Obedience and Blessing

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, 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. 14 I have not eaten of the tithe while I was mourning, or removed any of it while I was unclean, or offered any of it to the dead. I have obeyed the voice of the Lord my God. I have done according to all that you have commanded me. 15 Look down from your holy habitation, from heaven, and bless your people Israel and the ground that you have given us, as you swore to our fathers, a land flowing with milk and honey.’

16 “This day the Lord your God commands you to do these statutes and rules. You shall therefore be careful to do them with all your heart and with all your soul. 17 You have declared today that the Lord is your God, and that you will walk in his ways, and keep his statutes and his commandments and his rules, and will obey his voice. 18 And the Lord has declared today that you are a people for his treasured possession, as he has promised you, and that you are to keep all his commandments, 19 and that he will set you in praise and in fame and in honor high above all nations that he has made, and that you shall be a people holy to the Lord your God, as he promised.” – Deuteronomy 26:12-19 ESV

In verse 10, Moses instructed the people of Israel to bring their firstfruit offerin and “set it down before the Lord your God and worship before the Lord your God.” So, the offering was to be considered a form of worship. But there was more to the worship of God than the bringing of the required tithes and offerings. God was looking for sacrifice that was accompanied by a heart that reflected a love for God and others. Years later, the prophet, Amos would record God’s words of condemnation directed at the disobedient people of Israel.

“I hate all your show and pretense—
    the hypocrisy of your religious festivals and solemn assemblies.
I will not accept your burnt offerings and grain offerings.
    I won’t even notice all your choice peace offerings.
Away with your noisy hymns of praise!
    I will not listen to the music of your harps.
Instead, I want to see a mighty flood of justice,
    an endless river of righteous living.” – Amos 5:21-24 NLT

So, after reminding the people of Israel to bring the firstfruits of their very first harvest to the Lord, Moses adds another important point of reminder. He reiterates God’s earlier command to provide a special offering designed to care for the poor and needy among them. This regulation was covered in chapter 14 of Deuteronomy.

“At the end of every three years you shall bring out all the tithe of your produce in the same year and lay it up within your towns. And the Levite, because he has no portion or inheritance with you, and the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, who are within your towns, shall come and eat and be filled, that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands that you do.” – Deuteronomy 14:28-20 ESV

And Moses wants the people to keep this important command, because it would not only not their willingness to obey God, but would express their love for the less fortunate among them. Every third year, the firstfruits offering, which was intended as a form of provision for the Levites, was to be shared with the down and out, “so that they may eat within your towns and be filled” (Deuteronomy 26:12 ESV). God made provision for the destitute, the weak, and the foreigners living among the Israelites. No one was to be overlooked. And because of their obedience to this command, the Israelites would be able to declare their faithfulness to God.

“I have removed the sacred offering from my house and given it to the Levites, the resident foreigners, the orphans, and the widows just as you have commanded me. I have not violated or forgotten your commandments. – Deuteronomy 26:13 NLT

Moses wanted each and every Israelite to be able to state their obedience to God, having refrained from any temptation to withhold their tithes and offerings. It was important that they be able to declare their innocence from having misused of misappropriated the offerings God had demanded for the Levites, the sojourner, the fatherless, or the widow. No excuses for disobedience would be accepted. There would be no rationale that would forestall God’s judgment for failure to keep His command.

For the Israelites to expect God to bless them, they would first have to obey Him.

“I have obeyed you and have done everything you have commanded me.  Look down from your holy dwelling place in heaven and bless your people Israel and the land you have given us, just as you promised our ancestors—a land flowing with milk and honey.” – Deuteronomy 26:14-15 NLT

Which is why Moses so forcefully reminds his audience to do exactly what God has told them to do. He commanded them to “keep these statutes and ordinances” and he added the important qualifier, “something you must do with all your heart and soul” (Deuteronomy 26:16 NLT). God was looking for heartfelt obedience, not just mindless, meaningless rule-keeping. He expected His people to put their hearts and souls behind their actions.

As we have discussed before, God had set the people of Israel apart as His own. They belonged to Him and were to reflect their unique status as His chosen people.

“…today the Lord has declared you to be his special people (as he already promised you) so you may keep all his commandments. – Deuteronomy 26:18 NLT

And when they faithfully kept His commands, Moses promised them that God would bless them.

“Then he will elevate you above all the nations he has made and you will receive praise, fame, and honor. You will be a people holy to the Lord your God, as he has said.” – Deuteronomy 26:19 NLT

God wanted the Israelites to be a blessing to others. He demanded that they take care of the needy among them. He would bless them so that they might be a blessing. And the more they blessed others, the more God would continue to bless them.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

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Reason to Rejoice

22 “You shall tithe all the yield of your seed that comes from the field year by year. 23 And before the Lord your God, in the place that he will choose, to make his name dwell there, you shall eat the tithe of your grain, of your wine, and of your oil, and the firstborn of your herd and flock, that you may learn to fear the Lord your God always. 24 And if the way is too long for you, so that you are not able to carry the tithe, when the Lord your God blesses you, because the place is too far from you, which the Lord your God chooses, to set his name there, 25 then you shall turn it into money and bind up the money in your hand and go to the place that the Lord your God chooses 26 and spend the money for whatever you desire—oxen or sheep or wine or strong drink, whatever your appetite craves. And you shall eat there before the Lord your God and rejoice, you and your household. 27 And you shall not neglect the Levite who is within your towns, for he has no portion or inheritance with you.

28 “At the end of every three years you shall bring out all the tithe of your produce in the same year and lay it up within your towns. 29 And the Levite, because he has no portion or inheritance with you, and the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, who are within your towns, shall come and eat and be filled, that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands that you do. – Deuteronomy 14:22-29 ESV

The people of Israel were prohibited from eating certain foods, as determined by God. Their adherence to this command would help to enhance their status as God’s chosen and set-apart people. It would further differentiate and distinquish them from the pagan nations living within the land. But it would also enable them to bear or carry their designation as God’s people without fear of compromise or the risk of bringing shame to His name.

While they were to set themselves apart by refraining from the consumption of certain foods, they were also expected to display their holiness or set-apartness by observing the Sabbath and all the ritual observances associated with it. This included the annual tithe as well as the once-every-three year tithe. Moses reminded them to:

“Bring this tithe to the designated place of worship—the place the Lord your God chooses for his name to be honored—and eat it there in his presence. This applies to your tithes of grain, new wine, olive oil, and the firstborn males of your flocks and herds.” – Deuteronomy 14:23 NLT

Food was a vital part of their existence and they were to recognize God as the source of all their needs. By refraining from eating certain foods, they displayed their faith in God’s ability to provide more than enough non-prohibited food in order to sustain them. And when God blessed them with grain, wine, olive oil, flocks, and herds, their willingness to offer a portion of their bounty back to Him was an additional sign of their reliance upon Him.

Moses had already specified that God was going to choose a specific place within the land where the Tabernacle was to be set up. It would be there, and there alone, that the Israelites would bring their tithes and offerings.

“There you will bring your burnt offerings, your sacrifices, your tithes, your sacred offerings, your offerings to fulfill a vow, your voluntary offerings, and your offerings of the firstborn animals of your herds and flocks. There you and your families will feast in the presence of the Lord your God, and you will rejoice in all you have accomplished because the Lord your God has blessed you.” – Deuteronomy 12:6-7 NLT

Moses was assuring the people that God was going to bless them and, when He did, they were to return a portion of all He gave them as a sign of their gratefulness and as further proof of their reliance upon Him. These annual events were additional ways in which God chose to set the people of Israel apart. These feasts and festivals would be unique to them as a nation, and their observance of them would further enhance their status as God’s chosen people.

God had already dictated His will concerning these annual events, making them a part of the commandments He had passed on to them through Moses.

“Each year you must celebrate three festivals in my honor. First, celebrate the Festival of Unleavened Bread. For seven days the bread you eat must be made without yeast, just as I commanded you. Celebrate this festival annually at the appointed time in early spring, in the month of Abib, for that is the anniversary of your departure from Egypt. No one may appear before me without an offering.

“Second, celebrate the Festival of Harvest, when you bring me the first crops of your harvest.

“Finally, celebrate the Festival of the Final Harvest at the end of the harvest season, when you have harvested all the crops from your fields. At these three times each year, every man in Israel must appear before the Sovereign, the Lord.” – Exodus 23:14-17 NLT

In a sense, these feasts and festivals were to act as tests to determine the obedience of the Israelites, but also to measure the degree of their trust. In an agrarian culture, giving back a portion of your produce was a literal sacrifice. They were giving up their source of livelihood and displaying their faith that God would continue to meet all their needs. In doing so, they were showing that they were not trusting the gifts more than the Giver.

But one of the things that gets overlooked in all of this is God’s gracious allowance for celebration in the midst of all the sacrifice. While they were expected to give back to God, He wanted them to rejoice in the blessings He had provide. So, these annual events were to be celebrations where the people enjoyed the blessings of God. Moses told them to “feast there in the presence of the Lord your God and celebrate with your household” (Deuteronomy 14:26 NLT).

There was a communal aspect to these celebrations. While the nation of Israel had been divided into 12 tribes and those tribes would end up living in 12 separate regions within the land, they were to gather as a nation on these feast days and celebrate the goodness of God together. And no one was to be left out. God demanded that the Levites, the only tribe not given a portion of the land as an inheritance, would be provided for by the 11 other tribes. And every single foreigner, orphan, and widow was to be included in these annual celebrations. No one was to be left out or allowed to go without. God’s goodness was to be shared with all.

Once again, these God-ordained events were meant to set the people of Israel apart as belonging to God. These feasts and festivals were unique to the nation of Israel, further differentiating them from the rest of the nations around them. and enhancing their reputation as God’s chosen people.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

 

 

The Power of a Promise.

Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. To draw near to listen is better than to offer the sacrifice of fools, for they do not know that they are doing evil. 2 Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few. For a dream comes with much business, and a fool’s voice with many words.

When you vow a vow to God, do not delay paying it, for he has no pleasure in fools. Pay what you vow. It is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not pay. Let not your mouth lead you into sin, and do not say before the messenger that it was a mistake. Why should God be angry at your voice and destroy the work of your hands? For when dreams increase and words grow many, there is vanity; but God is the one you must fear. Ecclesiastes 5:1-7 ESV

Up to this point, Solomon has provided us with a somewhat autobiographical and deeply personal look at life. He has revealed a perspective on life as seen from his unique vantage point as an aging monarch whose reflections are filled with regret and remorse. He sees himself as a preacher or teacher, whose responsibility as a leader of his people, is to share his mistakes and the insights he has gleaned from them.

In this section, Solomon moves into a slightly different mode, writing in more of a proverbial style, similar to that of the Book of Proverbs, which he wrote and edited. Proverbs are succinct, simple statements designed to teach powerful truths using few words, but in a memorable and impactful manner. Typically, proverbs are gathered in collections, with what appears to be little or no rhyme or reason as to their order or flow. They appear as isolated and seemingly unrelated thoughts, with each operating as a stand-alone statement of truth.

In chapter five, we have a series of these proverbs, and the first few all have something to do with making vows before God. As has been the case before, Solomon appears to be writing from experience. These are not simply words of wisdom he has run across and deemed worthy of inclusion in his book. They are written from personal experience. And the very first one he shares has to do with the attitudes one should bring into the house of God. When entering into the presence of God, attitude and actions should not be separated. He warns against offering sacrifices to God in a flippant and disrespectful manner, simply going through the motions while showing no reverence or fear for God while doing so. He recommends listening over sacrificing.

Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. To draw near to listen is better than to offer the sacrifice of fools, for they do not know that they are doing evil. – Ecclesiastes 5:1 ESV

The Hebrew word translated as “listening” is shama` and it carries with it the idea of not just hearing, but obeying. Solomon knew that there was a real risk of showing up at the temple to offer the required sacrifices and failing to hear what God might be trying to say. You could end up going through the motions of sacrifice, while ignoring the very one to whom you were offering the sacrifice. There is little doubt that Solomon was very familiar with the words of the prophet Samuel, spoken to the first king of Israel, Saul.

“What is more pleasing to the LORD: your burnt offerings and sacrifices or your obedience to his voice? Listen! Obedience is better than sacrifice, and submission is better than offering the fat of rams.” – 1 Samuel 15:22 NLT

Solomon’s own father, David, had discovered this same truth.

6 “You take no delight in sacrifices or offerings.
    Now that you have made me listen, I finally understand—
    you don’t require burnt offerings or sin offerings.
Then I said, “Look, I have come.
    As is written about me in the Scriptures:
I take joy in doing your will, my God,
    for your instructions are written on my heart.” – Psalm 40:6-8 NLT

And it was Jesus who said to the Pharisees, “I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices” (Matthew 12:7 NLT), after they accused His disciples of breaking the law by harvesting grain on the sabbath. Jesus was condemning these men for placing higher priority on the sacrificial system than on the God to whom the sacrifices were being offered. And Solomon warns his readers: “Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few” (Ecclesiastes 5:3 ESV). There is a sense in which Solomon is sharing truth based on personal experience. He was not simply spouting a clever-sounding maxim, but revealing a painful, yet valuable lesson learned from real life. He reminds us that God is transcendent. He is in heaven and we are on earth. There is a great gulf that separates us, both literally and figuratively. God is holy and we are not. God is sinless and completely righteous in all He does. We are just the opposite. And we cannot afford to enter into His presence with a sense of dishonor or disrespect.

And one of the areas in which we can get ourselves into trouble with God is through the making of vows or commitments to Him. Vows were commonplace in Solomon’s day. They were verbal commitments made to God. A vow was a solemn promise to do something for God or to offer a sacrifice to God in the hopes of receiving blessings from Him in return. And Solomon warns, “When you vow a vow to God, do not delay paying it, for he has no pleasure in fools. Pay what you vow” (Ecclesiastes 5:4 ESV). Once again, this is most likely Solomon speaking from his own personal experience. There is little doubt that he had made many rash vows to God, promising to do something for God in return for blessings from God. But he had failed to keep his word. And he had learned the valuable lesson that God does not suffer fools lightly. The kind of vows to which Solomon refers could have been free-will offerings to God that would not have been part of the required sacrificial system. The vow or promise to present one of these free-will offerings would usually have beenmade during some moment of trouble or difficulty, in an attempt get God to provide rescue or relief. The book of Judges records just such a rash vow, made by Jephthah.

30 And Jephthah made a vow to the Lord and said, “If you will give the Ammonites into my hand, 31 then whatever comes out from the doors of my house to meet me when I return in peace from the Ammonites shall be the Lord‘s, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering.” – Judges 11:30-31 ESV

And the story goes on to record that God gave Jephthah victory over the Ammonites. But it also reveals the tragic outcome of Jephthah’s rash vow.

34 Then Jephthah came to his home at Mizpah. And behold, his daughter came out to meet him with tambourines and with dances. She was his only child; besides her he had neither son nor daughter. 35 And as soon as he saw her, he tore his clothes and said, “Alas, my daughter! You have brought me very low, and you have become the cause of great trouble to me. For I have opened my mouth to the Lord, and I cannot take back my vow.” – Judges 11:34-35 ESV

Solomon wants his readers to know that God takes vows seriously, which is why he states, “It is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not pay” (Ecclesiastes 5:5 ESV). Keep your mouth shut. Don’t be hasty. Treat God as holy and don’t be too quick to make promises you have no intention of keeping. Because God will hold you to your word. Again, Solomon seems to speak from experience when he writes:

Let not your mouth lead you into sin, and do not say before the messenger that it was a mistake. Why should God be angry at your voice and destroy the work of your hands? – Ecclesiastes 5:6 ESV

And it would seem from this verse, that Solomon has widened the application to include vows or promises made to other individuals. If you make a commitment to someone, keep it. You cannot simply tell them that your original promise was a mistake.

In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus had some serious things to say about the matter of vows.

33 “You have also heard that our ancestors were told, ‘You must not break your vows; you must carry out the vows you make to the Lord.’ 34 But I say, do not make any vows! Do not say, ‘By heaven!’ because heaven is God’s throne. 35 And do not say, ‘By the earth!’ because the earth is his footstool. And do not say, ‘By Jerusalem!’ for Jerusalem is the city of the great King. 36 Do not even say, ‘By my head!’ for you can’t turn one hair white or black. 37 Just say a simple, ‘Yes, I will,’ or ‘No, I won’t.’ Anything beyond this is from the evil one.” – Matthew 5:33-36 NLT

Do you see what Jesus is saying? The prevalent perspective in His day was to keep any and all vows made to God. But Jesus warns not to make any vows at all. His reason for this was that the Jewish religious leaders had developed a variety of loop holes and workarounds that would allow people to make vows without having to keep them. And Jesus lists just a few. They had developed a system by which you could make a vow that was legally breakable because you made it based on something that was non-binding. Through clever use of words, you could make a vow that sounded binding, but it wasn’t. It sounded serious and gave the impression you intended to follow through on your commitment, but you knew you would not. These kinds of vows were little more than lies, and Jesus warned His followers not to make them. Instead, they were to say “Yes, I will!” or “No, I won’t!”

Solomon wraps up this short section with a somewhat enigmatic verse.

For when dreams increase and words grow many, there is vanity; but God is the one you must fear. – Ecclesiastes 5:7 ESV

The New Living Translation sheds some light on what Solomon may have been trying to say. “Talk is cheap, like daydreams and other useless activities. Fear God instead.” Someone who experiences an abundance of dreams ends up struggling with whether what they have dreamed has true significance or meaning. What are they to believe? The same is true when we use too many words and make too many vows. No one knows whether what we say is true or to be believed. Remember what Solomon said: Let your words be few. Verbosity is no substitute for integrity. Why waste your time making promises, when you could simply do what it as you were going to promise?

 

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

1 Corinthians 16:1-9

Practical Paul.

1 Corinthians 16:1-9

On the first day of each week, you should each put aside a portion of the money you have earned. Don’t wait until I get there and then try to collect it all at once. – 1 Corinthians 16:2 NLT

At his point in his letter, Paul returns to answering the series of questions that he had received from the Corinthians regarding a range of different topics. Here he deals with a question about the collection of money for the needy believers back in Jerusalem. Not only had the believers throughout Judea endured tremendous persecution as a result of their faith in Christ, the entire region was in the midst of a terrible famine. The poor had been impacted especially hard. So the Corinthians had heard about the collection of relief funds being made among the Gentile churches and had sent questions to Paul regarding it. Paul’s response revealed his practical nature. He simply instructed them to set aside a portion of their income on the first day of the week. That would have been Sunday, the day on which the New Testament church had chosen as their normal day of worship. Notice that there was no percentage given. Paul did not tell them how much to give or how much to collect. He simply said that they should set aside a portion each week and designate it for the offering being collected.

One of the fascinating things about this section is what it reveals about the global community of believers in those early days. Paul and the other apostles seemed to know that the body of Christ was not to be relegated to some local gathering of believers in a particular city or region. The body of Christ was global and international, and there was a need for the body to care for itself regardless of location or language. The Gentile believers in places like Corinth and Galatia were expected to love and care for the Jewish converts in a place as far away as Judea. Paul was in a unique position to witness the growing global context of the Church as he traveled all around the known world at that time. He had witnessed first-hand the unprejudiced, unbiased call of Christ to all peoples. He knew full well the command of Christ to “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19 NLT). For Paul, the Church was global in nature and communal in calling. He had already talked a great deal in his letter to the Corinthians about the necessity of love within their own local community, but he also wanted them to understand that their love must extend beyond the confines of their own congregation. The body of Christ must care for itself, without reservation or prejudice.

Paul was indiscriminate in his love for the lost and his care for the body of Christ. He traveled extensively and wrote incessantly. He would go anywhere and share the Gospel with anyone. He faced constant opposition for his efforts, but never let it prevent him from doing what God had called and commissioned him to do. He spent three years in Ephesus alone, because there was “a wide open door for a great work” there. But Paul knew that the key to the long-term sustainability and viability of the Church was its ability to care for itself. He knew he had to raise up leaders and motivate selfless generosity among all of those who called themselves followers of Christ. And the same need exists today. How easy it is for any local fellowship to be myopic and self-absorbed, thinking only of their own needs and their own ministry. We have some churches that are thriving while others are barely surviving. Some pastors are well taken care of by their local congregation, while others must hold down two other jobs in order to make ends meet. There are churches closing their doors for lack of funds, while others enjoy a surplus of income. Believers all across the world are suffering great persecution for their faith. Many have lost their jobs and live in poverty. There are congregations of believers in third-world countries where the pastors have little in the way of formal education, no biblical training, and few resources to minister to their flocks. Bibles are scarce. Houses of worship are nothing more than mud huts or a hidden spot in a forest. The Good News of Jesus Christ is spreading all around the world, just as it did in the days of Paul. But the question is whether or not the generosity and graciousness of God’s people is accompanying that growth. Are we caring for the needs of our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ around the world? Are we even aware of their needs? Or are they out of sight and out of mind? The body of Christ is global, not just local. My neighbor is not just the one living next door to me. My brother is not just the one who attends church with me. When Jesus commanded us to love one another, He wasn’t just thinking about the one standing next to us who happens to attend the same church with us. He was calling His people to love one another globally and communally. And the greatest expression of our love is to not only share the Gospel with them, but our resources as well.

Father, give me a g!obal perspective. Help me to see the Church as something far greater and bigger than just my local congregation. Give me a love for all those who call on the name of Christ all around the world. Show me how to support them with my prayers and resources. Don’t let me overlook them. Don’t allow me to ignore them. They are your sons and daughters and my brothers and sisters in Christ. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org