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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.  Matthew 23:23

Jesus did not denounce tithing, even scrupulous tithing.  He did denounce using tithing as a way of evading “the weightier matters of the law,” which demand real sacrifice.  Indeed, the Lord says that tithing, even in small matters, is something not to be neglected.

The hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees lay in over-emphasizing easier forms of obedience while under-emphasizing harder forms of obedience.  They hid their unbelief within a self-invented form of theological disproportion, making small things look big and big things look small.  They seized upon opportunities to tithe, and they dismissed the crying needs for justice and mercy and faithfulness.

Jesus had quite a different sense of theological proportion.  Here is how he saw it: “Justice and mercy and faithfulness — you ought to do these things!  And while you’re at it, don’t neglect tithing.”

What Jesus was looking for from them, and what he looks for from us, is honest obedience in every area of life, however inconvenient.  If our obedience amounts to doing good, biblical things that we would have done anyway, for our own reasons, then our obedience isn’t obedience; it is coincidence.  Obedience says Yes to God, by faith in Christ, no matter what his Word says, just because it is his Word speaking to us — but with special relish for the obviously more courageous things.

Tithing, then, is an obedient thing to do.  But we should not think of it as heroic and sacrificial and impressive.  Tithing is Obedience 101.  It is entry-level discipleship.  When we tithe, we should be thinking, “Well, this is for starters.  And I grow from here.”  So let’s tithe.  But let’s also press boldly into the demanding questions of justice and mercy and faithfulness, trusting and obeying Jesus no matter what the cost.


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Ray Ortlund


Ray Ortlund is senior pastor of Immanuel Church in Nashville, Tennessee, and serves as a Council member with The Gospel Coalition. You can follow him on Twitter.

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