(2 Corinthians 8:13-24)
How should the church be financed? What is the means by which the church should receive it’s funding?
Even though we know that money is not a priority in the Lord, there is a basic financial need in the church for it to operate. We need to pay for premises, whether rented or bought, we need money for songbooks, equipment, and wages for those who do the ministry. But what is the right way of raising these funds so that firstly, we are acting in accord with the gospel, and secondly, that greed and the love of money do not raise their ugly heads.
This is an important issue and it is done badly in many churches because they do not understand the processes that were established by the Lord to nesure this function is in harmony with the gospel. In fact it is so important that the wrong methodology can be devastating to a church, even when or if it appears to coincide with what the bible states!
It is an unfortunate fact of life that where there is money, especially in reasonably large amounts, there will be greed. The Bible tells us in one of Paul’s letters to Timothy that the “love of money is the root of all evils.” (1 Timothy 6:10).
It is important then that this evil, being greed and a lusting after money, is prevented before it can take effect.
How do we as a church stop this occurring? In much the same way as is proscribed by accountants in business. You do not allow one person to have control over the finances, but instead ensure there is accountability spread among a number of responsible and reputable church members. Ideally this would be the eldership of the church, for it is their responsibility as elders to rule the body well. This includes administering the finances of the church.
So it is important first, that the elders of the church ensure there are financial controls in place and that the process is auditable. There needs to be an audit trail with receipts issued and deposits recorded correctly so that no-one can accuse anyone in the church of greed or fraudulent activities.
These controls are important, but even ore is the means by which money is received from the church. There are two prime methods used in most churches today: Tithes and Offerings. One is correct and appropriate, but the other has hidden dangers that actually oppose the teachings of the Gospel and which have been twisted by many modern churches for greedy gain. So let us examine these more closely.
Many churches and people practice tithing as a means of financing the church, and also as a means of receiving the blessings of the Lord. They quote verses from Malachi that seem to indicate those who tithe will be blessed and that failure to tithe will lead to a loss of favour in the sight of God.
However, while those verses are correct, we must understand who they were addressed to and how they fit in the context of Christianity.
Tithing was a law given by Moses to the tribe of Levi who did not receive a portion of the land when the Israelites came into the Promised Land. The tribes were told that the portion appointed to Levi was God Himself, and that the Levites would serve God in the temple on behalf of all the rest of the people. The Levites performed the functions of the priests and a priest could only come from the tribe of Levi. No other person from any other tribe of Israel could serve as a priest or the High Priest. Only the Levites.
Because they had no land to farm, and thus no method of making an income, the law of tithing was established where the Levites had the right to take a tithe from the rest of the tribes of Israel. The tithe was to be taken in the form of grain, crops, sheep, cattle and other primary produce. It was NEVER to be taken in the form of money.
At this point you may wonder why it was the produce of the land and the herds that was to be tithed and not money. To answer this we should consider the words of Jesus. Jesus said while considering a coin with the likeness of Caesar on it,
“Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” (Mark 12:17)
The Levites were doing the work of God and God was their portion. Thus they were being paid by God through the tithes of the people. Since money is not of God but was an invention of man (I.e. Caesar in this case), then God ensured the people would prosper sufficiently to pay the Levites for their work in the temple by ensuring an abundance of farm produce. God was paying the Levites out of the “things of God,” not the “things of Caesar.”
Tithing was not a gift but was an exaction or a tax as the Levites were instructed to “TAKE” the tithe. They had the right under the law to go to the people and take what was due to them under the laws of tithing. And the right was given to them by God as a “perpetual due.” No-one else but the Levites had the right to take tithes from anyone, and in fact tithes were only a law placed on the twelve tribes of Israel.
Then when the tithes had all been taken from the people, the Levites then tithed what had been received (I.e. a tithe of the tithe) and gave it to the temple. And this tithe from the people of the tribe of Levi was accepted as if it were their own produce, sheep, cattle and so on.
Tithing in the Christian Church
If we fast forward now into the New Covenant age we see that tithing does not form part of the New Covenant. Nowhere in the New Testament are Christians instructed to tithe.
Jesus once told a group of Pharisees that they should have tithed, but also there were more important things. He said,
23 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law, justice and mercy and faith; these you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. 24 You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel! (Matthew 23:23-24)
It is important to note first that Jesus was speaking to Pharisees who were under the laws of Moses. Tithing is part of the law of Moses, and so it is correct that the people then should follow that law and so tithe. They were worshipping God under priesthood of Levi and so they had to pay the dues that belonged to Levi, which was done by tithing. Note also what they were paying, which was mint, dill, cumin, herbs, all of which were produce of the land. That is, these were in fact the things of God that they were tithing and they were correct to do so. Jesus said as much Himself.
But they failed to keep the more important parts of the law dealing with justice, mercy and faith, and so Jesus called them to task on it. Not that they were failing in tithing, but they failed in the areas of love and grace.
Finally we see Jesus put tithing into perspective. He calls tithing a “gnat” whereas failing in the other matters was equivalent to swallowing a camel. Note that under the law, both a gnat and a camel were unclean and not to be eaten. Normally if a gnat fell into your food or drink, they would pick it out and continue eating because the gnat was considered unclean and essentially inconsequential. But to eat a camel was horrific under the law and so Jesus showed that failing to show justice, mercy and love was equivalent to swallowing a camel. But ensuring you tithed the most minute amounts produce from your window ledge herb garden was akin to picking out a gnat.
Summarising this matter, tithing is a tiny, tiny thing. It is much, much more important to show the love of God and His grace in all we do.
Tithing is a Problem in the Church
Knowing all these, when we look at the application of tithing in the church today, it is evident that it is all wrong. Consider these points:
- The church today takes a tithe of money BUT the tithe was only ever meant to be farm produce as given by God.
- The modern churches take ten percent from the congregation, BUT the amount that went to the temple originally was only a tithe of the tithe, or one percent.
- The tithe was only to be taken by the descendants of the tribe of Levi, BUT the church leaders today cannot prove their descendency and so presume to be Levites when they are not.
So we can see from these things that tithing today is built on false pretences. It is not mentioned in the New Covenant but is a law under the Old Covenant which leads us to an even greater problem for the modern Christian and the church.
Tithing was a law under the priesthood of Levi and part of the Laws of Moses. But Jesus came to set us free from sin AND set us free from the laws of Moses.
If we have been set free from the law, of which tithing is a part, then why do sections of the church submit to the law? It is not part of the New Covenant and it should not be part of the teachings of the modern church.
But the effect of accepting the teachings of tithing is even more insidious for Christians.
Tithing was carried out under the requirements of the priesthood of Levi as part of the Levitical law. The priests and tribe of Levi received the tithes as payment for their work in the temple.
But as Christians we worship God, not through the temple but through Jesus Christ who is our High Priest, appointed by God, and who is a priest of the order of Melchizadek. Jesus was not a priest of Levi because there was already a priesthood of Levi under the Old Covenant, and Jesus could not be priest of Levi because He was not born of the tribe of Levi. Jesus was born of the tribe of Judah and became a priest appointed by God through power of His indestructible life.
The whole priesthood has changed for those who follow Jesus Christ because He is our priest, not the priesthood of Levi who serve the law. And what we see in the book of Hebrews is this:
”For when there is a change in the priesthood, there is necessarily a change in the law as well.” (Hebrews 7:12)
We have been set free from the laws of the priesthood of Levi through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We now serve not under laws that bring condemnation, but under grace that leads to life. We are called to have the laws of God, that is, the truth that is all about love, mercy, justice, compassion and grace, written on our hearts so that we are transformed by the power of God through the working of the Holy Spirit. It is not about being under law and trying to “be good.” It is about the power of transformation so that we “are good” by nature.
The law that contains tithing is no longer valid in Jesus Christ. It has gone along with all the rest of the laws of the priesthood of Levi for those who are truly in Jesus Christ. So why do Christians submit to the law of tithing?
It is not their fault because they have been taught by the teachers of the churches to tithe. The teachers are wrong, and even worse the teachers and preachers who promote tithing are actually telling lies, and worse, they are putting their congregations back under the laws of Levi when one of the fundamental reasons Jesus came was to set us free from the laws of Levi.
There is much more I could add to this to explain further why tithing is a problem for the church, but instead I recommend you read my free eBook on Tithing in the Christian Church which covers this in greater detail Suffice to say that if you accept the law again, then the work of the Holy Spirit to transform you into the image of Christ will be severely hampered, if not destroyed. As it says in Galatians 5:4-5,
4 You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. 5 For through the Spirit, by faith, we wait for the hope of righteousness.
Offerings and Giving
By contrast to tithing based on the law and by which the Levites had a law to take the tithe from the rest of the tribes of Israel, the financing of the church is not based on a law, but on the freewill giving or offering of goods, based on the excess needs of each member of the church. It is not a tax, which effectively is what the tithe is, but is given freely as each person prospers in the Lord.
This whole chapter of 2 Corinthians 8 in essence speaks about a process for funding the church, and it is all through the gifts and offerings given by each person to the church. There is no compulsion to give. It is not something established by a law in the church, unlike the laws of tithing. Instead it is based on the love of the people in the congregation who are seeking to provide their blessings in return for the blessings they receive through the church.
Note also that if a person cannot afford to give, perhaps through difficult financial circumstances, falling on hard times, loss of employment, receiving a number of unexpected bills to be paid and so on, then there is no compulsion to give. In fact where a person is particularly hard hit, the church needs to pitch in to help them through their tough time out of love for the brethren in the church. As Paul wrote in verses 13-15,
13 I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, 14 but that as a matter of equality your abundance at the present time should supply their want, so that their abundance may supply your want, that there may be equality. 15 As it is written, “He who gathered much had nothing over, and he who gathered little had no lack.” (2 Corinthians 8:13-15)
The key here is in equality and balance. In the church there should not be the “haves and have-nots.” As members of the church, whatever gifts we have spiritually should be employed in the service of the church, and where anyone has abundance in the church, it too can be employed to supply the needs of the members of the church.
Offerings and gifts are not based on law but on love. It is one application of the love of God extended from those members of the church who have the capacity to assist the church, towards those who may not have the same capacity. Likewise, this support needs to flow into the church for the purpose for supporting those who do the work in the church because they are providing a spiritual blessing to the members of the church.
It’s all about balance.
However, what we also see here in 2 Corinthians 8 is that Paul recommends an approach to giving based on putting a little aside each week, so that the gift promised will not be a burden as one large lump. So too, it is worth following this advice and planning your offerings in the same manner. It will also help the church to know that something is coming on a regular basis so the regular church costs and expenses can be met. Oh, and because gifts and offerings are not restricted to ten percent of farm produce only, anything can be given as a gift in any amount. You can give money at the rate of one percent or twenty-five percent. It is up to the individual to determine what they can afford in their own circumstances.
This is how church financing should be met. It should be based on offerings out of love, not a tax based on law.
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