“Extortion” is defined as this:
the crime of obtaining money or some other thing of value by the abuse of one’s office or authority.
-Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2010
When Jesus accused the Pharisees He said that they were guilty of “extortion and wickedness” as well as hypocrisy. Extortion is an abuse that is caused by someone who holds an office or some kind of authority over another. Leaders are supposed to be there to serve the people and uphold the laws of the land but some leaders have secret agendas to serve their own purposes. These leaders are guilty of extortion because, even if the effort is to produce some kind of alternate government, it is an abuse of the office for the purpose of obtaining something they believe is valuable.
The law makes many things quite clear, but some leaders choose to subtly oppose laws. While in office they choose to ignore certain violations, and strictly uphold other parts of the law in order to move the people in directions that were outside of the intent of the law makers. By relaxing some laws and hyper-defending others, a crafty kind of extortion is produced. This appears to be the same kind that Jesus saw in the Pharisees.
The Pharisees would judge people based on ultra-strict tithing rules. They would expect people to break their spices into 10 parts and give one tenth of their salt and pepper to God while totally ignoring the arrival of the Messiah to Israel. This caused the people to focus on the wrong things and allowed these leaders to enjoy power over the people by loading ridiculous rules on them and ignoring others that might make them look bad or remove their positions of authority.
I would like to address this idea of tithing because I believe that this kind of extortion is happening in church among the leadership today. The New Testament says nothing about Christians tithing or being asked to tithe. Christians, rather, were expected to devote their entire lives to Jesus Christ Himself. The Bible actually says that Christians are the bride of Christ. It is ridiculous to expect a bride to pay 10 percent of herself to her Husband don’t you think? A true bride gives all of herself. The tithing laws of the Old Testament were directed toward Israel under the Law of Moses and were one of the taxes that supported their ceremonial way of life. Christians are free to tithe if they choose. Any kind of organized giving that is done from the heart with gratitude before God is a good thing, but that is not what some Christian leaders teach.
Some leaders teach that God does expect tithes and even suggest that a failure to tithe could bring a lack of blessing on the believer. This is an example of legalism and sets up a merit system for blessing on earth. Grace teaches us that God has already blessed us with all spiritual blessings in Christ and will, someday, bless us with our new physical bodies in the future. For that reason we are heavenly minded rather than earthly minded. All of these blessings are completely without cost. To apply any kind of a price tag to them would be exchange free blessings with earned ones. God does not accept pay for His blessings given to us in Christ. It is because He doesn’t expect anything that we want to give all of ourselves back to Him. He gives and then we give. We don’t do it out of duty just as a bride does not give to her husband out of duty but out of love.
Now, Christian leaders should be paid because what they offer has merit and value to our lives. If our very lives are affected by what they do, don’t they provide a significant amount of value to us. They are certainly more valuable than our cable bill don’t you think? If they provide a great deal of value to us, then we need to do what is right and pay them for that value. We may never be able to pay our leaders enough for what they have done to help us but it is only reasonable for a believer to love their leadership by paying them for the value they provide. This concept is in the New Testament and the Old Testament and just as it is wrong for leaders to legalize the tithe, it is inappropriate for Christians to not pay their leaders for their valuable work! To fail to pay a worker is robbery! If we sin in this way, God may discipline us even though He will never take His blessing away from us. Our prayers may be ineffective because we fail to pay our leaders like He says, but we will be saved and blessed by the grace of God simply because God is good and we have believed in His grace. We may be ashamed when we see Christ, but He will still love us.