tithes, alms and offerings
It may be helpful if we briefly and generally described these three words, the tithe, alms and offerings. Sometimes they are used interchangeably and at other times they represent distinctly different actions. The tithe (tenth) usually depicts the percentage which is given. Alms is referring to money or goods given to the poor. Offerings have to do with several different actions. One might offer the tenth of something which would refer to the tithe, or he may offer alms to the poor and needy. He might also offer a sacrifice upon the altar as perhaps a burnt offering, or a cereal offering, or a peace, guilt or sin offering. Generally speaking, especially in the Christian Scriptures, offerings refer to that which is offered as a sacrifice upon an altar.
The Greek word for tithe, apodekatoo, is used in the Christian Scriptures (the New Testament) on only four different occasions, (MATTHEW23:23; LUKE 11:41; 18:12; HEBREWS 7:4-9). Never is it used when instructing Christian believers. Never is it used when instructing the Church's affairs. In fact the tithe is never used even when addressing Gentile Christians. Not even one time does any Christian writer instruct his readers as to the purpose or the reason for the tithe. How do we account for this if we are to accept the notion that the tithe is suppose to be an intregal part of our Christian worship and service?
If this Jewish institution of the tithe was so critical for the faith of the early Christian Church, so much so that it has been adopted by many Denominations today as a vital part of their services, why then were not the newly converted Gentiles given at least some basic instruction concerning it?
Suggestions have of course been put forth. Some teach that we Christians live under a higher law than tithing, and are thus expected to give more than simply the ten percent which the Jewish religion required. If this is so, then where is the evidence? What chapter and verse can we examine to learn this new precept? Show me where in the Christian Scriptures someone instructed or even intimated that the tithe was the minimum, and that believers are now expected to give even more.
Others profess that the early Church was not instructed about the tithe because they already knew it. It is supposed that as adherents or proselytes to the Jewish religion they were already tithing before they became Christians, and so needed no further instruction. Perhaps some of them were thus directed, but not all. Many converts were pagan and had never seen the inside of a synagogue. The apostle Paul was responsible for the conversion of many of these pagans but he never mentions the tithe, not even in passing.
Others suggest that the tithe was widely taught and fully expected, but we just don't have the record of it. Somehow that letter or epistle or chapter which instructed the early Church concerning the tithe got lost or destroyed; nevertheless the tithe is no less justified and expected, so they say. But that seems like a precarious position to base an important Church dogma upon. In that case, just by speculation anything could be justified as new doctrine.
Let us therefore set aside Church Tradition and search and see what we can learn from the scriptures that GOD would have us know concerning not only Tithes, but also of Alms and Offerings.
We are told that the tithe originated, or at least was already in practice early on when Abraham offered tithes to Melchizedek (GENESIS 14:20). Thus, even before the Jewish nation existed, the tithe was acknowledged and expected. It is then supposed that if Abraham, who is proclaimed to be the father of all believers (ROMANS 4:16), initiated and/or practiced the tithe, then we today are also expected to keep it. That may be so, but why then didn't any of Yeshua's (Jesus') disciples instruct their Gentile followers concerning it? Many of the Christians who had been converted from paganism knew nothing at all of Abraham or Melchizedek. Why was the tithe's explanation and instruction mysteriously left completely out of the Christian Scriptures?
The original purpose of the tithe in the Mosaic Law was to meet the material needs of the Levites, who were not allotted an inheritance as were the other eleven tribes of Israel when they entered Canaan. That and it was also commanded for the support of the destitute foreigner, the fatherless (orphans) and widows (DEUTERONOMY 26:12). The idea that we today pay our tithe for the maintenance of the Church hierarchy, missions or building funds is totally foreign to its original purpose. The reason for the tithe was not to pay the mortgage for a building which sat empty most of the week, but was generally used to support those in need.
One major deficiency with the whole concept of the tithe was the same as was the problem with circumcision, they both gave the participant a false and misleading sense of security. The Jew too often believed that just because he was circumcised, that it then didn't really matter all that much how he conducted himself in his daily affairs. He believed that circumcision was his assurance that he was saved. So with tithing. Too often the Christian comes to believe that his tithe is GOD's requirement of him and once that is made, then he can pretty much go about his daily affairs and live life as he pleases. He further expects that because he has met this minimum requirement, that the windows of heaven will now open up for him. Wealth, health and happiness now await him, so he has been taught.
A passage most often quoted in support of the assumed necessity of the tithe is from MALACHI.
- MALACHI 3.8 Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings.
It has often been assumed that the prophet's readers were robbing GOD by withholding the tithe, but that is not entirely the case. Their true and fuller deficiency was revealed in the opening chapter.
- MALACHI 1:6-8 NEB . . . . So says the LORD of Hosts to you, you priests who despise my name. You ask, 'How have we despised thy name?' Because you have offered defiled food on mine altar. You ask, 'How have we defiled thee?' Because you have thought that the table of the LORD may be despised, that if you offer a blind victim, there is nothing wrong, and if ye offer a victim lame or diseased, there is nothing wrong. If you brought such a gift to the governor, would he receive you or show you favour? says the LORD of Hosts.
Evidently they were not so much withholding the tithe, but rather they were offering damaged goods (see also verses 13-14). They were not offering rightly but wrongly. They were not being honest and sincere in their tithes and so GOD was scolding them for robbing HIM. Throughout the Bible we are repeatedly told that offerings are null and void if they are not offered with the right motivation. It was not the mechanical action of just dropping a coin in the plate but rather the action must have issued forth from a true and just conviction that the gift was offered in thankful obedience to GOD's commands and blessings.
Even so, the prophet's pronouncement upon these priests was for them. We are not handling the Scriptures honestly if we routinely take that which was spoken to others in ages past and assume that it is meant for to us, today. GOD is not making a blanket promise here to every Tom, Dick and Harry that whenever someone happens to give tithes and offerings that HE is going to open the windows of heaven and pour them out riches in abundance. This was specifically spoken for the prophet's audience, for their peculiar time and place.
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The ancestors of these Jews had been rescued by GOD from captivity in Babylon and allowed to return to Judea to rebuild their homeland. But afterwards, instead of faithful obedience to GOD's commands, instead of working together to rebuild their nation, many of them were endeavoring to enrich only themselves, and that at the expense of their neighbors (MALACHI 2:10; 3:5, 14). The priests were especially guilty of selfishly neglecting the teaching of GOD's word so as to serve primarily themselves, thus perverting the offerings.
As such, the prophet was instructing them that if they would get their head on straight and repent and renew themselves to that which GOD had specifically called them to perform, that HE would then be there to lend a hand and support their efforts. But for us to take this specific promise in MALACHI as if it is addressed to all men throughout the ages is far removed from the facts of the case. If we are going to claim for ourselves all of the good promises from the Hebrew Scriptures (the Old Testament) then we must likewise accept all of the dreadful forebodings also found there.
- MALACHI 2:2-3 If ye will not hear, and if ye will not lay it to heart,
- To give glory unto my name, saith the Lord of hosts,
- I will. . . . spread dung upon your faces, even the dung of your solemn feasts;
- And one shall take you away with it.
Thus, unless we can corroborate this promise concerning the tithe with others in the Christian Scriptures, then we have probably errored from the truth and are acting upon promises made to others of ages past. Universal promises and commands, like loving your neighbor, is usually first laid down in the Hebrew Scriptures but then it is reiterated for us in the Christian Scriptures. But tithing is not one of those universal promises, hence its command or instruction is totally absent from the scriptures dealing with the Christian Church.
Moving on, let us consider the very first offering recorded in the scriptures, that of Cain and Abel in GENESIS 4:2-5. We are told that GOD accepted Abel's offering of his sheep, but not that of Cain's offering, the fruit of the ground. This is curious because Cain had evidently toiled hard for his crop; tilling the soil, planting his seed, and then laboriously harvesting his crop, no doubt by the sweat of his face (3:19), yet GOD declined to accept it. On the other hand Abel's offering was simply of his sheep, which probably required much less effort than Cain's sowing and harvesting his crop.
So why would GOD not accept Cain's offering which evidently was brought forth with much manual labor, but did accept Abel's offering which must not have required nearly as much effort from him? Because Abel's offering was in obedience to GOD's command while Cain's offering was in disobedience to GOD's command.
We know this to be the case because scripture tells us that Abel's offering was by faith (HEBREWS 11:4). As faith comes by hearing (ROMANS 10:17) we can rightly conclude that GOD (being just) had instructed both of them on which offering HE would accept. Evidently then, they both had heard what GOD demanded but both did not obey. No doubt Cain had thought that he would out-do his brother by offering something more impressive than Abel's simple offering of his flock of sheep.
Howbeit, this most important incident gives us insightful guidance as to the basis and purpose of offerings to GOD which were required throughout the Hebrew Scriptures. The Bible tells us that without the shedding of blood there was no pardon (HEBREWS 9:22), and further that believers were redeemed not with silver or gold but "with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot" (1 PETER 1:19). Cain and Abel's offerings were intended to point to the ultimate and final offering of Christ Himself (HEBREWS 9:12,14,28). But Cain worked against the purposes of GOD and therefore his offering had to be rejected.
Thus at the very opening up of man's journey outside of the Garden of Eden, we are guided by scripture as to what offering pleases GOD and what offering HE despises. Obedience is the one thing that pleases GOD (HEBREWS 11:6) because then HIS purposes are furthered. HE despises disobedience because then HIS purposes are resisted.
Another important incident concerning offerings to GOD is in the record concerning king Saul being scolded by the prophet Samuel. The king had been instructed that when he ventured out to attack Israel's enemies that he was to destroy them all, the people as well as the livestock (1 SAMUEL 15:3). Howbeit, after his victory Saul decided to spare the captured king and the choice livestock, which was in utter disobedience to the divine command. When confronted by the prophet, Saul claimed that he had spared the animals supposedly to offer them as a sacrifice to the LORD.
Thus, "Samuel said, Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, As in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, And to hearken than the fat of rams" (1 SAMUEL 15:22). Whether or not Saul was really going to offer these animals to GOD was immaterial. He disobeyed a direct command and was guilty regardless and was therefore judged to be unworthy as Israel's king.
GOD has HIS purposes and it is when we obey HIS specific command to us that HIS goodness then flows to us. Howbeit, if we disobey, or attempt to take HIS promises and commands for others and try to turn them into promises and commands for us, that is when we are swimming against the current and all of life becomes a struggle and a fight.
Thus we have this same warning from the prophet Samuel repeated throughout the Hebrew Scriptures; that obedience is always better than offerings or sacrifices. Here is a striking example from the prophet Isaiah.
- ISAIAH 1:11-17 NEB Your countless sacrifices, what are they to me? says the LORD.
- I am sated with whole-offerings of rams and the fat of buffaloes;
- I have no desire for the blood of bulls, of sheep and of he-goats.
- Whenever you come to enter my presence- who asked you for this?
- No more shall you trample my courts.
- The offer of your gifts is useless, the reek of sacrifices is abhorrent to me.
- New moons and sabbaths and assemblies, sacred seasons and ceremonies, I cannot endure.
- I cannot tolerate your new moons and your festivals; they have become a burden to me, and I can put up with them no longer.
- When you lift your hands outspread in prayer, I will hide my eyes from you.
- Though you offer countless prayers, I will not listen.
- There is blood on your hands; wash yourselves and be clean.
- Put away the evil of your deeds, away out of my sight.
- Cease to do evil and learn to do right, pursue justice and champion the oppressed; give the orphan his rights, and plead the widow's cause.
GOD was fed up with all of their offerings because their heart was not right. They had mis-thought that they could live life as they pleased because they had been faithfully offering tithes and sacrifices. Notice also in the final clause that GOD instructed the people to learn to do right. Their spiritual growth, their ability to cease from sin, was directly tied with their learning to do right.
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Hosea phrased this same warning most succinctly.
- HOSEA 6:6 For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.
Just the mechanical act of giving impressed GOD not in the least. Worse than that, it incensed HIM, it inflamed HIM to wrath. The act of giving, or even of circumcision, was pulling no strings with GOD. As Paul would later write his Jewish brethren, their circumcision was made uncircumcision because their heart was not right (ROMANS 2:25). They were thinking that they could live as they pleased as long as they were cicumcised. But they were as wrong as could be. So with tithing and offerings. They mis-thought that they could ignore the more weightier matters as long as they were tithing and offering sacrifices. Jeremiah repeated the same dire warning.
- JEREMIAH 7:22-24 For I spake not unto your fathers, nor commanded them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt offerings or sacrifices: but this thing commanded I them, saying, Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and ye shall be my people: and walk ye in all the ways that I have commanded you, that it may be well unto you. But they hearkened not, nor inclined their ear, but walked in the counsels and in the imagination of their evil heart, and went backward, and not forward.
Thus it was in this same spirit that MALACHI gave instruction so that its readers could have a window of heaven open up for them. The key for them was heart obedience, not just the act of laying something upon the altar. So Jeremiah here declared that if his listeners wanted things to be well for them, then they needed to obey GOD's commands, and not rely solely on their tithes and offerings. Obedience was always more important than was sacrifice or offerings.
This is why the tithe can be more detrimental to the believer's life than it can be helpful. It has a tendency to mislead the offerer into thinking that he has fulfilled what the LORD requires and now can go about his own business and live the life he chooses.
The prophet Micah also reiterated this same message.
- MICAH 6:6-8 Wherewith shall I come before the Lord,
- And bow myself before the high God?
- Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
- With calves of a year old?
- Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
- Or with ten thousands of rivers of oil?
- Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
- The fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
- He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good;
- And what doth the Lord require of thee,
- But to do justly, and to love mercy,
- And to walk humbly with thy God?
One might leave his entire fortune to help do away with hunger or suffering, but if he has not walked humbly with GOD it was all to no avail. In the Hebrew Scriptures tithes and offerings always took a back seat to obeying the voice of the LORD. What GOD really required was justice, mercy and meekness. We find our Lord also echoing this same truth.
- MATTHEW 23:23 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.
Clearly Yeshua was reproving the scribes and Pharisees for thinking that the tithe itself got them any favors with GOD. Instead He taught that they were being misled, and they were misleading others into thinking that the tithe was sufficient in itself. Aside from the similar incident in LUKE 11:42, only on one other occasion do we have a record of His mentioning the tithe, and that is in the same derogatory fashion. He was comparing two men at prayer, a revered Pharisee with a despised publican.
- LUKE 18:10-14 Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.
The only other time the tithe is discussed in the Christian scriptures is in HEBREWS 7, where we can plainly read that the writer was not giving instruction as to how, if or when the tithe was to be carried out but instead he was defining Yeshua's priesthood after the order of Melchisedec rather than after the order of Aaran. The tithe is only mentioned in passing here to magnify Melchisedec's office, acknowledging that Abraham himself gave tithes to this renown priest.
Thus we have little or no indication in the Christian Scriptures that the tithe was practiced or even expected by those in the early Church. The regulation apparently arose after the departure of the original apostles and believers. Evidently a new Christianity, a second Church, was then established to fill up the vacuum left after the gathering together into heaven of the first believers (see Whatever Happened to Timothy?).
We find when we search the Christian Scriptures that the case of offerings is not all that much different than was that of the tithe. Each and every occasion of its use has to do either with an offering being made to Christ (MATTHEW 2:11), or it referred to Christ Himself being offered as a sacrifice (HEBREWS 9:7, 14, 28), that or else it had to do with something being offered upon the altar in the temple in Jerusalem (MATTHEW 5:23). In other words, it was all to do with the Jew. There is not one occasion where a Gentile, or a Christian for that matter, is told or directed to make an offering of any kind.
Thus, in the Church Service, this talk of making an offering, or taking an offering, or referral to an offering plate is misleading and really has no basis or foundation in the Christian Scriptures. What else are we to gather except that it is all simply an invention of the second Church to fill its coffers. Scripturally, tithes and offerings never were made by Gentile believers. They were practiced by the Jew, usually in and for the Temple.
But that is not the end of the matter. There is instruction in the Christian Scriptures of the believer giving alms to the less fortunate. In fact, there is quite a lot said. We shall see that it is an absolute requirement for the Christian to give or donate to those in need. He must help when help is needed. He must give when giving can alleviate someone's pain or suffering.
Indeed, this idea of relieving the suffering of our fellow man is found throughout the scriptures, both Hebrew and Christian. When the Jew received the Law from Moses, this was one of the primary requirements laid out.
- DEUTERONOMY 15:11 For the poor shall never cease out of the land: therefore I command thee, saying, Thou shalt open thine hand wide unto thy brother, to thy poor, and to thy needy, in thy land.
The entire mindset of the believer was to live with his hand open to his fellow man. GOD's command was that he not only be willing to help, but he should be eager to help, indeed seeking out those in need. A fine summary of this Mosaic regulation is given by George Foot Moore in his Judaism in the First Centuries of the Christian Era, volume II, page 162.
- Solicitude for the poor is broadly impressed on the biblical legislation. The laws for their benefit contemplate a population living in simple conditions, chiefly on the land. When a piece of grain is harvested the corners are to be left uncut; a sheaf that has been overlooked in the field is not to be reclaimed; nor is the field to be gone over to gather up the loose heads that have fallen. Similarly not all the grapes on the vines are to be gathered; the olive trees are not to be gone over a second time. The gleaning of the grain fields and of the orchards and vineyards are for the poor (Lev. 19:9f; Deut. 24:20f). In the seventh year, when the fields lay fallow and the vineyards were not pruned, what grew of itself was free to the whole community as well as to the proprietor.
When a person tries to selfishly squeeze out every ounce of profit from his endeavors, simply for his own pleasure or treasure, he is missing out on one of the great principles and purposes of life. It is not so much what we have from our accomplishments, but rather what we accomplish with what we have that matters. Do we use our good fortune to help those less fortunate, or do we cut them loose and instead focus our attention on our own profit margins? This giving to relieve the suffering of the poor and needy is what alms was all about.
That alms were commonly practiced in the first century is evident by Yeshua's detailed instruction concerning them during His Sermon of the Mount.
- MATTHEW 6:1-4 Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven. Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth: that thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly.
Thus, these alms were to be done, as much as possible, in secret. That would tend to exclude donations made in Church services. Not even the left hand was to know what the right hand was doing.
The phrase here referring to the hypocrites, that "they have their reward", is most interesting in that it represented the receipt for a bill or tax being paid in full. As Adolf Deissmann wrote in his Light from the Ancient East, page 111,
- . . . . "they have received their reward in full," i.e. it is as though they had already [been] given a receipt, and they have absolutely no further claim to reward.
In other words, those who give so as to be recognized by their fellow Church goers, have completely received all they can expect. There will be no further remuneration for them besides the fleeting admiration of their peers. They could expect no heavenly reward, no spiritual fruit.
Many Commentators and Translators have struggled with a sentence in a passage from LUKE where Yeshua was deriding a certain Pharisee for harboring bad thoughts about Him for not ritually washing His hands before a meal.
- LUKE 11:39-41 And the Lord said unto him, Now do ye Pharisees make clean the outside of the cup and the platter; but your inward part is full of ravening and wickedness. Ye fools, did not he that made that which is without make that which is within also? But rather give alms of such things as ye have; and, behold, all things are clean unto you.
The difficult phrase is the last one, "give alms of such things as you have; and, behold, all things are clean unto you". As we have it, the phrase makes little sense. The way it is worded in the KJV seems to intimate that all foods were clean to him that simply gives alms, which of course runs contrary to much of which we have already considered. As such, E. W. Bullinger in his Figures of Speech Used in the Bible, page 811, suggested that Yeshua was speaking sarcastically about a Pharisaic doctrine.
Howbeit, in The Hard Sayings of Jesus, page 178, F.F. Bruce proposed the rendering, "But give for alms those things which are within; and behold, all things are clean for you". He suggested that these particular alms were something which issued forth within an individual. However, he further speculated that the problem and solution with the phrase might lie in a mis-translation of the original Aramaic, which was the language Yeshua normally spoke to his followers.
In that same vein, in his Aramaic translation work entitled The Four Gospels, Charles Cutler Torrey gave the following rendering of LUKE 11:39-41.
- The Master said to him, You Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and the platter, but your inward part is full of extortion and wickedness. Foolish ones, did not he who made the outside make also the inside? Nay, make right what is within, and you will have all clean.
Then in a note on verse 41 he suggested that Luke might have misread his Aramaic text when transcribing his original source by writing "give alms" for the very similar Aramaic phrase "make (it) right". In this case the word alms was not even in the text, which would remove the difficulty altogether.
Following Pentecost, when the apostles were testifying to Yeshua's resurrection, Peter warned his listeners to save themselves from that wicked generation. It is curious that beginning in the very next chapter we have a string of usages of alms throughout ACTS. First we have the beggar that had been asking for alms, whom Peter healed at the gate of the temple (3:2-3). Then we have the disciple which Peter raised from the dead, of whom the record states that she was full of good works and alms-deeds which she did (9:36). Right after that we have the Gentile believer, Cornelius, of whom it was coincidentally said, that he gave much alms to the people (10:2). He was visited by an angel and then by Peter, after which he and his whole house were saved (11:14). The angel even explicitly told Cornelius that it was his alms which were remembered before GOD (10:31 NRSV).
Consider also the following passages, where giving to the needy was encouraged and even linked with salvation, righteousness and deliverance.
- PSALMS 41:1-3 Blessed is he that considereth the poor:
- The Lord will deliver him in time of trouble.
- The Lord will preserve him, and keep him alive;
- And he shall be blessed upon the earth:
- And thou wilt not deliver him unto the will of his enemies.
- The Lord will strengthen him upon the bed of languishing:
- Thou wilt make all his bed in his sickness.
- PSALM 112:6-9 . . . The righteous shall be in everlasting remembrance. . . . He hath dispersed, he hath given to the poor; His righteousness endureth for ever. . . .
- ROMANS 12:13 Distributing to the necessity of saints; given to hospitality.
- ROMANS 12:20-21 Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.
- EPHESIANS 4:28 Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth.
- JAMES 2:15-16 If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit?
In his letter to the Corinthians Paul wrote, "For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich" (2 CORINTHIANS 8:9). As GOD's Son He could have had anything, yet He turned away from it all so as to accomplish eternal redemption for His followers.
And this is what He endeavored to teach His apostles, saying, "freely ye have received, freely give" (MATTHEW 10:8). Also in His sermon on the mount Yeshua encouraged His listeners to lay up treasures in heaven, not on earth. Why? Because where your treasure is there will your heart be also (MATTHEW 6:20-21). All of those earthly treasures are left behind when we die, but the fruit of the spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, fidelity, gentleness and self-control) all continue on with us into our next life (see the Study New Bodies but Same Minds).
In the eighth and ninth chapters of 2 CORINTHIANS Paul thoroughly discussed with that Church their pledge to give aid to their fellow-Christians in Jerusalem (8:4). He had four basic reasons for encouraging them to follow through on their original promise. First, there had been and evidently continued to be famines in and around Judea (ACTS 11:28). Secondly, he had promised the other apostles that he would always remember the poor saints at Jerusalem and provide aid when he could (GALATIANS 2:10). Thirdly, he believed that the Gentile's aid would heal any schism between them and their Jewish brethren (2 CORINTHIANS 8:14-15; 9:13-14). And finally, he knew full well that he had himself caused great harm to many of the Judean believers (ACTS 22:19-20) and he no doubt hoped that this relief might help to smooth out some of the hard feelings which they still retained towards him.
In this epistle he rehearsed how other Churches had already proved their love by their giving (2 CORINTHIANS 8:1-5). Thus he appealed to their pride as well as to their love for him (8:7). He encouraged them to carry through on their original promise from the previous year to send relief for their needy brethren (8:10; 9:2). Paul affirmed that this was not in any way an order, but rather just an opportunity for them to prove the sincerity of their love (8:8). Yet he did not want their giving to be a burden to them (8:13), but rather that they would give from their abundance.
One of Paul's over-riding concerns was that there be no suspicion as to his motives (8:20-21), but rather that all may know that his aims were honorable. Evidently other leaders in the Church had been less than honorable, indeed outright deceitful in some cases.
Paul had previously boasted to other Churches concerning the willingness of the Corinthians to provide relief, but he was somewhat concerned that now that the time had come for its collection, that they might fail to follow through on their pledges (9:2-5). Thus he reminded them of the reputation which they had enjoyed as generous givers.
Paul then instructed them that he which soweth sparingly shall also reap sparingly, but he which soweth bountifully shall also reap bountifully (9:6). Then comes the all encompassing truth, that which puts everything else in perspective, the principle upon which the whole idea of the believer's gifts are put in their proper context.
- Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver (9:7).
The tithe is out the window. So are the sacrifices and the temple offerings. Now the Christian is commanded to measure his gifts, not by some cold and preconceived calculation. Now each is to give alms "according as he purposeth in his own heart". Remembering that how one sows so shall he reap, the believer is instructed to give not "grudgingly or of necessity (constraint)", in other words, with no reluctance or compulsion (New English Bible).
In this passage we are also told what GOD loves, "a cheerful [hilarious] giver". There is nothing better for one to do with the abundance of his life and possessions than to give them in help and support for those in need. This is the great truth which Yeshua learned and taught. This is the reason for all of our talents and abilities. GOD works through us to serve others.
This is also the great key for receiving grace (9:8). All of GOD's gifts are to be used to help others, not to be saved and stored up in some treasure house. Thus, when we give we are making room for more. We are not depleting our resources but we are expanding our abilities. Then we have ample means for every situation (New English Bible). In this way the giver becomes rich enough to be generous (9:11). Then as a result of his generous gifts, others will give honor to GOD (9:13f).
Nowhere in all of the Christian writings is there any commandment for us to support our local denomination. No where are we told that it is our responsibility or duty to pay the mortgage on a mostly empty building, and rarely if ever are we instructed to provide funds to keep the clergy well housed and fed. Rather, our giving is to be done so as to relieve the pain and sufferings of our fellow man. We are guided to help when we see an opportunity. We are to look for open doors that GOD has put in our paths. We are to take advantage of situations that call for our aid and assistance.
Many of the Denominations will try to control our giving by claiming that scripture teaches us to lay all of our gifts before them every Sunday morning. From a passage in Paul's first epistle to the Corinthians, the Church has construed what they suppose to be evidence for the requirement of receiving Sunday morning offerings.
- 1 CORINTHIANS 16:1-3 Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given order to the churches of Galatia, even so do ye. Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come. And when I come, whomsoever ye shall approve by your letters, them will I send to bring your liberality unto Jerusalem. And if it be meet that I go also, they shall go with me.
Thus we are told that this passage justifies, indeed orders that tithes and offering be collected from the believers when they gather on Sunday mornings, the first day of the week. But the passage may not say anything of the sort. We are very likely reading into the text our preconceived notions if we think that it has to do with some Sunday morning Church service.
The Greek word thesaurizo, rendered in the above passage as "lay by" him, refers to a regular and routine storing away of funds for some purpose. It is first used in the Christian Scriptures in the Lord's sermon on the mount, "Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth. . . .but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven" (MATTHEW 6:19-20). Paul uses it in his letter to the Romans, warning, "But after thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up [thesaurizo] unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God" (ROMANS 2:5). James wrote to the rich, "Ye have heaped treasure together [thesaurizo] for the last days" (JAMES 5:3).
Thus in Paul's letter he was simply instructing the Corinthian believers that they should weekly set aside some amount to be stored up until he came to collect it. There is no talk here of weekly Church services or weekly collections by the ushers. Their gifts were most likely and most naturally to be kept at home, until given to Paul and his associates.
In a note on this passage in Dr. Augustus Neander's History of the Planting and Training of the Christian Church by the Apostles, he writes, "The word thesaurizo, 1 Cor. xvi. 2, applied to setting aside the small sums weekly, is against the notion of public collection" (page 99). More likely, the passage refers to the habit practiced by the believer that when he received some remuneration for his work, he would set aside a portion of it at home. Then when Paul arrived in town, all the believers would put their gifts into a general fund for transport to the relief of the needy believers in Jerusalem.
Dr. Neander further develops the probable meaning of Paul's words;
- We may fairly understand the whole passage to mean, that everyone on the first day of the week should lay aside what he could spare, so that when Paul came, every one might be prepared with the total of the sum thus laid by, and then, by putting the sums together, the collection of the whole church would be at once made. If we adopt this interpretation, we could not infer that special meetings of the church were held and collection made on Sundays.
Then in his Light from the Ancient East, on page 361, Adolf Deissmann has this interesting comment.
- . . . . When St. Paul advised the Christians of Galatia and Corinth to raise their contributions to the collection for the saints by instalments payable every Sunday, was he linking them with some such custom then prevalent in the world around him? The question is at least justifiable. For my own part I hesitate to return an affirmative answer, because it seems to me more probable to assume that St. Paul's advice was connected with some system of wage-paying (of which, however, I know nothing) that may have been customary in the Imperial period.
Perhaps there was a weekly payday which would then coincide with the believer laying aside a portion of his wage for the gift reserved for the Judean churches. Thus, these two scholars concur that there really is no good foundation here for assuming that the first Christians held Church services on Sundays (see Sunday, the Sabbath and the Lord's Day). Nor have we any good reason to assume that the believers regularly made a gift or tithe in support of their local Church.
Whether or not Ministers and Priests should profit or be supported from the donations of the believers needs to also be further addressed. The Christian Scriptures do suggest that it is proper to give support to the leaders in the Church, but they should never charge a fee for their services. As noted above, Yeshua certainly didn't charge for His services but rather when commissioning His twelve apostles, He expressly taught the contrary, saying, "Freely ye have received, freely give" (MATTHEW 10:8). Then He went on to further elaborate on these instructions.
- MATTHEW 10:9-10 Provide neither gold, nor silver, nor brass in your purses, Nor scrip [pera] for your journey, neither two coats, neither shoes, nor yet staves: for the workman is worthy of his meat.
The original Greek word pera, which has been rendered into English as scrip or wallet (R.V.), isn't referring to traveler's checks or a stash of cash for a journey. It probably referred to a speaker's or entertainer's collection bag, which was used for storing the profits received for his services as he traveled from village to village (see Adolf Deissmann's Light from the Ancient East, pages 108-110).
But Yeshua's apostles were not to carry such a purse. As they preached the word, healed the sick, raised the dead and cast out devils they could expect to be housed and fed. But just as Yeshua had not charged His followers a fee for the great truths they had learned from Him, nor for the healing that some of them no doubt had received, so they in turn were not to charge those who received from them.
But it is also a fact that the disciples would need to eat and be sheltered, thus they should expect that GOD would provide these necessities for them (PHILIPPIANS 4:19). Somehow and in some way they would be provided for. Perhaps they might be invited over for a Sunday dinner, or maybe a follower would slip them a twenty dollar bill, or they might be offered work of some other sort. But Christian book sales, Biblical classes and pricey online discipleship courses are all foreign to the spirit and heart of the gospel.
Likewise, when Yeshua sent out the Seventy, He exhorted them to eat and drink that which was offered to them, "for the laborer is worthy of his hire" (LUKE 10:7). GOD in some way would provide for them, if they were doing the work of the LORD. Howbeit, their motivation was never to be for financial gain, and as such they were to live humbly, modestly, as servants and not as masters (1 PETER 5:2).
In ACTS 6 we have the interesting record of the apostles claiming that they were too busy to serve tables and so they suggested others take over that responsibility. They said that the reason for this was so that they could then devote themselves to prayer and the ministering of the word. This seems somewhat out of step with the way Yeshua interacted with His followers. On a number of occasions He had declared that the greatest should be servant of all (MATTHEW 20:25-27; 23:11 MARK 9:35, 48 LUKE 22:25-27 JOHN 13:13 also PHILLIPIANS 2:7). So the question should be pondered, were they right in appointing others to serve in their place, or were they wrong?
One of their replacements in this menial labor of serving tables was Stephen, whom the record incidentally stated, was "a man full of faith and the holy spirit". It is curious that even though the apostles were too busy to serve tables, evidently Stephen wasn't. It is obvious that the record is setting the one over against the other; the apostles withdrawing to prayer and study, while Stephen was climbing down into the spiritual arena, doing wonders and miracles among the people. He must also have been a dynamic teacher, because the record states that the unbelievers could not resist the wisdom and the spirit by which he spoke.
Stephen was the first Christian martyr, bravely proclaiming the gospel when up against the whole Jewish hierarchy. His testimony was also probably one of the main factors for the conversion of the great apostle Paul, who had witnessed the whole scene of Stephen's murder. So while the other apostles were praying and ministering, Stephen was out there boldly but devoutly challenging men's thoughts and changing their lives.
It was years later when in his first letter to the Corinthians the apostle Paul set this whole subject of financial support for the leaders in the Church in its proper context (1 CORINTHIANS 9:3-18). Howbeit, we shall see that he was not trying to encourage or command his readers so as to obtain their financial support. More so he was confronting some in the Church who were doubting his apostolic authority. As such, in the third verse he states, "Mine answer to them that do examine [criticize] me is this"; then he goes on to explain how he and Barnabas are just as worthy of recognition as were the other apostles, and as were Cephas (Peter) and the Lord's brethren.
In verse six he asked them, "Have we not power [the right] to forbear working?" If the other leaders of the Church had the advantage of receiving their financial support, why not him and Barnabas? They were just as apostolic as were any others, in fact more so, for the Corinthian Church was founded by Paul (verse 2). Then he sets before them several examples of other circumstances where some kind of support was due and expected, as with a soldier in his service, a planter in his field or a shepherd with his sheep (verse 7). Indeed, even an ox treading out the corn is not muzzled (verse 9). Paul goes on to remind them that the priests in the temple are fed from those things offered upon the altar (verse 13). This all reinforces the principle that the workman is indeed worthy of his hire.
Paul then reasoned with them, asking that if he had sown unto them spiritual things, should he not then expect to be repaid by the Corinthians in carnal things (verse 11)? If the Corinthians willingly recognized and supported others, why not then Paul? Paul stated that even Yeshua had taught that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel (verse 14).
At any rate, the general principle is logical and true, the workman is worthy of his hire. Howbeit, Paul went on to write that he had not exercised this right. Why? Because he did not want to hinder the gospel (verse 12). He did not want to give his opponents a card to play so as to somehow discredit or throw suspicion upon him. Paul would rather live without their support than have the gospel hampered.
Then he explained the true heart behind his motivation for freely ministering unto the Corinthians.
- 1 CORINTHIANS 9:16-18 NEB Even if I preach the Gospel, I can claim no credit for it; I cannot help myself; it would be misery to me not to preach. If I did it of my own choice, I should be earning my pay; but since I do it apart from my own choice, I am simply discharging a trust. Then what is my pay? The satisfaction of preaching the Gospel without expense to anyone; in other words, of waving the rights which my preaching gives me.
Paul was discharging a trust. GOD had entrusted him with this ministry at no expense to himself, so it would be only right for him to communicate the gospel to believers at no charge to them. Then he goes on in verses 24-27 to fully expound upon what exactly was his reward in preaching the gospel. He ran his race so as to obtain an incorruptible crown, which was the crown of righteousness. He didn't labor for monetary gain, not for those riches which perish, not for earthly pleasures or treasures. No, he labored for that which endures unto everlasting life, evidently the fruit of the spirit. Thus, during these spiritual games Paul was readily willing to labor to support himself by working at his trade (ACTS 18:3). He was careful to never be a burden to any of his congregations, even if it required him working night and day (1 THESSALONIANS 2:9 & 2 THESSALONIANS 3:8).
Even so, if a group of believers wished to financially support one of its members, so that he was better able to minister unto them, fine. The workman is worthy of his hire. But the true and more important purpose of the believer's giving, was for them to personally give aid and relief to the afflicted. The believer is suppose to walk with GOD, looking for opportunities to serve his fellow man. He should continually look for open doors in which to offer help.
Thus, the Church service where an offering plate is passed around and each attendee feels obligated to drop something in, misses the whole heart of the believer's responsibility. During special times of crisis it might be appropriate for the giver to contribute to a relief fund for the aid of distant sufferers, but generally he should look for specific opportunities to give which are placed in his path by GOD.
When the believer does not see the relief and support which has been provided by his gift, he misses out on receiving the fruits of his giving. Comfortably sitting on the pew and tossing his coin into the plate he can not know in what respect and to what extent his gift has aided the poor or downtrodden. His gift is carried into a back room somewhere where it is counted and catalogued. There is no evidence that any widow or orphan is helped and lifted out of their misery. He does not get to witness and experience GOD at work in his gift. It has all become cold and distant.
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What others? Was Yeshua intimating that tithing mint and rue and various herbs GOD's will? Was He not teaching that the Pharisees were well off the mark by all of their rules and regulations? The other things to which He referred must have been the alms to which He had just directed them. Giving alms indeed made one clean.