Continuing from where we left off. . .
The apostles and elders met in Jerusalem to resolve a dispute over whether Gentile Believers were required to be physically circumcised and keep the law of Moses.
After a long discussion, Peter stood up and said “Brothers, you all know that God chose me from among you some time ago to preach to the Gentiles so that they could hear the Good News and believe. God knows people’s hearts, and he confirmed that he accepts Gentiles by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as he did to us. He made no distinction between us and them, for he cleansed their hearts through faith. So why are you now challenging God by burdening the Gentile believers with a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors were able to bear? We believe that we are all saved the same way, by the undeserved grace of the Lord Jesus.” (Acts 15:7-11)
Before Christ’s death on the Cross, the Old Covenant served as a wall which made the Jews distinct from the Gentiles and separated the two groups — this created hostility. The Jews considered Gentiles to be “uncircumcised heathens” excluded from God’s promises. But when Christ gave His life on the Cross, the Old Covenant came to an end, and He broke down this wall of separation and hostility between the Jews and Gentiles. . . making the two groups one body by FAITH.
Ephesians 2:14-18 puts it this way “For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us. He did this by ending the system of law [the Old Covenant] with its commandments and regulations. He made peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in himself one new people from the two groups. Together as one body, Christ reconciled both groups to God by means of his death on the cross, and our hostility toward each other was put to death. He brought this Good News of peace to you Gentiles who were far away from him, and peace to the Jews who were near. Now all of us can come to the Father through the same Holy Spirit because of what Christ has done for us.”
Peter and Paul were on the same page, that God makes no distinction between Jews and Gentiles who believe in Jesus. Both received the gift of the Holy Spirit the same way — by grace through faith, not by performing the works of the law of Moses.
Being that God clearly saved uncircumcised Gentiles (apart from the law of Moses) in the same manner that He saved circumcised Jews, how then, could anyone assert that Gentile Believers needed to be circumcised AND keep the law of Moses to remain saved and right with God? Peter said that these Pharisee Believers were challenging God by burdening Gentile Believers with a YOKE that neither they nor their fathers could bear. That’s right. Peter called the law of Moses a yoke that burdens Believers. That included the tithing laws.
James, a leader in the assembly at Jerusalem, stood up and said that the conversion of the Gentiles was the fulfillment of a prophecy (Amos 9:11-12, Isaiah 45:21). His judgment was that requiring Gentile Believers to be circumcised and keep the law of Moses would make things difficult for those who were turning to God.
After coming to an agreement and reaching a Spirit-led Scriptural decision on this matter, the apostles and elders together with the whole assembly in Jerusalem chose two delegates (Judas also called “Barsabbas”, and Silas), and sent them to Antioch of Syria with Paul and Barnabas to report on this decision.
They sent them with a letter that said: “. . .We understand that some men from here have troubled you and upset you with their teaching, but we did not send them!. . .We are sending Judas and Silas to confirm what we have decided concerning your question. For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay no greater burden on you than these few requirements: You must abstain from eating food offered to idols, from consuming blood or the meat of strangled animals, and from sexual immorality. If you do this, you will do well. Farewell.” (Acts 15:23-29)
The apostles and elders in Jerusalem said that the Pharisee Believers were “troubling” and “upsetting” the Gentile Believers with ‘THEIR’ teaching (this shows that the apostles and elders didn’t consider this false teaching to be from God). They let the Gentile Believers know that they didn’t send, authorize, or approve of these Pharisee Believers who taught that they needed to be circumcised and keep the law of Moses to be saved. The apostles and elders stated that it seemed good to the Holy Spirit not to lay any greater burdens on them than a few requirements (notice that none of the requirements said to tithe). Their decision came from the Holy Spirit!~
When the messengers arrived in Antioch, they called a general meeting of the believers and delivered the letter. And there was great joy throughout the assembly that day as they read this encouraging message.
This council in Jerusalem was a very important event in the body of Christ, because it established that Gentile Believers are not obligated to keep the law of Moses to be saved (not that Gentiles were ever obligated to tithe in the first place).
Gentiles were filled with the Holy Spirit and saved in the same manner as Jews, by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. And so no one had authority to teach them that they had to be circumcised and keep the law of Moses to remain saved and right with God. Teaching such a thing was considered challenging God and burdening new Believers by putting a yoke on their neck.
Many churches today have reversed this decision made by the apostles and elders in Jerusalem, by teaching Believers that they must keep the law of Moses (by ‘tithing’) in order to be right with God, receive financial blessings, avoid being cursed, and “rebuke the devourer.” This is a legalistic false teaching which perverts the Good News message and troubles the souls of Christians. Jesus came to preach liberty to the captives, not place us in bondage to an obsolete Old Covenant.
Being that it seemed good to the Holy Spirit not to lay any greater burdens on Gentile Believers, we can know for sure that God is displeased and grieved when religious leaders place the yoke of an obsolete Old Covenant around the necks of His people.
In the next blog, I’m going to share from the book of Romans. This letter is especially important and relevant in the tithing discussion, because it explains the purpose of the Old Covenant and how Jesus’ sacrifice radically changed how we live and relate to God in the New Covenant.
Many churches today claim to be under “grace” and in the “New Covenant”, but in practice, they are still trying to operate under the “ministry of condemnation” (the Old Covenant). The stronghold of monetary ‘tithing’ is only one out of many examples of this. God no longer desires a tithe because He is no longer in the Old Covenant. He moved on from it 2,000 years ago when Jesus said “it is finished.” If we want to grow to full maturity in Christ and fully enjoy our blood-bought freedom — then we have to come out of the old wineskins of the Old Covenant, and come into the new where Jesus is.
Click here for the next article in this series.