Christian activity is constantly confronted with a chronic shortage of money. While we must not believe we can buy advances in God’s work, we must see the moral basis for work and money and a deficiency of either for Christian causes as a moral failure of God’s people. God commands both work and giving, and an understanding of the moral basis of money helps us understand why neither money nor giving should ever be viewed as worldly or unspiritual.
Money is a medium of exchange. An ethical exchange must be value given for value received. If money is to represent value, it must represent a cost. (This is the deficiency of paper money; it represents no value. Paper money is government sponsored counterfeiting. It is government offering paper or credit of no value to represent value. It has always been a means of government assuming power at no loss to itself. Just as spending counterfeit money that you produce on your color copier would give you spending power at no cost, governments get tremendous power by creating costless money. Even though paper money is a fraudulent money, it is made legal tender and citizens are forced to accept it as representative of cost.) Thus, when we exchange our labor or goods for a given amount of money, we call this exchange their cost. Likewise, when we give money away, it represents a cost or value that we surrender.
Giving money to Christian work thus costs us something, and this is a cost God commands us to assume. Greek dualism has caused us to assume a false dichotomy between the spiritual and the physical realms. But God created man with a soul in a physical body and environment. We will also receive new bodies at the resurrection and will serve God in a new heaven and a new (physical) earth. We must not deprecate either the physical or the spiritual realities of our creaturehood.
Emphasis on the spiritual aspect of our new birth should not cause us to lose sight of our physical, earthly context and its requirements. Work is one of those requirements. Work was a requirement of our first parents even before the Fall. Money is a medium of exchange which represents the value of our work. When we give tithes and offerings, we are, in effect, transferring our work in one area to work in God’s service.
A proper emphasis on our physical context and duty, however, should not make us confident that this is the essence or measurement of God’s work. We cannot buy God’s kingdom, nor can we orchestrate it by our work. Obedience must not become presumption.
If we believe that God is Sovereign over His creation, and that its spiritual and physical aspects find ultimate meaning and resolution in Him, we will focus on our duty as He describes it in His revelation. The old hymn rightly teaches us to “trust and obey.” The first reaction of faith ought to be obedience to the Sovereign in Whom we profess faith. The great and basic error of so much modern theology is that it places the theologian or academic in the position of explaining away God’s own words. Otto Scott once correctly noted that C.I. Scofield ’s error began when, “He tried to edit God.”
Tithes and Offerings
God requires tithes and offerings. Those antinomians who oppose the teaching of tithes in favor of Spirit-led free-will giving must assume the duty of explaining why either the Spirit’s or the believer’s will would demand less than God required. That requirement began with the basic tithe which was ten percent (Lev. 27:30-33). The rejoicing tithe and the poor tithe may have increased the overall tithe to as much as fifteen percent. Only what was given above that amount was a free-will offering. The tithe itself was an obligation before God.
The tithe went to the Levites who used it for various social functions, including education. The poor tithe went directly to the needy. A tenth of the basic tithe went to the priests for ecclesiastical purposes (Num. 18:26-28). Thus, much of what are now functions of civil government were administered by a separate non-profit religious organization, the Levites. We cannot reconstitute the Levites, but we can see that the basic government of the Hebrew theocracy was the self-government of the faithful covenant man with private-sector funding supplying most social needs. God warned the Hebrews of the high price they would pay for a monarchy (1 Sam 8: 14-17). Today, we still pay for letting the state assume responsibility for social functions. If the high price of state taxation then causes Christians to stop giving tithes and offerings, Christian work will be most affected. This is the sad state in which the church finds itself today. God does not want our “tips” nor does He offer us “tithe-credits” for what we pay the state. What we lose to the state in taxes does not lessen our responsibility to God.
God commanded that His work be funded by tithes and offerings. Obeying God’s command to labor in His kingdom cannot be confused with legalism or attempting to orchestrate the kingdom. It is a matter of obedience. It is, moreover, not legitimate to seek to fund the kingdom through free enterprise endeavors alone. It is legitimate to encourage God’s people to succeed financially. It is legitimate to dedicate a business or investment to funding God’s work. These can generate tithes and offerings to God’s work. However, it is not legitimate to think that a few such enterprises will fund God’s kingdom. It is not the profits from a few that God wants; it is the tithes from all that He has commanded.
Many people are familiar with the Asian method of accumulating family capital. A large extended family will live together in humble surroundings, pool their resources, and quickly accumulate a large amount of capital. Their work is transferred to money and quickly represents a financial and social power. (This method is not exclusive to Asians, but was common amongst various ethnic immigrant groups who came to this country and wanted to get ahead. It is still a viable model of capitalization.) Additionally, part of the legislative clout of the homosexual lobby is their generous giving tendencies; this gives them a lobbying power far in excess of their numbers. The power accumulated by these groups could be dwarfed by the power that would be represented by tithing Christians.
Money represents power. That is a good and moral thing. Money represents power because it represents value which depends on the input of labor. We realize, of course, that money is not enough for God’s work because human labor alone is not enough. However, to the extend we deprecate money, we devalue labor, man’s first calling.
A great deal of effort is expended trying to encourage “free-will” giving. Often the slick emotional appeal takes precedence over the reasoned need. Most successful are emergency appeals for defensive fights against evil. The tithe and offering went to work-oriented ministries by those committed to their necessity. Like the bulk of any person’s vocation, Christian work is predominately mundane and fatiguing (see Gen. 3:17-19). This is all the more reason God’s servants must be supported.
It is common to hear people say that they feel their labors are unproductive for God. Directly, this may be true, but tithes and offerings are, if properly dispensed, a transfer of labor to the Lord’s work through the labor-representing medium of money. Do you want to do more for the Lord? Tithe! Do you want to do yet more? Give Him your offerings!