This is a marathon series, not a sprint. For parts 1 and 2 click the following links (Part 1 … Part 2)
And now, the most common reason people raise the topic of being “under grace and not law…”
To get out of tithing.
Friends, I promise you there are a gazillion great reasons for living under grace rather than bondage to the Law, but the above is not one of them.
Once again, let’s take a look at Matthew 5:17-18,
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.”
Since we know now that Jesus did not ever claim to be abolishing the law (quite the opposite in fact) we now need to ask what He meant by, “fulfilling the law.” How was the law not fulfilled before Christ?
Or, to put it another way, How was it not ‘accomplished?’ How was it not ‘complete?’ How was it not ‘established?’
It was none of these things because it was entirely temporal in nature. That’s right, the law was never meant to be the end all, beat all, show-stopper of Christianity. It couldn’t be. Why? Because every sacrifice offered for sin before Christ (no matter how close to perfect it seemed) was imperfect because of the Fall—because of the sin disease. So these temporary, imperfect sacrifices could do no more than point the way to the perfect lamb who would one day come, live a completely sinless life, and pay the sin price once for all with His shed blood on the cross. This is why we no longer need to offer sacrifices to God of lambs and goats and rams or anything else for that matter. It’s done, over, accomplished. Didn’t Jesus say this on the cross?
“IT IS FINISHED!”
But what about the law? Does this mean that it should be abolished as well?
No. Jesus already said it would not be—it would be fulfilled, but not abolished. The purpose of the sacrificial system was completely fulfilled on the cross at Calvary, but the purpose of the law (to point people to Christ) will not be completely fulfilled until everyone who the Holy Spirit points to Jesus is saved and we see Jesus face to face.
Now listen very carefully at this point because here is where I may lose some of you. You can’t be saved through the law (you never could) but the law still points out the fact that we are sinners in need of a savior. It’s just that we do not respond to the conviction of the law by going out and purchasing a nice, plump little lamb and burning it on a make shift altar in our garage. No, we respond to the conviction the law brings by accepting the once for all sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. People in the Old Testament were saved by faith in God for what He would one day do. People in Jesus’ day were saved by faith in the present Lord and what He was doing. Today we are saved by faith in the finished work of Christ. No matter what point in history you lived there is still (as Luke said in Acts 4:12) only salvation through Christ—“Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”
Ok, pastor Rob, I get that, but what about those pesky “seemingly contradictory” passages you alluded to earlier? Passages like Ephesians 2:15-18, where it seems like Paul is saying the opposite of what Jesus is saying? Or Hebrews 7:18-19? Quickly, I’ll address each of these…
First, the passage in Ephesians. Here it is,
“14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. 17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.”
The scope of Jesus’ work as our “peace” is detailed here.
First is the work of union which is bringing together both Jews and Gentiles–that is, “believing” Jews and Gentiles. They are no longer Jews or Gentiles, but Christians. Strictly speaking, it is not accurate even to speak of them as Jewish Christians or Gentile Christians. All fleshly distinctions, such as nationality, were nailed to the cross.
The second phase of Christ’s work for our peace might be called, “demolition:”
“He has broken down the dividing (middle) wall of separation…”
This speaks not of a literal wall, but of an invisible barrier set up by the Mosaic Law of the commandments contained in the ordinances which separated the people of Israel from the nations around them. This is talked about in the Believer’s Commentary as follows,
“The non-literal wall that spiritually separated the Jews from the pagan nations around them if often illustrated the literal wall which restricted non-Jews to the Court of the Gentiles in the Temple area. On the wall were no Trespassing signs which read: “Let no one of any other nation come within the fence and barrier around the Holy place. Whoever is caught doing so will himself be responsible for the fact that his death will ensue.”
Pretty strict, eh?
The third aspect of Christ’s work was the abolition of the enmity that smoldered between Jew and Gentile and also between man and God. That is what’s being abolished–not the law. Paul identifies the law as the “innocent cause of the enmity, that is, the law of the commandments contained in the ordinances. The law of Moses was a single legislative code; yet it was made up of separate, formal commandments; these in turn consisted of dogmas or decrees covering many, if not most, areas of life. The law itself was just, holy, and good (Romans 7:12), but man’s sinful nature used the law as an occasion for hatred. Because the law actually did set up Israel as God’s chosen earthy people, many Jews became arrogant and treated Gentiles with contempt. In return, as one can imagine, the Gentiles weren’t the Jews biggest fans either.
Jesus died to pay the penalty for all law that has been broken by anyone at any time. Thus, He completely satisfied the righteous claims of the Father. Now approaching God via a strict adherence to the rule book (the Law) would be foolish (and useless). The law was a GPS instrument meant to point the way to Jesus. It was a runner in a relay meant to hand it off to the final runner–Jesus–who took the baton and ran the final lap. In this sense, it is correct to say that believers are no longer under the law but under grace.. However, this does not mean that they can live as they please; it means they are now enlawed to Christ, and should live as He pleases.
And Hebrews 7:18-19?
“18 For on the one hand, a former commandment is set aside because of its weakness and uselessness 19 (for the law made nothing perfect); but on the other hand, a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God.”
This one’s easier. Simple really. Again, this passage isn’t talking about “abolishing” the law in the sense that we are trashing the 10 commandments or something. It’s talking about the ultimate upgrade–from “something” that merely pointed out the problem of sin to “someone” who provided the solution! In coming to fulfill the law, Jesus would no longer point out our flaws and ask us to clean up our act–He would now “take all our flaws (sin)” upon Himself and deal with them once for all time.
The law couldn’t do this–it was inadequate. Jesus can and did–He’s more than adequate! But listen, again, that doesn’t mean the law was evil and needed to be abolished. It did it’s job.
Think of it like using a “Pointer Dog” on a hunt. These dogs will literally ‘strike a pose’ (Not like Madonna–but you get the point) that resembles pointing. Follow the direction they seem to be pointing and you (the hunter) will locate your prey and can shoot it (sorry PETA readers). The dog was therefore, ‘useful’ in pointing you in the right direction, but your furry little companion is not going to kill the pheasant for you. So, since he can’t ‘complete the job’ does this make your little four legged friend bad? Should you ‘abolish’ him?
Of course not.
Listen, I know it’s not the perfect illustration, but hopefully your beginning to see where all this is headed. Living under Grace raises the bar, it doesn’t lower it. And it certainly doesn’t abolish it altogether.
Now, back to the tithe…
Look at Luke 11:42-43,
“What sorrow awaits you Pharisees! For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens,[a] but you ignore justice and the love of God. You should tithe, yes, but do not neglect the more important things.”
Jesus here, indicted the Pharisees for the very thing they were so good at: majoring on the minors, concentrating on external details while ignoring that which was essential and eternal. It was not their tithing that was wrong, but their failure to love. In fact, if it were the tithing Jesus was getting at, then He would never have added, “…You should tithe, yes,…” Again, if tithing were wrong Jesus would not have said the opposite! Again, tithing was not even the issue here—it was, once again, a “matter of the heart.”
Listen, “If one truly loves. Tithing will follow, for while it is possible to give without loving, it is not possible to love without giving!”
To wrap up, here is what is meant by “fulfilling the law.” In fulfilling the law Jesus is saying that mere ‘shadow things’ are now revealed in all their fullness by the ‘shadow castor’ God (Jesus). Now both sin and good works move from the written tablet to being written upon our hearts. Here are some examples…
Examples of both Sin and doing good—Old Testament (Law)
- You shall not commit adultery.
- Love your neighbor as yourself
- Do not kill (commit murder)
Same Examples—New Testament (Grace)
- To even look at a women lustfully is to commit adultery already in your heart (Matthew 5:28)
- It’s not enough to love your neighbor. You should also love your enemies! (Matthew 5:43-44)
- To even hate your brother is as bad as murder (1 John 3:15)
Question? What’s tougher, the law or grace?
Seems like grace after reading the above! But, if that’s all we glean from this then we’ve missed the point. Jesus certainly wasn’t trying to set up even higher hurdles to jump in the New Testament then we see in the Old Testament. No, what He was doing was clearly establishing the truth that we are all sinners whether we do bad things, think bad things, dream bad things or even try our hardest to do good things. That’s because we are born sinners! All of us. Every single one.
With one exception.
But this still leaves unanswered the mystery of what Jesus meant by fulfilling the law.
He meant no more shadows, no more alluding, no more pointing, no more temporary fixes and no more outward conformity. He’s after the heart. The apostle Paul named the law a “school master that pointed out our sin and drove us to Jesus.” It is Christ alone who can transform us into sons and daughters who do good out of love for Him rather than by following a rule book. This is why Jesus said that the most important, most pivotal commandment of them all was the commandment to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and soul!” Why is it the most important? Because it’s a “matter of the heart.” And out of love in our hearts for Christ (from His Holy Spirit living inside us) comes the power to live righteously before Him–a power no rule book is capable of giving.
To those, therefore, who protest that the concept of tithing being prescribed in the law is no longer relevant to those who live under grace, I point out the following: Tithing is seen prior to the law when Abraham tithes to Melchizedek (Genesis 14:20). Tithing was commended by Jesus when He told the Pharisees that, although they should remember justice and mercy, they should not cease to tithe (Luke 11:42). Tithing was taught by the apostle Paul when he told the Corinthians to give according to how, God had prospered them (1 Corinthians 16:2)—which the early church took to mean tithing, as is seen in the writings of Jerome and Chrysostom. Tithing precedes the law, is spoken of by the Lord, and is seen in the Epistles. Therefore, to say tithing is not applicable in this day and age, I believe, a failure to understand the full council of scripture and church history. And what is the result of this failure?
Malachi 3:9 says, “You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you.”
Whoa Pastor Rob! Now hold on a minute. A curse? What curse?
Haggai 1:9 says, “You hoped for rich harvests, but they were poor. And when you brought your harvest home, I blew it away. Why? Because my house lies in ruins, says the LORD of Heaven’s Armies, while all of you are busy building your own fine houses.”
We bring home our paychecks. Where does it go? The Lord says, “I blew it all away! It’s cursed because you’ve robbed Me. What could have been, what I shaped you for, created you for, longed to see in you can’t be blessed because the blessing has been removed.”
Back to Malachi 3 (verse 10)
“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.”
This is the only place in all of scripture where God says, “Prove Me!” And if we do, according to Jon Courson (one of the best theologians ever and one of my favorites—if you haven’t guessed by now) we’ll see at least 3 things happen…
- Reward – The Lord will open the windows of heaven and bless us in ways we can’t possibly imagine (BTW, you might miss His blessing if all you’re looking for [and all you are willing to accept] is financial blessings).
- Rebuke – Satan is a destroyer, a murderer, a deceiver, a liar. If you can recall times when you have robbed God and things started happening—refrigerators burned out, cars broke down, friends betrayed you—and you wondered what was going on, it could be that you removed yourself from the promise of covering; that you made yourself vulnerable to the devouring of the enemy.
- Revival – When we tithe, fruitfulness will reign in our lives once again to such a degree that even those around us will notice it.