Q – I know it doesn’t say in the Bible but do you know about the Pharisees and how they tithed in vain?
Jim – Actually, Jesus did make reference to how the Pharisees were very careful to tithe exactly ten percent of every spice and every seed. They were very legalistic and exceedingly zealous to do everything “by the book.” However, Jesus pointed out that while they were tithing meticulously, they had forgotten the more important matters of the Law, which He said were mercy and justice. So, even though they were following the mandates of the Law by giving their tithes, those tithes were of no value, seeing they had neglected what Jesus called the “weightier matters.” Here the passage –
“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. Blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel! Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee, first cleanse the inside of the cup and dish, that the outside of them may be clean also.” (Matt 23:23-26)
You can see that Jesus was very hard on them, despite their dedication to tithing. It was completely in vain. It gained them no approval from God.
Modern Christian concepts of tithing run perilously close to this same error. Many people are careful to give ten percent of everything that comes into their hands, but they neglect the “weightier matters” of Christian life and doctrine.
Q – I learned about it in Bible class yet I don’t quite remember. I know that there was something like a big bowl that was in the city out in the open so that the people could go by and drop their tithe in. I kind of know that the Pharisees would go by and drop change in and it would make a lot of noise so it made them look like they were giving big amounts of money and that was wrong or something?
Jim – Yes, there was a collection bowl, of sorts, in the temple at Jerusalem. In fact, Jesus once stood and watched as people put money into the temple treasury.
“Now Jesus sat opposite the treasury and saw how the people put money into the treasury. And many who were rich put in much.” (Mark 12:41)
The Pharisees would make a big show of their gifts. They wanted people to see them give their money. But, Jesus told His followers that when they gave (called “doing alms”) that they should give so secretly that even their left hand did not know what their right hand was doing. That’s pretty private, eh? And, He assured them that God knew what they had, what they gave, and what was in their hearts. When they gave privately, for God’s glory, God would reward them openly. But, the Pharisees would get nothing from God in return for their gifts, because they had already received what they desired – the praise and adoration of other men.
Here’s the passage –
“Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” (Matt 6:1-4)
So, here’s the principle. God knows whether you have great wealth or whether you are scraping by. He knows that He has provided for your every daily need. And, He knows whether you give for His glory, as an act of thanksgiving, or whether you give in order to impress the people around you. If you give for His glory, He will reward you. If you give to receive the adulation of other people, you’ve already received your reward, which is the praise of men.
So yes, the Pharisees had a bad habit of making big prayers in the synagogue, making sure everyone knew they were fasting, and making a big show of their giving. They did these things so that other men would think that they were holy and righteous. But, in the end, it doesn’t matter what other people think. It only matters what God thinks. And, God wants us to worship Him in humility, not by making a spectacle of ourselves.
I hope that helps!