Roy Rogers: 5¢ Away
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 23:23b These things should have been done without neglecting
Jesus expected the Pharisees to live on ninety percent of what they made. He desires the same of us. The first tenth of our money is His. This is a frightening truth because only about a tithe of God’s people tithe. Tithing is a dark alley for many. They shudder as they enter it; this is fear misplaced. Shuddering should come from disobeying Him with whom we have to do.
It can be tough to tithe, especially if we work hard to make money. Earning a salary is difficult labor, but even our jobs are a gift from God.
“God gives you the power to gain wealth” (DT 8:18b). He wants us to make money, to enjoy the reward of our work: 90% is much, 10% is little.
Rather than come on too strong about money, which I confess I have done in the past, let me offer a truce between us. Could we meet halfway, and agree to an experiment? Would you pray about possibly tithing, talk to your family and friends about it, and give one percentage point more each year to see if you might eventually tithe? I feel strange in doing this, but tithing is an area of life YHWH challenged us to test Him in (Mal. 3:10).
Tithing is an explosive topic. For over half a century I have heard church members strongly argue the pros and cons of tithing. Pros: “It will bless you, New Testament believers shouldn’t give less than Old Testament saints, and God doesn’t change.” Cons: “Tithing is legalism, under the Old Covenant, no longer binding, and serves no spiritual purpose any more.”
Raised by tithers to be a tither, I never doubted God expects us to live on 90% of what we make. My earliest recollection of an allowance was fifty cents a week, of which a nickel had to be put in a church-offering envelope. This left me with forty-five cents, which was painful, because it cost fifty cents to go see a movie. Roy Rogers always seemed only a nickel away.
I have never had trouble with believing and practicing tithing for me personally, but did for years struggle with how I should present the concept from the pulpit. I put my debate to rest by grasping our text, Matthew 23:23.
In this verse, Jesus said tithing is not the most vital trait of Christian living, yet He also said it must not be neglected. The requirement to tithe has clearly not passed away. It is still binding. Jesus commanded it in our text.
I fear too many of us can relate to the following humor. After church one Sunday, a family was heading home in the car. The children were in the backseat, listening to their parents assess the day. Dad was pessimistic, “The sermon was too dull, and the music not loud enough.” Mom was optimistic, “You have to admit, for a family of four it was a good show for a dollar.”
What would not be as funny for many of us would be if our children asked us if we tithe. For some parents, the most embarrassing question they could hear from their children would be, “Do you tithe; if not, how much do you give to church?” Again, let’s meet halfway, and try a giving experiment.
Matt. 23:24 Blind guides! You strain out a gnat, yet gulp down a camel!
This is excellent use of hyperbole. I wonder if the Twelve laughed out loud when Jesus said it. Our Lord Jesus did not downplay the importance of little things. He taught us; outstanding virtue is often displayed in small matters, for instance, in the widow who gave two mites (MK 12:41-44).
The Pharisees’ problem was disproportion. Believers need a sanctified sense of proportion. Many seem unable to figure out what is more or less important. Do both. Slight no scruple, and also be faithful in bigger things.
Straining out gnats was wise hygiene. Pouring juice through linen removed any small impurities, including gnats, but a gnat’s power to corrupt is small. A camel, though, is huge, nasty, and stinks to high Heaven. Gnats and camels were the smallest and largest animals commonly known. Gnats represented small corruptions; camels pictured large evils that defile.
King Saul made a huge deal about the sin of eating cow meat with blood still in it (1 SM 14:33), but did not flinch at shedding the innocent blood of 85 of God’s anointed priests (1 SM 22:18). Chief priests refused to put Judas’ blood money in the treasury because it was unclean, but paid the same money out of the treasury that Jesus might be killed (MT 26:14; 27:6).
In a former church where Ruth and I served, a revival was underway when someone began designating his offerings for new auditorium carpet. I convened a committee to discuss it. One adamantly insisted the new carpet had to be bright red, “More people will be saved if our carpet is the color of Jesus’ blood.” He wanted to fight. Unwilling to risk a revival, I never reconvened the committee. Carpet color became the next Pastor’s nightmare.
Beware petty devotion. Don’t worry more about gnats than about camels. Some never miss church, and act as if this compensates for lying, being unkind, and unfairness. Oh my! Spend less time trying to figure out what is more or less important. Instead, give our whole life in every detail.
Matt. 23:25-26 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence! Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup, so the outside of it may also become clean.
We want our food and water to be uncontaminated. Thus, when we do dishes, we wash the inside, as well as the outside, of all our cups and bowls.
The lesson is clear. We are not spiritually pure till we are pure inside. Our Master told us, “Blessed are the pure in heart” (MT 5:8). “Guard your heart above all else, for it is the source of life” (PR 4:23). David prayed that the meditation of his heart would be acceptable to YHWH (Psalm 19:14).
The secular reasoning usually is; change the outside to change the inside. The world’s emphasis is; alter the environment, educate, assure of a good job, instill a good self-image. This too often results in a surface, shallow, counterfeit goodness that lasts only a while.
Some maintain outward appearances only. This is understandable. True holiness is hard work. “It is easier to seem pure than to be pure” (Williston). We can easily appear to be what we are not. Some intentionally do this. Their ability to falsify the actual condition of their hearts is amazing.
Some emphasize the outward over the inward unintentionally. They seek to honestly evaluate themselves, but make huge errors in self-analysis.
Godly family and friends can help us here. We need people who speak truth into our lives. We must be humbly vulnerable to the counsel of others.
We must prayerfully seek the analysis God wants to give us. We need to pray, “Lord, humble me. Show me where I am blind. Reveal me to me”. The Psalmist (139:23a, 24a) prayed, “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me. . . .See if there is any offensive way in me”. Was the Psalmist saying he felt there were things in his heart that God had not taken time to notice? No, he knew God sees through the outside to the inside. Samuel had said of Jesse’s impressive-looking first son Eliab, “Certainly the Lord’s anointed one is here before Him”. But YHWH contradicted Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or his stature, because I have rejected him. Man does not see what the Lord sees” (1 SM 16:6-7). God sees through the outside to the inside. The Psalmist knew this. Then why did he pray for God to search him, know his heart, and test him? Because—see his answer—“Lead me in the everlasting way” (PS 139:24b). He was asking God to let him know what God knew, that he might walk a path pleasing to God.
Blessed are all who want inward purity, who hate hidden sins. We say love the sinner, but hate the sin. Say instead, love the sinner, but hate my sin.