Thursday, October 27, 2011

Is Tithing A Law, Part 4

Every kingdom has laws and principles. The just shall live by faith! Faith is a medium of exchange. Every kingdom on earth and even Heaven’s Kingdom has a medium of exchange. In America, it’s the US dollar. Go to Europe, it’s the euro. Go to Iraq, it’s the dinar. Go to India, it’s the rupee. Go to Thailand, it’s the bhat. Go to the Dominican or Mexico, it’s the peso. Every kingdom has a medium of exchange, and what is the purpose? Exchanging goods and services. You pay, you receive, right?

Well, the Kingdom of Heaven has a medium of exchange as well. It’s called, “faith.” Faith is the medium of exchange in God’s Kingdom, just as currency is the medium of exchange in earthly kingdoms. And I think this may be one of the reasons that Scripture speaks so much in regard to money, wealth, and prosperity. It talks more about money than hell and heaven!

So it’s an important issue, particularly to God, and stewardship is an equally important topic. We need to talk about that. Now, I want you to keep in mind that faith is a principle. It is not simply a formula by which we live. Many have tried to utilize faith more as a formula than as a principle.

A principle is defined as follows: “It is a comprehensive and fundamental law, a rule or code of conduct, a primary source, the origin.”

Faith is a principle. On the other hand, many try to use it as a formula.

A formula is, “A set form of words that is used in a ceremony or a ritual. It is a conventionalized statement intended to express some fundamental truth or principle, but it has become conventionalized.”

Sayings like, “Oh, I’m blessed nonetheless.” We think that’s faith. We complain over here and then say, “You know my dog died, my house burned down, they came and repossessed my car, but I’m blessed, nonetheless.”

And so out of one side of our mouth proceeds cursing, while at the same time, and out of the other side of our mouth, comes blessing. And all the while the Scripture says that, “The just shall live by faith.” And faith is not denying your house is burning while flames engulf it. Faith is a principle and not simply a formula, not a catchphrase.

Now, Paul is speaking to the Galatians because they’ve been bewitched by Israelites who were trying to subject them to the Law. Church, we must not allow ourselves to be led astray. Another word for “bewitched” is to be “beguiled” or to be “deceived.” Paul makes a very clear point here and in other places where he is writing to believers. He states that we are saved by grace, not by works, lest any man boast. The great Martin Luther revelation was that we are justified by grace, through faith.

Faith is the dynamic that releases the grace of God and causes a man, woman, or child to be saved; it’s by grace. And Paul says, “You’ve begun in the Spirit, now don’t allow yourselves to get into the flesh.” And so today, I want you to ask yourself why you give. Why do you bring an offering to the Lord? Why do you pay your tithes? Why do you bring tithes to honor God? If it’s simply to avoid a curse, then you are living in bondage to the Law. That’s called, “F.E.A.R.” I don’t want God to curse me, so I’m going to pay my tithe. Do you really think that God is such a manipulator? He’s not manipulating you, and He’s not looking for you to manipulate Him with the following: “I’m going to tithe so God can open up the windows of Heaven so that He will pour me out such a blessing that there will not be room enough to contain.” That’s trying to manipulate God!

Jesus said, “Except our righteousness exceeds that of the Pharisees.” That’s what the Pharisees lived by, the Law. Jesus said, “Except your righteousness exceed that of the Pharisees, you will not see the Kingdom of God!”

And why didn’t Jesus talk more about tithing? Over the years, you must have asked yourself that. As many times as we’ve had opportunity to give at offering time, we’re always using the same Scriptures. You know why? It’s because in the New Testament, there’s not much written about the tithe. In fact, you can look it up under “tithe, tithing, tithes, tither,” I bet you wouldn’t find more than six examples, probably four.

And in one of them, Jesus was talking to the Pharisees. He said, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone.”

Nowhere in the New Testament does it command us to tithe. Why? I just had to ask that question the other day. “God why didn’t you just make it plain?” Well, because when the New Testament was written, it was a given. The Israelites, they knew they were supposed to tithe. They were tithers! Think of the rich young ruler. “I’ve don’t this, this, this, and this . . .” And it was answered unto him, “Yeah, but one thing you lack.”

Why is that? It’s because God is looking for more than the tithe. It’s not so much what we do, but why we do it. It’s called the motivation behind one’s actions. Jesus didn’t have to address the issue of tithing. People in the synagogues were doing that. He said, “Except our righteousness exceeds that of the Pharisees.” Even the Jewish community and heathens regarded the Pharisees as the most righteous group of people on the earth. These were righteous people! They appeared to live according to the Law of God. They went to great extravagance and extremes to abide by the Law of God, and they were faithful to tithe.

Jesus said, “That’s okay, but what you’ve neglected to do, which is even more important, is that you’ve neglected to do justice, you’ve neglected to show mercy, you’ve neglected to walk by faith!” Wow, might I remind you that if you’re tithing to avoid the curse according to the Law given by Moses, I want to give you a heads up. You probably owe God a whole bunch of money. I’m just saying.

According to the Law of Moses, there were three tithes: the Levitical Tithe, the Festival Tithe, and the Welfare Tithe (to take care of every three years in order to provide for widows and orphans). So if you’re only living according to the 10% rule so that God won’t curse you, you ought to be thankful God is not the IRS, or you’d be getting a dirty letter in the mail that told you how much you owe in penalties and back fees! You don’t even have to call Bender and Bender. I just gave you some tax relief, as ultimately, the tithe was like a tax.

It really boils down to getting out from under the idea of being subject to the Law in regard to tithing and beginning to operate under the principle of sowing and reaping. There’s a bit more that I’d like to share in regard to this topic, and I’ll include that in my next blog.

~ pg

Monday, October 24, 2011

Is Tithing A Law, Part 3

We’re continuing with the topic regarding tithing and how it relates to the Law. I want us to consider Abraham just for a moment. And I’m going to use an obvious example, as it’s probably one we can all relate to.

Many of you know Brother Ray. He’s one of the foremost Bible researchers in our church. I remember him teaching one time regarding the Law of First Mention. That is going back to the place in Scripture wherein something is mentioned for the first time. We’ll see where that concept comes into play as we look at the following.

Why did Abram give tithes to Melchizedek? Did you ever think about that? Remember how Sodom and Gomorrah had been raided, Lot had been taken captive, Abram got his guys together, and they went to save Lot? They destroyed the enemy, and then they came back with the spoils of battle. Suddenly there is this strange thing in Scripture, almost like an enigma. Melchizedek, whom we know little about (we don’t know who his father was, who his mother was, where he came from, or where he went), suddenly appears to Abram. He’s the King of Salem, which means, “peace.” Jerusalem means, “new peace.”

So, here’s Melchizedek, and he mysteriously appears out of nowhere, right? He speaks a blessing over Abram, and the Scripture says that Abram gave tithes to Melchizedek. This is the first mention of the tithe in Scripture. Now we know there were other offerings presented to God as early as Cain and Abel back in Genesis 4. I’m really going to zero in on the tithe in this message because if it’s a reasonable question to ask, “Why did Abram pay tithes to Melchizedek,” the follow-up question would probably be, “Why are we paying tithes to God?” You may want to ask yourself that question. If you’re a tither, why do you tithe? That’s really the essence of this message.

You might say, “Because Malachi 3 says that if I don’t, I’m cursed with a curse, right”? So a lot of people tithe in order to avoid the curse. I did that for years, even preached it. God knows how many people I put in bondage including myself. You see, Malachi chapter 3 was really a directive towards the priesthood, the Levites. So we’re all tithing in order to get God to open the windows of heaven and pour us out a blessing that there shall not be room enough to contain, and we do it also because we don’t want to be cursed with a curse. That is living under the Law.

To be cursed, in simple terms, it is not always the pronouncement of something bad happening to you. In other words, we all know that we live under grace. Here’s the problem: we live with one foot under grace and one foot under the Law, depending upon what topic we’re discussing. That’s how the Galatians were. That’s why Paul said, “Who’s bewitched you?” Malachi 3 was written as under the Law, that had to do with Israel living under the Law. What they were doing was a violation of the Law, the Mosaic Law, which had been passed down from generation to generation. It was not because of laws and principles. We are still to live according to the principles of Scripture.

In fact, I would go as far to say that we live according to a higher law. Everybody is familiar with the law of gravity, right? The law of gravity says that if you knock something off the table, it’s going to fall down. I bet if I was standing in front of a table that had a bottle of water on it, and I knocked the bottle off a thousand times, it would hit the floor a thousand times, unless there’s a higher law. It would be the “law of the catch” in this case. It’s somewhat like aviation. Aviation defies gravity; it supersedes it. I believe we live by a higher law than the Law. The principle, or law, that we live under is that of sowing and reaping. And this isn’t just a New Testament principle. In fact, it dates back prior to Abraham! Look at Noah. Genesis chapter 8, Noah gets off the boat, builds an altar, and offers a sacrifice to God. God comes and speaks with him: “I’m not going to do this again; I’m not going to destroy the earth and mankind again the way I did this time.”

And then in Genesis 8, God says, “As long as the earth remains, seedtime and harvest (summer and winter) will not pass away.” “Seedtime and harvest” is a law. It goes something like this: You plant a seed, and you get a harvest. That’s easy for us to understand. Nobody ever planted a seed without expecting the seed to sprout. If you did, you’d be wasting your time! You might as well eat the seed.

I will continue with this topic in the next blog. Thank you for taking the time to join me on this journey of bringing clarity to this often misunderstood subject.

~ pg

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Is Tithing A Law, Part 2

In the first part of “Is Tithing A Law,” we talked about the difference between a principle and a law. We’re going to pick up from there and look at Galatians 3. In this passage, we will discover a couple of very important truths. The first point I want to make is this: to whom is Paul writing? He’s writing to Galatian believers, and in this region, they were primarily Gentiles. That is an important point.

Another key point is this: the Law was given to Israel. Notice I didn’t say, “laws and principles.” There are still laws and principles we live by. The Law, speaking of the Mosaic Law, was given to the people of Israel. It doesn’t mean we should totally ignore it, and it doesn’t mean that we should just do away with it. Jesus did not come to do away with it, but rather to fulfill it. And actually, Jesus even said, “That unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20).

Now the Pharisees lived by the Law as given by God primarily through Moses. They were legalistic. Now we live under grace and not under Law, right? Paul basically told the Roman believers that even though they were under grace, that they should not let that be a license to sin. Now he was not referring to mere biblical principles by which to live. We’re under grace and not under the Law. He was talking about the Law that was given to Israel. We ought to be thankful that we are not subject to the Law. But we must also understand that God did not give the Law in order to put His people in bondage; He gave them the Law to teach them how to live. They were coming out of four hundred years of slavery wherein they were surrounded by a totally ungodly culture/society. They did not know how to live any other way other than what they had been raised in and had become accustomed to.

That brings to mind, to some degree, folks in the church today who don’t know how to live any other way except like that of one in bondage to ungodly situations and/or cultures. Israel was coming out of that, and God gave the Law to Moses so that he could ordain the Levitical priesthood (who set forth the lifestyle by which Israel was to live). He was so thorough in the Law that He even talked about relationships, how they were to deal with their animals, how to treat one another, how to handle their money, and He even talks about their diet, if you can believe that! And if you read about the Levitical diet, God didn’t come up with it simply because He has a personal thing against Carolina barbecue or with pig pickin’s! It was God declaring, “This is good for you, this is not. I want you to be strong and live long, so I’m telling you what to eat so that you may maintain a healthy lifestyle.”

If you have any nutritional knowledge and compare the Levitical diet to the S.A.D. (Standard American Diet, aka, sad), it will be easy to see which one is the better diet/lifestyle! It wasn’t a matter of subjecting them to the Law so that they may be in bondage; it was a matter of instructing them how to live so that they might be blessed. Many times we in the Church, particularly in the modern Church, have a skewed view of the Law, of biblical laws, and of reverencing God. It’s apparent in our lifestyles, even in the way that we do church.

In Galatians 3:1, Paul says, “Oh, foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you?” You all remember that TV show, right? The one wherein the lady would wiggle her nose. “Who has bewitched you?” The Galatian believers had been bewitched. They loved God; they probably went to church. And Paul says, “Who has bewitched you? Who has deceived you? Who has put these things into your mind?

There were Jewish believers who were trying to subject non-Jewish believers to the Law. Not so much to the principles or to the laws to govern life, but to the Mosaic Law. They would make claims such as, “If you’re not circumcised, then you’re not saved.” I’ve heard preachers, even in my generation, make claims such as, “If you received Christ, but didn’t get water baptized, and you got hit by a car and killed, then you weren’t really saved because you hadn’t been water baptized. I’ve heard people say that about communion and speaking in tongues as well.

The Galatian believers had been bewitched by those who were living under the Law. Now, if they were living under the Law, it was a given that they were Israelites. They were Jews. Nothing wrong with being Jewish; this is not an anti-Semitic message. But those of the Jewish belief were trying to convince Gentile believers that they were still subject to the Law, when all the while, the Law was given specifically to Israel. “Who has bewitched you that you should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed among you as crucified? This only, I want to learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by the hearing of faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh?” My pastor used to tell us that it’s much better to start off in the flesh and end up in the Spirit than it is to start in the Spirit and end up in the flesh.

“Have you suffered so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? Therefore He who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you, does He do it by the works of the Law, or by the hearing of faith? Just as Abraham ‘believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.’”

Was Abraham considered righteous in the eyes of Jehovah God? And what was it that caused him to be seen as righteous other than his faith? It was not his works. He believed God, and it was accounted to him as righteousness, and that was even before circumcision. So it could not be the act of circumcision that caused him to be seen as righteous. And may I remind you that this took place four hundred years prior to the Law being given to Israel. So the Law did not make him righteous; there was no Law. Abraham acted in faith; he believed God and acted in faith, and it was accounted to him as righteousness in the eyes of God. Verse 7, “Therefore know that only those who are of faith,” not just those who have it, but those who are of it, “are sons of Abraham.” Wow! We are the sons of Abraham.

I'm going to stop here. In the next blog, we will look at how all of the above directly relates to tithing.

~ pg

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Is Tithing A Law?

How many of you believe, as the Scripture says, that the just shall live by faith? Do you really believe that? You should try saying this aloud, “The just shall live by faith. I am ‘just’; therefore, I will live by faith. I walk by faith and not by sight because I am just in the eyes of God.”

You know at least three times in the New Testament and a couple of times in the Old, we read this statement that, “the just shall live by faith.” To be “the just” means, in other words, to be the justified: those who are seen as not guilty in the eyes of God. Do you know that that’s how God sees you?

So no matter how guilty you think you are, God says, “No, you’re not.” And it’s kind of like we’re standing in a courtroom before Almighty God, and we have Jesus as our Advocate standing next to us, and God declares us “Not Guilty,” and we want to keep saying, “No, Your Honor, I really did it.” He then responds with, “You are NOT GUILTY.” Then we counter, “But, You don’t understand, I did it!” He replies, “I said, ‘NOT GUILTY.’” We want to get into an argument with God about our guilt, and the whole time God is trying to say, “You are declared, ‘NOT GUILTY!’”

Now we all know that you really did it. But when you confess your sin, He’s faithful and just to forgive you and to cleanse you from all of your unrighteousness, or in other words, all of your guilt, right? He washes it all away; it’s gone.

So the Scripture says that the just shall live by faith. Faith is a principle of God’s Kingdom. Every kingdom has a set of principles or laws by which the citizenry lives. Can we agree on that? If I live in America, I am to live according to the laws of the land. If I go to South Africa, guess what? The laws are different, and if I don’t heed the traffic laws of South Africa, I will very soon find myself in a head-on collision with another automobile, because in my opinion, they drive on the wrong side of the road!

But according to South African law, you are to drive on the left and not on the right. Right? No left! Did you get that? So every kingdom, area of domain, has a prescribed set of principles by which the citizens are to live. God’s Kingdom is certainly no exception.

A short time ago, I remember making a statement about how we sometimes get hung up on legalism. If you are one who is hypersensitive about that word/concept, then you might have a real problem with God, because oftentimes, God might appear to be legalistic. For instance, He says, “Do this; don’t do that. If you do this, you will be blessed. If you do that, over there, the opposite of it, you will not be blessed.” And if we’re not careful, that may sound a bit like legalism to our ears. All the while, God is giving us laws or principles, which are synonymous, by which we are to live because He wants us to prosper and have good health, as it states in 3 John 2.

Now if we’re going to prosper and have good health, wouldn’t we be wise to apply His principles to our lives? Do we think it’s just, fair, or equitable to live in a constant state of disobedience and expect the blessings of God to flow freely in our lives? Does that make sense? It certainly does not line up with the Word of God. In this series of blogs, there will be times that I refer to “laws.” When you hear me say that, I am simultaneously speaking of “principles,” as they are synonymous.

A principle is a law. It is a sure thing. Now, if you hear me say, “the Law,” I’m talking about something entirely different, and it’s important to understand the difference between the two and keep this in mind because the Kingdom of God is established on certain principles such as faith. Without faith it’s impossible to please God. The just shall live by faith. And how about this one: Abraham believed God, had faith in God, and trusted God. It was accounted to him as righteousness.

The Bible is actually a book of principles by which we, God’s people, are instructed to live. We are not to be ones who are simply looking for a religious experience. We’re not to be merely religious. We’re certainly not to become legalistic as the Pharisees did. However, it is important to keep in mind that God promises to bless us as we walk in the obedience that comes from faith. I’m talking about the same kind of faith that is expressed and illustrated in the life of Abraham.

We can expect the blessings of God to flow unhindered in our lives when we are a people who live principled lives based upon the Word of God.

I’ll be continuing this for the next couple of weeks in order to bring clarity to a variety of topics that are interrelated: the Law, principles, laws, obedience, blessing, curses, and tithing.

~ pg