What About Tithing?
When I was in high school, I had a friend whose dad was a dentist. Since we were friends, his dad became my dentist and we developed a love hate relationship. What I mean was that Dr. Guthrie and his family were so kind to me and then to Trista after we got married, and to the boys after they were born. I really enjoyed going to their home, or spending time with him and his family at a restaurant, or movie, or even in rush hour traffic. They were very compassionate and kind.
But, that was out of the office, I absolutely hated to go visit him at his office. You see out of the office he was Winston a family friend, but in the office he was Dr. Guthrie the dentist. And every time I would go for my checkup he would check me for TMJ. If you have ever had this test before you know that it involves the Dentist taking their index finger and pressing in the back of your jaw and mouth. All the while that they poke they asks "Does this hurt? How about this? What about this?"
If I cry in pain that means one of two things has happened, either he pushed too hard, without the right sensitivity. Or, there's something wrong, and he will say, We'd better do some more tests. It’s not supposed to hurt there!
You know it’s not just doctors that have to poke every now and then to see if everything is all right. As a preacher there are also times that I need to press and see if everything is all right. I want to be sensitive, because there are times preachers talk about giving in such a way that it makes the giving stop. Sometimes the members cry out in discomfort, criticizing the message and the messenger. I believe that is because of one or two reasons: Either the preacher has pushed too hard. Or perhaps there's something wrong. You might remember last week we noticed that giving to the Lord is supposed to be a joyous or hilarious event; not one that hurts.
We have already discussed our motivation, or why do we give. I hope that you were able to go home and think about the reasons that you give your time, talents, and treasure to the Lord. This week I have to poke a little, and I promise to try to be sensitive. I want us to be aware of our thoughts and feelings as we talk about tithing.
Usually when we see or hear the word tithing we are quick to point out that tithing was something that came under the old law and we are New Testament Christians. Maybe they are right, and maybe not. Tithing refers to the practice of giving a tenth of a person's income, including money, crops, and animals. While it is commanded in the Law of Moses, giving tithes were practiced before Mount Sinai.
In Genesis 14:18-20 we read that Abraham gave tithes to Melchizedek 400 years before Moses ascended Mount Sinai.
In Genesis 28:12-22 we see a few generations later that Jacob offered tithes to God.
So by the time we get to the Law of Moses in Deuteronomy 14:22-23 the practice of tithing was something that the Children of Israel were at least familiar with.
And it was not just something the Israelites practiced. Every ancient nation practiced giving special offerings of thanks to the source of their blessing. The practice of a first fruit sacrifice was not just an Israelite thing. If a person worshiped Ra, Baal, Molech, or Ashtoreth they all gave a first-fruit tithe in an effort to show that they trusted their god would provide the rest of the harvest.
We tend to forget that there were more nationalities in the world besides the Israelites. We just focus on the Jews because that is the story God tells in the Old Testament. You know about tithing because it’s included in the Law of Moses in Exodus 23:16-19, as well as the books of Second Chronicles, Nehemiah, and several others. But it was a wide spread practice in many different nations. The practice of tithing has always been symbolic of being thankful. For those who love and believe in God tithing our time, talents, and treasures is an essential way to acknowledge that God actually owns the whole, and that He alone is in control of your life.
The tithe is important because it reveals we understand the circular nature of the tithe.
We are taught in Scripture to give back to God as a way of acknowledging that He already owns the whole. We are told that God owns everything, and that He blesses us with every good gift. Then we give back to God as a way of completing the circle of blessing. God blesses us, and we in turn bless God and others.
Luke writes in Acts 20:35 You should remember the words of the Lord Jesus: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ Did you know the idea that it was more blessed to give than receive came from the Bible? All these years you thought that your grandfather came up with that and passed along to you while standing at a fence post. But actually the idea came from the mouth of Jesus who was trying to teach was that the real blessing comes when we learn how to trust God and show that trust by giving to those in need. Mark Batterson wrote, When God blesses you financially it is not so that you can raise your standard of living, but so that you can raise your standard of giving. That’s the point of the circular nature of the tithe.
The text that was read for us this morning is one of the last words the Children of Israel heard from God before God went silent for 400 years. The prophet Malachi reminds the people to trust God, to allow their giving to show their level of faith. Remember what was read from Malachi 3:8-10: Will a man rob God? Yet you have robbed Me. But you say, “How have we robbed You?” In tithes and offerings. You are cursed with a curse, your whole nation, for you are robbing Me. Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in My house, and test Me now in this, says the Lord of Hosts, if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you a blessing, that there will not be room enough to receive it.
Now regardless what that guy on television said, this is not a health and wealth gospel. We are not saying give God a little of your attention and you will be rich beyond your wildest dreams. These passages show that God wants to work through us, but that will only happen if we trust Him to provide. God says if you trust me fully, I’ll take care of the rest.
It’s the same thing Jesus taught in Matthew 6 where He promises to care for physical needs when we put him first. So do not consume yourselves with questions: What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear? Outsiders make themselves frantic over such questions; they don’t realize that your heavenly Father knows exactly what you need. Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and then all these things will be given to you too. (31-33)
I love how practical these two verses are and how they complement one another beautifully. Matthew says put God first and He will provide for you. Malachi says put your money where our mouth is. You say that you trust God well prove it by bringing all your tithes into the storehouse so that there may be food in God’s house and He will pour out such blessing that there will not be room enough to receive it.
Today when you bring your tithe to the store house, it is a little different than Old Testament times. Instead of going to the temple and making an offering to be stored away, today we pass around a little silver plate and our deacons decide what ministries we will use to spread God’s call of love and repentance in this community. The more of our time, talent, and treasure we bring the farther we can spread that message.
God calls us to grow in our faith, and He rewards faith. Not only are we to bring an offering that is done cheerfully and generously, but God wants us to test Him to see if He will keep His promise. Have you ever thought about the fact that God wants us to test Him? God has always given His people permission to check out His promises and see if He was telling the truth. In our text He is daring us to put Him to the test. Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in My house, and test Me now in this, says the Lord of Hosts, if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you a blessing, that there will not be room enough to receive it.
This whole discussion begins with God calling His children to test Him. The Hebrew word for test means to examine, scrutinize, or prove. God wants us to check Him out and see that His word is reliable. Test God and try to out give Him. Test Him and see how He will return your worship with blessings. It’s an Old Testament principle that is alive and well in the New Testament Church.
Another parallel verse is found in Luke 6:38 where Jesus says Give generously and generous gifts will be given back to you, shaken down to make room for more. Abundant gifts will pour out upon you with such an overflowing measure that it will run over the top! Your measurement of generosity becomes the measurement of your return.
I love the symbolism that Jesus uses here. He says Your measurement of generosity becomes the measurement of your return. That seems to be a constant theme with God. You are forgiven the way you forgive, you are judged the way you judge, and now He says that God returns blessings in proportion to the amount that you bless others. The more you give, the more you will receive.
So it stands to reason that everyone who claims to be a follower of Christ would be an expert at tithing their time, talents, and treasure. But that’s not always the case. Honestly, we get a little tight fisted with our blessings because we are afraid God won't really keep His word.
It’s so tempting to read these verses and then go look at our pile of bills and lose a bit of faith. There are so many bills, so many needs, we have too many days and not enough check. Let someone give I’m trying to survive. That’s the attitude of people who believe in God, but who struggle to actually believe God.
What I mean is if I were to ask you today to raise your hand if you believed that God existed, I am pretty sure that a majority of you would raise your hand. But believing that God is alive and powerful; believing that He has full control of everything around us, well that takes a deeper kind of faith. You see if we really believed God we would live drastically different than the world around us.
Maybe our problem is that we have not given ourselves fully to God in the first place. Remember that Paul said in 2 Corinthians 8 that the Macedonians were overflowing with joy even in their extreme poverty because they first gave themselves to the Lord.
Let’s be honest for a moment, when things don’t go our way we are quick to give up our joy. A little traffic, a case of the flu, or more month than money turns our joy into anxiousness. I am sure that there were a lot of things going wrong in the lives of the Macedonian’s. They still were under Roman oppression and Rome hated Christianity. But Paul said even in their affliction they begged and pleaded with us to let them share in this service for God's people. But that all started because they had first trusted God completely by giving themselves to Him first.
One of the bedrocks of faith is understanding that God owns it all anyway. When we come to that understanding it’s easier to trust Him with your time, talents, and treasure. And that’s why so many in the church still aren't convinced tithing is still part of God's plan. They believe it all belongs to them, and not to God. It’s my house, my truck, my day off, my time and God get’s pushed to the fringes.
This past week someone asked me, If we are supposed to be cheerful givers, then how much How much should we give? Now most preachers would get to this point and say, I can’t tell you that. You know it’s a personal decision, and the Bible says that we are not supposed to let our right hand know what our left hand is doing. But, I didn’t go to school to learn how to be a preacher, I’m a counselor and counselors like to give guidelines. So …..
First I believe that we need to give as you have been prospered. 1 Corinthians 16:2 says On the first day of every week, each one of you should put aside money as you have been blessed. Save it up so you will not have to collect money after I come. I think Paul is pretty clear here in the fact if you have not been blessed this week then you shouldn’t give. But if you have been blessed this week, then you need to participate in the circular nature of the tithe. That is a decision that you have to make on your own.
Secondly, as far as the amount goes let’s look and see what Jesus celebrated. The least anyone ever gave and God commended them was 10%.
The Law of Moses commanded the people to give a tithe or ten percent to the Lord. Now I want you to think about the Jews on Pentecost. They had crucified Jesus. They were sorry for that and wanted to know if there was any hope. In Acts 2, Peter told them about repentance and forgiveness. The crowd was moved to repentance and about three thousand souls were baptized. Now do you imagine anyone on that day coming up out of the water saying, Praise the Lord, I'm a Christian. I can cut my contribution. I don't have to give 10% any more!
Well no that’s silly. As they met, they still gave their tithe, but instead of giving the money to the priests, they gave their gifts to Paul, Barnabas, and the other missionaries to spread the borders of the kingdom. In Acts 6, we see Deacons appointed to distribute the bread to the widows. Where did they get the money to buy the bread? From the tithes of the church. So the least anyone ever gave and God commended them was 10%.
And the most anyone ever gave and Jesus commended her was 100%.
There is that great gospel account in Mark 12 where Jesus is in the temple. We read As Jesus sat facing the temple offering box, he watched how much money people put into it. Many rich people put in large amounts. A poor widow dropped in two small coins, worth less than a cent. He called his disciples and said to them, “I can guarantee this truth: This poor widow has given more than all the others. All of them have given what they could spare. But she, in her poverty, has given everything she had to live on.” (Mark 12:41-44).
So when it comes to the amount of the tithe, it looks like that if we are willing to trust God with anywhere between 10 and 100% of our time, talent, and treasure then He will be pleased with us. If we are willing to test Him by giving back to Him between 10 and 100% He promises to pour out His blessings until they overflow.
But before we can give our stuff, we must first give ourselves. It’s only when we have given ourselves to God first that it becomes natural to give back to God. The great thing is that God says test me, trust me with the three things you hold dearest, and see what I can do with your life. When we tithe, what we are really saying is that I need God more than anything that I can tough, hold, or posses. I need the creator more than the creation. That’s living a life of faith.