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Do We Muzzle Our Ox?

What is our need to give to the work of the church?

Numbers 18:21-24
1 Timothy 5:17-18
1 Corinthians 9: 8-12
Deuteronomy 25:4
1 Timothy 6:17-19
2 Corinthians 8:1-5
2 Corinthians 9:7-15

Nov 24, 2013 11:00 AM

MP3 audio icon Jim-11242013-DoWeMuzzleOurOx.mp3 — MP3 audio, 37304 kB (38199894 bytes)

/* Introduction */

Good morning everyone. Pastor Keith has asked me to do the sermon this week on the topic of giving to the church.  As treasurers we have been put in a unique position in the Church and noticed this area has been neglected. In the past few months most of you know we have started addressing our church finances more often because of issues meeting our budget. As another step in this I would like to lay down a foundation of what scripture tells us about giving to the church.

We do not know why people give what they give so my burden today is not to defend a particular position or refute another. I will not be able cover every possible question or point that can be made, but if there are reasonable responses please take them to Pastor Keith and they can be discussed. I want to make sure we are being obedient to scripture; as the writer of the book of Hebrews puts it "let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near." [Hebrews 10:24-25]

/* Main – Old Testament Tithe */

What are we talking about when we refer to giving to the church or church offerings? I believe the first thing that comes to mind for Christians as a whole is tithing.  Many of us have a background in the Catholic Church, and in many churches the foundation for your giving is the Tithe. This is actually a really interesting topic to go over especially some of the interpretations of how the Tithe applies to the New Testament church.  As is usually the case most of the trouble comes from not clearly defining our terms. The word “tithe” just means 1/10 [one tenth], while the process of tithing is a particular set of laws with specific guidelines we find in the Old Testament. In Leviticus and Deuteronomy God defines for the Israelites tithes of things like seeds and fruit, herds and flocks, grain, wine and oil. There are many nuances which can be confusing, like annual and triennial tithes that work differently. After God has laid out the tithes he then goes on to explain why: In Numbers chapter 18 we read:

21 “To the Levites I have given every tithe in Israel for an inheritance, in return for their service that they do, their service in the tent of meeting, 22 so that the people of Israel do not come near the tent of meeting, lest they bear sin and die. 23 But the Levites shall do the service of the tent of meeting, and they shall bear their iniquity. It shall be a perpetual statute throughout your generations, and among the people of Israel they shall have no inheritance. 24 For the tithe of the people of Israel, which they present as a contribution to the Lord, I have given to the Levites for an inheritance. Therefore I have said of them that they shall have no inheritance among the people of Israel.”

So we see God’s provision for the priesthood in establishing this tithing. God decided that the Levites would be specially set apart Holy to himself to serve the Israelites. And the Israelites in turn would provide for the Levites with their tithes. These Levites were given no way to provide for themselves, they were to be devoted to this service and had to rely on God to provide for their needs. Some dismiss tithing, I believe in error, because they do not address an underlying principle that we will soon cover. Others use this tithing system as a foundation for the Church in the new covenant missing the principle it is built on.

/* Main – New Testament Command */

How does this apply to the Church in the new covenant, a good place to look would be the New Testament. Paul addresses the issue of giving in the New Testament church and justifies this teaching based on Old Testament writings. The first text will be:

1 Timothy 5:17-18

17 Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. 18 For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages.”

And again in 1 Corinthians 9: 8-12

8 Do I say these things on human authority? Does not the Law say the same? 9 For it is written in the Law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain.” Is it for oxen that God is concerned? 10 Does he not certainly speak for our sake? It was written for our sake, because the plowman should plow in hope and the thresher thresh in hope of sharing in the crop. 11 If we have sown spiritual things among you, is it too much if we reap material things from you? 12 If others share this rightful claim on you, do not we even more?  Nevertheless, we have not made use of this right, but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ. 13 Do you not know that those who are employed in the temple service get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in the sacrificial offerings? 14 In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel.

In Corinthians 9 Paul is defending himself against those that are attacking him for teaching that those preaching the gospel should be provided for by those that they serve. He phrases his argument in rhetorical questions because the answers should be obvious. He uses the Law, common sense and Christ’s own words to show the truth of his teaching and the absurdity of attacks against him.

Based on 1 Corinthians chapter 9 alone it might be said that this provision was only for the apostles. This seems reasonable as Paul uses Christ’s command in Matthew referring to the apostles to justify his claim.  Thankfully we also have his letter to Timothy where he uses the same Old Testament Law and applies it to the elders in the church, especially preachers and teachers.

Let’s look at that Law Paul refers to:  It is found in Deuteronomy chapter 25 verse 4:

“You shall not muzzle an ox when it is treading out the grain”.

Large grains have to be separated from the straw and husks before they can be consumed. This process was difficult and required a lot of time and energy. The grain would be gathered in a designated area and placed on a flat, hard surface called a ‘threshing floor’. Work animals like oxen would then be yoked together and walked over and over the grain to separate them. Over time methods were used to stop the animals from eating the grain like putting a muzzle over their mouth.

The bible commentator, Matthew Henry, comments on Paul’s use of the Law this way:

[This Law] teaches us in the letter of it to make much of the brute-creatures that serve us, and to allow them not only the necessary supports for their life, but the advantages of their labour; and thus we must learn not only to be just, but kind, to all that are employed for our good, not only to maintain but to encourage them, especially those that labour among us in the word and doctrine, and so are employed for the good of our better part.

In light of my sermon today take note that the context of this law lacks any reference to the tithing system. Paul says in verse 13: 13 Do you not know that those who are employed in the temple service get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in the sacrificial offerings? He does this to demonstrate that even the tithing system was setup with this Law at its core, that you do not muzzle the ox as it treads out the grain. But this is not the same as using any of the levitical laws to defend his position, therefore we cannot base our Church offering using tithing laws.

/* Summation */

Where does that leave us? So we are all on the same page let me go over the main points:

  1. In the Old Covenant, God established his Law and in it a principle that a Laborer deserves his wages. Or as Paul puts it negatively: “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.”
  2. Based on this principle he designated tithes for the Israelites which he commanded are Holy and were to be set apart.
  3. God then chooses the Levites out of Israel and calls them to the work of the priesthood and gives them the tithe as their only inheritance.
  4. Christ calls out men to himself commanding them to the work of sharing the gospel and raising disciples.
  5. Christ commands that these workers have the right get their living from the gospel.
  6. Paul comes under attack by some who claim there is something sinful about him teaching that the workers of the Gospel should be able to make a living from the Church.
  7. Paul uses the principle in the Law that a laborer deserves his wages in order to refute their claims.
  8. Paul explains that this Law is what Christ’s command refers to when he said they are to live off of their work.
  9. Paul explains that Christ’s command applies to elders in the Church, especially those whose work is in preaching and teaching.


/* Consequence */

We are commanded to give to the work of the gospel, and as Paul states especially to the work of those who are Preachers and Teachers. I’ll take today as an example, According to scripture I have every right to be paid for my labor as Paul puts it in verse 11: If we have sown spiritual things among you, is it too much if we reap material things from you? We understand this principle in other areas of our life; Dave has recently done some work for us in fixing up the new house. He has the right to come to us and get paid for that work. Other circumstances in his life do not change the fact that he should be paid for this work. If I did not have any money to pay him does that exempt me from responsibility of doing so? This is what we need to examine our own lives. Do we receive the work of the gospel in this church and not bother paying the worker for his wages.  I have been commanded, so to speak, to address this issue because we in danger of not being able to pay our pastor and our bills. More importantly though is that our financial giving is a sign that our some brothers and sisters are not obeying Christ’s command.

/* Conclusion */

The question still remains that if we are commanded to give, how much do we give and how do we know what is considered payment for this work? God in his providence appears not to have laid out specific instructions on how much of our income we need to put aside for workers of the Gospel that serve us. In this next text Paul referring to the “rich” lays out a warning and instruction on how to handle their money:

1 Timothy 6:17-19:

17 As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. 18 They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, 19 thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.

We may not think of ourselves as ones rich in the present age but most if not all would be compared to many, not only in the context of the early church but even now compared to those all around the world. And the command given here applies to all believers. Does God not want all his children to do good, be rich in good works and to be generous and ready to share?  Let’s consider 2 Corinthians 8:1-5:

We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints—and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us.

See how Paul tries to stress the point that they gave according to their means and then some but also of their own accord. His praise is not about the amount of money but that they gave themselves first to the Lord. As you continue you to read in Corinthians you will see Paul and his fellow workers are gathering these gifts the churches are offering. He sent some brothers ahead so that they might get everything in order. Our final text is perhaps the most well-known on this topic.

2 Corinthians 9:7-15

7 Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8 And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. 9 As it is written,

“He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor;

his righteousness endures forever.”

10 He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. 11 You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God. 12 For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God. 13 By their approval of this service, they will glorify God because of your submission that comes from your confession of the gospel of Christ, and the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others, 14 while they long for you and pray for you, because of the surpassing grace of God upon you. 15 Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!

Because of the sinful desires of the flesh God has given us commands to obey and holds us accountable to them. At the same time because of the rebirth and the Holy Spirit God can give us new desires so that we “willingly” obey God’s word.


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