Thinking Cap #44 - To Tithe or not to Tithe

One of the best marksmen in the FBI was passing through a small town. Everywhere he saw evidence of the most amazing shooting. On trees, on walls, and on fences there were numerous bull's-eyes with the bullet hole in dead center. The FBI man asked one of the townsmen if he could meet the person responsible for this wonderful marksmanship. The man turned out to be the village idiot.

"This is the best marksmanship I have ever seen." said the FBI man. "How in the world do you do it?"

"Nothing to it," said the idiot. "I shoot first and draw the circles afterward." I want to share with you some Biblical principles that will help you hit the bulls-eye in everything you do. The key to being happy in life and being successful in life lies in your attitude towards money and how you handle money. I would like to give you a perspective about what Jesus would say about "tithing." In actuality, I don't believe that Jesus would use that word if He were giving you and I instructions in giving.

Heb 7:5-8, "And verily they that are of the sons of Levi, who receive the office of the priesthood, have a commandment to take tithes of the people according to the law, that is, of their brethren, though they come out of the loins of Abraham: 6 But he whose descent is not counted from them received tithes of Abraham, and blessed him that had the promises. 7 And without all contradiction the less is blessed of the better. 8 And here men that die receive [by commandment] tithes; but there he receiveth [willingly and freely] them, of whom it is witnessed that he liveth."

Which would you rather respond to: by commandment or by choice? I desire that my wife love me. Which would mean more, if I told her "Tell me you love me!" or, if on her own, by her own free will and desire, she tells me "I love you." That's the choice we have before us in this passage. Will you give by commandment (tithe) or by choice (Holy Spirit motivated, freely offered, sacrificial giving).

To answer the question of what Jesus would say about stewardship, we must look to see how He taught stewardship in the Bible. What would Jesus teach us today is what He has already taught us. I believe that Jesus would tell us to do five things regarding stewardship.

The story is told of three men constructing a building: Each was asked what he was doing. The first man said he was working for one dollar a day. The second man said he was working to build a great beautiful cathedral. The third man said he was serving the Lord by building a great cathedral to honor God, and this was the way he gave his life to Jesus. Are you working to make a living? Are you working to make something beautiful? Or, are you working to serve Jesus?

The first thing Jesus would say about stewardship is:

II. Give the Stewardship Command.

"Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give unto your bosom, for with the same measure that ye mete withal, it shall be measured to you again" (Luke 6:38).

The first stewardship command is that we should give of our increase, of our income, or our resources to God. Now it should be pointed out here that we have a "premise/promise" verse. Phil. 4:13-19 (God will supply all of your needs) is another example of that principle. If you want to claim the promises of God, then you must also meet the premise. And you must meet it with a joyful heart and a willing spirit.

So in this passage we have a premise: give. Then we have a promise: it shall be given unto you. Notice three things with me about this passage.

A. We are to give first, with a good attitude. We don't wait to receive and then plan to give. We give in faith and with the right attitude, and then we are in a position to receive.

B. Whatever we give, God will give back more. You cannot outgive God.

C. Notice also in this verse that it doesn't talk about money. Why is that? Because for the Christian, the topic of stewardship deals with our time, our talents and our resources. You can't talk about being an obedient Christian and limit your conversation to just money, or just time, or just talents. This isn't your standard multiple choice quiz. It's not 1, or 2, or 3. It's all of the above. Being an obedient Christian means that you are giving your time: Sunday School, Sunday night, Wed Prayer meeting, personal daily Bible reading. It means that you are giving your talent: based on your skills and your passions you are ministering in some fashion within the body of the local church. This could mean teaching a class, running a choir, working with a youth group, being an AWANA listener, discipling someone, being an usher, working in the sound ministry, serving in the nursery, and on and on the list can go. But, it also means giving of your resources, your money.

How much money does Jesus want from you and me? Let me share two options with you.

Option one. Now I'm going to use a word that is filled with emotion. Are you ready? It's a scary word. It has caused major theological debates. It has caused people to get angry and leave churches. Here it is: tithe. What's it mean? 10% Now I want you to know that I do not believe that the New Testament mandate for giving is the tithe. I believe that the New Testament model is "sacrificial giving." But most people seem to need something that they can get their hands around.

For instance, if I walked into a shop and needed a bag of salt for my water softener, he would expect me to pay a certain amount of money for that bag of salt. It would not make good business sense for him to tell me, "Just give me what you think it's worth." That wouldn't work for most people. There is a specific dollar amount placed on each item in a store. They need objective guidelines. That is why God gave those in the Old Testament the word "tithe." It gave them a measuring stick. 10% was the starting point. Now everyone can figure that out. If they made $100 in a week, a tithe would be $10. That's option one. It fits those who need to be told what to do. Hardly my understanding of grace.

Option two. Now this is going to be tougher. You see option one can leave you with a nice measurable number. You can say, "If I give 10% then I have pleased God and I am off the hook. I can sit back and do nothing else, because I've given my expected amount and now it's the churches responsibility to meet the needs of the people." Option two, would be to let the Holy Spirit tell you what to give. So you sit there on Sunday morning and ask Him, "Holy Spirit, how would you have me give sacrificially to the ministry of the church?" And I guarantee you that it will be a number far more than you would ever dream of giving. It will blow your socks off, causing you to wonder, how am I going to give that amount? You will find yourself adding zeros to the amount that you are used to giving. But it will be done by choice, it will be done freely and it will open you up to receive the blessings of God. That's what the NT teaches. Now if you want to live under the law, that's your choice. But, it's a hard task-master and it has no joy and it has no blessings. I chose Grace and the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Our attitude toward giving our money to God is more important than our giving to God. I know two ladies who both suffered from a serious illness. One lady constantly called her doctor, complained to her friends, complained if a pastor didn't visit . . . She had become very bitter about her illness, and no one enjoyed her fellowship. As a matter of fact, even those closest to her were eventually driven away by her attitude and behavior.

The other lady had the same illnesses, and as a matter of fact hers were even more serious and lethal; but she was a delightful lady, always in church, and never complained, always with a smile on her face and an encouraging word for others. When I went to see her, she always said, "Doc, you should spend your time visiting other needy people." Even with cancer slowing robbing her of her life, she continued to be a soul-winner, a discipler and a Sunday School teacher. She continued to bring people to the Lord and to the church. I see a great lesson from these ladies. "Life is measured - not by circumstances - but by what's in your heart." When Jesus controls what is in your heart, everything else will work out fine.

In the area of stewardship, does Jesus control your calendar, your priorities, your ministry and your money? It's all about attitude. Give Stewardship Command.

III. Tell the Stewardship Story

You know, we buy insurance policies to cover us in case of emergencies. I heard about an insurance man visiting with Adam and Eve right after they made that tragic mistake in the Garden. Basically he said, "Folks, I don't think you're covered." Well, if you and I can learn to tell the stewardship story, we will be covered by anything that can befall us.

Such a story is recorded in Matt. 25:14-29.

Let me make some observations on this passage of scripture.

A. I want to quickly remind you that Jesus gave more parables about stewardship than any other topic. As a matter of fact, Jesus talked more about giving money to God than He did about Heaven or Hell put together. Why? Because your use of money reflects who you are in life. How you handle your money tells God about what you think of Him.

B. Let me draw several conclusions about this story of the three men who worked for the owner:
1. God is owner of everything that we have.
2. God expects us to do our best to manage everything that He has given to us.
3. God has the right to check up on how we have spent our money. He will hold us accountable for our attitude about money and how we use it.
4. Every spending decision we make is a spiritual decision, because God is concerned how you spent your money.
5. We may compare ourselves to one another, but God measures us by the abilities He has given us.
6. God uses possessions to prepare us for our future life.
7. God doesn't measure the volume of the money we give Him, but the proportion of our resources which we give.

IV. Promise the Stewardship Blessing

I do not believe in prosperity theology as taught by many teachers on television. [I like Dave Barry's observation here: "If there really is a God who created the entire universe with all of its glories, and He decides to deliver a message to humanity, He will not use, as His messenger, a person on cable TV with a bad hairstyle."] Some teach that if you give to God [translation, "by giving to them"], God will give you a brand new car, or an extraordinary home. Some may get that, but we all know people who have given faithfully to God all their lives - these are spiritual Christians-who live in small homes and drive old "clunkers." They live from paycheck to paycheck; yet these people are some of the richest people in the world, they are rich in Christ, and they have what Paul calls, "riches of His glory".

A tax assessor came one day to a poor minister of the Gospel to determine the amount of taxes he would have to pay. "What do you possess?" he questioned. "Oh, I am very wealthy," replied the minister. "List your possessions, please, " the assessor instructed.

The man of God replied:
"First, I have everlasting life --- John 3:16.
Second, I have a mansion in Heaven --- John 14:2.
Third, I have peace that passes understanding --- Philippians 4:7.
Fourth, I have joy unspeakable --- 1 Peter 1:8.
Five, I have divine love that never fails --- 1 Corinthians 13:8.
Sixth, I have a faithful, pious wife --- Proverbs 31:10.
Seventh, I have healthy, happy, obedient children --- Exodus 20:12.
Eighth, I have true, loyal friends --- Proverbs 18:24.
Ninth, I have songs in the nights --- Psalms 42:8.
Tenth, I have a crown of life awaiting --- James 1:12."

The tax collector closed his book and said, "Truly, you are a very rich man, but your property is not subject to taxation!"

When a man gets right with God, God gives him new desires and attitudes. His new attitude helps him work hard and work smart, hence he gets promotions and is blessed in life. The opposite is also true; bad attitudes and bad work habit put people in debt and keep them in debt.

Let me say a word to you who are in debt. Bad attitudes about money can put you in debt, and just dropping a $10 bill in the offering won't get you out of debt. However, when you have a biblical attitude toward money, that new attitude toward money will in all probability get you out of debt.

Because here is The Stewardship Promise:

You give freely, you give sacrificially, you give out of love for Jesus, you give generously to the local church, "and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it."

That phrase, "open the windows of heaven and pour you out a blessing" is revival terminology. The "open windows" are God's revival in the Church, God's revival in the home, and God's revival in your life.

V. Follow the Stewardship Example

Now just how do we do that. How do we follow the Stewardship Example?

If Jesus could talk to each of us here today, I believe that He would point us to Hebrews 7, to remind us that when we give sacrificially to the local church, when we give under the direction of the Holy Spirit to the church and a human minister receives them; in heaven He knows what we are giving, and He receives our generous offering, and He blesses our giving and He will use our giving to reach others.

Hebrews 7:5-8 is a classic example of Ro. 15:4, "For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope." (NASB) The New Testament tells us that the Old Testament was written for our example, for our learning, so that we might persevere in the Christian faith and have a fruitful joyful life.

So what does Heb. 7:5-8 teach us? Melchizedek is believed to have been an angelic being, who reigned for a time at Jerusalem. He was of a pretemporal origin. Jesus is our High Priest in an order in which Melchizedek is simply a priest. The personal superiority of Melchizedek over the patriarch Abraham is shown by the fact that Abraham freely gave him a tenth of the increase (v. 4). Melchizedek had no connections with the Levitical order, still he both received this giving from Abraham and blessed him (v. 6). This act of blessing reinforced his superiority to the patriarch. In addition, Melchizedek was evidently superior to the Levites as well, who collected the tithes, by commandment but were nonetheless subject to death. By contrast the offering received from Abraham, who gave freely and willingly, was received by him who is declared to be living (v. 7-8). The priesthood of Melchizedek is superior to that of the Levites, and also predates them. He and all that he represents is greater than anything that came from Abraham. Melchizedek is a picture of the true Priest who is eternal. Jesus Christ is the true priest, the only priest who is alive forever more. When we give generously to the church, when we give sacrificially to the church, we are giving to Jesus, who receives them and blesses those who do the giving.

Therefore, if your heart is right . . .

If your giving is right . . .

If the place you give is right . . .

Jesus in heaven receives your giving...

And Jesus blesses you and your life.

I watched the biography of Christina Onassis on Biography recently, I was struck with the irony of riches. She had all the money you could desire and it didn't help her. She went through 4 marriages and died before she was 40 looking for love. I'd rather have the happiness of the Lord and His blessings on my life. And, stewardship is the answer to getting the Lord's blessing.

VI. Obey the Stewardship Imperative

The word imperative means a command or an eternal law. The last commandment Jesus gave us was called the Great Commission. Even in His last command, He implied generous sacrificial giving (not tithing, but sacrificial giving), i.e., He included it in the Great Commission.

Matt. 28:19 "Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen."

There are three commands: First to evangelize by making disciples. We are not done with a new convert until we have discipled them to spiritual maturity. Do you see the imperative to be involved in discipleship here? Second, baptize new converts. This baptism was more than just dunking them in the tank. It was causing them to be a new creation, it was causing them to be conformed to the image of Christ; and third, teach new converts.

The phrase "teaching them to observe all things" tells us the content that the Church must teach its new members. After a man is born again, the Church must teach him to be baptized, and then to attend church each week. After a person is in the Church, they must be taught to take Communion, pray for one another, use their spiritual gifts in service, and to win souls to Christ.

Also included in the things that must be taught to new Christians is Holy Spirit directed, generous, sacrificial giving. When you give this way, you are "obeying all things" that Jesus has commanded you.

Some churches treat sacrificial giving as though it is everything, because they are more interested in your money than in your needs. I try to put sacrificial giving in its rightful place. It is not everything, but it is an essential thing. Your spiritual happiness and blessing depends upon it. I say this, not for the benefit of the church, but for your personal benefit. I want you to be in a position to be blessed by God.

You cannot be a good Christian by just giving sacrificially, but you also can't be a good Christian without giving sacrificially.

I believe that we do people a great disservice when we use the word "tithe" as a Biblical expectation. In so doing, we tie them to a sense of "legalism" and "command" and rob them of the joy and grace of giving. We actually limit the giving of our people and stunt their spiritual growth.

Pleasant Thinking,

Kent Haralson


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