Sunday, August 31, 2014

Galatians & Giving (part 1)

Now the one who receives instruction in the word must share all good things with the one who teaches it. – Galatians 6:6  (NET)

The sixth verse of the sixth chapter of Galatians.  It is a verse that has been held up as the basis for giving to one’s church, or specifically, one’s pastor.  More than that, it has been used as a veritable theological brickbat for many years and by many people, justifying the demand that Christians pay the people that instruct them in the Christian faith, presuming that this was the Apostle Paul’s demand as well. 

More than that, verse seven is brought into play, adding the insistence “Do not be deceived.  God will not be made a fool.  For a person will reap what he sows” (6:7).  Presumably then, if one gives to his or her pastor and thereby demonstrates a respect for the teaching of the word, then said person is one “who sows to the Spirit,” and therefore, “will reap eternal life from the Spirit” (6:8b).  Alternatively, if a person does not give to their teacher, presumably disrespecting the teaching of the word and the man (or woman) of the covenant God that delivers it, that person “sows to his own flesh” and will therefore “reap corruption from the flesh” (6:8a). 

Inevitably, verse nine is brought into play, insisting that even in times of struggle when it may seem difficult to tithe or to give in any way, “we must not grow weary in doing good, for in due time we will reap, if we do not give up” (6:9).  The fact that this is precisely the language of public benefaction is usually ignored, even though Paul follows up with “So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who belong to the family of faith” (6:10).  Some even use the language of verse ten to justify giving exclusively within one’s particular congregation, putting undue weight on the “especially” of the verse, while allowing “let us do good to all people” to fall unceremoniously to the wayside. 

While it is undeniable that Paul is here insisting that respect be given to those who offer instruction in the words of faith, what is also undeniable is that he writes to a congregation that does not at all reflect the type of church structure with which most in this age are familiar.  In this congregation that existed very early in the infancy of the church, it is highly unlikely that there would have been a particular pastor who was primarily responsible for the instruction of the congregation. 

Teaching would most definitely not have taken place in a setting with which most today are familiar---the setting in which a single person, usually the same person week in and week out (with the occasional guest speaker or associate pastor mixed in) stands at the head of a gathered crowd, with said crowd dutifully listening to the instruction week in and week out, nodding their heads in agreement and offering up the occasional “amen” in support of the teacher’s assertions.  Now, this is not to say that there is anything wrong with such a setting, and it must be said that the setting to which the vast majority of Christendom has grown accustomed has served the church of the Christ relatively well.  It is simply to say that this is not at all the setting into which Paul wrote, which he would have had in mind as he wrote, or in which his letter would have been shared.

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