Luke 11:42 (ESV) … “But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.”
Jesus’ initial woe fell hard on the Pharisees’ famous, much-ballyhooed giving of the tithe: “Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone” (v. 42).
The Pharisees tithed, which is more than can be said for most of the professing church today. So we must admire their legalistic commitment. No sincere Pharisee ever knowingly gave less than his legal obligation. Synagogues that had a good sprinkling of Pharisees prospered. They were such givers that they even gave a tenth of their necessary household spices—one mint leaf out of every ten. They even went beyond what was required. For example, the Mishnah states that “Rue, goosefoot, purslane, hill-coriander, celery and meadow-eruca are exempt from Tithes” (Shebiith 9:1)—yet they tithed them anyway! Pharisees were legendary tithers, and they disdained the hoi polloi of the Jewish masses precisely because they did not tithe. Most preachers would not mind a few such givers—“Come to my church, all you Pharisees and heavy-laden givers, and you shall find rest for your checkbooks!”
The Pharisees were great tithers, but they were inward failures, as Jesus’ words made so clear: “but you neglect justice and the love of God.” The fact is, they were Scrooges toward the needy—the stranger, the fatherless, the widow. They perpetuated the sin of their forefathers who loved ritual performance but neglected justice. The prophet Micah stated:
He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8, emphasis added)
Similarly, Amos said:
“I hate, I despise your religious feasts; I cannot stand your assemblies. Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!” (Amos 5:21–24, emphasis added)
The Pharisees had calculated their tithing down to the decimal point, and they never missed a leaf. But when someone came to them with a personal material need, they responded like stingy characters from a Dickens novel. And Jesus could not tolerate this.
High Heaven rejects the lore
Of nicely calculated less and more.
Why? Because when you do not personally care and give aid to others, you do not really love God. Listen to the Apostle John on this: “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth” (1 John 3:17, 18).
In an age of religious Scrooges, the great Samuel Johnson commented of Boswell:
He frequently gave all the silver in his pocket to the poor, who watched him, between his house and the tavern where he dined. He walked the streets at all hours, and said he was never robbed for the rogues knew he had little money, nor had the appearance of having much.
We dare not live under the collectivist delusion of those Christians who reason, “I gave at the church. Sorry I can’t help you.” We are to be generous to all in need. Jesus was clear on this: “You should have practiced the latter [loving God and loving others by ministering to their needs] without leaving the former [tithing] undone.” Our Savior wants us to live “both and”—to tithe and to be personally generous.