Students 004

The Lord’s use of insignificance continues in the New Testament. The most outstanding example is the Lord Jesus, the Creator of all things, who came to earth as a completely helpless baby, born to a poor couple in an obscure place called Bethlehem, a small town in a little-known, weak nation that had been conquered yet once again by a very powerful one. Why would the Lord God incarnate be born, grow up, minister, die, rise from the dead, and ascend into the heavens in an obscure part of the world such as Palestine? Why was it His plan that no one outside of the immediate area would even be aware of His existence while He walked the earth?

We could also ask, who were the disciples of Jesus when Jesus called them to follow Him? In our way of thinking, it would seem unwise to choose only twelve (later eleven), very fallible men to establish His Church. What notoriety, status, or importance did any of these individuals possess when they were chosen? Peter, Andrew, James, and John were fishermen. Matthew was a despised tax collector.

Who was the only person in the Bible about whom Jesus said this? “Truly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her” (Matthew 26:13). A woman who anointed Jesus for His burial. We do not even know her name.

Who were the first people to whom Jesus revealed Himself after His resurrection? Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, Salome, and Joanna. Women whose testimony in that culture was almost worthless.Why would the Lord choose such inferior individuals to be the first to testify about the greatest event in the history of the world?

Paul became an apostle only after he lost all of his Pharisaical positional authority and status. The picture that is drawn for us in Scripture should be clear, and it is probable that Paul was thinking of the individuals in Scripture and drawing from his own knowledge and experience when he penned those Holy-Spirit-inspired words to the Corinthians. Regardless of how we define significance in our cultures, it is biblically evident that the Lord chooses inconsequential individuals living in inauspicious places through whom to accomplish His hard-to-comprehend purposes.

He is the God of insignificance.

However, this should not amaze us. He is the God we do not know.

Has the Lord Been Thinking Clearly?

Is it surprising that God chooses people who are foolish, weak, and despised? It should, because it seems that we require those who are intelligent, strong, and influential. The idea of selecting the weak comes from the mind of God, but these are not the kinds of people whom we would prefer to get our work done, move the vision along, and thereby influence and change the world. These are not the individuals whom the Church would endorse to spread the Gospel and represent Christ. Never. Does the Lord know what He’s doing? Absurd question, clearly, but it needs to be asked in light of the staggering dissonance between His ways and ours. The answer to the question is, of course, yes; because in comparison to what He accomplishes by His incomparable power, everything we do is foolish and weak. He told the disciples plainly that without Him they could do nothing at all (John 15:5). The problem is that we think otherwise. We embrace “leadership material”—strong, attractive, and talented men and women to be our leaders and preachers. The Church thinks that these gifted people, if we train them properly using “leadership principles,” will advance the cause of the Gospel. We want only these kinds of individuals representing us. This makes perfect sense to us. We do not choose losers. After all, who desires to be ridiculed in the eyes of the world? However, our amazing God is not necessarily looking for culturally impressive people in order to accomplish His irrational and powerful purposes. He is not put to shame at all if we are humiliated or derided. After all, He was. The prophets were. Noah, Moses, David, Micaiah, Elijah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Micah, Amos, and Jesus Himself were all scorned either by their families, the world, or religious leaders. Is this what we seek? Do we truly want to be included in that noble company? I doubt this in the extreme. We want to be cool. Attractive. Culturally clued in and appealingly humorous. We say we want to be like Jesus, but we have no idea how to deal with these words of blessing in the context of leadership:

“Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets” (Luke 6:22–23).

We want to be enormously influential and liked, but apparently it is not our preference to be blessed or have great reward in heaven.

Instead of displaying how strong and worthy of notice we are, we should reveal how weak and unimportant we are. Instead of proclaiming our strength, we should boast of the things that show our weakness, as Paul did (2 Corinthians 11:30). Instead of contending for significance, we should contend for insignificance. This is the way our God, He who is lowly in heart, chooses to do business. When we read about those whom the Lord chose throughout Scripture, we cannot avoid this inescapable truth. We should line up on the side of the basketball court where all the wimps and losers stand. Talk about counterintuitive. This is clearly not how the world and the Church think about how to “win.” We want people with swagger.

Is it possible that the Lord could make it any easier for us to understand? In spite of a multitude of biblical examples, it just seems too difficult for us to grasp. Even if we do lay hold of this truth, all too often, as soon as He chooses us and performs something wonderful and God-glorifying through us, we too easily shift from being “nothing” to desiring to be “something.” It is just one, little, intoxicating step away.

Warhol was right. Everybody wants to be somebody and experience their fifteen minutes of fame. But that is not what the Lord wants for His people.

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The truth about those whom God chooses is found not only in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. According to all of Scripture, it is evident that the powerful Lord God of the universe chooses people who are, to sum up, worthless in the world’s way of thinking. The Word of God plainly says this, although we shrink back from perceiving those whom God selects this way. Let’s start our study at the beginnings of Israel, chronicled in Genesis. Who was Abraham, for example? Before the Lord called him, he was simply a man whom his father had taken, along with his family, to a place called Haran, a city in Mesopotamia, which was the center for the cult of the moon god, Sin. Had Abram achieved any significance when the Lord called him? No, he was just a man living in a pagan city. Why did God choose him over any other man in Haran? We do not know. Actually, we do, because Paul tells us in First Corinthians 1:27–29: Abram was insignificant, foolish, and weak. Abraham is the prototype for those whom the Lord chooses.

Leah was a woman who was unloved by her husband, Jacob. He rejected her from the beginning. When Jacob had been fooled by his uncle and had marital relations with Leah instead of Rachel, Jacob cast her off, even though they had become one flesh. However, this verse will give us an insight into how God thinks: “When the Lord saw that Leah was hated, he opened her womb, but Rachel was barren” (Genesis 29:31). Leah bore four sons, one of whom was Judah, the forefather of Jesus.

Who was Joseph when the Lord gave him a dream that changed his life and the lives of everyone in his family; indeed, that so dramatically changed the history of Israel? The second-to-youngest son in a family whose siblings detested him so greatly that they wanted to kill him but instead wholesaled him as a slave to a caravan of traders headed to Egypt.

Who was Moses when the Lord called to him by means of a voice in a burning bush? An inessential shepherd in the wilderness—and a murderer who had fled from his own people.

Who was Gideon before the angel came and sat under the terebinth tree at Ophrah while the mighty man of valor threshed wheat in the winepress? We are not told. He was just a man who was a member of the weakest clan in Manasseh and the least in his father’s house (Judges 6:15), laboring in secret to insure his family’s survival.

What about the other judges? What was it about them that caused the Lord to choose them?

Deborah was a woman and a prophetess, a member of a culturally unimpressive gender class.

Jephthah was the son of a prostitute.

At first glance, Samson seems to be an exception. He was a supernaturally strong man. However, his strength came from that which is not strong at all—his hair, which was a symbol of a Nazarite, one who is set apart before God. When Samson rejected that unique place, he became a man who thought his strength was his own and therefore regressed into someone through whom God could not be glorified. It wasn’t until he was blinded, bound, debilitated, and determined to die that he became weak enough for Israel’s enemies to be substantially destroyed, so that the Lord was glorified, not Samson.

Who was Ruth? A woman from among the Moabites, a pagan people who worshiped the god Chemosh; a widow living on the edge of starvation. She became the wife of Boaz, the father of Jesse, the father of David, the forefather of Jesus.

Who was David when the Lord chose him to be king? The youngest son in the family, a child so inconsequential, so forgotten, that Jesse did not even bother to call him to the house when Samuel visited and summoned all the sons to be gathered. David fits well into the description of those whom God chooses. He was almost non-existent in the eyes of his father.

Who was Esther, who helped deliver God’s people from annihilation? She was an orphan who was picked to become a concubine in the harem of the king of Persia.

Who was Elijah? A Tishbite, a man from an irrelevant village called Tishbe, a place unknown to world history.

Who was Elisha? A farmer.

Who was Daniel? Although he was apparently a member of the royal family, he was also a refugee, a displaced person in a foreign culture.

Who was Jeremiah when the Lord called him to prophesy to Judah? A priest from Anathoth, a city about which almost nothing is known.

Who was Isaiah when the Lord called him to prophesy to Israel? He was the son of Amoz and a nephew of Amaziah, a murdered king of Judah with a mixed record of rulership.

Who was Hosea when the Lord called him to prophesy to Judah? Again, we are not told. He is introduced as Hosea, son of Beeri.

Who was Amos? He tells us in his response to Amaziah the priest: “I was no prophet, nor a prophet’s son, but I was a herdsman and a dresser of sycamore figs” (Amos 7:14).

Who was Malachi? We do not know.

The prophet Zechariah? Berechiah’s son and the grandson of Iddo.

The prophet Joel? He was Pethuel’s son.

Do we need to continue?

Orphans. Widows. Farmers. Forgotten children. Disregarded, poor, and powerless women. People chosen by God because they were unimpressive from birth or diminished in some way so God could be glorified, not them.

Thanks to Ben Williams for the photo.

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“But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God”

Paul, in First Corinthians 1:27–29

Andy Warhol is credited with saying, “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for fifteen minutes.” If he were alive today, Mr. Warhol probably would not be surprised by our contemporary vanity-driven attempts to gain those fifteen minutes of fame. However, as reality irrupts, that search for significance turns out to be quite elusive, although it may require the entire sweep of one’s life to come to terms with that unsettling truth. Very few of us will be considered “somebodies” by the world’s measure. Thus, we may attempt to rid ourselves of the consequences of that certainty by any means necessary, and many of those efforts—perhaps all of them—are quite destructive. Happily, it may be surprising to discover that being somebody—being significant and important in the world’s eyes—is in fundamental opposition to the Christian God’s truth about one’s significance.

For many of us, the sense of feeling insignificant or “less than” began early in our lives. Perhaps when the neighborhood kids gathered to play a game, you were picked last. You may have struggled in school, and it seemed obvious that other students were brighter than you. A chorus of voices, perhaps including those of your own parents, may have attempted to impress upon you the inevitability of a life of inferiority. Maybe you were not as pretty or handsome as other children and didn’t meet the standards for attractiveness in your culture. Hearing a person more powerful, attractive, or intelligent shout, “Loser!” in your direction was an announcement to everyone within earshot that you were on the pathetic, losing side of the way things were.

If this is you, take heart. This is precisely the kind of person whom the Lord chooses.

The Lord’s Preference: Those Who Are Insignificant

We have learned that in addition to God’s sovereignty, wisdom, power, and all of His other amazing attributes, He is, to our astonishment, low and humble in the core of His being. Therefore, knowing this about Him, a question comes to mind: What kind of people does He choose through whom to glorify Himself? Paul gave the Corinthians the answer to that question in the passage presented in the heading for this chapter, First Corinthians 1:27-29: God chooses people who are foolish, weak, low, despised, and are nothing. Here are BDAG’s definitions for these words:

The first word, “foolish,” is straightforward. It simply means foolish or stupid.

“Weak” is defined as “of relative ineffectiveness, whether external or inward.”

“Low” is “insignificant.”

Something that is “despised” is “an entity (that) has no merit or worth.”

“Things that are not” is uncomfortably frank. God chooses people who, in the eyes of the world, do not even exist.1

Why does the Lord choose such people? Paul tells us:

  • to shame the wise
  • to shame the strong
  • to bring to nothing things that are

The final result of that shaming and bringing to nothingness is so “…that no human being might boast in the presence of God.”

The significance that so much of the world’s people struggle to obtain is, astonishingly, an aspiration that places them in opposition to their Creator, who formed them in His image, not in the image of a fallen world.

1Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., & Bauer, W. (2000). A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature (3rd ed.) (352). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

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One of the saddest portions in all of Scripture, in my opinion, is 2 Kings 25:8–17, where we read that the beautiful house of the Lord was burned down, the wealth of the temple was looted, and God’s city, Jerusalem, was laid waste by Babylon.

“In the fifth month, on the seventh day of the month—that was the nineteenth year of King Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon—Nebuzaradan, the captain of the bodyguard, a servant of the king of Babylon, came to Jerusalem. And he burned the house of the LORD and the king’s house and all the houses of Jerusalem; every great house he burned down. And all the army of the Chaldeans, who were with the captain of the guard, broke down the walls around Jerusalem. And the rest of the people who were left in the city and the deserters who had deserted to the king of Babylon, together with the rest of the multitude, Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard carried into exile. But the captain of the guard left some of the poorest of the land to be vinedressers and plowmen. And the pillars of bronze that were in the house of the LORD, and the stands and the bronze sea that were in the house of the LORD, the Chaldeans broke in pieces and carried the bronze to Babylon. And they took away the pots and the shovels and the snuffers and the dishes for incense and all the vessels of bronze used in the temple service, the fire pans also and the bowls. What was of gold the captain of the guard took away as gold, and what was of silver, as silver. As for the two pillars, the one sea, and the stands that Solomon had made for the house of the LORD, the bronze of all these vessels was beyond weight. The height of the one pillar was eighteen cubits, and on it was a capital of bronze. The height of the capital was three cubits. A latticework and pomegranates, all of bronze, were all around the capital. And the second pillar had the same, with the latticework.”1

This is what the Lord warned Judah would happen. He had warned Israel, as well. He repeatedly told His people to turn away from idols and return to Him. Nevertheless, all that the Lord had planned for His chosen people, to whom belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, the promises, the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, the Christ (Romans 9:4–5) was lost to them. Thankfully, they can be grafted back into the olive tree (Romans 11:23).

However, something else saddens me even more. It is this warning concerning the Church and what must happen before the Day of the Lord comes:

“Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God” (2 Thessalonians 2:3–4).

Let’s try to wrap our brains around the certainty of that event. That falling away, that apostasy will happen, just as surely as the sun rises.

When Jesus’ disciples asked Him, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” (Matthew 24:3), the very first thing He said—and therefore I conclude the issue about which He was most concerned—was not earthquakes, wars, and signs in the heavens. The first thing He said was, “See that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray” (Matthew 24:4–5).

I don’t know what it will take for those who are called Christians to be led astray by people coming in Jesus’ name, claiming to be the Christ. I know this has happened in limited ways at various times in the last two thousand years, but it hasn’t been “many” as Jesus said it would be. In my opinion, a series of catastrophic events must take place, things so life-threatening that people will yearn for a savior to come and rescue them. Going to church had been great for them. They knew their church’s doctrine and considered it good. Fellowship was encouraging. But something or a series of somethings will occur that will cause them to turn away.

Perhaps that falling way is happening now. Perhaps it has been in motion for longer than I know. I am greatly disheartened by what I see happening in the Church.

The following passage troubles me, and I think it should trouble you, too, if you are a believer in Jesus Christ.

“And the Lord said, ‘Hear what the unrighteous judge says. And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:6–8).

I want to be one who has faith when the Son of Man comes.

This one engenders a large measure of concern, as well:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” (Matthew 7:21–23).

Because of these truths and warnings, I am compelled to pray for the Church. It is my duty. I encourage you to do the same.

The days are short. Jesus said two thousand years ago that night is coming when no one can work (John 9:4).

1All scripture quotations from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

Thanks to Ben Williams for the photo.

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Perhaps I was just inattentive. Yes, that’s what I was, because I have thought for a very long time that the account of Elijah and His encounter with the Lord at the cave on Mount Horeb in 1 Kings 19 was about hearing God’s “still, small voice.”

I no longer think that the Holy Spirit inspired the author of this story to teach God’s people that His voice is not in the earthquake, wind, or fire. It’s about understanding that God sometimes works very powerfully in quiet, not spectacular, ways.

Please allow me to explain.

This is the chronology of events 1 Kings 19, after Elijah had run away from Jezebel and ended up on Horeb, the mount of God.

The Lord asked, “What are you doing here?”

Elijah responded, “I have been very jealous for the LORD, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.” (vs. 10).1

The Lord told him, “Go out and stand on the mount before the LORD.”

The Lord passed by, and a strong wind tore the mountains and broke the rocks. But the Lord “was not in the wind.”

Then there was an earthquake, but the Lord “was not in the earthquake.”

Then there was a fire, but the Lord “was not in the fire.”

Please note that we are not told anything about the Lord speaking in those events. These verses tell us that He was not “in” them.

Then, “And after the fire the sound of a low whisper” (vs. 12b).

Notice that it doesn’t say the Lord spoke to Elijah in a whisper. It simply says, “And after the fire the sound of a low whisper.”

This makes sense because of what happened next.

Elijah then went and stood at the entrance of the cave.

The Lord asks him the same question. “What are you doing here?”

If God had spoken earlier with a whisper, Elijah hadn’t gotten the message, because he responded with exactly the same words he had before. “He said, ‘I have been very jealous for the LORD, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away’” (vs. 14).

The Lord then told him to:

Anoint Hazael to be king over Syria.

Anoint Jehu king over Israel

Anoint Elisha to be prophet in your place (vs. 16).

Elijah went and anointed Elisha (vss. 19-21); however, he didn’t do the other two things. Elisha did.

In 2 Kings 8, Ben-Hadad sent Hazael to Elisha to find out if he, Ben-Hadad, would recover from his sickness. Elisha told Hazael that Ben-Hadad would recover, but then, weeping, informed Hazael that he would be king of Syria. (Elisha wept because Hazael would set on fire Israel’s fortresses, kill their young men with the sword, dash in pieces their little ones, and rip open their pregnant women (2 Kings 8:12)).

The history of Israel changed with two sentences from a prophet. No fire. No wind. No earthquake.

In 2 Kings 9, Elisha sent one of the sons of the prophets to anoint Jehu king over Israel, which he did. He prophesied over him as well. Then he fled, as he was instructed.

The history of Judah changed with four sentences from a messenger from Elisha and a bottle of oil. No fire. No wind. No earthquake.

The account of Elijah in the cave has nothing to do with God’s people learning how to hear His “still, small voice” as He gives us truth or direction. It has to do with what the Lord is “in.” This passage doesn’t tell us that God doesn’t speak or act in the wind, the earthquake, or fire, because the Bible clearly indicates that He does; but that He was not going to accomplish His will in strong, noticeable, spectacular ways in the events to come. Elijah may have thought the Lord would or should act in this way, because He had just done so. He had consumed the sacrifice, the water, and the rocks with fire when Elijah challenged the prophets of Baal. In addition, He had just ended the three-year drought quite suddenly: “And in a little while the heavens grew black with clouds and wind, and there was a great rain” (1 Kings 18:45). The Lord was notifying Elijah that He was going to perform His will in a way that was quite different from what He had just done. He was going to act quietly.

And that’s just what He did.

Sometimes the Lord accomplishes His will with fire.

Sometimes it is with a sentence and a bottle of anointing oil.

1All scriptures are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

Photo courtesy Rogelio Bernal Andreo (DeepSkyColors.com)

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If tithing to the Church is not a binding principle for Christians, to whom, then, should we give?

We have seen in our look at the Lord’s instructions for the tithe in the Old Testament, that God’s people were to use their saved tithes to feed the poor, the widow, the orphan, the sojourner, and the landless, which included the Levites. There are many passages in the Old Testament about caring for the poor. Please feel free to drag out your hard-copy or online concordance and look them up. I think these verses sum up very well how the Lord wanted His people to regard the poor—actually, it’s a command:

“If among you, one of your brothers should become poor, in any of your towns within your land that the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, but you shall open your hand to him and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be. Take care lest there be an unworthy thought in your heart and you say, ‘The seventh year, the year of release is near,’ and your eye look grudgingly on your poor brother, and you give him nothing, and he cry to the LORD against you, and you be guilty of sin. You shall give to him freely, and your heart shall not be grudging when you give to him, because for this the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake. For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land’ (Deuteronomy 15:7–11).1

A strong case can be made that this concern for the poor carried over into the New Testament.

The only offering taken in the New Testament was for the poor: “At present, however, I am going to Jerusalem bringing aid to the saints. For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make some contribution for the poor among the saints at Jerusalem” (Romans 15:25–26).

The apostle John wrote, “But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:17–18).

And we have this from Jesus: “Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you” (Matthew 5:42).

This seems straight forward, doesn’t it? We have no reason to refuse whoever begs from us. However, let’s slow down a bit. What should a believer give to the one who begs from us? Food? Clothing? Money? Money, unfortunately, is problematic. In both India and China, where we have served, evil people purposefully maim children and send them out to beg in order to profit from their wicked mistreatment of children. I cannot give money to support such a practice. Therefore, when we lived in India, our answer was to give the beggar a little food. At least he or she would have something to eat out there on the street, and no profit would be given to their depraved handlers. In addition, we were told in India not to give money to anyone because it would change the relationship with that person in the blink of an eye. The one who received the gift would thereafter see nothing but dollar signs in your eyes.

Giving to panhandlers in United States is not without its issues, either, including the giving of food. In our hometown, business owners have asked generous people to stop giving panhandlers food, because they just throw the uneaten, unopened food onto the owners’ property, creating a mess they have to clean up. These panhandlers don’t want food. Food can be obtained at food banks. These folks want cold currency. Tales abound of “homeless” people making more money than many hard-working individuals. Giving a ten spot to a panhandler may relieve the giver’s sense of guilt, but it’s an easy way out. Now, to be fair, some of the people we see may indeed have legitimate needs, but how would the giver know? Therefore, much more preferable would be stopping, taking the person out to lunch and having a conversation about life—true life. In addition, the generous one will discover where his or her money is going. However, most of us would rather not do that, especially since most beggars stand on busy street corners or on interstate highway entrance ramps, so we actually contribute in a way that often is not helpful but actually hurtful, to assuage our sense of guilt.

There are no specific guidelines in Jesus’ command to give to those who beg from us. Should we sell all our possessions or just some? Obviously, the people of Jesus’ time could not sell everything they possessed. A carpenter needs his tools in order to work his craft and produce income. A conveyance of some kind and agricultural implements are required for a farmer to cultivate and harvest his crops. Fishermen must have nets and boats. Ranchers need livestock. People everywhere require places to live with water, sanitation, warmth, and safety. What is the answer? There is no law in this passage from Matthew, just Jesus’ in-our-faces command about how we view money and possessions. Notice there is nothing about giving a tenth in Jesus’ words. He is addressing our hearts and our view wealth.

Jesus taught, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on 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 and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19–21).

I take comfort in Jesus’ qualification: “Do not lay up treasures for yourselves.” If my hands are open and willing to give to those in need, my savings account is not just for myself. My treasure, therefore—and hopefully, as I work out my salvation with fear and trembling—won’t be on earth for myself only but for others and therefore used for eternal matters.

Jesus taught in the parable about a rich man who, after an abundant crop, tore down his barns, built larger ones and said, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” However, “God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be? ‘So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God’” (Luke 12:19–21). Notice it wasn’t the man’s wealth that the Lord condemned. In his wealth, the fool was “not rich toward God.” One’s view of money is a matter of the heart before the Lord.

Too often, we Christians seek orderly guidelines about many topics, including giving, to systematize our beliefs. We tithe. Good—got that one covered. We go to church once a week and attend a small group. Done. We find a way to serve at church or at the homeless center. Soon, we begin to feel very good about ourselves. All the religious obligations have been fulfilled. We measure what we have done against the activities of others and determine that we’re doing well. Our guilt has disappeared. We think the Lord is happy with us because we have accomplished the biblical things that should be done. Then, slowly, we become a people who are legalistic, and, even with the best of intentions, have slipped into a guilt-eliminating cacophony of laws—or principles, as we prefer to call them. We should not be motivated by guilt or self-satisfaction. We should be motivated by our love for Jesus. We should be “rich toward God.”

Here is the last scriptural truth for us to consider, but it’s not in the New Testament. It has to do with the Sabbath year. If you’re not familiar with this, the Lord required Israel to do no work in their fields every seventh year. That which grew up on its own was to be left to the poor. Think about this with me. Can you imagine an agricultural family, which most families were at that time, receiving no benefit from their land for one year? This speaks volumes about how the Lord views money. Clearly, the Lord is asking His people to take a major financial hit. This would require an enormous trust in the provision of God. I am convinced that the Lord is astronomically more concerned about our relationship with Him than our material wealth.

So, to sum up, how much does the New Testament require a believer to give and to whom? It simply says to give to those in need. Who are those in need? To whatever needy person the Lord prayerfully directs.

In all of this, we must be careful. We must make knowing Jesus our primary aim. We should ask Him where, how much, and to whom to give. Use tithing as a starting place for giving, if that is helpful. Give to the poor wisely. Give to individuals, not to organizations, when possible. It opens up the possibility to develop or further a relationship.

1All scripture passages are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

Thanks to Ben Williams for the photo.

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In this blog’s series on Christian giving, I attempted to present the biblical truth that riches have a negative, not positive, effect on the Church. In the last post, I offered evidence that the teaching that many church leaders offer about tithing is misleading and confusing, because they teach that the tithe is associated with the blessings and cursings of the Mosaic covenant, which is no longer in force. In addition, surprisingly, if it were in force, the Old Testament tithe was to be used to supply food so one could eat with his family, widows, orphans, the sojourner, and the landless, which included the Levite, who was not allowed to own property. (See https://jlthomson.wordpress.com/2015/02/02/i-have-been-misled-about-christian-giving-and-it-is-my-fault-as-well-part-seven-or-the-church-should-teach-the-truth-about-tithing/) Perhaps, after reading these articles, you may have asked, “If the Bible says that riches are actually harmful to the Church, and tithing is not required, how should I give? Where should my offerings go?” Or perhaps you said, “Wait a minute, Jim. The Bible tells us to support our pastors. And tithing was done before Moses, when Abram tithed to Melchizedek.” Let’s begin with the last statement about the tithe to Melchizedek. Good point, but we must determine if this passage in Genesis 14 is descriptive or prescriptive. In other words, did the Holy Spirit inspire the author to write this account so believers would practice tithing? Tithing is not taught in the New Testament, and no Spirit-inspired author makes use of Abram’s obeisance to Melchizedek in order to instruct believers about giving. However, if Christians use Genesis 14 as a guideline for their generosity, there should be no objection, should there? Please note, though, that Abram didn’t tithe to a church, obviously, since it didn’t exist. He also didn’t tithe to an organization. He tithed to a man, who is a type of Jesus Christ. Therefore, it seems proper that if a Christian uses Genesis 14 as a biblical justification to tithe to the Lord, he or she should feel free to give in this way to Him. From my point of view, it’s a good place to start, albeit not a legalistic place to start. It should be pointed out, however, that it is only a starting place, and one should not feel satisfied or self-righteous because he or she has followed some minimum standard of giving because of the descriptive example in Genesis 14. Now, let’s look at the statement about supporting pastors. Yes, you are correct. Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 5:17–18, “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,’ and, ‘The laborer deserves his wages.’”1 And in Galatians 6:6, he wrote, “Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with the one who teaches.” Therefore, we should experience no biblical heartburn if a believer, giving heed to these verses, helped support his elder/shepherd/teacher financially. However, this is not what the average church-goer does when he puts his offering in the plate. He is giving to an organization, which spends that money on any number of things, only one of which is to pay the salary of a teacher or elder. In addition, Paul makes it clear that he refused this privilege and worked with his own hands so he wouldn’t be a burden to the church. Following Paul’s example, I advocate that pastors enter into bi-vocational ministry, which I believe would be a huge benefit to the Church. However, that is a discussion for another time. So, this question remains. “Where, then, should my offerings go, according to the Bible?” We’ll look at biblical answers to that question next time.

1All scripture passages are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

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In the last post, we looked at the giving statement of a well-known mega-church. The opinion put forth in that article was that many Christians have an inaccurate, even unbiblical, idea about Christian giving because the Church has offered very confusing teaching about this topic. In this post, we’ll look at the giving statement of another very large mega-church and try to determine the biblical truths that support their giving statement. As before, the text has been copied and pasted, with no editing.

“A tithe—which just means ‘tenth’—is defined as the first 10% of a person’s income that is to be given back to the local church. Tithing is a principle that is taught throughout the entire Bible. When we tithe, we are expressing worship in a tangible way by putting God first in our lives.”

“Why Would I Tithe?”

“For many, the idea of bringing the first 10% of our income to the Church seems overwhelming. The thing is, it doesn’t matter how much or how little we make, God promises to pour out blessings on us when we tithe. Tithing is about training our heart to trust God at His Word. We know generosity is a huge step of obedience, but you’re not in this alone! We want to know you’re taking your next step in generosity by bringing your full tithe to the church with The 90–Day Tithing Challenge.”

Let’s start here: “A tithe—which just means ‘tenth’—is defined as the first 10% of a person’s income that is to be given back to the local church.”

Is this true? Is that how the tithe is “defined” in Scripture?

No, it isn’t. These folks just manufactured this definition from a passage in the book of Malachi. Actually, they twisted it for their own gain. If you’ve been a Christian for any length of time, you are probably familiar with it:

“For I the LORD do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed. From the days of your fathers you have turned aside from my statutes and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you, says the LORD of hosts. But you say, ‘How shall we return?’Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How have we robbed you?’ In your tithes and contributions. You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you. Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the LORD of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need. I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it will not destroy the fruits of your soil, and your vine in the field shall not fail to bear, says the LORD of hosts. Then all nations will call you blessed, for you will be a land of delight, says the LORD of hosts. Your words have been hard against me, says the LORD. But you say, ‘How have we spoken against you?’ You have said, ‘It is vain to serve God. What is the profit of our keeping his charge or of walking as in mourning before the LORD of hosts? And now we call the arrogant blessed. Evildoers not only prosper but they put God to the test and they escape’” (Malachi 3:6–15).1

Let’s look more closely at this passage. Note the connection between curses and blessings. This should sound familiar to us, because this curses-and-blessings formula originated in the Mosaic covenant, detailed in Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28. However, Christians are under a new covenant (Luke 22:20), not under the Mosaic covenant. In addition, we are no longer under any curse of any kind (Galatians 3:13). Our blessings are in Christ (Ephesians 1:3), not in our ability to keep the no-longer-existent Mosaic covenant.

Even if we were under the Mosaic covenant, let’s look at what that tithe was used for. Moses instructed Israel in Deuteronomy 12:17–19: “You may not eat within your towns the tithe of your grain or of your wine or of your oil, or the firstborn of your herd or of your flock, or any of your vow offerings that you vow, or your freewill offerings or the contribution that you present, but you shall eat them before the LORD your God in the place that the LORD your God will choose, you and your son and your daughter, your male servant and your female servant, and the Levite who is within your towns. And you shall rejoice before the LORD your God in all that you undertake. Take care that you do not neglect the Levite as long as you live in your land.”

Well, this is a bit stunning, isn’t it? The people were to eat the tithe with their households and the priest.

However, there is even more to the Church’s amazing lack of understanding about the tithe. Every third year, the tithe was to be given to the poor and landless.

“At the end of every three years you shall bring out all the tithe of your produce in the same year and lay it up within your towns. And the Levite, because he has no portion or inheritance with you, and the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, who are within your towns, shall come and eat and be filled, that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands that you do. (Deuteronomy 14:28–29).

If the Church were to adhere to the Mosaic covenant, which it shouldn’t, Christians would save their tithes and every third year feed poor people.

May we teach the truth of Scripture and not twist it for filthy gain. May the Lord forgive us for our ignorance.

1All scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

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pesosThe last post ended with this question: “Why do Christians give to churches?” I think most church-goers cannot provide a clearly thought-out biblical answer to this question. The minds of my brothers and sisters, sincere and faithful believers in Jesus, are infused with a mish-mash of misapplied beliefs and traditions, patch-worked together with vague biblical statements they have learned through the years—from churches using a mish-mash of misapplied beliefs and traditions, patch-worked together with vague biblical statements. After reading this post, I think you will begin to understand why Christians’ perceptions about giving to the church are so clouded. Let’s begin by looking at the giving statement of a well-known mega-church to discover how they encourage their attendees/members to give. What follows is a direct copy and paste, with no editing.

“Why We Give: We give because Jesus has given His life for us, we live lives of response to His goodness and grace. We give because we know the mission of Jesus is moved forward by the people of Jesus.”

Let’s start with the first statement: “We give because Jesus has given His life for us, we live lives of response to His goodness and grace.”

This sounds good, doesn’t it? This premise is a general Christian truth with which everyone would agree. However, it doesn’t help the reader come to a reasoned decision about why he or she should give specifically to this church. In other words, this assertion has meaning only when read this way: We give (to this church) because Jesus has given His life for us, we live lives of response to His goodness and grace.

Perhaps an analogy will help clarify the point I’m trying to make. Let’s say that you and your friend are having a conversation about his upcoming mission trip. He asks if you would help support him financially. As a justification for why you should do that, he says, “You should give to my mission trip because Jesus has given His life for us, we live lives of response to His goodness and grace.” How would you answer your friend? You very well may say, “What you say about our response to God’s grace toward us is true, but that doesn’t mean I should necessarily give to your mission trip.” Therefore, a reasonable response to this church’s giving statement would be just the same: “Yes, God’s Word tells us to be generous givers, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that I should give to your church in particular.”

The second statement offered on this church’s website is, “We give because we know the mission of Jesus is moved forward by the people of Jesus.” Our reply to this general truth would match the first one: This is does not give me a satisfactory reason to give to your church in particular.

However, let’s pause for a moment. Why did the leaders of this church think these two vague declarations would be sufficient justification for giving to their organization? I think the answer is that, within the church world, there exists a default understanding that the church is just simply the termination point for your giving. You attend here. You should give here. However, when we read the New Testament, we do not find evidence for this behavior. Instead, we find abundant proof that Christians are to give to the poor.

Paul wrote this in Galatians 2:8–10 after he had first met James, John, and Peter, pillars of the church: “…and when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.”1

A question immediately comes to mind. Why didn’t John and Peter, two of the twelve disciples of Jesus Himself, and James, Jesus’ own brother, tell Paul to remember the church? Why didn’t they expect Paul to give to a church establishment “in response to Jesus’ goodness and grace,” or because they knew “the mission of Jesus is moved forward by the people of Jesus”?

Acts 4:34–35 says, “There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.”

In the very beginning of the Church, people sold their possessions and gave the proceeds to the poor. Isn’t that exactly what Jesus told His disciples to do in Luke 12:33? “Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys.” Therefore, it shouldn’t surprise us that the disciples and the early Church gave in this manner in obedience to their Savior. So, yes, the money of Christians, in response to Jesus’ goodness and grace was given to the Church—to people—to the poor in the church, not to a religious institution.

Paul wrote in Ephesians 4:28, “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.” Paul told the Ephesian church that the money Christians earn by the work of their hands is to be given to those in need, not to a church structure.

John wrote, “But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? (1 John 3:17).

Christians are to give to other Christians in need.

“Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality” (Romans 12:13).

Christians are to give to other Christians in need.

Is generous giving a biblical response to God’s goodness and grace? Yes. Is giving to a church establishment a biblical response to God’s goodness and grace? No, but giving to Christians and others in need clearly is. Does giving to the church move the mission of Jesus forward? Well, according to the verses above, giving to people in need certainly does, because the mission of Jesus was indisputably moved forward by the early Church. They turned the world upside down (Acts 17:6).

1All scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society

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The questions asked throughout this series on Christian giving have been along this line: “Since Jesus taught that riches are deceitful and actually make it extremely difficult for people to enter His kingdom, why do our churches present themselves as prosperous? Isn’t that a dangerous thing to do?” These are very good questions and should be asked. After all, James asked a good question himself about wealth: “Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? (James 2:5).1 This gathering of wealth is a peculiar response for God’s people to make in light of these biblical truths, and it becomes more peculiar the deeper we dig into Scripture. Last week, for instance, we saw that Jesus taught that if we accumulated wealth for ourselves so we could “…relax, eat, drink, be merry” (Luke 12:19), we were fools because we were not “rich toward God.” We also noticed that Jesus had very little regard for money and possessed very little of it Himself.

So, why do we need to raise money today to bring into our churches a commodity that is deceitful and dangerous, for which the Lord Jesus had so much disdain and very little need? Why do we require so much of it?

The reader may answer, “So we can get things done. Spread the gospel. Make disciples.”

However, we know that Jesus had amazing ministry in His brief time on earth, in spite of His poverty. Why didn’t Jesus attempt to raise money for His ministry so He could more effectively spread the gospel and make disciples? You may respond, “He didn’t need to. He was God.” Ok, but why didn’t His disciples raise money for their ministries so they could “get things done”? However, they indisputably “got things done.” They “turned the world upside down” (Acts 17:6). Yet, the only offering taken in the New Testament was to help the starving saints in Jerusalem during a time of famine.

Another response may be, “We need to collect money in order to pay for a building so people can have a place to go to church.”

This answer implies that church is a place, a geographical spot on a map. Where did we get that idea? As you probably know, the word translated “church,” in the New Testament is the Greek word ἐκκλησία, or ekklesia. The word basically means “a gathering of people.” When Jesus said He would build His church, did He mean He would build a lot of structures? No, He meant that He, as Lord of the Church, would build a gathering of people who were to strengthen, love, and encourage one another. The Church met in many places in its early history. It didn’t begin to build structures until the reign of Constantine, around 300 years after Jesus walked the earth. How were they able to spread so quickly and be so effective without funds, even under persecution much of the time?

Please note that Jesus left behind no organizational structure before He ascended to heaven. The only structure I can find in the New Testament is the appointing of elders in the churches. This is a relational, eldership leadership, not an organizational one.

By now, you may be asking, “Well, Jim, what’s your point?”

I’ll respond with two questions of my own. If wealth is deceitful and spiritually impoverishing, if the poor are rich in faith, if Jesus didn’t collect offerings and neither did His disciples in spite of their stunning success, why do Christians give to churches? Why do our churches need it?

1All scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society

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