â€œI tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.â€ (Matthew 25:40)
We received a lot of comments from last weekâ€™s letter, â€œForget About Tithing.â€ You really need to read some of them (just click the â€œForget About Tithing.â€ link).
I figured Iâ€™d get some harsh rebuttals from pro-tithing clergy, but not so; apparently the pro-tithing clergy donâ€™t read this letter or they donâ€™t have a good argument in their defense â€¦ or they agree with what I said (itâ€™s the Word that says it, I just point it out). A couple of pastors commented, and they agreed that giving, not tithing is where a Christianâ€™s heart should be.
My dear friend Roger, a pastor in the Midwest said:
â€œPastors preach on tithing for a variety of reasons â€“ mostly wrong ones. Steve, in regards to giving and tithing, I often think that pastors get the cart before the horse. If we had more church members grounded with sound doctrinal stability, filled with love for their Savior, and driven with child-like enthusiasm for His Word, our churches would discover themselves in a wonderful position to be effectively empowered by God to reach the lost. (Realistically, this is what we are to be about in the first place.) â€¦ Â Oh how our churches need pastors who will get along with God, hear from God, rightly divide what God has said, apply it to themselves, and then proclaim it to others! Lastly, we need always remember that many ignorant pastors attempt to use their Bibles as toolboxes to brow beat parishioners into conforming into preconceived plans for their pastorate. Some never realize, and may never accept, that many of their parishioners may be walking with the Lord, living in His Word, and discovering that God is leading then differently.â€
Linda, also from the Midwest, is the wife of a pastor:
â€œGod so loved that He gave and continues to give, the message of the Scripture from the gitgo is give. Everything we have is a gift from God, perhaps we believe we deserve it but it is only by Godâ€™s blessed grace that we have the necessities and luxuries of life. Scripture teaches us to be good stewards of Godâ€™s gifts and talents. These gifts came from the Lord and in gratitude we return to Him a portion of what He has given us. Giving for me boils down to one thing that we love and trust God with everything we have.
Rather than being â€œgrudge giftsâ€ our offerings to God are to be joyous expressions of love, faith, trust & gratitude. God desires surrender of everything we are and have to Him. I question if one is unable to give a tenth how in the world will one ever be able to surrender all to Him? In my opinion money is the easiest to give it is the surrender of our hearts and being to Him where the rubber meets the road.
Our family for one is daily discovering the unfathomable love of our Father. We have learned the blessings of giving and we started the journey with Mal. 3:10 and we have been blessed beyond our wildest dreams.
May all your journeys with the Lord be blessed!â€
Amen! My kind of clergy.
Last week I told you that when I searched for tithing in the New Testament I was stunned at how little it was mentioned and what was written was either in a negative context or referring to an Old Testament event. My conclusion? Thereâ€™s nothing Christian about tithing.
Well, I figured that giving was Christian and that Iâ€™d see what the New Testament had to say about giving. It happened again â€¦ I was stunned. My assumption about giving, like my assumption about tithing was way off base. I figured that giving was about sharing my money, my stuff, and my time with others â€“ those less fortunate, those in need and those who dedicate their lives in ministry to others. I wasnâ€™t wrong, wrong â€“ giving is about that; but itâ€™s not about that.
First of all, remember I said that tithe/tithes/tithing show up only seven times in the New Testament? Give/gives/given/giver/gift show up over 500 times in the New Testament!
The next thing I noticed was that the overwhelming majority of those give/gives/given/giver/gift references are about God giving us something â€“ eternal life, love, spiritual gifts, and earthly necessities.
Then I noticed that there were a lot of references about what weâ€™re to give God â€“ thanks, glory, honor, and praise (and finally an account of our lives).
Finally, there are references about giving to others â€“ to the poor, to those who ask, to our brothers and sisters in Christ, to those who serve in ministry full time, and to other churches.
What struck me was that when I thought about Christian giving it was always in terms giving to my church in the offering, or giving to another ministry or charity, or to a person or family in need. It was always about giving money or stuff or time to someone else. Thatâ€™s what I assumed Christian giving was all about. But when I looked at what the Bible actually said about giving, it was overwhelmingly about God giving to me, and then a distant second, about me giving to God, and then a far distant third about me giving to others.
Then the light went on. It was so obvious â€“ so in front of my face all the time. Giving isnâ€™t about money or stuff or even time. Giving is a spiritual transaction. Itâ€™s initiated by God. He gives to us first. He gives us life and love and every spiritual blessing to nurture us as we grow to become what He has purposed us to be. He gives us every physical blessing we need to survive while we live here on earth. He is our Father in the most intimate, most profound, most original way we can imagine. His gift to us is relationship.
And we are created to respond. Our giving to God â€“ thanks, glory, honor, and praise â€“ is a response to His giving to us. The giving and receiving is what makes us whole; itâ€™s our relationship with He Who gives. Itâ€™s intimate and personal; itâ€™s about His love and our response. Itâ€™s a spiritual transaction.
Money and stuff and time are physical currencies. And any physical currency we hold, everything we own and our life itself isnâ€™t equal to the gift He first gave us. Thatâ€™s why our obligatory response is giving him thanks, glory, honor and praise â€“ itâ€™s the only thing we possess that is of any value to Him. God doesnâ€™t take cash and he doesnâ€™t need our stuff.
But He has provided a way to respond to His giving that comes as close as weâ€™re going to get to making a proper gift of our money and our stuff and our time. Thatâ€™s when we give to others.
â€œFor I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I need clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me â€¦. â€œI tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.â€ (Matthew 25:35-36, 40)
He uses our physical gifts to others as a spiritual conduit back to Himself. Thatâ€™s the only way our money and stuff and time can be turned into something of value to Him.
Giving money and stuff and time isnâ€™t a financial transaction, itâ€™s a spiritual transaction. Itâ€™s a response to the inestimable grace and mercy He has given us. Our response to God is to treat others with the same love and mercy and generosity he has given us.
A word about churches and pastors.
God told Moses to take an offering â€œfrom each man whose heart prompts him to giveâ€ (Exodus 25:2) to build the first tabernacle. The first and second temples in Israel were built with tax money. The tabernacle and the temples were where Godâ€™s Spirit dwelt while He was with the people of Israel.
Today Godâ€™s Spirit dwells inside His people and we are His tabernacle and His temple. God doesnâ€™t dwell in buildings; He dwells in us. That building you go to on Sundays and Wednesdays isnâ€™t a church; itâ€™s just a building. God doesnâ€™t dwell there â€¦ unless you (the church) are inside. The place the church (you again) gathers and worships can have a steeple, or big glass windows, or it can be a gymnasium, or a barn or a living room. The building you worship in doesnâ€™t matter â€¦ unless you try to make it matter by committing more honor and resources to it than itâ€™s due. Buildings arenâ€™t monuments to God; theyâ€™re monuments to men.
Hereâ€™s your responsibility: Whatever building you get together in, it usually has expenses associated with it. Make sure theyâ€™re covered. If you can pay for cable and lattÃ©s each month, you can afford your share of the upkeep on your place of worship. Pretty simple.
God provided for the support of the tribe of Levi â€“ the priests of Israel. Part of the Old Testament tithes went to cover this expense. As we discovered last week, tithing was a Jewish thing; itâ€™s not a Christian thing. But those who work for God full time have a right to support from those they serve (I Corinthians 9:3-11); that is a Christian thing. If your pastorâ€™s family is the poorest family in the church, shame on you. Honor God by honoring them.
As for other ministers – evangelists, missionaries, street preachers, and the myriad of other God servants that come your way via television, radio, the internet â€“ do what God leads you to do. Just make sure itâ€™s God leading you and not the guy on stage.
Above all, remember that giving what youâ€™ve been given is an act of worship. Itâ€™s an intimate personal spiritual transaction between you and the One Who gives all good gifts. Itâ€™s not your response to men; itâ€™s your response to Him.