January 1, 2013

Christian Giving

In the banking industry, there is a saying that the most sensitive nerve people have is connected to their wallets. Nearly everyone has a need for and therefore some interest in money. As Christians, it is important that we honor God in every area of our lives, including our finances.

When our children were little, my wife and I taught them about tithing by setting up a saving jar, a spending jar, and the Lord’s jar. We made sure that whatever money they received was in the correct denominations so they could put the right amount in each jar. Sometimes I would ask, “Which jar do you put money in first?” They knew the answer: the Lord’s jar. Some might say it would not matter which jar they put money in first, but we thought it did matter! We wanted our children to recognize the importance of putting God first.

If we agree that we want to honor God with our finances, how do we go about that? God’s Word has much to say on the subject of money and financial matters, and many of those Scriptures relate to giving.

God himself set the example of giving. He is a Giver—a Provider. One of the names of God is Jehovah-jireh, which literally means “God the Provider.” God provided Himself as the ultimate Sacrifice through the offering of His Son Jesus Christ at Calvary. We often quote the familiar verse, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son” (John 3:16). We appreciate the fact that God gave His Son for your salvation and mine.

God is a giving God, and since we are called to reflect His nature, we want to be a giving people.

God is a giving God, and since we are called to reflect His nature, we want to be a giving people. Our purpose is to pattern our lives after Christ’s example and follow His teachings, and Jesus taught the principle of giving. In His Sermon on the Mount, He said, “Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again” (Luke 6:38). As we give to God, He is always generous in showering His blessings upon our lives. We cannot out-give God.

Interestingly, giving is one of the first places where we have an opportunity to interact with God’s Kingdom after we become disciples. Giving is not dependent upon age, national origin, or marital status. It is not even dependent upon our income. We can begin to give the moment we become followers of Christ, and in so doing, we have a part in the Kingdom of God.

In 1 Chronicles 16:29, giving is associated with worship. We read, “Give unto the Lord the glory due unto his name: bring an offering, and come before him: worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.” When we assemble with other believers in our church sanctuaries, we want to give unto the Lord the glory due His Name. But the Scripture goes on to say, “bring an offering.” We come to church wanting God to pour out His blessings but we must do our part if we want to receive. If we do our part, we can be assured God will do His part.

God may intend that our resources be used to benefit others. Cal Wolfe was a Christian brother who lived in the city of Denver, Colorado, a number of years ago. A bakery there donated leftover bread for our church members to use at a local mission. Sometimes the church received more than could be used, so a freezer was needed. One day Brother Cal and another brother decided to go to the church to pray specifically about this need. They had a prayer meeting for about forty-five minutes, and then Brother Cal jumped up and said, “Quit praying. God told me to buy a freezer!” Sometimes we pray that God will provide for a particular need, and God has already provided for it—through us! It is more about getting our hearts where they need to be than getting God’s resources where they need to be.

In this church we do not make money or finances a part of our worship services. In fact, you will seldom hear money mentioned from the pulpit. We have never taken collections in our services. It is clearly taught in the Word of God that believers are to support the work of the Lord through tithes and offerings, and we have found that God provides.

What is a tithe? What is an offering? Leviticus 27:30, which is a command from God to the Children of Israel, gives us a perspective. It reads, “And all the tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land, or of the fruit of the tree, is the Lord’s: it is holy unto the Lord.” The word tithe means tenth, or ten percent, so the tithe is ten percent of our increase. In Israel’s time, the people tithed of their crops, but in our day, we bring a tenth of our monetary increase.

The tithe is really our acknowledgement that God owns all of our resources.

The tithe is really our acknowledgement that God owns all of our resources. We should not presume that when we pay our tithes, God signs off on the other ninety percent and that amount is ours to spend how we want. God is interested in all our money. What if God were only concerned with ten percent of our lives? Which ten percent would we like Him to be concerned with? We want God to be interested in every part of our lives, and so we must acknowledge His ownership of all we are and have.

Some people may wonder, “Do I tithe on the gross amount of my paycheck or just on what I bring home?” The tithe should be on our gross income. All we receive comes from the hand of God—the Bible tells us that all blessings in life come from the Giver of every good and perfect gift (James 1:17). Tithing on our gross income indicates our recognition of that fact. The right thing to do is to honor God through obedience—and to do so with gratitude.

A giving heart reflects God’s nature. Do you remember the parable of the man who tore down his barns and built greater ones? That man’s problem was not his wealth and possessions. His problem was that his self-centered, covetous nature had caused him to forget he had a soul he needed to care for. If we develop a giving heart, we will realize there is a God in Heaven who wants to work with us and through us. We will want to honor God with what He has provided.

Several generations after the Law was given, Jerusalem had been destroyed. While in Persia, Nehemiah heard of the sad condition of his native land, and asked the king for permission to return and rebuild the walls of the city. The people of Jerusalem worked with him, and then they wanted to rebuild the place of worship. Nehemiah 10 tells how the people purposed to observe the commandments of God which they had departed from. They committed to bring “the fruit of all manner of trees, of wine and of oil, unto the priests, to the chambers of the house of our God; and the tithes of our ground unto the Levites” (Nehemiah 10:37). They were beginning to develop giving hearts again! It was not just a matter of holding a trowel in one hand and a sword in the other, and fighting off Sanballat and Tobiah. It was not merely completing a section of the wall, reviewing it, and saying, “Look what we have done.” No, the people were developing a relationship with God and hearts that reflected His nature. And what was the result? They purposed to start giving again.

Notice that the tithes were used for the support of the work of the Lord—for the building of the place of worship and to support the Levites and the priests who served in it. Nehemiah 12:44 restates that the firstfruits and the tithes were to be distributed “for the priests and Levites.” The end of this verse says, “Judah rejoiced for the priests and for the Levites.” This group of people had not had spiritual leaders for a long time. When they had a chance to give for the rebuilding of the walls and those who labored in the Lord’s service, they rejoiced.

Some may ask where they should pay their tithes. The Bible indicates that tithes were given in the place where the people worshipped. If you worship regularly in a certain location, ideally that is the place where you pay your tithes. In so doing, you put those resources under the jurisdiction of the leaders in that location whom God has called to make the decisions for the furtherance of the Gospel.

We know that God owns this whole world and everything in it, so He does not need our money. However, we also understand that the church’s light bill must be paid. Water for the landscaping on the church grounds costs money. Someone bought the comfortable seats we sit on and the songbooks we sing from. God provides the means through faithful saints who give, trying to reflect God’s nature. God has called us to be a part of His Kingdom, and this is one way we invest in it.

At times, individuals will want to give money toward a certain area of the work of the Lord—perhaps the music, the Sunday school, the publishing ministry, or the outreach in a particular geographic area. If we make a freewill offering over and above our tithes, we can designate where we would like that offering to be used. Those who deal with the finances of this organization do their best to honor such requests. However, that is not our tithes. Our tithes go for the work of the Lord in the place where we worship.

We find references to the principle of tithing throughout Scripture. One is in Genesis 14, which relates Abram’s rescue of his nephew Lot from the five kings. God had helped Abram, and on his way home, he stopped in Jerusalem—called Salem in this chapter—and met with Melchizedek, the king of Salem and priest of the most high God. In Genesis 14:20, we find these words, “And he [Abram] gave him tithes of all.” This event took place prior to the giving of the Law, so we see that tithing was not just a teaching of the Law, as some would suggest. And the New Testament actually requires more, not less, than the Old Testament. The New Testament not only teaches tithing, but it also teaches that God loves a cheerful giver. It teaches that we will be blessed when our hearts reflect God’s heart.

For example, in Matthew 23:23, Jesus indicated that the matters of the heart are the most important. He said, “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.” He was not saying that it was unnecessary to pay tithes. Rather, He was saying that we should pay tithes, but that the desire to do so should come from within.

Jesus commended the poor widow who cast her two mites into the treasury, saying that she gave more than all the rich people who contributed from their abundance, because she gave sacrificially. God wants us to have a giving heart! He does not want us to be an accountant, figuring out to the penny just how much we owe God and not giving a bit more. We want to be careful to be sure we pay our tithes, but I do not think we can outgive God.

A number of Scriptures in the New Testament reference churches supporting one another. For example, the church in Corinth gave to the church in Jerusalem. However, those churches were made up of individuals. It was individuals who gave.

In Acts 5 we read how the believers of the Early Church began putting their resources together and living with all things common. A man by the name of Ananias and his wife, Sapphira, purported to give the total proceeds from the sale of a piece of property to the disciples, but they kept some back. God knows what we have; we are not going to fool Him. If we are going to give, we must give from our hearts. We must give as unto the Lord and not to be seen of man. Ananias died on the spot, as did his wife, who came to Peter a little later, collaborating in the same deceit.

In Malachi, the last book of the Old Testament, we read how Jewish society had progressed from dishonoring God to dishonoring marriage, and the people were living totally for themselves. In chapter 3, verse 8, the prophet spoke for God, saying, “Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me.” The people responded by asking in effect, “What do you mean, we have robbed You?” God answered, “In tithes and offerings. Ye are cursed with a curse: for ye have robbed me, even this whole nation” (Malachi 3:8-9). That tragic assessment reminds me of our own nation. It seems we have become a society that is always looking for more. Many people have accumulated so much stuff that they must borrow money to pay their bills, and work extra hours to pay back loans for things that were not really needed. What if those individuals did not have so much debt and did not have to work so many hours? Might that free up time that could be spent praying or serving the Lord?

Sadly, tithing has declined in recent years, even among professing Christians. Data compiled by the Barna Research group states that only five percent of adults in the United States give ten percent or more of their incomes to the church. Less than ten percent of those who claim to be born-again Christians actually follow God’s Word in the area of tithing. As Christians, we should strive to follow Christ in living lives of sacrificial generosity. If we fail to do so, we risk missing the blessing of having giving hearts!

If we develop a giving heart, we will have God’s blessing. Malachi offered a simple formula: “Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, 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” (Malachi 3:10).

Let us purpose to honor God in every aspect of our lives. As we reflect His character by having hearts focused on giving rather than receiving, we are assured of His blessing!

apostolic faith magazine