I’ve been talking about tzedakah, often translated as ‘righteousness’ in our Bibles, and how tzedakah in Hebrew culture and the Bible is both vertical AND horizontal. Tzedakah states for a person to be right with God vertically he must also be right with his fellow man ‘horizontally’.
Giving and tzedakah
The word tzedakah means righteousness, but it so emphasizes the horizontal it is often translated as almsgiving, giving, or charity. Such is the importance of righteousness, that it also means ‘giving to others’.
Think of that contrast for a minute – we’ve been taught in traditional church that righteousness means ‘right standing with God’, but the very word of tzedakah means ‘giving to others’ which is a natural part of the flow from a person in right standing with the Father.
Contrast why people give money, skills, talent, resources
In modern church culture people sometimes give to get - whether 100 fold return or trying to bribe or manipulate God as a means of meeting their need. Sometimes people give to remind Him they have a need and it is urgent. We’ve been told to “plant a seed, give to get, and God will help, you bet.”
Relatively rare is the person who gives purely out of love of God and appreciation for the work of ministry someone is doing, with no return expected. That is where the true blessing is. The Rabbi’s noted the same human nature in their day, and stated the most pure form of giving is to help bury the dead, for that is the one way of giving there is guaranteed no way for a person to get something back from them, lol. I prefer to say “giving is its own reward”.
In tzedakah giving is a natural outflow of our right standing before God as a way of life, not an event. In Jesus’ day it was taught that people who received alms – the lepers, the lame, the blind, the widows, the Levite’s and priests - were expected to take from what they received and give part of it to someone else in need, so the cycle of giving and receiving in Israel never stopped, but made a big circle.
The tithe of the Old Testament was actually in 4 parts over the course of 6 out of 7 years: First fruits, First tithe, Tithe of the tithe, and Second tithe. There were no tithes given in year 7.
In years 1, 2, 4, 5, the Second tithe was taken to Jerusalem and offered to the Lord in the temple, and then taken back and eaten by the people who brought it, in a big party inviting all the poor, immigrants, Levite’s, and priests to come and eat*. On years 3 and 6 that Second tithe didn’t get taken to the temple, but stayed within the community, the party being for the local people only. Deuteronomy 14:22-29, 15:1-11
The First fruits once offered to the Lord in the temple went for the priest’s consumption, and the first tithe went to them and the rest of the Levites. Then the Levites gave their tithe from that to the priests, and their second tithe was then given to the people. The priests and Levites were considered to be on the same level as the poor as they weren’t allowed to own businesses and could therefore expect support from the people they served, but they also tithed on the tithes they received, back to the people – so you see it all moved in a big circle back to the people.
That means tithing and giving was never to support a huge structure and bureaucracy, but has always been for the direct support of God’s people, including ministers.
In Acts 2 through 6 we see people giving among themselves and to leadership to the point there were no needs in their midst, similar to the above - everyone who came up short on their obligations had their needs met by others – but when the church moved out of homes and into the auditorium in the 300′s AD, it turned the relationships with people into relationships with buildings and programs.
Accountability therefore in the auditorium is measured by attendance, giving, and volunteering, while accountability in the healthy, family based churches that meet in homes, is as Jesus stated – if your brother has an issue with you, go to him and settle it. It is that simple, but requires maturity and love of all.
Understanding tithing and tzedakah
Unfortunately in some streams of the faith tithing has been given equal importance or even greater than water and Holy Spirit baptisms and the Lord’s Supper. God relates to us through the blood of Jesus, not our bank accounts. You aren’t cursed at giving 9.99% and suddenly become blessed at 10.01%.
The tithe isn’t even taught in the New Testament letters because the NT was written by apostles doing home church and writing to people in home church, therefore giving all they had as needs arose governed by love and respect was how they lived. Christ is in you, so you and He have to get together and decide how you are to give money and to whom; resources, talents, skills, time, and to whom. You and He get together. The NT is all about Christ in you, the hope of glory. So talk to Him about it.
It is very clear that givers, those who give as a matter of lifestyle as a natural outflow of their tzedakah – righteousness – are blessed with what is, having lived in it for decades, a covering of protection and timing that non-givers don’t have. When you live a lifestyle of tzedakah you’ll find you’ll give way more than 10% and not even keep track – because it is your lifestyle!
Jesus said those who give will have it given back to them*, and Paul said givers ‘have all grace abound’ in their lives, and have their giving multiplied*. Besides all that, Paul said it is right that if ministers share spiritual things which are the highest truths, then those who receive those truths should give back (lower creation) material things*. Luke 6:38, II Corinthians 9:8-11, I Corinthians 9:7-14.
In my “Through Jewish Eyes” series I even mention a term used by the Lord in Isaiah 40:1-3 that is directly connected to tzedakah as it relates to giving to others: “Comfort, comfort to my people says the Lord. Speak words of comfort to Jerusalem and announce to her that her warfare is finished, that her iniquity is pardoned: For she has received of the Lord’s hand double for her sins. The voice of one who cries in the wilderness; Prepare the way of the Lord…”
To our ears, not understanding tzedakah as it relates to giving, speaking comfort to Jerusalem because she has received double for her sins because her iniquity is pardoned, is not understood.
The custom of righteousness being demonstrated by giving is seen in ‘receiving double’. If a person was bankrupt before the year of release, they would write down on papyrus all their debts with a total amount, and tack that paper to their front door or gate in the hopes someone with one of the tithes mentioned above, would take some or all of their tithe and pay off their debts. If they did so they doubled up the paper and sealed it with their seal, marking the debt paid in full. It was called ‘receiving double’ for their debts.
What the Lord says in Isaiah 40:2 is to speak comforting words to Jerusalem because her iniquity has been pardoned, because she has received of the Lord’s hand ‘double’ for her sins. He is the Person who gave of His own resources to pay their debt, directly linking righteousness to giving.
He paid out of His own ‘pocket’ so to speak, our debts. Not because He wanted something, not because He had needs, but because He IS righteous, and that is why He gave. Vertical and horizontal.
In this series I’ve explained why it is impossible for a true disciple, not just a believer, but a disciple, to be continually self-focused, self-centered. To be righteous before God one must also be righteous within relationships with others. It is by our love they will know us. That isn’t love held silently and secretly in our hearts for others, but love demonstrated to others. That is tzedakah – righteousness.
New series next week…until then…blessings!