A Brief Word on Tithing

Since I wrote a bit about money last week, I thought it prudent to say a bit more this week. “What do Christians think about tithing?” “How much should I give to the church?” “Do we have to give 10% – and is that gross or net?”

I’ll save the long argument for another post, but let me be both clear and frank here: we are not Old Testament Israel and – even for them – 10% was only part of what they were required to give (if you take into account ALL required giving, it would have been somewhere around 22-23% of their income).

Immediately, Christians of all stripes might have several reactions to this. The first is that some might argue that we need to keep all of the Old Testament laws today – though, curiously, most just stick with the part that mentions 10%, not the other tithes. We are studying why this view is problematic as we work through Galatians (seeing as Christ has fulfilled the law, we are Gentiles and not Jews, Christians rather than those who follow the Jewish religion, etc.).

Others might see this as cause for rejoicing: “hey, I don’t have to give anything!” But these folks neglect all of the examples (and there are many) of Christian giving that are seen throughout the New Testament – examples not just of Jewish background Christians, but of Gentile Christians as well.

All of this muddies the waters quite a bit, doesn’t it? It was easy to say 10%, but that’s not really accurate. It was easy to just ignore giving altogether, but ministry costs money just like anything else we value in life.

While I’ll give a more detailed application at a later date, my point in this post is to get us thinking about two things: one immediate and the other larger.

Immediate: when you give to the church, give joyfully. Give impact-fully. Give in a way that will reflect your worship of God. When you look through the letters of Paul where he references gifts and giving, you see that Christians are giving sacrificially for the spread of the Gospel via the only method that God has ordained: the church, who then uses those resources for both local and global mission. Let me highlight that again in our era of parachurch ministries that flood mailboxes with requests (sometimes legitimate, sometimes not) for more money: the God-ordained method of accomplishing the Great Commission is the church. If you are giving more to parachurch ministries or non profits or humanitarian organizations than you are to your church, your priorities are not in line with the Lord’s.

Since this is worship, your and my thinking should not be “can I spare 10% of my income,” but rather should be “how much can I give to show my priorities as a Christian?” And whatever answer you come up with from there – whether 1% is stretching the budget or 50% – is what you should be giving to honor the Lord and promote the Gospel.

Larger: ultimately, what really led to this blog post was a journal article I was reading from Andreas Kostenberger called “Reconstructing a Biblical Model for Giving.” While the article is, obviously, about what our giving should look like now that Christ has come, one phrase jumped out at me that applies to all of Christian life. Kostenberger is speaking about how it takes a lot more wisdom and maturity to think of tithing as an act of worship and not just some set rule or percentage that we can follow and then check off our “I’ve met that requirement” box (which is awfully close to legalism, by the way). We like simple answers. But the fact is, much of life is complex. And the Bible is no different: God’s commands are simple at times and complex at others. To that truth, Kostenberger says this, which you and I should reflect upon:

“It does not matter how simple or complex the teaching may be: if it is biblical, it must be taught and obeyed. If the evangelical church decides to base its teaching on what is pragmatic, then doctrine is relegated to second place. Any church that decides to do this will cease at that point to be evangelical. Doctrine must remain central to our teaching and faith.”

As you can see, this applies far larger than just to tithing. It directs how we as Christians must act and think on many issues – even some of the hot button ones of the day that folks would rather ignore or find easy solutions for. To be frank – and not trite – if the Bible says it, we really do need to obey it and believe it. And when society – or even our own personal preferences – go against Scripture, then it is we who need to change, not the Word of God.

That’s a point worth pondering.

Using God’s Money

Summer is traditionally a time for a lot of sales – store closings, clearance, discounts, back to school shopping… Sure, it doesn’t beat the major holidays during the rest of the year, but then again it’s not just a one or two day event like those either.

With this in mind, I came across an article that was a good reminder to me of how I should spend and use the money that God has entrusted to me. Let us examine our spending and continually ask the question “is this glorifying God?” As well, let us keep the following four questions in mind to help clarify our answer:

1) Is my spending marked by Christian generosity?

2) What does my spending say about what makes me most happy?

3) Does my spending suggest I’m collecting for this life?

4) Is my spending explicitly supporting the spread of the Gospel?

The original article – which is well worth a read – is here.

The Gospel in the Old Testament

Given that we just worked through Galatians 3 this past Sunday, I thought that bringing this older post to the front might be particularly helpful…

Christ described Abraham’s faith as Messiah-centered: “Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad” (Jn. 8:56).

We may ask, “When did that happen? When did Abraham see Christ’s day with joy?”

He began to see it when God called him out of Ur (Gen. 12:1-3). That call is often portrayed as something “out of the blue.” However, it came in the biblical context of the promise to Eve of a Redeemer that would arise out of her seed and bless the world by defeating Satan (Gen. 3:15). God was building upon that Gospel promise when he called Abraham to leave Ur: “In you all families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen. 12:3).

But, how can we be sure that Abraham saw the good news of Christ the Redeemer in this promise?

Because the Apostle Paul tells us: “And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, ‘In you shall all the nations be blessed’ (Gal. 3:8).”

Genesis 12:1-3 was not the whole Gospel, but it was enough of the Gospel to enable Abraham to not only obey God’s Gospel call by faith (Heb. 11:8-9), but also to begin to see Christ’s day and be glad.

All this of course was in “shadow” but it was a Christ-shaped shadow.

Moses’ faith was also Messiah-centered (Heb. 11:26).

The picture, then, is one of faith in the promises of God regarding the Messiah. This is a picture that falls right in line with what we Christians believe today. We, of course, have the benefit of the continuing unfolding of revelation (i.e. we don’t have to search for Christ or hope in Christ as One that has not yet come, but instead we can read about Him and what He did in the New Testament generally and in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John specifically) and so what was not fully revealed to Abraham has been made clear to us; but we do see that Abraham’s faith depending directly upon his trust of God for the promised Messiah.

Would that we – with the benefit of so much more information and detail of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ – trust in Him all the more fully and seek to know Him better through the truths contained in the Scriptures!

I know that this is a big topic and it’s hard to get your mind around (at least it is for me!), but it is also one that is good to study as it should strengthen our faith by showing us that the promise-plan of God has held true for all of history and will continue to do so until its completion at the end of time. To God be all glory and honor and praise, amen.

The Danger of Legalism

Moving through the Book of Galatians, it is impossible to miss the major point that legalism is just as destructive to the soul as license.

I was reminded of a sermon written by John Piper on the dangers of legalism. During the sermon, he preached in support of a provision that was being considered by the church board regarding the careful consideration of alcohol use and against a stricter provision which would go further and require members to completely abstain from all alcohol. What’s most interesting is that Piper IS PERSONALLY AGAINST Christians using alcoholic products recreationally. So why would he not support the more stringent measure for the members of the church? The answer is because legalism is far more dangerous than alcoholism. Here are a few short snippets from the sermon:

“If any of you still wonders why I go on supporting this amendment after hearing all the tragic stories about lives ruined through alcohol, the reason is that when I go home at night and close my eyes and let eternity rise in my mind, I see ten million more people in hell because of legalism than because of alcoholism.”

“Legalism is a more dangerous disease than alcoholism because it doesn’t look like one. Alcoholism makes men fail; legalism helps them succeed in the world. Alcoholism makes men depend on the bottle; legalism makes them self-sufficient, depending on no one. Alcoholism destroys moral resolve; legalism gives it strength. Alcoholics don’t feel welcome in church; legalists love to hear their morality extolled in church.” (source)

Piper’s point, and my point, and I believe Paul’s point all throughout Galatians is that we need to stop thinking of legalism as a “safe” sin. It is just as sinful and wicked to add to what the Bible says as to ignore what it says, and yet many in our evangelical world feel that it is safe and cozy to hold fellow Christians to standards that the Bible doesn’t specify.

It may be (I would say it is) wise to abstain from all alcohol. I know many, many people whose lives have become shipwrecks because of alcohol. And yet, we cannot make a blanket statement that using alcohol in and of itself is sinful. Remember that Christ turned water into wine (did He then enable others to sin?) and that Paul commanded Timothy to take a little wine to heal a stomach ailment. What’s more, what was served at the Last Supper wasn’t Welch’s Grape Juice! No, it was wine.

Similarly, I think it wise to avoid certain sorts of slanderous dancing because of the lust that is necessarily involved. But does that mean all dancing – including the waltz or a line dance, for example – is necessarily sinful? No. (The Bible verses on the people of God dancing for joy are numerous, by the way)

What about movies? There was a time in Christian circles when seeing movies over a certain rating was considered to be outright sinful. Is that always the case? No, you won’t find Bible verses saying that. But is viewing some movies (of whatever rating – let’s face it, even children’s movies are including more and more “adult” humor) sinful – can it lead to lust and impurity? Most definitely.

My point in all of this is to realize two truths:

1) No matter what standards you set up – you can abstain and avoid every sort of thing – you will still be a sinner. You may not sin in particular ways, but you will sin in others. The dangerous seduction of legalism is that it subtly tells us “hey, I’m ok, because I’m not strung out on drugs or alcohol!” But that’s a lie. There are plenty of folks who have been condemned to hell and yet weren’t users and abusers. Our response to this world, then, must not be legalism nor should it be license. Instead, we must consider our actions, our entertainment, how we spend our time and our money and continually ask “does this bring glory to God or not? Is this wise or foolish? What does this say about Christ?”

2) Legalism has never, will never, and does not save anybody. Paul makes this argument in Galatians 2 by noting that if, theoretically, you decided to use the law as a scoreboard for your holiness then you would be greatly disappointed. The law wouldn’t vindicate you. Your legalism wouldn’t make you look good. No, ironically, it would condemn you because the standards of the law would be higher than you could reach. The law shows us God’s holiness, His righteousness, and the gulf that separates Him from us. The law points us to Christ, but only He saves us – not our keeping of rules. Only He brings joy, not our rules and regulations. Should we hold to moral codes? Yes. Should we obey the statutes put forth in the New Testament? Yes. But not for salvation. Not for righteousness. Not to to be made right before God. No, we should do so as a living example, pointing to the holiness of God who has sent His Son Jesus Christ as the Savior from our sins. We are no longer condemned by the law, but instead are identified with Christ.

Galatians 1:1-10 No Other Gospel

Audio: please click here to listen to the sermon

Video: please click the video below to watch the sermon

 

 

  • Galatians 1:1-2 The author of our letter is Paul, who identifies himself as an apostle appointed by God. He writes – alongside the authority of several other believers – to the churches in the southern region of Galatia.
  • Galatians 1:3-5 Paul begins most of his letters with a greeting and this one is no different. His greeting comes with the grace of God the Father and of Christ – the same Savior who has risen from the dead (v1) and died for the sins of all who trust Him (v4). It is because of this great salvation that even in Paul’s very introduction, he offers praise and worship.
  • Galatians 1:6-7 However, unlike most of Paul’s introductions, this one doesn’t contain much in the way of encouragement for the Galatian churches. Why? Because Paul has written them regarding something that is absolutely dire: their beliefs are rapidly moving away from the ________________. Their problem – as we shall see later in this letter – is not so much one of subtracting from the demands of the Good News, but instead they wish to add commands and laws to the Gospel – they are legalists. Understand: distorting the Gospel is the same as losing the Gospel.
  • Galatians 1:8-9 So firmly does Paul believe this that he speaks of a curse for changing the Good News of Jesus Christ. How can Paul say that? Simply because the message of Jesus Christ; dying for sinners and rising to new life, has already been established by historical fact and eyewitness testimony. Therefore, to change, omit, or add to any of these facts is to lose the _________________. And remember, this isn’t some sort of mundane memo, but is the very news that all people must hear and respond to for the sake of their eternal soul.
  • Galatians 1:10 In an effort to bolster his credibility, Paul reminds his readers that he clearly isn’t writing to build popularity, but out of a love for truth and a love for his fellow Christians to get right what matters most.
  • Our Response: Know, believe, and live according to the Gospel as defined in the Scriptures. Follow in Paul’s footsteps by seeking to imitate Christ, even in the face of unpopularity and opposition.

The Value of Work

Snippets from Pastor Tom Nelson’s excellent book Work Matters:

“Scripture tells us that the most bedrock answer to the question of why we work is that we were created with work in mind…to be an image-bearer is to be a worker. In our work we are to show off God’s excellence, creativity and glory to the world. We work because we bear the image of One who works.”

“This is why the apostle Paul writes to a group of first-century followers of Jesus who have embraced the gospel ‘If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.’…Paul does not rebuke those who, for various legitimate reasons, cannot work, but he does say that an unwillingness to work is not a trivial thing. For anyone to refuse to work is a fundamental violation of God’s creation design for humankind.”

“A fool is one who rejects not only the Creator but also creation design, including the design to work.” (p.22-23)