For the start of our year, we’re spending three days looking at the question Why Tithe? in light of Deuteronomy 26. On Wednesday we made three false starts that we thought we could find in the text:
- we give to get rich/blessed
- we give because God needs our money
- we give to make God happy
Then yesterday we read the whole chapter in context, and saw that giving to God was intended to be an expression of joyful gratitude for what God has already done for us. (For Israel, in bringing them into the land; for us, in bringing us into union with Christ.) So what’s left to talk about?
Maybe we can redeem those three false starts. Because, as we said at the end of Wednesday’s post, they’re not entirely wrong. Each of them is not a reason to give – but to some extent, each is a result of giving to God out of gratitude.
#1 In giving to God out of gratitude, we experience blessing
For a start, in giving to God out of gratitude, we experience God’s blessing.
What kind of blessing? Well it might involve material abundance, it might not. Verse 15 talks about “a land flowing with milk and honey.” (That’s all well and good, until the sun comes out. I think it would get a bit sticky and smelly. Like a nation-wide bucks party prank all summer long.) But milk and honey is just an expression; it symbolises material provision of food both from agricultural effort (milk) and availability in the wild (honey). It’s about an abundant supply of food. In the New Testament, Jesus himself tells us to pray for our “daily bread” – what we need to survive. And when he tells us to seek first the kingdom of God, it’s because we can rely on God to clothe and feed us.
But the focus of this blessing, for us, is not primarily material. It’s what Jesus calls “treasure in heaven.” Something that isn’t only temporary. Something that lasts forever.Luke 12:33 Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys.
We’re not the nation of Israel living in the Promised Land. Those promises about such an “inheritance” were for Israel, not us. (For Deuteronomy was written to them, not directly to us.) And yet the New Testament writers pick up this Old Testament image of inheritance, and redefine it. They use it in this new way:1 Pet 1:3-4 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you.
Our promised land is not an earthly inheritance in ancient Palestine, but a heavenly one. It’s not about honey milkshakes, but about eating and drinking in the presence of God himself. It’s not about present comfort, but eternal security. The ultimate blessing.
#2 In giving to God out of gratitude, we share in his kingdom work.
But experiencing God’s blessing isn’t just about our eternal future. You see, in giving to God out of gratitude, we also get to share in his kingdom work.
We get a hint of this in verses 12-13, like we saw earlier – the tithe went to support the poor and the full-time temple workers. These days, the money we give to our churches eac week, and to various appeals throughout the year, goes to much the same thing. Bringing the reality of God’s kingdom to the world, as we meet the needs of others. And bringing the message of God’s kingdom to the world, as we proclaim it through the various activities of the church.
Now let’s be clear. God doesn’t need our money. He’s perfectly capable of rustling up the cash from coins that have fallen down the back of his sofa. Or by selling off a spare country on eBay or something. (Maybe that’s what he’s been doing with Greece recently?) God doesn’t need our money. But for some reason, he lets us chip in. Not for his benefit. But for ours.
Again, the motive flows out of gratitude. Given what God has done for us, isn’t the most natural response to tell everyone about it? To want others to experience the same amazing grace that we have? Giving to God’s work, then, is one outlet for us to do just that. To be a part of reaching not just our own friends and neighbours, but people on the other side of the world. The Apostle Paul calls it a “fellowshipping together” in the work of the gospel (Phil 4:14-15, translated as “share” in the NIV).
When we give, we get to partner in gospel work with people all over the world as they bring the message of God’s kingdom to people we’ll probably never meet this side of eternity. We get to partner with God as he brings his salvation to the ends of the earth! Isn’t that a blessing in itself?
#3 In giving to God out of gratitude, we find pleasure in him.
But not only that: we experience the blessing of God in all aspects of our life. You see, in giving to God out of gratitude, we can be pleased in him.
In other words, we don’t tithe to please God, as some kind of religious duty. We do it because we are pleased in him. By giving back to God, we’re putting our money where our mouth is. We’re trusting God to provide for us. Showing that we’re not trusting in our own wealth – our bigger barns – for our security (See Luke 12:18). That we’re not dependent on outside circumstances for our happiness.
It allows us to experience the pleasure of finding our satisfaction in God, not in material possessions. As Paul says in his letter to Timothy:1 Tim 6:17-19 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 treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.
That is, our generosity frees us from slavery to wealth. It demonstrates to God, to ourselves, and to the world – that we are utterly reliant on him to provide for our needs. Utterly grateful for what he’s done for us. Utterly satisfied in who he is, the source of all blessing.
It enables us to find the blessing of life that is truly life.
So what now? Simple. We give to God.
How much? Well 10% is a nice biblical figure, but it’s no longer a New Testament command. And it’s confused a bit by the fact that the 10% was also the taxation system that provided for social security. So how applicable is it these days? I’m not sure.
But we’re not under law, we’re under grace. And the New Testament principle is simply “be generous.” You work that out. As Paul says:2 Cor 9:7 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.
So when the offering plate next passes you by, keep this in mind. At the risk of upsetting your pastor and/or church treasurer: give rightly, or don’t give at all.
- Don’t give if you’re expecting a return-on-investment.
- Don’t give if you think God can grow his kingdom bigger the more you give.
- Don’t give if you think God will be more pleased with you if you do.
Keep your money. God doesn’t need it.
- Only give if you’re doing so out of gratitude for what God has done for you in Jesus.
- Only give if you’re convinced that what is stored up for you in heaven is far more important than your earthly comforts.
- Only give if you’ve been captivated by the vision of what God is doing in the world, and you want the sheer joy and privilege of being a part of it.
- Only give if you’ve found your satisfaction in God and God alone.