This week we look at giving back to God. God is at work in our communities, and even closer, in our homes, our families, even our very own hearts. But how does God fund His work? God's work is funded by God's own giving back. Read on to find our God's plan for funding His work.
This message is based on Matthew 23:23.
I know I’m stating the obvious, but our attendance has been down lately. Down by a lot. I believe with all my heart that we are on the right track and that God is blessing us even now, and I know that He will certainly keep His promises to us. But with the lower attendance numbers there has been another closely related affect, and that is that our giving is down. I’ve been asked to speak about giving, and I want to do that, because giving is one of those areas where our love for God and our trust for God is demonstrated. How we handle our money is extremely important. One of my hopes and desires for you as my church family is that you handle your money in a God-exalting, biblical way. You'll see why this matters so much before we're done.
Last year “Christianity Today” had an article about young adults and financial giving. James Williams of the Church of God World Service said, "Our people 45 years old and younger have grown up mesmerized by materialism. There's tremendous pressure on families to spend, spend, and spend." Now Williams says 45 and younger, but I think it’s much more than that. I’m 58, and I’ve grown up mesmerized by materialism. I suspect anybody here born after WWII has been brought up in materialism. Then he adds, "I've heard that the generation that believed in the tradition of tithing is in three places: retirement homes, nursing homes, or cemeteries."
So if no one is tithing anymore, the obvious concern is that the tradition of tithing is biblical. So if no one is tithing, no one is really living biblically. God’s plan to fund His work is His people giving back to Him – It’s the tithe. The command to tithe is on ongoing command, not part of the law that Jesus came to set us free from, it predates the law by thousands of years. So, I want to really encourage you to tithe, if you don’t already, and to even maybe go beyond the tithe as you give your money to the cause of Christ and to His kingdom. I know that many of you tithe, but some of you are not there yet. Some of you might be moving toward giving 10% of your gross income to the work of Christ. We live in a hurting world. The work of the Church, the work of Christ, is more important than ever. But the church can’t work if her people don’t give back to God.
So the way I’ll handle this is to give seven reasons why I think tithing is the way to go—which I will try to show from Scripture—why it’s so important to give the first 10% of your income to the work of Christ, and to grow even beyond that as God prospers you.
1. Tithing is an Old Testament Principle. Tithing is the system God used to provide for the ministers, the priests, he called and the expenses of their ministry. As you know, God designated one of the twelve tribes of Israel, the tribe of Levi, to be the tribe that would have the ministry of the tabernacle and the temple. Instead of giving them a portion of the land, God said that these vocational ministers of the tabernacle should live off the tithes of the other eleven tribes.
In Numbers 18:20-21, God said to Aaron, “You will have no inheritance in their land, nor will you have any share among them; I am your share and your inheritance among the Israelites. I give to the Levites all the tithes in Israel as their inheritance in return for the work they do while serving at the Tent of Meeting.”
When we tithe today, we honor that principle. Let’s face it, some of God’s people aren’t called to normal jobs. They are called to be pastors and ministers and missionaries and so on. The rest of God's people are to be gainfully employed and support these "vocational ministers"—and the costs of those ministries. In the Old Testament God used the tithe to be the most equitable way to provide for them.
Some people ask whether Jesus, in the New Testament, continued this principle for His Church, and in our reading this morning I think we can see that He does. He said, “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.”
So Jesus endorses tithing: He says don't neglect it. He may say it’s not as important as justice, mercy and faithfulness; but it’s still important and you shouldn’t neglect it. There’s another verse that talks about this too, and it’s in 1 Corinthians 9:13-14. And this one is good because Paul is talking to believers, to the Church. He writes, “Don’t know that those who work in the temple get their food from the temple and those who serve at the altar share in what is offered on the altar? In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel.”
Paul is saying something that’s probably obvious, those who spend their lives in service to the Church should be supported by the rest of the Church. But since he uses the Old Testament as his model, it would seem that tithing would have been his command for the Church. So when we tithe today, we follow the principle God gave to sustain ministry in both the Old Testament and in the early church.
2. Tithing Honors God as Owner of All. When we give a tenth of our income to the ministry and mission of the church, we honor God as the Creator who owns everything, including our income. Truth is, while we only talk about a tenth of our income as especially belonging to God, in reality, everything belongs to the God. Psalm 24:1 says, “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.” So honestly, everything we have belongs to God, including ALL our money.
It's why when we talk about money we shouldn’t really focus on giving, but we should focus on lifestyle. Giving is a indicator of a healthy lifestyle. What you do with every cent says something about your view of God and what He means to you. And what your values are. And what you think your few years on earth should be spent for. Are you going to invest in things that honor God? Eternal things? Or things that are temporal?
The sabbath is great example. God declares the sabbath as holy. We say one day a week belongs to the Lord. They’re all his but making one day special shows that we believe that. And that’s how it is with our money. All of our income is His, and giving Him a tenth shows that we believe that.
3. Tithing is the Antidote for Covetousness. Giving away a tenth of our income to the ministry of Christ is an antidote to covetousness. The last of the Ten Commandments says: "Thou shalt not covet." Jesus said in Luke 12:15, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed” [some translations use covetousness]. And in Colossians 3:5, Paul writes, “Put to death, therefore whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.” Hebrews 13:5 says, “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have.” So there are a lot of warnings about greed and covetousness.
Giving is God’s antidote to greed and covetousness. Jesus said, “You know where your heart is by where your treasure is.” Tithing shows where your heart is and controls our greed.
4. Tithing Helps Control Over Spending. The fourth reason is almost the same as the last one, but not quite. When we go to the tithe and beyond, as I am suggesting we should, it helps us control over spending.
There is an almost universal rule: spending expands to fill our income. A few years ago Andrew Tobias wrote a book titled “Getting By on $100,000 a Year.” I’d love to have that problem., wouldn’t you? But the truth is, as your income rises, you’ll find more things you need, and you’re budget will rise to cover all your available income. That’s why US Senators have such a hard time living on $175,000 a year. They’ve managed to build lifestyles that require that much.
But giving helps control that. Take John Wesley for example. He was one of the great evangelists of the 18th Century, born in 1703. In 1731 he began to limit his expenses so that he would have more money to give away. In the first year his income was 30 pounds, about $39, and he found he could live on 28 and so gave away two. In the second year his income doubled but he held his expenses even, and so he had 32 pounds to give away. He was able to give away half of his income. In the third year his income jumped to 90 pounds and he gave away 62 pounds. In his Wesley's income was as high as 1,400 pounds in a year. But he controlled his spending to just 30 pounds – and he gave the rest to the church and to the poor.
When he died in 1791 at the age of 87, the only money mentioned in his will were the coins found in his pockets when he died. It’s estimated that he earned about 30,000 pounds in his lifetime, and kept his spending very minimal, but his giving was extravagant.
We’ve seen four of our reasons to tithe, I want to look at 2 Corinthians 9:6-8, the last three reasons will be found here. Paul is talking about giving, and he said, “Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.”
5. Tithing Brings About Good Works. Our fifth reason for tithing is that this is God's way of bringing about many good works, for his glory. At the end of verse 8 Paul says that when you sow bountifully and cheerfully, “you will abound in every good work." So the goal is good works, good deeds. Our excess money is so we can do good things with it. These are the things that make your light shine and cause people to give glory to your Father in heaven. If you lay up treasures on earth, people have no reason to think your Father in heaven is glorious. You look like you love what everyone else loves. Titus 2:13 says Christ died to “purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.” Verse 8 said, “God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all thing you will abound in every good work’s at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.” Verse 11 says, “You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion.” So the fifth reason to tithe is that it’s God's way of providing for good works.
6. Tithing is God's Way of Providing for You. The sixth reason for the tithe is that it is God's way of providing you, the tither, sufficient money for your needs. This may sound strange but giving is a way of having what you need. Giving in a regular, disciplined, generous way—regular tithing, or more, is smart in view of the God’s promises.
Verse 6 says, “whoever sows generously will also reap generously.” Then verse 8 says, “And [God] is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.” In other words the "reaping generously" promised in verse 6 is explained in verse 8 by God's promise to provide for us an abundance so we can do good works.
This is Paul's way of saying what Malachi said, in 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, 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.”
This is an amazing challenge from God. Test me, he says. You think you can't afford to tithe? Test me. And what we will find when we test him is that we cannot afford not to tithe. It’s the smart way to handle our money. Luke 6:38 says, “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” This isn’t the prosperity gospel, it’s not a promise you’ll be rich, it’s a guarantee that you’ll have what you need, with some left over to give away. And what’s the catch? You’ve got to show God you trust Him, and give it away first.
7. Tithing Strengthens Our Faith. Finally, in our giving we should move to the tithe because it will prove and strengthen our faith in God promises. There really is a correlation between our faith in God and in His promises and the peace of mind we can have in living generously. Hebrews 13:5 says, and we’ve already seen part of this, “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’”
If you don’t think you can live on 90% of your income, consider Philippians 4:19, “My God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.” And one more, from Psalm 34:8 “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” And part of that is knowing that He is able to keep His promises.