Let’s get something out of the way right now: We are not against giving…there is simply no Christian lifestyle without giving. Nevertheless, the question raised in the title of this series regarding our tithe is a legitimate one (please click here to read the introduction to this series). Think about the last time you selected a gift for a loved one. Chances are, one of the major reasons you made that particular choice is the fact that you knew it would be of great value to your loved one. You made that choice because you knew just how much it would please that person. Therefore, when it comes to offering our tithe to God, wouldn’t it be nice to know just how much God values it? Is He always pleased? Is there such a case where we might be better off not tithing at all?
Now, Malachi 3:8-10 is arguably the most cited verse when it comes to speaking of the value of our tithe. But after a meaningful study with a friend, we are now coming to the conclusion that it is probably Jesus Himself, our Lord, who gave the most specific and detailed information we could ever need regarding the practice of tithing.
But first, picture the following: You are “very, very” thirsty; you are dehydrated! Now suppose a loved one, aware of your need, is about to bring you one of the following: 1) A perfectly clean glass filled with truly fresh and cold water, 2) a glass that is somewhat, and perhaps even quite dirty on the outside, but filled with truly fresh and cold water, 3) a perfectly clean glass, but filled with truly filthy sewage water, and 4) nothing, absolutely nothing! What would be your order of preference? Please keep your selection in mind, and we shall return to it later in the series.
In this series, we focus primarily on the context of Matthew 23:23, starting from verse 16 and ending in verse 28. But specifically, we will discuss verses 24 to 28. The reason for looking at the context is two-fold. First, it is to highlight what we believe are further evidences that verse 23 was translated incorrectly, as we concluded in the primer to this series. Essentially based on our study, we believe that in the conclusion of that verse, Jesus was simply emphasizing that the scribes and Pharisees should not be neglecting the weightier matters of the Law. We do not believe, as opposed to what most English translations imply, that Jesus stated “…and make sure you tithe” as well, although it is understood that tithing was part of the Law. Second, it is to lay our reasoning for believing that there is such thing as an abominable tithe, and that Jesus Himself spoke of it. This discussion will touch upon both aspects simultaneously.
Matthew 23:23 [KJV] – Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.
Verses 24 to 27 of Matthew 23 are – without a doubt – figures of speech. And we believe our Lord stated them to emphasize what He said in verse 23, by giving very graphic and vivid imageries pertaining to the seriousness of what He was accusing the scribes and the Pharisees of: That while they were strictly observing the practice of tithing, they were neglecting the weightier matters of the Law. Frankly, just by reading verse 23, I could not determine just how much heavier (i.e. more important) the other matters of the Law are. Was Jesus speaking of a 50 lbs. versus 75 lbs. type of relationship or was He speaking of 1 lb. versus 10,000 lbs. type of scenario? Well, no need to guess, as He answers us very clearly in the next verse.
Measuring the scale of uncleanness
In verse 24, Jesus states:
Matthew 23:24 – Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel.
This verse provides a scale ranging from a gnat (a type of mosquito) to a camel. The gnat was essentially the smallest unclean animal while the camel was one – if not the – largest unclean animal (Hey, I got this last piece of information from the Amplified Bible:)). Now, no one can literally swallow a camel, so
obviously, it is a figure of speech (a metaphor?). And we can definitely agree that this is very disturbing imagery! According to Jesus, their religious and meticulous observance of the practice of tithing was equivalent of them purifying themselves of the smallest unclean thing that existed…a mosquito. On the other hand, them neglecting the weightier matters of the Law was equivalent to them “swallowing” an entire camel, the largest unclean animal! Could our Lord be more graphic? This is not a 50 lbs. versus 75 lbs. type of scenario…it is a 1 ounce to a million pound type of case Jesus was speaking of. Next to a camel, you can’t really see a mosquito…so small and insignificant it is. By giving this imagery, our Lord was showing to the scribes and the Pharisees just how far off they were in their thinking and behavior!
This verse alone should give all of us “serious” pause as to how we – each of us – perceive our own tithing! Do we see our tithing the same way our Lord does? How does our diligence to observe the weightier (now we know how truly heavier) matters of the Law – judgment mercy and faith – compare to our diligence toward tithing? Do we perhaps, as the scribes and Pharisees of old, have a false sense of confidence in our spiritual standing, or do we see ourselves to be much better than they ever were? Our Lord Jesus tells us plainly that there are matters that are far, far, far more important in our Father’s eyes. Do we see those matters the same way our Father sees them? Perhaps it’s time for us to reconsider how we measure our Christian walk. To God be the Glory…majesty without end!