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Untwisting the Bible, Part IX: Will a Man Rob God? – Malachi 3:8

by | Nov 14, 2023 | Opinion, Religion, The Church, Theology | 0 comments

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“Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me.” Malachi 3:8—a verse so frequently plucked from its Old Testament habitat and transplanted into the fertile soil of modern-day sermons, especially when the collection plate seems a little light. It’s become the go-to verse for proponents of “first fruits tithing,” a doctrine that, while superficially sounding spiritually rigorous, crumbles under the slightest scriptural scrutiny. Let’s untwist this verse and see what it truly tells us about tithing, giving, and the nature of our relationship with God under the New Covenant.

First, let’s address the elephant in the room: Malachi 3:8 was written to a specific audience under specific circumstances. This wasn’t a blanket statement to all believers for all time but a direct rebuke to the Israelites who were neglecting the Levitical law. The tithe mentioned here was part of a complex system of offerings and sacrifices detailed in the Mosaic Law, a system intricately tied to the socio-economic and religious fabric of ancient Israelite society. It was a provision for the Levites, who, unlike the other tribes, didn’t have a share in the agricultural land.

To yank this verse out of its historical and covenantal context and plaster it onto 21st-century church members is more than a stretch, it’s an act of hermeneutical gymnastics that would score a perfect ten for creativity but zero for fidelity to the text. The concept of “first fruits tithing” as often taught in many churches today, especially charismatic and Evangelical churches—that believers are required to give a fixed percentage of their income to the church to avoid divine retribution—is not only biblically unfounded but in reality is a pernicious form of spiritual manipulation.

First, let’s delve into the true meaning of Malachi 3:8. This passage is part of a larger narrative where God is calling His people back to faithfulness. The issue at hand was not merely about money or agricultural produce, it was about trust, obedience, and honoring God. The Israelites’ failure to “bring the full tithe” was symptomatic of a deeper spiritual malaise, a disconnect between their covenantal obligations and their lived reality.

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Fast forward to the New Testament, and the landscape shifts dramatically. With Christ’s fulfillment of the Law, the believer’s relationship to the Mosaic covenant, including its tithing regulations, is transformed. The New Testament doesn’t prescribe a specific percentage for giving. Instead, it calls for cheerful, generous, and voluntary giving (2 Corinthians 9:7). This giving is not about adhering to a rigid formula but about a heart transformed by the grace of God—a heart that gives not out of fear or obligation, but out of love and gratitude. The shift from law to grace does not diminish the act of giving; rather, it elevates it to a joyful response to the boundless generosity of God.

The New Testament model of giving is encapsulated in the acts of the early church, where believers gave as they were able and sometimes even beyond their ability (2 Corinthians 8:3). They shared their possessions with glad and generous hearts, not because they were trying to fulfill a legalistic requirement, but because they were compelled by love and unity in Christ (Acts 2:44-47). This is a far cry from the transactional, percentage-based giving often advocated by proponents of “first fruits tithing.”

Additionally, the New Testament emphasizes the importance of providing for one’s own family (1 Timothy 5:8), showing hospitality (Hebrews 13:2), and caring for the poor among the body (James 1:27). These acts of giving are not items to be checked off to meet a quota—they are expressions of a living faith that actively works through love (Galatians 5:6).

Therefore, Malachi 3:8, when understood in its proper context, cannot be used to support the doctrine of “first fruits tithing” for the Church today. This doctrine misrepresents the nature of giving under the New Covenant and undermines the liberty and joy that should characterize Christian giving. Instead of being bound by a legalistic percentage, believers are invited to experience the freedom and blessing of giving that flows from a mind renewed by the gospel and a heart that gives not out of compulsion, but out of a deep sense of gratitude for the immeasurable grace we have received in Christ Jesus.

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