This happened before I was born. An older man told me the story with obvious relish. A young teacher, new to teaching and to a small town school, seduced a local girl, who became pregnant. Her father and brothers were inclined to be violent men, and the teacher, unwilling to marry the girl or to say so, feared for his life if he refused. The door to flight was barred, and his landlady and others were ready to inform on him. “What can I do?” he asked another teacher. The answer was plainly put: “As I see it, you have a choice: either marry the girl, or commit suicide!” The young man wailed, “But there has to be an easier way out!”
So say we all. Our sins, and the sins of our forefathers, box us in; the time of reckoning arrives, and we all insist, as we face our dilemmas, “But there has to be an easier way out!” However, because the world is under God’s law, there are no easy ways out. Nothing can by-pass God’s law. Oh, some will say, but grace does by-pass God’s law. Not so. The law’s penalty is always extracted, but, for the redeemed, it is exacted on Jesus Christ, whose vicarious atonement meets the requirements of the law. The law is clearly enforced, but Christ assumes the judgment of the law. This does not remove the historical consequences of my sin. Christ’s atonement removes the theological consequences, the consequences in God’s court. However, if I am a murderer, I must still pay the civil penalty for murder, death, in the state’s court. The difference is that, with respect to my status before God, I am a redeemed murderer. The theological consequence is removed, but not the civil judgment.
Because of our sin of apostasy, we are today heavily taxed by our rulers (1 Sam. 10-18). We are under their power because of our sins. We have refused to pay God’s tax, and we are instead burdened by the property tax, the inheritance tax, the income tax, the sales tax, and thousands of other taxes. Naturally, we are now very unhappy, and we want and crave an easy way out. In effect, we say, “All right, God, now I believe you. Bail me out, so that I can start tithing.” This is not repentance but impudence. To pay taxes and tithes means a considerable part of our income, but there is no easy way out, nor any other way out. We can only create God’s ordained society in God’s ordained way.
If you want an easy way out for that teacher, and, even more, if you want an easy way out of the dilemma of tithes and taxes, forget about the Bible. Get a book of fairy tales, and try living by them, because that is exactly what you are demanding. Before we can have a godly society, we will have to pay Caesar his price while we are also paying for Christian schools, new churches, missions, hospitals, godly welfare agencies, and much, much more. All this double taxation will cost us a great deal, but the alternative will cost us more.
There is no easy way out, but there is a good way, a godly way, the way of obedience to God’s law. A godly society will not come by waving a magic wand, nor by dictators, nor by any other way than God’s ordained way as set forth in His law. And basic to that is the tithe. The tithe is the abc’s of godly reconstruction, the alpha and the omega of a Christian society.
The schoolteacher, had he rejected the girl, would have faced some violent men, bent on his harm, an angry father and brothers. His was a far easier situation than ours. We face an angry and sovereign God if we give Him lip service while disobeying His word, and there is no escape from the wrath of God. On the other hand, the schoolteacher had two poor alternatives, an unwanted bride, or some violent men. Our choice is between the judgment of God and His grace and blessing. The price of our redemption was the agony of the cross for our Lord. The price of our obedience and gratitude, tithe and work, is very small and trifling by comparison.
Men nowadays are used to negotiating with respect to their work: pension plans, shorter work days, longer vacations, better pay, and the maximum in safe, comfortable, and congenial working conditions. No such negotiations, contracts, and bargainings are possible with the Lord. He created us, He decrees our calling and its circumstances, and He lays down all the rules or laws which govern us. We have no rights, but we do have blessings. Apart from the Lord, we have nothing. He is the Lord.
Thus, in obedience to the Lord ( Rom. 13:5-7), we pay our taxes, although that tax money is used to undermine all that we believe in. Again, in obedience to the Lord, we pay our tithes. In time, the effect of the tithe will be to undermine and destroy the statist world and its taxation. It will create a godly society in the only way it can be created, in God’s appointed way. In all of this, we have a great calling and privilege, that of exercising dominion over the earth under God and in God’s revealed way.
The law of the tithe, unlike the Sabbath law and works of necessity, has no qualifications or exceptions. God’s tax must be paid. Because God has prior claim on us, this tax is computed before the state takes its tax. We cannot bring a blemished offering to the Lord: He calls this evil (Mal. 1:8). Similarly, we cannot give anyone priority over God without blemishing our approach to the Lord. Statist taxation is nowadays contrary to God’s law, and, from one perspective, is in part at least theft. Every evil perpetrated by the state is together with the horrors inflicted by an invader, the rod of God: “here ye the rod, and who hath appointed it” (Micah 6:9). When the Lord punishes us with the consequences of our sins and in the form of an oppressive state and its taxation, we cannot then turn and penalize God by giving the state a prior claim to our income, and then pay our tithe on the balance after taxes. Only by acknowledging God’s sovereignty and priority can we be restored to His blessing. This requires paying our tithe on our income before taxes. This is not easy, but the price of sin is always high. The state’s taxation as it now exists is contrary to Biblical law, but our Lord declared it “lawful” (Mt. 22:17-21), rather a scourge to us for our sins ( Rom. 13:1-8). Only as we render to God the things that are God’s can we re-establish our society on a godly basis.
But this must be clear: we must render unto God. On every occasion in history that the Church or the state has entered into tithing, it has tried to govern the disposition of the tithe. The results have been unhappy ones. Central though the tithe is in God’s law, He reserves to Himself the disposition of the tithe, the curses and the blessings for disobedience and obedience, and the enforcement of the law. We have no warrant to go beyond that. Scripture gives us no ground.