photo: Stellar Propeller Studio

Tithing as a New Covenant Discipline- Priesthood, Poor, and Pilgrimage

photo: Stellar Propeller Studio

In our Sunday gathering where we are working through the book of Acts. We are taking our time with the devotions and the ground-breaking generosity in Acts 2 so we can better understand giving from the bible and how to engage it as worship.

I am trying to discover the format to share these teachings with you. This one has the full audio recording but is briefer in writing, somewhere between the transcript format of Representative Rulership and the super-distilled short post format of  7 Results of Giving in the Bible. I would really love to hear which you find most useful if you have a moment to tell me via email, twitter, or Facebook. 

Today we are going to look at the pattern we see in the bible with the tithe, which means the tenth or 10%, and how that might inform us as we set ourselves about a disciplined regular generosity.

But first we have to have clarity about a bigger concept that will apply to a lot more than finances, and this is it:

Discipline is not Striving

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. Eph 2:8

But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. – Phil 3:7-11

Both of these scriptures make it very clear that when we talk about behaviors, disciplines, and walking in the way of the kingdom, we are never talking about doing something to gain righteousness by our own works. We are talking about how we live out the gift of God which is righteousness that is through faith, from God.

Striving in the flesh doesn’t have a view of the good news; it makes the action a way to achieve righteousness. Discipline is a worshipful response to all that Jesus has done for us.

Now let’s talk about how to engage a discipline of generosity that will be life-giving to us.

Discipline is Spiritual

We need to reclaim Christian action.

In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. – James 2:17 NIV

“For I am the least of the apostles, and not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me.” – 1 Cor 15:9-10 

Godly discipline labors according to grace. There is a holy striving according to the Spirit.

There is a fellowship with God that we enjoy when we choose to engage discipline by the power of God.

Discipline responds to and lives out the gospel and the way of Jesus, because it is Jesus in us, outworking the fruits of the Spirit. One of them is self-control.

We have to get over the idea that engaging a discipline–making a choice to do something that we may not always want to do–is religiosity or dead works.

We have to realize that God’s actually going to work self-control and self-discipline in us when He’s present with us.

For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline. – 2 Timothy 1:7

Seeking the Kingdom and Doing the Will

“Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.” What is the Kingdom of God? The Lord’s prayer may shed light on this. “Your Kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” The Kingdom of God comes when we do God’s will.

The Lord’s prayer draws a vital connection between faith and action. “Your kingdom come” is our faith, “your will be done” is our action.

Jesus confirmed that those who do the will of God are his family:

“Who is My mother and who are My brothers?” And stretching out His hand toward His disciples, He said, “Behold My mother and My brothers! “For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother.” – Matthew 12:49-50

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. – Matthew 7:24 NIV

Discipline yields a harvest

No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. – Hebrews 12:11

His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence…Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge, and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness, and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love. – 2 Peter 1

Discipline does not give us righteousness, but brings forth the harvest of righteousness in our lives.

We often say to our children, “Are you going to discipline yourself or do you need me to discipline you?”

We discipline so our kids now so they will ultimately have self-discipline. In walking out a mature kingdom life we all ought to have certain disciplines that we willingly take on, enjoying the fruit of them.

The Tithe is Only the Beginning

When Christ comes he ups the ante. Do not murder becomes don’t hate.

If God is dwelling in us, not only are we going to do the letter of the law, but we will keep the spirit of the law because God is within us doing it.

Do not commit adultery becomes do not look at a woman lustfully.

Do we think that the kingdom come will have less generosity than the old covenant?

While both the New and Old Testaments have many of offerings and commands to give generously, under the New Covenant our practice of generosity is much more demanding.

“The tithe simply is not a sufficiently radical concept to embody the carefree unconcern for possessions that marks life in the Kingdom of God. …Perhaps the tithe can be a beginning way to acknowledge God as the owner of all things, but it is only a beginning and not an ending.”

Richard Foster, Freedom of Simplicity

Competing for Hope

There are various sobering words in the new testament about how the love of money money fights for the allegiance of our heart.

“The love of money is the root of all sorts of evil.” – 1 Timothy 6:10

“but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful.”  – Mark 4:19 NIV

…for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. The eye is the lamp of the body; so then if your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light. “But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth. Matthew 6:21-24

The eye is what we look toward; What’s our vision? What holds our hope? Whatever it is, it will fill our whole body. If we hope in wealth it will deceive us. If our vision is to look to God and serve him, and not a lesser master, then our whole bodies will be full of light.

‘Now when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very corners of your field, nor shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest. ‘Nor shall you glean your vineyard, nor shall you gather the fallen fruit of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the needy and for the stranger. I am the LORD your God. – Leviticus 19:19

Do we spend all the way to the end of our provision? Or do we leave some around the edges for the stranger? What if we budgeted for groceries to always have a little extra food for whomever who drops by?

Why does God command this? The phrase that follows is “I am the Lord your God.”

If your hope is in your harvest then it will become your god. By giving we remind ourselves who our God is.

Generosity can be a way that we express who our God is when our hearts are there; but when our hearts aren’t there the discipline of generosity can restore us to the good news that God is the one who gives seed to the sower and bread for food.

So disciplined giving will keep our heart and vision in check.

We are not under the law but under grace (Romans 6:14), but as it says in Romans “whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction” so let’s look at the larger pattern of the tithe as found in the Old Testament (both before and in the Law of Moses) and draw some connections to the New Testament and our lives as we consider how to engage a New Covenant discipline of generosity.

Abram

Abram wins a battle and has all kinds of plunder. Melchizedek blessed Abraham then he reminded him who his source is:

“Blessed be Abram by God Most High,
Creator of heaven and earth.
And praise be to God Most High,
who delivered your enemies into your hand.”

Abe did business with the King, and refused to keep the rest of the plunder so the king of Sodom wouldn’t be able to say that he made Abram rich. Then God came to him.

“Do not be afraid, Abram.
I am your shield,
your very great reward. ”

But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.”

Then the word of the Lord came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir.” He took him outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”

Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness. – Genesis 14, selected

When we tithe and choose not to let money rule us, we’re creating a place where God can orchestrate provision on our behalf better than we can orchestrate it for ourselves.

Abraham, the father of faith, tithed to Melchizedek. In Hebrews 7 we see that Melchizedech is a picture of Christ and the writer explains that Christ is greater than the priesthood of Levi, and that in Abraham, the Levites tithed to Melchizedech. The writer of Hebrews places the whole tithing system under Christ.

Jacob

Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me and will keep me on this journey that I take, and will give me food to eat and garments to wear, and I return to my father’s house in safety, then the LORD will be my God. “This stone, which I have set up as a pillar, will be God’s house, and of all that You give me I will surely give a tenth to You.” Gen 28:20

Jacob pledged generosity out of his worship after his encounter with God. He had expectations for God to provide for him and pledged to rule his provision a certain way based on that belief.

Law of Moses

There are different tithes with different instructions: Do the tithes total 10% or 30% ? Are First fruits the same as tithes, or are they distinct from tithes? It’s good we’re not under the law because we could likely not figure out how to do it. We can definitely say this:

Generosity is a big value for God. Rather than figuring out the whole system or getting under all the blessings and curses of the Law of Moses, let’s look for the broader patterns it can reveal to us about how God wanted his people to give.

Here are a few scriptures to help illuminate the big themes, probably in order of the weight of their occurrences in the bible: Priesthood, Poor, and Pilgrimage.

1. Give to the Priesthood

“To the sons of Levi, behold, I have given all the tithe in Israel for an inheritance, in return for their service which they perform, the service of the tent of meeting. Then the LORD spoke to Aaron, “Now behold, I Myself have given you charge of My offerings, even all the holy gifts of the sons of Israel I have given them to you as a portion and to your sons as a perpetual allotment. This also is yours, the offering of their gift, even all the wave offerings of the sons of Israel; I have given them to you and to your sons and daughters with you as a perpetual allotment. Everyone of your household who is clean may eat it. All the best of the fresh oil and all the best of the fresh wine and of the grain, the first fruits of those which they give to the LORD, I give them to you. The first ripe fruits of all that is in their land, which they bring to the LORD, shall be yours; everyone of your household who is clean may eat it. – Numbers 18, selected

“And they exceeded our expectations: They gave themselves first of all to the Lord, and then by the will of God also to us.” – 2 Cor 8:5

Tithes and offerings must first be to God, then according to God’s will they are for people.

The Priesthood and their families ate the tithes, and many of the offerings.

Priesthood in New Testament

You also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. – 1 Peter 2:5

The Law has been fulfilled in Christ, but the priesthood remains. It’s not an intermediary priesthood any more, because Jesus our High Priest made it so that no person stands between us and the throne of God.

Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus…let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith. – Hebrews 10, selected

To Him who loves us and released us from our sins by His blood— and He has made us to be a kingdom, priests to His God and Father—to Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen. – Revelation 1:5-6

He gave me the priestly duty of proclaiming the gospel of God… – Romans 15:16

Priests in the new covenant still minister to God and to the people just as the Sons of Zadok did in Deuteronomy 44 (not 14 as in the audio recording).

Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor. – Romans 13:17

Honor (timē in Greek) includes the concept of value or price. There is a tangible nature to honor.

The Romans passage shows honor can be distinct from Revenue, but Jesus’s quote of Isaiah in Matthew 15 also makes it clear that honor is much more than talk.

These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. – Matthew 15:8 NIV

Paul connects honor directly to financial provision for church leaders.

The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, “YOU SHALL NOT MUZZLE THE OX WHILE HE IS THRESHING,” and “The laborer is worthy of his wages.” – 1 Timothy 5:17

According to the New Testament we are a kingdom of priests, but the bible also commands a special portion be set aside to honor the family leaders in the church, especially those who establish the extended family of faith in the teachings of Christ.

2. Give to the Poor

To look at the multiple commands throughout the Old and New Testaments to take care of the orphans, widows, aliens, and strangers it seems clear that God’s priorities haven’t changed.

“When you have finished paying all the tithe of your increase in the third year, the year of tithing, then you shall give it to the Levite, to the stranger, to the orphan and to the widow, that they may eat in your towns and be satisfied. Deut 26:12

Alongside provision for those who minister, God allocates a tithe provision for the needy every third year. This may be another tithe in addition to the tithe to the priesthood during that year, or a special allocation of one tithe. Either way,

Giving to the needy is such a large, recurring theme in the bible that we need to consider it when we structure of our regular disciplined giving.

3. Take the Pilgrimage

“You shall surely tithe all the produce from what you sow, which comes out of the field every year. “You shall eat in the presence of the LORD your God, at the place where He chooses to establish His name, the tithe of your grain, your new wine, your oil, and the firstborn of your herd and your flock, so that you may learn to fear the LORD your God always. “If the distance is so great for you that you are not able to bring the tithe, since the place where the LORD your God chooses to set His name is too far away from you when the LORD your God blesses you, then you shall exchange it for money, and bind the money in your hand and go to the place which the LORD your God chooses. “You may spend the money for whatever your heart desires: for oxen, or sheep, or wine, or strong drink, or whatever your heart desires; and there you shall eat in the presence of the LORD your God and rejoice, you and your household. “Also you shall not neglect the Levite who is in your town, for he has no portion or inheritance among you. – Deut 14:22-27

The bible encourages the use of the tithe for a lavish celebration once in a while, as long as we don’t forget the priesthood.

Celebration is a part of the structure of the whole lives of God’s people in the Old Testament. His people are not only allowed to celebrate, but are commanded to celebrate and even take a pilgrimage, to the end that families remember to fear God and to celebrate in his presence. We should probably take into consideration that this tithe is only mentioned once, but it’s certainly significant that lavish family celebration is a way to tithe that can align our hearts to God as our provider.

Summary:

A regular generosity in a loving response to the gospel will help guard our hearts and our hope for the Great Reward, God himself. The bible reveals us many examples of extreme generosity and many commands to give, as well as a structure through which to begin a discipline of giving with 10%.

The Old Testament scriptures on the tithe and the New Testament mandates toward generosity reveal quite simply that God wants his people to worship Him by giving regularly to those who minister, to the care of the poor, and the prioritizing of every family’s joyful alignment to God as their abundant source.

So, as we structure regular disciplined giving into our lives, it would be a good idea to remember the Priesthood, Poor, and (less emphatically) the Pilgrimage.

There’s probably a financial reward in tithing, because there seems to be a reward for about everything in the gospel. God is such a good Father that he takes the punishment for our sin but rewards us for our obedience.

The best reason to tithe, though, is in response to the love of God, who has already given us his first fruits, his only begotten son Jesus. Jesus himself is our inheritance and has chosen us to be His inheritance! He left the Father to be united to his wife and become one flesh with us in a covenant of love and generosity.

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich. – 2 Cor 8:9

God bless you as you structure a worshipful discipline of generosity for your household.

April 27, 2016