God's Economic Plan and Tithing
by Lloyd Gardner
The pressure is on in this recessionary climate for the politicians to explain their economic plans. In other words they are being asked, “What are your specific ideas for getting us out of this economic slowdown and to get us on a stable economic footing?”
The bad news is that no human plan will work consistently because of the failure of sinful humans to submit to economic principles given to us by God. The good news is that God indeed does have an economic plan that is foolproof if we would understand it and submit to it.
The politicians will offer their plans but we voters need to analyze them in the light of principles laid down by God. To the extent that we submit to His plan for economic things we will be successful. To the extent that we insist on going our own selfish way we will eventually fail.
God’s plan was first revealed to us in the Old Testament economy of the nation of Israel. When God gave His law to the Israelites in the wilderness His basic principle was stated in these words: “You shall serve Yahweh your God, and He will bless your bread and your water, and I will take sickness away from among you.”
It all starts with an individual commitment to serve God. If we serve Him He, our Master, promises to take care of our food and water and our health care system. He promises to feed us and to protect us from sickness. On the other hand if we choose not to serve the Lord we will have to fend for ourselves for we have rejected the One who has promised to care for us.
In the Old Testament God established the tithe with these words: “When you have finished paying all the tithe of your produce in the third year, which is the year of tithing, giving it to the Levite, the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, so that they may eat within your towns and be filled” (Deut. 26:12).
The Tithe Provided for the Needy
The tithe provided for the Levites the priestly class, strangers who come across your path, orphans, and widows. In the New Testament economy we do not have a Levite class but are all considered by God to be priests (1 Peter 2:5, 9). In other words we are to set aside part of our earnings to care for one another. In the Old Testament the temple was an actual physical dwelling place of God. In the New Testament we, the people of God, are the corporate temple, the dwelling place of God (1 Cor. 3:16; Eph. 2:21).
If we are the temple of God and the spiritual Levites of God, we should not have anyone among us who is needy. In the Book of Acts when the Holy Spirit was poured out and believers began to function as the church, they sold their possessions and gave the proceeds to the apostles, who in turn distributed to those who had need.
This was God’s way of telling us that we are indeed His temple, the body of Christ, and members of one another. We are not isolated individuals without spiritual connection to one another but members of one another in Christ.
When one member suffers we all suffer with him and when one member is honored we all rejoice with him (1 Cor. 12:26). The parts of the church should be so close to one another that they meet one another’s needs as the Spirit directs. We are a family and no one in the family should suffer in need unless they fail to take individual responsibility for their lives.
The passage in Deuteronomy also speaks of meeting the needs of the orphans and the widows. This too is a provision in the New Testament. The orphans and widows cannot provide for themselves so we should care for them. Our gifts to God should go toward meeting the needs of the needy.
This is why James says, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit the orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (James 1:27). We are not to lose track of the truly needy among us whether the need is economic or whether it is for fellowship. The weak among us should not fall through the cracks and be forgotten.
This is also why Paul tells Timothy to put widows on the list of those to be cared for by the church (1 Tim. 5:9), and why the first deacons were chosen to care for the needs of the widows (Acts 6:1).
These needs are not to be met by the government or by the worldly community but by the church. The church is a spiritual family committed to serve one another, not a human organization functioning by the rules of the world. To the extent that the church has forsaken this responsibility our country has suffered economic distress.
When the church cares for its own, prosperity breaks forth because the word says, “...whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully” (2 Cor. 9:6). We will reap according to how we sow and if all are sowing into one another’s lives there will be a bountiful harvest for all. This verse is not speaking about giving to a ministry or church organization but to the needy among us. Paul was saying this in regard to taking up a collection for the needy saints in Judea (1 Cor. 9: 1-5).
Tithing is not part of the New Testament Economy
Some have made a devastating error by teaching that a ten percent tithe is still required by God in the church age. Tithing is not part of the New Testament economy. Paul summarizes the New Testament principle of giving when he wrote, “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor. 9:7).
In other words we are to be led by the Spirit in our giving and give as He leads us and as we purpose in our hearts as a result of His leading. Nowhere in the New Testament is there a mandate to give ten percent but there is a calling to give all we are and have to Christ. He gives us a sufficiency in all things so that we “...may abound in every good work” (9:8). God gives us abundance so that we may meet the needs of others.
Christ calls us to give everything that we have. Everything we own belongs to Him and thus should be available to our brothers and sisters. The Christian walk begins in response to the words of Christ, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matt. 16:24). We are to die to our self-life and deny it daily as we follow Christ.
The modern American way is “every man for himself.” It was not that way in the beginning of this country. Church and family cared for the needy. In the early days of America one was considered an infidel if he did not care for the orphans, widows and other needy people. Now we turn our heads away from the needy because we consider them the responsibility of the government and secular organizations.
The Church is “us” Much of this disorder is caused by our misunderstanding of what church is. We have come to see church as a human organization with a building and programs that take care of needs such as these. To the extent that we move away from the scriptural understanding that the church is “us,” we move away from God’s mandate for us to care for one another. The closer we are to one another the more we see the need to care for one another’s needs.
If we “go to church” where hundreds or thousands of people gather under the banner of an organization, we become distant from one another and cannot see needs when they arise. We depend on the organization to take care of the needy while we abdicate our responsibility. We come together, sing some songs, listen to a sermon, and go about our individual way.
God is bringing His people around to a rediscovery of a simple truth: we are the church and we must live together in such a way that we are connected with one another spiritually and physically. This demands meeting together regularly in small enough groups that we can look each other in the eye and listen to one another as we pursue Christ and His truth together.
The church in Jerusalem had grown to many thousands in a short period of time and yet they still met in homes in small groups of intimate fellowship (Acts 2:46; 5:42). They met in the temple in large groups at times but regularly broke up in home gatherings so they could have genuine fellowship where they shared their lives with one another.
Whether we accept it at this point or not, God is leading His people back to this simplicity. With that simplicity will come a return to a simple economy.
The church should lead the way in demonstrating God’s economy. It is based upon the realization that we are members of His body and members of one another. We are not individuals who have no connection to our brothers and sisters. Their needs are our needs. We should care enough about one another that we put the government out of the business of caring for the people. It has proven itself completely lacking in the ability to do that.
We are to render unto Caesar the things that are his but to God the things that belong to Him. We will give our required taxes but we will not expect the needy to be cared for through those taxes. We will care for those in need in our midst.
Contributing to the Needs of the Saints There are many passages that speak to this truth but Romans chapter 12 makes it very clear that we are a body and should be given over to one another. The chapter speaks of having genuine love, showing honor, being constant in prayer, and living in harmony with one another. Right in the middle of the chapter are the words, “Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality” (12:13). If we are in close proximity to one another we will see the needs around us and seek to contribute with others to meet those needs.
In our present church fellowship we have seen this work in a wonderful way. One family was in need of a car so we secretly gathered the money together to buy the family a car. Another family, due to regular hospitality in their home, wore out their living room furniture. The church took up a private collection and surprised them with a new living room set when they returned home from a trip. Mary and I were the recipients of this love when I was sick and undergoing medical treatment in Sacramento. On two occasions when we went to the hotel lobby to pay our bill we found that it was paid anonymously. We were blessed to say the least.
Since we meet in homes and are close with one another we knew of these needs and cared deeply enough for one another to give according to what we possessed. No one was required to give but we simply asked God what we were to do and obeyed what He said. This is giving by the Spirit. This is God’s economy.
The politicians will all be trying to sell us on their ideas. To the extent that they understand that God wants us caring for one another at the local level. A true, effective economy cannot work from a distance.
Yes but Now I can hear some of you saying, “Yes, but things have changed and we can never return to that economic system.” I would say things have definitely changed but is the change due to the God’s transforming power or is it due to our tendency to conform to the world? It is my conviction that we have abandoned God’s way and have allowed ourselves to adopt the world’s economic principles.
I believe that God has shown me that we will soon experience devastating economic collapse in this country because we refuse to take step one in this process: “You shall serve Yahweh your God.” We have turned away from God and think that we can maintain our prosperity without Him. Israel learned the hard way that this is not possible. The collapse is coming because we have rejected the One who brings prosperity.
Economic turmoil is coming. When it comes we Christians will be forced to rely on God and one another. This will be a time when God will cause us to regain His economic plan. God’s plan calls for us to take individual responsibility for our lives and then obey Him in contributing to the needs of our brothers and sisters. He will prosper us in the midst of great economic collapse if we will obey Him. His church will come together in intimate relationship and believers will once again serve one another.
This disaster is coming and we need to return to God’s word in preparation for it. Don’t just take my word for this. Seek God on the matter and see what He says. When you have heard His word—prepare yourselves spiritually and physically. May God give you grace for the coming trial and the victory it will bring.