Christianity 201

February 1, 2022

Bible Symmetry and Sacrificial Gifts

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Jehoiada the priest took a chest and bored a hole in its lid. He placed it beside the altar, on the right side as one enters the temple of the Lord. The priests who guarded the entrance put into the chest all the money that was brought to the temple of the Lord. Whenever they saw that there was a large amount of money in the chest, the royal secretary and the high priest came, counted the money that had been brought into the temple of the Lord and put it into bags. When the amount had been determined, they gave the money to the men appointed to supervise the work on the temple. With it they paid those who worked on the temple of the Lord—the carpenters and builders, the masons and stonecutters. They purchased timber and blocks of dressed stone for the repair of the temple of the Lord, and met all the other expenses of restoring the temple.
– 2 Kings 5:9-12 NIV

And that’s our text for this devotional. Have a great day!

…Okay, seriously, where did that passage come from? Well, I was sitting in church and we were reading the story of the widow whose coins dropped in the offering box — or relative lack of coins thereof — was noticed by those in attendance. I’m guessing she had their attention before that moment; possibly by the way she was dressed. And Jesus was there, too.

Sitting across from the temple treasury, he watched how the crowd dropped money into the treasury. Many rich people were putting in large sums. Then a poor widow came and dropped in two tiny coins worth very little. Summoning his disciples, he said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. For they all gave out of their surplus, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had —all she had to live on.”
– Mark 12:41-44 CSB

In the Bible app on my phone there was a menu option to consider further details, and that’s where the text in 2 Kings appeared.

At the time, I was impressed with the connection between an obscure 2 Kings text and the one in Mark’s gospel.

People often speak about the symmetry in the Bible. Things like how the tongues in various languages in the book of Acts is a reversal of Babel. One supernatural act involving language scattered the people, and the other supernatural activity united the people.

Or, take the Garden in Eden. There are trees. What is central in the book of Revelation? A tree.

Or perhaps even greater, this comparison:

There is a nice symmetry in this: Death initially came by a man, and resurrection from death came by a man. Everybody dies in Adam; everybody comes alive in Christ. But we have to wait our turn: Christ is first, then those with him at his Coming, the grand consummation when, after crushing the opposition, he hands over his kingdom to God the Father. He won’t let up until the last enemy is down—and the very last enemy is death! As the psalmist said, “He laid them low, one and all; he walked all over them.” When Scripture says that “he walked all over them,” it’s obvious that he couldn’t at the same time be walked on. When everything and everyone is finally under God’s rule, the Son will step down, taking his place with everyone else, showing that God’s rule is absolutely comprehensive—a perfect ending!
– 1 Corinthians 15:25-28 The Message

We need to learn to love what some have called the beauty of the Bible. How the pieces fit together and form something so wonderful and complex that no human imagination could have ever conceived it

…Back to our original text. I simply found it interesting that the origins of the offering box in the narrative about Jesus and the widow were mentioned in the Old Testament text and how the practice carries through today in the form of what one Michigan church calls ‘joy boxes.’ You know how the scripture says “God loves a cheerful giver?” Well in that church they break out into applause and cheers when the reminder is made of the joy boxes located at the back of the room.

But finding the 2 Kings text this morning proved elusive, as my app no longer showed the link when I looked up the text in Mark’s gospel. Trying to find it, I came upon this footnote in the Amplified Bible:

Thirteen trumpet-shaped chests were placed around the wall in the Court of Women in the temple.The thirteen receptacles for the money were metal and the heavy silver coins contributed by the wealthy would have made quite a noise when they were deposited, calling audible attention to the size of each contribution. By contrast, the widow’s coins (v 42) would have barely made a sound.

Wait, trumpet-shaped? That doesn’t sound like a chest, does it? And 13 of them? I’ve always pictured the story of Jesus and the widow involving a single box.

As with so many things we don’t know for sure. Is the link in my Bible app misplaced? Is the commentary in the Amplified Bible confused with something else?

What matters is that the leaders prepared ahead of time to collect the offerings of the people. And in the New Testament, people purposely, intentionally gathered what they would present. And the widow, who sacrificially gave what she (barely) could, really gave more than everyone else.

If you give in envelopes on an offering plate or in a fabric bag, there isn’t the sound that her offering made; there isn’t anything to indicate to those around what the measure of your sacrifice consists of.

But God sees.

 

September 4, 2015

The Price of a Dog

The older translations of Deuteronomy 23:18 contain one prohibition which is easily understood and one which might be a mystery:

Thou shalt not bring the hire of a whore, or the price of a dog, into the house of the Lord thy God for any vow: for even both these are abomination unto the Lord thy God.

The NIV clarifies

You must not bring the earnings of a female prostitute or of a male prostitute into the house of the Lord your God to pay any vow, because the Lord your God detests them both.

which is supported in the explanation by Matthew Henry which follows.

The NLT is even clearer

When you are bringing an offering to fulfill a vow, you must not bring to the house of the Lord your God any offering from the earnings of a prostitute, whether a man or a woman, for both are detestable to the Lord your God.

cats and dogs in the BibleMatthew Henry writes:

The land of Israel must be no shelter for the unclean; no whore, no Sodomite, must be suffered to live among them (Deut. 23:17, 18), neither a whore nor a whoremonger. No houses of uncleanness must be kept either by men or women. Here is,

1. A good reason intimated why there should be no such wickedness tolerated among them: they were Israelites. This seems to have an emphasis laid upon it. For a daughter of Israel to be a whore, or a son of Israel a whoremaster, is to reproach the stock they are come of, the people they belong to, and the God they worship. It is bad in any, but worst in Israelites, a holy nation, 2 Sam. 13:12.

2. A just mark of displeasure put upon this wickedness, that the hire of a whore, that is, the money she gets by her whoring, and the price of a dog, that is, of the Sodomite, pimp, or whoremaster (so I incline to understand it, for such are called dogs, Rev. 22:15), the money he gets by his lewd and villainous practices, no part of it shall be brought into the house of the Lord (as the hire of prostitutes among the Gentiles was into their temples) for any vow. This intimates,

(1.) That God would not accept of any offering at all from such wicked people; they had nothing to bring an offering of but what they got by their wickedness, and therefore their sacrifice could not but be an abomination to the Lord, Prov. 15:8.

(2.) That they should not think, by making and paying vows, and bringing offerings to the Lord, to obtain leave to go on in this sin, as (it should seem) some that followed that trade suggested to themselves, when their offerings were admitted. Prov. 7:14, 15, This day have I paid my vows, therefore came I forth to meet thee. Nothing should be accepted in commutation of penance.

(3.) That we cannot honor God with our substance unless it be honestly and honorably come by. It must not only be considered what we give, but how we got it; God hates robbery for burnt-offerings, and uncleanness too.

Why are we looking at this? I think the principle is that one doesn’t sanctify the revenue received by ill-gotten gain by putting toward an offering or missions pledge. Maybe you cheated someone in a business deal. Perhaps you were paid to do something illegal. Or it may be that the income was derived from something you just know was morally wrong.

Which begs the question, should a church accept the proceeds of lottery winnings that someone wants to donate? Your answer probably is based largely on whether or not you see the lottery as sin, though for many it certainly involves coveting, a sloth-based attitude toward earning, addictive behavior, or a lack of dependence on God to supply our needs.

I covered this topic at Thinking Out Loud briefly here and here, with several comments on the second one. I suspect if you poll enough Christian people on this subject, you would get a variety of answers.

The takeaway today is simply that whatever you might consider “the price of a dog,” it should not be brought to the church as part of a tithe or offering. Such a donation does not absolve an individual of the sin committed, only a contrite heart and a seeking of God’s forgiveness (and a desire not to return to the activity in question)


While preparing today’s devotions, I had a Graham Kendrick playlist running on YouTube. This song was part of that; I wasn’t familiar with it before. Join me in listening to it a couple of times.

February 3, 2012

Challenging the Notion of Paid Church Staff

It’s one thing to entertain different abstract interpretations on how doctrine and ecclesiology meet; it’s another thing entirely when those various interpretations are playing out in the community where you live.  The house-church or ‘simple church’ movement raises issues of accountability, doctrinal oversight, the instruction of children, and also the issue today, which involves the paying of staff.  In this article from Reformed Arminian, the term ‘elder’ is being used to apply to anyone holding an ‘office’ within a church structure.  (You’ll find other articles pertaining to house churches on the same blog.)

Websites like Church Job Finder publicize hundreds of full-time paid positions

Does the New Testament promote the idea of full-time elders (or pastors)?  I know of many of my friends on this blog and outside who not only hold that it does but also they are full-time pastors.  In almost all cases they applied for their pastorate like any other job complete with paperwork and interviews.  In fact, the modern pastorate often resembles a CEO of a company more than taking over a church of God.  In many cases the interviews are full of questions mainly about budgets, organization abilities, and of course, numbers.  Attendance is a big issue for institutional churches since they operate on budgets that must be met.  I know of one large church in my area that sent out their yearly budget that totaled over $7 million dollars.  Less than 3% of that was going to missions.  Most of that $7 million was salaries and their buildings.  Since numbers drive the institutional church, the potential pastor must show that they can produce large results through various ides and organization.  The masses have to be kept happy.

The house church is nothing near that.  First of all, we have no budget.  Each person can give their money to whatever they want.  We don’t want it.  We don’t need it. Occasionally we might have a family who needs money or a church planter who needs funds but we don’t regularly need your money.  Second, we have no buildings to pay for.  We have no mortgage.  We have no bills.  We offer no work insurance.  We pay no taxes since we own nothing and receive nothing.  Third, we have no staff.  We don’t pay a pastor.  We don’t pay a youth pastor.  We don’t pay a music leader.  We have elders who led us but they are not paid.

So what do we want you to do with the money that God gives you?  We want you to do what He tells you to do with in the New Testament.  First, Jesus said to give to the poor (Matthew 6:2-4; Galatians 2:10).  Secondly, give to hurting Christians (Acts 4:34-35; 11:27-30; 1 Corinthians 16:1-2).  Third, give to supporting apostles or church planters or missionaries (1 Corinthians 9:8-14; Philippians 4:10-20).  There is no biblical mandate in the New Testament to tithe to a local church to support their paying bills, salaries, etc.  Tithing is biblical but under the theocracy known as Israel.  We are not a theocracy. Not once in the Epistles do the writers exhort God’s people to tithe.  If failing to tithe brings one under a curse (as some teach from Malachi 3:8-10) then surely the New Testament writers would want to keep us from that curse.  Sadly, those who teach this “cursed” view of Malachi 3:8-10 fail to show it this applies to Galatians 3:13.

Yet does the New Testament teach that there should be full-time elders?  In Acts 20 we have Paul holding a pastors conference (v. 17).  Paul the Apostle teaches these elders various things but one interesting thing that he says is in verse 35.  The words here are ascribed to Jesus although the Gospels do not contain them.  Using the words of Jesus, Paul tells the elders that it is more blessed to give than to receive.  Can you imagine hearing a prosperity preacher saying that to his TV audience today?  In fact, the thrust of Acts 20:33-35 is that Paul wants these elders to work and not seek money.  He point to his own example (Acts 18:1-4) as proof that he worked hard so that he could give his money to the weak (ESV).  In essence, Paul wanted these elders not to be full-time but to work so that they could give away their money.  What a radical concept for our time!

The other places we find the issue of money and elders is 1 Corinthians 9.  1 Corinthians 9 is not really about elders however.  In fact, elders are not found at all in 1 or 2 Corinthians.  Given how important the modern pastorate is in most churches, you would think that Paul the Apostle would address the elders to correct the troubles at Corinth.  He never does.  He expects the Spirit of God to lead His Church and for the people of God to obey the Spirit who leads them.  Not once in Corinthians does Paul address any leaders.  In 1 Corinthians 9 Paul deals with missionaries receiving money for preaching the gospel.  In verses 8-14 he makes the clear point that those who preach the gospel should live off the gospel. Yet then Paul turns around and says that he has not done this despite his right to do so.  He tells the Corinthians that he didn’t want to be a stumbling block to them (vv. 15-18).  Paul could have asked for money but he gave up his right so that he could preach the gospel without hinderance.  In Acts 18:1-4 we find that Paul worked as a tent maker while preaching the gospel in Corinth.  He willfully gave up his rights to being paid so that he could work hard, give away his money, and preach the gospel.  How many modern pastors are doing that?

The final place we find elders and money is in 1 Timothy 5:17-18.  A couple of points are in order.  First, verse 17 does not use the word “money.”  I believe many read into verse 17 way too much about “double honor” as to teach that elders should be paid double what they would earn outside of the church.  The word “honor” here does not denote money.  The word is never used in the New Testament as a substitute for the word money.  Yet I have no trouble with honoring an elder who leads with much grace and ability in teaching the Word of God.  This honor can come in various ways including giving them money.  I don’t think we should isolate this verse and make it teach only money but we can give money to elders who fit this picture of verse 17.  Yet I don’t see in this verse that it teaches that elders should receive a regular salary.  Gifts?  Yes.  Salary?  No.  There is a big difference.

Frankly, I am weary of paying an elder very often since this could lead to one elder being exalted above others and can lead to this elder becoming a typical CEO type pastor only in a house church setting.  The plurality of leaders in the house church (Titus 1:5) helps to offset one elder dominating the others.  It also helps because elders are gifted in various ways other than teaching.  A full-time elder also would have a hard time fulfilling Acts 20:35 if in fact their income comes from the house church.

Lastly, if a house church is large enough to support a full-time elder, they are probably too large.  It’s time to split that house church.  House churches are strong because of personal relationships with one another.  This can’t happen if the house church is too large.  I recommend that house churches be no larger than a living room.  If everyone can comfortably be in a living room to worship God, pray, sing, eat, etc. then that is perfect.  Keep in mind that elders are to be among the people of God and not over them (1 Peter 5:1-4).

Hard work is something that we are scarred of in the West.  We need not be. How wonderful it is to work hard and then to take our money and give it away to the kingdom of God through the poor, hurting disciples, or missionaries.  We are not to hoard up our funds but to give them away (Matthew 6:19-21).  Our treasure is not this world or money but the Lord Himself.  He is our delight and our reward.