Giving By Grace

Having looked at one of the typical ways that giving is taught in churches, it is time to look at the other. As it is well noted, there is no Jewish Temple and no sacrifices. There are no Levites and no festivals. The majority of the reason people gave in Malachi was abolished by the Cross of Jesus Christ, just as the burnt offering (the shadow) was abrogated by the real thing. We are given several verses that apply to the New Covenant pointing out priorities to give, but 2 Corinthians 8-9 point best to the motivations as to why we should give. I begin by noting that Paul and others were taking up a collection for the Christians in Jerusalem and dealing with the Corinthians and motivating them to finish their goals of giving. Most will talk of 2 Cor 9:6-9, but we go back a chapter to find the proper context behind a statement.

The Macedonian Example

Moreover, brethren, we do you to wit of the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia; How that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality. For to their power, I bear record, yea, and beyond their power they were willing of themselves; Praying us with much intreaty that we would receive the gift, and take upon us the fellowship of the ministering to the saints. And this they did, not as we hoped, but first gave their own selves to the Lord, and unto us by the will of God. Insomuch that we desired Titus, that as he had begun, so he would also finish in you the same grace also. (2 Corinthians 8:1-6)

The Corinthians are told of the Macedonians. As the Scripture relates (underlined for emphasis), they were in poverty, but were generous to the point of pleading to be able to give. Note they weren’t pushed into giving (for this would make it into a “work”), but did it freely. And they did first by giving themselves to the Lord, trusting Him to provide for all their needs.

Abound In This Grace, Also

But even as you abound in everything, in faith, and in word, and in knowledge, and in all earnestness, and in your love in us, that you also should abound in this grace. I do not speak according to command, but through the earnestness of others and testing the trueness of your love. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that being rich, He became poor for your sake, so that you might become rich by the poverty of that One.
(2 Corinthians 8:7-9)

Paul then encourages the Corinthians to try to excel in extending this grace from God, the same as they know the other things. Extending grace requires faith and love. Giving is often a very real test of both of these things. They are presented with the example of Christ. Grace is much different than works, simply because grace is a predicated response from what we receive from the Lord. We are given richly from Christ. We can not outgive Him, but we are to give in response to what we receive.

Be Eager To Finish

And I give judgment in this, for this is profitable for you, who began before not only to do, but also to be willing from last year. But now also finish the doing of it, so that even as there was the eagerness in the willing, so also the finishing, giving out of what you have. For if the eagerness is present, it is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have. (2 Corinthians 8:10-12)

It’s good to purpose things and pledge to start them, but we should always be as eager to finish them. This is illustrated here. If we are eager, it’s acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one doesn’t have. Note how the preachers of giving as a work will drill that “tithe” is a 10% thing and you should be giving that no matter what, whether you have it or not (hence, the tithe is bad news for the poor). A lot of families are in debt at the moment. It’s a better priority to take care of that so you might be able to give than to find reasons to give money away and put yourself deeper in servicing of debt by giving away to others. The Lord will want you to be rid of the debt anyway.

Equality of Need

For I mean not that other men be eased, and ye burdened: But by an equality, that now at this time your abundance may be a supply for their want, that their abundance also may be a supply for your want: that there may be equality: As it is written, He that had gathered much had nothing over; and he that had gathered little had no lack. (2 Corinthians 8:13-15)

Giving is not meant solely for the other man, but for ourselves when we are in need. We think the day may never come, but the day will come when we need to be receivers of the gift of giving. We may not recognize it as those who are blind to the nature of grace or the Church, but we are in life together. It’s arrogance to think that we should not be in line to ever need from others one day, and definitely drives people away from the Church and Christ when there is a disdain of those that need. This is largely due to the burdens of the building and the clergy salaries, but of poor Christian attitude.

You Reap What You Sow
(skipping 2 Corinthians 8:16-9:5 because it talks about Titus and his plans to come visit)

But this I say, He which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully. Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work: (2 Corinthians 9:6-8)

This is the generic rule that is often quoted of grace giving. Those that give will get back (spiritually or otherwise) according to what they put out. Ironically, this fits the tail end of the Malachi passage (3:10-12). With grace injected into giving there’s such a difference, as opposed to giving out of works. The tithe is often given grudingly or is felt that is needed. God loves a cheerful giver, as it could be said giving is another act of worship. Love is never forced. By giving out of grace, it’s a recognition of love given by the Father upon us by the things we have.

It’s human nature to be stuck into a mindset where works are required. This is the difference of the Christian faith compared to others. A dead religion and dead faith says there’s a checklist of things that one must do to be acceptable before God. This follows human nature, as if someone gets something there’s always an expectation of payment. This is far from the truth, as noted several times (Romans 3:28; Galatians 3:11; Ephesians 2:8-9). Men that should know better are encouraged by the burden of keeping their empires together into forcing giving into a work, denying the grace given by Jesus Christ on the cross and pushing people into the same situation as the Galatians. After all, there’s such overhead for operating church organizations, coupled with the idolatry these organizations are given, that the Lord will bring them into account for the use of the money on these organizations in the first place.

As for what giving should look like in our lives, it should be a response (planned or otherwise through the movement of the Holy Spirit) to the riches of grace we are given. Giving as a Christian is not limited to the growth of the land. A Christian should recognize that everything (including ourselves!) belongs to the Lord and we are only stewards of it. Our time, talent, and treasure is all subject to giving by the grace we are given in the Lord. As for money, this could be a small amount or nothing due to getting out of debt or building an emergency fund or whatever is that is truly needful. But as we give in faith and find that ends still are meeting, this might cause us to grow to desire to give more. Coupled with (what should be) a desire to remove one’s self from the world, other changes in expenses might open up more and more money ($5 a work day at Starbucks = $100 a month at least). There is no rule that 10% should be a cap or a norm. Some might have the faith to give 5%, some might have the faith to give 30 or 40%. Giving simply depends on the heart of the believer in terms of how much and where they are led to give to give God glory by their worship.

The Tithe: Robbing The People of God

Last time, I mentioned preachers that produce errant doctrines using the ideas of “exegesis” and “hermaneutics”, warping the plain reading of the text. While many doctrines are produced this way, nothing is more plainly warped and so violently and wrongly defended as the tithe. Unfortunately I’m sure this is familiar to most readers who have had anything to do with church, since it involves bringing in money for these same men to satisfy their own appetites (Romans 16:17-18) for building of their own empires. I mentioned one example in the course of reviewing this book. I heard another example of a pastor recently that warped the correct teaching of giving in the New Testament and then promptly brushed over the Old Testament Scripture as correct, misinterpreting both texts, and came off rather violently in doing so. Preachers have taken advantage of the average lack of knowledge or willingness to question (Acts 17:11) of the average Christian in order to force Christians to give to them out of fear.

The Prototypically Preached Tithing Verses
This post aims to discuss the proper interpretation of the texts involving tithing. It’s good to start with the exact text in question, which most of us have heard:

Even from the days of your fathers ye are gone away from mine ordinances, and have not kept them. Return unto me, and I will return unto you, saith the LORD of hosts. But ye said, Wherein shall we return? Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings. Ye are cursed with a curse: for ye have robbed me, even this whole nation. Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the LORD of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it. (Mal 3:7-10)

Most preachers brush over exactly what this is saying and rain down the threat that you are “robbing God” by not coughing up 10% of your salary. But we won’t today. Most good teaching on Biblical interpretation will use the rule “context before content”. This establishes the audience and time. Or even simpler, we let Scripture define Scripture where possible and don’t try to make it into an allegoric passage as most preachers do. I’ll cover the sticking points of Malachi in understanding it as the original readers would have.

If we look into the Old Testament for original Scriptures where God mandates the tithe, we’ll actually find that God mandated three tithes upon the Israelites.

I won’t go into each of these passages explicitly (please read them). The point to make here is that there is a divergence from what we typically hear about this passage. The tithes were the taxation system for the nation of Israel and ultimately called for 23.3% of what people got from the land. This requires special notice. We’ll see from reading Leviticus 27:30 & 32:

And all the tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land, or of the fruit of the tree, is the LORD’S: it is holy unto the LORD. (Lev 27:30)
And concerning the tithe of the herd, or of the flock, even of whatsoever passeth under the rod, the tenth shall be holy unto the LORD. (Lev 27:32)

Note that if they didn’t get it from the growth of the land or something that fed on the land they weren’t to tithe it at all!

Offerings again present another term which is warped out of what the original readers of Malachi would have understood. References are abound in the Old Testament. Deuteronomy 12:11 illustrates this as well as reading Numbers 18:21-31:

Then there shall be a place which the LORD your God shall choose to cause his name to dwell there; thither shall ye bring all that I command you; your burnt offerings, and your sacrifices, your tithes, and the heave offering of your hand, and all your choice vows which ye vow unto the LORD:
(Deut 12:11)

Offerings relate to the burnt offerings, heave offerings, and wave offerings that were required of the people outside of the tithe.

“Storehouse” is probably the idea that is worst mangled in Malachi, as preachers make this into an allegory of their church. But Scripture offers a concrete definition in 2 Chronicles 31:11-12; Nehemiah 10:37-39; Nehemiah 13:10-13. Quoting one below:

Then Hezekiah commanded to prepare chambers in the house of the LORD; and they prepared them, And brought in the offerings and the tithes and the dedicated things faithfully: over which Cononiah the Levite was ruler, and Shimei his brother was the next. (2Ch 31:11-12)

This makes it pretty clear that there would have been rooms in the Temple to keep plants (grain) and livestock that have been given, like the grain silos we see around many farms.

Back to Malachi
Now given this Scriptural understanding, it’s pretty clear that Malachi was addressed to the Israelite people regarding the tithes and offerings required them. It requires no allegory or twisting to gather the plain meaning of this passage. The people were neglecting the tithes and offerings that were dedicated to the LORD, hence were robbing Him and robbing His interests. What were those? The Levites didn’t receive an allotment upon entering Israel and had no inheritance (and hence was “poor”). The Lord was to be honored by the festivals He called for in conjunction with the temple. And “the poor” included all those in lesser circumstances (the stranger, and the fatherless, and the widow).

The message of Malachi we should take is that by neglecting their tithes and offerings, they were dishonoring God and robbing from the poor. These things at this time were meant to be good news to the poor. It’s ironic that in the imposition of the tithe in churches today that the lesson of the widow’s mites (Luke 21:1-4) is completely forgotten! The tithe in the modern church is definitely very grievous news to the poor!

Then we should apply another rule: For the Christian, things that have to do with ceremonial law or laws of the nation that God laid down are null and void! We don’t have to pay tithes and offerings as Christians any more than we have to offer burnt offerings of unblemished lambs for the remission of our sins or be circumcised. To any preacher or believer of the tithe, I ask where they bring their lambs for their sins.

Christ rid us of the need for justification by the Law, yet those that advocate for the tithe bring Christians back into the Law. Scripture points this out repeatedly (Galatians 5:3; Colossians 2:13-17; Hebrews 7:5). A litany of Galatians with “tithe” replacing “circumcision” is definitely warranted for anyone claiming Christ that believes in the tithe!

But what about Jesus? Didn’t he affirm the tithe?
Usually in opposition to their interpretation of Malachi, preachers will bring up what Jesus had to say to the scribes and Pharisees:

Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone. (Mat 23:23)

Note again if sound rules of Scriptural interpretation are applied, this again points to Old Testament requirements. Jesus was not addressing His disciples and did not affirm the tithe for them!

History of the Tithe
Having established the idea that the tithe is a strange teaching to the First Century Church, it’s worthy to look at how the tradition came to be:

Charting the history of Christian tithing is a fascinating exercise. Tithing spread from the state to the church. Here’s the story. In the seventh and eighth centuries, leasing land was a familiar characteristic of the European economy. The use of the tithe, or the tenth, was commonly used to calculate payments to landlords. As the church increased its ownership of land across Europe, the 10 percent rent charge shifted from secular landlords to the church. Ecclesiastical leaders became the landlords. And the tithe became the ecclesiastical tax. This gave the 10 percent rent charge new meaning. It was creatively applied to Old Testament law and came to be identified with the Levitical tithe! Consequently, the Christian tithe as an institution was based on a fusion of Old Testament practice and a common system of land-leasing in medieval Europe.

By the eighth century, the tithe became required by law in many areas of Western Europe. But by the end of the tenth century, the tithe as a rent charge for leasing land had all but faded. The tithe, however, remained and it came to be viewed as a moral requirement supported by the Old Testament. The tithe had evolved into a legally mandatory religious practice throughout Christian Europe. (1)

It’s easy when your eyes are opened to tradition to see these things for what they are. I know I’ve seen the power of tradition in believing what was said instead of digging into these things myself. It’s a hard journey to get past “what we’ve always done” to see the plain teaching of Scripture and what is required. In the way are men who have grown to benefit from two other traditions that go against Scripture (constructing buildings and clergy pay) who vigorously defend their own interests instead of justifying God in all things. In the next post, I’ll describe the teaching that the disciples of Christ were given.

(1) Pagan Christianity by Frank Viola and George Barna. p177.

Book Review: How To Read The Bible For All Its Worth

How To Read The Bible For All Its Worth: A Guide To Understanding the Bible. Gordon D. Fee & Douglas Stuart. Zondervan Publishing House, 1993.

Given the number of Christians out there and the push to read Scripture, there’s an interest from both readers and pastors for men to step in and describe exactly how Scripture should be read. How to Read The Bible For All Its Worth by Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart aims to step in and accomplish this.

The authors begin by describing their view of interpretation, their views on selecting a translation, thinking contextually, and then describe their views on the various kinds of literature found in the Bible: epistles, Old Testament narratives, Acts, Gospels, parables, the Law, the Prophets, Psalms, wisdom literature, and the book of Revelation. Finally, the authors describe their views on evaluating commentaries.

Proper interpretation (exegesis and hermaneutics) is definitely a concern for those reading Scripture and a decent skill to deal with. This book attempts to offer numerous rules and guidance in doing so. A lot of this guidance can be welcome, especially since proper discipleship is heavily lacking in the modern churches. Things that benefit from an overview of Scripture like trying to understand the context of a particular passage and the audience is particularly welcome.

However, this book has a lot at fault. First, the views on translations are heavily at fault due to the bias of the authors. Gordon Fee operates as a member of the board that handles the feminist New International Version translation. As a result, the chapter on translations reads as an advertisement of the NIV rather than a rational discussion. This bias also keeps the issue of copyright and how it affects the Scriptures silent. Issues like translations and other principles are often dealt with in this book with a unilateral “this is how it is” kind of stance, which is far from accurate on many of the topics the authors deal with. Dealing with these issues in an objective manner would have greatly benefited this book.

This book illustrates a rather big problem in Churchianity – the desire of men to step in before God and “control the narrative”, blaspheming the Spirit as unable to teach (John 14:26). This can be the people reading the Scripture themselves or the people that aim to step in between men and God (preachers) and tell people what Scripture means. The problem is a universal one of men not submitting themselves to the Lord. They choose to conform Scripture to their lives rather than conform their lives to Scripture, putting themselves as Lord over their lives. Sadly, this is more common in the churches today with both groups casting themselves before the Personal Jesus and seeking out their own way instead of seeking to obey God in all things.

Unfortunately, with men stepping before God, the ideas of “exegesis” and “hermaneutics” have produced so many errant doctrines that have been baked into tradition. There are so many preachers that defend these traditions of men (as violently as that monkey example) throwing these two words out and using Scripture to justify their own ways. Then there are so many blatantly ridiculous interpretations of Scripture out there that go against a plain reading of Scripture, as the illustrations in this book prove. While the authors sought to aim this book at the “layman”, the text is unsuitable for such reasons. Sadly, men floating these ideas are often a stumbling block to the faith of many, putting human tools and deception over the Holy Spirit and common sense.

Overall, the authors of How To Read the Bible for All Its Worth have found a good market since true discipleship is lacking in the Churchian environment. While some of what they offer is decent, a lot of it is so biased and steeped in the wisdom of men that the average reader has much to beware of in following any of the advice in this book.

Rating: 4 out of 10.

Book Cover Image Source: Amazon