Monday, March 30, 2009

Good Verses on Giving

Last time we looked at the verses often used to teach that Christians should tithe. I don’t think you can make a biblical case that Christians are obliged to give 10% of their income to their local church, but that doesn’t let us off the hook to share our financial resources.

Why is important to give?
“Be sure to set aside a tenth of all that your fields produce each year. … so that you may learn to revere the LORD your God always” (Deut 14:22-23).

Though the OT tithe doesn’t apply to NT Christians, the motivation is the same – giving teaches us about God. It is about putting God and God’s priorities first and learning to trust Him.

“Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches?” (Luke 16:11).

How we handle the money God has entrusted to us reveals our spiritual condition. What is important to me – God’s kingdom or my pleasures? My checkbook provides the clearest answer to that question.

"But God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?' This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God" (Luke 12:20).

It’s not that saving for your retirement is bad. It’s that saving for your retirement, which you may not see, without saving for your post-retirement, which you certainly will see, is foolish.

To whom should we give?
“Anyone who receives instruction in the word must share all good things with his instructor” (Gal 6:6).

“[T]hose who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel” (1Cor 9:14).

“Share with God's people who are in need” (Rom 12:13).

“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me” (Matt 25:35).

We’re expected to provide for our “instructors” (which includes your pastor(s) as well as any other teachers or ministries you benefit from), the poor among God’s people (probably starting with those in your local church), and any other believer who has a need.

How much should we give?
“Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2Cor 9:7, empasis mine).

“For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability” (2 Cor 8:3).

“The man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same” (Luke 3:11).

“Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you” (Matt 5:42).

The NT leaves the “how much” up to the individual, but it also presents a model of radical generosity. That kind of generosity cannot be described by a simple percentage. For someone making $30k/year, 10% takes a big chunk of his living expenses. At $100k/year, though, giving 10% leaves you three times as much money as the first guy grossed. “Giving ‘til it hurts” is a different amount of money depending on your situation.

How do we give?
“Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2Cor 9:7, emphasis mine).

God doesn’t appear to be asking for an amount we have to tear away from ourselves but that which we can give willingly. That said, if the goal is radical generosity, I think we’ll find that how much we give will grow over time.

Some no doubt don’t give out of selfishness, but many, I think, are not stingy but fearful. As we give and find God faithful our courage grows and we can give more cheerfully. Progress may be slow, but we should make progress.

“For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Luke 6:38).

Nancy brought this one up last time. I don’t think the message is that God will give you material blessings in relation to what you give, but there are many kinds of blessings in both this world and the next, and God has said that our generosity will affect His generosity. It’s something to keep in mind.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Christian Book Expo 09

It's been busy busy at work lately complete with lots of overtime, so when I read the Christian Book Expo was coming to Dallas, I says to myself, "Self, you deserve a day in book nerd paradise."

expo banner
Of course, sending me into a book fair is like sending a junkie into a crack house, but I was actually remarkably restrained (because I'm also cheap).

I only went on Friday, but it was still good. Yes I wanted to go on Saturday, but my girls are too young to enjoy it, and I didn't want to spend the whole day away from them.

I went to the "What is the Gospel?" panel with Darrel Bock (moderator), Tullian Tchividjian, Justin Taylor, Mark Roberts, and Richard Stearns. (Ok, I was late, but I sat through some of it.)

panel photo
Stearns gets credit for the most convicting statement of the panel. He said most of the Church is desperately poor while some of the Church (implied, us) is desperately rich. And then he said when he goes overseas poor Christian ask him about us, "Don't they know about us?"

The only other "session" I went to was Ron Rhodes on "10 Keys to Witnessing to the Cults." The "keys" were useful, but so were some of his other insights such as that cultists suffer form guilt, fear, and disillusionment and that it takes great patience to have a conversation with a cultist.

10th key
His final key was a good takeaway message: You may not be an expert in theology, but you are an expert in what Jesus has done for you.

Though they had lots of great speakers lined up, the exhibit floor is obviously the star of the show. Besides row upon row of book tables, they had some neat displays. My favorite was the Bible History Experience.

It displayed pages from many historic Bible translations. Bible display

Among those was a handwritten OT scroll from around 1400 AD.

scroll closeup
They also had a printing press.

Another neat place to visit was the Bible Across America exhibit that has people contributing to a hand written NIV Bible.
I wrote out Hosea 4:14.

If you get a chance to go to one, I recommend it. They even had a table to entertain Vinny and Dobson :)
ICR table

Monday, March 16, 2009

Bad Verses on Tithing

Tithing is a difficult subject for pastors first and foremost because it’s an unpopular subject to most of the people in the pews, but money is necessary to pay salaries and bills, and a great many Christians give very little to their church. Somewhere in all that drama pastors who are generally careful, conscientious preachers often fall victim to the temptation to use the “standard” verses on tithing, many of which are totally inappropriate for the topic.

I should explain what I mean by “tithing.” In modern Christian use, a “tithe” is a) 10% of your income b) given to your local church c) to pay for salaries, bills, and programs of the church (whether Sunday school, missions, or a soup kitchen).

Sermons on tithing generally use scriptures that can be divided into two categories:

Most sermons on tithing head straight to the Old Testament. Though the OT has lots of great material that I love, it also has lots of stuff we say doesn’t apply to those under the new covenant. We should be hesitant to try to invoke any OT rule that the NT doesn’t specifically reiterate.

Lev 27:30
“A tithe of everything from the land, whether grain from the soil or fruit from the trees, belongs to the LORD.”

In this and any other quotation from the Pentateuch, the tithe looks little like the “tithe” we preach today – it goes directly to feeding the priests and Levites and the poor. Offerings for the materials in the tabernacle/temple were separate. More importantly, though, this is part of the covenant with theocratic Israel, not the NT church.

Malachi 3:8-10
“Will a man rob God? … Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse… Test me in this… and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.”

This is everyone’s favorite tithe passage, but besides referring to the tithe in Leviticus, this passage has the added problem that nowhere does the NT suggest that our obedience will result in material blessings – something that was part of the Mosaic covenant.

Luke 11:42 (and parallel in Matthew 23:23)
“Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone.”

Some may object that Jesus specifically endorsed the tithe here, but that’s not what happened. Jesus said to people under the Law that they had only fulfilled half of the Law. He is not applying the tithe to the new covenant; He’s pointing out that they hadn’t followed the old one.

There are lots of instructions in the NT about money, but if closely examined they refer to a different kind of giving than we have in mind when we talk about “tithing.”

1Cor 16:2
“On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made.”

This is the favorite NT verse on “tithing” for obvious reasons: give a percentage of your income (10%, of course) on Sunday. It doesn’t get more obvious than that, right?

In context, though, it’s not so useful:

“Now about the collection for God's people: Do what I told the Galatian churches to do. On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made. Then, when I arrive, I will give letters of introduction to the men you approve and send them with your gift to Jerusalem” (1Cor 16:1-3, emphases added).

This collection was not for the running of the local church; it was charity that was sent to the poor Christians in Judea.

2Cor 9:7
“Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”

It surprises me that this on gets used at all. Yes, God loves a cheerful giver. And that giver gives “what he has decided in his heart to give,” not 10% of his gross.

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t give to our churches. I’m not saying that you can use every dime you make on yourself.

But this 10% rule is not scriptural. If we can’t make a case for giving to the work of the Church without using Bible verses taken completely out of context, we’re in trouble.

And we’re not in trouble. Next time I will do just that.

Never Read a Bible Verse

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Government, Charity, and Jesus

Recently John Mark Reynolds wrote at Scriptorium Daily, “Moral men have a duty to help their neighbors, but nobody has the right to force other people to help. … When we pass our moral duties over to the state, we lose the power to do charity ourselves, turn an act of charity into coercion, and give the state too much power.”

Someone replied, “What if that charity does not suffice? What is second best? Do you think it is better to take taxes from people and feed the poor, or should we let the poor starve?”

Reynolds’ response is worth reading, but I want to focus on something I think is behind the reader’s comment.

Though I think there may be a place for a government safety net, the Bible is clear that taking care of the poor is an individual responsibility. When people look around them and see the poor, they say, “The church isn’t taking care of the poor, so the government must.”

Those aren’t the only two options. You are supposed to take care of the poor.

Those who say “the church isn’t taking care of the poor” cry for government charity and then drive home in their relatively new cars to sit on store-bought furniture and watch one of their multiple TVs – probably with cable – in an air conditioned living room that is larger than most houses in the world.

Americans – myself included – are accustomed to a level of comfort that was unimaginable a hundred years ago. The vast majority of our wealth, however meager we may feel it to be, goes to support our lifestyles. We then ask someone else to take care of our neighbors.

You might say, “But I give lots of money to charity.” And I hope you do. A great many Christians give at least 10% of their income to their church and more still to various charities. But that still leaves us a lot of money.

To put it into perspective, if you go anywhere people gather right now you’ll hear people talk about how tough times are. Many are struggling to make ends meet. Quite a few have lost jobs. And they’ll be talking on cell phones. Probably iphones. They’ll have ipods and fast food and jewelry.

You may say that is why we’re in this mess. I’m saying that’s the point. We’re in the current economic mess in large part because we think we’re entitled to a certain lifestyle. And we don’t generally let our charity interfere with our lifestyle.

I am confident that if someone asked Jesus what to do about all the poor people around them, He would say, “Help them.”

“But, Lord, the church isn’t doing its job!”

“You help them.”

“By myself? I can’t help everyone.”

“Help as many as you can.”

“I’ve given away a quarter of my income!”

“So you’ve kept 75% of your money?”

How would you argue with that? Would He have to tell you that you could turn off the cable, sell your car, give away half of your clothes, and share your home?

The point is when people say “The church isn’t taking care of the poor, so the government must,” what they’re really saying, “Will someone please keep me from having to sacrifice for the poor?”

I’m not saying it’s wrong to use the money you earn on yourself. I am saying until you are giving ‘til it hurts you have no right to ask the government force your morality on other people.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Justly Jealous

How can we say that God is without sin when the Bible clearly describes Him as being given to jealousy (c.f., Ex 20:5)?

First we have to distinguish between jealousy and covetousness. We often use those words interchangeably, and the Bible also seems to treat them as synonyms on some occasions.

But not always. There is jealousy that is appropriate, for instance jealousy that is zeal for God (c.f., Num 25:11). But a better example would be Numbers 5:14 – jealousy for one’s spouse.

If I am jealous of another man’s wife, car, or house, that’s simply covetousness. But if I’m jealous of my wife – that is, if I think she’s given undo attention, or worse, to another man – that’s absolutely correct. In that case, something that is actually mine has been given to someone else.

It is in this sense that the Lord is a jealous God:

“Do not follow other gods, the gods of the peoples around you; for the LORD your God, who is among you, is a jealous God …” (Deut 6:14-15).

The same God who was jealous for His people Israel is jealous for His bride, the Church.

Whether His people turn to graven images or to modern idols – e.g., comfort, universalism, or church – God Almighty will not share what is rightfully His for very long.

The Lord is still “a consuming fire, a jealous God” (Deut 4:24).

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Contradictory Instructions

Do we or don’t we? Do Matt 5:16 and 6:1 contradict each other?

“…Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”

“Be careful not to do your 'acts of righteousness' before men, to be seen by them.”

At first glance you can see how a skeptic might see those two instructions as contradictory: Do your good works in front of people. Don’t do your good works in front of people.

But is that really the way to read them? There are a few different things to be said about this “contradiction.”

First, words matter. Calling this a contradiction assumes that “good deeds” and “acts of righteousness” are the same thing. That is not obvious, especially if you read the kinds of things that follow each instruction – they are two rather different lists.

Second, meaning matters. Even if those two phrases mean the same thing, they are not self-contained thoughts. Merely comparing the two sentences should be enough to make the message clear: Your goal is supposed to be bringing glory to God, not you.

Third, message matters. These sentences are not self-contained. Each begins a new, but related, idea in this sermon:

We are to shine a light in this world so that people will see God through us. Our righteousness needs to be more than just the external observance of the Law. We don’t just shun murder but also hate. We must avoid adultery and also lust and divorce. As people of the truth we don’t just keep our oaths but make every word as reliable as an oath. And we must love those who hate us and even those who abuse us.

But religious observance done for the sake of human praise will gain you only human praise. Instead keep your piety private, and the Father, “who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

So don’t concern yourself with accumulating earthly treasures, which will pass away. Instead, strive for the rewards of God.

Taken in context, are these two verses contradictory? We wish they were.

Never Read a Bible Verse