In Australia, the year began today.
If you’re from the Northern Hemisphere, you’ll think this is weird – 2016 has been underway for quite some time. But for us, December 25 ushers in the start of our long summer holidays. And January 26, the Australia Day public holiday, marks its end. School goes back this week, horrendous traffic returns to our roads, as we jump back on the treadmill of life.
So, too, Coffee with the King throws out the reheated summer dregs, and puts on a fresh, new pot. And what better way to start the year proper than to talk about money. About tithing. About how it is we’re going to use our financial resources this coming year in light of what God has to say on the matter. Over the next three days, we’ll be asking the question: why tithe? And we’ll be looking for the answers in Deuteronomy chapter 26.
You’ll need to read Deuteronomy 26 first, and then continue on below.
So what does this chapter of Deuteronomy have to say about why we tithe?
If you look at verses 14-15, it shows that we do it so that we can experience God’s blessing:26:14b-15a I have obeyed the LORD my God; I have done everything you commanded me. Look down from heaven, your holy dwelling place, and bless your people Israel and the land you have given us …
At the heart of it, it’s a pretty simple principle, isn’t it? We give to God, and he blesses us. It’s kind of like an investment with a guaranteed return. Forget the banks with their measly 1.8%! Forget the risks of the stock market! Give money to God, and he’ll bless you with even more. As he says in Malachi 3:10:Mal 3:10 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.”
We give to God because it makes good financial sense! Give to God, and you’ll get back your initial investment, plus interest. Give to God and get rich!
Hopefully you’ll have some problems with my logic there. Sure, you could read Deuteronomy that way. But in light of the rest of Scripture – and Christian experience – does it stack up?
What about Paul and the other apostles, who went hungry some of the time (Phil 4:12) – not to mention being imprisoned and martyred for the sake of Christ? What about faithful Christians throughout the developing world living in poverty – surely it’s not because they’re not tithing enough? And what about Jesus’ call to leave our houses, our possessions behind? To take up our cross daily and follow him?
Maybe we should start again.
So what does Deuteronomy 26 tell us about why we tithe?
Well if you look at verse 12, it shows that we do it so that the work of God’s kingdom can be done:26:12 When you have finished setting aside a tenth of all your produce in the third year, the year of the tithe, you shall give it to the Levite, the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow, so that they may eat in your towns and be satisfied.
In the Old Testament, tithing was the way in which the poor were cared for. An early form of social security. And it was the way to pay for all those who worked full-time for God – the Levites who ran the temple.
And so it is today. When we give, we fund the work of God’s kingdom. Whether it be bringing food, medicine, and education to the poor. Or bringing the gospel to the ends of the earth. Funding those who are full-time in God’s service, just like the Levites in ancient Israel.
As Jesus said, the fields are ripe unto harvest, but the workers are few. And often that’s because we don’t have enough money to send them. At a Baptist mission convention a few years ago, they lined up a row of 100 empty pairs of shoes – to represent the 100 missionaries who were ready to go out into the field, but there wasn’t enough money to send them. I know at my church we find it hard to keep up with finding funds for people who want to serve God full-time, as well as the multitude of ministries at our church that need money to happen.
Clearly, God needs our money if his kingdom’s going to grow. That’s why we give. God needs our money.
I think you’ll agree that we’ve gone off track again. God needs our money? Isn’t this the same God who created the world? The one who, according to John the Baptist, could raise up children for Abraham from stones, if necessary (Matt 3:9)? Do we really think that the God who is sovereign over the world needs our cash (even if, from our perspective, his church seems a little short at the moment)?
Another restart is in order. Maybe third time lucky.
Again, we ask the question of Deuteronomy 26: why do we tithe?
I think when it comes down to it, we do it because God tells us to. It’s a commandment. Look at verse 13:26:13 Then say to the LORD your God: “I have removed from my house the sacred portion and have given it to the Levite, the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow, according to all you commanded. I have not turned aside from your commands nor have I forgotten any of them.”
Why do we tithe? Because God tells us to, and we want him to be pleased with us. It’s our duty. We need no motivation other than pleasing our heavenly Father. When he sees our financial sacrifices, how much we’ve given up for him, he’ll say “well done, good and faithful servant”. We tithe to make God happy.
I know we’re starting to get a bit closer to the answer – but is that really our motivation? Doing our duty? Trying to impress God and make him happy?
Particularly because the Bible tells us we’re incapable of pleasing God on our own. And that Jesus has already pleased the Father on our behalf. You know, that whole Gospel thing?
Maybe our approach has been all wrong: picking out the odd verse (that was addressed to the nation of Israel, pre-Jesus – not the church, post-Pentecost) and trying to draw some conclusions. Maybe we should look at all the text, in its proper context.
To think about
That’s where we’ll head tomorrow. But for today, meditate on Deuteronomy 26.
- Why do you give to God (if you do)?
- And what does the Bible say about why we should?
And don’t just forget about these three false starts. There’s something to learn from each of them, which we’ll get to on Friday.