Avoiding Assumptions in Application pt 3

by | Feb 11, 2022 | Giving, Sermon Supplements, Studying Scripture

NOTE: This is a continuation of the blog post: To Tithe or Not To Tithe. This post discusses one of the false assumptions many teachers make when applying Scripture inaccurately. By examining these assumptions in the context of tithing we will see examples of their use and guard against using these assumptions in regard to other subjects.

False Assumption 3

Examples of human actions either implicitly affirmed or not explicitly countermanded in the New Testament should be considered applicable to our lives today.

The New Testament is very clear that as believers we are no longer under the Law of Moses but are under the grace provided through the cross of Christ. That is why we look for New Testament confirmation of Old Testament commands before concluding that those commands are still valid today.

There is no Scripture in the New Testament that clearly confirms that believers are to tithe 10%. However, there are two or three passages that some interpret to support a continuation. Because these passages affirm the validity of tithing in some form, many assume that it automatically applies that confirmation to believers. However, this assumption just doesn’t hold water if we apply sound examination of the passages.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!

Matthew 23:23-24 (ESV)

“But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.

Luke 11:42 (ESV)

Both of these statements are made by Christ Himself and should bear the most weight in Scripture, though all of Scripture is ultimately from God.

Let’s look at the context. Christ is in the midst of proclaiming multiple woes on the Jewish religious leaders for the way they live and teach the people. The whole context is not even being given as instructions to them so much as it is being given as an indictment on their actions and motives. So, this is less about teaching what TO do and more about teaching what NOT to do. 

In Matthew, Jesus is teaching the people (Jews) to obey the law, as taught by the Pharisees, but not to follow their example because they do things for men to see, not out of a heart of true worship. He then turns his attention to the Pharisees themselves as He proclaims multiple ‘woes’ on them for the way they practice the law.

In the Luke rendition, we see Jesus is invited to dinner at a Pharisee’s house. He does not follow the rituals that the Pharisee expects and the Pharisee reacts in astonishment. Christ then launches into His woes against them and lawyers.

In both of these passages, Jesus is not concerned with the exactitude of their obedience but rather their motives. That is the teaching He is giving when you consider the whole context. 

However, the phrase, “These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others” is often taken as Christ confirming tithing as something His believers should do. Again, that’s not what he is teaching. The prescription in this passage is not to us, but to the Pharisees that they need to worship God from true hearts, not hearts devoted to man’s praise.

So, just because the passage doesn’t contradict obedience to tithing, the context of the passage makes it clear that Jesus is not commanding a tithe for believers, but rather condemning the way the Pharisees perform it at the expense of other weightier matters. Of course, Christ would affirm the tithe to Jews who were still under the Law of Moses.

See how great this man was to whom Abraham the patriarch gave a tenth of the spoils! […] But this man who does not have his descent from them received tithes from Abraham and blessed him who had the promises. It is beyond dispute that the inferior is blessed by the superior. In the one case tithes are received by mortal men, but in the other case, by one of whom it is testified that he lives. One might even say that Levi himself, who receives tithes, paid tithes through Abraham,  for he was still in the loins of his ancestor when Melchizedek met him. […] For it is evident that our Lord was descended from Judah, and in connection with that tribe Moses said nothing about priests. This becomes even more evident when another priest arises in the likeness of Melchizedek, who has become a priest, not on the basis of a legal requirement concerning bodily descent, but by the power of an indestructible life. For it is witnessed of him,

“You are a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek.”

Hebrews 7:4-17 [excerpts] (ESV)

The last passage many use to support this false assumption is found in Hebrews 7. For the sake of space, I have not put the whole passage here. However, if you read it in its entirety you will see that the writer of Hebrews is in the midst of comparing Christ to types/shadows in the Old Testament. One of these types is Melchizedek who we saw in Genesis 14. 

The writer points back to the tithes that Abraham gave but the focus is not on the tithe itself but rather on the fact that Melchizedek was ‘greater’ than Abraham. Therefore, he is greater than Levi whose descendants received tithes as well. The point being made is that there is a greater priesthood outside the Levites, namely one of Melchizedek.

Christ’s priesthood transcends the Laws requirements of priests by flesh and blood to a greater priesthood after the order of Melchizedek. The sacrifice He makes is greater than any they made. Many will assume here that because Christ is a priest, we then should offer tithes (like under the law) to Him via the church.

However, that isn’t the point. The point of Christ’s priesthood is to offer a sacrifice that the Aaronic priests never could… the perfect, once-for-all sacrifice. This passage has nothing to do with commanding what we are to do, but rather about what He has done as our great High Priest!

We must be very careful to guard against these assumptions and evaluate the context of the passages where we find what we believe to be new commands through examples. If we do not guard our minds and our process of evaluating Scripture we can do much harm to our own walk with Christ as well as draw others into man-centered acts instead of Christ-centered responses.