Set Free to Give!
Study on Christian Living and Giving
Article history is here. Version 6.
Fear. Guilt. Shame. These are words that shouldn't be in use to describe Christians, yet are often the hidden feelings of multitudes of believers today. What dark and secret sin is the source of these feelings? The answer is not what you may think... Giving.
Over the years, we have met hundreds of people that are fearful that they are under God's judgment for their shameful giving practices. The guilt of not living up to the Biblical standard consumes them to the point of discouragement or drives them to a works based system of trying to please God.
What critical Biblical standard have they fallen short of and who is continually reminding them of their inadequacy? A veritable army of pastors, evangelists, missionaries, and even Sunday school teachers comprise the 'who', and the 'what' is mostly centered on the topic of tithing. Subtly, or belligerently, people are berated for not "doing their duty" from the pulpit, in the church bulletin, and in hosts of recommended books and booklets. Some assure the people that to have fallen short is to guarantee that they are under God's judgment, while others more mildly forewarn of loss of blessing (especially financially). Every budget shortfall of the church seems to be blamed on the disobedience of the people in not keeping the tithe, or for giving elsewhere instead of to the "church first."
For the few who manage to meet or miraculously exceed the tithe, an air of superiority often accompanies this accomplishment. Even if the giver doesn't have this, church leadership regularly places them on a spiritual pedestal far above the crowd. The spiritual and material blessing of these people is guaranteed, we are often assured.
Those multitudes who are struggling with getting by, trying to climb out of debt, and raise families, are castigated as lacking faith. All they have to do is "put God first" and give before meeting any other obligation and God will guarantee to meet their needs. One church trumpeted a special "Prove the Tithe Sunday" weeks in advance. How could anyone resist laying out that spiritual fleece and reaping the temporal blessings guaranteed?
For hosts of believers, the idea that we have been set free in Christ is a foreign idea. Even when they can reach to apply this concept to other areas of their life, the issue of giving enslaves them on a daily basis. So is this the life most believers are destined to live or does the Bible provide an answer, a way to break this cycle of bondage? Clearly, the answer to that question is "yes!" It's our desire that in your study of this topic throughout the pages of Scriptures you will find the truth and be set free to give!
free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil;
In presenting a biblical position on giving - a topic sometimes called "Christian Stewardship" - many aspects must be examined. Differences in practices from the Old to New Testament must be considered. What is commonly meant by numerous terms also need to be defined (including tithes, offerings, and gifts). Perhaps the greatest question comes down to this, "How should Christians give?" The specifics of what is referenced by a given term can and does vary greatly amongst people, in and out of the church. Even the arguments and Bible passages used to justify or nullify practices differ immensely. Merely establishing the past or present practice of a group, church, or denomination does not become sufficient proof that a practice is Biblical - even if that practice has historical roots. Following one of the fundamental tenants of the Protestant Reformation, Scriptures alone must be our absolute and authoritative source for all Christian belief and practice. The fulfillment of this mandate requires a detailed and orderly examination of each aspect of this topic and an honest effort to set aside traditions and personal biases. Within each section we will establish questions that need to be answered and it's important that you take the time to come to a Biblical response to every one of these questions.
Stepping immediately into the fray, the first topic in consideration must be the tithe. Virtually everyone who has attended a church service, or has seen one on TV, has heard about this topic. Sermons are preached on the subject, people are implored to give their tithe. The phrase, "We now wait upon you for your tithes and offerings," has become a staple in many churches before the plates are passed. The question remains; is the tithe a church tradition or a command of God? Merely asking this question is tantamount to rebellion in many churches - an assault on the finances of the church. Stoning the messenger (or questioner) is considered more desirable than even remotely considering that this venerable practice could be anything but Biblical.
Yet, as believers, we need to be willing to question everything that is taught to us in Jesus' name and then hold fast to that which is from God. In an era where everyone wants easy-to-swallow sound bites, true Bible study takes time. Any topic found in numerous books of the Bible must be examined across all of them. Since the Bible never contradicts itself, passages that can be used out of context to justify a position need to be seen from the view of the whole. If it stands up to this scrutiny, it's a valid interpretation of Scripture... if it falls, then a person must go on to look for the overall unity that a Biblical position must have. The maxim "Scripture interprets Scriptures" is a cornerstone of all Biblical interpretation.
starting place we will separate the phrase "tithes and
offerings" and firstly - due to its prominence - examine the
topic of tithing on its own merits. Other forms of giving will be
dealt with in subsequent sections. At the onset be clear on this, the
Bible does teach that Christians are to be a giving people. The only
question is "how?"
1. What is
the tithe? What was/is its' purpose?
A quick answer, which I've heard many times before, goes something like this. "Everyone is supposed to give at least 10% of all they earn, or are given, to their church. The tithe is so the church has money to operate." Great answer, but is it Biblical?
conclusions, especially taught ones, is easy to do. Instead, think
along the lines of the formula "A+B=C." Remember, you can't
make "C" statements - similar to the entire sample answer
above - unless you can prove "A" and "B" from the
Bible. The whole picture has to add up. The "A" and
"B" of our example includes providing biblical proof that
the tithe is for everyone, that it is 10% of everything a person
receives or earns, and that the church is to receive it. If any
aspect of this does not hold up to biblical scrutiny, the answer
("C") has to be revised.
Common ideas about the tithe are taught in seminaries and expounded from many pulpits. As one that has travelled and participated in numerous churches throughout North America, representing a host of denominations, I'm perhaps intrigued most by the positions that are mutually exclusive - in other words, they contradict each other. Of course, each of these positions is held up by their adherents as being "biblical." When asked why they believe these things, a majority of people will acknowledge some level of traditional influence. Occasional 'proof texts' or verses are held out in support of what they've been taught. Yet when challenged on flaws or gaps in their biblical 'proof,' more than one have said that it doesn't matter if their method of getting there is flawed as long as it ends up teaching people to uphold the practice. Scary! This ends-justifies-the-means theology is pervasive outside the church, but should never become so inside it.
Positions are really methods. The following three methods summarize most of what is being used to say that the tithe applies to the church today. Consider each position and their accompanying questions as we seek to find out if "Tithing is a biblical tradition" as one denominational pamphlet so confidently asserts in promoting this practice to its' churches.
While some of the examples we will give may appear to slam church and denominational leadership, and in some cases justifiably so, I need to emphasize that the vast majority of people (leadership or not) hold to traditional views out of ignorance. It was only after I had received a number of questions about tithing and a few challenges, that I set out to examine the entire subject objectively from Scriptures. What I found was a surprise, as it will be for many readers. It's not wrong for a person to change their position on anything in the Bible after further study. It's only wrong when a person refuses to change their belief and practice to bring it into line with Scriptures. As for myself, what I now believe and teach must conform to God's Word.
Directly or indirectly the Old Testament law is used to show the need for Tithing. Passages from the law, or that were given to people under the law, are used for examples showing that God still wants tithing. Almost on the level of the Ten Commandments, the tithe is held to have continued until today. Somewhere in all this it's assumed that the church merely picked up where the temple left off. Blessings offered to the Israelites for obedience to the law are offered as enticements to carry on the practice ("benefits of tithing" by one printed document).
If the tithe is part of the law, and believed to be still in effect today, but is now administered by the church...
In this promotion of the tithe, the law is said to have nothing to do with the church age tithe. According to these individuals the tithe was given before the law and can be shown to exist after the law [i.e. in the church era].
If the tithe is "outside" or "before" the law and still in effect after the law, it is necessary to show...
This third method is not really a new one; rather a mix of method #1 and method #2 are used to support it. Since this one takes many forms a quick example will suffice. Typically it is said that the practice of the tithe was commanded before the law and subsequently confirmed by the law, which also provided additional details on its administration. The continuation of the New Testament practice is usually held to be mostly as given by the law. In addition, the same temporal blessings offered for obedience to the law are now transferred to the church (or believers) during the church age for obedience to tithing (i.e. Malachi 3:10-11). Others claim the specific temporal blessings Abraham experienced [possessions, wealth, etc.] to be still available personally for obedience to the tithe. Even many churches that would not adhere to the extreme form of this - what is often called "The health and wealth gospel" - have embraced a lesser version.
One pro-tithing organization, that I'll leave nameless and use as representative of many, uses this enticing statement...
Examples offered include broke individuals tithing their last dollars instead of paying rent, to miraculously receive a 34 times return in less than week. Other stories recount new tithers getting quick promotions at work, unexpected refunds, lower mortgage payments, new jobs and more. With advertising like this, one would expect the tithe to be the biblical equivalent of a sure-thing investment. A common phrase repeated by many pro-tithing sources is the expression: "The Law of Tithing"
Regardless of the quantity of the reward, they all hold that the individual or the church will be rewarded physically (or materially) for tithing. Some would claim their version to only be in pursuit of "spiritual rewards," though they claim the need of material things and finances to reap these spiritual rewards - again believing this is promised by faithful obedience to the tithe.
It should be noted that some people who hold to the second method use verses from the first method (out of context) to support aspects of their practice of the tithe. As such, these individuals unwittingly fall into this third method too.
See questions on Methods #1 & #2. Also, the questions...
All the questions raised so far on each method must be addressed. They can't just be summarily dismissed or glossed over. They demand a biblical answer. Fleeing to a traditional response, or citing a prominent church personality or scholar is insufficient. Citing any of the host of tithing seminars is just as unsatisfactory. It should be noted that an increasing number of these seminars are available for church members and even church leadership. These courses have become big business. Some are overtly in support of the tithe, such as...
Others promote the tithe as part of a larger package...
Even as I wrote this, I received a flyer for church leaders inviting them to The Church Financial Seminar that will show them how to get their people to tithe. Topic headings included: "How to Prove Tithing is a Good Thing" and "How to Advance Your Tithes Above and Beyond." Testimonials of how churches had applied seminar principles and benefited from exponential growth in giving through tithing are, of course, included. One was from a pastor who had "purchased their system" and was wondering how the IRS would view his church board deciding to give him all of the extra $73,000 dollars that had come in! [I think worrying what the IRS would think is the least of his concerns, but I digress.] Subtly or otherwise, the yearning for financial gain provides a continuing motivation to not re-examine the tithe.
While many lament the factions within today's church - and a few will even accuse this document of encouraging these divisions - it's actually people's unwillingness to search out God's truth and live by it that fuels continuing schism. True unity is always based in truth. (See 1 Corinthians 11:18-19).
One additional question needs to be addressed before continuing our study of the tithe...
Did Jesus say that all of the law is still in effect during the church age?: One church document used Jesus' statement in Matthew 5:17 to justify their belief that the tithe (as part of the law) was continued into the New Testament church. Consider that verse and the one that follows it.
teaching that He was not arbitrarily abolishing the law. Further He
was clearly saying that it could never be abolished but required
fulfillment. Once fulfilled it is done away with by completion! This
Bible passage cannot be randomly used to justify carrying on one
practice (or aspect) of Mosaic Law. If this passage could be used to
continue the tithe, why not continue sacrifices, or putting witches
to death (Exodus 22:18), celebrating all the mandated feasts (Exodus
20:15-19), etc.? It is a blatant misuse of Scriptures to say that
this passage means all practices of the law go on forever and even
worse when it's used to justify only one pet practice. By Jesus' own
words, if He fulfilled the law (in any aspect) that part of the law
could be finished. It's on this basis that the New Testament church
no longer carries on the sacrifices, ritual, festivals, and legal
ordinances of the law (read Hebrews chapter 10).
With some methods claiming that the command to tithe was established before the law, our initial investigation begins with a consideration of all the examples of Scriptures in the time before the giving of the law.
Conclusions and questions from this passage...
- This was a spontaneous act of gratitude by Abraham. It cannot be considered an act of obedience since there was no command to do so by God or by Melchizedek.
- Abraham did not command or desire it of anyone else in his household or company, not even of Lot who had now received everything back.
- Abraham gave only of the goods he had extraordinarily acquired (in this one rescue mission), all of which he had already vowed (of his own choice) not to keep (Genesis 14:23). Abraham is never shown as having gone back home (a distance from where this event took place) and given of his own possessions that God had blessed him with.
- Abraham gave to one who appears to be a pre-incarnate appearance of Jesus (a Christophany). In the least, it was to a priest (and priesthood) that was directly established by God.
- This giving of a tithe was a one-time event in Abraham's life. We never hear of Abraham or his son ever returning to give another ten percent, nor being command to.
· If Abraham is the example for practicing the tithe outside of the law, how does his experience have anything to do with our common practice of today?
Conclusions and questions from this passage...
- Jacob bargained with God (if you'll do for me, I'll do this). This actually opposes what God has commanded (Matthew 4:7), that we are not to put Him to test. This appears to be the act of a rebellious individual who had not yet learned to trust God. His example is far removed from the spontaneous gratitude and actions of Abraham.
- We are not even told in Scriptures if Jacob ever did give his bargained for tithe, unless perhaps as sacrifices which were consumed by those in attendance, or poured out on the ground (Gen 31:54, 33:30?, 35:1,7?, 35:14). In fact, sacrifices are a completely different subject than tithing.
· If Abraham's one time experience can be used for an example, why is Jacob's one time example not? [To be fair, some actually use Jacob's example to say that a tithe was common, or commanded in Jacob's day, but they make this argument from the silence of Scriptures.]
· If Jacob was going to give a tithe, to whom was he going to give it, as there wasn't a temple and priests (or church and pastors)?
Conclusions and questions from this absence of these passages...
· Where are any examples from the lives of all the other righteous individuals who lived before the law in regards to giving a tithe? If this practice was a norm, before or after Abraham, where is the evidence in support of it?
- In fact, besides the two isolated occurrences above, only examples of sacrifices are shown as being common from the fall to the giving of the law. Sacrifices are a completely different subject and they were clearly commanded by God prior to the law (who actually sacrificed the first animal for a covering from Adam and Eve). The law later built upon the early establishment of sacrifices, giving more details to how they were to be practiced and showing more of the symbolism that would later be fulfilled in Jesus.
- Sacrifices (animals, drink, etc.) are no longer required in the New Testament church (Hebrews 9:26-28, 10:1-14) as this pre-law ordinance and subsequent portion of the law was fulfilled in Jesus. For reference, the many types of Old Testament offerings can be divided into the following classifications. Offerings can be classified as (1) propitiatory (expiatory atonement): sin offering, guilt offering; (2) dedicatory (consecratory): burnt offering, grain offering, drink offering; (3) communal (fellowship): peace offering, wave offering, thanksgiving offering, vow, freewill offering. Only the 'freewill' and 'vow' offerings of the communal category were not mandatory. As Jesus was our atonement, the one who consecrates us for His use, and who is our peace bringing us into fellowship with God, he fulfilled all need of the offerings of the law in His perfect sacrifice (offering).
Moving on to the giving of the law through Moses, there is much we can learn about the then mandated tithe. Like many other decrees of the law, the tithe had detailed specifics regarding its' administration...
Conclusions from this passage...
- The tithe was commanded of the nation of Israel
- The tithe was of yearly increase, not of everything one owned or grew. Specifically it was only of things grown, both in the ground and of livestock. Nowhere in the law is any person commanded to give a tithe (in any form) of lands, clothing, and other merchandise, except for grown or cultivated items. For those who confuse passages on the first fruits offering with tithing, scriptures specifically says that the tithe of the livestock was by random (which could make the animal good or bad, young or old), and no substitution was allowed!
- The tithe was now a yearly (once a year) ordinance - specifically of the increase over the previous year's yield.
Some have questioned that this was a yearly practice based on the fact that crops matured at different times of the year. While it's quite clear in the Bible that the separating of a tenth of the flock would be annual, little is told us on when the setting aside of the tithe of the increase in grains would have taken place. As people would have been capable of storing their harvest, it is quite probable that it was still a once a year event, with a goal of taking it to the temple during one of the mandated feasts. At most a person may divided it (the tenth) into thirds to take a portion for each of the three required festivals at the temple. For a majority of Israel (those away from Jerusalem), the only times of the year they would go to the temple would be at these special gatherings. Since the majority of the tithe was to be eaten by the giver, it's likely that dividing it up would provide provisions for each of the festivals. This division would not have increased the tithe, it would have merely determined when it was to be used, since it was still of the increase and not of everything a person had at that time.
Rabbinical writers especially point out that the last mentioned festival, the Feast of Ingathering, which took place following the completion of the ingathering of all produce of the ground, was the big "feast" in terms of what was consumed. As such, this could be best equated to our modern celebration of Thanksgiving. Perhaps this meant that more of the tithe was taken to the temple at this time to be consumed before the Lord.
- The tithe guaranteed a vacation for the people, a time of rest from working.
- The giver administered the tithe! The giver (not a priest or pastor) was responsible for using it or distributing it.
- By the law, the tithe was to be consumed by the giver in fellowship (especially with his family and extended household.) and only at the place God designated. (See Deuteronomy 12:4-7, 17-19). This mandatory act of fellowship included the following lesser aspects...
· It was to be shared with those in full time ministry (Levites), people who by designation had no inheritance because they were devoted to service of the Lord. [This part was mandatory only every third year! See also Deuteronomy 26:12-13]. Note that it was not only the tithe that was eaten by the giver. Even with most of the sacrifices, the giver and family normally ate them, with only a portion of the whole being given to help the priests (Levites). [See 1 Samuel 1:4, 2:13-14]. In regards to the tithe, the priests in turn ate it (which was "grain and juice from the winepress") with their family, etc., except for ten percent of it, which was given to the high priest. Though not explicitly told so, it would follow that the high priest and his family (servants, etc) would consume this final percentage [Numbers 18: 21, 24-32]. While some scholars hold that this last referenced passage in Numbers contradicts, or shows an alternate practice to the passage in Deuteronomy, using standard principles of biblical interpretation, it requires us to look for the higher unity while using scriptures to interpret scripture. Obviously the passage in Deuteronomy prevents the "all the tithes" mentioned in Numbers from referencing anything but the portion for the Levites given every three years.
· It was to be shared with strangers (aliens)
· It was to be shared with needy (fatherless & widows)
- Israel was promised a blessing for following the commanded practice of the tithe. Blessing came with obedience to the law; punishment came with disobedience [which was the same for every aspect of the law]. Every command of God comes with this same pro and con. All sin or rebellion against God has consequences. The entire issue of the tithe was not to be a burden to the people; rather it was a personal show of obedience. The giver was responsible to God for what they had done (as administrator of the tithe), and were commanded to speak to God and tell Him that they had been obedient in keeping the command (see Deuteronomy 26:13). Even the priests, in doing the same with their portion of the tithe, had identical responsibility. The result would be that all the people would "learn to revere the LORD your God always. (Deuteronomy 14:23)"
Conclusions from this passage...
- Three separate things are in view throughout this account: freewill offerings, tithes, and mandated offerings (such as firstfruits). [See 2 Chronicles 31:5, 12]
- When Hezekiah ordered the people to give what was due to the priests [31:4], it included all three types of giving. The tithe that was due was the long forgotten third year tithe that was used to help the Levites. It's not surprising that it would be mentioned during this start up of the temple. Getting provisions in storage to provide for the Levites (who were again doing their temple service) was important. Only ten percent of the tithe given by the people would have actually gone in the storeroom [See Numbers 18:26-28] as the portion that would sustain the active priests doing service at the temple. We will consider more regarding this in the next scripture passage to be examined regarding Nehemiah.
- Notice that when the people did what they were supposed to be doing, there was more than enough food for the Levites [See 2 Chronicles 31:10]. We shouldn't be surprised that God's system worked then even as any method He has for us will work now.
- Excluding freewill gifts, both the mandated firstfruits offering [greater] and the tithe [lesser] were all about food. They were to make it possible for the Levites to eat, not provide them a bank account. In fact it appears that consecrated items could not be sold to those who were not Levites - they belonged only to those for whom they were designated.
Conclusions from this passage...
- This passage changed nothing from the law, as it merely restated it. The mandated firstfruits offering and giving of firstborn, etc., had nothing to do with the tithe and was a completely separate ordinance. To apply the standard of the firstfruits to the tithe (as some churches do) in saying that the tithe has to be first and the best is not shown by this Old Testament passage. It is not proper Biblical interpretation to arbitrarily combine separate ordinances of the law (or aspects of such practices), much less carry them into the church.
- It was necessary for the proper implementation of the law to be set forth again, because common practice during the divided kingdom period allowed many corrupt practices to become commonplace. In fact, it appears that during this time Israel (the northern kingdom), with its' false places of worship, stopped going anywhere to eat the tithe and only went to one of the two new spots to bring the Levitical tithe every third year (see Amos 4:4). With these changes the customs of the people were almost entirely in opposition to God's commanded practice. It's no wonder that God condemns them repeatedly for turning away from Him! Likewise, if the tithe is still for the church it then becomes very important that we know (and can prove from Scriptures) where the tithe is now supposed to go.
- While every three years the tithe was shared with the Levites [see Deuteronomy 14:28-29], the Levites were only required to take 10 percent of that amount to the temple storehouse [see Nehemiah 10:38], where it was distributed to the priests for their usage (consumption). This small percentage (10% of loosely 1/3 of people's original 10% ... less than ½ of 1 percent!) was all that was going to the temple storehouse from the tithe. All the additional goods that went to the temple storehouse, from the people as a whole (verse 39 above), were the mandated offerings of the firstfruits, etc. This additional passage from Nehemiah shows how the firstfruits and tithes are clearly spoken of as being separate and that only the portion for the priests (all of the firstfruits and their once every three year portion of the tithe) went into the storeroom...
The book of Nehemiah also confirms that the tithe was still only in regards to things grown and cultivated; livestock, grain, wine and oil (Nehemiah 13:12).
The entirety of the concept surrounding the eaten tithe and the once every three-year special tithe must be understood to pertain to what God is saying in the next passage we will examine...
Conclusions from this passage...
- This is God's indictment on Israel for not obeying His law. In this passage God restates the obligation the priests and people had under the law. Two separate transgressions are in view in this passage - tithes and offerings. The tithe is the same one we've been looking at as established by the law, while the offerings that are spoken of here are the mandated offerings of the law which included the firstfruits.
- Verse 10 is a specific rebuke of the priests who alone were to bring a share of the tithe into the storeroom. (See the earlier section on Nehemiah again. Way back to the time of Hezekiah we are told what the purpose of the temple storerooms was. While it included space for the Levitical share of the tithe, it also included storage for other dedicated gifts and offerings, both mandated and freewill. See 2 Chronicles 31:4, 11-12.) In fact, read all of Malachi. This book is mostly a message for the priests. The priests had stopped following the law and the people where following their bad example. In verse nine, God includes the people as being guilty on grounds that they were withholding the mandated offerings. Check out the many passages throughout the Old Testament (try Isaiah) where God holds the nation at fault for the corruption of the priesthood and leadership. Many of the people were likely not giving their every third year portion of the tithe any longer either. Earlier, shortly after Nehemiah re-instituted temple worship, the people of his day had forgotten about the Levites. This prompted the Levites to forsake what they were supposed to be doing and lookout only for themselves (Nehemiah 13:10-13). The downward spiral alluded to in Malachi would likely have fed on itself. With the priests not bringing what they were obligated to bring into the storehouse and with less being given by the people (especially in mandated offerings), the shortages probably prompted the priests to look out for themselves again, forsaking God's work.
- This passage also restates the blessing God promised Israel for following the law. Again, this message was first and foremost to the priests in an effort to have them see what harm they were causing the nation through their disobedience. The priests, with their position of authority, were to be more accountable as they were to be examples and teachers of the people.
It needs to be noted that the passage in Malachi is one of the most preached on, in our modern churches, in regards to tithing. It is used in spite of the fact that it is clearly a passage for those under the legal obligation of the law and (as with the whole book of Malachi) is primarily an indictment on the leadership of Israel (especially the priests, who where the only ones who took tithes into the storehouse). The blessings offered for their obedience are merely a restating of the extraordinary blessing God promised them (as a nation) if they would obey His law (Deuteronomy 7:12-15; 11:13-15, Exodus 23:24-26).
So what's wrong with using Malachi to encourage tithing in the church? The quick answer is "everything!" Using this passage for this purpose is a misuse of Scriptures. It is completely wrong to guilt people into giving by claiming they are robbing God. For example, an on-line document by Rev. Rick L. Patterson, Th.D., president of Miami Christian University, says...
the accusation that someone is today robbing God, it becomes
necessary to prove from the Bible that there's still a set
obligation, and amount, as Israel had under the law. If no amount is
set, as with freewill offerings under the Old Testament law (see
Leviticus 7:16), not giving cannot be construed as robbing God -
unless the gift was vowed (or promised) by the choice of the giver
and then it would become a broken promise (see especially the example
of Ananias & Sapphira, Acts 5:1-11)
Some more questions and thoughts...
· Before any of these passages could be used for the church, it still must be shown that they apply beyond the physical nation of Israel who was specifically under Mosaic Law.
· If this passage somehow teaches a blessing to the church for tithing (which there is no evidence of), why shouldn't the church claim all the other temporal (material) blessings promised Israel for their obedience?
Before leaving the Old Testament we need to consider another idea that has been put forth concerning the purpose of tithing in Old Testament times...
The tax versus gift hypothesis. This view is taught by Dr. John MacArthur, Jr., a writer and theologian who has written many very helpful things. I was not made aware of his materials on the subject of tithing until after a limited release of the first version of this document. What I found was that his conclusions are similar to my own in regards to whether or not the tithe applies to the church, only that we differ in the 'why?' and his interpretation of some Old Testament tithe law.
MacArthur teaches that there were really three different tithes, one of which was every third year. He is not the first to espouse this viewpoint, with some citing extra-biblical sources who referred to two tithes or three tithes (and perhaps a seven year cycle of tithing). One reference work cites the problem in this manner...
As we have already shown, using Scriptures alone, there is a higher unity that removes any apparent discrepancies. The "Jewish tradition" cited in support of the double tithe is primarily from works written (or compiled) centuries after the destruction of the temple. There appears to be no direct, earlier, evidence to support the idea, other than Josephus, and he contradicts these traditions by having a third tithe. It is possible that by late Old Testament times, or even still more likely in the final years of the temple, a multiple tithe system may have been enforced. The Pharisees had a way of legalizing things that were never intended by Scriptures. If there were multiple tithes at the time of Jesus I would expect the self-righteous New Testament Pharisee in Luke 18 to have pointed out his diligence to "tithes." Beyond the biblical certainties, these various ideas supporting multiple tithes allow for much speculation as to what they may have been used for.
In MacArthur's articles he holds to all of the tithes being used to support the government of Israel. In his view, with Israel being a theocracy, the Levites were the administrators of the governmental system. Making it multiple tithes, instead of one tithe with multiple purposes, enables the percentage to grow as well. (This sounds like the thinking of many modern governments, but I digress again.)
Problems are immediately evident with this quotation, when viewed in light of all the Old Testament passages we've already examined. For example, we have already established...
- The tither ate his tithe with his family, etc. This cannot be construed as funding a national festival much less the government itself. If this was a tax it doesn't sound like any governmental tax anywhere else in history. How many governments would allow you to share your tax with the poor (on your honor), or consume most of it with your family and friends?!
- The tithe had nothing to do with money. It was crops and livestock. The Old Testament tithe was not imposed on acquired belongings, lands, or monetary gain, only on natural increase which included crops, livestock and fruit of the vine. (Consider that there would be nothing to tithe regarding crops every seventh year, which was a Sabbath year during which no crops were to be grown. If the government was dependant on this it would certainly make for automatic cutbacks!).
"All that money" (as MacArthur calls it) could hardly be used to operate a nation, when there was no money involved. The "smaller taxes" MacArthur references are equally questionable. Consider the first passage he references in support of this idea.
How this becomes a tax is beyond my imagination. In this passage God was instructing people to be merciful and allow there to be food for the poor and alien to glean from the fields. Oh that our taxes of today would show such compassion!
Once again, the second "smaller tax" passage is shown to have nothing to do with money and, like the first, nowhere is it paid to any government (Levites or king). When God established his seventh year rest for the land, it was to provide rest to the people and to show compassion on the poor (and perhaps even the animals).
MacArthur's statements imply that the tithe was the largest means of income for the Levites. In fact, as we've already seen, it's the other mandated offerings that provided the bulk of support for the Levites. If you multiply the number of tithes to get twenty percent or more (as MacArthur states), there is still the issue of proving that the Levites were the government. I consider this premise highly unlikely on numerous grounds of Scriptures.
Remember that the tithe was instituted when Israel was a true Theocracy (ruled by God alone), long before Israel asked for and got a king. If the Levites were supposed to be receiving at least 10% already (or 20%, or 23.3% as MacArthur attests), why would God have had Samuel warn them that the new government (monarchy) would demand a 10% (tithe) share of everything for that government? Also, if the Levites were agents of the government, why would Solomon have separate store cities and administrators (who were not Levites) collecting all his provisions?
I believe that there was a secular tithe imposed after the monarchy was set up, but it was not generally referred to as the "tithe" (wording that almost always was used in reference to the religious 10%). The monarchy imposed 10% was simply a tax. These taxes were collected and administered by government officials, completely separate from the priesthood. For example, from the time of Solomon...
A person could perhaps try and justify saying that the Levites were the government before the monarchy, though it's even unlikely during the time of the judges and, for that matter, during the time of Moses as he established tribal leaders for governing (see Exodus 18:13-26). During the greater portion of Israel's history the idea becomes completely unprovable, including during the unified monarchy and divided kingdom that followed. Through these periods the secular governing authority was so strengthened that it is shown continually as being in control of all aspects of governing. Even during the Roman period (late Old Testament and early New Testament) all taxation authority was with the Roman government (as with the earlier Persian government at the time of Nehemiah. See Nehemiah 5:4).
Before leaving MacArthur's teaching on this subject we need to consider one last statement...
Check the verses he used for his examples, they pertain to constructing and furnishing the tabernacle or temple -- something that was always freewill, as we have already examined. If the Levites were the government, would not maintaining or constructing the building where their service was centered be part of running the government? How can other mandated offerings, such as the first fruits, be considered voluntary, or are they to be considered taxes too? The bottom line is that it is stretching credulity to try and claim a Levitical government and call some or all of the offerings and tithes, "taxes."
This temple tax was first imposed by Moses (2 Chronicles 46:6, Exodus 30:11-16) as part of the law. It was a defined amount of money (that had not changed for hundreds of years) payable by all the male citizens of Israel 20 years and older. Collected once a year in the month of Adar (our March) this tax was specifically for the maintenance and care of the temple (and tabernacle to begin with). It was from this tax that the money changers had figured out a way to gouge the temple tax-payers -- profiting off of something that was supposed to provide for God's house. This tax alone was the prescribed form of financial income for the temple. Based on the number of people in Israel it most certainly would have raised substantial amounts of money. When it was first imposed by Moses it was also called "atonement money" representative of the need to redeem their lives. With the fulfillment of our atonement by Jesus Christ (and the destruction of the temple form of worship), this requirement was done away with. If the church could be shown to have taken over where the temple left off, it would be even more logical to carry a head-tax into the church rather than some form of the tithe. At least it was dealing with money. For the record, some churches throughout history have even imposed a form of "pew taxes" or a "church rate" to provide funding for their building. (I wonder if they exempted women and children? But, again, I digress.) When people can pull random things from the Old Testament into the new, like the tithe, this shouldn't surprise us. Pointing towards the day when the temple of God would be in men rather than in an edifice -- truly when all would be known as sons of God -- Jesus' words that "the sons are exempt," showed that a new and better way was coming.
discussion on taxes has little bearing on concepts of the tithe that
are popularly carried into the church, I believe it's important that
we always seek to find a solid defendable position based on all the
Scripture passages. While it would be convenient to be able to
contrast the Old Testament tithe to modern taxes, it actually
detracts from showing how far removed the Old Testament tithe is from
God's plan for giving in the New Testament era (but this is getting
ahead of our progressive study).
For something that occupies so much time in many pulpits, you would expect the New Testament to have a lot to say on the subject of Tithing. It is not enough to say that Jesus spent a lot of time talking about money... He did! But check out the context of what He was talking about. Unless it has to do with a tithe (the religiously mandated ten percent), which wasn't even money in temple times (unless converted by the giver for easier traveling), it's not talking about the same thing.
In fact, the New Testament only talks about the tithe THREE times...
Conclusions from this passage...
- This passage was speaking to those who are still under the law (the scribes, Pharisees, etc), who were still mandated to uphold the law. Notice that the tithe was still in terms of goods (increase), specifically cultivated items (crops). The ceremonial law and all it entailed were not done away with until after Jesus died and rose again.
- Jesus was telling them that they had missed the point of the law and had descended into a hollow legalistic ritual rather than seeing the intent of the law.
- Merely showing that Jesus wanted them to uphold the law - while it was still in effect - does not place a requirement on the church to follow. Jesus offered sacrifices at the temple as well and fulfilled all the required elements of the law, but this does not mean that all those practices of the law should be carried into the church also. Again, it is improper Biblical interpretation to arbitrarily take one part and leave others, without clear Biblical instruction or precedence.
- It's interesting to note that Jesus looked on the tithe as a lesser part of the law, calling justice, mercy, and faithfulness more important. It's a stark contrast to how many churches hold the tithe as an extremely important (and perhaps most important) part of their professed worship.
Conclusion from this passage...
- This passage is the words of a self-righteous person, still under the law, who looked to the deed as gaining favor from God. Like the other Pharisees, he was missing the point. Part of the problem of the mandated giving and ritual of the law was that people often looked only to the act, rather than considering the motivation of their act. Even today, many people point to the tithe as fulfilling their "obligation," rather than considering their motivation and coming to a complete understanding of Christian giving.
Conclusions and questions from this passage...
- This whole passage was to show the deficiency of the Levitical priesthood (law) and the need of a spiritual priesthood forever in Jesus (grace). Nowhere does it say that Abraham was following a command to give a tithe (even as the Old Testament passage does not).
If (and this is a big 'if') this passage could be shown to teach the need of a tithe, it would be in the example of Abraham (refer back to the beginning of this article), though it implies that the tithe (of faith) was already paid (in a spiritual sense) for subsequent generations. The focus of the passage was not on tithing but on the greatness of Jesus' eternal priesthood, even as Melchizedek (as a pre-incarnate appearance or at least a type of Jesus) was far greater than the earthly priests of the law. Nowhere does this passage draw a continuation of the law's tithe into the church. In fact, it could be said that it points out gifts (freewill offerings) given to God are greater than any law-bound tithe.
- This passage clearly states that the former regulation of the law has been set aside through Jesus...
... Absolutely None ...
As the Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology (1996, Baker Books) put it... "Nowhere does the New Testament require Christians to tithe in the sense of giving 10 percent..." This becomes a very strange statement for something that consumes volumes of pulpit time, but not so when all of Scriptures is considered. Teacher and author, John MacArthur, Jr., arrived at the same conclusion...
If, at any time in New Testament Biblical history, there was a possibility that the tithe could have been carried into the church, it was during the struggle between Jewish church and the infant Gentile church. Acts chapter 15 begins with some of the Jewish believers telling the Gentiles that they had to follow an aspect of the Law of Moses to be saved. When Paul and Barnabas went to Jerusalem to try and work this out with the leaders of the Hebrew church, those creating the problem on the Jewish side went all out, demanding that the entire law of Moses must be observed.
Here was a prime opportunity! The ancient Jewish church (assuming that they might act selfishly and apart from God's will) could have picked any or all of the law and claim it to be necessary for the Gentile believers. Yet after seeking God's will and consulting with the Elder's and Apostles (Acts 15:6-19), they determined that saddling Gentile believers with unnecessary parts of the Law of Moses would hinder them from coming to the Lord. In the end the Jewish church only asked that the following aspects of the law be upheld by the Gentile believers...
Obviously, if God wanted the tithe to be a part of the church, He could have had it stated here. Not honoring idols makes sense, as a reflection of one of the Ten Commandments (and God's holiness), in regards to not having any graven images (Exodus 20:3-4). So also does abstaining from sexual immorality in regards to adultery (Exodus 20:14). Perhaps the strangest request here is the legal prohibition of eating things strangled and still with their blood. It appears that God wanted them to carry this one aspect as something that would help keep the peace between the Jewish and Gentile church. To break this one element of the ceremonial law was considered to be highly offensive to the Jews. While it was not really a concern to Gentiles (see 1 Corinthian 10:25-26), God was asking the Gentiles to abstain from something that would be willfully and blatantly offensive to their Jewish brothers. Either way, the tithe was not even in view during this event. (Perhaps we need to ask how the church arrived at the point where the command to tithe has been substituted for the actual admonition to not eat things with blood or strangled. This latter command, carried from Jweish dietary law, was all but forgotten in the years that followed, especially after the destruction of the temple and the later failed Bar Kochba rebellion in 132 A.D. From that point onward the church became overwhelmingly Gentile in practice, losing most contact with Judaism and any perceived reason for this last restriction on Christian liberty.)
Whether Peter, as the Apostle to the Jews, or Paul, as the Apostle to the Gentiles, or even the beloved Apostle John (Galatians 2:8), each of these writers of the New Testament had plenty of opportunity to talk about tithing, if it had been important or relevant to the Christian Church. Over and over they worked to correct aberrant practices and establish sound doctrine in the new church and yet they were completely silent regarding the tithe.
Today's pastors and theologians are anything but silent on the tithe. Many, otherwise sound, teachers find it necessary to artificially prop up something that just isn't there. Risking the wrath of many who enjoy John Piper's writings (which I often do as well), I will use his message on this subject as an example. The following points are from his sermon given September 10, 1995 as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church...
As a refresher, and to practice applying the principles we've already learned, we will quickly examine the Bible passages and arguments that Piper uses in defense of his seven points.
#1. Piper states that because God gave no inheritance to the Levites, He assigned them the tithe (Numbers 18:20-21). This is true, but remember that the portion of the tithe shared with the Levites was only a small portion of the whole, as most of it was consumed by the giver in fellowship and shared with the poor as well as the Levites. Giving 10% of our money to the church in no way honors an Old Testament means of God providing for his ministers -- this is an entirely new concept of the tithe. In fact, the new concept of the tithe removes it's administration (and any possible joy of sharing) from the giver and makes it a church function and now one centered around money rather than meals. Provision for the Levites came through a combination of many things, including a portion of mandatory offerings. Why wouldn't arbitrarily reinstating the firstfruits offering be closer to honoring an Old Testament means of providing for ministers and be just as logical? Once again, the tithe had nothing to do with money and did not provide for the Levites "expenses." Piper also appealed to Matthew 23:23 to say that Jesus promoted the tithe, concluding "So Jesus endorses tithing." Re-read the section on that passage that we covered earlier -- it is a contextual misuse of the Matthew 23:23 passage to apply it to the church. Superficially, perhaps his best argument in this section is 1 Corinthians 9:13-14...
Piper claims that since Paul appealed to the Old Testament practice of the temple storeroom provisions being used to support the priests and Levites that it proves that a tithe should be used to support ministers in the church. His words are; "it seems likely that tithing would have been the early Christian guideline, if not mandate." Yet it's dangerous to read too much into Paul's "In the same way." Taken to an extreme, could not everything concerning the Levites be carried forward? To do so would result in the minister's share of the tithe only being the smaller portion that actually was put in the storeroom (re-read earlier sections), and then only of the increase of crops, livestock, and fruit of the vine, and no minister should be allowed to own lands as an inheritance (even as Levites had no inheritance in the land). In fact, this is not what Paul was saying when he said, "In the same way." In the context of the entire passage, that these two verses were pulled from, Paul was establishing that ministers of the gospel should able to receive physical income and provision while carrying out their ministry. This is the principle whereby believers should provide for those in Christian service. Paul even points out that he did not always use this right (by his own choice, exercising his freedom). Nowhere in this passage does it establish a method for this provision, much less reestablish Old Testament legal requirements to accomplish this. As you will see later in this article, reestablishing legal requirements, or inventing a new legal requirement, would go against the Biblical principles that Paul worked to establish for the church.
Piper's final statement in this point is as follows.
The evidence we have already examined in Scriptures does not support this statement, both regarding his claim that the tithe sustained the Old Testament ministry and "probably" supported the New Testament church as well. The next section, which deals with church history, will also help to show that the "probably" is completely improbable.
#2. While no scripture is used to defend this point, a couple of his opinions should be evaluated. [Though there is a scripture verse in this point, it is not being used to support the claim being made.] Piper's statements...
What Bible passage, for the New Testament church, says that giving a tenth of our income to the church proves that we believe all our money is God's? [Though he doesn't directly say that the giving must be to the church, he implies it throughout all points.]
Since we're back talking about writing a check, based on our gross income, how does this have anything to do with even the Old Testament tithe? Remember that the tithe was of the increase (net) of crops, livestock, etc. -- money wasn't even in view. [I think I'm beginning to sound like a broken record on this!]
#3. How giving away ten percent of our income, versus using all of it for God's glory, becomes an antidote to covetousness is beyond me. But Piper says, "Tithing is one of Gods great antidotes to covetousness." While he used many versus that validly say that covetousness is wrong, there are no passages that even begin to prove his point and associate the two. When a person buys into a mandated percentage it really does nothing towards controlling covetousness, which is an issue of the heart (see Colossians 2:20-23 below). A person can covet just as well with the remaining 90% if they believe that somehow the remainder any more belongs to them than the first 10% did.
#4. While Piper provided a great example of a person who understood Christian Stewardship as a lifestyle, namely John Wesley, his attempt to use it as proof of the need to "go beyond the tithe" is invalid. Again, teaching that there is a dichotomy between what is God's and what is ours does nothing towards controlling "our natural impulse toward luxury." Coming to a right understanding of Christian Stewardship (as we will soon examine) is the only sure course.
Piper uses 2 Corinthians 9:6-8 as a proof text for the next three points. We will not spend much time examining it here as we do so in the section entitled "How Should Christians Be Giving?"
#5. The heart of Piper's argument in this point is the statement "Excess money is for good deeds." Again, I'll emphasize that we need to skip the dichotomy. The truth of scriptures is that all we have and all we are is for good deeds! Consider...
Rather that Piper's statement that we need to "go to the tithe and beyond," Scripture teaches that Christians are beyond the tithe.
#6. Claiming that Paul, in 2 Corinthians 9:6-8, was restating Malachi 3:10, Piper then spends much of this point trying to apply that Old Testament passage to the church. As we have seen, this passage had nothing to do with the church (re-read the earlier section on Malachi). Yet by tying Luke 6:38 to Malachi, Piper echoes the popular claim that a person should test God in tithing. [It's dangerous business putting God to the test unless he has specifically commanded it of us. See Psalms 78:41, Matthew 4:7, Luke 4:12] Where we end up in Piper's teaching is with a mild form of the prosperity gospel, because this "is God's way of providing you, the tither, sufficient money for your needs." Simply put this is telling people that they have to earn God's blessing and daily provision, claiming that if you tithe God is sure to give more money in return. Piper does emphasize that this won't make you rich... remember this is the mild form of the prosperity gospel. Again, what makes the mild form logically more consistent than the extreme forms? Before continuing, we need to look at the whole passage in Luke (beginning with the verse before the one verse Piper used)...
This whole passage is on love. Jesus was illustrating that a believer will act out of love. When we show mercy and forgiveness in everything (including with material goods) God gives us more and more ability to act in love! That's what I want "pressed down, shaken together and running over", the ability to love more and more in everything I do. This is far better than desiring any increase in my earthly bank account!
#7. Pressing "towards the tithe and beyond" will never prove and strengthen our faith in God's promises, as Piper claims. Being enslaved to a newly created system of giving 10% of all your money to the church does nothing towards proving one's faith. Following God's word is proof of one's faith (John 14:15). Though Piper uses Hebrews 13:5 in this point, a verse which warns us to be "free from the love of money", giving away 10% does nothing towards freeing a person from the love of money. Studying, believing, and putting into practice the principles of Christian Stewardship that God has given to the church -- which deals with all that I am and have -- is the sure cure for a love of money. If I don't deal with the big picture, it's just as easy to have a love for the remaining ninety percent even if I buy into a new law to tithe. In fact, with many versions of instruction on tithing, I can believe that my ninety percent share will get bigger because I'm taught that God will reward me for tithing. I would argue that this concept actually encourages a love of money.
In conclusion, John Piper is teaching a traditional view of tithing
that is unsupported by Scriptures. He is not the first, nor likely
Protestants are quick to condemn Roman Catholics for holding tradition as equal or superior to God's written word. The Protestant reformation was a call to return to the purity of God's word, to shed the trappings of man that had been building up on the practice of Christianity. It was never the intent of the reformers for the reformation to be a one-time happening. In fact many of the so-called radicals of that day only differed with other reformers in the speed by which they wanted to make the changes. It was the feeling of some of the prominent reformers that too much change in too many areas would cause even greater opposition. Sadly, the reformation seemed to stall in so many areas in the generation that followed. The changes already made were enshrined as being orthodoxy and the practices that had been left alone ultimately were lumped in with them.
The tithe was a Roman Catholic practice that was carried forward, albeit with a few tweaks here and there. Before considering the time of the Reformation, it is first necessary to examine the history of the early church. For those who would say, "Why bother? History doesn't really matter," I beg to differ. While we should never place it on par with Scriptures or in place of Scriptures, history does allow us to see where we have deviated from God's word and what led to it. In addition, we need to remember that we do not practice our faith in a vacuum. The same Holy Spirit that guides us into all truth has taught believers throughout history. For this reason we will often find other believers that have held to the same Scriptural truths throughout all eras, even the very dark times of church history.
My quest for church origins, in regards to these practices, led to an examination of the writings of those called the early church fathers. Primarily the writings of early church leaders, who wrote on just about every practice and dispute of the early church, if the tithe was common, it should have been mentioned. In the earliest versions of this document, I stated that I had found nothing. In fact, I subsequently found a single early (pre third century) church father who referenced tithing. That church father was Irenaeus, who lived from A.D. 120-202. Writing circa 177 A.D. in his work entitled, "Against Heresies," Irenaeus was working to refute what he saw as error creeping into the church during the century following the last apostle. In Book IV, Chapter 13, in a chapter entitled "Christ Did Not Abrogate the Natural Precepts of the Law, But Rather Fulfilled and Extended Them", he wrote the following...
For Irenaeus, Christ had fulfilled the letter of the law so as to set us free to uphold its' intent through the imitation of our heavenly Father in love. A few chapters later he offers even more details of this freedom.
It is clear that the one early church father who referenced tithing was doing so not to uphold the Jewish practice but rather to show that the church inherited freedom to do far better! Christians were not those who gave a portion out of obligation, they are those who give all out of love.
Moving into works of the late third century and beyond there are increasing references to tithing, mostly due to a fundamental paradigm that took place in the church -- the state church. It was only after the church became institutionalized and recognized by the state (Rome) that tithing began to be imposed as a means of supporting the organization. While there had been those in full-time ministry, who were dependant on gifts and generosity of others from the earliest days of the church, it was only after the church began to acquire buildings, lands, and other vast holdings, that reinstitution of a tithe was contrived as a means of financing all this.
For example a document called "The Constitutions," which was thought to have been written or compiled between 350-400 A.D., has much to say on tithing and offerings. It should be noted that this document establishes long and detailed ritual and regulation for the church, most not found or even hinted at in Scriptures, and often attributes them to Scriptural persons including the apostles. From Book 8, Section 4, "The Same Apostle's Constitution Concerning First-Fruits and Tithe Tithes" (Notice the claim that this came from the apostles!)...
By this document, the Old Testament offerings and tithes (-- in truth a new tithe, as it wasn't even administered in fashion of the old) were still in effect, with the new church hierarchy taking over for the old priesthood. Book 2, Section 4, provides additional details...
It's clear in this long excerpt that the church was now promoting it's leadership as being a continuation, or at least an equivalent, to the Levitical priesthood. It's no surprise that most of the remaining volumes of this work detail a list of dos and don'ts, creating a new system of legalism (or law) for the church (... including such 'important' details on how often and where women should bathe).
Since there was no rational or biblically consistent way of imposing the tithe on the church (and believers), many different methods were implemented in the years that followed. Sometimes the tithe was only on crops and livestock, yet it became increasingly more important to receive money to finance church endeavors. Tithes were sometimes payable to the local priest, sometimes to higher church authorities, sometime to secular authorities who had been assigned the tithe by the church. For a layperson to be found with the tithe at one period in history (1179), it was punishable by excommunication (and by statement, the loss of one's soul) - a far cry from the tithe being administered and consumed by the giver in Old Testament scriptures. In some countries the tithe was applied as a universal tax, while in lands that had feudal estates the estate often paid the tithe/tax with the feudal residents having nothing to do with it (other than having some of their work taken from them). The adaptation of the tithe reached a pivotal point as it neared the 13th century. Up until this time, the tithe was still mostly considered to be of things grown ("fruits of the earth"), but now it was decreed that the tithe was of "all kinds of profit and wages." Thus the final stage was now set for what has become the monetary tithe of today.
To emphasize the importance of understanding the historical invention of the modern tithe, some excerpts from the article on tithing in the Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics (1928, Scribners) sum up the changes that began a couple hundred years after the apostles.
Simply put, tithing was deemed necessary by the organized church when the amounts of money needed to support the organization had grown to the point that freewill giving wouldn't suffice. The mindset was, if people wouldn't give enough of their own free will; use the clout of the organization to impose mandatory giving. What was the great change that led to this financial necessity? It was the onset of the church's great love affair with building huge edifices and owning lands. During this period of time, lines between Old Testament norms and new Christian practices blurred. It was easy to justify large cathedrals with "sanctuaries" by equating them to the glory of the temple (ignoring the fact that the new dwelling place of God was in people). Of course temples needed priests and a priesthood (ignoring the new priesthood of all believers), and how else to finance all this but to impose mandatory giving. Into this quagmire of beliefs the 'new version tithe' emerged, based more on what they wanted it to be than what it Biblically had been. Ignorance of scriptures, by what became known as 'lay people,' combined with leadership who professed to be the only ones able to interpret and teach scriptures, easily enabled a whole new system to be established. This latter claim has been used, to some degree, by modern teachers when faced with questioning parishioners.
In using proof texts, including Matthew 10:10, Luke 10:7, and 1 Corinthians 9:7, to claim authorization for implementing mandatory giving, it began the cycle of commonly misusing scriptures to justify tithing. It took going against scriptures and even the writings of early church fathers to adopt this counterfeit system of giving. For example, continuing from the Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics...
Well known writers such as Augustine (writing between 386 - 430 A.D.) had become influenced by the new system that was then gaining ground, but still wrote of freedom in giving, trying to somehow reconcile the two. These attempts to reconcile the two opposing systems continue to this day. Continuing from the Encyclopaedia...
Initially the Eastern Church opposed the Western Church, who had quickly adopted this system. In fact there appears to have been some resistance among parts of the Western Church. Again, more from the Encyclopaedia...
Now with civil authority and enforcement, the tithe was entrenched in country and after country where the Roman church spread. For all the great reforms accomplished in the Protestant Reformation, none of the major reformers were willing to affect their (or the church's) means of livelihood by examining the tithe. As such, the tithe was so well accepted that it was non-issue. It also remained so because a number of them developed a system of doctrine whereby they believed they had scriptural reason to carry much of the Old Testament into the church See Appendix B. In fact, beyond the tithe, many of them were quite willing to continue using civil authority to enforce church law; now a Protestant version versus the former Roman version. While no longer using civil compulsion, the church of today still imposes this developed tithing system onto its adherents. Perhaps it's time for the Reformation to continue.
Many pastors and teachers of the church have never done a study on this matter and have unquestionably accepted the traditions passed on to them. Like many of us, until we were challenged to search the Scriptures for the truth, we didn't even know we were supposed to be looking. In love, encourage others - especially leaders of the church - to seek out this truth. There's no better place for reformation to begin. My greater concern is for those who have heard the truth and adopt the attitude of "don't confuse me with the facts!" Those who ignore God's word, do so to their own peril (James 3:1). Continuing to extort money under false pretences (which is to use any manner not prescribed by God) is ultimately to be found robbing believers (of money and more, as you will see in the next section).
So if the Tithe isn't for the church, what and how should we be giving? ...
The pattern of giving exemplified throughout the New Testament is one of offerings... not the mandated offerings of the law, but of "freewill" offerings. Examples abound regarding the giving of material things (including money). Before looking at the New Testament, it needs to be noted that even the law, which was a shadow of good things to come (Hebrews 10:1), contained a number of examples of freewill offerings. These offerings contrasted sharply with the mandated requirements of the law, perhaps showing better the heart of the people as they cheerfully looked after a need. Some of the examples from the time of the law...
Conclusion from these 'shadow' passages...
- The building of God's tabernacle and subsequent temple was from freewill offerings, so that God would be glorified through the generosity of His people. This 'shadow' provides an example of how our care for God's tabernacle today, through the cheerful and freewill gifts of His people, brings glory to Him. This Old Testament tabernacle is not representative of a church building, rather it is symbolic of the living building of the church. The people of the church (believers) are the tabernacle, within whom God dwells by His Holy Spirit (see Ephesians 2:21-22). For this reason it shouldn't surprise us that other New Testament passages remind that we are to especially care for believers (see Galatians 6:10). If we truly were caring for the people that are the church imagine how much God would be glorified even amongst non-believers! This generosity should flow naturally from the love that God has given us...
Two final examples from Old Testament times also provide example for the church. In the timeless principles laid out in the book of Proverbs, these nuggets of truth were valid for those before, during, and after the law.
Moving from Old Testament times to the New Testament, the following is perhaps one of the best passages, of the multitudes of examples, concerning this topic of giving...
Conclusions regarding Christian giving as found in this passage...
- Giving is not out of compulsion.
- Giving is to be done cheerfully.
- Giving is not to be done grudgingly.
- Giving is to promote equality (not create hardship).
- Giving is a testimony and result of love!!!
- Giving is to provide for the physical and spiritual well being of saints.
- What you have committed to give (of your free choice), follow through on.
- Spiritual harvest is reaped from physical giving. The reaping, in verse 6, does not promise material wealth in response to giving. Believers will reap (or experience) spiritual blessing from (and through) our material giving. God's only promise regarding our physical needs is that He will supply all our needs (verse 8 and Philippians 4:19)
- We give knowing that God provides all we have to meet our needs and those of others.
- Notice the contrast of this New Testament standard (the outworking of grace in generosity and love) to the mandated requirements (obligation) of the Old Testament law.
Continuing our New Testament search...
Conclusion from this passage...
- Believers have unique and special functions (and gifting) within the church. As some are called and gifted for teaching others are called and gifted for giving to the needs of others. (While this may be a primary gift of some, others may still have it as a lesser gift).
Conclusions from this passage...
- Giving is not to be forced. We should not be trying to force, guilt, or coerce anyone into giving.
- Giving is to be spontaneous, from a heart full of love.
- This passage concerns extraordinary circumstances as it is regarding a possession rather than money. Yet, that possession was a run-away slave, who would have been of financial benefit to his owner. Though the circumstances of a Christian owning a slave are not likely today, the general idea behind this passage still applies.
Conclusions from this passage...
- Giving (of freewill gifts, not tithes) is to help God's people (spiritually and physically). While some say that the "in keeping with his income" is justification for setting a percentage of income (i.e. the tithe), the translation "as he may prosper" used in many other translations conveys the thought better. God only desires that you share, as you are able. A percentage amount is not set anywhere in this passage. This is a reflection of the early church's instruction that the poor not be forgotten (see next passage, Galatians 2:10). Even in the law, when an equivalent statement to the "in keeping with his income" was used, namely "in proportion to the way the LORD your God has blessed you. (Deuteronomy 16:10,17)" it was not used in conjunction with the tithe, rather in association with the free-will offerings (see Deuteronomy 16:16-17). The passage in Deuteronomy carried the full implication that the freewill offering be used for fellowship of family, employees (servants) and not forgetting those in full time service to God, the poor and helpless, and even the outsider, "the alien" (see Deuteronomy 16:11, 14). The result of this generosity is promised to be "joy!" (See also Deuteronomy 16:15).
- Saving up gifts for a particular purpose is encouraged. Individuals set apart for that purpose by the local church body may administer the final distribution of the gifts. (Being set apart does not mean that a person has to have a special status or denominational ordination, merely that a body of believers chose them for that purpose).
- Giving should be first on the basis of greatest need. The particular need of the church in Jerusalem, at this time, was very great. The church there was under continual persecution, with many believers having their possessions and properties confiscated. The giving being done here was not merely an issue of being nice -- it was urgently needed! Yet in the midst of this urgency, no specified amounts or percentages were being demanded as they trusted that God would supply through the generosity of His people.
Conclusions and questions from this passage...
- Giving is first and foremost to assist the poor [physically and spiritually].
- Taking care of the poor was considered to be so important that it was singled out as first and foremost in instructions to the Gentile church.
· Why is care of the poor, in and out of our churches, so low on the priorities of most church budgets and individual giving?
· How can churches claim that the tithe must be paid to the church first, or only to the church if the giver has exhausted their resources? This "church first" princple is often demanded even if the individual has poor and needy (physically or spiritually) that they could be helping directly and immediately, including family and neighbors. The whole idea even violates this timeless principle set out in Proverbs...
Conclusions from the passages in Romans and Galatians...
- Giving is first and foremost to assist the poor [physically and spiritually].
- Giving should also help those who shared the good news with you.
Conclusion from this passage...
- Everyone is encouraged to be able to share with those in need (spiritually and physically).
The whole message of the New Testament, for the church, is that giving is an act that comes from love (Matthew 22:27-39). Teaching that actions stem from real love must be a primary biblical message for the church, as it's a message that permeates the New Testament!
To say that God will bless us in giving is quite different than saying "God promises to bless our obedience in giving." Obedience has to follow a command. The New Testament message to the church is one of opportunity not of obligation. The generally stated responsibility that believers are to be living a life of giving - a message that all believers are to be instructed in - serves to teach people how to show their love. Again, the only motivation under grace is love.
The apostle Paul went to extraordinary lengths to be an example to other elders and leaders of the church regarding the need to live a life of giving, to always be looking out for the weak (which encompasses the widow, children, the poor, those spiritually in need, etc.). Read Acts 20:28-35 taking special note of the last verse...
The topic of giving seems to always get bogged down in money. In fact this scriptural life of giving we are called to includes far more than mere money. A picture used throughout the New Testament is that of stewardship, basically the message is that believers are faithful servants entrusted with the master's goods.
We live in the Master's house, we eat of the Master's food and we benefit from His belongings. Truly since everything belongs to Him (Psalms 24:1), we don't really give it back to Him, we're called to use it as He would have us to! (This was really the same principle found in the Old Testament law regarding the giver eating his own tithe... obedience - doing what the Master commanded - was the heart of the issue.) If we consider all we have to not belong to us, our usage of it all becomes an act of love.
The extension of this goes beyond money and external physical things. As a believer, my body is no longer my own, it too belongs to the Master. My taking care of it is part of being a good steward of the Master's belongings (1 Corinthians 6:15-20). Even our time is not our own, it belongs to the Master! The wise use of our time to carryout the Master's business should be 100%. This doesn't mean that I have to be in a Bible study or church service all the time. In fact, spending time with my children (Proverbs 22:6), working on my marriage (Ephesians 5:25-33, 1 Corinthians 7:3-5), earning a living (1 Timothy 5:8), sleep and relaxation (1 Timothy 6:17) are all instructed by the master. These things together with more "religious sounding" things such as prayer, exercising whatever spiritual gifts and talents God has entrusted you with (Romans 12:1, 1 Corinthians 12, Ephesians 4), Bible study (2 Timothy 2:15), fellowship (Hebrews 10:25), and making disciples (Matthew 28:19) are still merely part of using 100% of my time for the Master.
Some have tried to say that since the law is a shadow of things to come (Hebrew 10:1), it merely means that the law's mandated 10% is now the minimum they must give to their church (of course disregarding the original purpose of the tithe). This concept becomes absurd if applied to other areas of the law. Imagine trying to take other aspects of the law and be more zealous about them! The result would be churches full of "super Pharisees." Again, it must be emphasized that the message of the law was not the letter of it, but the truth behind it! Telling people that the law required ten percent so grace now requires more, gives the legalizer all the ammo they need to pat themselves on the back when they give their 11% to the church... while at the same time neglecting their family, the poor, etc. This is not a "straw man" scenario, as far too many churches claim that giving the tithe to the church comes first and that giving it in spite of hardship is your obligation.
does grace require? 100%! Does this mean that I have to give all my
money to a church? (Some cultic organizations have actually gone
there). No, it means that our life of Christian stewardship is 100%.
Every aspect is to be lived as an act of giving... to ourselves (care
of our bodies & spouse, whom we are one with), to our families
(in time and provision), to the household of faith (caring for the
weak and poor and those serving in ministry, especially missions and
evangelism), and to outsiders (as we help all poor and needy, both
physically and spiritually). Living out a balanced life of love is a
way of life - 100% giving all the time! While the law pointed to
this, far too few found it. With the example and revelation of grace
in the New Testament and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in
believers, enabling us to now live it, the church has no excuse.
This might sound like a foolish question, but it's one that must be addressed. As some have become frustrated with the abuses of certain churches, the lavish lifestyles of some pastors in the face of the need of their people and the peoples around them - all backed up with continual pleas to tithe - they have fled to the opposite position (rather than a biblical one!). Using these things as an excuse these individuals claim that there should be no such thing as full-time ministers or paid ministry positions. Is there validity to their claims?
The dishonest promotion of the tithe for personal gain is referred to in the next passage, which speaks of elders and leaders of the church needing to uphold sound doctrine. (And it is personal gain if they benefit from it, and dishonest if they know from Scriptures that it is not applicable to the church). As you read this next passage remember that the words, "circumcision group" are merely a way of saying "those who work to enslave people to any aspect of the law." While specifically true of many Jews in Paul's day (see Titus 1:14), it is also true of Gentiles who try and live like Jews in some or all aspects.
As mentioned, for various reasons including the abuses of some in ministry, there are those who claim that no Christians should be in full time service or paid Christian ministry. Often they use the example that Paul worked to provide for his needs and that of his companions (on more than one occasion); they ignore the fact that this was an extraordinary outworking of God's grace. Paul himself backed up the idea that he had every right to earn a living through the gospel, but that he (of his own freewill) chose not to. He never made this a mandate nor insinuates that God did either. In fact, when available, Paul accepted gifts to further the ministry he was entrusted to. While it should never be beneath any Christian in ministry to perform secular work to make ends meet, as the need arises, it's not a requirement. (If I may digress, once again, for a moment... Consider how many so-called church leaders would abandon the flock if the going got personally tough financially, before they would dirty their hands in "menial work" to make ends meet?). But again, to the scriptures...
Conclusion from this passage...
- People in Christian ministry need to earn a living, contingent on their doing it well!
- Christian ministry is not a blank check to unlimited income. "Wages" implies suitable income to live commensurate on the work being done.
Conclusions from this passage...
- People in Christian ministry need to provide for their family and for the well being of the ministry they are called to carry out.
- Believers should share in providing for the costs of carrying out the ministry (especially evangelism and missions).
Conclusion and question from this passage...
- Believers should help provide for those who are in physical need as they work to spread the gospel. The privilege of giving is open to, and should be shared, by all believers as God enables them!
· How can anyone say that a tithe must be given to the church before any other giving by a believer? [Many churches teach that all tithes must be given to the church before anyone gives to missions or for evangelism, etc.] Is there any biblical basis for this? Some even say that the tithe should be given before meeting the needs of family. Does giving to the church negate personal responsibility to care for family (1 Timothy 5:8), poor, and missions?
While not directly related to the question of supporting those in ministry, the question of supporting the upkeep (or purchase, etc.) of a building also comes up frequently. Again, people seem to run to both sides of this question. Some claim no church (local fellowship of believers) should ever own a building. Far more claim the opposite, that the tithe was mandated by God to support having the building as well. As we've seen, the tithe was never used to support the building in Old Testament times, so precedence would be hard to claim. In fact, in the New Testament you'd be hard pressed to find any passage in support of funding a building, with or without a tithe. Why? Until the church became institutionalized a couple centuries after the time of Jesus, the church (being the believers) met in whatever places they could find, ranging from the big public area of the temple before it was destroyed (Acts 5:12), subsequently private homes (Colossians 4:15, 1 Corinthians 16:19, Romans 16:5, Acts 20:20, etc.), and still later even catacombs. Is this to say that having a building is wrong? No. A building is no different than any other tool or possession that a believer, or group of believers, might own. The questions always must be... How is it being used? Is it efficient use of the Master's belongings? With people thinking of a building when they hear the word "church," and not of the people who truly are the church, it's time to start considering if we've put way too much emphasis on the structure. If vast amounts of our time, efforts, and resources are being consumed on the building to the point of preventing us from caring for the poor and those in ministry (especially missions and evangelism), it might be time to start asking which is more important. (Our actions will testify to our answer, regardless of our words).
Some church leaders have said, "If we taught this instead of the tithe (meaning the popular version of what the tithe is today), we'd never be able to keep the doors of the church open." So my question is this... Which is greater, "Grace" or "Law?" If people are taught and learn of the freedom and responsibility they have been given under grace, that "the only thing that matters is faith expressing itself in love (Galatians 5:6)," won't grace always show itself to be greater? When people are enslaved to a rules-bound system not instituted by God, though having a form of godliness (2 Timothy 3:5), it is harmful because...
- It makes "new law" (or reinstates the old) - see Galatians 5:1-6! (See also Romans 6:14). Paul was extremely concerned with people trying to enslave believers to the law again. While his specific example in Galatians was circumcision, the same could be said of any aspect or mandate of the law. Generally speaking, apart from the Jews, it's not non-believers that are in danger of becoming enslaved to the law; it's people in the church. For so many believers who have been caught up in some form of enslavement, the church needs to start emphasizing Paul's opening words on this subject...
- It places tradition over God's word (Matthew 15:6). If the tithe is not for the New Testament believer, then teaching it or mandating it to the detriment of what the scriptures actually teach nullifies God's word. This becomes a dangerous precedent and practice. It becomes an important question to ask how any church can make an absolute statement that "the tithe goes to the local church," as more than one publication and message has asserted.
- It robs the giver of joy!
- It robs the world (lost) of seeing grace (love) in action!
- It gives an excuse for Christians to not be responsible for what God has commanded (i.e. looking after the poor). Even if a person gives to the church it does not remove their personal responsibility to share and care for others. Sadly, man who have dropped something in an offering plate are self-satisfied that they have done their "duty." While the example is slightly different, the principle of this passage certainly applies...
Teaching to serve out of compulsion, fear of punishment, or hope for finding favor through actions (or to get rewards) - rather than out of love - is in opposition to the message of the New Testament (John 14:15, 23-24; 1 John 2:6!). Sin, failing to do what we know is right (James 4:17), often temporarily blinds us, keeping us from seeing God's blessing (even though we are still the recipient of it). This is how giving has been turned into a burden by many believers, rather than a blessing through which God is given all the glory! The believer filled with love and compassion, which comes from God never from compulsion, has been set free to give.
The focus on money has become so great in many churches that sermons are preached on why you need to give in the way they want you to give. Giving of time, influence, hospitality, and sometimes even material goods, is downplayed as somehow inferior. One passage used to justify this comes from second Samuel.
It's amazing, and sad, how Old Testament passages are pulled from their context, and sometimes even held in opposition to other passages, to make some teachers' points. A few big "why?" questions need to be answered about this specific instance with David. For example, why did David feel it necessary that the sacrifice cost him something? Is there a command in Scriptures that it must be so for David, or for anyone else? Why does this passage seem to contradict the actions of Abraham, the father of all those of faith?
The verse immediately prior to this passage helps to set the context (and actually it would even be better to read all the way from the start of the chapter)...
David had sinned. He recognized that it was his sin. Under the Law of Moses anyone who had sinned was required to make a sin offering, a sacrifice for their sin.
necessary for the sacrifice to cost David, under the law, because it
was David's sin. The one who sinned was responsible to bring the
offering (read all of the Law!). So for all under the Law the exact
same would apply. If animals belonging Araunah had been sacrificed,
the sacrifice would have been Araunah's not David's. As a Jebusite,
Araunah would not have been aware of this making it necessary for
David to clarify why he must pay for them. Moving to the New
Testament church, we are no longer under the law. There is no longer
any need for sacrifices for sin (see Hebrews 10:18)!
Returning to Abraham, prior to the Law, his freewill gift was quite different than David's compulsory sacrifice.
Abraham voluntarily gave a tenth of all the plunder he recovered to Melchizedek, as priest of God Most High. While Abraham hadn't paid for a cent (or shekel) of it directly, it had been through the efforts of people directed by him (the 318 trained men in his hire. See Genesis 14:14). Giving does not have to be direct, or cash only. Giving through the efforts of people in your employ, or through your influence, is still giving. To this degree all giving does cost the giver something. A person only has so much influence to use, so many favors to call in, so much time to give, etc. Using any or all of this for the glory of God is just as valid giving as any cash gift. Another example...
Nehemiah and the people returning to Israel from the exile all used their influence to bring gifts to the temple. Nehemiah got a pagan king to donate lumber! The people had their pagan neighbors contributing goods and livestock along with monetary gifts. This was all for the Glory of God and all subsequently used by Him. In this, the principle still applies, though we no longer have to take our gifts to a temple or priest (or church or pastor) to use them for God. Using what we have, or even directing non-believers to use their wealth and goods for good, is giving of ourselves in service to the Lord. Since it all belongs to God, we are merely faithful stewards in His command. And yes, God can (and does) use things belonging to non-believers!
As God has blessed you; give through your time, your goods, your finances, your influence, your life. Use them all where most needed to accomplish as much as possible for God's kingdom. Buying lunch or coat may do more than giving to your church.
Not everyone is in a place to give directly to the poor or hungry, or to visit the sick or those in prison, or to directly help the widow and fatherless. Nor is there any indication in Scriptures that we are all called to do the same things and have the same ministry opportunities. In fact, God gave (and gives) a diversity of gifts and callings so that every aspect of His kingdom is cared for. The principle of Scriptures is that the one enabling someone to minister will be just as blessed as the one doing the ministering.
In the extreme, we have seen churches that literally keep a list of their members' giving, for the purpose of shaming (directly or indirectly) those they feel aren't giving "their share." This is an unbiblical practice that effectively robs the giver of their God-given choice and joy in giving (and in whatever manner God has set before them).
Many individuals officially, or unofficially, keep the same type of list because they are encouraged to do so by their church. Since many churches constantly are berating (or guilting) their members into "doing their duty", of course as defined by the church, people feel the need to keep a list to see how they rate in this demanded duty. Those churches that claim the right to collect tithes especially make this duty bound list-making a necessity.
If giving becomes a believer's way of life the lists are unnecessary. Giving of your finances, material resources, hospitality, influence, and time, as God as provided and as He gives you opportunity, becomes something natural and part of your everyday life.
When you make giving a way of life, you don't need to let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. There is no need to keep track of how much you have given (or to whom), merely that you have sought to make the most of every opportunity that God has given you (Colossians 4:5). Your Father in heaven is the only one watching... why do we feel that we need to know how God is using what He has led us to do? If God graciously enables you to see what He is doing, rejoice, but if you never know this side of eternity it should suffice that God used you for His glory. To demand anything more only comes from pride.
Some have taken this so far as to not keep (or want receipts) for any
eligible charitable giving. While this is between you and God, the God-ordained
authorities have seen fit to make this system part of our lives.
Balance in life comes from not allowing the system to force (or
limit) what giving opportunities you have available. But, wherein God
leads you to give financially or materially in a manner that would
enable you to claim the charitable deduction on your taxes, this
becomes God's way of providing you even more to use for Him.
Live free by God's grace and don't let anyone enslave you again to the law. Love more, give 100%, and glorify God through all you do!
Most Christians understand from the Bible that a person cannot earn salvation by works (Ephesians 2:8-9) and that trying to be good by one's self can never impress God (Isaiah 64:6). Where this seems to stop for many believers is after salvation. For them saved by grace (unmerited favor) turns into living by works. In reality, the Christian life is all about grace from beginning to end. Every good thing comes solely from God and every good thing we do is because God enables us. Every blessing God gives is solely because He is the one who blesses, not because we deserve it, or can earn it, or demand it.
A dangerous philosophy in many churches, and with many believers, is the belief that God's blessing is proof that they are doing something right. They would define God's blessing in terms of increased numbers, financial well-being or other material successes. I will offer you this... Blessing is never proof of God being impressed with something you've done; it's merely proof that God is the one who blesses!
Understand that the Christian martyr who has lost all belongings, seen his family tortured and killed, and is about to die for his faith is still blessed. God blesses every single believer - the outworking of that blessing may vary widely from person to person. In contrast, the rebellious unbeliever - regardless of how many material things he or she gains - is never blessed. The issue is not what they have done; it's whether or not they have found favor with God. This favor is found totally by grace (unmerited favor), from beginning to end, through Jesus Christ.
Looking for proof that all who are found in Christ are blessed?
Notice that this passage tells us that all who take refuge in Jesus are blessed, quite different than the idea that some who take refuge in Him might be blessed!
Again, all whose sins are forgiven, or covered, are blessed. Because none of our sins are ever counted against us, we are blessed on account of the one who blesses, not because of anything we do or don't do.
Who gets disciplined? Every believer according to Hebrews 12:5-8! And, once again, the Bible tells us that every believer disciplined by God is blessed. (Consider for a moment that part of the blessing itself is the discipline...)
In God blessing us - every person who takes refuge in Him - He has promised us that we lack nothing and that he will provide every good thing. Who knows better what 'every good thing' is than the one who is perfectly good and the source of every good thing? (See also James 1:17). In lacking nothing (not even the discipline we need), it is by His standard - He who knows our every need - not by the standard of our whim and wants (or societies' norms).
Who is blessed? All who are blameless are blessed, not by their own efforts but because their sins are no longer counted against them. Every believer has been assured that there is nothing that can now condemn them (Romans 8:1). It is the result, or fruit, of this salvation that enables us to keep his statues (Romans 3:31) and seek Him with all our heart (Hebrews 11:6).
This final passage from Psalms provides a slightly different illustration of blessing, in regards to having children.
Obviously not every person is blessed with children, only those who God chooses to bless with them. This passage clearly states that children come from God (as the giver, by His choice) and that the recipient is blessed. We can desire children, some have even demanded children of God, but the bottom line still remains - God gives them to whom He pleases. In fact, God also determines the amount of time we have them. While it can be said that this is a blessing which God gives to unbelievers and believers alike (as a common blessing, similar to those referenced in Matthew 5:45), the unbeliever never truly experiences the full blessing of understanding that their children are "a heritage from the Lord."
Perhaps the most known passage on being blessed comes from Jesus' words in Luke...
Notice the recurring theme in all these 'blessed are' statements. Every one of them is a statement that applies to those who come to faith in Jesus Christ. These are not 'do this and you will be blessed' statements, rather they are 'because you are this you are blessed statements.' It's those who turn these inside out that create a works based means of trying to find favour with God. For example, people have adopted ascetic ways of life to embrace poverty, hunger, and sorrow, all to try and somehow gain favour with God. Some even teach (including cults like the Jehovah's Witnesses) that going out and confronting people so they can 'persecute' or 'mock' you increases your blessing (or is proof that you have found favour with God). Again, this is totally backwards. These statements all pertain spiritually to those who are blessed because of Jesus Christ.
Moving to the book of Matthew, the 'blessed are' statements here are even easier to see as being spiritual characteristics of believers - the only ones who receive the kingdom of heaven and who don't fall away from Jesus (those who persevere, overcome, endure - all biblical terms to describe God's working to completion what He begins in us. See also Philippians 1:6. This concept is also reflected in the 'blessed is' statement found in James 1:12).
Do you believe that Abraham, the man of faith, was blessed? Well, every single believer is equally blessed along with Abraham! Every spiritual blessing available has been stored up for us in Christ.
So is a believer's obedience and service to earn favour with God? Never! (For more on this see Ephesians 6:5-8 and Colossians 3:22-25). It's totally out of love, love that originates and is empowered by God (John 14:15-24).
The last passage we will consider, and perhaps the most definitive, is the parable of the landowner needing workers.
This parable so clearly shows that God calls and God provides. The denarius, which was equivalent to what a worker would need daily to provide for himself and his family in ancient times, represents the blessing each of us needs every day. God's blessing is in proportion to our need not our wants or efforts. To demand any more from Him is to be as ungrateful as the grumbling workers, who called the master unfair, while in fact they had been blessed with everything they needed.
One final note regarding blessing. Consider that sin is the reason we often cannot see God's blessing or wherein we squander or misuse it. Imagine for a moment one of the workmen, in the parable last considered, getting so angry as to throw away the denarius he had just been given. His anger (sinful thought) over a perceived unfairness led to an obviously wrong action, one that removed the results of the blessing from him. In the same way, through sinful thoughts and actions, many believers do that exact same thing with God's daily blessings.
I will not begin to try and cover all teachings of Covenant Theology in this work. Regardless of the merits of this system of belief, which was begun by some of the prominent Reformers and fully framed in the generations that followed, there are logical inconsistencies. And before I hear cries of "unfair," with claims that Covenant Theology has been around since the early church, I disagree. Though elements of it have existed from early times, the complete system as espoused today was not completed, or fully framed, until after the time of the Reformers. Also note that there are differences in how some churches and denominations understand Covenant theology (i.e. Baptist versus Presbyterian). In addition, do not take my criticism of Covenant Theology to be an endorsement of the other predominate position known as Dispensationalism. It has more than its' fair share of inconsistencies as well, but again this could be another volume in and of itself.
Wherein Covenant Theology attempts to bring all aspects of the Old Testament into the church, unless specifically abrogated in the New Testament, it does so without consistency. It is on this basis that (to some) Baptism is said to be the covenant sign equivalent to circumcision, yet now changed to include female infants as well. It's dangerous business taking Old Testament practices, altering them out of the silence of Scriptures, and continuing them in the New Testament under the guise of the church inheriting all the promises and commands of Israel. Picking through the law and choosing what aspects still pertain is equally inconsistent.
Finally, before anyone hits me with the charge of antinomianism, I reaffirm my belief that the outworking of Christian faith is the upholding of the law (Romans 3:21). Faith enabled works - made possible by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in all believers - is a logical result of God working in our lives to make us holy (James 2:18). Wherein the heart of the law is a reflection of the Holiness of God, we will display this holiness in our lives as we grow in grace. It's not surprising that the Ten Commandments are restated all throughout the New Testament, specifically and in summary. Believing that Christians uphold the law cannot be construed to say that a believer is bound to follow all aspects of Mosaic law. Some denominations even attempt to do this by variously continuing dietary laws, Saturday only Sabbaths, etc. Simply put, the New Testament shows us that in Jesus all the ceremonial law, including that centered on tabernacle/temple worship, has been fulfilled. Being released from this ritual and mandatory service has freed us from all of the law except that which specifically shows us God's holiness. We have been set free with only the admonition to not use our freedom to sin (1 Peter 2:16).
Index of Scriptures Used or Referenced
14:11-24 14:16-20 14:23 28:20-22
18:13-26 22:18 20:3-4 20:14 20:15-19 23:10-11 23:14-17 23:24-26 25:1-9 25:2 30:11-16 35:4-9
5:5-6 7:16 19:9-10 27:30-33
18:20-21 18:21, 24-32 18:26-28
7:12-15 11:13-15 12:4-7,17-19 14:22-29 14:23 14:28-29 16:10,17 16:11,14 16:15 16:16-17 26:12-13 26:13
29:3 31:4,11-12 31:5,12 31:10 46:6
2:6-9 5:4 10:35-39 10:38 12:44 13:10-13 13:12
2:12 24:1 32:1-2 34:8-10 78:41 94:12 119:1-2 127:3-5
3:27-28 11:25 22:6 22:9
3:6-12 3:10 3:10-11
4:7 5:3-10 5:14-16 5:17 5:17-18 5:45 6:1-4 10:10 10:40-42 11:6 15:6 17:24-27 20:1-16 22:15-22 22:27-39 23:23 24:45-47 25:34-40 28:19
4:12 6:20-22 6:32-38 6:38 10:7 11:42 14:12-14 18:11-12
5:1-11 5:12 15 15:5 15:6-19 15:28-29 20:20 20:28-35 20:35
3:21 3:31 4:5-8 6:14 8:1 12:1 12:4-8 13:1-7 15:25-27 16:5
4:1-2 4:6b-7 6:15-20 7:3-5 9:3-12 9:7 9:13-14 11:18-19 12 16:1-3 16:19
2:8 2:10 2:8-10 3:8-9 5:1 5:6 5:1-6 6:10
1:3 2:8-9 2:10 2:21-22 4 4:28 5:15-16 5:25-33 6:5-8
1:6 4:10-19 4:19
1:10 2:20-23 3:17 3:22-25 4:5 4:15
5:8 5:17-18 6:17
1:6-11 2:7,14 3:8,14
7:1-28 7:18-19 9:26-28 10 10:1 10:1-14 10:18 10:25 11:6 12:5-8 13:5 13:20-21
1:12 1:17 2:15-17 2:18 3:1 4:17
2:6 3:16-18 3:16-20 4:7
Written by Brent MacDonald of Lion Tracks Ministries, (c) 2003-2006, as posted on www.liontracks.org and www.bibleistrue.com. Please contact the author for written permission to reprint in whole or in part. Web links to this page are welcome and encouraged.
All quoted Bible passages in this document are from the New International Version (NIV) unless otherwise marked. Our use of this translation does not imply endorsement or recommendation, rather it was selected due to its widespread usage. Each passage was compared with other popular translations, including KJV and NASB, to assure clarity of usage. We recommend examining the passages in your favorite translation.