by Matt Kennedy
Monday, December 8, 2008
Contrary to popular belief, tithing is not a topic that preachers enjoy. It plays into the stereotype that the church only wants your money. Some preachers focus on tithing because they know the fastest way to get rich is to tell people that Jesus wants their cash. Others are more sincere, they truly believe that God wants everyone to be wealthy and healthy. When Jesus says, “ask for anything in my name and it will be given to you” he means, they believe, literally, that whatever you ask for using the name Jesus, so long as you believe it, God is obligated to give. If you want a Pony, name it, claim it in Jesus’ name, and then God will give you a Pony. The only reason you might not get it is because you're not believing hard enough. If you have the faith of a mustard seed you could move mountains. Obviously the only reason you do not have a Pony, or that you are sick, or that you live in government housing is that you do not have even the faith of a mustard seed. See how this works? The preacher in the mansion and Mercedes must be a great man of great faith. The poor sick guy just needs more faith. And, of course, the sign of his faith will be giving a good portion of his cash to the rich preacher with the Mercedes and the mansion. You send me 200 dollars God will give you 2000 Dollars. This is the ‘prosperity gospel’ and it's a serious distortion of scripture. It ends up embittering people toward the church and toward Christianity in general. Scripture never says “give to get.” Christians are to give because God has given first; to Give for the love and the glory of God. God doesn’t promise profit, he does promise provision.
Before getting started, let's address three common mis-perceptions.
The first has to do with the common stewardship slogan: Give your “time, talent and treasure.” The slogan is not, “give your time talent OR treasure.” God provides all three so the biblical model is to tithe all three. What if God decided to give you time or talent or treasure? “ You could have lots of money and be dead. You could be alive with all sorts of talent but starving. Or you could be alive, with money, but physically paralyzed and brain dead. God graciously provides time, talent, and treasure. Out of gratitude, we offer him the same.
Second, the tithe is the God ordained vehicle by which the ministry and mission of the church, is sustained. From the very beginning of the Church (Acts 4:32-36) believers were called to bring money and possessions to the leaders of the church who distributed them “to each as any had need.” It is great to give to secular charity, but biblically speaking it’s not a true tithe. A tithe is specifically for the building the kingdom.
Third, the tithe is not one of those Old Covenant commands no longer valid under the New Covenant. There are some Old Testament regulations we no longer follow. Why do we follow the ten commandments and not the kosher laws? The only reason we do not follow kosher laws is because the New Testament explicitly in Acts 10 and Mark 7 tells us that they have been fulfilled in Christ. There is no passage of scripture explicitly overturning the command to tithe. In fact, in Acts 4 believers sold all their possessions and gave everything to the apostles. Paul, as he records in his epistles, goes from congregation to congregation collecting their offerings for the Church in Jerusalem. Yes, these are offerings, the word tithe is not used, but it is an example of regular abundant giving. I know there are some very good Christians who argue otherwise, but I cannot find the expectation to tithe superseded anywhere in the NT and so I don't see how we can set it aside.
Let’s start in Genesis 4:2-7:
“Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil. In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the LORD. But Abel brought fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The LORD looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor.” (Genesis 4:2-4)
Why is God pleased with Abel’s offering and not Cain’s? Cain brought “some” of the fruits of the soil. Abel brought the “fat” portion of the “first-born” from his flock. Abel gave God his best. For us, “fat” is bad but if your life depends on getting enough calories into your body, fat is precious. Abel gave the fattest of his flock to the Lord. Cain did not. He gave a portion. A bit from what he harvested, keeping the best for himself.
Abel trusted that God would provide so he gave his best freely. Cain did not trust God. He provided for himself first and then gave the remainder to God. The author of Hebrews says that those who have faith do what Abel did. They give their first and best. They set aside time for worship and bible study first and schedule everything else around that time. It’s not I’ll go to church if there’s not a soccer game or I'll do bible study unless there's something good on TV. They commit to a ministry and make that commitment sacred--be it vestry, choir, or mopping floors, they consider service a service to Christ. They set aside their treasure before paying taxes and bills not after. They give the first and best to God trusting that the God who promises to provide will provide. And he does.
Turn to Deuteronomy 14:22-29.
“Be sure to set aside a tenth of all that your fields produce each year. Eat the tithe of your grain, new wine and oil, and the firstborn of your herds and flocks in the presence of the LORD your God at the place he will choose as a dwelling for his Name, so that you may learn to revere the LORD your God always…Then you and your household shall eat there in the presence of the LORD your God and rejoice….” (Deuteronomy 14:22-23, 26b-7)
This text defines tithe is a tenth. Note that Israelites were to eat their tenth in the presence of the Lord. The tithe is not a bill. It’s intended to deepen your fellowship with God. God invites his people to enjoy the fruits of his provision and blessing in his presence. “Eat it there in the presence of the Lord and rejoice!” Do you rejoice when you put your offering into the plate? Do you enjoy your time at worship and bible study? Do you enjoy your reading or acolyting? When you give anything to the church you lay it at the feet of Jesus Christ himself. It is an act of fellowship. You're saying: Lord I want to enjoy the best portion of my time, talent and treasure with you.
Let’s turn to Malachi 3:8-12:
""Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me. "But you ask, 'How do we rob you?' "In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse—the whole nation of you—because you are robbing me. Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house.”
Everything we have and enjoy is a free gift directly from God. When you tithe you are not giving God some of your hard earned money. You're giving back to God only a small portion of what he gives to you. Who do you think gives you the strength, intellect, skill, time, energy, and resources to earn the money you ear? God. Everything you and I have is ours because God graciously provided what is necessary to get it. God does not ask you to invest your hard earned money to the church. God calls you to give back 10% of what he has given. Giving none of it or giving only the leftovers is, in his eyes, a form or robbery. And there’s a cost. How many believers worry about money or time or having enough energy to get through the day? That’s not the way God wants you to live and if you live according to his standards he provides so that you don’t have to. God does not give you 1000 dollars every time you give him 100. But he replenishes what you expend in his service. If you give him time first, you will always have enough time for other things. If you give him your tithe first, you will always have money. If you give him your best effort, he will always provide strength for your other responsibilities.
“Test me in this," says the LORD Almighty, "and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it…Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land," says the LORD Almighty. (Malachi 3:6-12)”
When I am praying and studying scripture every day, I have enough time. When I let that commitment falter, there is never enough time. When I commit to pour out my best for the church, I find I had a lot more energy than when I think of my work here as a chore that I have to fit in around other things. You give God your first and your best, and God opens the floodgates. You don’t you’ll always be worried about money, overstretched for time and tired.
So a tithe: 1. comes from the first fruits or the gross of your time, income, and talent. 2. in monetary terms it’s ten percent. And 3. If you tithe your time talent and treasure God promises to provide all three in abundance.
Tithing is one of the most difficult and profound steps of faith a believer can make. If you’re not there yet, don’t feel like less of a Christian. I don’t know who tithes and who doesn’t. I don’t ask. That’s between you and God. But I do know that it’s brought joy and blessing to my life because it forced me to change my priorities. God doesn’t call for a tithe because he’s short on cash. He doesn’t need anything from us. He calls for a tithe because he knows that left to ourselves we’d put everything else in the world, money, schedules, sports, classes, careers, before him and he knows that when we do that, we’re not living in accordance with the way he designed us to live and so our lives spin out of control. God doesn’t need your money. He wants your heart.
The best way to build up toward a tithe is to start small. Make a commitment of your first fruits like Abel did. If ten percent is too much, start with 2 or 3 and take it from the gross. Commit to Church every Sunday. Find a ministry and commit to it. And build from there. God's promise is that you'll have what you need when you need it and as you see that his word and promise is true, your faith will increase and you’ll want to give more and more as God pours his blessings into your life.Prayer.