Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Tithing Part IV - Heart Check

For those who have been following along, I posted a three part devotional from Pastor Bayless Conley on tithing last week that caused quite a stir.

In the interests of fair and open discussion, I've invited Gary Arnold to offer his counter-points to Pastor Conley's message and you can read it below.

After doing a lot of research on the subject and consulting many who have far more biblical wisdom than I do, my current take is that tithing/giving/the offering all come down to a heart check. If your heart is right with God, you'll live generously as easily as you breathe. For me, that's a true sign of spiritual maturity and a great mile marker in our walk. Give generously of our time, our talent, our resources and we'll be one step closer to living the life God designed us to live.

And as the saying goes, "show me your checkbook and I'll show you your heart."

Now, here's Gary's reply:


Pastor Conley:
In Matthew 23:23, Jesus speaks about the issue of tithing in this way,

"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, 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."

Jesus tells us, "These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone." Yes, they should tithe, but the things He lists are the most important issues.

While we will touch on these issues in later devotionals, I want to point out the fact that Jesus does say we should tithe.

The Living Bible paraphrase of this verse is helpful, "For you tithe down to the last mint leaf in your garden, and ignore the important things—justice and mercy and faith. Yes, you should tithe, but you shouldn't leave the more important things undone."

Gary Arnold:
In Matthew 23:23 Jesus is speaking to the scribes and Pharisees who were still under the Mosaic law. Under the Mosaic law, God commanded a tithe of the increase of the seed and animals in herds and flocks. The scribes and Pharisees were following God’s command to the letter, even on their herbs. Jesus did not tell the scribes and Pharisees that they ought to tithe on their income from their jobs as teachers and lawyers nor did they say they were. Jesus did not tell us that we should tithe. Jesus was only speaking to those under the Mosaic law.

Pastor Conley:
You should tithe. The first ten percent of your income, or the first ten percent of the increase that God brings to you, is called a tithe. The Bible says in the last chapter of Leviticus that the tithe is holy, and it belongs to the Lord.

Gary Arnold:
The tithe was never the first tenth of anything. God defined His tithe in Leviticus 27:30-33 to be a tenth of crops (not the first tenth) and every tenth animal in herds and flocks (the last one out of every ten). The crops and animals are from God’s miraculous increase, not man’s income. The tithe is Holy because it came from God’s miraculous increase, and the crops and animals that were tithed had to be raised on the Holy land.

Pastor Conley:
So you should tithe. That is very important. In fact, I believe it is the first step in getting God involved in your finances, and an important step in you getting control of your finances.

Gary Arnold:
There is no scripture that commands, recommends, or even hints that Christians should tithe.

Pastor Conley:
In Malachi 3:10-11, God says,
"Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in My house, and try Me now in this," says the LORD of hosts, "If I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you such blessing that there will not be room enough to receive it. And I will rebuke the devourer for your sakes, so that he will not destroy the fruit of your ground, nor shall the vine fail to bear fruit for you in the field," says the LORD of hosts.

Gary Arnold:
Was God speaking to the people or the priests? The people took the tithes to the Levites who lived in the Levitical cities, not to the temple. The Levites took the required tithe of the tithe to the temple. (See Nehemiah 10:37-38) Only those tithes ever made it to the temple. The priests then took those tithes to the storehouse. It only makes sense if God is speaking to the priests in this verse.

Using the Strongs Hebrew concordance-dictionary, let me translate those verses into simple English:
"Bring all the tithes from your crops and animals into the storehouse, that there may be food to eat in My house, and try Me now in this," says the LORD of hosts, "If I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour down a blessing of rain that there will not be room enough to receive it. And I will rebuke the insect for your sakes, so that he will not destroy the fruit of your crops, nor shall the vine fail to bear fruit for you in the field," says the LORD of hosts.

Pastor Conley:
Those are pretty amazing promises! God says when we bring the first tenth to Him, He will open the windows of heaven and pour out a blessing we cannot contain. He even invites us to test Him in this area! (As far as I know there is no other place in the Bible where God does that.)

Gary Arnold:
Promises to the priests, not to Christians. God never said to bring the first tenth to Him.

Pastor Conley:
Notice, too, that He says He will rebuke the devourer. While this was written to an agrarian society whose prosperity was measured in vineyards, crops, and their livestock, you can transpose this principle right into the era in which we live. God will still bless us, and He will still rebuke the devourer for our sakes.

Gary Arnold:
This is not a so-called principle that you can transpose into this time. Those verses did not apply to wage earners or anyone other than those being addressed.

Pastor Conley:
Years ago, in a small church in Mexico, a friend of mine was teaching on tithing. A poor man in the church got angry and stormed out. Later that day, he read the verses from Malachi again and decided to put God to the test. "Could God fulfill His promise—even in my circumstance?" he thought.

That poor villager later testified—interrupting a service and demanding that tithing needed to be taught again—"because these people need it!" He told how he had been blessed like never before since he started giving one-tenth of his earnings to the church.

Gary Arnold:
Are we going to follow man’s examples, or are we going to follow God’s Word?

Pastor Conley:
God is not limited by the circumstances that surround us. He can bless us no matter where we are if we will "try Him" and bring all the tithe into His storehouse.

Gary Arnold:
You have limited God’s blessing to those who tithe. God is not limited. God can bless us no matter what the circumstances. You also incorrectly infer that the storehouse referred to in Malachi is somehow equal to a church building today.

Pastor Conley:
Malachi 3:8-9 gives us a sober warning,

"Will a man rob God? Yet you have robbed Me! But you say, 'In what way have we robbed You?' In tithes and offerings. You are cursed with a curse, for you have robbed Me, even this whole nation."

Gary Arnold:
Let’s look at Malachi 3. First, who is God speaking to – the priests or the people?
We need to study the entire Book of Malachi rather than take a few verses out of context.

By the time we get to verse 6 in chapter 1, we see it is the priests that are being addressed at that point.

In both chapters 1 and 2 of Malachi there is a conversation going on between God and the priests. Every time the word "you" is used, it is referring to the priests. Chapter 3 continues with this conversation. In verse 5 God says "And I will come near to you to judgment….." In the Old Testament, during this period of time and generally speaking, only the priests could get near to God. It is only in the New Testament that born again believers, you and I, can get close to God. So up to chapter 3 verse 5, God is speaking to the priests. The word "you" is still referring to the priests. There is nothing in the scripture to indicate this changes when you get to verse 8. But that's not all.

Read Numbers 18:29-30 and then read Malachi 1:14. Those verses explain robbing God of the offerings. The PRIESTS, not the people, robbed God of the offering by giving to God the worst instead of the best.

In Nehemiah 13 we are told that the priests stole the Levites portion of the tithe; therefore, they had no food to eat at the temple, and they went back to their own fields.

Therefore, taking the Levites portion of the tithe is the robbing God of the tithe. Or to put it another way, THE LEVITES WERE ROBBED. God said He was robbed because the tithe was not taken where God directed.

Pastor Conley:
Now if you think about this statement, you have to ask, "How do you rob God? I mean, really, what does that mean?"

There are two ways we rob God when we refuse to tithe:

1. We rob God of honor that is due Him. In Proverbs 3:9 it says to, Honor the LORD with your possessions, and with the firstfruits of all your increase. By giving God the first part of our income, we are honoring Him as being first in our lives. We demonstrate faith in His promise to supply our needs as well—and God is honored by our faith.

2. We rob God of the opportunity to bless us. In Malachi 3:10, God promises to bless us if we bring Him the first tenth of our income (the tithe).

The promise in Proverbs is that our barns will be filled with plenty if we will honor the Lord with our firstfruits (Proverbs 3:9-10).

He can bless us. He desires to bless us. Let us not rob Him of the opportunity to do so, nor of the honor that is due Him.

Gary Arnold:
First, you are mixing firstfruits with the tithe. They are not the same.

In Nehemiah 10:37 we learn that the firstfruits were taken to the temple for the priests, and the tithes were taken to the Levites who lived in the Levitical cities. Therefore, it has been established that firstfruits have nothing to do with the tithe.

In Nehemiah 10:38 we learn that the Levites would take a tithe of the tithe to the Temple. It is this tithe, the tithe from the Levites, that went to the storehouse, not the tithe from the people. This is important to remember when we study Malachi 3:10.

The first-fruit was a very small amount of the first crop harvest and was small enough to fit into a hand-held basket (Deut. 26:1-4.)

First-fruit and first-born offerings went directly to the Temple and were required to be totally consumed by ministering priests only inside the Temple (Neh. 10:35-37a; Ex. 23:19; 34:26; Deut. 18:4).

OLD TESTAMENT - Proverbs 3:9 (KJV) “Honour the LORD with thy substance, and with the firstfruits of all thine increase:”

NEW TESTAMENT - 2 Timothy 2:6 (KJV) “The husbandman that laboureth must be first partaker of the fruits.”

In both the above verses, the first fruits are referring to the first of the crop and not to income. If you want to somehow get a principle and relate it to income, be consistant in both verses.

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