In Sunday’s sermon, “Relieving Suffering with the Grace of Giving,” we explored one of the New Testament’s most beautiful passages on the supernatural joy of the gospel that overflows in generosity. With the subject of giving often comes the question of the tithe. What is the Old Testament background to the idea of a tithe and should New Testament Christians practice it?
Originally published in Christianity today, here’s a simple Q&A on the question of the tithe with D.A. Carson.
Question: The tithe is clearly taught in the Old Testament, but in the New Testament it seems to be downplayed. Are those of us who give 10 percent of our income doing something not required?
–K. Dale Miller, Wilmore, Kentucky
Answer: A simple yes or no to this question would be horribly misleading.
We know that the law of Moses mandated the tithe (see Lev. 27:30–33), at least in part to support the ministry of the Levites (Num. 18:21–24). Like many other laws, however, it was frequently observed in the breach, although the prophets insisted that failure to pay the tithe was nothing less than robbing God (Mal. 3:6–12).
There were also offerings to be paid. Moreover, faithful Israelites were to be generous with their alms, so that the poor of the land were supported.
In practice, the prophets found themselves inveighing against greed and social injustice (e.g., Amos) and against a raw form of capitalism that squeezed out the poor (Isa. 5:8–10). In other words, even within the Old Testament we should be careful not to isolate the tithe from broader demands of generosity and social justice.
The only passage in the New Testament that explicitly authorizes the tithe does so in a rather backhanded way: “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices . . . . But you have neglected the more important matters of the law–justice, mercy, and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former” (Matt. 23:23, NIV).
Jesus’ primary point, of course, is to criticize the scrupulous tithing of even a few herbs grown in the back garden if it is at the expense of fundamental issues of justice, integrity, and mercy. But one might have expected Jesus to say, “You should have practiced the latter, and let the herbs take care of themselves”–or some thing equally dismissive. Instead, he says, “You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.”
After the Cross and the Resurrection, the New Testament provides no passage with the same explicit conclusion. That raw fact leads to all the usual debates about the nature of the continuity and discontinuity between the old and new covenants.
Does the tithe continue as a divine mandate because it has not been explicitly abrogated? Or is it part of the “old order” that is passing away?
However we resolve that broad question, all sides agree that some New Testament writers insist that Christians be a giving, generous people (1 Tim. 6:18). So, at very least, we must insist that believers under both covenants are expected to give generously.
Some may wonder, Is the dispute about nothing more than the amount? Is there something about 10 percent that is entrenched in moral law?
The following two points will help focus the issue.
1. Beware of pride. There is always a great spiritual danger in thinking that if in some area we have satisfied a specific, concrete demand we have done everything that God requires. Ten percent is a lot of money to some folks; to others it’s not very much. Isn’t that one of the lessons to be learned from Jesus’ comments about the widow’s mite? To suppose that God demands 10 percent–and nothing more–can itself foster a remarkably independent and idolatrous attitude: “This bit is for God, and the rest is mine by right.” Likewise, if you choose to give more than 10 percent, you may become inebriated from the contemplation of your own generosity.
2. Remember why you’re giving. A strictly legal perspective on giving soon runs into a plethora of complicated debates. Is this 10 percent of gross income or of net? How does this play out in a country where a progressive income-tax system rises to 90 percent of in come? If we choose to tithe from our net income, are we talking “take-home pay” only, or does it include what is withheld for medical insurance and retirement benefits?
It would be easy to list such questions for a page or two without ever asking, “How can I manage my affairs so that I can give more?” That is surely a better question than “What’s the correct interpretation so that I can do whatever’s required and then get on with my life?” Christians will want to acknowledge with gratitude that they are mere stewards of all that they “possess.” Moreover, New Testament ethics turn not so much on legal prescription as on lives joyfully submitted to God.
This is why the most penetrating New Testament passage on giving is 2 Cor. 8–9. Under severe trial, the Corinthians’ “overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity” (8:2). Even so, they first gave themselves to the Lord (2 Cor. 8:5).
So, why not aim for 20 percent in your giving? Or 30? Or more, depending on your circumstances (2 Cor. 8:12)? “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that . . . for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9).
We’re four weeks away from a concert of worship here at DSC with Keith and Kristyn Getty. If you’re not familiar with their names, you are likely still familiar with some of the modern hymns they’ve written for the church. “In Christ Alone,” and “By Faith,” are two songs we sing at DSC from time to time. The concert will begin at 6:30 PM on Saturday, September 20. Click here to register. The cost is $15.
To give you a sense of what to expect on Saturday evening, September 20th, sample from or buy this album and check out a few of these songs recorded live at The Gospel Coalition‘s 2013 National Conference.
“In Christ Alone”
“Christ Is Risen, He Is Risen Indeed!”
“Oh How Good It Is”
Sunday’s message, “Redemptive Suffering,” raised the crucial though delicate subject of church discipline. Church discipline is that loving process whereby God, through his people, addresses us in our sin for our restoration to him, to his people, and for his glory. This is a profoundly biblical subject, it’s as serious as eternity, but it’s a topic that usually raises questions and needs some attention to provide a truly clear biblical picture.
We cover this subject in some depth in our membership class, Knowing Christ, Knowing the Church, and our commitment to one another is expressed in our Covenant of Fellowship. We’ve also touched on it on the blog here over the past few years (see here and here). But now is a good time to hit the topic here again since in Ryan just preached on discipline.
This time, we’re going to point you to a few helpful resources on the topic. If you had to read one article and one book, follow the first two links on this list.
- “A Church Discipline Primer,” an article by Jonathan Leeman
- Church Discipline: How the Church Protects the Name of Jesus, a book by Jonathan Leeman (an excellent, short, and accessible introduction also available at the Book Nook)
- The Church and the Surprising Offense of God’s Love: Reintroducing the Doctrines of Church Membership and Discipline, a book by Jonathan Leeman (a long, thorough, and even scholarly treatment of the whole Bible’s teaching)
- “What is Church Discipline?” A short video and one page summary of the main Scriptures on the topic from 9Marks.
- “A Redemptive Judgment,” a sermon by Ryan Kelly
- “What are the benefits of practicing church discipline?,” an article by Mark Dever
- “Why is “discipline” not a negative but a positive thing?,” an article by Mark Dever
- “When Should a church practice church discipline?,” an article by Mark Dever
- “Can church members simply resign their membership in order to avoid church discipline?,” an article by Jonathan Leeman
- “Is a Church in Sin If They Do NOT Practice Discipline?” an article by Thabiti Anyabwile
- “What to Say to Non-Committal Church Attenders,” an article by Jonathan Leeman
- “More Than Worth It: Costs and Benefits of Church Discipline,” an article by Wyman Richardson
If you haven’t taken the membership class yet, you should consider joining us for this class. Knowing Christ, Knowing the Church runs for eight Wednesday nights from 6:30-8:30 PM starting on September 3. Check the bulletin for details and register on Sunday morning at the Welcome Center. Childcare is available. And, by the way, this class doubles as a general introduction to Christianity, Christian doctrine and practice, and the Bible. So, if you’ve taken it before or if are uncertain about membership here yet, you are still welcome to join.
The band, Jars of Clay, got their name from the Bible. Perhaps you knew that, but perhaps you haven’t known where in the Bible that name came from or really understood the full meaning of that expression. It comes from 2 Corinthians 4:7. We’re clay jars. The gospel is the treasure on display in our lives.
On Sunday we’ll hear the second message in a four part series, Treasure in Jars of Clay, a complement to our previous series in Job. This series takes us to the New Testament book of 2 Corinthians for some of the Bible’s most important and full teaching on the subject of suffering in Christian life.
One thing that we learn from the book of Job that becomes even more profoundly clear as the Bible unfolds is God’s purpose to make himself known in and through the suffering of his people. Here’s how Ryan put it on Sunday:
Imagine a mother whose baby is never sick, in need, crying, or hurting. Most moms, if given the choice, would probably want that kind of baby, for mom’s own sanity and out of love for her baby, wanting the baby to never have to suffer. But in such an imaginary world, there are certain motherly instincts and characteristics that that un-needy baby would never know; that a watching world would never see. A mother’s soft arms, and gentle-yet-secure embrace, her prayers over an injury, her sweet singing to quiet her baby’s crying — these will never be experienced. The baby might grow up to hear in theory that mom is a tender care-taker, compassionate, but if there are no tears to wipe, if there is no restlessness to console, no booboos to kiss, there is a part of that mom that the baby never experiences.
Now, no mom is glad her baby is hurting so that she can comfort him or her. But let’s not forget that the Bible tells us everywhere that God is intent to show us who he is and what he’s like. There are verses all over the Bible which tell us of God doing this or that for his glory, his fame, his name. Isaiah 48:9-12, for example: “For my name’s sake I defer my anger, for the sake of my praise I restrain it . . . for my own sake, I do it, for how should my name be profaned? My glory I will not give to another. I am he; I am the first, and I am the last.”
In other words, as Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 4:7, “we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.”
This Sunday’s message, “Redemptive Suffering,” will be from 2 Corinthians 2:1-11. Read ahead, invite a friend, and we’ll see you on Sunday.
On Sunday we wrapped up our series through Job, Out of the Whirlwind, with a final message, “The Latter Days of Job.” By the end of the book it became clear that God had not and was not going to explain to Job the answer to the question for why he was suffering. He never learned about the heavenly conversation between the Lord and Satan that kicked off the trouble in his life.
God didn’t forget. The “why?” question is not a question God is obligated to answer for us. But in the course of the book of Job, God did answer a number of other questions for us. Here are ten.
1. Is God sovereign over suffering and evil?
Absolutely. In the first two chapters we see that Satan, though allowed to pursue many of his wicked purposes, is yet constrained by what God does or does not allow him to do. The book tells us that Job did not sin when he said things like, “The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD” or “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” (Job 1:21; 2:10). As Martin Luther famously said, Satan is the Lord’s Satan.
2. Is God therefore evil?
Absolutely not. Remember, Satan had his sinister purpose to defame God and hurt Job, and while God allowed him to pursue Job he did so for a reason of his own. The Lord was vindicating his name and purifying Job’s faith from residual pride. God is sovereign over cruelty, but God is not cruel. Many verses in Scripture speak to this explicitly (James 1:13; 1 John 1:5). The book of Job presents us with a view of God’s sovereignty that is not flat, but complex. The unseen world involves many different players, and yet the Lord is the Lord of them all.
3. Does everyone who claims to speak for God actually speak for God?
Thank God, no. Many people will claim to speak for God and speak falsely about him. This is what Job’s three friends were guilty of, and at the end of the book they are rebuked by the Lord. Sufferers should be patient with those who can’t understand their suffering and say things that are untrue even if from good intentions. And yet where God is spoken for falsely, this should be rejected and corrected.
4. Is my suffering because of my sin?
There are several kinds of suffering presented to us in the Bible. There’s fallen world suffering. The creation is groaning and everywhere around us we see the effects of God’s curse on creation because of sin. There’s foolishness and sin suffering illustrated time and again in the book of Proverbs. Sometimes God gives us over to our sinful desires, and our sins bring with them consequences that God has built into the order of the universe. Then, there’s discipline suffering. This is where God graciously steers us toward repentance. If we have been indulging in sin and we think we’ve been found out, perhaps this is it. But much of our suffering is just random and horrible. This the kind that Job is meant to address.
5. Is God using my pain for some good purpose?
Thank God, Yes. He is always doing that for his children. Job was a better man at the end of the book than before. Job knew God better at the end of the book than before. God is doing a thousand things in our suffering, and one of them is bringing about humility and the purification of our faith, a precious gift indeed (Job 42:1-6; Romans 8:28; 2 Corinthians 12:7-10; 1 Peter 1:6-7).
6. Is it okay to grieve deeply for a loss or is that a sign that I’m not trusting in God?
It most certainly is ok to grieve. We should expect any good father to grieve at news of the death of his kids. Job grieved deeply and blessed the Lord through tears. Jesus wept at the tomb of Lazarus. Paul pleaded with the Lord to remove his thorn. Deep grief is not incompatible with deep faith.
7. Should I attempt to comfort someone who is suffering incredible loss?
By all means and with much wisdom, Yes: sometimes with silence, sometimes with a hug, and sometimes with space. Sometimes with a note and often with a meal. Always by being available, sometimes with correction if their heart is hardening toward God. But never with a cookie-cutter answer for suffering, or in an academic formulaic uncaring manner. Always with a listening ear, always with a heavy heart, and, always with much patience.
8. Am I alone in my suffering?
No. Job has been there. And many others have gone before you. In fact, suffering seems to be a pretty common theme in Scripture. More than a theme, it is an indispensable part of Scripture’s story of salvation. Ask Joseph, or Moses, or David, or the prophets about suffering. Ask Jesus about suffering. Ask the New Testament Apostles about suffering. You are not alone. You are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, most of whom have suffered greatly (Hebrews 11:1-12:2)
9. Is there hope for the future?
Yes there is. In the story of the Bible there is a pattern of suffering and a pattern of glory to follow. Suffering to glory is the pattern of God’s salvation story. Again, ask Joseph, or Moses, or David, or the prophets. And of course, ask Jesus, “who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2).
On the topic of the future, when James turned to the book of Job for material he did so to make a point about suffering on the way to glory: “Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. . . . You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful” (James 5:7–11). So, how should we apply the book of Job? Wait patiently for Jesus to return. How should we apply the book of Job? Say with Paul, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18).
10. Who can separate us from the love of God in Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or danger, or sword, or the loss of our children, or the loss of our jobs, or Behemoth, or Leviathan, or anything else in all creation?
Well, this isn’t exactly a question from Job, but Job’s suffering sure raises the question. The answer? No one can separate us from the love of God in Christ. If God is for us, who can be against us?
The book of Job is about the God who is sovereign and good. It is also about the God who is bursting with compassion and with mercy. This rang out with profound clarity on the final page of the book.
Yes, because of Christ, God will graciously do for us in eternity what he did for Job on earth. The latter days of Job are a parable for the latter days of every Christian. Just read Revelation 21-22, a symbolic picture of the new creation. Job knew a restored relationship to God, and we will be God’s people and he will be with us as our God. He will dwell with us. Job had wealth in his latter days, and the new creation will be lined with streets made of gold. Job knew beauty in his latter days, and we will know beauty in our latter days. Job knew relationships in his latter days we will know the eternal depth of fellowship with one another in God’s presence free from sin. Job knew feasting in his latter days we will feast together at the marriage supper of the Lamb. Job knew comfort in his latter days, and God will wipe away every tear from our eyes. Job knew old age in his latter days, and in the new creation there will be a tree of life. In God’s presence we will never die.
In five weeks, we got through the book of Job, but there’s more treasure to find here. For a helpful sermon-like commentary on Job, get Job: The Wisdom of the Cross, by Christopher Ash, and check out Matthew Claridge’s interview with Christipher Ash over at Credo Magazine, published just this week.
It’s always time for a good post on time management. In his article, “Four Lessons in Fruitful Time-Management,” David Mathis has given us some important wisdom for a more fruitful and loving life.
Acts of love don’t just happen.
At times we may experience the power of the Spirit in such a way that some good deed seems to flow naturally from our heart, through our hands, to the benefit of others. But plucking a ripe raspberry from the bush in a moment doesn’t mean that it just appeared. Weeks and months of sunlight and rain, proper nutrients and right conditions, went into the slow daily growth of good fruit. And so it is with our acts of love for the good of others.
There is a process to the production of love, as the apostle Paul counsels his protégé Titus: “Let our people learn to devote themselves to good works, so as to help cases of urgent need, and not be unfruitful” (Titus 3:14). Good works don’t just happen. Meeting the needs of others doesn’t appear out of thin air. There is a process — a learning — to devote ourselves to good.
And one significant “spiritual discipline” is learning to manage our time in the mission of love, both in terms of proactive scheduling and planned flexibility. Previously, we suggested “fairly rigid blocks for our proactive labors, along with generous margin and planned flexibility to regularly meet the unplanned needs of others.” Now to the tune of making that more specific, here are four lessons in fruitful time-management, for the mission of love.
In the rest of the article, Mathis reflects on four lessons for managing our time:
- Consider your calling
- Plan with big stones
- Make the most of your mornings
- Create flexibility for meeting others’ needs
Read the whole thing here.
In Job 5:8–10, Job says, “As for me, I would seek God, and to God would I commit my cause, who does great things and unsearchable, marvelous things without number: he gives rain on the earth and sends waters on the fields.”
Why is God amazing? Rain! Really? Really.
Here’s a reflection by John Piper on rain in his article, “The Great Work of God: Rain.”
If you said to someone: “My God does great and unsearchable things; He does wonders without number,” and they responded, “Really? Like what?” would you say, “Rain”?
When I read these verses recently I felt like I did when I heard the lyrics to a Sonny and Cher song in 1969: “I’d live for you. I’d die for you. I’d even climb the mountain high for you.” Even? I would die for you. I would even climb a high mountain for you? The song was good for a joke. Or a good illustration of bad poetry. Not much else.
But Job is not joking. “God does great and unsearchable things, wonders without number.” He gives rain on the earth.” In Job’s mind, rain really is one of the great, unsearchable wonders that God does. So when I read this a few weeks ago, I resolved not to treat it as meaningless pop musical lyrics. I decided to have a conversation with myself (= meditation).
Is rain a great and unsearchable wonder wrought by God? Picture yourself as a farmer in the Near East, far from any lake or stream. A few wells keep the family and animals supplied with water. But if the crops are to grow and the family is to be fed from month to month, water has to come on the fields from another source. From where?
Well, the sky. The sky? Water will come out of the clear blue sky? Well, not exactly. Water will have to be carried in the sky from the Mediterranean Sea, over several hundred miles and then be poured out from the sky onto the fields. Carried? How much does it weigh? Well, if one inch of rain falls on one square mile of farmland during the night, that would be 27,878,400 cubic feet of water, which is 206,300,160 gallons, which is 1,650,501,280 pounds of water.
That’s heavy. So how does it get up in the sky and stay up there if it’s so heavy? Well, it gets up there by evaporation. Really? That’s a nice word. What’s it mean? It means that the water sort of stops being water for a while so it can go up and not down. I see. Then how does it get down? Well, condensation happens. What’s that? The water starts becoming water again by gathering around little dust particles between .00001 and .0001 centimeters wide. That’s small.
What about the salt? Salt? Yes, the Mediterranean Sea is salt water. That would kill the crops. What about the salt? Well, the salt has to be taken out. Oh. So the sky picks up a billion pounds of water from the sea and takes out the salt and then carries it for three hundred miles and then dumps it on the farm?
Well it doesn’t dump it. If it dumped a billion pounds of water on the farm, the wheat would be crushed. So the sky dribbles the billion pounds water down in little drops. And they have to be big enough to fall for one mile or so without evaporating, and small enough to keep from crushing the wheat stalks.
How do all these microscopic specks of water that weigh a billion pounds get heavy enough to fall (if that’s the way to ask the question)? Well, it’s called coalescence. What’s that? It means the specks of water start bumping into each other and join up and get bigger. And when they are big enough, they fall. Just like that? Well, not exactly, because they would just bounce off each other instead of joining up, if there were no electric field present. What? Never mind. Take my word for it.
I think, instead, I will just take Job’s word for it. I still don’t see why drops ever get to the ground, because if they start falling as soon as they are heavier than air, they would be too small not to evaporate on the way down, but if they wait to come down, what holds them up till they are big enough not to evaporate? Yes, I am sure there is a name for that too. But I am satisfied now that, by any name, this is a great and unsearchable thing that God has done. I think I should be thankful – lots more thankful than I am.