Tithing: A Discipline of Faith
For our guests who are here for the first time, today may not have been the ideal Sunday to pick as your inaugural visit! The reason: today we are going to talk about money and tithing. “Oh darn! Not another sermon on money!” some of you are thinking. “Doesn’t he talk about anything else?”
FACT: I Have preached twice specifically about tithing in the five years I’ve been at BUMC. The Bible mentions money over 800 times and of all of Jesus’ parables, more than half of them talk about money.
Why do think folks get all bent out of shape when preachers bring up money? Some find it offensive because they believe what they give is none of the church’s business…and to some extent they’re right! Truth is, the only one who knows what you give is the one who records giving for tax purposes. Your secret’s safe with her!
Why did God choose to put so many verses about money, possessions, materialism, tithing, and sacrificial giving in the Bible? Because, it’s where so many of us get tripped up! We are so bound by debt, or possessions, or savings, or the jobs it takes to get out of debt, into more savings, or having more stuff. God knows we need help in this area.
Honestly, we pastors don’t enjoy preaching on tithing because we are criticized when we talk about money and tithing. Most folks expect preachers to raise money mysteriously. That is, they assume that if we teach the Bible well and preach inspiring sermons, then people will automatically tithe and the work of the Lord will go forward. To actually teach what Scripture says about money is to fail in some way. So, if offerings fall short some will criticize the pastor and suggest he preach more often about tithing. On the other hand, pastors are criticized by many when we DO speak on money, tithing, or sacrificial giving. It’s a “catch 22.”
I said this two years ago but it’s still true: the carnally minded will reject teachings on tithing and will resent the teacher. So, as I have in the past, let me say UP FRONT: Some in this room are going to hate this message. According to Romans 8:7 , “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed it cannot.” People whose minds are set on the flesh resent being called to make sacrifices for anything. Those whose minds are set on the flesh have other uses for God’s money.
Let me add this. Those whose mind is set on the flesh resent being told our mind is set on the flesh. We can think of a hundred possible reasons why we don’t want to hear a sermon on money, some of which may be legitimate. Perhaps you are struggling financially, and you don’t want to feel any guiltier than you already do. I get that, and I’ll address that a bit later.
But for now, please listen with an open mind. I’m asking ALL of us to allow the Spirit of God to control the way we think and act. Okay?
I am preaching on tithing because it’s required of me by God. I’ve shared this illustration before, but it bears repeating. A cartoon shows a fellow in the cemetery holding flowers. The epitaph on the tombstone before him reads: “Eternally peeved at those who never showed me how to tithe.” That may well happen. Failing to teach all the precepts of God’s Word—including tithing—has consequences for pastors when we stand before the Lord. Should I be more concerned about what you think or what God thinks?
Let me make one more distinction. This is not a message on stewardship. I think we weaken the spiritual discipline of tithing and sacrificial giving of our money when we use the word “stewardship.” When we talk stewardship, we lump together our financial commitment to God along with using our time and talents for God as well. We have talked a lot about holiness. I even preached a series on holiness…being set apart for God’s use. The letters of Peter were filled with that language. In fact, all the NT teaches on the importance of conforming to the image of Christ…living fully for God…loving Him with our whole hearts, mind, and strength. So, if you think about it, EVERY Sunday is a message on being good stewards of all God has given us in Christ Jesus!
Let me repeat: This is a message about the biblical practice of tithing as well as sacrificial giving. Church signs can be funny, witty, and poignant. Here’s one “If you love Jesus, TITHE – any fool can honk.”
Finally, the timing of this message is not random. We have just entered a season where people spend a mountain of money on Christmas gifts for family, friends, and themselves . According to a CNBC article I read on Friday, Adobe Analytics reported that Americans spent 640 million dollars online by 10 am that day (Black Friday), which was 18% more in that same period last year.
Get this! On Thanksgiving evening, shoppers spent 1.52 billion dollars, also up nearly 17% from last Thanksgiving. In other words, we are spending a boatload of money, and I want us to remember what is of first importance BEFORE we go in debt buying gifts for folks who don’t need anything.
Yes, I know, most of us drop loose change or even dollar bills in the red kettles of Salvation Army. And many of us will leave here today with one or two children from the Angel Tree to purchase gifts for someone less fortunate. And that’s awesome, by the way! Thank you! But, proportionately, we will spend exponentially more on our own people than we will give to charity, yet alone to Christian houses of worship.
Then, after Christmas, we will go back to our ancillary charitable giving—perhaps to the homeless beggar on the street, to a mission we are passionate about, or to help someone in crisis. Again, all that’s good, too. But what about the week in, week out expression of trust in God and obedience to His Word? That’s what we’re talking about tithing today…BEFORE the Christmas bills pile up.
Now, with those disclaimers and distinctions made, let’s jump in.
It probably should go without saying, but a tithe represents 10% of what we have. Back in OT times, when the people and the land were inseparable as it pertains to life and even to commerce, a tithe would have represented sheep, goats, cattle, wheat, olive oil, etc.
Let me offer two OT Scriptures and two NT Scriptures that teach the principle of tithing. First, the OT:
Leviticus 27:30 (Redeeming What Is the Lord’s)à A tithe of everything from the land, whether grain from the soil or fruit from the trees, belongs to the Lord; it is holy to the Lord. Through Moses, God is giving the Hebrew children what is commonly called The Law. Leviticus contains the holiness code in which the Israelites learn how worship practices keep them in right relationship with God. Various animal sacrifices and special holy days offer atonement for individual and corporate sin. Daily offerings are made to Yahweh for his benevolence. In larger context of this passage, God is explaining how certain things that have been dedicated to God can be redeemed: houses, people, some animals, and even the tithe.
It is understood that the tithe—the FIRST tenth of all one has—belongs to God…is dedicated to God. The firstborn son is dedicated to God. If a shepherd has 10 sheep, the first and best of the ten is God’s. If he has 100 oxen, 10 belong to the Lord. If one wished to redeem a portion of their tithe, they had add a 5th to it. Why? It was to show the Israelites that their offerings had value. It should cost them something!
Malachi 3:10 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.
Perhaps the clearest and most used example of the tithe comes from the last chapter of the prophetic book Malachi. Here, God is accusing the people of Israel of cheating God. The heading of this larger passage reads, Breaking Covenant by Withholding Tithesand the lead-in verses say this: 7Ever since the time of your ancestors you have turned away from my decrees and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you,” says the Lord Almighty.
“But you ask, ‘How are we to return?’ 8“Will a mere mortal rob God? Yet you rob me. “But you ask, ‘How are we robbing you?’ “In tithes and offerings. 9You are under a curse—your whole nation—because you are robbing me.
Failure to tithe is tantamount to robbing God! It’s a break in the covenant between God and his people. Have you ever thought that your failure to tithe what God has given you as cheating God? “Bring a tithe into the storehouse of God, that there may be food in my house.” Was that so God could have something to eat? NO! It was so there would be resources within the treasury to carry out the work of ministry. So it is for us today. How else will the Lord’s house, BUMC, be cared for, and how else will the work of ministry be accomplished without the tithes of the people?
Some argue that we are under grace and not the law, so we do not need to tithe.Dr. Maxie Dunam , when he was pastor of Christ UMC in Memphis made this point: “It’s absolutely true that we are under grace. But to make that a reason for giving less than the tithe is the mark of an ungrateful, uninformed heart that is not fully aware of the light of the glory of God shining in the face of Jesus Christ, and what grace is all about. If you want to make the fact that we’re living under grace rather than law a reason for giving more than the tithe, that would be valid. But to offer it as an excuse for giving less than the tithe, is to make the grace of God minister to our stinginess, and that’s as plain as I can put it.”
There are many practices in the Old Testament that don’t make sense to us today, yet many of these ancient ways carry over to the New Testament law of grace as part of Christ’s promise to not abolish the law, but to fulfill it (Matthew 5:17). For instance, we no longer sacrifice animals but as believers we are called to offer ourselves up as a living sacrifice (Rom 12:1). Men no longer are required to be circumcised, but we all have a circumcision of the heart through the Holy Spirit (Rom 2:29).
Many of us claim Jeremiah 29:11 as a place of comfort and hope :“For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord. Plans to prosper you and not to harm you. Plans to give you a hope and a future.” We accept its truths. Yet we struggle to accept Malachi 3:10 as applicable to our lives. Why? Because it requires something of us.
What about the New Testament teaching on tithing? Let’s look at a couple of texts:
Matthew 23:23à”Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices–mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law–justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.”
In the larger context, Jesus is condemning super “religious folk” like Pharisees and teachers of the law for being hypocritical in their practices. In this particular passage, Jesus is condemning them for not treating all people fairly, allowing injustices among the Israelites as well as unfaithfulness. It is assumed by Jesus that people of God will obey the covenant fully—the tithe as well as the weightier matters of justice and mercy.
Hebrews 7:1-2 references Abraham’s tithe to Melchizedekà This Melchizedek was king of Salem and priest of God Most High. He met Abraham returning from the defeat of the kings and blessed him, and Abraham gave him a tenth of everything.
The NT writer of Hebrews, which we studied recently, is comparing the priestly character of Melchizedek with that of the eternal priestly nature of Jesus Christ who is GREATER than Melchizedek. In this illustration, he points out that Abraham—WELL before the Law had been given through Moses—offered a tenth of all the spoils of war with Canaanite kings. Even without the Law, people of God knew that the starting point of grateful worship to God is 10% of everything they had.
These are just four examples related to tithing. The spiritual discipline of tithing grounds us. It helps us remember that ALL we have comes from a loving, generous God…NOT just the 10% we give back in worship.
There is another spiritual reason to tithe. When we release at least 10% of our income back to God, our money doesn’t have as tight of a hold on us because we realize that God is in control of our finances. And this gets to the heart of the matter for me. It’s really about what controls my heart.
Does status control my heart? Do possessions, or knowledge, or sex, orhobbies, or leisure time, or work time, or even family control my heart? Notice how every category I mentioned are NOT evil in and of themselves. In fact, in proper context they are good! It’s when they control our hearts when we find ourselves in the danger zone.
Teaching about Money and Possessions within his famous Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said this : 19“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20“But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; 21for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Jesus is saying that chasing after material things is contrary to building up treasures in heaven.
Later He points out that having a worrying, hording outlook on life is an act of faithlessness. God clothes the lilies of the field and feeds the birds of the sky. Why do we exert so much energy on getting “stuff?” Why are we so enamored with the comforts of this life?
Let me leave you with four quick facts about tithing that I hope will help inspire you to consider the biblical discipline of tithing.
1.Tithing does not make sense humanly speaking.
It may be counter-cultural or even counterintuitive to reject materialism and embrace the biblical teachings and examples of tithing, but it is absolutely consistent with the Kingdom of God. It may not look like it is the smartest thing you’ll ever do, but it is. It may even feel scary as you divert money from some due bills and place in the church offering plate. But acting on faith is always scary, which leads me to point #2.
2.Tithing is a faith enterprise from start to finish.
Only people of faith—confident obedience to God’s Word despite circumstances or consequences—are interested in acting without immediate payoffs. Only people of faith…
Can pray for years and years without seeing the results of their requests,
Can give a large hunk of their income into the offerings of the church over a long lifetime with very little feedback on what it is accomplishing, or
Can minister to the down and out—the truly needy—without seeing evidence that they are doing anything more than “pouring water down a rathole.”
Only people of faith can “live by faith.” Tithing is all about faith. The main principle behind tithing and giving is the fact that what we do with our money shows where our heart is. “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Plenty of church members would give…if they “could only afford it.”
People are genuinely sincere when they say that “just as soon as we get on top of our debts, we’re going to begin tithing.”
What they are really saying is, “As soon as I don’t have to do this by faith, I’m going to start tithing.” That’s why we say it’s not going to happen. Why? Because the devil will see to it you always have plenty of debt.
Furthermore, the Lord does not want us tithing “when we can afford it.” God is not interested in His people waiting for excess money to begin tithing. Anyone thinking they will someday get extra money with which to tithe is fooling only themselves.
God wants us to live by faith. Remember Hebrews 11:6? “Without faith, it is impossible to please God.” And in 3 times (Habakkuk 2:4, Romans 1:17 and Galatians 3:11) in the Bible we read, “The just shall live by faith.”
Tithing will be a painful decision at first.
It’s good to struggle with faith decisions. We need to come to terms with whether we believe Jesus Christ and to what extent we do. Make up your mind: Tithing is a struggle at first.
When Cassie and I were just starting out in our marriage, neither one of us were tithers. It was never stressed, even though the Bible is clear. We committed to tithe, no matter what.
I’ve heard the practical advice, “grow to the tithe,” by adding 1% to the amount you give each year until you reach the tithe. I will say growing to the tithe is better than standing still. But let me be so bold as to suggest that you bite the bullet and resolve to tithe in 2018. If you give less than 2% of your gross income right now, then tithing will be more painful than if you already give 8%. The Biblical standard is 10% and anything less is, according to Malachi, robbing God.
Jason McCoy made a great point to me last week that I want to share. How much is standard tipping at a restaurant? 15%? 18%? (If it’s really good service, it’s 20%.) When I waited tables at Steak & Ale in 1984 tips were 10%. They were 10% for the longest time. But, with inflation and all, somewhere along the line we decided that the guy at O’Charlies was worth more than 10%. So, if you think about it, the biblical covenant of 10% is a bargain!!
For 27 years Cassie and I have been tithing. Some years we’ve been able to give well beyond the tithe. We just bit the bullet and started tithing; and we’ve been blessed in so many ways and so many times I can’t even keep track!
Are you willing to entrust yourself to God even when you cannot see how this is going to work? After all, isn’t that how you were saved in the first place? No one knows, when we first open our hearts to Jesus, what He will do with us. Yet, we step forward and receive Him by faith. Sadly, that is why many people will never come to salvation and will die without Christ. They are unable to make that tough faith decision. “For by grace are you saved through faith and not by works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9).
I know it’s cliché, but true: You can’t out-give God. I’ve shared before the response that billionaire inventor of earth-moving equipment, R.G. LeTourneau , gave when a reporter asked him why he gave 90% of his income away: “I shovel it out while God shovels it in. Only God has a bigger shovel.”
As the Christmas shopping frenzy ensues, think about your covenant with God. As he has given us everything in the person and of Christ Jesus, are we willing to express our faith in our Savior and King by the way we tithe? Today’s message is not sexy or super spiritual. But I promise, tithing can change your life for the better while advancing God’s Kingdom in Byhalia and beyond.