Jesus mentioned the word “tithe” twice in the narrative of the Gospel. What was He trying to communicate in these specific passages? “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone.” Matthew 23: 23.
In this verse, Jesus was speaking to the scribes and Pharisees and called them hypocrites because they paid tithes, but neglected “the weightier matters of the law.” In fact, He clearly stated that the practice of tithing was not the most important part of the law. He invited them to practice first “justice, mercy and faith” because without those things, it is impossible to please God (Matthew 6: 33; Matthew 9: 13 and Hebrews 11: 6).
The Pharisees were particularly zealous for the traditions of their fathers and were among the most religious Jews. The word “Pharisee” means “separated.” They called themselves “separated” because they stood away from the things and the people they considered impure. These “set apart” men taught that righteousness was obtained by the strict application of the law, as illustrated in the following passage:
Also He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and despised others: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men— extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’ And the tax collector, standing afar of , would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” Luke 18: 9-14
Through this story, Jesus described the attitude of heart of two men, – a Pharisee and a tax collector, – who went to the Temple to pray. The Pharisee exalted his righteousness and considered himself faithful to God’s law because he was not commit- ting the tax collector’s sins, regularly fasted, and gave a tenth of all his possessions. The tax collector, on the other hand, humbly admitted to being a sinner before God and implored His mercy. In the end, the repentant tax collector was justified rather than the arrogant Pharisee. The central teaching of this parable is that there is no justification for the strict observation of the Law. Indeed, God takes more pleasure in humility and brokenness (Psalm 51: 19).
Jesus did talk about tithing as shown in these passages, but these verses cannot be quoted in our day to encourage Christians to tithe because it was not His intentional message. Although Jesus did not condemn tithing here, we must understand that when He spoke in Matthew 23: 23 and Luke 11: 42 – which tells the same story – Jesus was still under the Old Covenant as the New Covenant began with His death and resurrection.