"Learning to Give - by Faith"



"Learning to Give - by Faith"

Beware the Curse of Legalism




Resource Sheet 5

Beware the Curse of Legalism





The subject of giving seems to be one that arises from time to time in Christian circles and usually manages to evoke a variety of ideas or opinions, in the midst of which so often appears a legalistic element.


From the outset may I suggest the following:


1. Giving is an important subject worthy of our consideration because the Bible speaks about it a lot.


2. Many people confuse giving in the Old Testament with giving in the New Testament, with the result that teaching is based upon law and legalism instead of Spirit and grace.


3. Giving when it is done by Christians with grace becomes an adventure in faith under the leading of the Holy Spirit.


4. Giving that focuses on percentages of income often becomes legalistic and deadly.


5. Giving that simply seeks to bless people, becomes an adventure in doing good under the direction of God.


Here we address the legalistic approach which is so often a blight on the Church. This is simply a backup or resource sheet to the main article, so if you want to simply see how you can become a giver without fear or guilt, please make sure you have read the main article.


The Legalistic Approach


Unfortunately, because it is so common, before we move on to the adventure, we need to clear away some of the debris that has been dumped on many of us by the absence of grace teaching. I refer to it as a curse, because in Scripture a curse was a bad thing often bringing death. Giving motivated by legalism kills off faith.


I suggest that legalism (even as it is seen spoken against by the apostle Paul in the New Testament) comes from a wrong reliance on the Law of the Old Testament. It is a reliance on rules. It is easy to see why we like it because we much prefer to run our Christian lives by rules and regulations, like the Pharisees of Jesus' time did, rather than talk about lives of love or lives lived in the Spirit.


The Language of Legalism


Listen to the language that is so often used in a discussion on Christian giving:

  •  “We have a responsibility to give to the church,” or
  •  “People have a duty to give to the church,” or
  •   “We ought to be giving.”


The words, ‘responsibility', ‘duty, and ‘ought' are legalistic words, words that go with rule keeping. Rule-keeping was a curse that the New Testament speaks against again and again. Rule-keeping, which does have a role in the right place (when we are failing to live a life of love), comes from the Old Testament. We, of course, are now New Testament Christians.




Listen to what Chambers dictionary says:


   “responsibility – state of being responsible”

   “responsible – liable to be called to account, answerable for something”

                                                  (responsibility always refers to a [defined] requirement)


Now look at a definition of ‘duty'


   “duty – what one is bound by any moral obligation to do.”

                                                   (again it is an obligation to a [defined] requirement)


When you look up ‘ought' you find it is linked to ‘owe' or ‘what is due' or ‘what is right according to convention' and the convention is a requirement that had been laid down.


Inappropriate use of this language


Now think about putting these words into the lives of a young couple who have just started going out together. Suppose she says, “You ought to love me.” Most of us would consider that inappropriate for a growing relationship where love is the expected key ingredient. Love is not a forced or demanded thing. it is only love when it is freely given.


No, these are the words of legalism, words that refer to adherence of the law. A legalist is one who demands adherence to the rules.


Let me add some emotion to this otherwise intellectual essay by making some emotive statements: 

  •  I don't believe we ought to give to the church or to others.
  •  I don't believe we have a responsibility to give to the church or to the poor.


Now if I'd started out like that, I suspect that many of us would have felt quite unhappy but now in the light of my definitions perhaps we may see it differently. Note the emphases:  


  •  I don't believe we ought to give to the church or to others.
  •  I don't believe we have a responsibility to give to the church or to the poor.


Let's change it to grace language: 


  •  I do believe we have a great opportunity to bless the world through giving to the church or to others.
  •  I do believe we have a great opportunity to be blessed by giving to the church or to the poor.


Overview of Old Testament Giving


If we look in the Old Testament (see Resource Sheet 3) we find that tithing was

•  almost certainly a practice in Middle Eastern nations before Israel arrived,

•  instituted in the Law of Moses by God

•  to act as a reminder to Israel that they and the Land belonged to God,

•  to provide for the Levites and Priests, and

•  to provide for the poor.

•  seen as

•  a heart expression of love (Abram)

•  a bargaining chip (Jacob)


Prior to tithing we see giving to God is an expression of the heart which may be:


•  careless and casual (Cain)

•  a serious act of love (Abel).


Although these things may help our understanding, the rules of the Old Testament don't help us move in faith today, for faith flows out of a living relationship with the Lord, as I hope you've seen if you have read the main article. If you haven't yet read it, please do turn to it now.


Why the New Testament Teaching is against following the rules

When we establish our lives on adhering to rules, we are doomed to failure and with failure comes guilt. As one person was heard to say in the context of giving, "I found I could not tithe so I gave up giving all together."

"The Law" establishes standards to be achieved, but even the great apostle Paul maintained he could not keep some of the laws (see Romans 7). Law makes demands but we're never fully able to meet them.

The Gospel is all about Grace. It is about God giving us salvation. We cannot earn it, only receive it.

The apostle Paul referred to the Law as a school teacher that drove him to see his need for salvation, which he then received by grace.

In the context of giving, when we make demands upon people it merely goes to show them that they are failures. Law focuses us on rules.

Grace shows opportunities or possibilities with God's enabling. Grace focuses us on a relationship with the Lord and shows us what can come out of that.

The main article, although somewhat unorthodox by traditional standards, shows a way of working with God so that we can, step by step, move out in faith and become joyful givers. That is the objective of these pages. It seeks to take the focus away from what 'ought' to happen, to what is possible to happen as we relate it all to living in relationship to the Lord.



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