By John Amoda
IT is a truism in Nigeria that the surest way to become wealthy, very wealthy is through the business of office holding at any of the three levels of government.
Many have now recognised that an alternate way to be very rich without running foul of EFCC is through the tithing practices of Gentile Christianity. Wealth and power in this world are Siamese twins.
This connection is currently institutionalised in Anti-Gospel Christendom. This column takes the form of a letter to one Emeka who sent a question on position held by me through the Editor of Vanguard Workshop Section.
Vanguard Religion Editor, Mr. Sam Eyoboka has forwarded your question to me. You want some light shed on the relationship between Matt. 23:23 and Ephesians 2:11-16. The first is our Lord addressing the Pharisees on the issue of the Law and the second is Paul addressing the converted Ephesians about the change of their standing with God.
The first deals with the Lord’s teaching on the Law and the second deals with the ground for the justification of the Ephesians before God. There is no direct link between the passages, for the first passage addresses the Jew on the observance of the Law, and the second explains to the heathen how they who were once without God in the world have become members of the household of God.
Matthew 23:23 should be read in the context of all that the Lord saw wrong with the Scribes and Pharisees. Matthew 23:23 only speaks to one of the several things wrong with the Jewish legal establishment.
“Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the Law, judgment, mercy and faith; these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone. Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel” (Matthew 23:4).
The Lord Jesus has one problem with these leaders, who are scrupulous with the observance of the Law: His quarrel with them is that their keeping of the Law is uneven or unbalanced. The Lord says two things to these leaders namely:
(i) You are right in your careful observance of the legally required tithes;
(ii) You are wrong in omitting the weightier matters of the Law. You should have put more emphasis on the matters of judgment, mercy and faith than on tithes- your omitting these weightier matters of the Law is evidence of your imperfect appreciation of the Law.
If you had to choose which aspect of the Law you want to observe, you should have kept the weightier matter of the Law. However, God has called you to keep His Law, His whole Law, both the light and weighty things of the Law. Let your attention to judgment, mercy, and faith be the context of your paying your tithes: “These ought ye to have done, and not leave the other undone” so said the Lord.
In summary the Lord Jesus as a Jew approved the doing of the Law, the whole Law; He approved of the paying of tithes although in the context of the weightier matter of the Law. The Gospel Ministry of our Lord Jesus was thus a ministry under the Law and of the Law. The Lord was clear about the purpose of His earthly ministry as here stated:
“Think not that I am come to destroy the Law, or the prophets. I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the Law till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven; but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
For I say unto you, that except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:17-20).
In the above, the Lord explains the status of the Law(and all that God commands is the Law). Jesus came to fulfill the Law and while his task remained unfinished, the Law in its entirety was to be observed. He that did not do the whole law and taught others to do as he did would be lowly esteemed in the kingdom of heaven. But he that did the whole law, the same would be highly esteemed in God’s kingdom.
And indeed the Lord’s estimation of the Law was so high that he warned his listeners that their righteousness must exceed the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees if they wanted to enter into the kingdom of heaven.
In this teaching the Lord exalted the Law while it was yet to be fulfilled by him, and in so doing showed that the Scribes and Pharisees could not enter into the kingdom of heaven by the way of their righteous acts. So the Lord could not but approve the paying of tithes- he was a Jew sent by God to fulfill the Law and the prophets. He, however, taught that none would enter into the kingdom of heaven by the keeping of the Law.
The righteousness that exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees is “being born again” and that is the righteousness that the Scribes and Pharisees were in dire need of. None by the paying of tithes or doing any of the commandments of God can enter into the kingdom of heaven .
“For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus; Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; to declare I say, at this time his righteousness; that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus” (Romans 3:23-26).
While we cannot enter into kingdom of heaven by the deeds of the Law, God by setting forth Jesus to be the propitiation for our sins has at no cost to us justified us. In doing so He has shown himself to be a just God, by upholding the Law and its sentence of death on mankind; He has also shown himself the justifier of all who believe in Jesus. This is the Gospel believed by the Ephesians.
Here now we dwell briefly on the passage of scripture to which you made reference, namely Ephesians 2:11-16. We do well to remember what all mankind, Jews and Gentiles were when God gave His Son to be a propitiation for our sins. We were “dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 1:2). While Jews through the Law and the prophets knew the judgment of God on sin, Non-Jews, that is the rest of mankind exemplified by the Ephesians, lived in the world ignorant of the Law of God and the God of the law.
“They were at that time were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12).
This verse of scripture summarized God’s division of the world into Israel and Non-Israel. The Old Testament, The Torah of the Jews, the only Bible known to Jesus, was exclusively the Holy Scriptures of the Jews. This is why Jesus could say to the Samaritan Woman.
“Woman, believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father. Ye worship ye know not what; we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews” (John 4:21). When gentile converts to Christianity begin to see Jews as “unbelievers” their claim run counter to the assertion of the Lord Jesus. Salvation is of the Jews, and this Salvation is by faith in the saving grace of God who offered His Son as a Sacrifice for sins, not only for the sins of the Jews but also for the sins of mankind.
“But now” says the scripture “in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, who hath made both (Jews and Gentiles- my own words) one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace; and that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby; And came and preached peace to you which were afar off, and to them that were nigh.
For through him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father. Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God” (Ephesians 2:13-19). The above is the Gospel declared. Gentiles never had anything to do with the Law.
The Law was given to Israel to keep and the Law led Israel to Christ Jesus. The Law including the Law on tithes that Israel could not keep led to the curse of the Law.
“Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us; for it is written, cursed is everyone that hangeth on a tree.
That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith” (Gal. 3:13-14). It took the death of our Lord Jesus to redeem mankind, both Jews and Gentile from the curse of the law; and this was and remains the only way that the blessings of Abraham can come on the Gentiles.
The Gentiles could not, before Calvary escape the curse of the Law- for cursed was all who were idol worshippers as the Gentiles were, and only by faith in the blood of our Lord Jesus could Gentiles be redeemed from the curse of the law, so that the blessings of Abraham may be theirs and that they may receive the promise of the Spirit through faith “For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female; for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ’s then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:26-28). The Gospel of God is “we are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus not by the doing of the law instanced in the paying of tithes. Why is this the case? “for as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have pout on Christ- for ye are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:27-28).
All that are one in Christ are Christ’s and thus reckoned to be Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. We are heirs of God because we are Christ’s, not by the doing of the law. Those who bring belivers under threat of the curse of the law despise the Cross and call God a liar and that in the name of God.