Paul's Passing Thoughts

A Historical Survey of the First Century Christian Assembly – Part 4

Posted in Andy Young, TANC 2017 by Andy Young, PPT contributing editor on December 13, 2017

 The following is part four of a four-part series.
Taken from Andy Young’s fourth session at the 2017 Conference on Gospel Discernment and Spiritual Tyranny

< Part 1  •  Part 2  •  Part 3

What Does Giving Look Like?

Drive down just about any street in any town or city in any state in this country and it doesn’t take long for you to drive past a church building. If you made it a point to count the number of churches you see any time you are out driving about, I daresay you would be shocked at the number. I am reminded of the apostle Paul when he first arrived in Athens, and he wept when he saw the city wholly given over to idolatry. I can imagine the scene was similar. Imagine Paul walking down the road and over here is a temple to this god and over there is a shrine to that goddess, and another temple here, and another temple there. Is it any different with churches? Can we not also say the same thing about the proliferation of churches in our cities? Are our cities too not given over wholly to idolatry, the idolatry of institutionalized religion; the idolatry of selling salvation?

It used to be that you could tell a Protestant church from a Roman Catholic church. Catholic churches were these grand ornate structures with arches and stained glass. While protestant churches on the other hand were more subdued. They might have a steeple with a cross on top, but they were often much smaller and more humble looking. But that is not the case today.

Protestant churches today are building massive steel structures with large capacity auditoriums, high-tech sound and stage lighting, multimedia displays, coffee bars, multi-purpose rooms for banquets and sports activities, book stores, and more. And church ministries are no longer limited to the spiritual growth and edification of its members. You can now find churches involved in community services, free clinics, day care, even aerobics classes and yoga.

Now, none of these things are necessarily wrong in and of themselves. These are noble endeavors. But any person who does an honest evaluation of what passes for church today can come to the conclusion that church is big business. There is much money to be made in doing church, especially in the area of Christian education. It is not unusual for most protestant churches to have some kind of Christian day school, which of course requires its own infrastructure, its own building program, its own budget, its own system of authority.

There was a time when I bought in to all of this. I diligently put my hard-earned money in the offering plate when it was passed. I would be racked with guilt on weeks when I didn’t put in any offering because I was short on cash, and then I wondered how God was going to get me for not giving Him anything that week. I gave not just with my wallet but with my own hands and my time. How many hours did I volunteer helping with the construction of the new school building and gymnasium? How many hours had I invested in painting walls, running cable, working the sound system and stage lights for the school programs, and giving and giving and giving. It wasn’t just me but scores of others in that church who did the same, all so they could have a brand new 2 million dollar gymnasium and high school classrooms.

This is one of the things that hurt the most when we finally decided to leave that church. I remember that last Sunday vividly. I was filing away my choir music after the service that Sunday, and I began to weep. I looked around and thought about the 17 years of my life I had invested in that place, and it hurt deeply and profoundly. I wasn’t aware then of all I know now – that’s been a six year journey for me – but I knew something was wrong. It tore me apart to have to leave because I felt like I was leaving part of myself behind (in a sense I was), but I knew I couldn’t stay there any longer.

I believed that church was supposed to be about winning people to Christ. But that’s not for lay-people like you and me.  That’s for people like pastors and missionaries; you know, people who have special training and went to school to understand theology and stuff. People are slow to answer the call to evangelism, but they sure are quick to plunk their money in the offering plate for a cause. That way they don’t have to work, they can just put their offering in and let someone else do the heavy lifting and feel good about it the whole time. Churches are spending millions and millions of dollars on infrastructure, meanwhile millions and millions of people are on their way to an eternity in hell.

Did you hear what I just said?

Churches are spending millions and millions of dollars on infrastructure, meanwhile millions and millions of people are on their way to an eternity in hell!

But that’s ok; you just think about how good you feel because you went to church this Sunday and gave to the building fund.

Church infrastructure is all about authority, and authority is all about control. One of the best ways a church can control people is through the offering plate. Giving in the institutional church centers around the tithe. Keep in mind, many of us are already familiar with a lot of what I’m going to say, but I’m setting up the argument.  Plus this will be good for the benefit of those who have never heard any of this before.

Now what is the tithe? Tithe is an Old English word that means to pay a tenth. It may actually be a transliteration of the Greek word τιθετω (tie-THEH-toh) which actually means to lay in store or to reserve.   What is interesting is that the English word “tithe” is used in only two places in the New Testament.

“Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.” ~ Matthew 23:23

“But woe unto you, Pharisees! for ye tithe mint and rue and all manner of herbs, and pass over judgment and the love of God: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.” ~ Luke 11:42

In these two references, the Greek word is not “titheto” but the word αποδεκατουω (a-po-dek-ah-TOO-oh) which means to pay a tenth from. Why does this number, tenth, mean so much? How did we ever decide on this amount? In Malachi 3:8 we read the following:

“Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings.” ~ Malachi 3:8

The Hebrew word translated “tithes” is the word המעשר (ma-asar) and it means “a tenth.” So the prophet Malachi is bringing a message from God to Israel or some group of people in Israel and apparently this group has not been paying tithes and offering.   Implicit in this passage then is the notion that the tithe is a requirement or commandment. Now I will get to the specifics of this in a minute, but suffice it to say that Protestantism has engaged in a type of replacement theology, and they point to this proof text here as evidence that the church is supposed to continue paying tithes.  That seems like it might be a reasonable assumption, and if you agreed with that assumption you would be wrong. Here is why.

The question we have to ask is this: Is there any place in scripture where God gave a specific commandment to pay a tithe? And the answer is yes. The very first place we see the mention of tithe is Leviticus 27:30.

“And all the tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land, or of the fruit of the tree, is the LORD’S: it is holy unto the LORD.” ~ Leviticus 27:30

So here we see indeed that God is requiring a certain percentage of what the people produce. The next usage of the word tithe appears in Numbers 18:26.

Thus speak unto the Levites, and say unto them, ‘When ye take of the children of Israel the tithes which I have given you from them for your inheritance, then ye shall offer up an heave offering of it for the LORD, even a tenth part of the tithe.’” ~ Numbers 18:26

The first thing I want you to see is that the Levites are responsible for collecting the tithe. But why them? Well you have to go up just a couple verses for that answer, go up to verse 23.

“But the Levites shall do the service of the tabernacle of the congregation, and they shall bear their iniquity: it shall be a statute for ever throughout your generations, that among the children of Israel they have no inheritance. But the tithes of the children of Israel, which they offer as an heave offering unto the LORD, I have given to the Levites to inherit: therefore I have said unto them, Among the children of Israel they shall have no inheritance.” ~ Numbers 18:23-24

Now what do we mean by inheritance? When Israel finally gets to the promised land, after they drive out all the Canaanites they will divide the land among the twelve tribes. And you will recall that Joseph gets a double portion. His inheritance is divided between his two sons, Ephraim and Manassah. The reason then that we don’t have 13 tribes is because Levi is special. Levi is consecrated unto God. God told them Levi doesn’t get an inheritance because He was to be their inheritance. Their inheritance is service to God through the temple. Since Levi doesn’t get any land, God provides for Levi through the tithe. So all the other tribes are required to bring a tenth of what they produce to the Levites as a means of providing for them.

We also learn by reading the Pentateuch that the Levites had specific cities assigned to them. In these cities were storehouses which stored all the tithes for the Levites and then they took from the stores as they needed. I think this is where the notion of the Greek word “titheto” associated with “tenth” originated. It seems as if in the Old English they took the Hebrew word for tenth, “ma-asar,” with the understanding that it referred to gathering the offerings into the storehouses, and they associated it with the Greek word “titheto” which means to lay aside or reserve, and that’s how we come to understand tithe meaning tenth.

Now, let me throw in one more little wrinkle. The Levites were to tithe as well. They were to bring what was called a heave offering to the temple. This heave offering was a tenth of all they collected from the other 12 tribes, and it went to Aaron and his direct descendants, basically anyone who was serving directly in the temple in Jerusalem. So not only did God provide for the Levites, but he provided for the priests as well.

Now if you go back and look at these passages that deal with the tithe there is no mention of money or currency.  The tithe concerns grains, cattle, and fruits. You see the things that the people have produced from the ground. This does not include clothes, this does not include furniture, this does not include cars or tractors or weapons or shoes or anything else that a skilled craftsman might make. So obviously there was some kind of economy for the Levites, some market they could engage in and trade for or produce for themselves.

The point I’m making here is that the tithe only deals with agricultural products, and it was a means to provide for the Levites. The Levites were to in turn tithe to the priests. And that brings us back to what is happening in Malachi 3. What God is saying in Malachi 3 about tithes and offerings is directed specifically at Levi and the priests. Look at the rest of the chapter following verse 8.

“Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings. Ye are cursed with a curse: for ye have robbed me, even this whole nation. Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the LORD of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.” ~ Malachi 3:8-10

To understand Malachi 3:8 you need to understand the purpose of the tithe as we’ve just seen in Leviticus and Numbers, and it ought to be clear that this is a rebuke specifically towards the tribe of Levi. They had failed to tithe their own offerings to the priests, the heave offering that they were to bring to the temple which was the way God had provided for the priests. And God said you have robbed me because you have robbed the priests of what is theirs. The entire book of Malachi is a rebuke of Levi. The tithe is only one item in a laundry list of offenses throughout Malachi.

Now I suppose one could make the case that this rebuke of the tithe is a rebuke to all Israel. So for argument’s sake let’s assume it is. Does that really change anything? Does that change the fact of what the tithe is specifically; it’s purpose? Does that give us any liberty to take a commandment regarding the Levites and lay it over top of the church and say this includes the church now? Are we really beginning with the assumption that pastors and elders are the theological equivalent to the tribe of Levi?

And for what purpose? Is it to make sure that the pastors and elders have a living? Ok, I might give you that, but then why do we need building projects and missions budgets and expense accounts? That wasn’t what the tithe was for in the Old Testament. Remember what I talked about in part one about the rabbinical Jews pointing to a verse in Deuteronomy and claiming that was evidence for the command to build synagogues? They took that verse out of context and gave it an application for which it was not intended. Hasn’t Protestantism (and really it began with Catholicism), hasn’t the church done the same thing here with the tithe? For what? All to maintain some notion of authority that they do not have, because like Paul Dohse has said frequently here at TANC, buildings speak to authority, and what price won’t people pay for their salvation?

So what you have then is a system, tithing, tied to an institution for the purpose of maintaining control and authority.

Is there a better way or a right way? What should we be doing with our money? If we are meeting together in home fellowships, what about this issue of offerings? Should we even take offerings?

I want to focus on one particular passage here. We’re going to look at 2 Corinthians chapters 8 and 9. Now don’t worry, I am not going to take the time to exegete the whole of these two chapters. What I want to do is establish context by providing some historical background. Chapter’s 8 and 9 teach us about giving. So by way of introduction let’s just take a look at the beginning of chapter 8 and then I’ll give some exposition.

1Moreover, brethren, we do you to wit of the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia; 2how that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality. 3For to their power, I bear record, yea, and beyond their power they were willing of themselves; 4praying us with much intreaty that we would receive the gift, and take upon us the fellowship of the ministering to the saints. 5And this they did, not as we hoped, but first gave their own selves to the Lord, and unto us by the will of God.” ~ 2 Corinthians 8:1-5

Take notice of the words I’ve emphasized. These are key.  If you are familiar with the book of Acts you should remember that Paul first visited Corinth on his 2nd Missionary Journey. So now Paul is writing ahead to these assemblies at Corinth and he’s letting them know that he’ll be coming through that area again. This is probably what will become the 3rd Missionary Journey. At this same time, there is a lot of persecution happening to the believers back in Jerusalem…

…by the way, let me throw this into the mix: Study the Book of Acts carefully and notice where the majority of persecution comes from. Do the believers experience persecution from secular sources? Do they experience it from the Roman government? I can think of one instance in Acts 19 with the guys who made the statues of Diana. But 99% of persecution comes from institutional religion. It is Jewish religious leaders who are the primary source of persecution against believers in this middle part of the 1st century.

So back to our text. So apparently during his 2nd Missionary Journey Paul must talk about this persecution going on in Jerusalem because at some point the Macedonians decide they’d like to take up a collection. Think of it as a sort of “care package.” They get word to Paul that they have this relief package they want to send back to their persecuted brothers and sisters in Jerusalem. Doesn’t this sound an awful lot like what we saw happening with the early believers in Acts 2 and 4.

Now what is truly remarkable about this is that the Macedonians are experiencing tremendous persecution themselves. Think about the major cities in Macedonia: Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea. If you go back to Acts chapters 16 and 17, you can read all about the persecution Paul and Silas experience during that leg of their journey. They had this group of Jews following them around making trouble for them whenever they came into a new city. And the trouble didn’t stop after they left. We can read about all the trouble that there was in Thessalonica especially. And Paul even makes mention of that again in his letters to the Thessalonians.

So the believers in Macedonia are experiencing all this persecution from the Jewish establishment there. And notice the words Paul uses to describe them to the Corinthians. “Great trial of affliction.” “Deep poverty”. What I find remarkable is that despite their own persecution they have this desire to send a relief package to Jerusalem. They’re not thinking about themselves. They are thinking, “What can I do to help my brothers and sisters suffering in Jerusalem?”

Notice that nobody prompted them to do this. Nobody compelled them. Verse 3 say they were willing of themselves. They got no tax break under charitable deductions. They weren’t led to believe it was a means of grace. They weren’t worried about being brought up on church discipline if they didn’t give their 10%. No, this was a spontaneous response to a need that they saw. And out of genuine love and concern for their brothers and sisters in Christ, they gave, and many of them gave when they themselves had little to nothing to give. And Paul commended them for this.

There was an anecdote going around a few years back.  I have no way of knowing if it is true or not or just one of those feel-good stories that people like to circulate. This is before the time when the Internet became as widespread as it is today. This would have been before Facebook and Myspace and Instagram. People would forward things like this around through email and share it that way. But it was this story about this woman and her young children. I believe she was a widow. And their church was taking up a special Christmas offering for the poor and needy so that they could have a Christmas meal and presents and things. So the children come to the mother and they decide they want to contribute to this collection. And they know that they don’t have a lot of money themselves, but at the same time they don’t view themselves as poor and needy.

So the mom and the kids talk about how they can save money, what things can they do without so that they can have a little extra left over and give that money to this collection. And I think the mom offers to clean houses and the kids sell some toys and they go though trash looking for things they can fix up and resell. And all the time they focus on the poor needy families who will get to have a nice Christmas.

So the Sunday before Christmas this family goes to church. They put the money in the offering, and they just have all this joy because they were able to give to help a needy family. And I think you know where this is going. Christmas morning comes, and there’s a knock at the door, and they open the door and there is the pastor and his wife and a few other people from church, and they have a beautiful Christmas dinner for them and presents for the kids. And so the irony is that they got back what they gave. It’s a nice story. Like I said I don’t know if it’s true. It probably isn’t.

But I tell you this because I can speculate something similar happening in Macedonia. These people, out of love for the believers in Jerusalem figure out a way to give something to this collection going to Jerusalem, even when they have very little themselves. And apparently word of this collection gets around. Word gets to the believers in Corinth, and they decide that they want to add to this collection. They let Paul know, and Paul says, ok I’ll be back in about a year. Have your collection ready when I come back. In fact I believe Paul alludes to this at the end of his 1st letter to the Corinthians. Look at 1 Corinthians 16, he gives them specific instructions about how to take up this collection.

Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given order to the churches of Galatia, even so do ye. Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come. And when I come, whomsoever ye shall approve by your letters, them will I send to bring your liberality unto Jerusalem.” ~ 1 Corinthians 16:1-3

Notice the expression “lay by him in store”. Paul is telling the Corinthians that whatever they decide they want to contribute to this collection for Jerusalem, set it aside, and then when they all get together on the first day of the week, bring together what they set aside. They were to do this each week so that it is already collected and they are not scrambling around at the last minute trying to get all this organized.

Paul uses this Greek word “titheto” that I told you about earlier. I want to point out that this is not a command to give a tenth.  This is not the word “apodekatoo” that means “to pay a tenth”.  Here we see “titheto” used in its correct context to mean to lay something aside in store for later.  Nowhere in these verses is there a command to bring a tenth of what they earned. He says you bring as God has prospered you. And the word “God” isn’t even in the manuscript. The word he uses for prospered means to succeed in business. So the idea is, you lay aside what you think you can spare of your surplus, or whatever you decide you are able to bring. We’ll see a similar sentiment in just a little bit, so file this away for just a second.

Fast-forward to where Paul is on his 3rd Missionary Journey, and everywhere he goes he’s telling people about what the Corinthians want to do in regard to this collection that the Macedonians started. And that’s what we read about in chapter 9.

1For as touching the ministering to the saints, it is superfluous for me to write to you: 2for I know the forwardness of your mind, for which I boast of you to them of Macedonia, that Achaia was ready a year ago; and your zeal hath provoked very many. 3Yet have I sent the brethren, lest our boasting of you should be in vain in this behalf; that, as I said, ye may be ready: 4lest haply if they of Macedonia come with me, and find you unprepared, we (that we say not, ye) should be ashamed in this same confident boasting.” ~ 2 Corinthians 9:1-4

Now Corinth was a prosperous city. It was a major trade route. So because of this constant flow of goods there was opportunity for people to make a lot of money in Corinth. Consequently, it is likely that many of the believers in Corinth were wealthy. So Paul commends them for their generosity. We don’t know the extent, but it must have been significant because Paul talks about it everywhere he goes. And their generosity inspires other people throughout the province of Achaia to give as well.

So Paul says that they had a year to get this collection gathered up, and since he was going to be there soon he was going to send some of his helpers on ahead (and one of them was probably Titus, because he’s mentioned in this passage) to make sure they have everything ready. It would be really embarrassing if when Paul got there that he found that they didn’t have everything they said you were going to have, especially since he’s bragged about them everywhere he went. He doesn’t want them to end up looking bad.

So this is the context. Once you have this background, then this next verse makes abundant sense. And it is a familiar one.

7Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver.” ~ 2 Corinthians 9:7

And of course any time the pastor gives a sermon about giving he undoubtedly points to this verse and then proceeds to mangle it to pieces. This verse sums up everything there is to know about giving among the assembly of believers.

“As he purposeth in his heart”

Look at how Paul described this with regard to the Macedonians. Back in chapter 8 verse 2 he refers to the “abundance of their liberality.” In Acts chapter 2 verse 45 we saw that the believers there in Jerusalem:

“…sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need.” ~ Acts 2:45

And in Acts 4 we are told again:

“Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, And laid them down at the apostles’ feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need.” ~ Acts 4:34-35

I will stress once again that this was a spontaneous response of these people out of the love they had for others in their family. They were not compelled to do this. And that leads us to this next point.

“Not grudgingly our out of necessity”

If your church says you need to tithe your 10%, is that giving as every man purposes in his heart or is that out of necessity?  Is it a genuine demonstration of love when it is expected of you to give? How are we supposed to give without grudge when the compulsion of the church for its members to give brings about bitterness and resentment, and can I even say, fear?

Any time you see the Body of Christ giving in the NT, what is it for?

What did James, the brother of Jesus, say regarding giving to the church?  Did he say:

  • It is your religious duty to give to the church to help spread the gospel.
  • It is your duty to give to the church to help build our new elementary school wing.
  • It is you duty to give to the church so we can give our pastor a much-deserved raise in salary.
  • It is your duty to give to the church so we can make sure the pastor has an expense account so he can take prospective members out for coffee at Starbucks.
  • It is your duty to give to the church so we can meet our missions budget this month.
  • It is your duty to give to the church so we can remodel and modernize our “worship center”
  • It is your duty to give to the church…and you fill in the blank.

On the contrary, James says the following:

“Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.” ~ James 1:27

Notice that in all of those example I just listed, what is blatantly missing? There is no mention of widows and orphans. There is no mention of those who are in need. There is no mention of someone who is 3 months behind on his mortgage. There is no mention of someone who can’t afford her medication. There is no mention of someone who is going hungry. Are we so deluded to think that there can’t possibly be people like that in our own church? Or is it more likely that even if there are such people, the expectation is that they are still required to give their 10%. “But pastor, they don’t have anything.” It doesn’t matter, you give any way, how, “by faith”, and God will provide. Bring it into the storehouse like in Malachi 3, and God will bless you abundantly! Because if you don’t you’re going to get a visit from Bob the elder.

“But Andy,” you say, “What about the Macedonians? They were poor and they still found a way to give.” Yes, they did. But what is the difference? Was it out of a cheerful heart or out of necessity? Even in Corinth, Paul said, you give as your purpose in your heart. That means, if you are filthy rich and you don’t want to give, you don’t have to. And at the same time you don’t judge and condemn others over what you perceive they should be giving.

I am echoing much of what John Immel talked about in his third session at last year’s TANC Conference. John talked at length about Immanuel Kant and this notion of sacrifice. Kant basically said that what made sacrifice moral was when you did it out of a sense of duty, and even then it was only truly out of a sense of duty when it caused you soul-crushing pain.

What does church tell us? Give until it hurts. It’s a wrong application of the widow’s mite. The poor schlub in your church who finds a way to put something in the offering plate each week is somehow more moral and holy than the rich business owner who tithes regularly, because he’s not experiencing any pain in doing so. That rich person needs to give until it hurts. It’s his duty.


Not grudgingly. Not out of necessity. But every man as he purposes in his own heart.

Think about this: In the institutional church, how much money that goes into the offering place each week gets to people who have an actual genuine need?

I said at the beginning of this session that church is big business. Consider this. In 2 Peter chapter 2, Peter is talking about false teachers and he says this.

But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction. And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of. And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you: whose judgment now of a long time lingereth not, and their damnation slumbereth not.” ~ 2 Peter 2:1-3

Peter said that with feigned words (these guys are nothing more than pretenders) they will use you for their own benefit. They will “make merchandise” out of you. How many building programs, how many pastors’ salaries, how many books will you buy because you think these guys have the answers to life? Are you stupid?   They are using you! In fact this expression “make merchandise” is actually a word that means to trade like a commodity. They will trade you like a commodity. You are nothing more than corn or soy beans or pork bellies to them. The implication is that you will be their slave. Did you hear what I said? You will be their slave. With feigned words they will pretend to be something that they are not, and they will enslave you, and they will buy and sell you like so much chattel on the open market, and the worst part is you make yourself a slave willingly!

In a home fellowship assembly, what need is there of infrastructure? What need is there of paying a salary? What need is there of an expense account? What need is there of a missions budget?

In such an intimate family setting, what is the likelihood that the people in that fellowship will be keenly aware of the needs of the brothers and sisters in that fellowship? And when you gather together for your fellowship meal, how hard is it to say, “There’s a basket over there on the counter. Bill needs some help paying his electric bill this month. If anyone wants to, feel free to drop a few dollars in that basket so we can help Bill keep the lights on in his house.”  ” Mike and Sarah just had a baby. If anyone has some old baby clothes they no longer need, I am sure Mike and Sarah would be grateful if you passed them on to them.” “Jim is recovering from surgery. Is there anyone that would like to bring him a meal this week?”

This is what a family does.  This is what it means when we say that the Body of Christ is a family and not an institution.

~ Andy

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