Last week you may have felt like you were drowning in the dark recesses of the Old Testament law, so no better time to jump forward and get a breath of Pauline fresh air.
Yet when we read Paul, we see that he was steeped in Jewish teaching and brought certain doctrines and practices into the New Testament era. Paul, for instance, taught about God’s people supporting the leaders He had appointed:
If we have sown spiritual seed among you, is it too much if we reap a material harvest from you? If others have this right of support from you, shouldn’t we have it all the more? But we did not use this right. On the contrary, we put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ. Don’t you know that those who serve in the temple get their food from the temple, and that those who serve at the altar share in what is offered on the altar? In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel. (1 Corinthians 9:11-14 NIV)
The one who receives instruction in the word should share all good things with their instructor. (Galatians 6:6 NIV)
The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching. For Scripture says, “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain,” and “The worker deserves his wages.” (1 Timothy 5:17-18 NIV)
The principles Paul laid out to guide the financial support of Christian leaders follow the basic outline of the Levitical law. In the Old Testament, the people’s tithes and offerings were used to support the priesthood.
Apparently, Paul believed that, in the same way, Christians’ giving should support the people ministering to them.
It is rightly noted that the New Testament does not designate or identify a separate priestly class. Instead, we read that all Christ-followers are believer-priests (1 Peter 2:9). It is also correct that the Temple in Jerusalem is no longer the sole dwelling place of God, but rather He dwells within His followers and in our midst (1 Corinthians 6:19).
Yet the worship of God continues, and offerings, tithes, and giving are still a vital aspect of church community life (Acts 21:26, 24:17; 1 Corinthians 16:2; 2 Corinthians 8:19; Philippians 4:18). We have looked closely at Paul’s teaching on giving in other blogs, but at this point suffice it to say that all God’s people—regardless of the source of our income—will give back to God as an act of worship.
In light of this truth, it’s reasonable to think that those people supported by others’ offerings will themselves be committed to giving.
While the one-tenth principle is not specified in the New Testament, the giving of everything we have in response to the cross is taught (2 Corinthians 8:9), and we all understand the importance of leaders setting an example as they give.
So, doesn’t it seem to you that God expects Christian leaders—even those of us receiving our income from the offerings of others—to practice gracious and sacrificial giving?
Like the Levites, pastors and church leaders today need to remember that God owns everything: He owns the offerings we receive as income, and He owns us.
Finally, just as Jesus Himself did when He washed feet and when He gave Himself to die on the cross in submission to God’s will, Christian leaders today are to lead by example.
Do What I Do
My suspicion is that many pastors and Christian leaders struggle with this issue. I myself was a long-standing “time tither.”
Looking back, I see this as one of the most heinous fruits of the old paradigm, of the road more traveled. Do you see the irony? The pastor or Christian leader is trying to convince either the church member to financially support the church or the donor to financially support the ministry.
As a beneficiary of that giving, leaders feel the awkwardness of encouraging the people to give, and you can hear it in the way we talk about giving from pulpits and in fundraising meetings. We struggle to convince the potential giver to give.
This study of Numbers 18, however, reorients us completely. Christian leaders and pastors lead the people of God into the worship of God as we ourselves give our tithes and offerings—and we do this without sharing our tax records.
Ironically, in the business world many of the largest investors in a business are the owners. The road-well traveled conveniently ignores that.
Leaders are to lead not only with words, but also with deeds. Simply put, we should live what we preach.
When, for instance, pastors teach about the importance of sharing the gospel, they likely have stories of doing that themselves.
When leaders encourage people to pray, they actually lead in prayer. People can see if we’re authentic. Leaders and pastors who practice what they preach are people of integrity whose healthy spiritual life means a healthy spiritual life for those they lead.
Although the giving of our tithes and offerings may never be known to the public the way evidence of our prayer life and evangelism can be seen, God knows everything there is to know about our giving.
When leaders choose to ignore His mandate to give and instead teach what we ourselves do not practice, we can’t expect God’s blessing.
Our spiritual life suffers, and so does the spiritual health of the people we pastor and lead. In addition, not practicing what we preach is called hypocrisy, and that does not sit well with God. Ever.
But when pastors and Christian leaders choose to give graciously to God, our congregation and ministry may never know the specifics, but we will be honoring God with our obedience and generosity. He knows.
Integrity invites God’s blessings, including the blessing of spiritual health in our life as a leader as well as in the churches and ministries we lead.
The Road Well Traveled: Pastors and Christian leaders receive meager pay, and they work countless hours, so they “tithe their time”.
The Road Less Traveled: Pastors and Christian leaders may have a relatively low income and work long hours, but we still love God and find joy in expressing that love by offering Him our financial gifts.