Monthly Archives: February 2013

Law and Grace in Giving

offering-plate

I have mixed feelings on tithing. I detest legalism. I certainly don’t want to pour new wine into old wineskins, imposing superseded first covenant restrictions on Christians. However, the fact is that every New Testament example of giving goes beyond the tithe. This means that none falls short of it. The strongest arguments made against tithing today are “law versus grace.” But does being under grace mean we should stop doing all that was done under the law?

I’m a strong believer in the new covenant’s superiority over the old (Romans 7; 2 Corinthians 3; Hebrews 8). On the other hand, I believe there’s ongoing value to certain aspects of the old covenant. The model of paying back to God the firstfruits (tithing) and giving freewill offerings beyond that is among those. Because we are never told that tithing has been superseded, and because Jesus directly affirmed it (Matthew 23:23) and prominent church fathers taught it as a requirement for Christian living, it seems to me the burden of proof falls on those who say tithing is no longer a minimum standard for God’s people. The question is not whether tithing is the whole of Christian giving or even at the center of it. Clearly it is not. Many people associate the command to tithe with the command to keep the Sabbath. New Testament Christians are not obligated to keep the Sabbath with all its legislated rules under the Mosaic covenant (Colossians 2:16). However, a weekly day of rest based on God’s pattern of creation was instituted before the Law (Genesis 2:2-3). It’s a principle never revoked in the New Testament. The special day of observance changed to Sunday, “the Lord’s day,” yet the principle of one special day set aside for worship remained intact.

Christ fulfilled the entire Old Testament, but he didn’t render it irrelevant. Old Testament legislation demonstrated how to love my neighbor. Although the specific regulations don’t all apply, the principles certainly do, and many of the guidelines are still as helpful as ever. Consider the command to build a roof with a parapet to protect people from falling off (Deuteronomy 22:8). When it comes to the Old Testament, we must be careful not to throw out the baby (ongoing principles intended for everyone) with the bathwater (detailed regulations intended only for ancient Israel).

We don’t offer sacrifices anymore, so why should we tithe? Because sacrifices are specifically rescinded in the New Testament. As the book of Hebrews demonstrates, Christ has rendered inoperative the whole sacrificial system. But where in the New Testament does it indicate that tithing is no longer valid? There is no such passage. With a single statement, God could have easily singled out tithing like he did sacrifices and the Sabbath. But he didn’t.

Some argue against tithing by saying, “The New Testament advocates voluntary offerings.” Yes, but as we’ve seen, so does the Old Testament. Voluntary giving is not a new concept. Having a minimum standard of giving has never been incompatible with giving above and beyond that standard. If both mandatory and voluntary giving coexisted under the old covenant, why not the new? It’s not a matter of either tithing or voluntary offering. The two have always been fully compatible.

The disciples gave all that they had because “much grace was upon them all” (Acts 4:33). It was obvious from the beginning that being under grace didn’t mean that New Testament Christians would give less than their Old Testament brethren. On the contrary, it meant they would give more.

Being under grace does not mean living by lower standards than the law. Christ systematically addressed such issues as murder, adultery, and the taking of oaths and made it clear that his standards were much higher than those of the Pharisees (Matthew 5:17-48). He never lowered the bar. He always raised it. But he also empowers us by his grace to jump higher than the law demanded.

Randy Alcorn, Money, Possessions, and Eternity, Chapter 12.

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Giving Up All to Gain Everything

paulGiving up to gain may sound like an odd principle to live by but we naturally follow this in all aspects of life.  The key to understanding this is why we give up to gain.  The reason we give up something, whatever it may be, is because we value, or better yet, we treasure that which we are seeking to gain by giving something up.  Let me give you a few examples: you may give up eating deserts because you treasure the prize of good or better health.  You may give up time and energy to workout because you treasure the prize of good health, physical attractiveness, or a potentially longer life.  You may give up money because you treasure the prize of possessions or whatever you might obtain in the purchase.  You may give up the desire to purchase something now because you treasure the prize of obtaining something of more value in the future.  You may give up overtime at work because you treasure the prize of time with family, or, just the opposite, you may give up time with family because you treasure the prize of more money, climbing the corporate ladder, or in an attempt to keep up with the proverbial “Jones”.

This is even an underlying principle to understanding why we sin.  We will give up something to gain what we desire.  You might give up integrity by lying because you treasure the prize of a good reputation.  You might give up marital fidelity and purity because you treasure the prize of the forbidden pleasure of a relationship with another physical or digital person, at least in the moment.  You might give up love and honor in being harsh with your children because you treasure the prize of parental respect and obedience.  And the list goes on and on, but the principle remains: you will give up whatever is necessary to gain that which you treasure.

Many times the problem is not what we need to give up but what we treasure, or even how much we treasure it.  Anything we treasure more than we ought, more than God intended in providing it for us either by creation or providence, whether a material thing or a person, has become and is to us an idol.  In treasuring something too much, in inordinately loving something that is unable to bear such love and desire, we have made idols or God-replacements in our lives.  We will give up all our time, money, energy, affection, and more to obtain or keep that which we treasure or idolize in this way.  This is blasphemy, cosmic treason, and worthy of the eternal wrath of God. 

Along with this being divinely punishable, it is ruinous to individuals and the Church.  If we love, treasure,  or desire anything above or even equally with God we are depriving ourselves of the only person that is able and worthy to bear being treasure, being praised, and being worshipped. Everything and everyone else will leave us empty, exhausted, and enraged.

So what is the solution to our treasure problem?  The answer is two-fold, both of which are found in Philippians 3:3-11.

1. Find a Worthy Treasure

We must, first, find a treasure worthy of our all.  Paul proclaims: “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead” (v 7-11).

What treasure did Paul say he found worthy of all that he was or had?  He found the treasure of knowing Christ Jesus, having Christ, being united to Christ, being given the righteousness of Christ, experiencing the power of Christ’s resurrection, and sharing in Christ sufferings and his death.  What is repeated over and over.  The answer points us to the true and worthy treasure: Jesus Christ.  Paul, was willing and did give up all to the point of death because he encountered the great treasure of Christ in salvation.  Christ is the all satisfying Savior.  He is the bread from heaven and the living water for those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.  He accomplished and is our peace.  In Him, God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places. He humbled himself that he might be your righteousness, bear your sin, die your death, and be raised that you may have new life.  It is by his blood that you are justified, purified, made alive, sanctified, and will be glorified.  He is worthy!  He is able!  He is the great treasure worthy of your all and you can know him, have him, and be united to him if you come to him repenting of your sin and trusting him and him alone for salvation!  The Psalmist proclaimed this glorious truth, saying:

You make known to me the path of life;

in your presence there is fullness of joy;

at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. (Psalm 16:11 ESV)

 2. Give Up What Is Loss

Not only must find a treasure worthy of our all, if we are to experience the fullness Christ has to offer, we must also give up what is loss.  Paul says, “If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ” (v 4-7). Wow!  Everything that Paul was and had, he gave up for Christ.  But notice what he says.  He gives up all because it is loss.  All that we cling to in this world is loss in the end.  C.T. Studd wrote, “Only one life,’ twill soon be past, Only what’s done for Christ will last.”  This is what Paul is declaring here.  He gave up his racial, religious, and righteous pedigree because of the treasure of knowing and having Christ.  There was no comparison.  It was not a close call between what Paul had and Christ.  Only Christ is worthy of holding onto with our all and when we, like Paul, come to see this, by grace through faith, ALL things will be revealed to be loss for the sake of knowing him.

We are saved by grace through faith and not by any work or sacrifice of our own, but, to experience the fullness of our redemption and our union with Christ, we must heed the words of Christ and follow him in sacrificial discipleship (Lk 9:23) as exampled by Paul.  There is no question: Christ is the worthy treasure.  But this question remains: will you give up all for the sake of knowing, having, and experiencing the beauty and glory of Christ?

What are you holding onto (whether a good gift from God or a sin) that is hindering you from experiencing and enjoying the fullness of your union with Christ?

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