The Agora
Bible Articles and Lessons: M

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Perhaps no area in our life in the Truth is more sensitive than our attitude toward money, and what it can buy, in our materialistic society. Here certainly is one of those areas where it is very wrong for any believer to judge the motives or conduct of his fellows. But, at the same time, here especially is an area of life where each believer must examine his or her own attitudes and actions. It is in this spirit, and with a desire only to help and not to legislate or coerce, that the following is offered.

While caring for oneself and one's family is an obligation of the Truth (1Ti 5:8; 2Th 3:8-12), there is also a need not to over-emphasize the importance of money and possessions. The "now syndrome", so much a part of modern expectations and demands, is in conflict with the call of discipleship (2Ti 2:3,4; Mat 6:24-34; Pro 30:7-9). "A man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions" (Luk 12:15). The headlong pursuit after cars, well-furnished houses, and an array of sports equipment and amusement devices does not, in itself, guarantee happiness. 'If only I had... such-and-such, and so-and-so... things would be so much better' is a view of the world which underlies the appeal of lotteries, TV give-away programs and advertisements. It is a mistake to think that the more one has, the better things will be. What is required is a determination to live within one's income and to have the right perspective on this world's goods. No less a prophet than Elisha was furnished with only a bed, lamp, table, and chair!

"Buy now, pay later" may be the attitude of the world whose citizenship is very much a part of this system of things, but the attitude of those whose citizenship is in heaven is very different:

"Godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and raiment let us be therewith content. But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. 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" (1Ti 6:6-10).


There are numerous religious communities whose members "tithe", that is, devote 10% of their income to the service of their church. The question inevitably arises: Should we be doing the same? Are we doing as much? And, would we not be in a much stronger position in our witness to our faith if we did tithe? (As a matter of fact, some in our own community do tithe.)

The English words "tithe" or "tithes" occur only eight times in the NT, and not at all in a context which suggests that tithing was an obligation upon NT believers. To sum up the NT usage: The orthodox Jews paid tithes of trivial things while neglecting weightier matters, and were condemned by Jesus for doing so (Mat 23:23; Luk 11:42). The Pharisee of Jesus' parable boasted of his tithing without receiving any blessing from the Lord for doing so (Luk 18:12). Abraham acknowledged his subordination to Melchizedek by giving him 10% of his spoils (Heb 7:6,8,9).

There is in fact no NT doctrine which speaks of the obligation of Christians to tithe their incomes, in the Lord's service.

In the apostolic period, there were certainly men who could well have used all their time in the service of the gospel, and there may have been some who actually did so. The Lord Jesus has certainly established the right that "they that preach the gospel shall live of the gospel" (1Co 9:14). But Paul used this privilege very little because he desired to avoid any indebtedness to men who might misuse their patronage. The funds for such maintenance as was accepted, as well as for the relief of the poor, plainly came from voluntary contributions whose extent was not imposed from without. If from time to time it was very generous, it could also be very tight-fisted; its amount rested entirely with the giver (Act 2:44,45; 4:32-37; 5:1-11; 11:27-30; 1Co 16:1-4; 2Co 9:1-15).

No one has the right to demand that all members of the ecclesia should tithe; but, equally, no one has the right to criticize the decision of individuals to do so if they choose. Our basic principle should be that, though such-and-such is no longer demanded by law, the true believer from the fullness of his heart should do at least as well, or even better.

Two kinds of treasure

"Lay not up for yourselves treasures on earth" (Mat 6:19),
"Lay up treasures in heaven" (Mat 6:20),
"Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also" (Mat 6:21).

This is perhaps the most comprehensive and searching of all the commands of Christ, because it deals with the whole direction and motivation and purpose of life. Broadly defined, "treasures on earth" means anything related to this present mortal life.

The natural way is to accumulate "treasures" of many different kinds. "Mammon" (Mat 6:24) includes riches, material possessions, and pleasures. This desire to lay up treasures... this acquisitiveness (a nice word for simple greed!)... is so universally taken for granted that it is almost heresy to question it. It is the foundation assumption of almost all advertising. Even many "believers" consider it "foolish" and "impractical" even to try to imitate Christ in this respect, and they quote such passages as 1Ti 5:8 and Ecc 9:10 with more than usual vigor, to help set "the proper balance"!

How much impact does this command of Christ have upon us? Whether we consider job promotions, or consumer goods, or "the good life", how many times have any of us made the conscious decision: 'No! I will go no further. I have more than I really need already. I will not pamper myself!' Probably, for most of us, not nearly often enough. It is in our natures (and simply learning "the Truth" does not change our natures) to want "treasures" both in heaven and on earth, to seek both salvation and present advantage. It is so easy to forget that Christ specifically said we cannot have both: "Ye cannot serve God and mammon" (Mat 6:24).

God wants us to be different from the world, with our minds on very different things. Of course, most of us must work, in one way or another, to provide for necessities. Certainly Jesus worked at a trade until the time came for his special mission. And Paul, as he moved about the ecclesias, found work from place to place so as not to be a burden to the believers. But for them these daily affairs had importance only insofar as they were related to eternal things. "Seek ye first the kingdom" (v 33) was the rule of Christ's life, and of Paul's life. Is it the rule of our lives?

"Do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink, nor about your body, what you shall put on" (v 25).
It is a revolutionary concept, totally foreign to our natural inclinations. But Jesus does not bid us obey him without reasons. He gives, in fact, seven good reasons why this philosophy makes sense:

"For thou art my God"

We recognize that the world, even the nominally Christian world, does not heed Christ's advice. But do we do any better, or are we swept up and molded into conformity with the world around us? This is an age dedicated to getting more and yet more money, in order to spend it on more and yet more selfishness: fine houses, fine foods, expensive trips, and the worship (yes, it is "idolatry" -- Col 3:5!) of car and garden and, last but not least, our own adorned, deodorized, tanned, and groomed selves! It is an age when millions succumb to the enticements of health spas and country clubs, to exercise, and diet, and build the new and improved "You". One cannot help but draw the analogy to Isaiah's ironic description of the idolater -- who seeks out a tree trunk and cuts and shapes and polishes it into a natural beauty, finally to fall down and worship it:

"Deliver me, for thou art my god" (Isa 44:14-17).
Different? Or the Same?

What are our ambitions, our goals in life? Are they different from the world, or are they all too similar? Are our older folks eager for retirement, so they can take it easy and enjoy life? Are our middle-aged folks keen on "security"? Are our younger folks caught up in the "timetable syndrome" -- get an education, get a good job, get married, get a house, "get ahead" -- and each goal by a certain date, or they are falling behind? And if they -- the young ones -- are that way, whose example have they followed?

What sets us apart from the masses around us who have no true hope? Is it enough that we believe differently, without living differently? Do we preach separateness from the world one day a week, and then live the other six days as though we were still very much a part of that world? In our pious preaching, do we even manage to convince ourselves that we are really following Christ's example?

"Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth." The use of our money may be the touchstone, the truest indicator, of our heart's desires. Why? Because the obtaining and the using of money makes up so great a part of our daily lives -- we are always spending money! -- so that our ordinary life must be much the same in nature as our ordinary ways of spending money. If we spend our money for purchases that appeal to pride or pleasure, then we are demonstrating in the most practical way possible that those characteristics have firm hold on our lives, to the exclusion of God's truth.

Common Objections

There are several common objections to giving money to help the poor. What is so attractive about these objections is that they masquerade as Scriptural, wise, and prudent -- putting a "good face" on the greed that hides behind them:

(1) "Since Jesus said, 'The poor you have with you always' (Joh 12:8), and we cannot change the world, why should we bother trying?": But Jesus did not say, "Forget the poor because they are always there." He said, in effect, "You will always have opportunities to help the poor." When Jesus was present, his followers lavished gifts upon him, and they did well. But now that he is absent, we may forget that we can give gifts to Jesus just as well by helping his poor brethren. Who would ignore the needs of the Master? But now he sits at the right hand of God, and he can no longer use the cup of cold water, the food, the clothing. But someone else can!

One of Christ's parables was most explicit as to the grounds of rejection at his judgment. It is enlightening to note that the wicked were not rejected for holding some false doctrine. They were not rejected for failing to preach the Truth. They were not even rejected for neglecting to attend a specified number of ecclesial meetings. They were rejected because they ignored the simple, material needs of their brethren, and thereby they ignored Christ (Mat 25:41-45)!

(2) "If I am not careful and prudent (which really means selfish!) I may give charity to someone who does not deserve it, or someone who does not use it properly": This is a common Christadelphian "worry". And it sounds all too much like the businessman proclaiming to the board of directors the "virtue" of the preservation of capital. But in showing love for others through our material gifts, we are exemplifying the character of our Father in Heaven, who sends His rain on the just and on the unjust (Mat 5:45). God loves us whether we deserve it or not. He loves us even when we definitely do not deserve it. He loves us even when we do despite to His grace and turn our backs on His outstretched hand. He is not "careful" or "responsibly prudent" about His gifts.

(3) "By giving away my money (or the ecclesia's money) I encourage others to be beggars and irresponsible": But then, why should I ever forgive anyone? It will just "encourage" him to do wrong again. Or why should I give medicine to a sick person? It might just "encourage" him to get sick again.

(4) "It's more important to use our money in preaching the Truth than to give it to the needy": This is the only one of these four common objections to charity that can stand up to any examination at all. It is true that to give a dying man the gospel is better than to give him a crust of bread. But it can hardly be denied that both could be useful!

The only response to this objection is: If you really believe this, then do it! Do not be like the Pharisee who cried "Corban" when reminded that others could use his material help, and then when the need was past, kept his riches for himself anyway!

The only other thing to be said here is that surely there are resources lying dormant which are sufficient for sizeable efforts on both fronts. At the absolute minimum, resources are available so that our own spiritual family at home and abroad need not suffer hunger and illness, while their brethren are well-off and with goods to spare.

Christ gave everything, even life itself, for us. What can we give him? What "price-tag" do we put on our redemption?

"Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also."

Out of this life I shall never take
The things of silver and gold I make;
All that I cherish and hoard away
After I die, for others will stay.

Though I call it mine, and boast its worth,
I must then give it up for mother earth;
All that I gather and all that I keep,
I must leave behind when I fall asleep.

I wonder often just what I shall own,
When I pass before the Judgment Throne;
What shall I find and what shall he see
In the life and character that makes up me.

Shall the Great Judge learn when I am through
That my life has gathered the riches true?
Or shall at last be mine to find
That all I had worked for I left behind?

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