THE TITHE IS THE LORD’S
By: Samuel Young
Giving and Living
Every Christian believer is indebted to the Church, whether he admits it or not. Paul marked this strongly and clearly as he wrote to the Corinthian believers long ago, “Who makes you, my friend, so important? What do you possess that was not given you? If then you really received it all as a gift, why take credit to yourself?” (I Cor. 4:7, NEB).
In the same vein Augustine wrote in the fourth century – looking back on his zigzag path as a sinner and a doubter – “I had not believed the gospel unless the Church had persuaded me.”
All of us have a debt we cannot repay. We have received the message of salvation and we must pass it on to others – our contemporaries, and those who follow us. In fact, the Church’s mission and message are inseparable. To deny one is to forsake the other; it is a package deal. We must work together in the Church if we are to fulfill our mission in any effective way. Every witness, every hand, every giver counts. The mission and assignment that God gave that original band is our task today. It comes singing through the centuries, “Just as the Father sent Me forth, so I send you” (John 20:21, NBV).
Part of the mission of the Church (and it covers every member) is to give of our material resources. Giving is not something removed from life; for, in a Christian sense, it is a vital part of living. When the giving is
wrong, the living is not quite right. We cannot use God’s tithe on ourselves and still have peace.
One of the easiest outs in giving is to plead poverty or lack of adequate income. We keep waiting until we get more, but usually our spending for other things outruns the expected increases. Then how easy to postpone the giving issue indefinitely.
Based on our own contacts throughout the Church, we must confess that most of the people we know personally who have become joyful tithers learned in their youth, and usually when they were rather poor.
Martin Luther observed in the 16th century, “Every man needs two conversions: the first of his heart, the second of his pocketbook!” Actually, giving flows out of the converted heart. George Eliot wrote with
insight, “One must be poor to know the luxury of giving.” The woman that Jesus honored was a widow and gave her all – two mites. It would be easy to say she was imprudent, but who could say she was unwise when Jesus held her up as an example of genuine, sacrificial giving?
It was Chaucer who observed (14th century), “The only real heathen and heretics are the purely selfish.” Could this be the true clue to delays and repeated excuses in learning to tithe? Roy L. Smith observes with keen understanding, “There are times when the difficulty of tithing becomes its greatest asset to the tither.” Perhaps this sharing with God and His kingdom has a way of sorting out our priorities.
Not long ago a veteran preacher who had spent 50 years of ministry in three large American cities confessed, “I have had every sin confessed to me -except one. Never…has any man ever come to me saying, ‘I am a stingy man. Will you please pray for me that I may overcome this terrible thing within me that prevents me from sharing my plenty with those in need?'”
Perhaps we have not acknowledged stinginess, but we should readily confess to self-centeredness. A right view of money is related to the fundamental moral law. Roy L. Smith reminds us that “every gambler, exploiter, tax evader, gouger, grafter, extortionist is the product of a wrong attitude toward money.” Money surely must be important if its misuse can lead to such devastating and coarse sins. G. Campbell Morgan challenges us with redemption when he reminds us, “God has put all His resources at our disposal, but we have not put our resources at His disposal.”
Surely we cannot feel easy about always keeping God as an unpaid Creditor. One man acknowledged that he owed God’s kingdom money and he did not pay it; rather, he paid his other creditors instead. A friend kindly remonstrated and inquired, “Why don’t you pay God once in a while instead of the other creditors?” His reply came quickly, “But God doesn’t crowd me as much as these other fellows.”
Spurgeon saw the issues clearly in the 19th century when he observed: “Much of the unhappiness and discontent in the lives of many Christian people is their basic dishonesty when it comes to their honoring God with their substance.” There is no doubt about it, money is spiritually related. We can have lots of material possessions and fail to be “rich toward God.” Or we can be poor and yet rich.
We cannot be good stewards of God’s blessings until we have learned to give. Stewardship in material things has not begun until we return a fixed percentage and regular portion of our income to God through His Church. We are not really a part of the body of believers until we do this. Fair play insists on proportionate giving, and we think the place to begin is with the tithe – 10 percent of our salary or wages, or 10 percent of our net gain if we are in business for ourselves. The increase must be counted in our tithe.
Samuel Chadwick observed carefully, “Unless a man cultivates a habit of systematic giving when he has not much to give, he will give little when he is rich.” John Oxenham relates giving to our love of God and infers that it should be built in. He writes, “Love’s prerogative is not only to give but to give again, and then to give still again.” Actually, giving is a way of life. Someone has suggested that it is a life-style.
Some have objected to tithing as being legalistic. On this basis they reject it and insist that ours is a day of grace. Surely the Bible points out, “For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus
Christ” (John 1:17).
But which of the Ten Commandments did Jesus abrogate or even water down? Did He not give us the true meaning of the law when He pointed out that the inner look was the key to adultery (Matt. 5:28)? Thus He underscored the inwardness of sin before the evil deed was done.
Also, did not Jesus speak a great deal about money and things? “You cannot serve God and Money,” He insisted (Matt. 6:24, NEB). He advised strongly that we should lay up treasures in heaven, where they would be secure (Matt. 6:19-20).
Some have declared that all they have belongs to God, but they scarcely give Him 3 percent now. Is there not a measure of insincerity in our hearts when we insist that God owns all we have, but the practical conclusion is that He won’t get much until we die? Even then, such people often fail to place His kingdom venture, the church, in their wills. Their delay finishes as a denial by neglect.
Tithing? Who? Me? Yes – every one of us. We come into this way one by one, as through a turnstile. Why not start giving now? Begin by asking for church envelopes. No amount is too small. Use them every week, at least every time you receive a pay envelope or an income check. Keep books with God and don’t guess, for your guess is liable to be higher than the record. Nail it down this week or month and put God’s kingdom venture at the head of your list. Make God the Partner in your business and don’t insist that
He be a silent one. Let Him talk and advise. He’ll direct you into some schemes that will pay dividends in the life to come, too!
Giving and Stewardship
Christian giving – especially the tithe – can readily be fractured unless we put it in the larger framework of stewardship. Here the total Christian life and service are viewed as a part of the whole. God is the Giver of
every good gift. James spells this out with unmistakable clarity, “Every good endowment and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (1:17, RSV). These gifts and endowments are to be used for Him. In order to find the Christian way to give, we must learn and adopt God’s point of view. Ultimately, we must manage them rather than be controlled by them.
Roy L. Smith has observed. “No man really trusts God until he trusts Him with money.” Actually, tithing is not a trade with God in which we have the percentage advantage. We cannot say to God, “Here is Your tenth; let me do as I please with the nine-tenths.” Not many people have a big struggle about giving a tenth when they truly believe that the whole is God’s and He gave it to them as stewards to handle for Him.
Dean Bertha Munro, in her classic book for devotions, Truth for Today, moves to the heart of the issue with “Our spiritual life is the key to our handing of material things. If our hearts are set on things, our hands will
clutch them so tightly that no power can unclench them.” She concludes, “The person who lives for what money can buy is the plaything of money.”
Giving is a way of life – the Christian life. It is a habit of life – a good habit that does not need to be changed with the passing years, for it fits every age in life. Benjamin Franklin observed practically, “The use of
money is all the advantage there is in having money.” He also warned, “He that is of the opinion that money is everything will do everything for money.”
In the deepest sense, giving is our response to what God has done for us and through us. God has handpicked us for responsibility and service. If done in faith, planned giving is usually happy giving. Even faith in God is a priority. He can be trusted. John Wesley dared to say that “the commands of God are only covered promises.” Surely it should not be a long struggle to obey God’s Spirit in the matter of the tithe. What God has commanded, He will afford daily grace to perform. We are ready to confess that accountability without grace becomes a terror; but with abounding grace, duty becomes a joy and humble service a radiant way of life.
It was Paul Scherer who wrote with deep insight:
To take all that we are and have and hand it over to God many not be easy;
But it can be done, and when it is done, the world has in it one less candidate for misery.
Giving is a joyous living!
There has been a rather widespread interest in deferred giving throughout our church. It would be impossible to write many general rules for guidance in this area. But you are free to write Life Income Gifts and Services for any personal guidance and/or available sources that have proved helpful in your area or country. In every case care must be exercised to get proper legal counsel for the area involved.
Jesus himself is unmistakably clear in teaching responsibility. Hear Him: “Where a man has been given much, much will be expected of him; and the more a man has had entrusted to him the more he will be required to repay” (Luke 12:48, NEB). Surely this tells us something about proportionate giving and about our inescapable stewardship. William R. Farmer defines stewardship: “Christian stewardship is life lived in, and of, and for Jesus Christ.” When we see this clearly, giving comes along without any controversy.
What the Bible Says
Tithing is far more than a shibboleth or cliche to help replenish the church’s coffers and keep the ecclesiastical wheels turning. Everett Tilson marks the biblical soundness and spells out the right sequence when he discusses the New Testament emphasis (including that of Jesus) upon money: “They do not talk about money because you cannot get economic change without getting moral and spiritual renewal; they talk money because you cannot get moral and spiritual renewal without getting economic change.”
Abram and Jacob were involved in the tithe and they antedated Moses and the subsequent law of tithes. Moses, whom God entrusted with the moral law and many practical guidelines to build a nation out of a multitude of slaves, was well prepared to be an emancipator through his own new set of values. The New Testament summarizes his supreme priority that broke with the heart of Egyptian culture. Examine it carefully: “By faith Moses, when he grew up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, preferring to suffer hardship with the people of God rather than enjoy the transient pleasures of sin. He considered the stigma that rests on God’s Anointed greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for his eyes were fixed upon the coming day of recompense” (Heb. 11:24-26, NEB).
On Sinai’s mount God gave Moses specific instruction that spelled out clearly the idea of the tithe – that it is the Lord’s. Here is the heart of it in principle:
All the tithe of the land, of the grain of the field and of the fruit of the trees is the Lord’s; it is holy to the Lord. If a man wants to buy any of his tithes, he must add its fifth to it. The whole tithe of cattle and
flocks, every tenth animal that passes under the rod shall be holy to the Lord. He shall not investigate whether it is good or bad; he shall make no exchanges. If he exchanges one for another, then both animals shall be dedicated; it shall not be redeemed (Lev. 27:30-33, NBV).
To be sure, this was for an agricultural society, but the implications are clear enough.
Malachi in his prophetic style called God’s people back to the tithe (3:10). He dared to denounce them as robbers of God’s tithe (3:8) and deplored the fact that they were calloused in their carelessness and
disobedience. Their cynicism and bitterness he discerned had made them excuse themselves with, “Where is the God of justice?” (2:17, RSV); and again, “It is vain to serve God” (3:14, RSV). Here we see that even in that ancient day giving was related to their living. Their spasmodic giving, corrupted by cheating, was but a symptom of deep vanity and far-reaching sin. They cast aspersions on the name of God, and therefore on the character of God, by their insolence. They were “sniffing” at the things of God, and were guilty of chicanery through their double-talk.
Jesus himself is very clear in His emphasis upon the true goals of life. He warns, “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matt. 6:21). In fact, in His classic Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), Jesus has a great deal to say about money and possessions. Read those chapters for yourself. There are those who laugh at the idea of laying up treasures in heaven as a “pie in the sky by and by” philosophy. But this is dodging the confrontation that Jesus enjoins, for He underscores the fleeting nature of treasures on earth. Covetousness seemed to be prevalent in Jesus’ day too, and He denounced it as idolatry because it put God in second place.
Jesus always emphasized faithfulness in stewardship of material things:
Hear Him again:
“He who is faithful in the least is faithful also in much, while he who is unreliable in the least is unreliable in much also. Therefore if you have not been faithful in matters of unrighteous riches, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you are not reliable with what belongs to another, who will give you anything for your personal possession?” (Luke 16:10-12, NBV).
Then follows the strongest encounter of all: “You cannot serve God and mammon” (16:13, NBV). In his notes on Matt. 6:24, John Wesley defines mammon as “riches, money; anything loved or sought without reference to God.” Here he actually seems to ground idolatry in a materialistic philosophy of life. Who said idolatry was an ancient sin?
On the positive side, Jesus makes the application in the story of the Good Samaritan. Hear Him addressing the argumentative lawyer at the close: “Go, and do thou in like manner” (Luke 10:37, Wesley). Jesus was not content with the intellectual joust; He wanted men’s lives changed in a practical way. Who dares to follow Jesus and then make excuses for not sharing in His kingdom venture?
The Needed Commitment
The primary motivation for giving is the cross of Jesus Christ. If that does not move us, nothing else will for very long. Most men ask readily, “How much did you give?” but God’s first inquiry is, “Why do you give?”
Here is the unanswerable argument, for it weighs a ton. The selfless apostle Paul pleads in his Second Corinthian letter: “Do you remember the generosity of Jesus Christ, the Lord of us all? He was rich, yet he became poor for your sakes so that his poverty might make you rich” (2 Cor. 8:9, Phillips).
In the highest sense, our practical giving is fundamentally related to our total consecration. Here we must be warned that our consecration does not constitute a merit, but it does relate to our faith in God’s grace. Giving itself is a grace.
This is why Paul in the above-mentioned letter had admonished the Corinthians (after naming their good qualities – faith, utterance, knowledge, and diligence), “See that ye abound in this grace also.”
But the supreme motivation for a complete (total) consecration is Calvary nothing less. This is the “therefore” in the King James Version in Rom. 12:1-2. Read Phillips’ translation also:
With eyes wide open to the mercies of God, I beg you, my brothers, as an act of intelligent worship, to give him your bodies, as a living sacrifice, consecrated to him and acceptable by him. Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould, but let God remake you so that your whole attitude of mind is changed. Thus you will prove in practice that the will of God’s good, acceptable to him and perfect.
It was Frances R. Havergal (19th century) who wrote:
I gave, I gave My life for thee,
What hast thou giv’n for Me?
But she also knew from experience the issues of making the great
commitment. Let her enumerate in part:
Take my life, and let it be
Consecrated, Lord, to Thee.
She dared to add:
Take my silver and my gold.
Not a mite would I withhold.
Here is the inner issue:
Take my heart; it is Thine own!
It shall be Thy royal throne.
John Wesley saw the issues clearly when he taught that the only true source of good works (including giving) is the fountainhead of gratitude to God for His unmerited love. We are inclined to conclude that God has done so much for us in the gift and death and resurrection of His Son, and in the gift of the Holy Spirit, that anything he asks us is fundamentally reasonable and sound. Calvary should cancel any doubts about giving on principle and in proportion.
Here, too, our gifts without the giver are bare. It could be a form of lobbying for favors rather than a vital part of worship and service.
James Russell Lowell’s familiar lines put it clearly:
Not what we give, but what we share,
For the gift without the giver is bare;
Who gives himself with his alms feed three-
Himself, his hungering neighbor, and me.
There is no stewardship by proxy; we must become personally involved.
Those anonymous lines ring true:
God drops no churches from the skies,
But out of men’s hearts must they arise.
The biblical view of stewardship places it essentially in the context of the Church. We are sure we must face individual accountability for our stewardship, but it is usually best served in the larger framework of the
church of our alignment. In fact, the Church and her mission are inseparable, for the Church cannot be simply a sponsor – she is part of the mission itself. But the supreme requirement of all is faithfulness, and
that is a qualitative thing regardless of the area of service. Paul reminded the Corinthians: “The prime requisite of stewards is fidelity” (1 Cor. 4:2, NBV). This is simple, but not easy. Paul Scherer in his Love is a
Spendthrift points up our involvement and relates it to the Cross: “To be a Christian is to be on the road with him [Jesus], expecting no celestial handout, only a deep, deep sharing of this glory and this power with One who is God in the teeth of it all…. We are not the elect, handpicked for heaven. We are handpicked for responsibility and peril.” We are convinced that to dodge our assignment is to take ourselves out of God’s guiding hand and strength.
Faith always establishes priorities and they relate to Calvary. However, if we insist on calling our own signals, then we have made no real commitment; we have become our own gods. It is then we are liable to act as if Satan were our true master. When faithfulness is ignored, we soon become faithless.
The Plus in Giving
Giving is only a part of stewardship, but it is a vital and practical part. In the right sense, our giving is a “response to the grace and generosity of God.” This is why it is joyful. When Jesus Christ is Lord of our lives, He enters into our giving.
In the best sense, tithing is a floor and not a ceiling. “For of every one to whom much is given, much will be required” (Luke 12:48, NBV).
This leads inevitably to the tithe principle in our giving; not as simply a legal debt, but as a desire to do our best and as an expression of love and an honest effort to serve our Savior as our Lord and to become a part of His great mission.
George A. Buttrick, writing in Link in 1965, summarized clearly the issues that Jesus discussed in the Sermon on the Mount when He appealed to His followers to lay up “treasures in heaven,” rather than “treasures on earth.” He shows why “treasures on earth” is a “sorry choice.”
1. Earthly wealth is transient.
2. The heart is beguiled and made a prisoner.
3. It curses us with double vision.
4. The choice diverts us from our true Lord.
The writer recalls a funeral he attended some years ago. The one who had passed on had been a prosperous businessman and a devoted Christian. As we neared the grave, a friend of mine who knew something of our friendship for the departed brother inquired diligently, “Do you know how much [money] he left?” We replied quietly, “Yes.” The inquiring one pursued with “How much?” Then a whimsical reply-with no details – “All of it!”
The idea of the plus in giving has been practiced throughout the history of the Church from the time the poor widow put in all she had to this present hour. The writer has known laymen and ministers who have given two tithes to their Lord all their lives. Others have given 30 percent out of personal conviction, a few as much as 50 percent, and some even more. John and Charles Wesley probably gave more than 90 percent of all their net income from the early days of the Wesleyan revival. The goal for all of us is to do our best. But we must give gladly and with love and not with fear. We don’t know who said it, but it is true, when Jesus is Lord of our lives, “He takes the ‘stew’ out of stewardship.”
It is this spirit of generosity that prevents callousness and self-centered and pride-engendering methods from choking the Church as an institution. One might readily say the Good Samaritan was prodigal for spending and going in debt (by pledging) for an unknown victim on that Jericho road. But in the light of eternity, he surely was not unwise or unsound in this investment of time, money, and love. How long must we keep up this kind of giving? An unknown author gives us the reply:
Just give till the Master stops giving to you.
How would we give if our Lord himself were the Record Keeper of our church envelopes? Do you suppose He knows, regardless?
Long-range investments are sound, for we are built for two worlds. “Cast your bread upon the waters: for thou shalt find it after many days” (Eccles. 11:1). No matter what selfish men and women may argue, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). “Try it; you’ll like it!” If you have not begun, look up your pastor or his secretary, or a member of your local church board, and get your own church envelopes and begin using them. Keep books with God. Those who do not keep actual records usually think they give more than they do.
Here the real burden of the tithe is not to raise money but to raise men and women who are involved in the Kingdom that will never end. When we take the Word of God to heart and dare to ask, “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?” we are on our way to joyous living. The Church is not built on the sacrifices of other people; it is built on you and me when we are good stewards of the grace of God. Only when we become personally and totally involved do we know what Jesus meant when He said, “For my yoke is easy,
and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:30). Nobody has ever succeeded in making a private bargain with God and thus avoiding the cross and His way.
We confess that it is not easy to say (and mean it), “All I am and all I have belongs to God.” But it can be done in faith! (See Rom. 12:1-2.)
Ultimately, our commitment is to God himself, but it is also done practically in and through some branch of His Church! Then our duty becomes a joy and giving ennobles all daily living. Soon the divine charm shines through, for God loves a cheerful giver!
Stanley S. Kresge, vice-chairman of the board of S.S. Kresge Company, used to write across the face of the check from the Kresge Foundation the real drive of their gift. It read – “In the name and for the sake of Jesus Christ.” Surely this is adequate motivation for all of us, for nothing is too great for Him and no gift is a trifle when it is done for Him. We do not actually give as good stewards when we give to please our church or ourselves. We must do it to please Him! God’s great gift to us in Jesus Christ is beyond our telling. He affords His grace to all. But there is still a shortage of fully committed Christians. This is not a call to a hierarchy of the elite, but a call to fellowship and praise and true service. When His will is our delight, His burdens become light. Surely “the reward of God is God himself” and that is enough for every man and woman in every land, and in every generation.
“The tithe is the Lord’s”; let us honor Him in all our living – and that includes our giving!
(The above material was published by Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City, Kansas City, MO.)
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