Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Fourth Sunday in Lent: Exodus XX.20: Dt. 26:12-19

Opening Prayer: Almighty and gracious Lord, we love your law. We rejoice in your commands. They are better than much money; they are more satisfying than the most satisfying dinner. Therefore we come to you to be taught; teach us that we might live. Teach us that we might have life abundantly. Through Jesus Christ who is our Life, Amen!

We come at last to the conclusion of our series on the Ten Commandments. We considered last week the fact that the tenth commandment is fundamentally concerned with gratitude and rejoicing in the gifts of God. It is concerned with our heart: God requires us to believe that he is giving us the world in Jesus Christ, and we are the firstfruits of this new creation.

The Holy Tithe
In Moses’ closing comments on the tenth commandment, he reminds Israel about their duty of tithing (Dt. 26:12). It is necessary to point out that the tithe is something which God still requires of his people in the New Covenant. This is the case because Jesus did not come to destroy the law but to fulfill it (Mt. 5:17), and he explicitly requires our righteousness to exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees (Mt. 5:20) which includes tithing (Mt. 23:23). The tithe is also part of Hebrews’ argument that Melchizedek was the original type of Christ (Heb. 7:1-10). Finally, Paul assumes that Christian ministers ought to be supported by offerings of the congregation (1 Cor. 16:1, 1 Tim. 5:18). The biblical standard for such offerings was always at least ten percent. And incidentally, this principle is one of the reasons why taxation equal to or beyond 10% should normally be considered tyranny (1 Sam. 8:15-17, but cf. Gen. 41:46ff). Moses says that the Israelite is required to confess that the tithe is “holy” (Dt. 26:13, cf. Lev. 27:30-32). Removing the holy tithe was to be a sign that the Israelite has kept all the commands of God and not forgotten them (Dt. 26:13). This tithe also included the confession that it is in fact a full tithe; nothing has been kept back (26:14). The tithe is also a prayer that God would look down and bless Israel and the land he has given (26:15). Here, Moses pays particular attention to the tithe that is most likely to be neglected. While it appears that normally the tithe had to be taken down to the central sanctuary (Dt. 12:17, 14:22-25) for the support of the priests and Levites (Num. 18:22), in the third year, the tithe was supposed to support local needs (Dt. 14:28-29). Moses addresses the particular as a principle for the general. He says that refusing to tithe is coveting that which is holy, and that is not only idolatry, it can bring judgment on God’s people (e.g. Josh. 6-7).

With All Your Heart
Christians sometimes speak as though the Old Testament was only concerned about externals while the New Covenant is about the heart and God doesn’t care about externals. This is false. Throughout the giving of the law Moses exhorts Israel to serve God from the heart (Dt. 26:16, 4:9, 29, 5:29, 6:5, 10:12, 11:13, 18, 30:2, Josh. 22:5). Moses calls upon Israel to circumcise their hearts (Dt. 10:16, 30:6). Covetousness is a sin of the heart, and Jesus says that out of the heart come all kinds of wickedness (Mt. 15:19-20). Another element of this principle is that breaking one law is in fact breaking the entire law (Js. 2:10). This is true in principle (ie. we are lawbreakers), but this is also true in reality. For example, the one who covets commits idolatry, worships an image, profanes God holy name, does not remember and rest in God’s salvation, does not honor authorities, hates his brother in his heart, is not loyal to the gifts of God, and steals and lies in the process. Thus, all of the laws interconnect and are mutually dependent. Recognizing this fact reminds us of our need to confess our sins regularly, fully, and to recognize that we have many secret faults (Ps. 19:12). But God made covenant with Israel, a sinful people, and we have been given a far greater covenant. When we gather to renew covenant in worship, we are declaring that Yahweh is our God, and that we will walk in all of his ways (Dt. 26:17). Likewise, God proclaims that we are his special people and exhorts us to keep his law (26:18). Finally, he promises to give us glory and dominion over all nations as his holy ones, his saints (26:19).

Conclusions & Applications
First, since we are required to hate covetousness, we must begin by not coveting what belongs to God. The tithe is holy to God; it belongs to him. It is not optional, and we must not begrudge it. Giving grudgingly is covetousness. If you do not believe you can tithe because of your financial situation, you should talk to the elders and ask for counsel.

Second, covetousness is not only one single sin that plagues the heart, it reminds us that all of the law hangs together as one and we are guilty of it all. Thus, the law of God is either grace and blessing and joy to us; or it is ugly and overbearing and damning. The difference is whether or not you are under condemnation (Rom. 8:1). If there is no longer condemnation for you, then the law is your glory, your beauty, and your righteousness. If the law condemns you, then it and the gospel smell like death (2 Cor. 2:15-16). Therefore, as a minister of the gospel, I call upon you to circumcise your hearts. You cannot keep the law unless you are forgiven. Do you believe that God is giving us this world in Jesus Christ? Do you believe that there is no condemnation for those in Christ?

In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen!

Closing Prayer: Gracious Father, we give you thanks for sending your Son in the likeness of sinful flesh in order that sin might be utterly condemned and that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in Him. We thank you for pouring out the Spirit of life in our hearts that the law might be for us freedom and righteousness and life.

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