Tuesday, February 3, 2015

on Robert Morris' firstfruits and "The Principle of First"

My comments on a FB thread based on Robert Morris' sermon on Sunday at Southeast on "The Principle of First"...

Chris, thanks for your comment. At first, I thought you were asking a question. Looking a second time, now I’m thinking you meant it rhetorically. Both ways, it’s an excellent comment! If rhetorical, it speaks for itself and builds on what RM said. If a straight-up question, it brings other thoughts to mind, so let me run with that angle.

I thought RM was a little too tight/clean in some areas. At the time, the only thing that bothered me: his claim that the tithe must be given to the local church. (He asserted this and did not support it. I think one can make a decent case for that—indirectly through the implicit and explicit commands to be involved in Christian community. But I don’t see where it’s airtight.) But your question brings up another important point: the relationship between “all” and the tithe. The NT emphasizes/extends the OT view of stewardship: God owns all (“the cattle on a thousand (figurative) hills”) and we are blessed to be managers of what He’s given. This parallels what Christ did with the Law elsewhere (most famously in Matthew 5 with murder and lust).

Along the same lines, my sense of the matter has been that the tithe is "gone" but extended, superseded by a greater “law”. If the tithe is “gone”, what do we do with our freedom? In general, there are temptations to either re-implement the law or to abuse our freedom. I’d guess that there’s more of the latter with money (given the seductions of Mammon as an idol) In any case, the question is what we do with our freedom in all areas—and it clearly should be to love God and serve others (Gal 5:1,13).

In this way, I’m guessing that the tithe is similar to the Sabbath—that it is made for man, not man for the Sabbath/tithe. And that takes me to Chad’s questions/points.

Chad, I did not hear anything like that. My direct data with him are quite limited—one sermon. (And I can only consider chucking rocks to the extent that I’ve seen big sin, especially from a public figure. See also: Joel Osteen.) If you have clips or quotes, I’d be happy to take a look. Anyway, I can't say I'd be shocked if he had said something like that. But I would be quite surprised, given the inferences I’d draw from SE having him in the pulpit and how careful he was. (To note, he did talk about "curse" in the Saturday PM sermon, but not in the manner you described. That discussion did not make it into the Sunday AM sermon that is on-line. He was clear on the important point that God does not curse, but says that we are “under a curse”. Read Genesis 3 carefully for the important distinctions in that pivotal story.) And I can imagine how-- if he was not careful elsewhere-- or more likely, if he was read/heard out of context-- that one could sloppily infer something like that.

Part of his argument is that this is "the nature of things"-- who God is, how life is built, etc. And in a Proverbs-like manner, if you do X, then Z tends to happen. For example, if you smoke, you're likely to die earlier. Beyond the material considerations, he would say that you cannot be spiritually blessed to the extent that you live contrary to God’s will and the way that the world is set up. In this context, if I don’t give the firstfruits to the Lord, then the nature of things is that I cannot be blessed in that realm by God, life, etc.

RM’s approach reminds me of a similar argument I've made from James 1:5-8 and the analogy of parent/child : God/us. If we ask God for wisdom, while baldly doing our own thing-- especially in the area of our request for wisdom/counsel-- it makes no sense for God to answer that prayer. For example, when I was a single, I had a handful of single friends in the church who sought counsel from me and said they wanted wisdom from God on their future with respect to marriage-- while clearly disobeying what God had already revealed about that area of life. That's incoherent (and insulting). I'm not really asking God's wisdom in that case, but His “opinion”—and that doesn’t make any sense with a reasonable view of God’s character and knowledge. If my kids blow their money and then come ask me for money in the next breath, it ain't gonna happen unless I’m a putz or I decide to extend some hard-core grace. 

I'm also quite interested in a more-secular version of the same sort of argument. If my approach to life is marked by stinginess toward others, God gets the residual, etc., it seems likely/obvious that I'm more likely to get divorced, not be blessed in all sorts of ways, etc. Extending it to spiritual disciplines, C.S. Lewis said that whatever prayer does with respect to God, we know that it changes us. If I’m the sort of person who prays for enemies—or even just my friends—surely this changes the sort of person we are. Or again extending it to something more secular, to what extent are diets effective because they directly change us or because they indirectly change us by getting us to be intentional in an area where we’ve been slobs?

Fascinating stuff!


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