On Dying Wealthy

I have the privilege of being one of the volunteers who answers inquiries posted on the BlueLetter Bible Bulletin Board (http://blueletterbible.org/). Quite a few questions come in asking about tithing. "How much am I supposed to give (or tithe) to my church?" "Tithe" means one-tenth of course. Sadly, many pastors appeal to their members to "tithe" at least 10% of their income specifically to the local church--which is actually a distortion of what the New Testament actually teaches about Christian giving.

Most of our BlueLetter Bible correspondents are not familiar with the specifics of the Old Covenant system God required of the people so I usually refer them to Paul Winslow's outstanding article "Tithing" (http://ldolphin.org/tithing.html). Winslow explains in detail that the principle of tithing is connected with God's ownership of the land of Israel, and with the obligation of tenants to pay rent for the use of God's land, to support the Levitical priesthood and the Jewish temple, to care for the needy, and to represent God to strangers in the land by showing hospitality.

Many Christians do not realize how radically things changed under the New Covenant which our Lord Jesus placed into effect at the Last Supper (Luke 22:20). The New Covenant was made with Israel of course, but Jesus instructed His disciples after His resurrection to invite Jews and Gentiles around the world to join the true church, which He, Jesus would build--before His return to fulfill the rest of his commitments to the nation of Israel. (Matthew 16:18, Acts 3:19-21) Though the church was designed to operate under the New Covenant, a good many Christian today are still attempting to live under the Old Covenant (See Authentic Christianiity, by Ray Stedman).

Principles of New Testament giving are outlined in detail in Paul's letters to the Corinthians and illustrated vividly in the gospels.

The basic idea is that God owns all that we have and are. We are stewards responsible for the wise use and distribution of what we have been given. Naturally this applies to money and property, but every Christian is given spiritual gifts and we are ALL called to the work of the ministry (see Body Life by Ray Stedman, http://pbc.org/dp/stedman/bodylife). This means that the use of our time and energy deserve even more attention than where and how we give money.

Paul writes, "Let a man regard us in this manner, as servants of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God. In this case, moreover, it is required of stewards that one be found trustworthy." (for an outstanding commentary on this see http://pbc.org/dp/stedman/1corinthians/3581.html)

Back in the '50s when my church, PBC of Palo Alto, was built the founding elders had a selection taken from 1 Cor. 6:19-20 inscribed across the front of the main auditorium,

"...do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body."

I heartily recommend, as must reading on this subject of giving, the outstanding sermon series by Ray Stedman, "The Christian and his Possessions" (http://pbc.org/dp/stedman/possessions/index.html)

The New Testament is full of warnings against the accumulation of wealth for its own sake.

"And again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." And when the disciples heard this, they were very astonished and said, "Then who can be saved?" And looking upon them Jesus said to them, "With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible." Then Peter answered and said to Him, "Behold, we have left everything and followed You; what then will there be for us?" And Jesus said to them, "Truly I say to you, that you who have followed Me, in the regeneration when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne, you also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or farms for My name's sake, shall receive many times as much, and shall inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last; and the last, first." (Matthew 19:24-30)

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus spoke about laying up treasures--either on earth or in heaven. We can not take our wealth with us when we die--but we can send it on ahead!

"Do not lay up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." (Matthew 6:19-21)

One of my favorite parables is found in Luke 16. I like it because I have found myself again and again to be an unfaithful steward.

Jesus also said to the disciples, "There was a certain rich man who had a steward, and this {steward} was reported to him as squandering his possessions. "And he called him and said to him, 'What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your stewardship, for you can no longer be steward.' "And the steward said to himself, 'What shall I do, since my master is taking the stewardship away from me? I am not strong enough to dig; I am ashamed to beg. 'I know what I shall do, so that when I am removed from the stewardship, they will receive me into their homes.' "And he summoned each one of his master's debtors, and he {began} saying to the first, 'How much do you owe my master?' "And he said, 'A hundred measures of oil.' And he said to him, 'Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.' "Then he said to another, 'And how much do you owe?' And he said, 'A hundred measures of wheat.' He said to him, 'Take your bill, and write eighty.' "And his master praised the unrighteous steward because he had acted shrewdly; for the sons of this age are more shrewd in relation to their own kind than the sons of light. "And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by means of the mammon of unrighteousness; that when it fails, they may receive you into the eternal dwellings. "He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also in much. "If therefore you have not been faithful in the {use of} unrighteous mammon, who will entrust the true {riches} to you? "And if you have not been faithful in {the use of} that which is another's, who will give you that which is your own? "No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one, and love the other, or else he will hold to one, and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon." Now the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, were listening to all these things, and they were scoffing at Him. And Jesus said to them, "You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of men, but God knows your hearts; for that which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God." (Luke 16:1-15)

James, the half-brother of Jesus did not become a believer until after the resurrection, but he then took to heart the teachings of Jesus when he became pastor of the early Christian assembly in Jerusalem. In regard to those who would align themselves with the lifestyles of the world he wrote,

"You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you think that the Scripture speaks to no purpose: "He jealously desires the Spirit which He has made to dwell in us"? But He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, "GOD IS OPPOSED TO THE PROUD, BUT GIVES GRACE TO THE HUMBLE." Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning, and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you." (James 4:4-10)

William Barclay says in his commentary on James,

The Authorized Version (KJV) makes this passage even more difficult than it is. In it the warning is addressed to adulterers and adulteresses. In the correct text the word occurs only in the feminine. Further, the word is not intended to be taken literally; the reference is not to physical but to spiritual adultery. The whole conception is based on the common Old Testament idea of Jahweh as the husband of Israel and Israel as the bride of God. "Your Maker is your husband; the Lord of hosts is his name" (Isaiah 54:5). "Surely as a faithless wife leaves her husband, so have you been faithless to me, O house of Israel, says the Lord" (Jeremiah 3:20). This idea of Jahweh as the husband and the nation of Israel as the wife, explains the way in which the Old Testament constantly expresses spiritual infidelity in terms of physical adultery. To make a covenant with the gods of a strange land and to sacrifice to them and to intermarry with their people is "to play the harlot after their gods" (Exodus 34:15, 16). It is God's forewarning to Moses that the day will come when the people "will rise and play the harlot after the strange gods of the land, where they go to be among them," and that they will forsake him (Deuteronomy 31:1-16). It is Hosea's complaint that the people have played the harlot and forsaken God (Hosea 9:1). It is in this spiritual sense that the New Testament speaks of "an adulterous generation" (Matthew 16:4, Mark 8:38). And the picture came into Christian thought in the conception of the Church as the Bride of Christ (2 Corinthians 1:1,2; Ephesians 5:24-28; Revelation 19:7; 21:9).

This form of expression may offend some delicate modern ears but the picture of Israel as the bride of God and of God as the husband of Israel has something very precious in it. It means that to disobey God is like breaking the marriage vow. It means that all sin is sin against love. It means that our relationship to God is not like the distant relationship of king and subject or master and slave, but like the intimate relationship of husband and wife. It means that when we sin we break God's heart, as the heart of one partner in a marriage may be broken by the desertion of the other.

In this passage James says that love of the world is enmity with God and that he who is the friend of the world thereby becomes the enemy of God. It is important to understand what he means (1) This is not spoken out of contempt for the world It is not spoken from the point of view which regards earth as a desert drear and which denigrates everything in the natural world. There is a story of a Puritan who was out for a walk in the country with a friend. The friend noticed a very lovely flower at the roadside and said, "That is a lovely flower." The Puritan replied, "I have learned to call nothing lovely in this lost and sinful world." That is not James's point of view; he would have agreed that this world is the creation of God; and like Jesus he would have rejoiced in its beauty. (2) We have already seen that the New Testament often uses the word kosmos in the sense of the world apart from God. There are two New Testament passages which well illustrate what James means. Paul writes, "The mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to Godthose who are in the flesh cannot please God" (Romans 8:7, 8). What he means is that those who insist on assessing everything by purely human standards are necessarily at variance with God. The second passage is one of the most poignant epitaphs on the Christian life in all literature: "Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me" (2 Timothy 4:10). The idea is that of worldliness. If material things are the things to which he dedicates his life, clearly he cannot dedicate his fife to God. In that sense the man who has dedicated his life to the world is at enmity with God. (3) The best commentary on this saying is that of Jesus: "No one can serve two masters" (Matthew 6:24). There are two attitudes to the things of this world and the things of time. We may be so dominated by them that the world becomes our master. Or we may so use them as to serve our fellow men and prepare ourselves for eternity, in which case the world is not our master but our servant. A man may either use the world or be used by it. To use the world as the servant of God and men is to be the friend of God, for that is what God meant the world to be. To use the world as the controller and dictator of life is to be at enmity with God, for that is what God never meant the world to be.

Ever since I first became a Christian I have returned again and again to the book of James. I also enjoy William Barclay's commentaries. James has a lot of strong words reserved for the selfishly rich! Here is more:

"Come now, you rich, weep and wail at the miseries which are coming upon you. Your wealth is rotten and your garments are food for moths. Your gold and silver are corroded clean through with rust; and their rust is proof to you of how worthless they are. It is a rust which will eat into your very flesh like fire. It is a treasure indeed that you have amassed for yourselves in the last days!" (James 5:1-3)

William Barclay says,

In the first six verses of this chapter James has two aims. First, to show the ultimate worthlessness of all earthly riches; and second, to show the detestable character of those who possess them. By doing this he hopes to prevent his readers from placing all their hopes and desires on earthly things.

If you knew what you were doing, he says to the rich, you would weep and wail for the terror of the judgment that is coming upon you at the Day of the Lord. The vividness of the picture is increased by the word which James uses for to wail. It is the verb ololuzein, which is onomatopoetic and carries its meaning in its very sound. It means even more than to wail, it means to shriek, and in the Authorized Version is often translated to howl; and it depicts the frantic terror of those on whom the judgment of God has come (Isaiah 13:6; 14 31; 15:2, 3, 16:7; 23:1, 14; 65:14; Amos 8:3). We might well say that it is the word which describes those undergoing the tortures of the damned.

All through this passage the words are vivid and pictorial and carefully chosen. In the east there were three main sources of wealth and James has a word for the decay of each of them.

There were corn and grain. That is the wealth which grows rotten (sepein).

There were garments. In the east garments were wealth. Joseph gave changes of garments to his brothers (Genesis 45:22). It was for a beautiful mantle from Shinar that Achan brought disaster on the nation and death on himself and his family (Joshua 7:21). It was changes of garments that Samson promised to anyone who would solve his riddle (Judges 14:12). It was garments that Naaman brought as a gift to the prophet of Israel and to obtain which Gehazi sinned his soul (2 Kings 5:5, 22). It was Paul's claim that he had coveted no man's money or apparel (Acts 20:33). These garments, which are so splendid, will be food for moths (setobrotos, cp. Matthew 6:19).

The climax of the world's inevitable decay comes at the end. Even their gold and silver will be rusted clean through (katiasthai). The point is that gold and silver do not actually rust; so James in the most vivid way is warning men that even the most precious and apparently most indestructible things are doomed to decay.

This rust is proof of the impermanence and ultimate valuelessness of all earthly things. More, it is a dread warning. The desire for these things is like a dread rust eating into men's bodies and souls. Then comes a grim sarcasm. It is a fine treasure indeed that any man who concentrates on these things is heaping up for himself at the last. The only treasure he will possess is a consuming fire which will wipe him out.

It is James's conviction that to concentrate on material things is not only to concentrate on a decaying delusion; it is to concentrate on self-produced destruction.

Not even the most cursory reader of the Bible can fail to be impressed with the social passion which blazes through its pages. No book condemns dishonest and selfish wealth with such searing passion as it does. The book of the prophet Amos was called by J. E. McFadyen "The Cry for Social Justice." Amos condemns those who store up violence and robbery in their palaces (Amos 3:10). He condemns those who tread on the poor and themselves have houses of hewn stone and pleasant vineyards--which in the wrath of God they will never enjoy (Amos 5:11). He lets loose his wrath on those who give short weight and short measure, who buy the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of shoes, and who palm off on the poor the refuse of their wheat. "I will never forget any of their deeds," says God (Amos 8:4-7). Isaiah warns those who build up great estates by adding house to house and field to field (Isaiah 5:8). The sage insisted that he who trusts in riches shall fall (Proverbs 11:28). Luke quotes Jesus as saying, "Woe to you that are rich!" (Luke 6:24). It is only with difficulty that those who have riches enter into the Kingdom of God (Luke 18:24). Riches are a temptation and a snare; the rich are liable to foolish and hurtful lusts which end in ruin, for the love of money is the root of all evils (I Timothy 6 9, 10)...

One of the mysteries of social thought is how the Christian religion ever came to be regarded as "the opiate of the people" or to seem an other-worldly affair. There is no book in any literature which speaks so explosively of social injustice as the Bible, nor any book which has proved so powerful a social dynamic. It does not condemn wealth as such but there is no book which more strenuously insists on wealth's responsibility and on the perils which surround a man who is abundantly blessed with this world's goods. (The Letters of James and Peter, Westminster Press, Philadelphia, 1976)

I live in the heart of Silicon Valley, South of San Francisco where we enjoy enormous material and cultural blessings from God. I am convicted that most all of us have become "dull of hearing" when it comes to taking God seriously on these issues of the use of our time, our wealth and our life-styles.

"How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, Nor stand in the path of sinners, Nor sit in the seat of scoffers! But his delight is in the law of the LORD, And in His law he meditates day and night. And he will be like a tree {firmly} planted by streams of water, Which yields its fruit in its season, And its leaf does not wither; And in whatever he does, he prospers. The wicked are not so, But they are like chaff which the wind drives away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, Nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous. For the LORD knows the way of the righteous, But the way of the wicked will perish." (Psalm 1)


1. Church torn by ultimatum over tithing

By Kathleen Burge, Globe Correspondent, 4/16/2001

In the stern tones of a bill collector, the letters sent to nearly half the members of the Holy Tabernacle Church of God in Christ Apostolic offered its members a worldly choice: Pay up or get kicked out. Alfreda Moore, the church's executive secretary, had written to more than 200 congregrants, including the widow and six grown children of the church's founder, telling them they were late in paying tithes to the church. She warned members that they had 30 days to straighten out their accounts and make payments by check or money order.

"Please be advised," her letter begins, "that you are in default in the payment of tithes to the Holy Tabernacle Church of God in Christ Inc., for a period in excess of 90 days." If the money isn't paid, the letter warns, "all privileges of membership in the Church will be immediately suspended...."

"My spirit just kind of broke," said Sandra Smith Cosby, a daughter of the church's founder who received the letter last month. "Our job is to bring people in, not kick people out." The letter was the latest skirmish in an ugly power struggle at the place known as Holy Tab, a Dorchester Pentecostal church whose Web site displays a drawing of a dove and a Bible verse about the blessings of unity. The church, which once had 1,400 congregants and eight choral groups, was founded 35 years ago by Joe L. Smith, the church's only pastor until his sudden death last year left the congregation in turmoil.

Now, some members, disgruntled with the church's new leadership, hope that a judge can settle problems that prayer, so far, hasn't. Cosby and about 70 other congregants filed a lawsuit against their church earlier this year, contending that they were denied a voice in choosing a new pastor and prohibited from seeing the church's financial records.

Suffolk Superior Court Judge Elizabeth Fahey ordered the church to hold an annual meeting, and to allow members to see the books. Church leaders are appealing to the state Appeals Court. Fahey denied a motion by the plaintiffs to bar the new leaders from terminating the membership of congregants who did not tithe.

Paying tithes is a tradition in some Protestant churches that comes from an Old Testament exhortation to give the church 10 percent of one's earnings. Yesterday, Arthur Jack, the church's new pastor, declined to talk about the lawsuit or Holy Tab's troubles. "All the facts are not in just yet," he said.

The church was founded in 1966 by Smith, a tireless preacher from Alabama who had been ordained two years earlier. Cosby, 33, grew up with her father's church, seeing it expand from a small Bible study into a wall-to-wall crowd of hand-clapping, amen-shouting members. "They didn't see when there was no carpet on the floor," she said. "I know we didn't have steak dinners. We had hot dogs for dinner because my mother and father worked two or three jobs to put money into the church." Cosby said her father drove a taxicab, waited tables, and worked at a candy factory to support the church and his nine children. He was grooming his only son, Joe L. II, to replace him as pastor, she said.

Everyone, it seems, has a story about Joe L. Sr. "He didn't care about whether you were a Rhodes Scholar or a street person," said Diane Banton, a church member who still calls him "my bishop.'"'He had time for everybody." Banton, like Cosby, still worships at Holy Tab. "I can't just walk out from my church," Banton said. "I've been there so many years. That's my home."

The Rev. Willie Dubose Jr., pastor of the New Hope Baptist Church in the South End, helped Smith start Holy Tab and still feels connected to it. "It hurts my heart to see what's going on there," he said. "I'm concerned about this church because I was there at the beginning." He was especially disturbed, he said, by church leaders' attempts to expel members over tithing. "It's between you and God," he said. "I thought that was very unprofessional and not Christian." The feud has caused some people to leave, some congregants said.

In court papers, Jack denied that church leaders are using the issues of tithing to get rid of some members. Officials had planned to send out the letters for several months, he said, as part of computerizing records. The church, he wrote, strictly teaches paying tithes. "We of the Apostolic faith believe tithing is God's financial plan to provide for His work, and has been since the days of Abraham," his affidavit reads. Tithing was a recurrent theme in Smith's sermons, Jack said. "Nothing in, nothing out," he quoted Smith as saying each Sunday as baskets were passed.

Affidavits from other church leaders accuse Cosby and some of her relatives of breaking into Smith's office the day after he died, taking church records and artifacts. The dispute soon will be back in court for another hearing. Kevin McIntyre, the lawyer for Cosby and the other members suing Holy Tab, said the court can enforce the church's bylaws, which provide for annual meetings and access to financial accounts. In a letter to the church's lawyer, McIntyre wrote, "It is clear that the current leadership will stop at nothing to stifle the participation of members in the operation of the church." (This story ran on page B1 of the Boston Globe on 4/16/2001).

2. Question: I have a couple of questions related to tithing. How can just about every national ministry in the country be wrong about tithing? What makes my interpretation of the scripture correct verses all these well studied national ministires? Can you recommend a teaching on tithing all the way from Abraham and Melchizadec through the law, into grace, ending in Hebrews? I am especially interested in getting the proper meaning of Malichi. Concerning "robbing God", who was robbing God, those who gave the tithes or the ones who received them? I believe that there is strong evidence that the priests as misused the tithes. How does someone rob God in offerings? An offering is not an offering until it is received. So the only people who could rob God are the ones who received it and misused it. The other passage I am interested in is in Hebrews. Since Abraham tithed before the law, then tithing is said to be outside the law. Since we are Abraham's seed, then we should follow the example that Abraham made. I believe the whole passage in Hebrews is there not to establish the tithe but to explain to the Hebrews that Jesus is in great high priest even though he did not follow priestly line. Again thanks for willingness and availability.

Answer by Carolyne Rohrig (nosh@home.com): You may want to look at 1 Corinthians 16:1-4 and 2 Corinthians chapters 8 and 9 to see what the New Testament position is on tithing. The principle to keep in mind in this, "Let each one of you give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver." 2 Corinthians 9:7

What joy would God have if His people gave out of a grumbling spirit? He wants us to enjoy ourselves as we give to Him and that can only come about when we are free to give as our hearts lead us to!

Those who are in Christ are no longer cursed or condemned. We have passed from death into life and everything we do as God's children is to be done out of joy and enthusiasm for what He has done for us!

"There is therefore no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus." Romans 8:1; "If God is for us, who can be against us?" Romans 8:31

Jesus paid the price for all of our sins, once and for all on the cross when He died for us. We are now in right relationship with the Father. We belong as His children, loved, embraced and accepted. Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ. See Romans 8:38, 39.

You might want to read the following listed below. Most people and ministries seem to have trouble with this subject mixing Old Testament with New Testament truth. The principle to remember is that we are New Testament believers living under the New Covenant which inaugurated a whole new way of living.






February 9, 2001, April 24, 2001.