We use that word a lot in the church, like we do a lot of words, without thinking about what they mean. Today we are looking at a passage that talks about tithing and God blessing us in relationship to our tithing.
Money is a touchy subject. Most people feel the church always has its hand out asking for money, and in trying to create a church that emphasizes God’s grace, His patience, and allow people time we take a very laid back approach to our offering. I truly believe that forcing or guilting people into something may work for a short time, but does not build a healthy, spiritually robust person in the long run. Many of us suffer from the carry-over effect of spiritually abusive or legalistic church backgrounds.
When I was growing up, tithing and giving was never really taught about in a healthy way. Tithing was encouraged with a healthy dose of guilt during the time of offering that would go on and on until they felt like there was enough in the plate. I once suffered through 20 verses of an offeratory, the song played while they collect the offering, and then 20-30 verses of Just As I Am while they waited for someone to come to the altar.
Sometimes they would preach verses like today’s passage with the underlying message of “You are not doing enough!” They would emphasize the harsher sections of the passage...obviously guilt and shame and pressure were part of that.
I believe we need a message on tithing not because I want you to give more money to the church. We have some very generous people here, and God provides the resources for what He wants to accomplish. We need a message on tithing because understanding it is part of a healthy Christian walk.
I have seen how it works in my own life. It is as an act of worship. It is a response to all that God has given and done for us in my life. And when we give it opens us up as a person...I am more generous not just toward God and His church, but toward other people around me who are in need.
Today as we look at this passage, we are not breaking away from our commitment to the 2 Corinthians 9:7 passage where it says, “Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” It isn’t honoring if it is done grudgingly or if it is compelled!
Our goal is to first and foremost help you become better followers of God...not better members of a church. I think part of following God is being part of a church and all that it entails...but first and foremost we are followers of God. So let’s look at our passage today, and see what we can learn...
“Return to me, and I will return to you,” says the Lord Almighty.
“But you ask, ‘How are we to return?’
“Will a mere mortal rob God? Yet you rob me.
“But you ask, ‘How are we robbing you?’
“In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse—your whole nation—because you are robbing me. Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. 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 there will not be room enough to store it. I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not drop their fruit before it is ripe,” says the Lord Almighty. “Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land,” says the Lord Almighty.
The first part of this passage sounds very...mean...It sounds like God is VERY angry...and He is. He is talking to a group of people who proudly announce they are His followers, they act as they though they are on board with all He asks, and really they are only interested in appearing to follow Him. Despite only appearing to be obedient they wanted God to fulfill everything He promised to those who would faithfully obey Him.
Have you ever made a deal with your children, a bribe? If you will clean your room I will take you to get ice cream. After you have been parenting awhile you will use any ploy you can to get some things done. Your child goes into their room for 5-10 minutes, then returns and proudly announces, “My room is clean!”
We are not dumb. There is no way they cleaned up the remnants of the hurricane that hit their room. You walk in, and toys and clothes are stuffed under the bed. You open the closet door and need the help of a search and rescue dog to get out from under the avalanche...but the floor, the middle of the floor is clear...so in their mind the room is clean.
The people of Israel were pretending to be obedient, acting as though they had their act together, and were demanding that God take them for the promised ice cream...so needless to say, God’s tone is a bit stern in this passage.
We have to be careful when using this passage as a teaching passage to look at the principles of tithing that we don’t carry over that tone if it doesn’t fit the situation. We are looking to be better followers of God...to recognize something about tithing out of this passage...we are not looking to misrepresent ourselves to God as His faithful followers while hiding behind unfaithfulness. So we can draw some principles out of this passage without being guilty and receiving the tone of the original.
What we see in this passage is that in tithing...
We recognize God's ownership.
““But you ask, ‘How are we to return?’ “Will a mere mortal rob God? Yet you rob me. But you ask, ‘How are we robbing you? In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse—your whole nation—because you are robbing me.”
The Israelites were saying, “We are doing everything right, God! Why aren’t you blessing us?” And God’s response was a stern, “No, you are not doing everything right!”
God calls their refusal to tithe theft. Which brings up the question, “How is it theft?”
Psalm 24:1-2 says, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it; for he founded it on the seas and established it on the waters.”
You see everything in this world belongs to God, and it is on loan to us. When God placed Adam and Eve in the Garden, he told them to care for creation...to tend it...the imagery is that of a steward or care-giver. Someone placed over something for the owner.
I remember the first time I was asked to housesit for someone...I was excited and scared to death all at the same time. I was going to be staying and living on my own with no adult supervision for the first time in my life, and yet I was at someone else’s house and didn’t want to mess that up. So I actually cleaned up after myself. Picked my clothes up off the floor. Put stuff away...unlike how I treated my first apartment.
I was taking care of someone else’s home. It wasn’t mine, but I was responsible for it.
God places us in charge of His stuff here on earth, and gives us the responsibility to care for it. He gives us talents and abilities. He gives us financial resources. He gives us a home, property, relationships...all things that have to be cared for...
What we have been given does not belong to us, ut belongs to Him. When God asks us to return a percentage to His house for Him to use in supporting His work He is simply asking us to relinquish resources that already belong to Him. Refusing to return what rightfully belongs to Him and pretending as though we have given it to Him, he calls theft.
I know those are some strong words, but we use similar metaphors all the time. I will often buy a bag of candy or something for Bri when we are out. I don’t want a whole bag. I just want a couple of bites. She is usually very good about things, but there have been times when I bought something and asked for a bite. She responded by saying, “No! This is mine!” And I have had to remind her that while it is in her possession, that I am the one who bought it.
When we tithe, we are simply acknowledging God as the rightful owner and ourselves as His caretakers. Remember God is speaking to people who claim to follow Him. He is not talking to people who are just beginning to seek after Him, or are not yet following Him. He is laying the weight of this metaphor on people who claim to be following him whole-heartedly, and are rejecting Him by lying and stealing from Him.
The second thing, it that through tithing...
We participate in God's mission.
“Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house.”
In those days, tithing was done mostly with grain, wine, livestock, and produce from the fields. This was not a monetary based society. So when the people brought their tithe into the church it was “food”. That food would then be distributed to those who had need, traded for other goods, etc. Gold and other articles were often given too. In the New Testament we see that money was more common so people gave that way.
But the idea behind this verse is that the giving of the people supports the work of God in the church. It was to be the place where priests and Levites led the worship of the people, taught them God’s ways, and helped them understand God’s Word. The tithe of the people supported God’s work.
Our tithes still support the work of God through His church...Over the past year we have served more than 10,000 people with God’s love. We have bought groceries, paid bills, done numerous acts of kindness, and much more in our community. All because of your faithfulness in giving.
Last year a couple of us got together and made a dream list of over 100 ministries that could be part of this church. I dream of being able to do so much more in our community...we are praying for a more permanent location...a place where we can have regular classes, a food pantry, ministry to help in many different situations...There is a lot that God wants to do through us, but the reality is that it requires money and it requires time and leadership.
When we look at all that needs done and the money involved, we often think in terms of giving up...we are giving up money we could use for something else. Instead, we should be thinking in terms of investment. We are not sacrificing anything...we are investing in what God wants to accomplish with the money, time, and talents he has freely given us!
People will be able to have food on their tables because we are investing in a church that is outward focused.
Marriages will be saved because we are building a place that reaches out to them and helps them survive the storms they face.
Children will have a safe place to learn and grow closer to God.
A few years back, my nephew started showing ability to play the piano. He took a couple of lesson through his school, and grew quickly in his ability...beyond just the normal taking lessons. He picked it up rather naturally. When my sister couldn’t afford lessons for him, a longtime family friend stepped in to pay for his lessons. She said, “I see this as an investment in his future that I won’t get to benefit from, but others will!”
What God has called us as a church to do here in this community we may never get to see the end result of it all, but we are making an investment that others will get to benefit from down the road!
The final thing is that through tithing...
We open the doors of God's blessing.
“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 there will not be room enough to store it. I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not drop their fruit before it is ripe,” says the Lord Almighty. “Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land,” says the Lord Almighty.”
So often this passage is seen as a mean, or guilt driven, or something...When the bulk of this passage is a simple statement about God’s desire to bless His people when they obey! More than 50% of the passage is about God’s desire to do something great for His people, but their lack of obedience and open-handedness keeps Him from being able to bless them.
God wants to open the floodgates and pour out blessing on those who follow Him, but they have shut Him off!
One of the enduring principles of the spiritual life is that God never forces us to take something we are unwilling to take. Closely connected to this is the idea that by refusing to be generous and loving and forgiving we can actually shut ourselves off from receiving generosity, love, and forgiveness. So when it comes to this principle of tithing, when we hoard and assume ownership of something that is not rightly ours we shut ourselves off from the blessings God has for us.
If you do what you are called to do then God will do what only God can do.
Our obedience to God opens the doors to His blessings in our lives. As we mentioned last week, blessings are more than just financial, but they certainly include God’s care and provision for us in financial ways. I have seen God time and again provide for those who follow Him and live in obedience. It may not come in our timing and in the way we want it, but His blessings do come.
Sometimes it our financial needs are met with a better job we didn’t expect! Back in August, I was happily employed as a restaurant manager when the opportunity came for me to work at a school in Fairborn. Little did I know my time at the restaurant was coming to an end. God provided.
Sometimes our blessings come in the form of learning to make wiser choices. We stop spending beyond our budget.
Sometimes our blessings come because the emphasis and direction of our lives change and we are no longer going in this direction. We find fulfillment in another direction.
God brings blessings from some of the most unexpected places!
We serve a God who gives and gives and gives. He leads the way for us. No matter what we give, God gives more. He demonstrated the extent of His giving by giving His Son, Jesus Christ. The ultimate sacrifice of giving!
No matter what we give to God...monetary gifts, talents and abilities, time...we can’t outgive God!
Charles Spurgeon once said, “God has a way of giving by the cartloads to those who give away by shovelfuls.”