Malachi 3:8 KJV|
Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings.
Probably no other verse is more overused in the New Testament then this Old Testament passage. Why? Because many Christian leaders feel that this scripture gives them the authority to berate Christians into financing their ministries. But is this what God had in mind? Is this scripture really intended to obligate New Testament believers into giving to a church organization?
John 12:3-6 KJV
3 Then took Mary a pound of ointment of spikenard, very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair: and the house was filled with the odour of the ointment.
4 Then saith one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, which should betray him,
5 Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence, and given to the poor?
6 This he said, not that he cared for the poor; but because he was a thief, and had the bag, and bare what was put therein.
This passage, along with another reference to “the bag” in chapter 13, is some of the only indication that people gave gifts to Christ Jesus. But what happened to these gifts? Consider Judas’ response in this passage. Judas was surprised that Jesus would allow this offering to be used on His own person. If Jesus made a practice of using the offerings He received for Himself, why would Judas have made such an issue of it? I understand that Judas was a thief, but here he obviously felt justified in rebuking Christ. Where did he find grounds for such a rebuke? Obviously, Jesus taught His disciples that offerings were to be directed to the poor, and therefore His actions here seemed contrary to His teaching. Therefore, to Judas it was hypocrisy.
The issue here is not whether or not Jesus was acting in hypocrisy, but rather what expectations Jesus set for His followers. It is apparent that Jesus received offerings. It is also apparent that these offerings were to be directed to the poor and needy.
And Jesus saith unto him, The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head.
Jesus owned nothing - no home, no property, no means of transportation (i.e., mule, donkey, or horse), no equipment for his ministry (musical instruments, scrolls, etc.) - so you would have a difficult time explaining how offerings were spent on His own welfare. In fact, rather than acquiring His own home, we find regular references concerning Jesus spending time with people in their homes. The vast majority of the money Jesus collected went directly to the poor, not toward His personal needs or those of His ministry. There are a few passages that could be taken to suggest that some of this money may have been used on His actual needs, but obviously this was not His normal practice.
In the following passage, we find further evidence that whenever possible Jesus avoided the use of people’s offerings for his own needs. Here Jesus is faced with the dilemma of how to pay His tax. Does He simply draw from the offerings of the people as though the money were for use at His discretion?
Matthews 17:24-27 KJV
24 And when they were come to Capernaum, they that received tribute money came to Peter, and said, Doth not your master pay tribute?
25 He saith, Yes. And when he was come into the house, Jesus prevented him, saying, What thinkest thou, Simon? of whom do the kings of the earth take custom or tribute? of their own children, or of strangers?
26 Peter saith unto him, Of strangers. Jesus saith unto him, Then are the children free.
27 Notwithstanding, lest we should offend them, go thou to the sea, and cast an hook, and take up the fish that first cometh up; and when thou hast opened his mouth, thou shalt find a piece of money: that take, and give unto them for me and thee.
Why didn’t Jesus pay this tax from “the bag?” We find that Jesus did not treat the money collected from God’s people as though it were at His discretion, but rather He sent Peter to work (fishing) for the money they owed.
Other than for a few exceptions the money collected in the New Testament is not spent on anything but the poor. How does this compare to the practice today of using the collections of the saints to the purchase perceived needs of ministry equivalent to our buildings, multimedia devices, parking lots, sound systems, and staff salaries? The idea of financing the business and material needs of a ministry is just not taught.
Christian leaders have, for the most part, abandoned New Testament teaching when it comes to offerings. They routinely “rob God” by using offerings as though it were merely a discretionary fund. Because of this, very little (if any) of the offerings they collect go to the poor and needy. It goes to construct a corporate empire for their ministry - one that promotes their name and their cause instead of Christ Jesus. They will be held accountable for their fraudulent actions.
What should we take from this?
1) We should not use the offerings of the saints to finance ministries, to build and decorate buildings, or to pamper the comforts of church members, as is today generally practiced throughout Christendom.
2) Jesus exampled for us that a central part of His ministry was to meet the physical needs of the poor and needy, and such an idea is also echoed in the words of James the brother of Jesus.
James 1:27 KJV
Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.
The word “religion” here (Greek threskeia, Strongs 2356) signifies “religion” in its external aspect, or “religious worship.”
Rather than address the spiritual aspects of our worship as do Paul’s epistles, James draws attention to the outward expression of our religious worship, or religion as it applies to our social lives. In other words, James felt that it wasn’t enough to express our religion to God. As he saw it there must be an equivalent expression of our religion to the world. James lists two measurements: 1) “to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction,” and 2) “to keep himself unspotted from the world.”
The word “to visit” (Greek episkeptomai, Strongs 1980) means “to inspect, to look upon, care for, exercise oversight,” and therefore means “to visit” by helping. The word visit conveys the idea of a socially “active” religion. Our religion must not be “passive” when it comes to the poor and needy. We are not to wait for those in need to come to us, but we are to go to them. We are to look for opportunity to help, to aid, and to support. How many Christian leaders practice this? Virtually none. They are so wrapped up in the affairs of their ministry that any help for the poor and needy of the community is usually relegated to an elder or deacon who does what he can when he has time. In short, offerings go directly to the discretion of the minister rather than the poor as Jesus demonstrated.
James wrote that our active support (“to visit”) is directed to the “fatherless and widows.” In other words, we are not to usurp the authority of the husband and/or father in the home in that this can lead to a breakdown of the family. We are to actively take “oversight” and to help where there is no husband/father present. It’s not that we don’t help those with husbands and fathers but that such help should come at their request, invitation, and/or permission. Rather than focus on the mechanics of how our help is to work, let’s turn our attention to our social accountability within our communities.
As shown earlier, the word “visit” means “to exercise oversight.” In other words, God has made and holds us responsible for the poor. It is not the government’s responsibility to see to the needs of the poor in each community but the Church’s. For the most part, the Church has abdicated its responsibility and has taken God’s offering for its own needs. It ignores the poor and needy and says, “I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing (Revelation 3:17).” The contemporary church has ceased to be a body of believers whose purpose is to serve. It has evolved into a business that now requires people to serve it and finance its needs. Consequently, the offerings of the saints now go to finance the cost of doing its business.
It is too bad that the Church now uses tax-deductible status to encourage giving. This changes the purpose from giving to the Lord out of joy and gladness to a “what’s in it for me” mentality. In short, the perception most Christians now have about giving is that it’s a duty rather than a pleasure. Giving has now become a sort of church tax. Many church leaders describe offerings as a way for saints to “invest” money and receive (at least) a 100% return on their investment. Offerings have become, at best, the equivalent to a Wall Street investment and, at worst, an income tax.
If all churches and ministries operated as Jesus did, world poverty and hunger might be a thing of the past. One study done in 2003 estimated that, in the USA, $87 billion was contributed to tax-exempt organizations, the vast majority of those organizations being churches. Since many churches do not file a 990, the exact amount could be considerably more. Is there any doubt that $87+ billion a year, if directed to the poor and needy, could do far more good than the paving of parking lots and the purchase of multimedia equipment? If churches began to direct offerings to the right place, it would renew people’s faith in them and would cause a genuine outpouring of generosity. Remember the outpouring of relief after Hurricane Katrina? Directing all offerings to the poor could stir up apathetic churches and cause a fresh renewing of the Spirit of God. Giving and revivals have always gone hand-in-hand. It is incredible that Christian leaders could actually believe that the financing of their ministries is more important than the “true religion” that the apostles taught and Jesus practiced.
The abandoning of “true religion” by most western Christian leaders is fueled by the “me generation” culture (a culture that holds that there is nothing more important than me). This culture is the fundamental ideology of too many western church leaders. As a result, a church may exist in a community but it is not part of it. Most people do not even know the names of the neighbors who surround their church buildings. These churches are merely the edifices of what they were meant to be. They stand like tombstones that mark the graves of dead saints.
Many Christian leaders today have forgotten their purpose. They do not look to the example of Jesus or what He taught. Instead they look at the back of the head of the minister in front of them. They have forgotten their mission and have become instead the presidents of church corporations that exist in order to keep on existing and growing bigger. Christian leaders no longer feel pressed with a mission to help people because as they see it people exist to help them. Consider the mission of Christ Jesus.
Isaiah 61:1 KJV
The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me; because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound.
Jesus, as well as His disciples, was mission-oriented. Both He and His disciples lived out this prophecy. As a result, the Church they established changed the world. But after their deaths, the church eventually set aside this mission to become the corporate business it is today. It lost the sense of responsibility it is supposed to have for both the spiritual and physical needs of the community. The sad commentary is that most people have neither seen nor experienced a true church. They have been raised in church corporations that are run in every aspect like any other business, thinking it to be the “Church” that Jesus described. It is not.
People are not fools. They know that their hard earned dollars are wasted on buildings, egocentric ministers, and all of their perceived temporal needs. So people have all but quit giving. Ministers routinely beg, threaten, and bribe people to give. Even so most churches, except for cults, rarely see much above 3% (of net) given by the average church member. This should tell Christian leaders that people have lost faith in their institutions.
Mark 10:42-44 KJV
42 But Jesus called them to him, and saith unto them, Ye know that they which are accounted to rule over the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and their great ones exercise authority upon them.
43 But so shall it not be among you: but whosoever will be great among you, shall be your minister:
44 And whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all.
This scripture should be the test for every action of a Christian leader. It is extremely difficult to see how a servant’s life should be better off than those whom they serve. But many contemporary Christian leaders see offerings as their “budgets” given to them. They use it to finance their personal and business needs. And if their appetites demand more, they simply bewail the people until they get what they want. Does this sound like the actions of a servant?
“Will a man rob God?” When a person misrepresents how money is to be used, it is called fraud. It is a form of robbery. Therefore, when Christian leaders convince people to give offerings and tithes to “the Lord,” but then use it as though it were their own discretionary spending fund, they have robbed God. It is fraud! Christian leaders need to stop accusing their members of robbing God and start considering their own lives. Christian leader, are you robbing God? Does the money you collect go to finance your ministry, to pay for your church buildings and church operations, to pay your salary and your staff salary? In short, do you use the tithes and offerings of God’s people for purposes other than “to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction?” If yes, then who is really the thief?
Let’s consider Jesus as our example. His mission was not to establish an organization, corporation, or business. His mission was to meet the needs of the community, both spiritually and physically. His mission was all about people. He borrowed a donkey and a room for His final days on this earth. He made it possible for people to make a difference in the lives of others while He made a difference in them.
Consequently, this must be our view. We must take the social as well as the spiritual responsibility for those around us. This cannot be done when the offerings are directed to fund ministry corporations. We must view the collections of the saints as God does: they are His. We must never see the offering of the saints as discretionary funds to finance our ministries. Our mission must not be the establishing of a Christian corporation as it is with far too many Christian leaders, but simply to be Jesus to the world.
Where do I suggest you go from here? Stop directing your offerings to church leaders who merely absorb your money into the edifice of their ministry corporation, and instead direct it to those who actually act upon “pure religion.” Okay, this may not be easy. So, if you can’t find any, give it to the poor and needy yourself. I promise you, they won’t be hard to find!
firstname.lastname@example.org (use the same address for MSN Messenger)