How well do we take care of the people around us? Many I know personally are very generous, but I have run into a person or two who believe the responsibility for taking care of people’s needs belongs to someone else. My favorite dialogue is in the movie A Christmas Carol , and it goes like this:
“At this festive season of the year, Mr Scrooge, … it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the poor and destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time. Many thousands are in want of common necessaries; hundreds of thousands are in want of common comforts, sir.”
Scrooge: “Are there no prisons?”
“Plenty of prisons…”
Scrooge: “And the Union workhouses, are they still in operation?”
“Both very busy, sir…”
“Those who are badly off must go there.”
“Many can’t go there; and many would rather die.”
Scrooge: “If they would rather die, they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.”
Looking to the scriptures, we see there is much to say about this situation, and how one is supposed to act. In the Torah, which is simply the instructions Yahweh gave us to live by and prosper on Earth, there are these instructions.
Deu 15:7 “If among you, one of your brothers should become poor, in any of your towns within your land that the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother,
Deu 15:8 but you shall open your hand to him and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be.
Deu 15:9 Take care lest there be an unworthy thought in your heart and you say, ‘The seventh year, the year of release is near,’ and your eye look grudgingly on your poor brother, and you give him nothing, and he cry to the LORD against you, and you be guilty of sin.
Deu 15:10 You shall give to him freely, and your heart shall not be grudging when you give to him, because for this the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake.
Deu 15:11 For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.’
According to this, there will always exist those in need. There doesn’t appear to be conditions that seem to matter as to how the person became wanting, just the requirement to help as needed. Jesus also reaffirmed there will always be those in need.
Matthew 26:11 “For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me.”
Next, we see Jesus talking with a rich person about how he may obtain eternal life. First, he tells him to follow the commandments, and after the man says he has done all of that, Jesus tells him to sell everything and give it to the poor.
Mat 19:16 And behold, a man came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?”
Mat 19:17 And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.”
Mat 19:18 He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness,
Mat 19:19 Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Mat 19:20 The young man said to him, “All these I have kept. What do I still lack?”
Mat 19:21 Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”
Mat 19:22 When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.
An early church father, Origen, speaks of a Gospel of Hebrews, which he had access to, and it revealed more to this story. After the rich man said he has kept the commandments, according to Origen, in the Gospel of the Hebrews, Jesus answers him, “How can you say, ‘I have done the law and the prophets’, since it is written in the law: love your neighbour as yourself; and behold, your many brothers , who are sons of Abraham, are covered in dung, dying from hunger, while your house is filled with many good things, and not one of the good things goes out to them.”. Unfortunately, the only text available from the Gospel of the Hebrews today is that which Origen sites.
Looking at the early church, an early church father Tertullian, sheds some light on how the early church handled giving. This is from Tertullian’s Apology, chapter 38 written to the Roman Emperor.
The tried men of our elders preside over us, obtaining that honour not by purchase, but by established character. There is no buying and selling of any sort in the things of God. Though we have our treasure-chest, it is not made up of purchase-money, as of a religion that has its price. On the monthly day, if he likes, each puts in a small donation; but only if it be his pleasure, and only if he be able: for there is no compulsion; all is voluntary. These gifts are, as it were, piety’s deposit fund. For they are not taken thence and spent on feasts, and drinking-bouts, and eating-houses, but to support and bury poor people, to supply the wants of boys and girls destitute of means and parents, and of old persons confined now to the house; such, too, as have suffered shipwreck; and if there happen to be any in the mines, or banished to the islands, or shut up in the prisons, for nothing but their fidelity to the cause of God’s Church, they become the nurslings of their confession.
That sounds quite different than what we see today, with often 80% of church budgets going into just sustaining themselves. What would these Christians of the first three centuries, who had to conceal their meetings and faith to survive, think of massive building projects, cathedrals, and all the luxury of modern churches, when there are people going without daily necessities all around them?
Paul also gives us an example of giving, and that the purpose is to feed the hungry. He quotes Psalms 112:9, “He has distributed freely; he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever; his horn is exalted in honor”.
2Co 9:6 The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.
2Co 9:7 Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.
2Co 9:8 And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.
2Co 9:9 As it is written, “He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.”
2Co 9:10 He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness.
Do we give to receive a tax deduction? It is something that the government allows today; however, are we bound by their rules in succumbing to such a system? What does Jesus say about paying the tax? What would giving be like if all of a sudden we had to compromise our beliefs in order to receive a tax receipt? What if this very thing has already happened?
Mat 22:17 Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?”
Mat 22:18 But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites?
Mat 22:19 Show me the coin for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius.
Mat 22:20 And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?”
Mat 22:21 They said, “Caesar’s.” Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
Mat 22:22 When they heard it, they marveled. And they left him and went away.
Now, let’s look at what Jesus calls the greatest commandments.
Mat 22:36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?”
Mat 22:37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.
Mat 22:38 This is the great and first commandment.
Mat 22:39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
Mat 22:40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
Jesus is not stating anything new here. He is quoting from the instructions Yahweh God gave to us.
Lev 19:18 You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.
Deu 6:4 “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.
Deu 6:5 You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.
Deu 6:6 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.
Strong’s H8085, which is translated as the English word hear, has much more depth in meaning than to simply hear as the English word implies. The definition of the word pronounced shema, שמע, means to hear, listen and obey. This is what James is speaking of.
1) to hear, listen to, obey (verb)
1a1) to hear (perceive by ear)
1a2) to hear of or concerning
1a3) to hear (have power to hear)
1a4) to hear with attention or interest, listen to
1a5) to understand (language)
1a6) to hear (of judicial cases)
1a7) to listen, give heed
1a7a) to consent, agree
1a7b) to grant request
1a8) to listen to, yield to
1a9) to obey, be obedient
Jas 1:23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror.
Jas 1:24 For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like.
Jas 1:25 But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.
In regards to faith and works, James uses this very issue of taking care of people in need, to demonstrate what having faith in Yahweh God looks like. Faith without following Yahweh’s commandments is dead on arrival.
Jas 2:14 What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?
Jas 2:15 If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food,
Jas 2:16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?
Jas 2:17 So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
Jas 2:18 But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.
Jas 2:19 You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!
Where we find ourselves today is likened to the church of Laodicea. We think we are in great shape but the truth is slipping away.
Rev 3:14 “And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: ‘The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation.
Rev 3:15 “‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot!
Rev 3:16 So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.
Rev 3:17 For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.
Rev 3:18 I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see.
We are to buy gold refined by fire, so we can be clothed and get ointment for our eyes, so we are no longer blinded to the truth of His word. Is this partly the meaning of the parable of the wedding feast?
Mat 22:1 And again Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying,
Mat 22:2 “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son,
Mat 22:3 and sent his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding feast, but they would not come.
Mat 22:4 Again he sent other servants, saying, ‘Tell those who are invited, “See, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding feast.”’
Mat 22:5 But they paid no attention and went off, one to his farm, another to his business,
Mat 22:6 while the rest seized his servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them.
Mat 22:7 The king was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.
Mat 22:8 Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding feast is ready, but those invited were not worthy.
Mat 22:9 Go therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find.’
Mat 22:10 And those servants went out into the roads and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good. So the wedding hall was filled with guests.
Mat 22:11 “But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment.
Mat 22:12 And he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless.
Mat 22:13 Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
Mat 22:14 For many are called, but few are chosen.”
How can we obtain this gold Jesus is speaking of to the Apostle John? Hear and do the commandments. Clothe the naked and feed the hungry. Also, Peter tells us our trials our more precious than gold refined by fire.
1Pe 1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,
1Pe 1:4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you,
1Pe 1:5 who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
1Pe 1:6 In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials,
1Pe 1:7 so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
1Pe 1:8 Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory,
1Pe 1:9 obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
1Pe 1:10 Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully,
1Pe 1:11 inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories.
1Pe 1:12 It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.
1Pe 1:13 Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
1Pe 1:14 As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance,
1Pe 1:15 but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct,
1Pe 1:16 since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”
Where is Peter quoting scripture from when he says “since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.’”? It is from Leviticus regarding eating clean. Would Peter cite a verse regarding being holy and talking about obedience, that in context references knowing the difference between what Yahweh declared good to eat (clean), and not good to eat, ( unclean), if the expectation was anything other than to be obedient and holy, like Yahweh, so we would not eat anything He declares unclean?
Lev 11:44 For I am the LORD your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy. You shall not defile yourselves with any swarming thing that crawls on the ground.
Lev 11:45 For I am the LORD who brought you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.”
Lev 11:46 This is the law about beast and bird and every living creature that moves through the waters and every creature that swarms on the ground,
Lev 11:47 to make a distinction between the unclean and the clean and between the living creature that may be eaten and the living creature that may not be eaten.
So often we hear the verses in Malachi about bringing the tithe to the storehouse and robbing God. If we read the entire chapter we get more than discussion of the tithe. We should also look at what the tithe consists of. We see Abram giving a tithe to the Priest of the most high God after the war of the kings.
Gen 14:17 After his return from the defeat of Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him, the king of Sodom went out to meet him at the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley).
Gen 14:18 And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. (He was priest of God Most High.)
Gen 14:19 And he blessed him and said, “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth;
Gen 14:20 and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand!” And Abram gave him a tenth of everything.
The subject of the tithe is enormous, and my purpose here is to just make some of the scriptures known that discuss it. We get more information in Leviticus about what the tithe was at that time.
Lev 27:30 “Every tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land or of the fruit of the trees, is the LORD’s; it is holy to the LORD.
Lev 27:31 If a man wishes to redeem some of his tithe, he shall add a fifth to it.
Lev 27:32 And every tithe of herds and flocks, every tenth animal of all that pass under the herdsman’s staff, shall be holy to the LORD.
Lev 27:33 One shall not differentiate between good or bad, neither shall he make a substitute for it; and if he does substitute for it, then both it and the substitute shall be holy; it shall not be redeemed.”
Lev 27:34 These are the commandments that the LORD commanded Moses for the people of Israel on Mount Sinai.
As we keep looking, we see that the tithe was to be given to the Levite for their service in the temple, and also because they received no inheritance. This next passage also shows that the Levites were to tithe a portion of what they received.
Num 18:24 For the tithe of the people of Israel, which they present as a contribution to the LORD, I have given to the Levites for an inheritance. Therefore I have said of them that they shall have no inheritance among the people of Israel.”
Num 18:25 And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying,
Num 18:26 “Moreover, you shall speak and say to the Levites, ‘When you take from the people of Israel the tithe that I have given you from them for your inheritance, then you shall present a contribution from it to the LORD, a tithe of the tithe.
Num 18:27 And your contribution shall be counted to you as though it were the grain of the threshing floor, and as the fullness of the winepress.
Num 18:28 So you shall also present a contribution to the LORD from all your tithes, which you receive from the people of Israel. And from it you shall give the LORD’s contribution to Aaron the priest.
One additional passage sheds more light on the subject. The tithe appears to be given every three years.
Deu 26:12 “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,
Deu 26:13 then you shall say before the LORD your God, ‘I have removed the sacred portion out of my house, and moreover, I have given it to the Levite, the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, according to all your commandment that you have commanded me. I have not transgressed any of your commandments, nor have I forgotten them.
Now let’s look at the chapters in Malachi, where we see the verse referencing robbing God. Malachi starts out by Yahweh God upbraiding the priests for bringing unsatisfactory offerings to him.
Mal 1:6 “A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If then I am a father, where is my honor? And if I am a master, where is my fear? says the LORD of hosts to you, O priests, who despise my name. But you say, ‘How have we despised your name?’
Mal 1:7 By offering polluted food upon my altar. But you say, ‘How have we polluted you?’ By saying that the LORD’s table may be despised.
Mal 1:8 When you offer blind animals in sacrifice, is that not evil? And when you offer those that are lame or sick, is that not evil? Present that to your governor; will he accept you or show you favor? says the LORD of hosts.
Mal 1:9 And now entreat the favor of God, that he may be gracious to us. With such a gift from your hand, will he show favor to any of you? says the LORD of hosts.
Mal 1:10 Oh that there were one among you who would shut the doors, that you might not kindle fire on my altar in vain! I have no pleasure in you, says the LORD of hosts, and I will not accept an offering from your hand.
Yahweh continues talking to the priests about their faulty offerings.
Mal 2:1 “And now, O priests, this command is for you.
Mal 2:2 If you will not listen, if you will not take it to heart to give honor to my name, says the LORD of hosts, then I will send the curse upon you and I will curse your blessings. Indeed, I have already cursed them, because you do not lay it to heart.
Mal 2:3 Behold, I will rebuke your offspring, and spread dung on your faces, the dung of your offerings, and you shall be taken away with it.
Mal 2:4 So shall you know that I have sent this command to you, that my covenant with Levi may stand, says the LORD of hosts.
Mal 2:17 You have wearied the LORD with your words. But you say, “How have we wearied him?” By saying, “Everyone who does evil is good in the sight of the LORD, and he delights in them.” Or by asking, “Where is the God of justice?”
Sometimes we give tithes much like the priests with their lame and blind animals, worshiping with our lips and not in action, giving money, but not our hearts, as a type of indulgence offering.
Mal 3:1 “Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts.
Mal 3:2 But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap.
Mal 3:3 He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the LORD.
Mal 3:4 Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the LORD as in the days of old and as in former years.
Mal 3:5 “Then I will draw near to you for judgment. I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired worker in his wages, the widow and the fatherless, against those who thrust aside the sojourner, and do not fear me, says the LORD of hosts.
Mal 3:6 “For I the LORD do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed.
Mal 3:7 From the days of your fathers you have turned aside from my statutes and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you, says the LORD of hosts. But you say, ‘How shall we return?’
Mal 3:8 Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How have we robbed you?’ In your tithes and contributions.
Mal 3:9 You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you.
Mal 3:10 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.
Mal 3:11 I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it will not destroy the fruits of your soil, and your vine in the field shall not fail to bear, says the LORD of hosts.
Mal 3:12 Then all nations will call you blessed, for you will be a land of delight, says the LORD of hosts.
Mal 3:13 “Your words have been hard against me, says the LORD. But you say, ‘How have we spoken against you?’
Mal 3:14 You have said, ‘It is vain to serve God. What is the profit of our keeping his charge or of walking as in mourning before the LORD of hosts?
Mal 3:15 And now we call the arrogant blessed. Evildoers not only prosper but they put God to the test and they escape.’”
Mal 4:1 “For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble. The day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the LORD of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch.
Mal 4:2 But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall.
Mal 4:3 And you shall tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet, on the day when I act, says the LORD of hosts.
Mal 4:4 “Remember the law of my servant Moses, the statutes and rules that I commanded him at Horeb for all Israel.
Mal 4:5 “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes.
Mal 4:6 And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.”
After reading chapters three and four, is the take away only about robbing Yahweh God of tithes or are we robbing him of much more? Are we giving him the lame and blind offerings, ignoring His commands and statues , which were given to all of Israel, not just to the tribe of Judah or “the Jews”? He says return to him, keep his statutes and commands, remember the law of Moses and be blessed. Give to those in need, feed the hungry, hear and do the commandments.
Feature picture taken by Emma Vail in Bristol Virginia.