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The Prickliest Topic in Christianity

Posted by mercycounseling on July 9, 2019 at 7:15 AM

The Prickliest Topic in Christianity


Part One: Than Came Grace


It came to me in the still of early morning darkness, as I roused from sleep. A question floated into my consciousness, a gentle whisper: Why are you willing to spend $20 on lunch with a friend, but you only put $10 in the offering plate at the church you are visiting? As I mused on this, I didn’t feel shamed or guilty, but I realized it was a valid question I needed to consider. Tithes, offerings, and gifts—they’re all relevant to the question—and these became the subject of my inquiry.


To tithe or not to tithe, that is the disputed question. 


The concept of tithing belongs to Old Covenant law. When God brought the 12 tribes of the children of Israel into the promised land, he divided that land among 11 tribes; but for the tribe of Levi no land was given. Levi was the priestly tribe, and because there was no inheritance in the land for them (thus no way to make a living), the Lord commanded that all the other tribes contribute one-tenth (a tithe) of their increase to the Levites for their living and so that they could make the offerings mandated by law. The Levites, in turn, were commanded to give a tithe (one-tenth) of their income to God’s treasury. (Numbers 18:26)


The tithe was mandatory under the Mosaic law, but are Christians bound by it? The answer is “No,” as supported by New Covenant scripture.


With the New Covenant entered a new High Priest—Jesus. He is not of the tribe of Levi but was born into the tribe of Judah. No such commandment was ever given under the Old Covenant to give tithes to Judah. (Hebrews 7:14)


Under the New Covenant, giving is indeed encouraged; but when to give, to whom to give, and how much to give are left to the discretion of the giver. Most notable among these scriptures is Paul’s recounting of the story of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11). In the early church the people were described as living a communal life, selling all their possessions and laying the proceeds at the Apostles’ feet (however, this was not mandatory). Then the wealth was distributed to each according to need. Ananias and his wife Sapphira colluded to sell their land and keep back part of the proceeds but pretended they were giving it all. Peter confronted them for lying to the Holy Spirit and they both were struck dead. Here are the words of Peter that punctuate the notion of free-will offering:


“Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back part of the price of the land for yourself? While it remained, was it not your own? And after it was sold, was it not in your own control? Why have you conceived this thing in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.” (Acts 5:3-4)


In the New Testament, the word “tithes” is only used five times, and it appears only in the context of Old Covenant giving. The concept of mandatory tithing is converted to a system of voluntary giving, as the word is changed from “tithes” to “gifts and offerings.” This makes complete sense! Under the Old Covenant, there was no guarantee of eternal salvation. The people were shackled under a system of works that had to be repeated again and again. God demanded of them their tithes. But under the New Covenant, God guarantees eternal salvation by offering a gift—His Son, Jesus Christ—who died for our sins and rose from the dead to pave the way for us to live forever. It is through faith in Jesus Christ alone that we are saved. We no longer have to give, we only have to receive. This is grace!


Part Two: Substantive Realities 


Being freed from the law in Christ, then, there is still much to consider about our pattern of giving. Note especially 2 Corinthians 9:7,


“Every man according as he purposes in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loves a cheerful giver.”


What Paul is saying is that no one should give because he feels coerced or because he “has to.” There is no “has to” anymore. Rather, we are free to give because we want to; and this is pleasing to God. As always, God is interested in your heart, not your pocketbook. 


Coerced giving leads to many kinds of sin. If you give begrudgingly, your heart will not be in agreement with the action. You, however, may not feel free to express your disagreement. This leads to passive-aggressive behavior in which you allow anger or fear to fester, causing you to live a lie. The one(s) who coerce you are also sinning, because they have broken one of the great commandments: love your neighbor as yourself. Arm-twisting manipulation is always a sin.


Setting aside these negatives, let’s go on to consider a fact: it takes resources to support the church. Even if a few people meet in someone’s living room as a house church, there will be expenses. To my thinking, keeping a right conscience toward your church (and God) includes contributing to keeping the church going.


In closing, I want to encourage you to take time to meditate on this prickly, though important topic. Why do you give the amount you do? What are the emotions you feel concerning it? Are you able to give freely and joyfully? If not, why not? If not, how can this be resolved?


The decision to give and how much is yours alone. Whatever you do, just own it. Is not the money in your own hand? (2 Corinthians 9:7) God has blessed you with the right to choose how to spend your resources. I pray that you will honor Him not only with your hand, but also with your heart.


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