Archive for August, 2014
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.