Let Justice Roll Down

Amos 5

By Chuck Griffin

The wisdom in Amos, much of which is about justice, has helped me to better understand tithing and other offerings, including our offerings of time.

Amos is famous for one verse in particular. The prophet says in chapter 5 that God no longer wants what the Jews would have considered “traditional worship,” music and animal sacrifices. Instead, he says, “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:24).

In other words, the mark of a people truly in love with God is that justice is done in mighty and wonderful ways in their community. From that, we are left to ask, “What is justice?”

Scripture gives us a rich, clear answer. In fact, the answer is at the very core of Jesus’ message in the New Testament.

Just as Amos talks about a coming time of judgment, Jesus talks about judgment, too, and he tells us in Matthew 25 that our fate at the judgment will depend on whether we’ve brought justice into the world.

For Jesus, justice is a straightforward thing. It happens when those who have resources help those who aren’t so fortunate. The hungry need food, the thirsty need drink, strangers need welcoming, the poor need clothing, the sick need care, and the prisoners need visiting.

Help them, he says, and it is as if you did it for Jesus.

That brings me to tithes and offerings. Too often, we’re so caught up in operating budgets and building needs that we forget the primary reason we exist as a church. We are to inject God’s justice into a broken world.

Buildings are important and lights are important, but they’re just the basics, functioning as tools the church can use. Here’s a tough question every church needs to face: Have we failed to bring justice to those who need it simply because we lack resources?

To do a noteworthy job in bringing real justice to the world, it takes more money and time than most American Christians seem willing to give. Yes, the coming of Christ did away with legalism in giving. But frankly, the coming of Christ—the coming of “Kingdom of God” justice—calls us to do even more than our tithing Jewish forebears were ever required to do.

The next time the offering plate goes by, or a call for ministry volunteers goes out, remember that you’re being given the opportunity to participate in the greatest event in history, the remaking of the world by God.

Lord, reveal to us the best way to spend our time and money on behalf of your kingdom and in thanks for eternal life. Amen.

Children of the Aramean

Deuteronomy 26:1-11

By Chuck Griffin

When we think of Old Testament texts on giving, our minds often go to the tithe, the giving of 10 percent of the harvest or income to support what would eventually become the work of the temple, work that included care for the poor. Today’s Deuteronomy text really doesn’t take us into the concept of the tithe, however.

What we hear is a recitation, a declaration of what God had done to help his chosen people. From a practical perspective, the offering brought to the altar was a mere token, but theologically it was huge. The head of a family was acknowledging that all he had truly came from God.

I believe in hard work. I believe in the idea that if we are to succeed in life, there is a need to use our bodies and minds to the best of our abilities.

But at the same time, as people who acknowledge we were made by God and saved from sinful brokenness by God, we have to be the first to say we are dependent on God.

If we think about it, we do owe everything to God, even if we’ve done all we can to succeed. If we’re intelligent enough to make the right choices, it’s because God made us so. If we have been able to succeed through hard physical labor, it is because God at some point graced us with healthy bodies.

And we can never forget that there is at least some randomness in how well we do or don’t do in life. If we’re not careful, we will simply stumble into success and then start thinking we are brilliant.

A good Jew acknowledged these truths with his recitation and offering. We do much the same when we declare ourselves followers of Christ—for example, if we recite the Apostles’ Creed in worship. We declare God Creator. We then retell the story of Christ’s life, sacrifice and resurrection, following that with the story of God continuing to work in the world up to this very day through the Holy Spirit.

That true understanding—that perspective regarding who God is and who we are—should shape every nook and cranny of our lives. For many, that deepest, hardest to reach cranny is where we store our attitude about income and possessions.

As I said before, this text isn’t really about tithing. Tithing was a powerful Old Testament concept, of course, but a text like we have today shows us that tithing was just a beginning point, a rule designed to lead a person to a right way of relating to God through our income and possessions.

John Wesley preached that God provides for the roof over our heads, food, and other basic needs, allowing us to ensure the well-being of our families and even a business we may operate. Beyond those provisions, everything we are given counts as riches, and they have been given to us to use “to the glory of God.” Often, this means using our riches to help those who are less blessed materially, playing a role in God’s provision for people’s basic needs.

Even for a tither, this is a concept that requires thought. It forces a reassessment of every decision we make regarding how we handle our income and possessions, simply because we learn to say, “It’s not really mine, anyway.”

If you find this idea a little daunting, be encouraged. Look back to today’s verses; notice how our little scene at the altar closes. There is celebration in the house of God, the kind of joy to be shared even with the dependent and disenfranchised people among us.

I wonder what we miss when we fail to embrace such a powerful attitude about income and possessions.

Lord, give us the spiritual strength to turn every aspect of our lives over to you, and may the celebration that follows be most rewarding. Amen.

The Gift of Giving

2 Corinthians 8:1-7 (NRSV)

We want you to know, brothers and sisters, about the grace of God that has been granted to the churches of Macedonia; for during a severe ordeal of affliction, their abundant joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For, as I can testify, they voluntarily gave according to their means, and even beyond their means, begging us earnestly for the privilege of sharing in this ministry to the saints—and this, not merely as we expected; they gave themselves first to the Lord and, by the will of God, to us, so that we might urge Titus that, as he had already made a beginning, so he should also complete this generous undertaking among you. Now as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in utmost eagerness, and in our love for you—so we want you to excel also in this generous undertaking.


By Chuck Griffin

In 2 Corinthians, Paul was writing to a church in an affluent part of the world, with well-off people mixed into the membership. (Sound familiar?) But when he wrote about an offering being taken up for the destitute Christians in Jerusalem, he cited what had already been raised among other churches nearly as poor.

In effect, he was asking, blessed Church of Corinth, will you do your share?

For Paul, giving was a matter of the heart, and it only made sense that people blessed with abundant resources would give abundantly. Yes, the idea of the Old Testament tithe, the giving of 10 percent, became obsolete in the light of New Testament grace, but it appears most early Christians interpreted that life-giving grace as a reason to go much further in their giving than a simple tithe.

Acts 2:43-45: “Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.”

This pooling of resources sounds strange and even shocking to us today. As members of a capitalist society coming out of the Cold War and headed toward similar tensions with China, a lot of us don’t like anything that smacks of communism.

Don’t get lost in modern politics as you consider all this. The early Christians were filled with the Holy Spirit and madly in love with Jesus. Their resources became a way to show that love even from city to city, and Paul was praying the Christians in Corinth would join that movement, imitating what the earliest Christians and the Macedonian churches already had done.

The current-day lesson in all of this is pretty obvious: Our giving reflects our love for Jesus Christ and what he has done for us. Do we have a need to grow in love?

Dear Lord, inspire us with a deeper sense of your grace and a new understanding of how we are to use our resources to care for one another in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.