Tithing: What is it and Why Do it?

Series: Preacher: Date: April 15, 2018 Scripture Reference: Various

This week I read about two psychologists named Stephen Lea and Paul Webley who have come up with two metaphors to describe the role that money plays in our lives. They say that money is a TOOL and also a DRUG.

They point out that the TOOL METAPHOR is nothing new. It’s been around a long time—but until Lea and Webley’s research, economists thought of money as ONLY a tool. And I’m sure you can understand this first metaphor.  I mean, like a tool, money is useful.  We use it to pay the bills, to keep the lights on, to keep food in the fridge—etc. We see this first metaphor for money in Jesus’ parable of the talents. Remember?  The master gives his servants money and basically says to them, “Put this money to work until I get back. Use this money in a productive way.”

But Lea and Webley wisely point out that this particular metaphor—thinking of money as a tool—falls short because it doesn’t fully explain the way we think of money. The “tool deal” leaves certain questions about human behavior unanswered, like:

  • Why is it that people who are already rolling in money—people who have all that they could possibly need—why do they want to have more?
  • Why will a person with more than enough money make sacrifices that may damage friendships or family life or emotional health just to get more money?
  • Why do people seem to have a deep emotional attachment to their money?

I get their point because most of us don’t feel that way about our tools. I certainly don’t. A hammer is just a hammer. A pair of pliars is just a pair of pliars. I don’t have an emotional attachment to them. To be completely honest, I have GOTTEN emotional about tools at times—like when I hit my thumb with a hammer—or when I strip out a screw with a screw driver. But I’m sure you’ll agree that the emotions that money stirs in our hearts goes beyond that kind of thing.

Well—that’s where the SECOND metaphor Lea and Webley cite comes in. They wisely point out that money is also like a DRUG.  Money makes us feel things we would not otherwise feel.

Money gives us a temporary escape from pain or a momentary illusion of well-being. We crave money because we want the buzz that having it and spending it can give. Paul warns about this aspect of money when he says, “People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires—that plunge people into ruin and destruction.” (1st Timothy 6:9)  If you replace the words “get rich” in this verse with the phrase “get artificially relaxed with alcohol or drugs,” you can see the parallel very clearly. It would go like this: “People who want to [get artificially relaxed with alcohol or drugs] fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires—that plunge people into ruin and destruction.”

Well, the fact is—money is BOTH of these things. It is a great tool—it can be used to do lots of constructive things. But it is also a lethal drug that can cause us to embrace embarrassing, evil, even destructive behavior.

Well, God—Who, as we said last week is the Owner and Provider of all we are and all we possess—God created a wonderful way to FREE people from the “drug” impact that money can have.

It’s called TITHING—and that’s the focus of today’s message. Let’s begin with a definition of this word—because many people seem to be a little fuzzy on its meaning. “TITHE” is a word that in both Hebrew and Greek, literally means “a tenth.”  It refers to giving a tenth of something. I say people are fuzzy with the meaning because some would say something like this. They’d say, “I tithe $10 a week.” If you tithe $10 a week that would mean you only make $100 a week—and here in Montgomery County you couldn’t live more than a couple days on $100. When I was a kid my mom would give me a quarter to put in my offering envelope.  I’d put it in there and then I’d check the little blank on the envelope that said, “tither.” Of course, I wasn’t a tither. That wasn’t a tenth. It was just a coin my mom gave me to teach me to give to the church. I just liked checking the box. TITHE—means a tenth.

But the concept of TITHING in the Old Testament involved more than that—MORE than a percentage kind of deal. I mean, in the beginning, tithing was intended to be A WAY OF LIFE for God’s people. Ortberg writes, “For Israel, tithing was only one part of a very rich, fascinating, concrete, practical way of life—designed to produce not mechanical obedience but a community of great generosity.”

We see this “tithing lifestyle deal” in the fact that Israel had not one—but THREE different tithes. Let’s review them. (I am indebted to John Ortberg for this portion of my message)

a. The first tithe—is described in the book of Numbers.

God said, “I give to the Levites all the tithes in Israel as their inheritance in return for the work they do while serving in the Tent of Meeting.” (Numbers 18:21) If you’re reading the Chronological Bible with us then you should remember that recently we read how when Israel occupied the Promised Land—all the tribes were given a portion of the land—except for the tribe of Levi—a tribe whose full-time job it would be to serve in leading the other tribes in their worship.

Now—remember—this was a land-based economy—so the other Israelites were to tithe their produce of the land to God—and that would help support the Levites—who didn’t have time to farm the land and raise any produce or livestock of their own.

b. The second tithe is talked about in the book of Deuteronomy.

God said, “Set aside a tenth of all that your fields produce each year.  Eat the tithe of your grain, new wine and oil, and the firstborn of your herds and flocks—in the presence of the LORD your God at the place He will choose as a dwelling for His Name, so that you may learn to revere the LORD your God always.” (Deuteronomy 14:22)

This second tithe was to teach people to celebrate God’s goodness. In verse 26 God said, Use the silver to buy whatever you like: cattle, sheep, WINE OR OTHER FERMENTED DRINK, or anything you wish. Then you and your household shall EAT THERE in the presence of the LORD your God and rejoice.”

Now to be clear—buying alcohol does not count as tithing. No—the point here is that God wants His people to celebrate His goodness—His faithfulness to provide for their needs. He wants us to connect GIVING and GENEROSITY with CELEBRATION and JOY.  As Paul told the Corinthians: “Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a CHEERFUL giver.” (2nd Cor 6:9)

Now—if eating doesn’t help you feel gratitude and joy—try this.

  • Take a walk around our building on Sunday morning—look in on a children’s SS classroom and watch our little ones learn about the love of Jesus.
  • Ask someone who volunteers in UPWARD basketball to tell you their favorite experience of this past season—where a child not only made their first basket—but learned a memory verse that told them God is always with them.
  • Stop in at ESL on Monday or Thursday nights and look at the joy on the faces of people from around the world learning English—people who don’t know Jesus making friends with a Christian teacher from this church—a teacher who will build a close relationship with those students—through which he or she will both SHOW and TELL them about God’s great love.
  • Visit our open night basket ball on Monday’s and talk to a player like I did this past week who told me he and his wife were looking for a church home—and would visit Redland.
  • Ask a participant in the recent Puerto Rico mission trip to tell you about the joy of putting a roof on the home of a family who lost that roof in the recent hurricane.
  • Walk through the upper level of the Connector Building on Wednesday night and see a room PACKED with men studying the Bible.

As you watch all that—hear all that—tell yourself, “My giving—my tithing—to God helps make all this happen.” If that doesn’t make you feel thankful—if that doesn’t make you want to celebrate—something is wrong with you!

Okay—in Israel there was a third tithe.

c. It was called the POOR tithe.

It was collected once every three years so that as Deuteronomy 14:29 says, “…the foreigners, the fatherless, and the widows who live in your towns may come and eat and be satisfied—and so that the LORD your God may bless you in all the works of your hands.”

So, when we add it all up we see that in Israel there were at least three tithes. The math also shows that tithing for the Israelites totaled much more than 10%. They gave somewhere between 20 and 23 percent of their resources—their income—to God. This means it was more than a mere percentage—it was a way of life—and that’s what TITHING is supposed to be for us. It’s not just a mathematical calculation that leads us to write a check for a certain percentage—it’s a “giving way of life” that enables us to join with God in His work.

The point of today’s message is to encourage us all to negate the “drug effects” money can have in our lives—by embracing a TITHING lifestyle. I’m not saying you should give 20 or 23 percent—Feel free to do so!—but my point is obey the OWNER by giving to support His work.

In Malachi 3:10 God issues a challenge. He says, “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.” God says, TRY it. TRY tithing. Try living this way.

And I want to challenge you to do that. If a tenth scares you—try 2% at first—and as you see God blessing—increase to 5% then 10% and beyond. But decide to rid yourself of the drug of money by tithing—GIVING of your time, your money—your LIFE to further God’s purposes.

And—the way to make it a lifestyle—is to give it PRIORITY. One way we embrace this principle is to make our giving to God’s church the FIRST check we write. In Exodus 23:29 God said, “Bring the best of the FIRST fruits of your soil to the house of the LORD your God.” To fully understand this verse we must remember that, as I said, Israel was an agrarian society.  These were farming people who lived day to day, year to year. If the ground didn’t produce crops, they would die.  So—when they saw the earliest plants with fruit appearing, they were filled with gratitude. It meant a whole crop was going to follow, and that meant life. In Israel farmers would TIE A REED to the best, healthiest, first plant and say, “I’m going to give that to God. God gave it to me, so I’m going to give it back to Him.” The celebration of first fruits brought so much joy that people would have parades to bring them to the temple. They had an ox with a crown of olive leaves and somebody playing the flute to lead the way so they could give.

The priest would take the basket in which people brought their first fruits. The rich would bring a basket of silver or gold; the poor would bring a basket of willow. Then they would set it down before the Lord. Deuteronomy 26 says, “The priest shall take the basket from your hands and set it down in front of the altar of the Lord your God. The Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm—with great terror and with signs and wonders. He brought us to this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey—and now I bring the first fruits of the soil that You, Lord, have given me.’ Place the basket before the Lord your God and bow down before Him. Then you and the Levites and the foreigners residing among you shall rejoice in all the good things the Lord your God has given to you and your household.”

To show you how deeply this practice of “first fruit giving” was ingrained, when the apostle Paul was trying to find a way to express the wonder of God’s giving Jesus on our behalf—he said, “Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.” (1st Corinthians 15:20) Think of it Paul’s way.  Jesus is God’s first fruit. God TIED A REED around Him. He is the best God had to give. When Jesus was crucified for our forgiveness and then resurrected for our hope, it meant a whole crop of forgiven, resurrected humanity was going to follow. That’s the JOY of “first fruit giving” — giving God the best—and giving it FIRST. This PRIORITY—giving to God FIRST—well it goes a long way toward making money more of a tool than a drug.

The opposite way of handling my money might be called LAST fruits. This is seen in the people who get their paycheck and then they pay all their bills—all their obligations—they spend a bunch on themselves—and then they wait until the end of the month to see how much money they have left to give. And usually it’s not much and the giving of it doesn’t provide much joy or celebration. First fruit givers—people who have learned to resist the addictive pull of money don’t give God the leftovers. They give Him the FIRST fruits. The first check they write is their tithe.  And as they write it they thank God for all His goodness—and they trust Him to provide for their needs.

Okay—we’ve dealt with the WHAT of tithing and some of the WHY—but let’s go a little deeper. WHY must we tithe?

(1) We tithe to OBEY.

God—the OWNER of all we have—commands us to use our money to further His kingdom. We’ve already looked at many of the Biblical reference to this command but here are a few more: In Leviticus 27:30 He says, “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.” Jesus commended the widow for the faith that motivated her to give her mites. In Romans 12 Paul says we must give not just a tithe of our income—we must offer our entire lives to God for Him to use.

I love The Message paraphrase. It says, “Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering.”

The fact is, tithing is a command of God just as much as His other commands—and when we tithe we are obeying that command.

Joed Carbonell, the chair of our stewardship committee wanted me to be sure and inform you that giving—tithing—is not where it needs to be here at Redland. So far this year we are way under budget.  We have spent $51,000 more than we have taken in.  This is a command more of us need to take more seriously.

Kirtes Calvary is a pastor in Missouri. He writes. “As a pastor, I occasionally have members leave notes or offerings on my desk for various reasons. A 12-year-old member of our church recently left a five-dollar bill on my desk with a note. It read, ‘I have my thieving money,’ along with her signature. I could not figure out what she meant. Had she stolen the money she was returning?  When I saw her father the next Sunday, I mentioned to him that his daughter had left the money and note on my desk, and I wondered if he could tell me what she meant. With no hesitation, he said that it was her tithe. She obviously had misspelled tithing. As I thought about my young member’s misspelling, I realized that for those who do not tithe, they really do have ‘thieving’ money—for as Malachi 3 says, the one who refuses to tithe is stealing from God.”

We tithe to OBEY—but it’s not just a legal obedience—a forced obligation and that leads to my second point.

(2) We also tithe to THANK.

When we tithe we saying, “God, I am giving back a portion of all You have given me—to THANK YOU—to show my gratitude for Your great faithfulness to me.You give me so much—and so I am giving back!”

Pastor Ken Shigematsu shares the following true story about his wife Saiko’s pet chipmunk. He writes:

“My wife’s family loves animals. They regularly take abandoned cats or dogs or even an abandoned ferret into their home. In the city of Osaka, Japan, her family’s home has become the neighborhood’s de facto pet refuge. At one point she even took in a wild chipmunk. This chipmunk had been the runt of the pack and the veterinarian had said it would probably only survive for a few days. She named him Forte—with the hope that he would grow strong. He not only survived but he began to thrive. When Sakiko came back to her apartment in the evening after work, Forte would wake up and run excitedly around her apartment doing figure eights.

Or if Sakiko was working on her computer at home, he would scamper up and down the keyboard, pressing on random characters. She noticed that Forte would take his most treasured possessions—his walnuts—and place them where he slept. Apparently this was a kind of hibernation instinct for him. But as his relationship with Sakiko developed, he began to take half his walnuts and put them under her pillow. He somehow came to understand that Sakiko was the one who provided for him and was his family. So out of gratitude, he wanted to share with her what he had so freely been given.”

Well, if a wild animal can understand this principle—we should be able to as well! We tithe—we give—to acknowledge that God is the Provider! We give to THANK HIM for His gracious abundant giving. Does your financial giving to this church—-does your giving of your life in ministry—does it show your GRATITUDE to God?

Here’s a third reason we should tithe.

(3) We tithe to GROW.

Tithing is a way of GROWING spiritually. Tithing is a great way to mature in Christlikeness.

In fact, I think of TITHING as a spiritual discipline like prayer or Bible Study. Now, for something to be a spiritual discipline it has to meet two requirements.

a. First, it must help us get the power to live life as JESUS would want us to.

Think of it.

Through the practice of spiritual disciplines or holy habits like Bible study, prayer, fasting, and worship, we learn to act and re-act and think in any situation as Jesus would. So, a spiritual discipline is something that makes us more like Jesus.  And, of course Jesus came to GIVE.  As Paul reminds us in 2nd Corinthians 8:9, “Though Jesus was rich, for our sakes He became poor, so that through His poverty we might become rich.” He came into this fallen world not to RECEIVE but to EMPTY Himself.  Jesus said, For God so loved the world that HE GAVE!” Referring to the cross, Jesus said, “No one takes My life from Me—I lay it down—I GIVE it—of my own accord.” (John 10:18)

So, when we learn to give of our time and talents—and especially our money—we are disciplining ourselves to become more Christlike. It has rightly been said that if you want to see how spiritual—how Godly—a person really is, ask to examine his or her checkbook.  And this is so very true—the way we handle our money shows to a large degree how much progress we are making when it comes to being conformed to Jesus’ likeness.

But to be a spiritual discipline a practice must do a SECOND thing.

b. It must be a RELATIONSHIP BUILDER—in that it helps us to strengthen and deepen our friendship with God.

And the way we handle our money fits this requirement as well. I’ll say more about this in a moment—but the fact is, whenever we give—we learn to trust God. And the more we trust God—the more sacrificially we give—well, the deeper our relationship with Him grows.

So, GIVING—TITHING—is indeed a spiritual discipline. Landrum Leavel once put it this way. He said, “Stewardship is the economic result of a spiritual experience.” And I would agree.

So why tithe?  We tithe to THANK God—we tithe to GROW spiritually—to MATURE as disciples and that leads to a fourth reason to tithe.

(4) We tithe to DEEPEN.

You see, when it comes to DEEPENING your friendship with God—there is nothing like tithing.

By tithing we experience the truth of God’s promises. I’m thinking of promises like: “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.” (2nd Cor.9:8) And Psalm 37:25 where it says, “I was young and now I am old but I have never seen the righteous forsaken or his seed beg for bread.” My favorite is in Matthew 6:31-33 where Jesus says, “Do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your Heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

By tithing we learn that we can rely on these promises. We learn we can COUNT on God to do what He says He will do—and God says if we tithe—He will provide for our needs—provide like only God can.

Theologian Heiko Oberman tells the following story about the radical generosity of a poor rural church in China: “A few years ago I was with a group in Nanjing, China. On Sunday we visited various churches in the city.  An older Chinese woman now living in Los Angeles chose to visit a church across the river from Nanjing, a poor church composed of farmers. The 900 who were present for the service wanted to hear a word from their sister from the states, so Mrs. Chang brought greetings from her church in Los Angeles. She told how the Lord had added many to their church and how they were currently building a large new addition. Then after a word of blessing for this church, she took her seat. At the close of the worship time, Mrs. Chang was called back to the front. The pastor said her words had thrilled their hearts. They wanted her to have the entire morning offering to help with the new building in Los Angeles — about $140. When their overflowing joy welled up in generosity, they gave beyond their ability.”

These Chinese believers gave beyond their ability because they had learned that living is not about OUR ability—it’s about God’s faithfulness. They gave because they had learned they could trust God to give back. Their faith-filled giving reminds me of R. G. LeTourneau, who once said, “I shovel out and God shovels in but God’s shovel is always bigger.” 

Now—we should never GIVE to GET. I’m not proclaiming a health/wealth gospel here. I’m just saying that we can trust that as we give, God will meet our needs and He is better equipped to do this than we are on so many levels! GIVING—TITHING—STEWARDSHIP OF LIFE is a FAITH thing. It’s professing our faith that God is Who He says He is—and will do what He says He will do.  Landrum Leavell puts it this way: “If a man says he belongs to Jesus but holds on to his possessions, he has denied his profession of faith.” 

I like that because the high road of Christian stewardship is the road of FAITH, not SIGHT.  Biblical giving is not doing just what we SEE can be accomplished, but doing what we believe can accomplish with the resources of Heaven and the power of God. I don’t want to step on any toes this morning but I think that many believers are in financial  trouble—because they have never learned to give.  Their relationship with God is a shallow one. They don’t know Him well enough to know that He can be trusted to take care of them.

I’m reminded of the story of two lumberjacks who decided to paddle across the lake to a tavern one Saturday night. They paddled their canoe all the way across the huge lake, tied it to the shore, and went up to the tavern. Before the evening was spent they got roaring drunk. They eventually made their way back to the canoe and were going to row across the lake and go back to camp. They got in the boat and paddled and paddled and paddled until they were both exhausted. They looked around and saw, to their dismay, that they had never even gotten away from the shore. They were exhausted, no strength left, so they plopped down and fell asleep in the boat. When they were awakened the next morning by the rising sun, they discovered the problem. They had never untied the boat from the dock. Now, that’s like a couple of drunks, isn’t it? That’s what you would expect from that mentality. You would expect a couple men whose brains are saturated with booze to try to paddle across the lake with their boat still tied to the dock.

Well, this kind of foolishness is not just seen in those who are inebriated. There area lot of “sober” Christians who act the same way.  Every month they fight the battle of the budget and lose. They just can’t make ends meet.  They can’t get anywhere financially. There is too much month left over when the money runs out. They are always exhausted financially. Why is that so? Why can’t they keep their heads above the water? Why can’t they make any financial headway?  It’s because “they haven’t untied the canoe!”  They’ve never “let go of the dock.” Their relationship with God hasn’t grown to the point where they have learned they CAN turn their personal finances over to Him.

Listen, if you want to KNOW—if you want to EXPERIENCE God’s great faithfulness—try tithing. Give it a shot and watch what He does.  If you do—your relationship with Him will DEEPEN. See what God does when you trust Him. Experience the size of God’s shovel!

To drive this home, let’s read God’s promise in Malachi 3. Read aloud with me: “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 you will not have room enough for it.”

(5) A fifth answer to our question, ‘WHY TITHE’ is this: we tithe to EXPAND.

As Jesus said in the parable of the talents—the rich man gave his stewards the talents to expand His portfolio. Now—we can take the money and time the OWNER—GOD—gives us in two ways—it can go for things that DON’T last—don’t expand—or for things that DO.  And—even someone as ignorant as I am when it comes to stocks and investments knows that it’s foolish to invest in the former instead of the latter. Wise people—good stewards—will invest their money—their lives—in things that last the longest. This is what Paul is getting at in 1st Timothy 6:17-19 when he says,

“Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God—Who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.”

Tithing is a way of investing in the only thing that lasts—the ETERNAL KINGDOM OF GOD.

In 1956 Jacques Lowe photographed Robert F. Kennedy. Kennedy’s father, Joseph, was so impressed with Lowe that he asked him to photograph John F. Kennedy and his wife. Three years later, Lowe became the official photographer of Kennedy’s presidential campaign, and after Kennedy was elected, Lowe became his personal photographer. Lowe was a very meticulous photographer.  He had an estimated 40,000 negatives of images of John F. Kennedy and his family, though only 300-400 photographs were made public. While he was alive, Lowe watchfully monitored the use of his pictures. When a publication or museum wanted prints, he personally took the negatives to the lab for printing. When the job was done, he retrieved them himself. Lowe’s daughter, Thomasina, said, “He was being more prudent than most. He really believed they were as safe as they could ever be,” she said.  “He chose to have them there because he was six blocks away from them and he felt psychologically [as if] they were under his bed.”

Now—WHERE were these negatives stored? All 40,000 were kept in a safe-deposit vault at the JP Morgan Chase bank branch at 5 World Trade Center, a nine-story building that was destroyed in the September 11 attacks.  A team of engineers, a 100-ton crane, forklifts, ironworkers, and dump trucks were brought in as part of a plan to move the vault from the second floor. But workers found major fire damage in the vault area; ashes filled the safe-deposit boxes. The only thing that would have survived was metal or stone. All of Lowe’s images crumbled into dust.

September 11 serves as an important reminder that earthly treasures are subject to moth, rust, thieves, and fire. The only lasting treasure we can store up is in Heaven. Where are YOU investing your money?   Where are YOU investing your life?

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