Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver --2 Corinthians 9:7
How do we learn God's Will? Well, we could go to our pastor or priest and tap into his understanding and experience. We could buy a few theology books and search the minds of Bible scholars. We could ask our friends. Or, we could go to the source. Why not really dig into the Bible, as God commands (2 Timothy 2:15)? Everything we need to know of our God is written in Scripture. We learn His will by learning what He has already revealed to us.
We do seem to get a lot of misinformation. I was talking with a friend about her relationship with the visible Church. She told me that she rarely attends services because her pastor stresses tithing. As a single parent of two teenage children, she cannot afford to drop a tenth of her income into the kitty.
Think about that. It distresses her that she is able to place but a small amount in the collection basket. To avoid embarrassment, she chooses to stay away from church.
Gold and other treasure often interfere in our relationship with God.
Let the boss be gone for a few days, and everything goes to pot! Moses had climbed the mountain to confer with Jehovah Himself. When he had been away only a little time, the people rejected his leadership and turned aside from God. And what did they decide to worship instead of Jehovah, Who had delivered them from slavery? A golden calf.
What trust we have in the power of gold. What faith we have that treasure somehow will keep us safe. God Almighty had called down ten plagues on Egypt, and had parted the sea. The golden calf could not save itself from destruction at Moses' hands. As we search through the Old Testament, how often do we read that Israel turned away from God to worship some other god-thing? And this, despite the terrible warning:
What is it about gold and silver that so cries out to man? It can be used to buy goods and services, even to purchase what has the appearance of respect from those who have less wealth. Some do buy things: monuments to their avarice. Some hoard their wealth and take joy from watching as it feeds on itself and grows. Some dispose of money as quickly as they acquire it. For some, money represents power -- power even to rival that of God.
Simon was no ignorant heathen; he had believed on Jesus Christ [Acts 8:13]. He had traveled with Philip, spent time with Peter and John, seen signs and great miracles. Yet, Simon did not understand what he had witnessed, what he had experienced in his own heart, could not be bought with money; for it had already been purchased for a far greater price.
Simon walked with the Apostles, yet he believed the power of God Almighty could be bought and sold. Is it any wonder so many of today's shepherds likewise are confused? How often does Pastor remind us that Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us for it is written,
This same pastor, who with great passion pleads that you come forth out of bondage, will then remind you of your obligation to tithe. One of the proof texts often cited states:
There is no doubt tithing was serious business for the Hebrew nation, for those under the Law. But is it Scriptural that Gentiles tithe? Some modern preachers would have us believe we are bound to tithe, even though we in a covenant of grace. If the foregoing is not enough to shake a few coins from believers' purses, preacher might then recall these words from Mosaic Law:
What is going on here? Are believers under both grace and the Law? Though we have called out to God through Jesus Chtist, are we still unable to throw off the whole yoke of the Law? Did Christ pay only part of our sin debt and free us from only part of the Law? Did God ever intend for us to tithe? Either Pastor is wrong, or the Bible lies.
Again and again, New Testament writers admonish us to remember we are under grace, not Law. Again and again, they tell us
Here is the situation. Before Christ's perfect sacrifice paid our sin debt, the only folks who had even a shot at forgiveness and eternity with God were those who could satisfy every requirement of the Law. That was not possible, since everyone is born in sin. The Law can save no one. Scripture tells us,
To begin with, we all carry the burden of Adam's sin. To that add the impossibility of never once violating some provision of the Law, and it is evident that there is no hope of salvation under the Law. It only takes one little slip.
Not only is it foolish to seek to serve both the Law and grace, it is dangerous. Paul warned the Galatians not to pay heed to the judaizers who sought to subvert his teachings. These heretics demanded that all who wished to follow Christ first become Jews. Without equivocation, Paul told the church they would pay a terrible price if they yielded to the judaizers' importuning:
What must I do to be saved?
In His earthly ministry, Christ preached a simple Gospel: believe on Him and be saved. Once saved, Jesus taught us we must love God unreservedly and love our neighbors as ourselves. Knowing man would mess things up, God set apostles to write out a series of instructions for Christian living. To help us even more, He sent the Holy Spirit, the Third Person of God, to indwell every believer and guide us along the Way.
And we still get it wrong!
The human creature is perverse. We are presented a free gift of unspeakable worth, and we just will not accept it graciously. The dark side of our nature demands that we mistrust anything that comes to us without strings attached. So we attempt to earn what cannot be bought. We don't know what we can do that would merit such a priceless gift, so we generate a set of requirements which, if met, we believe will enable other men to pronounce us worthy of the gift.
Think about that for a moment. Believers hold the keys to the Kingdom, which is our administrative determination of with whom to share the Gospel. No man brings a heathen to salvation; that is the province of the Holy Spirit. Faith comes by hearing, and we are the witnesses. The Holy Spirit convicts the elect and calls them into a saved -- a familial -- relationship with Almighty God, not Pastor at his altar call. Our Lord is intolerant of all who would usurp His power.
We rightly control the keys when, acting in concert with Divine Will, we decide whether to share the Gospel with an unbeliever [Matthew 16:19]. How easy it is to get caught up in our testimony for Christ! We witness to the lost. We teach them of God's great love and Christ's substitutionary death. We insist, we cajole, we demand that the listener give himself to Christ right then and there. And if he does make a decision for Christ, we puff out our chests and boast, "I have brought another sinner to salvation."
Oh! How proud we are of our power to save sinners. Listen to the power preacher or the televangelist or the priest as he speaks of the thousands that he has led in a sinner's prayer. If mortal man can bring about salvation, what need have we of Christ, the Holy Spirit or God Almighty?
Read again God's requirements for salvation:
If that isn't clear enough, perhaps John's words are:
Please note there is no mention of coming forward at altar call. It does not say we must say a sinner's prayer. It does not say we must plead for forgiveness. There is no mention of sacramental baptism. Those are works, and they cannot save anybody. Forget the power preacher, the faith healer amd the parish p[riest. God says we are to hear and believe. Salvation is a gift from God. No charge. No works-for-grace trade. No ceremonies. It is free! Just receive it! And no preacher on earth can give it to you.
The over-zealous witness, the misguided minister or the sold-out servant of the deceiver can too easily lead a seeker away from the Path. When that happens,
Law or grace?
When Moses returned from his training session with God, he brought with him more than just the moral Law we call the Ten Commandments. The Lord God had created a new nation, a theocracy ruled by Himself. A wise and just Ruler, Almighty God provided a complete set of laws and ordinances addressing every facet of life. He gave tort laws, criminal laws, domestic relations laws, religious laws, sanitary laws, etc. To govern the nation and administer those laws, He established a priestly bureaucracy .
While "All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness" (2 Tim 3:16), not everything in the Bible is a command to Christians. Much of Scripture is our family history. In Proverbs and elsewhere, we find counsel which, if heeded, could make our lifes easier. We have the Law as a standard for right and wrong. We have Christ's teaching which can free us from the Law, and spiritual guidance to help us in our stumbling walk of faith.
God gave the Law as a teacher and as the fabric to operate the theocracy that was Israel. As a body of rules, it applies specifically to that people. The tithes and freewill offerings functioned as taxes to provide for the care and upkeep of the priests and Levites, who were forbidden to do any other work, for the operation of the government and for support of the needy. There also was a valuation tax, levied upon persons making difficult vows (Lev. 27:1-13), and a tax for temple service (Ex. 30:11-16). It may be of interest to observe the average of required tithes comes to about 23% of income, and that figure does not include offerings or the valuation and temple service taxes.
We who are in the Body of Christ are freed from the impossibility of satisfying the Law. The Law remains, to be the standard against which all those not in Christ will be judged. (Matt 5:18)
So, if I am not under the Law in matters pertaining to sin and my eternal relationship with God Almighty, how is it that Pastor continues to admonish me to tithe, according to the Law. If the requirement to tithe continues, why do not other obligations of the Law remain in effect? Why do we not stone mediums and channelers to death (Lev. 20:27)? Why do we not execute homosexuals (Lev. 20:13)? Why do we permit businesses to operate on the Sabbath day (Lev. 23:12)?
All you ever wanted to know about tithing
Many pastors seem to preach a financial gospel and re-enforce their exhortations to tithe with warnings of Old Testament curses. Do they read the same Bible I do? Are they simply adapting Scripture a bit to suit their financial needs and church building aspirations?
Tithing is an ancient custom; one that predates Israel. We read in Genesis, Chapter 14, of the four kings who defeated the coalition led by the king of Sodom. In addition to killing the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah and pillaging the cities, they took captive Lot, the nephew of Abram. Abram gathered 318 trained men of his household and set out to rescue Lot. The Lord was with Abram, and his victorious forces freed Lot and plundered the goods of the defeated kings.
When Abram returned to Sodom with his nephew and the booty, he was met by the king of Salem and new king of Sodom. Melchizedek, the king of Salem and a priest, brought bread and wine for the returning warriors. After he had blessed Abram, the patriarch gave a tithe to the king-priest. Now, Scripture does not tell us Abram was commanded to pay the tithe, or that Melcizedek asked for it. Indeed, we have no evidence of what motivated Abram to give the tithe to the king of Salem.
We do know Abram was in a giving humor at that time. The king of Sodom asked only for the people Abram had brought back, and told the warrior he could keep all the goods he had taken. Abram said he wanted no profit from this venture and gave the booty, less the portions due his retainers, and refused the king's offer. The Bible does not tell us what proportion went to the king of Sodom, but it likely was a great deal more than ten percent. One cannot but wonder why our pastors did not determine to retain that larger portion as being required of their congregationists, rather than the lesser tithe.
Except as commanded to Israel, we really don't read much about tithing in the Old Testament. The Hebrew people were obligated to pay several different tithes. The Levites were committed to religious service, and had no source of income. A tithe was established to provide for their livelihood and maintenance [Num. 18:21,24].
It was also required that everyone pay a tithe for the Lord's feasts and sacrifices. These were to be consumed at whatever site the Lord chose; where the Ark of the Covenant was located. This tithe could be paid in kind or, if the trip was a long one, the goods could be sold and money sent in their stead. [Deut 14:22--26.
At the end of every third year, a tithe was collected for the poor, to be eaten in their own homes. [Deut 14:28-29].
Even the Levites were required to tithe. They paid a tithe of the tithe they received for their support. This was given to the priests [Num 18:26]. Hmmmm. Pastor never mentioned there were different kinds of tithes. I wonder how Pastor determined which tithes Christians are to pay and which applied only to Israel?
The befuddled Christian might say; "Since we are no longer under the Law, there is no need for us to support the Levites and priests. Is there? After all, there has been no temple in Israel since the year 70 A.D."
On the surface, this appears a sound argument. However, there are a few things which must be considered. Firstly, the earth and everything else already belongs to God. He can do what He pleases with that which is His. If it is His sweet pleasure that we return some of that with which He blesses us, who are we to argue?
Secondly, the Lord is not broke. He does not require a handout from His creation. When He promised Israel a new temple, through the prophet Haggai, He said:
Okay, let's see where we are. Tithing is an ancient custom that predates the history of Israel. Under the Law, several different tithes were required of the Hebrew people. We are not under the Law, so we are free of the requirements of the Law. Everything already belongs to God. All this means, I suppose, that we are under no obligation to tithe. Right?
Wrong! I believe everyone of us who pretends to the title Christian must use some portion of his resources in the service of our Lord.
"Well," you whimper, "now I really am confused. We are not under Law, you argue, yet you tell us we must continue to tithe, just as though that obligation somehow was spared when we entered into the Covenant of Grace."
Let us reason together.
The difficulty stems from the use of certain terms, I believe, and the attitude with which we present our treasure to the Lord. In Israel, tithing, in common with just about every other aspect of their religious practice, became a ritual, nearly devoid of spiritual meaning. It was something that had to be done, and in a very precise way, in order that priests and Pharisees might grant their seal of approval to the transaction. In other words, the form of religious practice came to be far more important than the content. Of course our Lord was offended. That which He had ordained for His worship had been perverted into ritualistic display, contaminated with requirements created by men.
The foregoing is a pretty good indication of where the Lord stands on the issue of ritualistic worship. Either we do it from the heart, out of our sincere desire to adore Him, or let's just blow it off and not waste His time. Think things have changed in the New Testament? Read Jesus' scathing condemnation of the phony religious practices of the Pharisees and scribes, in the 23rd Chapter of Matthew:
A sinner can not get to Heaven by tithing, for tithing is a work, and we are not saved by works:
Still confused? I argue that tithing is an Old Testament form of taxation which we, as participants in the New Covenant of Grace, are not required to meet. I say tithing is a work, and demonstrate that we are not saved by works. So, why tithe?
There are several good reasons to return some of God's treasure to Him, in ways we hope will be pleasing in His sight. Foremost of these reasons is that He commands we do so. Before the Advent of Christ, you may recall, a tax was to be paid to the temple, to be used for its upkeep, and any other use deemed worthy by the priests. This was a form of ransom to the Lord for the Hebrew people. So long as each paid his half-shekel, there would be no plague among them:
We may no longer be under the Law, and so free of its requirements, but our tents and temples of meeting still need to be paid for and maintained. Accordingly, I believe it appropriate we make some contribution to support the physical plant in which we worship. I do not claim that is God's Law, but it seems to me the right thing to do.
Actually, the issue of churches and their support presents us with something of a conundrum. Nowhere in the New Testament do I find a divine command we raise up great churches and cathedrals. Therefore, it would appear the creation of such edifices is in satisfaction of some need of man, and not of God. I suppose, since building these things was our idea, we should cover the expense of maintaining them.
In apostolic times, believers met for a time in the Jewish Temple and in synagogues, but this was to change. As believers came to understand God does not live in buildings [Acts 7:44-50], they began to hold their worship in other places; in private homes and even outdoors. In 90 A.D., Hebrew Christians refused to join in the uprising against Rome. The Romans destroyed the Temple For their failure to participate in the revolt, Rabbis banned Hebrew Christians from meeting in synagogues., they were banned from meeting in synagogues
Caring for the shepherd
How about preacher? It is necessary that someone preach the Gospel, for that is how the heathen learn of Christ. Salvation may be the result of saving faith, but how can one have faith in He of Whom he has never heard? Given that, to my observation, Catholic priests do precious little preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, I suppose they are fortunate to have their wordly needs are taken care by their cult.
That our gracious Lord considers it necessary there be preachers and teachers and the like is well illustrated in Scripture. For example, look to Paul's letter to the church at Ephesus:
Wow! What an awesome responsibility to be called out by God Himself to the task of caring for the faithful. In his pastoral epistles, Paul provides many insights into the duties and responsibilities of the pastor and teacher. Our Lord, however, provides a more concise statement of these duties:
Being a shepherd is a full-time responsibility. One can not be a shepherd only when he chooses to be. Sheep are unable properly to watch over themselves; they wander off and expose themselves to all manner of dangers. The shepherd must be ever present and ever vigilant, that nothing might harm even one of his charges.
How can a man pretend to the position of shepherd, when he devotes only part-time to the care and feeding of his flock? I claim no heavenly oracle in this matter, but it is my deeply-held conviction that any man who accepts the position of pastor must be willing to devote all of his time to that task. He must tend the flock when he is needed, not when he is available, or when it is convenient for him. He must be near the flock always, his rod and staff at hand to defend them from every evil attack. He must consider, and this is a hard thing I admit, the fulfillment of his God-mandated duties more important even than his own life. (John 10:15).
When one of the sheep is hurting, or needs some form of help, that innocent must not be required to continue in his need until the shepherd gets off work, or finishes supper. When a lamb cries out for succor, even though it be for the hundredth time, the shepherd must be there to calm its fears and ease its suffering. Can any man be so available, if he must first give 40 hours to the world? Did not our Lord say:
"So," you ask, "Where do we get pastors? There aren't all that many independently wealthy guys running around looking to be named to a pulpit."
Isn't this part of the problem? Are not at least some of those who claim the shepherd's staff there because they have, either out of pride or excessive zeal, called themselves to the position? How many men, enjoying some measure of talent in dealing with the public, and seeking earnestly to serve the Lord, imagine themselves called to shepherd a flock?
Spare a moment to consider the plight of the self-proclaimed shepherd. While at first he may be very happy in his usurped post, the burden of serving two masters eventually will crush his spirit. Soon, he will understand the price all must pay who take it upon themselves to do that which is circumscribed as the Lord's province.
The man called to the post is driven to perform in the position. He cannot avoid that to which he is called. The divinely-anointed shepherd needs no one to remind him of his responsibilities, for they are imprinted on his very soul. He re-affirms his submission to God's Will every day of his life, as he humbles himself in prayer before our Lord. For the man seeking to serve two masters, the days are sometimes frightfully long. For the man called by God, there seem not to be sufficient hours in the day for all that must be done. The called servant must be reminded to go home, to take a day off, to consider a vacation.
How does the God-called shepherd sustain himself, and his family if he has one? That is another reason for giving. If the man is to give his every waking hour to caring for the flock entrusted into his keeping, his physical needs must be met by the self-same flock for which he labors. This is not a matter open to interpretation, for our Lord tells us, through the writings of the Apostle Paul:
So, the congregation is to provide for the legitimate financial needs of the shepherd? Makes sense to me. The question now is: How well should the shepherd live? Look at the Bible. None of the apostles lived high on the hog, or at least we are not told they did. Given the Lord's frequent reminders of the dangers of wealth, does it seem reasonable that He should want His ministers to live in excessive luxury? As Paul admonished Timothy:
I believe, and I emphasize that this is my personal opinion, that the shepherd should be provided a standard of living adequate to free him from worry that the basic needs of he and his family will be met. Pastor and his family should be able to live comfortably, but not in luxury. If some members of the congregation are suffering in their poverty, can a grand wage for pastor be justified?
Okay. Now we have three reasons why Christians should give some of their treasure back to God: (1) He commands it; (2) To cover the costs of maintaining the physical plant; and (3) To make it possible for the shepherd to devote all of his energy to caring for the flock. What is next?
Another reason for giving is to provide for the support of those in need. In our troubled world, how many go to their beds hungry? How many lack even the most rudimentary comforts? Though we may consider ourselves deprived of many of the so-called blessings of our affluent society, how incredibly rich we are, compared with those who truly have nothing. It is right and fitting we give from our bounty to ease the lack of others.
Paul urged the Corinthian church to continue their splendid voluntary giving for the relief of impoverished saints in Jerusalem:
In other words, we who enjoy a surplus at this time, should share that bounty with those who are in need. This is not to be considered charity as such. Rather, our surplus is to be used as the supply of those who have not enough. At some future time, when our supply is inadequate to our needs, those who are now the recipients of our excess will open the vaults of their surplus for our use. Now that, dear fellow Christian, is what sharing is all about. This way, no one is caused to feel inferior because of his need to seek material assistance from his brothers. Conversely, no one of those who enjoy surplus is afforded an opportunity to boast of his generosity. I guess the Lord is pretty smart.
How much should one give? If tithing is not a requirement for we in the covenant of grace, is there a set amount we should give? I find no requirement to give a set amount or portion. One thing is clear, and that is that we are not to impoverish ourselves, or go into debt in order to help resolve the financial needs of others. Read again II Corinthians 8:12:
Clearly, no good is done by adding oneself to the list of the needy. We should give willingly, however, as much as we determine we can. We are promised our return shall be commensurate with our giving. While any increase in the physical return from our giving likely would be most welcome, we must take our greatest motivation from the spiritual promises. Food and goods are neat to have, but how much grander to please the Lord of our souls?
Still not convinced? Have you so often been harangued concerning your obligation to pay tithes that you just can not accept that it is man who is placing you under financial bondage? Is our God so hardhearted He will impoverish one of His elect in order to relieve the poverty of another? To believe that He would consider such an expedient is tantamount to judging Him irrational, I believe. But, I am just a man, and not a holy one at that. Consider this, then:
"As he may prosper!" Isn't that just another way of saying that a person should give according to his ability? Of course, those who minister before the golden altar of the gods of this world would argue the Lord God is addressing offerings, which they see as something totally apart from tithes. Tithes must be paid, they command, while offerings are given according to our ability to give.
Our Lord does address freewill offerings in the Mosaic Law. Perhaps Pastor should be reminded how God defines freewill offerings in Leviticus 22:17-20 and Numbers 15:1-4. When is the last time someone brought a perfect bull to be sacrificed at your church?
If the other guy is defining terms according to his private set of rules, it is difficult to get into the game. I recommend that we stick with what we read in the Bible; certainly, the Author is trustworthy and comes with superb credentials.
Okay, we are to give according to our ability. And we should ignore the screams of the temple builders that we pay our tithes, so that they can use the money to build a bigger and better cathedral to man's glory. Coincidentally with the upraising of these great cathedrals, we likely will see a surprising growth in the shepherd's income.
When a believer gives, he should do so quietly, without fanfare or display. No one need see his check, or the wad of bills he deposits in the basket. Why do people make their giving with checks?
"For tax purposes," you say. "I need proof of my giving, in order that I may take a deduction on my income tax."
What does the Lord say about making a public show of giving? Does that also apply to giving to God, then deducting it from one's taxes. In such a case, are we failing to render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's? And if we deduct the cost of our giving, have we really given? Should we give even more? Questions. Questions.
"But," you ask, "isn't God concerned that we give as much as we can?"
Child of God, weren't you paying attention? I do not believe that God is concerned so much with the amount given as with the quality of the giving. Regardless of what Reverend Mr. Wantsalot may say, it is not God who leads you into the bondage of compulsory giving. What does God need with the little bit of treasure you can scrounge up? He already owns everything there is and, if He wants more, all He need do is will it into existence. I believe, and I am no theologian, that God wants our obedience and desires to teach us compassion.
The amount we give is without meaning; the motivation for giving says it all. What does it mean to a rich man to give a few hundreds, or even thousands, of dollars? On the other hand, how difficult for the widow living on her Social Security pension to give only a few cents. Give God the credit due Him: He is God, not some foolish man who can not understand what is in the heart.
"But Pastor says we must pay our tithes, or God will be angry with us," you persist.
Perhaps He will. Perhaps I have been faulty in my exposition of tithing and giving. Don't trust my scholarship; go to your Bible and seek the answer from God Himself in prayer. Ask Pastor Wantsalot to explain his exegesis, but don't be surprised if he holds firm to his conviction that tithing is a current requirement. After all, he is just a man, and his interpretation of Scripture is as vulnerable to fault as mine. While you are searching for the truth, do not allow yourself to be led back into bondage.
And what if you can't give any treasure at all? Are you going to spend eternity in Hell? Of course not. Salvation is not a result of our works, and giving treasure to the Lord is a work. In any case, even if we can not give gold or silver to our God, we have many other gifts we can lay at His feet. We can honor Him with our obedience to His revealed Word. We can give of our time and effort in His service. We can offer Him our fervent prayers. We can take the Gospel of Salvation to the nations, as He commanded we do. There is virtually no limit to the things we can give of ourselves, if we but purpose to do so. And, I believe, such offerings would likely be a sweet aroma in His nostrils. I believe that giving of oneself in good works are a manifestation before man of one's justification before God?