The following article is not an attempt to place the Lord's people back under the law of Moses or the Levitical priesthood in any way. I would not desire to put the Lord's people under any Mosaic law because to put them under one would obligate them to keep them all. And this article is not an attempt to put the Lord's people under the Mosaic law of tithing either. According to Oxford's English Dictionary, the word tithe means "any levy, tax, or tribute of one tenth. To take the tenth of. To exact a tithe from. To exact or collect on tenth from goods or produce by way of the tithe." We are not proposing that the Lord's New Testament Church has the right to exact or demand the tithe from anyone. The Mosaic law of tithing was given to the Hebrews because of the fact that they had transgressed the principle of firstfruits established in the Garden of Eden. This is what we will attempt to prove from the Scriptures in this article.
I verily believe that we, the Baptist Church, have transgressed this principle of firstfruits giving of a regular, consistent percentage; and this transgression has been one of the major contributors toward the rapid decline of the Baptist church in our country. I submit the following article knowing that it will offend some and be misunderstood by others; but I hope that by God's grace it will also help us return to the true pattern for giving that God established for Adam and Eve in the Garden.
We have failed to teach the solemn obligation and privilege of giving in the New Testament church. And in order to emphasize how tremendously important it is, I refer you to Philippians 4:18-19. "But I have all, and abound: I am full, having received of Epaphroditus the things which were sent from you, an odour of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, well pleasing to God. But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus." What is the point? A believer's financial giving constitutes a personal act of worship to the Lord. These verses point out that the primary emphasis of giving is not that of a church member giving to the church, and surely not to the minister, but to God. "An odour of a sweet smell" appeals to the biblical picture that incense symbolizes prayer, one of the most personal acts of communication between us and the Lord. Giving is as personal and as directly an act of worship toward God as prayer. "A sacrifice acceptable, well pleasing to God" takes us to the rich symbolism of Old Testament personal sacrifices. And in the light of Romans 12:1-2, these verses also raise an interesting question. How do I present my body a living sacrifice and withhold unduly of the financial rewards of my physical labor? How do I guard my pocketbook and freely give my body to the Lord" Also I feel that we must recognize the promise that is contained in Philippians 4:19, "My God shall supply all your need." If I make God's kingdom my first priority of giving, how can I meet all the daily needs of my budget? My God shall supply all your need. In other words, God shall intervene with His providence to ensure that all my needs will be met. Amen.
In closing, let me say that I have never, in all the years of my ministry, met a person who cheerfully practiced firstfruits percentage giving who would now go back to their original system of inconsistent, sporadic giving. And I have never seen one that went hungry or naked as a result of returning to God that which He says is His. In fact, the very opposite of that has been my experience. It seems that if we are willing to return to God what He says we should, that He prospers us all the more, even when we cannot understand how He does it. If we will follow God's way, we will win a victory over covetousness that we cannot even imagine. It is, like all other obedience to the commands of God, true freedom.
My sincere thanks go to Elder Gary Harvey for his typing, arranging, and editing suggestions, without which I could never have written this article. And I also deeply appreciate his continual encouragement, as well as that of Elder Carl Staten. They have both been a great support to me in every respect.
Thanks also to those six men who read this article and offered their comments to me. Their critiques brought out many thoughts and ideas that were of great help. As a matter of fact, the third paragraph of this introduction is a direct result of an encouraging and instructive letter I received from one of those fellow ministers. I had never thought of Philippians 4:18-19 in the light of giving before. And even the one who utterly disagreed still extended to me his encouragement, love, and fellowship. And with such, I can continue to serve the Lord with joy.
THE PRINCIPLE OF FIRSTFRUITS.
Matthew 22:21. "Then saith he unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's."
Matthew 5:20. "For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven."
I Timothy 6: 10. "For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows."
I believe there is no larger subject in the Bible than the subject of giving. Giving involves every aspect of our lives, and we are to give of our time, energy, love, encouragement, even our prayers. But it also seems to me that there is a great deal of confusion among our people as to the Biblical, New Testament pattern for returning our financial resources to God, in order to support the ministry and spread the gospel of how God saves His people. I am afraid that here, as in many other areas, we have been fighting the battle of 1832 for too long. We have refused to even consider a practice if it is associated with Arminianism, no matter how Biblical that practice may be. If they did it, we weren't about to. And in this, we have in many cases thrown out the baby with the bath water.
God is immutable, unchangeable. And whatever pleased Him in the days of Adam and Eve pleases Him today, unless we have explicit scripture to teach to the contrary. Murder was wrong then, and it is still wrong now. And way back in the Garden of Eden., God established a principle that has never been altered or revoked. I speak of the principle of firstfruits. This principle runs throughout the Bible, and if there is any overarching principle that will cover all aspects of our lives, as concerning giving and receiving, it is the principle that the first, the very best, of all that we have belongs to God. It is His; it is not ours.
God taught this principle to Adam and Eve in the Garden. Then they taught it to their children, Cain and Abel. How else would those two boys have known to give the fruits of their labors back to God? Notice Genesis 4:1-5. "And Adam knew Eve his wife; and she conceived, and bare Cain, and said, I have gotten a man from the Lord. And she again bare his brother Abel. And Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground. And in process of time it came to pass, that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the Lord. And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof. And the Lord had respect unto Abel, and to his offering: But unto Cain and to his offering he had not respect. And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell." I think that both of these boys did what was right, but Cain didn't do it with the right spirit, and therefore God was not pleased with him. This is not to say that Cain had the ability to offer an acceptable offering to the Lord, because there is no evidence that Cain had faith, (all men have not faith) and offering acceptably to the Lord must be by faith, and cheerfully. But the astonishing thing to me is that Abel brought a firstling, and Cain brought of the fruit of the ground, the labors of his hands. Here we see the principle of the firstfruits already in effect, only one generation after the creation of the heaven and the earth. God taught Adam and Eve, and they taught their children that the first of what they produced, the first of what God blessed them with, was to be returned to God. What a holy example have Adam and Eve set before us on this point! They were very careful to teach their children what their responsibilities toward God were, and we should be even more careful to do so today. Also, I do not find here or anywhere else in the Bible where God gave the people an option concerning firstfruits. In my understanding of the matter, there are no exceptions to the principle of firstfruits. And I will go so far as to say that it is only the philosophies of men that have made exceptions to the principle of firstfruits. And when we consider that it is God that hath made us, and not we ourselves, and that He is the supreme Lord of our lives, our creator and saviour, and that He knows what is best for us, we will have no difficulty believing that the doctrine of the firstfruits is still in effect and still good for us and still glorifying to God.
When Abel returned to God the firstling of his flock, there was no Mosaic law in effect. Moses would not come along for another twenty-five hundred years. So we cannot blame Moses for the doctrine of firstfruits. It antedates the law. Also, the minimum amount that we are to return to God antedates the law and it is not optional either, and there are no exceptions. We find this next referred to when Abram returned from the slaughter of the kings in Genesis 14. And I want to point out that somehow or other, Abram knew about firstfruits and the minimal amount thereof. And according to Bible chronology, over two thousand years have elapsed since creation when Abram meets Melchisedec. The only conclusion I can come to is that the principle of the firstfruits has been continually taught, from generation to generation, all the way down to Abram's day. Remember, there is no written law anywhere to remind Abram of his duty; yet he knows what God requires of him and does it. Cheerfully. And may I hasten to point out that Abram is often called the Father of the faithful, and that even God has recommended him for his faithfulness. We would do well to follow his holy example.
But in Genesis 14, Abram meets Melchisedec, who is priest of the most high God. Melchisedec brought bread and wine out to Abram, and they had a worship service. And when Abram met him, he gave him a tenth of all. This was pleasing to God then. Abram gave the firstfruits, in the proper percentage, back to God by giving it to God's priest. Notice verse 20: "And he [Abram] gave him [Melchisedec] tithes of all."
And not only so. Abram also taught his children and grandchildren the principle of firstfruits and the minimum percentage thereof. We know this because later, in Genesis 28, Abraham's grandson Jacob wrestles with an angel of the Lord. Then when he awakes the next morning, he vows a vow unto the Lord: "And Jacob vowed a vow, saying, If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat, and raiment to put on, So that I come again to my father's house in peace; then shall the Lord be my God: and this stone, which I have set for a pillar, shall be God's house; and of all that thou shalt give me I will surely give the tenth unto thee" (verses 20-22). Here Jacob, Abraham's grandson, vows that he will return to God the firstfruits that God himself taught even Adam and Eve that they were to return to Him. Jacob, like his grandfather and his father before him, gives God the tenth of everything that God blesses him with, and he does this first. He doesn't wait until all the bills are paid and then give God a small portion of what is left. That would not be the principle of firstfruits. And not only that, he wouldn't be returning to God the proper amount anyway. God comes first.
Eventually this man Abraham and his descendants through Jacob became a great nation, called Israel. They went down into Egypt, in the number of about seventy souls, while Joseph was in power there. Then there arose a king in Egypt who knew not Joseph, and he put the children of Israel under taskmasters, making them slaves. And so they served for over four hundred years, Ultimately, of course, God brought them out with great power, using the men Moses and Aaron. Then God led them to the foot of Mt. Sinai, and there God gave them the law that they were to live by. And the principle of firstfruits is still in effect then. God tells them in Exodus 20:3, "Thou shalt have no other gods before me." He is still to be first. And God still required Israel to return to Him the firstfruits. And to learn just how serious God was about it, let us read Exodus 13: 11-13. "And it shall be when the Lord shall bring thee into the land of the Canaanites, as he swore unto thee and to thy fathers, and shall give it thee, That thou shalt set apart unto the Lord all that openeth the matrix, and every firstling that cometh of a beast which thou hast; THE MALES SHALL BE THE LORD'S." Here again, the first, the best, belongs to the Lord. Now how serious is God about it? Is this obedience optional? Note verse 13. "And every firstling of an ass thou halt redeem with a lamb; and if thou wilt not redeem it, then thou shalt break his neck; and all the firstborn of man among thy children shalt thou redeem." The firstfruits are the Lord's. And here He tells the Old Testament church that if they aren't going to redeem the ass with a lamb, they are to kill it. It doesn't belong to them. It is God's, and it is, as it were, for sale for the price of a lamb. But if the Israelite didn't redeem it, God would not let him keep it.
The law was added because of transgression. And may I point out that there had to be a principle of firstfruits in place at that time, otherwise there would have been nothing for those Israelites to have transgressed. I believe that God gave the law to them to make them do what had been pleasing to God all along. The principle of the firstfruits does not go by the board in the law of Moses. It is right there, alive and well. Perhaps during the slavery days in Egypt, Israel began to forsake the Lord to some degree concerning giving. Perhaps they weren't offering sacrifices to God like they always had. At any rate, God gave them a written law, that they could look at and hear read, to let them know again what they were supposed to be doing. And notice that the minimal amount of the firstfruits giving is still intact in the law of Moses. It is still ten percent. God is immutable and what pleases Him regarding giving hasn't changed. During the Mosaic law, the ten percent, firstfruits were given to Aaron for distribution to the priests to care for them.
I hope that I have established up to this point that the firstfruits belong to the Lord, and that the percentage that God has always required is unchanged. And right here I will say that there is no place in all the Bible, Old or New Testaments, where anything less than ten percent was ever acceptable to God. There are plenty of places where more was acceptable, but none where less was.
Now, in the last prophet that was inspired to write before the coming of the Lord, Malachi, we find a pretty strong rebuke of the Lord's people. Malachi is writing during a time when the people of the Lord have strayed from the true and right paths. They have backslidden, and one thing God rebukes them very seriously for is failing to return to Him what belongs to Him. Notice chapter 3:6-10. "For I am the Lord, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed. Even from the days of your fathers ye are gone away from mine ordinances, and have not kept them. Return unto me, and I will return unto you, saith the Lord of hosts. But ye said, Wherein shall we return? Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings. Ye are cursed with a curse: for ye have robbed me, even this whole nation. Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it." Here God says that these people were stealing from Him. But they didn't believe that they were guilty. They were asking, "How?" How can a man rob God? The answer is that a man can rob God by refusing to return to God what is rightfully His, and what He has commanded be returned to Him, in the firstfruits of all that we possess. And here is a point that I need to make also. Notice that they robbed God of tithes(that is, ten percent) and offerings. Offerings are what is given to God above and beyond the minimal percentage. And in fact, it is impossible to really give anything to God unless we have already returned to Him the firstfruits in their proper percentage. Notice also that God has been withholding blessing from these covetous Israelites because of their thievery. He even pronounces them cursed with a curse. But then He calls on them to repent and begin again to return to God what is rightfully His. And if they will do so, and quit robbing God, He promises to bless them with such a blessing as they will not be able to receive it!
We all believe Malachi 3:6, that God is unchangeable in the fact that it pleases Him to save His people. How then can we assume that God is changeable concerning what pleases Him about righteous living?
Some four hundred years later, John the Baptist came preaching in the hills of Judea. He did not come preaching the law of Moses. He came preaching the New Testament Gospel of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. "The law and the prophets were until John: SINCE THAT TIME the kingdom of God is preached, and every man presseth into it" (Luke 16:16). John came preaching the kingdom of God, the church of God, the New Testament church and kingdom. Or as Mark 1:1-2 tells us, the New Testament gospel began with John. "The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God." And then right on his heels came our Lord Himself. He came preaching the same thing. He preached His own ever-lasting Gospel. He did not preach the law of Moses. Mark 1: 14-15. "Now after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, And saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel."
One time, while Jesus was preaching, some Pharisees took counsel how they might entangle him in his talk. So they asked him "Is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar, or not?" And Jesus had one of them give him a penny, and asked them whose image was on the penny. They told him Caesar's. "Then saith he unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; AND UNTO GOD THE THINGS THAT ARE GODS.'' Now when the Lord said those words, commanding these Pharisees to repent and believe the gospel (He is not teaching them how to keep the law of Moses, but how to be New Testament Christians), He was talking about money! And He said that some of our money, a portion of it, BELONGS TO GOD! And not only that, He commands us to render unto God that portion of our money which belongs to Him.
In other words, we are to give back to God that percentage of our money that He says belongs to Him. Well, the automatic question is, What percentage of our money belongs to Him? Now a lot of people object to the idea of percentage giving. But everyone, no matter who they are, gives a percentage of their income. If a person gives nothing, they have given zero percent. If a rich person gives a quarter, he has just given a calculable percentage of his income. Now it is true that most people probably don't keep up with exactly what percentage they give; and as a result they perhaps think that they are not giving a percentage. But they are, and it can be calculated, no matter how large or how small. Mark 12:41-44. "And Jesus sat over against the treasury, and beheld how the people cast money into the treasury: and many that were rich cast in much. And there came a certain poor widow, and she threw in two mites, which make a farthing. And he called unto him his disciples, and saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That this poor widow hath cast more in, than all they which have cast into the treasury: For all they did cast in of their abundance; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living." I want to point a few things about these verses. First, the Lord did not condemn those who cast in much. Neither did he condemn the poor widow. Also notice that the Lord did not stop the widow from casting in all her living. She was not exempt from the principle of firstfruits. And the Lord knew that she, like the widow of Sarepta, would have all her needs met by a merciful, providential God. The widow who threw in the two mites that were all her living gave a whopping ONE HUNDRED PERCENT! And if a person who has a million dollars gives one quarter of a dollar, he has just given two ten-thousandths of one percent. I say this to point out that percentage giving is a common practice of us all. And perhaps the most important point of all to glean from these verses is the sobering thought that the Lord Himself sat and watched over the treasury. He is still watching over the treasury today. He even knows the thoughts and intents of our hearts!
Now Matthew 22:21, which I have quoted at the head of this article, points out that some percentage of our income belongs to God, and that we are to render it to Him, that is, give it back to Him. And it is the self-same percentage that God has always required; it has not changed. It is the principle of firstfruits, and it began before the law, was taught throughout the law, and continues on through the New Testament time. Notice Matthew 23:23. "Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cumin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone." I have heard this verse explained away in many ingenious ways. One way is to say that the word "law" here is referring to the law of Moses, and that Christ is just telling these Pharisees how to keep the law of Moses. But Christ did not come preaching the law of Moses; he came preaching, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." In other words, He is here preaching the law of Christ that we all, as New Testament worshippers, are under. It is true that we are no longer under the law of Moses, but it is not true that we are under no law at all. We are under grace, but that does not mean that we are free to set our own standards for giving. I Cor. 9:21teaches that we are "not without law to God, but under the law to Christ," and this is the law that is being referred to in Matthew 23:23. Another way I have heard this explained away is to say that Christ is here telling the Pharisees what they should have done already under the Mosaic law, but which they no longer had any obligation to do, But to me, this argument also ignores the fact that we are under law to Christ, and we are not free to do just any kind of way.
It is probably true that these Pharisees didn't have the proper attitude about what they were doing. They were boasting about giving a tenth of even the small things, such as the spices. The Lord is teaching them that this' in fact is what they should be doing, that is, giving a tenth of all their gain, which is the principle of firstfruits. Christ doesn't let them off the hook. He commands them to do the right thing concerning giving their temporal means, and to repent concerning judgment, mercy, and faith. They had been failing in these three areas, and Christ tells them to repent. And, to me, this proves conclusively that Christ cannot be talking about the Mosaic law, because under Moses' law, there was no mercy. He that despised Moses law died without mercy under two or three witnesses (Hebrews 10:28). Also, concerning firstfruits, under the Mosaic law, if an Israelite was late with his tenth, he had to add the fifth part thereunto, making it a total of thirty percent (Leviticus 27:30-33). And under the Mosaic law, the tenth was fairly extracted; records were kept and everything. Not so under the law to Christ. So to me, there is no escaping the fact that Christ is, in Matthew 23:23, teaching a valid New Testament principle of firstfruits and percentage giving that has been God's set pattern since the days of Adam and Eve in the Garden. Render unto God the things which are God's.
In fact, when we put Matthew 23:23 together with Matthew 5:20, we come to a startling conclusion. But first, let me ask a question. Since when has the law of Moses ever outdone grace? It never has. So why should the law of Moses, and the children of God who worshipped under it, out give the grace dispensation? We preachers spend a great deal of time talking about how far superior grace is to the law; but we don't spend very much time talking about bow we who worship God in spirit and truth, no longer inhibited by types and shadows, ought to out give the law of Moses. And in fact this is the very point our Lord makes in the Sermon on the Mount, in Matthew 5. Now let me hasten to point out also, that in the Sermon on the Mount, Christ repeatedly places himself above Moses. He says several times, "Moses said unto you..." or "Ye have heard it said of old time..." In these many passages (see verses 22, 28, 32, 34 39,and 44 in chapter 5) Christ is raising his own teaching above that of Moses. This is natural, of course, since Christ is superior to Moses in every way. In fact, He is Moses' ante type. Then in 5:20, Our Lord says, "For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven." Now Matthew 23:23 teaches inescapably that the Pharisees gave ten percent of all; they were, after all, following after the law of Moses, and also Abraham's example of giving. But Christ teaches in the Sermon on the Mount that we, as New Testament Christians, should give MORE than ten percent. In my opinion, these two verses coupled together prove that we in New Testament times are expected to give at least ten-plus percent of our income for the support of the ministry! We are under law to Christ, who is the very one who taught this lesson in the first place. I find no exceptions anywhere in the Bible, Old or New Testaments, and also I find no incident where God was ever pleased with less than ten percent. The principle of firstfruits applies here, and to everyone.
And I want to stress the first of the word firstfruits. We are not to pay all the bills and then give the Lord a little of what is left. That would be last fruits. Leftovers. We are to give to God FIRST. He is to be first in our lives in every way. We should worship Him on the FIRST day of the week. We should give him the first of our time, thoughts, effort, and energy. We should never give God the leavings of anything. He is our God. We are not to make sure that we have enough for food, clothing, and everything and then give to God. No. "Seek ye FIRST the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you" (Matthew 6:33). And remember, if you seek the kingdom of God, that Christ has said," Except your righteousness exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no I case enter into the kingdom of heaven." When Elisha came to the widow of Sarepta, he did not tell her to give him something if she had any left. He said, "Make me a little cake FIRST" (I Kings 17:13). She did. Oh, what faith she had, and then notice the glorious result! The next day, she found enough meal to provide what she needed. She couldn't explain it, I am sure. And I can't explain it either, but I know that if we will be willing to give back to God what belongs to Him, eighty-nine dollars will buy more than one hundred dollars. And we will all be better off personally, not to mention as churches, if we will render unto God the things which are God's! And I'm sorry if this offends, but if we do not give a tenth back to God, we are guilty of stealing from God. Consider Malachi 3:8.
If a small church had even as few as twelve or thirteen breadwinners in it, and each of those breadwinners practiced giving according to the principle of firstfruits, that little church would be able to support a pastor full time! And what a blessing that would be to those people! To have a man available to them at all times, and he be able to give himself totally to the study and ministry of the word, and have no need to be entangled in the affairs of this world. I wonder if we can even readily conceive of the blessing that God would pour out on the Primitive Baptists if we would just submit to this one New Testament principle and practice it consistently. And I may as well say that until we do practice percentage giving according to the principle of firstfruits, we will never see the support of the ministry achieve the level taught in the New Testament. We will continue to see the confusion about giving that exists in almost every locality that I know of. And the Lord is not the author of confusion. I feel that Malachi 3:10 still rings true today: "Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, THAT THERE MAY BE MEAT IN MINE HOUSE, and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing that there shall not be room enough to receive it." (It is significant to notice, that because of the people's absolute refusal to do what God said, Malachi was the last prophet sent them for four hundred years.) I wonder if this is part of the reason why there seems to be so little genuine revival among us today. Perhaps it is partially because we have grown too covetous over the past hundred and fifty years. But let me ask you a piercing question. Would you like for there to be more meat in the house of God where you are? Would you like for there to be blessings poured out so that you couldn't even contain them? Perhaps at least part of the answer lies in Malachi 3:10, and the principle of proper percentage giving, and firstfruits.
I Corinthians 9:13-14 teaches us that God has ordained that they that preach the gospel should live of the gospel. How? The thirteenth verse begins with the words "even so." How so? "Do ye not know that they which minister about holy things live of the things of the temple? and they which wait at the altar are partakers with the altar? Even so hath the Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel." Notice that throughout the entire ninth chapter, Paul is using the law of Moses as his pattern! That's amazing! He says that what was written in the law of Moses about giving was written for our learning in New Testament times. How can he say that? Because the principle that was contained in the Mosaic law was the same as held true for Adam and Eve and Abraham and national Israel. Firstfruits and percentage giving. Is he saying that we should do exactly as they did in the Old Testament? Of course not. You do not have to bring one out of every ten ears of your corn and pile it up on the meeting-house lawn. But we are to support the ministry in a similar way, like they did. And the only way to do it is with consistent percentage giving. And the proof of this fact is the rarity of full-time support in our day, largely because we have failed to teach the truth about firstfruits.
So using the Law of Moses as our example, let us consider a few of the nuts and bolts details of this matter. Paul himself gives us the authority to do this. Notice I Corinthians 9:9-10: "For it is written in the law of Moses, Thou shalt not muzzle the mouth of the ox that treadeth out the corn. Doth God take care for oxen? Or saith he it altogether for our sakes? For our sakes, no doubt, this is written: that he that ploweth should plow in hope; and that he that thresheth in hope should be partaker of his hope." They gave their percentage to their priest. To whom are we to give ours? Not to any earthly priest, for sure. Remember that Abraham gave the tenth to Melchisedec. We are supposed to give our tenth to our great high priest after the order of Melchisedec. I believe this is the lesson taught in the seventh chapter of Hebrews. Christ is our great high priest, and we are to give our firstfruits to him. How, you may ask, are we supposed to do that, seeing He is in heaven? We do that just as they did in Old Testament days. By bringing our percentage into the storehouse. Well, we don't have a literal storehouse, like they did. True enough. But the Lord's storehouse today is in His New Testament church. So we give our percentage to Christ as He commanded by giving it to his bride, his church, his storehouse. She is, after all, the authority through which all of his work is to be done, and the only organization through which his work is to be financed.
Now we can never forget that the tenth is the Lord's. And so we must disabuse ourselves of the false notion that we are giving the tenth to the preacher! No, we are giving it to the Lord, to our high priest after the order of Melchisedec. We must never consider that portion of our income as charity for the preacher. He is not a charity case. God has provided for him. Notice Numbers 18:20-24. "And the Lord spake unto Aaron, Thou shalt have no inheritance in their land, neither shalt thou have any part among them: I am thy part and thine inheritance among the children of Israel. And, behold, I have given the children of Levi all the tenth in Israel for an inheritance, for their service which they serve, even the service of the tabernacle of the congregation ... But the tithes of the children of Israel, which they offer as an heave offering unto the Lord, I HAVE GIVEN TO THE LEVITES to inherit: therefore I have said unto them, Among the children of Israel they shall have no inheritance." A heave offering was when a Levite would take an offering, raise it over his head and then lower it again. This signified the children of Israel giving it to God, and then God turning right around and giving it back to the Levites. This is exactly the way with the firstfruits. We give them to God, and then He (not the people, and not the church) gives it to the preacher. So, in actuality, it is not the people supporting the preacher.. because the tenth doesn't belong to them in the first place. It belongs to God, and when they give it back to Him through his church, He then turns around and gives it to the ministry for support. Who then is the preacher to depend upon for his support? The church? The people? No, God is his provider. How this should humble us all to obey God, and take no credit for the support of the ministry! God has made the arrangements.
I feel like I should say something about how these provisions are to be handled by the church. There are, as I see it, three main areas where funds are needed. The first, and by far the most important of these, is the support of the ministry. This includes anything under the heading of the spread of the gospel. And under this heading, the most important single category is the support of the pastor. But the spread of the gospel could also include the support of other ministers in the same church, as it did in the Apostolic times. This should be the number one priority of every local church. Also under this heading of the spread of the gospel would be any evangelistic work done by the church or its ministry. Also radio time or anything else the church does to spread the word. Second is the upkeep of the building. We have I am afraid, emphasized this over the support of the ministry, and it is a grievous mistake. But we should be happy to have meeting-houses that are as comfortable (or more so) than our own homes. And the third category is charity.. This means support of the poor in the church, and in the community. This does not include the preacher. He is not a charity case. But there are poor, and the church should be ready and willing to help as opportunity provides itself.
And I must say that most of the time, when I hear preacher's preach on the support of the ministry, they use the new testament texts that are talking about charity giving. These scriptures are I Corinthians 16and 11 Corinthians 9. Notice that in each of these scriptures, the subject matter is the "collection for the saints." I Corinthians 16:1-3: "Now concerning the collection FOR THE SAINTS, as I have given ORDER to the churches of Galatia, even so do ye. Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come. And when I come, whomsoever ye shall approve by your letters, them will I send to bring your LIBERALITY unto Jerusalem." The church at Jerusalem was undergoing extreme persecution and poverty at that time. This chapter has nothing at all to do with the support of the ministry. And neither does 11 Corinthians nine. Notice verses one and two: "For as touching the ministering to the saints, it is superfluous for me to write to you: For I know the forwardness of your mind, for which I boast of you to them of Macedonia, that Achaia was ready a year ago; and your zeal hath provoked very many." And so it is incorrect to say that we can give as we purpose in our hearts for the support of the ministry. In New Testament times, we are to give a minimum of ten-plus percent for the support of the ministry; and charity giving, which is as a man purposeth in his heart, must be above and beyond the ten percent. To teach that Romans 16, 1Corinthians 16, and 11 Corinthians 9 apply to the support of the ministry is not rightly dividing the word of truth. In Galatians 6:6-9, Paul's subject is again the support of the ministry. "Let him that is taught in the word communicate [that is, give our firstfruits] unto him that teacheth in all good things. Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting." Paul makes it very clear here that his subject is those that are being taught by the preacher, and that they are to sow, or support, that one that is teaching them the word. Paul made it clear in other places in the scripture that this is to be done through the church. His statement that "Whatsoever a man soweth that shall he also reap" literally means, "If you spend God's money for things of the flesh, you will buy things that perish with the using." But if we use God's money as He has commanded, we will reap life everlasting, and we will not have to wait until we die to do that. If we sow to the flesh(covetousness), we shall reap corruption. But if we sow to the spirit, we shall reap life everlasting.
And finally, I feel that in this as in all things, the ministry itself must set the example. They are certainly not exempt in this matter. Notice again Numbers 18:25-28. "And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Thus speak unto the Levites, and say unto them, When ye take of the children of Israel the tithes which I have given you from them for your inheritance, then ye shall offer up an heave offering of it for the Lord, even a tenth part of the tithe. And this your heave offering shall be reckoned unto you, as though it were the corn of the threshing floor, and as the fullness of the winepress. Thus ye also shall offer an heave offering unto the Lord of all your tithes, which ye receive of the children of Israel; and ye shall give thereof the Lord's heave offering unto Aaron the priest." This simply means that whenever the Levites received the tithes that God through the children of Israel gave them, they were to turn around and put at least one tenth of what they had been given right back into the storehouse. They were not exempt from the principle of firstfruits. And neither are the new testament gospel ministers exempt today. Is not one of the qualifications for a gospel minister that he be not covetous? I Timothy 3:3. And is it not covetous to keep something that doesn't belong to you in the first place? And are not we ministers to set the example before the believers in all things? I Peter 5:1-3. "The elders WHICH ARE AMONG YOU I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; Neither as being lords over God's heritage, but being ENSAMPLES TO THE FLOCK." Notice also Paul's admonition to Titus in 2:7. "In ALL THINGS shewing thyself a pattern of good works: in doctrine shewing incorruptness, gravity, sincerity, Sound speech, that cannot be condemned; that he that is of the contrary part may be ashamed, having no evil thing to say of you."
I believe with all my heart that we the ministry must and will answer to a holy God for our failure to teach this most important of New Testament subjects. Ultimately, the chaotic state of financial affairs in Zion must be laid at our door steps. Hebrews 13:15-17 says, "By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name. But to do good and communicate forget not: for with such sacrifices God is well pleased." Here, the word "communicate" means to give of our worldly means, and I remind you that we cannot actually give a sacrifice until we have first given unto the Lord the firstfruits of all that we have. Then Paul goes further: "Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves; for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief. for that is unprofitable for you." As Paul teaches us in I Timothy 6:10, covetousness has caused us to err from the faith that God delivered to Adam and Eve in the Garden, the same faith and practice concerning firstfruits that has been God's standard throughout time, right up to the present day. "For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some have coveted after, THEY HAVE ERRED FROM THE FAITH, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows." I am extremely thankful for the progress that I have seen in the last several years, but I feel also that we have only begun. The history of the church has proven that an error in practice will eventually lead to an error in doctrine if it is not corrected. We have erred in practice concerning firstfruits; I pray that God will grant us repentance, lest we err in doctrine also.
May the Lord's ministering servants diligently seek His will in teaching the WHOLE counsel of God, as ones that must give account, that fruit may abound to the account of the Lord's people. Philippians 4:17.
Elder Harold Stumbaugh
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