Chapter 12 -


In early 1989 the Associated Press reported on a Pennsylvania man, a former minister, who had been unemployed for some time. He and his family had not eaten for months despite the fact that they had about $3,500 in personal bank accounts. Why didn't they use it?

Because it was "God's tithe money." Since "it did not belong to them," they were afraid to spend it for survival. How "God's money" was still in their bank account must be another story.

These people were poor, yet they would not touch "God's tithe.” They did not understand that one of the main purposes of the tithe was to feed the poor. Even advocates of tithing must agree that this family was lacking in Biblical understanding.

A teenage son died because of this error in attempted obedience. Although he was old enough to walk out of that house and get help, he did not. He had agreed to trust God and starve rather than use the family's saved "tithes for God." This is just a dramatic and mod­em case of an age old problem.

The Jerusalem Council

Council at Jerusalem in Acts 15 records the first formal meeting of all the apostles and major church elders over a doctrinal issue. That issue was whether Gentile needed to be circumcised as well as being baptized. In essence, this meeting established the priority of the New Testament over the Sinai Covenant. James, the elder who made the final decisions, also gave direction and clarified some specific rules for Gentile believers to facilitate the fellowship of mixed congregations.

One of the consequences of this conference was the commitment by the evangelists working in areas outside of Judea to remember the poor saints who lived there – particularly those in Jerusalem. There was no commandment to send tithes to Jerusalem, nor is tithing mentioned one way or another.

Apparently, the request to remember the poor was not discussed as part of the main agenda as it is not included in the letter sent out to the churches in the Diaspora. First the official letter from Jerusalem:

Therefore it is my judgment that we do not trouble those who are turning to God from among the Gentiles, but that we write to them that they abstain from things contaminated by idols and from fornication and from what is strangled and from blood.

For Moses from ancient generations has in every city those who preach him, since he is read in the synagogues every Sabbath.

Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, to choose men from among them to send to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas--Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, leading men among the brethren, and they sent this letter by them,

"The apostles and the brethren who are elders, to the brethren in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia who are from the Gentiles, greetings.

"Since we have heard that some of our number to whom we gave no instruction have disturbed you with their words, unsettling your souls, it seemed good to us, having become of one mind, to select men to send to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

"Therefore we have sent Judas and Silas, who themselves will also report the same things by word of mouth. For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these essentials:

“that you abstain from things sacrificed to idols and from blood and from things strangled and from fornication; if you keep yourselves free from such things, you will do well. Farewell."

So when they were sent away, they went down to Antioch; and having gathered the congregation together, they delivered the letter.

Paul mentions his promise to send food aid to the poor in Judea and Jerusalem in his own letters:

They only asked us to remember the poor ­the very thing I also was eager to do. (Galatians 2:10)

Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I directed the churches of Galatia, so do you also. On the first day of every week let each one of you put aside and save, as he may prosper, that no collections be made when I come. And when I arrive, whomever you may approve, I shall send them with letters to carry your gift to Jerusalem. (I Corinthians 16:1-3)

…I am going to Jerusalem serving the saints. For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem. Yes, they are pleased to do so, and they are indebted to them. For if the Gentiles have shared in their spiritual things, they are indebted to minister to them also in material things.

Therefore, when I have finished this, and have put my seal on this fruit of theirs, I will go. (Romans 15:25-28)

Church Members to Give Offerings, Not Tithes

Regardless of how or when exactly it came about, Paul specifically encouraged the Gentile churches to support the poor in Jerusalem. It was a freewill donation, or he wouldn't have spent the amount of space in his letters that he did to raise money.

In his letters Paul makes absolutely no reference to tithing or to scriptures that implied tithing. He uses reason and appeals to generosity and fairness. The churches responded, and Paul led a delegation of local members to bring the needed gifts to the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem.

The scriptures quoted above all relate to the collection of food or fruit, for the poor saints at Jerusalem. That church apparently had more poor than could be adequately supported by its members. Acts 6 also refers to this fact of life in the Jerusalem church. There were many people, widows mostly, who were depen­dent on the church.

These same verses are often used to justify the taking up of tithes, offerings or collections at weekly church services. But they do not support that practice. First of all, the references are to harvesting food, or perhaps money to buy food. "Laying aside" was probably a good bit of work, like preserving it for transport to Jerusalem. This was a real labor of love and it was all done at home - not at church.

Furthermore, the collection was for taking care of the humanitarian needs of the poor. It was not for the ministers, elders or for the furtherance of the gospel. God has always taken responsibility for His poor. All Israelites were His covenant people. The widow, the orphan and the dispossessed were entitled to some support form the Promised Land inheritance as a witness to God’s goodness.

This care for the poor was one of the prime purposes for the tithe, and this Godly concern was later taught to the New Testament churches on its own merit outside of the context of tithing. No commands to tithe are made in the New Testament, but requests and exhortations were made to remember the poor. Hand in hand with the brotherly care for the Church's poor was the total dedication to advancing the gospel.

That the Gentiles received spiritual truth from the Jews is simply part of a persuasive encouragement to give. God is merciful and gen­erous. This is an attribute of the mind of God that we are to make a part of our own.

Now when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap the very corners of your field, neither shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest. Nor shall you glean your vineyard, nor shall you gather the fallen fruit of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the needy and for the stranger, I am the LORD your God. (Leviticus 19:9-10)

Now in case a countryman of yours becomes poor and his means with regard to you falter, then you are to sustain him, like a stranger or a sojourner, that he may live with you. Do not take usurious inter­est from him, but revere your God, that your countryman may live with you. You shall not give him your silver at interest, nor your food for gain. I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt to give you the land of Canaan and to be your God. (Leviticus 25:35-38)

He executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and shows His love for the alien by giving him food and clothing. So show your love for the alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt. (Deuteronomy 10:18-19)

For if you truly amend your ways and your deeds, if you truly practice justice between man and his neighbor, if you do not oppress the alien, the orphan, or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place, nor walk after other gods to your own ruin, then I will let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave to your fathers for­ever and ever. (Jeremiah 7:5-7)

Forgiveness of Debt and the Poor

The following is a reference to the seventh or sabbatical year of release in Deuteronomy 15. I suggest you read the whole chapter. In the year of release, all existing personal debts were forgiven. They did not have to be repaid regardless of whether they were incurred six years or six days prior to the sabbatical year's beginning.

The principle of the year of release is found in United States Bankruptcy Code in modified form. Assuming basic honesty, both the Bankruptcy Code and the Year of Release are important legal concepts which minimize the number of poor as well as the severity of their poverty.

Deuteronomy 15:4 and 15:11:

There shall be no poor among you, since the LORD will surely bless you.

For the poor will never cease to be in the land.

These verses seem to contradict one another. Resolution is found in the fact that God is not a slot machine: He does not bless without purpose. God's blessings of material wealth are always found in conjunction with obedience to His laws of love.

Because of His covenant, God is involved in the lives of the Israelites of faith. He has committed Himself to help them prosper, but prosperity or wealth can also come by chance and/or the hard work of someone apart from divine intervention. On the other hand, if you choose to shut God out of your life, then you have chosen to reject the personal blessings He commands. You have turned down an invita­tion to God's insurance that nothing but your ultimate good will hap­pen to you.

Do Not Borrow

God prefers His people to lend and not to borrow, for that is the key to freedom. If a nation obeys, then there are no poor. But people have never obeyed, so there have always been poor. Poverty and debt are curses to teach lessons of spiritual righteousness. These lessons are for nations and for persons.

If only you listen obediently to the voice of the LORD your God, to observe carefully all this commandment

And you will lend to many nations, but you will not borrow; and you will rule over many nations, but they will not rule over you. (Deuteronomy 15:5-6)

Those curses may be incurred by either personal or collective viola­tions of God's principles. That is, your personal finances are signifi­cantly influenced by the policies and practices of your nation, state and county, as well as by your spending habits.

The Eternal Poor

However, in the end how you deal with the conditions of your life and society is your own responsibility. You can't totally blame others or factors beyond your control. God promises to intervene on the personal level if you put Him first in your life. Whatever our financial condition, God encourages generosity and kindness:

If there is a poor man with you, one of your brothers, in any of your towns in your land which the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart, nor close your hand from your poor brother; but you shall freely open your hand to him, and shall generously lend him sufficient for his need in whatever he lacks.

Beware, lest there is a base thought in your heart, saying, “The seventh year, the year of remission is near,” and your eye is hostile toward your poor brother, and you given him nothing; then he may cry to the LORD against you, and it will be a sin in you.

You shall generously give to him, and your heart shall not be grieved when you give to him, because for this thing the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in all your undertakings.

For the poor will never cease to be in the land; therefore, I command you, saying, “You shall freely open your hand to your brother, to your needy and poor in your land.” (Deuteronomy 15:7-11)

Cursed is he who distorts justice due an alien, orphan, and widow. (Deuteronomy 27:19)

Learn to do good; seek justice, reprove the ruthless; defend the orphan, plead for the widow. (Isaiah 1: 17)

Laziness Condemned

In His care for the poor God condemns laziness throughout the Bible, particularly in the book of Proverbs. The New Testament matches its concern and sympathy for the disadvantaged with serious exhortations to work. God has no sympathy for those who waste their lives and others' lives.

The New Testament advises some practical policies to protect the generous and to promote a giving attitude:

And let our people also learn to engage in good deeds [margin, occupations] to meet pressing needs, that they may not be unfruitful. (Titus 3:14)

For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example, because we did not act in an undisciplined manner among you, nor did we eat anyone's bread without paying for it, but with labor and hardship we kept working night and day so that we might not be a burden to any of you; not because we do not have the right to this, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you, that you might fol­low our example.

For even when we were with you, we used to give you this order: if anyone will not work, neither let him eat. For we hear that some among you are leading an undisciplined life, doing no work at all, but acting like busybodies. Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to work in quiet fashion and eat their own bread. (II Thessalonians 3:7-12)

In everything I showed you that by working hard in this manner you must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He Himself said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35)

Instruct those who are rich in this present world not be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy. Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is life indeed. (I Timothy 6:17-19)

But whoever has the world's goods, and beholds his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth. (I John 3:17-18)

This is pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father, visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep one­self unstained by the world. (James 1:27)

Then the King will say to those on His right, “Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.

“For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.”

Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, “Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You drink? And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? And when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?”

And the King will answer and say to them, “Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did to Me.”

Then He will also say to those on His left, “Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.” (Matthew 25:31­43)

Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap.

For the one who sows to his own flesh shall from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit shall from the Spirit reap eternal life.

And let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we shall reap if we do not grow weary. So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all men, and especially to those who are of the household of faith. (Galatians 6:7­10)

Give, and it will be given to you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, they will pour into your lap. For by your return of measure it will be measured to you in return. (Luke 6:38)

God or Slot Machine Mammon?

God is rather plain that greed is sin. He is the source of all abundance. Wealth is a test of whether we will serve God or mammon. I will discuss that later. At this point I want you to note that these scrip­tures about generosity refer to the poor, needy and disadvantaged. They do not refer to the ministry or to the habitually indigent human parasites.

Many sincere ministers will use these verses to encourage you to give to their ministries. Many of verses do command and exhort Christians to provide for the needs of the gospel and its ministers, but the above verses are focused on generosity towards our fellow man.

It is spiritually more challenging to be generous to our neighbor than it is to give to the gospel because of the human tendency to be judgmental of those in need. It is too easy to become hardened by this world of woe. We devel­op the habit of instant rejection, or token gift to keep from pondering another's situation or getting involved with a disadvantaged person and really loving him or her.

There may be social barriers, too. The poor who confront us might be of a different race, class, or nationality. We may presumptuously judge them based on appear­ances and decide they are loafers, thieves, con men, alcoholics or drug users. Done consciously or out of habit, we thereby excuse ourselves from getting involved: we give neither of our money nor of our time.

Remember the Law of Moses. God gives the power to get wealth to establish His Covenant. God does not give the wealth; He gives the power to work and earn it.

God is not a slot machine or a wealth-by-chance lottery. Wealth is a tool, like health or intelligence. How we use what He gives us is the basis of His judg­ment. To whom much is given, much is required. Our goal is growth towards per­fection as the Father is perfect.

Remember, too, that in all this volume of quotes, there is not one reference to tithing. In fact, the entire New Testament is rather silent on the matter. Why? I think it's obvious: the New Testament church did not tithe in biblical times.

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