Monthly Archives: July 2014

Why do we tithe if we are free from the Law?

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Tithe Groupon

Here is a summary of the main arguments for and against Christian tithing (as I understand them). I conclude by affirming that Christians should tithe.

Against Tithing:

The Law of Moses has been fulfilled by Christ and believers are no longer under it (Rom 7:1-6; Eph 2:16; Col 2:14). We are rather told to rely on the Spirit and to fulfill the Law of Christ (1Cor 9:20-21; Gal 5:16-18), which is to love God and our neighbors—in so doing we fulfill the whole Law (Mt 22:37-37; Gal 5:13-15; 6:2). The New Testament authors certainly provide examples of what this will look like (E.g. Gal 5:17-23). Therefore, even though Christian morality consists in Spiritual living rather than law-keeping, our morality is not without objective definition. Nonetheless, though tithing is mentioned in the New Testament (e.g. Mt 23:23; Heb 7:5-9), it is nowhere clearly stated as an expectation for Christians.

For Tithing:

It is true that Christians are not bound by the old Law of Moses. We are under the Law of Christ instead, keeping in step with the Spirit. (See references above.) However, it should be noted that tithing existed before the Law of Moses. Abraham tithed to Melchizedek (Gen 14:20; Heb 7:6). Jacob vowed to tithe to the Lord at Bethel (Gen 28:22). This practice was later codified in the Law. Therefore, tithing is a biblical practice that precedes the Law and exists on its own quite apart from the Law. True: the law requiring us to tithe has been nailed to the cross (Col 2:14). That does not mean, however, that we can escape the principle of tithing, which is a part of the heritage of all Abraham’s descendents.

A comparable example would be the Sabbath. The Sabbath was established at creation and set forth as a pattern for Adam and his progeny (Gen 2:2-3). It was later added to the Law of Moses and further elaborated (e.g. Ex 20:10; Lev 25). As Christians under the Law of Christ, we are not required to observe Sabbath days. In fact Paul loudly insists that we ignore anyone who tells us we are bound by this law (Col 2:16-17). Hebrews suggests that Christ has fulfilled the meaning of the Sabbath by achieving rest for us (Heb 4, cf. Mt 11:29-30). Nonetheless, we recognize that Sabbath is a principle quite apart from the Law and we are benefited by keeping it. Beginning in the New Testament era, Christians chose to keep one day of the week holy (Ac 20:7; 1Co 16:2). They chose Sunday, rather than Saturday, probably because the Lord rose on a Sunday (E.g. Mt 28:1; cf. Rev 1:10). In the same way, the legal requirement to tithe has been abolished but the principle precedes the law and it remains for the benefit of believers.

In a sense you could say, “Christians are under the law of tithing” if by “law” you meant a principle—as in the way you would say, “the law of gravity” or “the law of supply and demand.” Like these examples, the law of tithing is something we cannot escape. It is established by God, like the Sabbath law. However, we must not say, “Christians are under the law of tithing” if by that we mean that they are obligated to tithe in order to be righteous and holy before God. That’s legalism.

God has given Christians the wonderful gift of tithing. It will help us remember that all belongs to God; it will help us establish order in our finances; it will help us support the church; it will help us prosper. We do not have to tithe to be righteous. But, having been made righteous, shouldn’t we want our finances to align with biblical principles?

The Bible and Justice

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Bible Justice
The media today has presented to the watching eyes of the public multitudes of images involving acts of social injustice taking place around the world. These images of starvation, mutilation, and genocide are shocking to many of the Western viewers. These disturbing images have generated an outcry in many people that declare “That is not right.” “People should not be treated that way.” Often in the outcry is the question about how these things could have been allowed to happen. More pointedly, “Who is to blame for them?” Some blame everything on the consumerism of the Western world that has tempted the rest of the world into a wanton lifestyle. Some believe it is the governments of the world that need to stop fighting and step up and fix these situations. Others believe it is the responsibility of the church to fix these injustices. However the question is posed, it is the belief of many that something must be done.

In an attempt to find blame for the existence of these social atrocities, some have accused God and the church for the problems. God has been accused of being indifferent about the plight that many humans face. Others use that the situation to prove that a God does not exist. If He is as good as religious people say He is, and if He has allowed this human situation to get so out of hand, then He is too weak to be of any value, and unworthy of being served. He is so unable to manage the human situation that he does not deserved to be considered a god.

How is a Believer to respond to these accusations about the Lord? The Scriptures has much to say about the issue. Here are some simple biblical statements about God and justice.

  1. It is important to know that God is just (Deut 32:4; Neh 9:33; Jer 30:11).
  2. Human wickedness is the outworking of fallen people’s nature (Gal 5:19-21; Gen 6:1-6; Matt 15:19). God did not make them to live this way. It is the consequence of people rejecting the authority of God’s ways over their lives. Perverted justice is one of the many characteristics of fallen human nature ( Deut 16:20; Amos 5:11, 6:12; Mic 3:9; Hab 1;4).
  3. Every person will be judged according to their evil deeds (Pro 14:32; Eze 36:19; Rom 2:6; Rev 20:12-13). People’s lack of justice will be held against them.
  4. God hears the outcry of those who are oppressed (Ps 71:12).
  5. The Lord will repay the oppressors according to their evil deeds (Pro 19:17; Hos 12:2; Rom 12:19; 2Tim 4:14).
  6. God requires justice in areas of human life (Amos 5:15, 24; Mic 6:8).
  7. The Lord allows no favoritism in social matters (James 2:2-9).
  8. Jesus endorses justice in life (Matt 12:18, 20).
  9. The work of the Holy Spirit supports justice (Mic 3:8).
  10. The Apostle Paul requires justice between members of the church community (Gal 4:1).

Following are some individual aspects of God’s relation to the justice issues.

A.  In the Old Testament, God declared standards and laws describing how people in society were to behave. It is important to note that the Lord says in several places that the laws were not just for the Jewish people. He specifically says that there was one law or standard to be used for native born Jews as well as the strangers and aliens that lived among them. This demonstrates that God desired the same standards of justice for all ethnic groups, not just the nation of Israel. Read Ex 12:49; Lev 24:27; Num 9:14. 15:15-16, 29.

B.  There are references in some laws where specific references are made stating that the jurisdiction of some rules are also for foreigners living among the Jewish people.

  • Celebration of Jewish yearly religious feasts (Lev 16:29; Num 9:14)
  • Eating blood (Lev 17:12)
  • Acts of immorality (Lev 18:26)
  • Harvesting laws (Lev 23:22; Deut 24:19-21)
  • Blaspheming God’s name (Lev 24:16)
  • Offering sacrifices (Num 15:15-30)
  • Personal purification (Num 19:10)
  • Access to the Cities of Refuge (Num 35:15)
  • The judicial process (Deut 1:16; 24:17)
  • Care given to foreigners living among Israel (Deut 14:16; 10:18-19)

C.  The Jewish people were required to not detest the foreigners that lived among them (Deut 23:7-8).

D.  There are specific biblical references dealing with the equitable and fair treatment of women:

  • Redemptively they are equal with men (Gal 3:29).
  • Men are to treat them as sisters in the Body of Christ (1Tim 5:1).
  • Special care was to be given to genuine widows (1Tim 5:3-16).
  • Older women were to be respected (Tit 2:3).
  • They would be equally anointed by the Spirit for ministry (Joel 2:28).

E.  Slavery and human trafficking was something God takes very seriously (Am 1:6, 9; 2:6; 8:6; Joel 3:3).

F.  The rich class of people were not to use their wealth and power as a means to oppress the needy (Deut 24:14; Amos 4:1).

G.  The magistrates in the courts were to provide just decisions for people from all nations (Amos 5:7; Mic 3:9; Luke 11:42).

H.  Of all aspect of daily life, caring for the poor is of great importance to the Lord. There are several things that He tells people to do for the poor and needy.

  1. Lend finances to them to help them (Ex 22:25). Only no interest is to be charged them (Deut 15:2-11; Matt 5:42, 19:21).
  2. Leaves gleanings in the fields for the poor to eat (Ex 23:21; Lev 19:9).
  3. Help to redeem them from their financial troubles (Lev 25:28).
  4. In the Year of Jubilee, all their lost property was to be returned (Lev 25:35).
  5. Part of the yearly tithes collected from the people was to be used to help the poor (Deut 14:28-29).
  6. They were never to be oppressed (Zech 7:10).
  7. All business with the poor was to be honest (James 5:4).
  8. Isaiah 58:7 says that helping out the poor is what real fasting and consecration to the Lord should involve.

When people reach out to help the poor, there is a special divine blessing that accompanies these acts.

  1. God blesses people that watch out for the poor (Ps 37:26; 41:1; 112:2, 9; Isa 58:10; Act 20:35).
  2. Jesus notices acts of kindness shown to the poor (Matt 25:35).
  3. Paul declares a blessing to those who help the poor (Rom 12:13, 20; Gal 2L10; Eph 4:28).
  4. James speaks of the blessing (Jam 1:27).
  5. John refers to it (1John 3:17).

God and the poor:

  • God declares that the needy people in this life will not be forgotten. He sees their plight and will care for them in the age to come (Ps 9:18; 12:5).
  • The Lord personally claims the poor and identifies with them (Pro 22:2).
  • God hears their cries (Ps 34:6; 69:33).
  • He will ensure that they receive justice (Pro 22:22).

All these things show that the Lord is very mindful and involved in matters of justice. It is part of His very nature, and He has intended mankind to live according to His nature. When human actions run contrary to God’s nature, God notices and will hold the violators responsible for what they do. If Christians declare to be servants of God, then it is their responsibility to uphold those values that are important to Him. This is why Christians cannot be indifferent to matters of social injustice. We must uphold the character of our Lord and properly represent Him in our world.

“…but on God who raises the dead.”

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Michelangelo Resurrection of the Dead

GOD’S ANSWER TO INJUSTICE IS THE RESURRECTION

The church in the New Testament experienced all sorts of injustice in the form of persecution. Yet they did not question God’s goodness or justice. This is because they had a firm belief that God would ultimately distribute justice to everyone at a future time. This time was called “the Day of the Lord” in Jewish theology—the day when God would right all wrongs, bringing punishment and reward. Christians believed that the Day of the Lord should ultimately be interpreted as the day of the Lord Jesus’ return, which would include the resurrection of the dead. Whether or not a believer received justice and reward in her lifetime, she would be vindicated when her body was resurrected and glorified for eternity.

And not only believers. Jesus taught, “Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment” (John 5:28-29, ESV). Death will not forever veil the atrocious secrets of unjust men and women. All will receive their just reward (for better or for worse).

When Paul was recounting the many injustices he had endured for the sake of Christ, he made a fascinating statement. “For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. … But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again” (2 Corinthians 1:8-10, ESV). Even though Paul believed that God delivered him and would continue to do so, he states that the Christian hope is not in immediate deliverance, but ultimate deliverance at the resurrection of the dead. It is true that Christ came to give us abundant life and that through him we experience provision, healing, protection, etc. But it is also true that we do not get to dictate when and how these benefits are manifested in our lives. If I am healed, that is a gracious “sneak preview” of the ultimate healing I will receive at the resurrection. If God miraculously provides, that is a gracious glimpse of my ultimate portion in the new earth.

Paul goes on to boldly assert, “For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory. And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee” (2 Corinthians 1:20-22, ESV). Even if we do not see justice, provision and healing right now, we have an “Amen” of faith in our spirits, believing that every promise will be fulfilled, if not now then at the Day of the Lord. Notice how Paul says that we have been sealed by God? This means that God is preserving us for a future day. And notice how Paul says that we have been given the Spirit as a guarantee? This means that our wonderful experience of the Spirit in this life is only a down payment guaranteeing the fullness of what we are promised in the next life.

The Christian hope is not in the God who brings justice now. It is in the God who raises the dead! Yes, we rejoice when we get to see it now. We seek it now. We pray for it now. But our hope is in the God who raises the dead.

TWO REASONS CHRIST DOES NOT END ALL INJUSTICE RIGHT NOW

  1. HE IS SAVING PEOPLE. Christ is giving people the opportunity to turn from their sin as they put their faith in him. Peter teaches, “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed” (2 Peter 3:9-10, ESV). The day when God brings justice will come suddenly (like a thief). But until then he is giving people the opportunity to repent. If we question his timing, James reminds us, “Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand” (James 5:7-8, ESV). Jesus is a wise farmer waiting for the full harvest before he reaps it. In other words, he is waiting for the full amount of souls who will respond to him. We should trust his judgment and timing.
  1. HE IS JUDGING THE ENEMY. Christ is currently conquering his enemies through his Body, the Church. Paul says, “For [Jesus] must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death” (1 Corinthians 15:25-26, ESV). The resurrection is delayed because Christ is in the process of conquering his foes. In one sense he has ultimately conquered them through his cross (Colossians 2:15); but he is enforcing that victory now through us. Romans 16:20 makes it clear that God wants to use the Church to judge Satan. We get a glimpse of how the Church will do this is in Ephesians 3:10-11, where we read that it was God’s eternal purpose to use the Church as a display of his wisdom, even to rebellious angels. Perhaps this is why Paul was so insistent that the Corinthians be holy, for “do you not know that the saints will judge the world?” and “Do you not know that we are to judge angels?” (1 Corinthians 6:1, 3, ESV). Not that we will go about actively judging wicked angels and people; but in the end the Church will stand as a shining example of God’s glorious wisdom—a standard against which all will be judged, even angels. In summary, Christ will rule from heaven until his righteous reign has been perfected in the Church on earth. Then death will be destroyed as he returns in resurrection power.

The Devil’s Advocate on Prophecy Fulfillment

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Jesus and Satan

This Sunday we heard a fascinating sermon that addressed the accuracy of Biblical prophecy, especially the prophecies fulfilled by Jesus. (Click here to watch the sermon by Pastor Marc Estes.)

One of the impressive claims regarded the mathematical law of compound probabilities. Here’s the argument in summary: There were hundreds of Old Testament prophecies regarding the Messiah. The odds of a man fulfilling just one of these are slim. But the odds decrease at a compounded rate if a man were to fulfill two or three or four. Pastor Marc shared that the odds of a single person perfectly fulfilling only eight of these prophecies is one in 1017 (or one in 100,000,000,000,000,000). As you can see, it’s hard to fathom the fact that Jesus has already fulfilled hundreds of these prophecies during his first coming.

Now, forgive me, but sometimes I like to play devil’s advocate with these claims. Not because I disagree with them, but because I want to make sure I understand them. The first objection that came to mind was, “But this doesn’t apply to someone who intentionally manipulated the circumstances to appear as if he were fulfilling the prophecies. Can’t a critic simply claim that Jesus only fulfilled the prophecies because he was trying to? If so, the whole ‘argument from compound probability’ falls apart.”

Fair enough. There are certainly examples where Jesus specifically tried to fulfill prophecies. In Matthew 21 Jesus instructs his disciples to bring him a young donkey in order to fulfill the prophecy in Zechariah 9. Matthew 4 states that Jesus ministered in Galilee to fulfill a prophecy in Isaiah 9. A dozen similar examples of “intentional fulfillment” come to mind.

But.

The more I considered the prophecies that Jesus fulfilled, the more I realized how many of them a mere man would have little to no control over.  Here are only a few of the more notable ones. The odds of Jesus fulfilling these alone are unfathomable.

  1. Born in the obscure little town of Bethlehem (Micah 5:2).
  2. Born of a virgin (Isaiah 7:14).
  3. From the tribe of Judah (Genesis 49:10) and the family of David (Isaiah 11:1).
  4. A messenger would come before him to prepare the way (Isaiah 40:3; Malachi 3:1). There is no reasonable evidence that Jesus engineered the ministry of John the Baptist in order to fulfill these prophecies.
  5. Hands and feet pierced (Psalm 22:16).
  6. His executioners divided up his garments and cast lots for them (Psalm 22:18).
  7. He was given vinegar to drink on the cross (Psalm 69:21).
  8. None of his bones were broken. This fulfills the statement about the Messiah in Psalm 34:20 as well as the prophetic type of the Passover Lamb, whose bones were not to be broken (Exodus 12:46). This is particularly impressive given that the criminals being crucified with Jesus had their legs broken to speed the process; but they did not break Jesus’ bones because he was already dead at that point.
  9. He was pierced through (Zechariah 12:10).