, the New Testament standards for giving are different. The main principles are that God loves a cheerful giver and if you sow sparingly, you’ll reap sparingly. Notice, too, MacArthur’s reasonable consideration of debt obligations. To pay her debts, MacArthur told the woman, would be a good testimony and a good witness. The driving principle seems to be that we handle our money in whatever brings the most honor and glory to Christ.
This doesn’t fit the Steve Gaines and Ronnie Floyd model for giving. To be sure, they’re not the only ones guilty of this sort of misrepresentation of biblical teaching. I use them simply because they are such high profile examples. It’s important, though, to examine where this sort of false teaching comes from, so let’s look at some of the scriptures specifically twisted to arrive at their paradigm for giving.
Where does the idea of stealing from God or being cursed come from? The source is Malachi 3:8-10:
[quote] “Will a man rob God? Yet you have robbed Me! But you say, ‘In what way have we robbed You?’ In tithes and offerings. You are cursed with a curse, for you have robbed Me, even this whole nation. 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.” [end quote]
This context, of course, is not only talking to the Levitical priests but is also talking to the whole nation of Israel. God accuses them of not paying the first, second, and third tithes they were bound by law to pay. In other words, they hadn’t been paying their taxes. The tithe is not repeated in the New Testament. We don’t bring produce and ox; we don’t store goods up in the storehouse of the temple for the Levites. The Malachi verses do not apply to New Testament believers today. That’s obvious when you consider that God refers to the temple when He says, “That there may be food in My house” again. Robbing the temple itself is what has brought the curse referred to in these verses. The alternative is the blessing promised from obedience.
God always blessed the Israelites when they were obeying Him. He gave them good weather, rain, and a good yield on their crops. He blessed their herds. We see this all throughout the Old Testament.
So, does God want you to give money to a mega church before caring for your own family’s needs? Does He want you to give before you take care of your mortgage and other legitimate bills? The answer is “no.” The Bible is clear that we must provide for our families financially: “But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Timothy 5:8). It’s pretty extreme pronouncement—“worse than an unbeliever.”
That same chapter in 1 Timothy goes on to talk about caring for widows and orphans, saying that when you care for widows and orphans, you are doing the work of the Lord. The Bible even lays down specific parameters by which we know who has a legitimate need for care. If a widow has a family to care for her, then the Church should not. Only if her family will not care for her should the Church step in. Note, too, that this is talking about care for other believers within the Church. To care for such people is just as much giving to the work of the Lord as if you write a check to a local church. We can do both, but it is not biblical to say that giving to the church is the work of the Lord while the other isn’t.
When so-called pastors teach that people should give to the church before addressing any other financial obligations they may have, they are saying, in essence, that you need to pay them first, so they can get their salaries and pay their mortgages. Then you can worry about your own family. The position they take is more than a bit ironic, I think.
According to news reports, some mega-pastors make $500,000 a year or more. Many of their churches also contribute to the pastor’s retirement account. Some even provide a “company car.” According to the Dallas Business Journal in 2007, GuideStone Financial Resources—formerly known as the Southern Baptist Annuity Fund—has surpassed $10 billion in organizational assets.
Besides being non-scriptural, this tithe-to-the-church theology is obviously self-serving. Even so, Steve Gaines doesn’t leave the appropriate amount at ten percent. He says it’s a minimum and is not afraid to apply heavy doses of guilt to extract even more than that from people. Here’s an example of his teaching on this:
[quote] But tithing alone, that’s for babies; that’s for little, bitty, small giving. I don’t want to do that. I want to go beyond the tithing. Now, some of you say, “Oh, I know some verses, though. I know some verses.” Yeah, I’m going to deal with those right now. And Jesus affirmed tithing, but also demanded godly living. I want us to read Matthew 23:23 from the New Living Translation with me, please, from the screen. “What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens, but you ignore the more important aspects of the law –justice, mercy, and faith.” “You should tithe, yes, but do not neglect the more important things.” What are the more important things? Justice, mercy, and faith. But did you catch that? You should tithe. “These are things you should do without neglecting the others” is the Greek. Everybody’s supposed to tithe? Absolutely. [end quote]
But is “absolutely” really the right answer to Steve Gaines’ supposedly rhetorical question. My answer is “absolutely not.” Why? It’s the context, of course.
In Matthew 23:23, Jesus is speaking directly to the Pharisees. He begins His instruction this way: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!” There’s no mistaking who He’s talking to. It’s the Pharisees there with Him.
Jesus points to their practice of paying a tithe from their herb gardens. This choice of example is crucial. The Pharisees were being so legalistic that they were tithing from their herb garden, the tiniest portion of their crops. He’s addressing people under the civic and ceremonial law of Israel and chides them for their legalism because it blinded them from the need to take care of more important matters like justice, mercy, and faith. Jesus alludes to the Old Testament command to “Love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and mind” (Deuteronomy 6:5). These Pharisees, though, were not loving the Lord. Gaines has to ignore the context—and the clear message of this scripture—to make the argument for modern-day tithing.
He does likewise with other scriptures. In discussing Paul’s view of giving, for instance, Gaines makes this point:
[quote] But I want it to be a willing gift, not one given grudgingly. Remember this, “A farmer who plants only a few seeds will get a small crop, but the one who plants generously will get a generous crop. You must each decide in your heart how much to give.” That’s the verse people use all the time against tithing right there. It’s not talking about tithing. It’s talking exactly about what I’m telling you to do with the love offering. This is above your tithe. Paul was talking of a gift above the tithe. [end quote]
He argues that Paul is talking about special offerings—presumably things like a building fund or remodeling the sanctuary. But that is not what Paul is saying. He is in no way reaffirming the tithe. He is affirming the idea of that people should bring their gifts, their offerings, cheerfully because God loves a cheerful giver.
Steve Gaines drives home his point about tithing through at least three different, publicly distributed sermons, using his argument that there are New Testament scriptures that affirm the tithe. Here are excerpts from the series:
[#1] [quote] Biblical giving. One of my favorite verses – just one verse today, Luke 6:38. This is what the Lord says. In fact, it’s so good let’s read it together. You can remain seated, but let’s read it off the screen together. Here’s what Jesus says. Read it with me: “Give, and it will be given to you—they will pour into your lap a good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return.” [end quote]
[#2] [quote] Give, and it will be given unto you. And this general principle also applies to your finances. “You give,” God says, “I will give to you in return.” [end quote]
[#3] [quote] Do you know that the New Testament also teaches tithing? We read in text all over the Bible that, “It’s more blessed to give than to receive.” “Give, and it will be given to you—good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, shall men pour into your lap. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return.” When Jesus said that, he knew what the standard of measure was in the Old Testament. The minimum was a tithe. [end quote]
This sort of Scripture twisting is akin to people like Benny Hinn. He and other prosperity preachers similarly use Luke 6:38 out of context. Compare this sermon by Benny Hinn:
[quote] We’re part of God; there’s nothing greater. But I believe He also meant the wealth transfer. And I believe this is what the Lord spoke about when He spoke of it in Luke 6:38. He said, “Give, it shall be given unto you.” Now, listen to the words, “Good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over shall man give to your bosom.”
I don’t think we have seen that kind of harvest yet, the kind of harvest where it shall be give unto you, good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over. That kind of prosperity is in the future, because that is that wealth transfer. I mean God has blessed us in many ways, but that promise of Luke 6:38, I don’t think we have seen it in completion. We have not seen the fullness of it yet. That’s coming; the Bible makes it very clear. [end quote]
Earlier in this chapter, I pointed out Ronnie Floyd’s endorsement of a book by Robert Morris called The Blessed Life. With regard to this aspect of the tithing argument, it’s important to see how off-base Morris—and hence, Floyd—actually is. Robert Morris also has a very public teaching ministry, and he has said:
[quote] You have to be extremely arrogant to steal from God. And please understand, if you don’t tithe, that’s an open door to demons, because that’s exactly what the enemy does. He’s a thief, and you’re allowing . . . Satan to get you to be a thief. But not only a thief, but stealing from God. Now, I don’t say that to make you feel condemned or to argue about tithing. I’m telling you that’s an open door, and no matter how many doors you close in your life, if you’re not a tither, you’ve always got an open door to the enemy. [end quote]
Not only is this sort of teaching troubling but Robert Morris also aligns himself with some questionable people. He has had Glenn Beck speak at his church—New Age Mormon Glenn Beck, who has said there is no hell so nobody goes there, who also talks about “your truth, my truth.” This is how Morris views Beck, though: “Last evening, Glenn Beck was here, and I’ve met with Glenn on a couple of occasions, and let me just say this man has a love for God that is so evident when you get to spend some time with him.”
So what is really going on in Luke 6:38? In his commentary, J. Jeremias explains the background:
[quote] The measuring of the corn is a process which is carried out according to an established pattern. The seller crouches on the ground with the measure between his legs. First of all, he fills the measure three-quarters full and gives it a good shake with a rotary motion to make the grains settle down. Then he fills the measure to the top and gives it another shake. Next he presses the corn together strongly with both hands. Finally he heaps it into a cone, tapping it carefully to press the grains together; from time to time he bores a hole into the corn and pours a few more grains into it, until there is literally no more room for a single grain. In this way the purchaser is guaranteed an absolutely full measure; it cannot hold more. [end quote]
Jesus was using the illustration of measuring grain, a practice the people He spoke to would have been familiar with. In context of this passage, Jesus is not talking about money. He is talking about being kind to your enemies. He wants His followers to be kind, gracious, and patient with their enemies and with those who mistreat them. The goal is to establish a good reputation with them so as to earn an opportunity to share the Gospel. If a believer “measures out” kindness and patience to an unbeliever, the unbeliever will likely give back the same.
John MacArthur offers a similar understanding in his New Testament Commentary:
[quote] The final command, “Give, and it will be given to you,” calls for generosity. In return they, i.e., unbelievers will pour into your lap a good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over. The goal of all our four commands is to have sinners not judge or condemn believers, but be forgiving and generous. If that is happening, it indicates unbelievers have accepted them, and they have an opportunity to proclaim the Gospel. When believers love nonbelievers like God does—compassionately, kindly, mercifully, and forgivingly—they demonstrate the transforming power of salvation. [end quote]
So the context has nothing to do with money. Notice, in fact, that the one described as pouring into the lap is the unbeliever, not God.
False teachers about tithing love to say things like, “You can’t out-give God. Whatever you give, God will give it back to you and then some.” And it’s true. God definitely is generous to believers as well as unbelievers. John 3:16 shows just how generous: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” God is so generous that He lets the unbeliever take another breath. He wants each to have a little more time to “think it over,” to realize their sinfulness, to repent of their sins, and to place their faith and trust in Christ.
But when folks like Gaines, Floyd, and Morris use these verses to say God is going to pour into your lap” that’s not what they’re talking about. They’re missing the evangelistic intent of the verse. When we are gracious to non-believers, it can open an opportunity to share the Gospel with someone who has been hostile toward you.
One approach the false teachers sometimes use to get around this misuse of Scripture is the “general principle” technique. They may even acknowledge the context of a verse such as Luke 6:38, but then add something like, “You can take the general principle and apply it to money.” But why would we need to do that when other scriptures speak directly and unequivocally to the money issue. “Sow sparingly and reap sparingly” is a forthright biblical principle about money. We don’t have to take Scripture out of context to find verses that guide us about how to give and use our finances.
The Bible includes more than 2,300 verses dealing with money. That’s why I offer an entire study series on money—“A Biblical Worldview and Money”—on my website at situationroom.net. With so many scriptures specifically addressing money and wealth, we don’t have to look for verses to take out of context in order to teach something that’s simply not there.
Still, Steve Gaines has the nerve to press the point about tithes and offerings. He even argues in favor of context supporting his view. For example:
[quote] [S]pecial offerings do not negate tithing. I heard some people say, “Well, Paul says that we’re just to give as we can afford it.” He wasn’t talking about tithing; he was talking about special offerings that were being taken up for the poor people in Jerusalem. Context, context, context. 1 Corinthians 16, classic example, verses 1 and 2. Now, regarding your question about the money being collected for God’s people in Jerusalem, this is a special offering; it has nothing to do with your tithe. This is quoted all the time, out of context, by pseudo-theologians. [end quote]
Compare this convoluted argument to the straightforward and far more reasonable interpretation offered by John MacArthur (presumably one of the opposing “pseudo-theologians” Gaines referred to):
[quote] Paul’s exhortation here is completely discretionary, for a Christian to give as he may prosper. No amount or percentage is ever required in the New Testament. Rather each believer is to give from his heart. (emphasis mine) [end quote]
Using another scripture, Gaines even says God killed two people for stealing from Him. Here’s what he does with the story of Ananias and Sapphira:
[quote] Every time a Christian refuses to tithe, it’s like Ananias and Sapphira; he or she is stealing from God. I wonder what would happen if God treated us this way this morning. I wonder how many people would be carried out the back door. When we refuse to tithe, we may call it sensible or prudent. God calls it cheating. God calls it robbing. [end quote]
This is an especially sad misuse of Scripture. Ananias and Sapphira were not killed because they didn’t tithe. Their deaths were not about any set amount of money. Acts 5:3-4 tells us why they God put them to death:
[quote] But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back part of the price of the land for yourself? While it remained, was it not your own? And after it was sold, was it not in your own control? Why have you conceived this thing in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.” (emphasis mine) [end quote]
They died for lying to God, not for failing to give to Him.
To be clear, I do not lump all mega-church pastors in with Gaines and Floyd. There are some who truly teach Scripture with regard to tithing. One who does so is Wade Burleson, pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Enid, Oklahoma. He pastors a multi-million-dollar church, and in an article on his website, he explains:
[quote] The root problem, in my opinion, is a common mistake made by institutional churches and those who lead them. Christian leaders sometimes make out their 501(c)(3) nonprofit institutional churches to be the kingdom of God. They are not. 501(c)(3) nonprofit institutional churches are kingdom tools, but they are not the kingdom. To be more specific, the church to which you belong is a tool whereby the kingdom of God can be advanced, but it is not the kingdom of God itself. This is a vital distinction that must be clear among Christian leaders and people who belong to institutional churches, or churches will continue to be on the slope of slow decline. . . .
We preachers deceive church members. We deceive church members when we act as if our institutions, our budgets, our buildings, our programs, and everything else about our nonprofits are equivalent to God’s kingdom. The key to prosperity for any nonprofit church is to have leadership that is keenly aware that churches are but tools in the kingdom, and all Christians, including Christian leaders of nonprofits, are simply servants, stewards in the larger kingdom.
The New Testament only speaks of the kingdom and servant leadership, not 501(c)(3) nonprofits. The New Testament only refers to the temple of God as the people of God, not institutional brick and mortar buildings. . . .
The New Testament only knows God’s people as believers in Jesus Christ from different regions and cities, joining together as needed to advance the kingdom of God. The New Testament knows nothing about individual institutional churches with big budgets, big buildings, and a professional staff who claim to be God’s priests and vicars over laity.
How do you know if an institutional church sees itself as the kingdom of God? Here are a few ways to determine.
One, if the pastor proclaims himself as your special authority—as your special authority—himself. If the pastor proclaims himself—himself, not the Word of God—if the pastor proclaims himself as your spiritual authority and demands obedience to his will—his will—then you have an institutional church that has set itself up as the kingdom of God.
Number two, if the pastor equates giving to the 501(c)(3) nonprofit institutional church as giving to God and not giving to the 501(c)(3) nonprofit institutional church as stealing, then the institutional church has set itself up as the kingdom of God. [end quote]
So, while it is good to find teachers like Burleson not letting self-interest dictate their interpretation of Scripture, it’s sad to see others twist Scripture and twist arms to get money for their churches and organizations. Now you know, though, how to discern true teaching from false with regard to tithing. Don’t be taken in—or let your money be taken—by those who would abuse Scripture to make a misguided, false point about how you should steward the finances God has put under your control.
Copyright 2015 ©Brannon Howse. This content is for Situation Room members and is not to be duplicated in any form or uploaded to other websites without the express written permission of Brannon Howse or his legally authorized representative.