SERMON MANUSCRIPT FOR OCTOBER 12, 2003
(Third in a series on financial stewardship)
These past few weeks as we have seen what the Bible has to say in the area of stewardship, we have seen a prevalent theme running through virtually every text on giving we've examined. As we have examined the Scriptures in this area, we have seen that stewardship of money is not primarily a matter of dollars and cents, but of the heart. If we have a weakness in the area of giving, the problem is NOT with how much money we withhold from God, but with how much of our hearts we withhold from God. As we have taught on this area of giving, we have yet to speak of tithing. To tithe is to give one tenth of your income to the Lord so this aspect of stewardship teaching speaks to the issue of HOW MUCH, or the amount of giving. Teaching on the topic of the tithe, which addresses the amount question while at the same time teaching on the primacy of the heart condition can lead to confusion. The implicit message behind the way stewardship is often taught in some churches is something like this: "O.K., we know that giving is primarily a spiritual issue and not a financial one. We know that God loves a cheerful giver, so whatever you give, make sure it is something you can give cheerfully. But you BETTER tithe or you're in BIG trouble with God because the Law of God says, TITHE!"
There is an internal inconsistency in that message and we want to try to clear that up this morning. This morning we want to stress the importance of the biblical principles behind tithing while at the same time placing tithing in the larger biblical framework, which is the condition of our hearts. We hope to clear up the inconsistency some people live with on this issue of tithing and we want to do that by asking the question, What impact should the Old Testament teaching on tithing have on us as we consider our giving? Let’s look at three answers to that question that will help us to know how the texts that speak to tithing should impact our giving. The first truth that will impact how we view tithing is: Tithing is part of the LAW from which we have been LIBERATED through Christ. Are you telling me that the message of the New Testament is that I am no longer legally obligated to tithe? That's right. As we’ll see, we are no more under the obligation of the laws on tithing than we are under any of the Mosaic laws. Romans 6:14 tells us, "For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law, but under grace." Later in Romans 7:6 Paul says, “But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve not under the old written code but in the new life of the Spirit.” The Old Covenant law still has a role in our life and part of that role, according to Galatians chapter three, is to drive us to the cross as we understand that we can in no way keep the law in our own strength. But we are not under the obligation of the law of tithing anymore. Christ has set us free from the bondage of the law. This may be new to some of you, but let’s allow the Bible to speak for itself.
There are four main sections in the Old Testament that give instruction on tithing--four passages which taught the Jews the how, when, where and why of tithing. These are: Leviticus chapter 27:30-33; Numbers chapter 18:21-32, Deuteronomy 12:5-18 and Deuteronomy 14:22-29. We don't have time to do a detailed study of each of those passages, but if you do that, you will find that all those passages are right smack in the middle of Mosaic Law. Leviticus chapter 27 teaches about a tithe given from the produce of the land and speaks to a situation where the farmer wants to give his tithe in money instead of crops. If he chooses to do so, the law says he must give not only the cash value of the produce, but also include an additional 20% of the value. This is a statutory law written to provide for a specific contingency that no longer even exists today.
In Numbers 18 the law of the tithe is placed in the context of providing for the Levitical Priesthood and is followed immediately by laws about the ritual cleansing of the Jews by the priests. If we are in Christ, we have been once-for- all been cleansed by the blood of the Lamb. This law of ritual cleansing is obviously a law from which we have been, through Christ, set free so what does that tell us about the law of the tithe? In Deuteronomy 12, the tithing law is set in the context of sacrifices at the tabernacle and later, the temple. Chapter 12:11 says, “then to the place that the LORD your God will choose, to make his name dwell there, there you shall bring all that I command you: your burnt offerings and your sacrifices, your tithes and the contribution that you present, and all your finest vow offerings that you vow to the LORD.” We would never feel obligated to bring a sacrifice or burnt offering to the temple, (it no longer even exists!) so we shouldn’t see that text legally binding us to tithe.
In chapter 14 of Deuteronomy, the tithe law is given in 14:22, but let’s look at the immediate context of that verse by looking at the one that precedes it. 14:21 says, "You shall not eat anything that has died naturally. You may give it to the sojourner who is within your towns, that he may eat it, or you may sell it to a foreigner. For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. "You shall not boil a young goat in its mother's milk. 22"You shall tithe all the yield of your seed that comes from the field year by year. My reading of this text tells me that if I am legally obligated to tithe, I am also under a legal obligation to not boil a young goat in its mother’s milk. I have no burning passion to engage in that practice, but you get the point of the context. Just as we no longer put people under any legal obligations regarding pagan dietary practices, neither should we place someone under a legal obligation to tithe.
Some may respond, "But Abraham and Jacob both tithed and that was before the Law of Moses was in place." That's right. In Genesis chapter 14 Abraham gives a tithe to the High Priest Melchizedek, but he was under NO EXTERNAL, LEGAL OBLIGATION to do that. Abraham had just won a magnificent military battle and gave the tithe to the Lord through the priest Melchizedek as a thank offering for the victory--it was an act of worship. He was under no law to do that. In Genesis 28, Jacob promised to give a tithe to the Lord if He would give him safety on a journey He sent him on. The tithe was a means of conveying His dependence upon God. It wasn't as if God said to Jacob, "Now you go on this journey I've sent you on and give me a tenth of your income as a toll to me to insure your safety." NO! Jacob gave this tenth as an act of his FREE WILL to express his absolute dependence upon God for safety. Abraham and Jacob BOTH gave these one time tithes, but they were not under the law. No one told them they had to tithe in order to be pleasing to God. That is the law and we have been freed from that external standard of performance, which includes the law of the tithe.
Having said that however, let’s move to the next point. Our second point answers the question, "Well, if we have been freed from the external obligation of the law, what impact should it have on us?” A second answer to the question about the impact the law of tithing should have on us is: The underlying REASONS for tithing remain VALID and must play a role in our giving. Let's look at two reasons WHY the people had an actual spiritual NEED to tithe. First, we see that the people were required to tithe to provide for the needs of the temple and those who ministered in the temple. Numbers 18:21 says, "I give to the Levites all the tithes in Israel as their inheritance in return for the work they do while serving at the Tent of Meeting." When the Levites were performing their temple duties they had no other source of income. They weren’t Yahweh’s salaried employees and unlike the other tribes they had no land—the LORD Himself was their inheritance. The only way they were paid was for the people to give to the Lord. If the people didn't tithe the priests were forced to abandon their temple duties and work outside the temple like everyone else. Tithing was important for the formal ministry of the Lord to continue.
Does that need exist today? Do we need people who are free to spend all their time in paid, vocational ministry? Of course, and in First Corinthians 9:14 Paul teaches, “…those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel.” The Israelites needed to tithe so the Lord could provide for his workers. A biblical, legitimate reason for the tithe is to provide for the formal ministry needs of the people of God. That reason still exists. Beyond the needs of the vocational elders and staff, it has been said during this capital campaign, “You know, if everyone in our church tithed, we would not need to have an intense capital campaign to raise the money needed to expand our facility.” That is true. Does anyone doubt that there wouldn’t be more than enough money in this church to pay for this project if we all tithed?
A second reason for tithing is for ministry to occur to those in need. Deuteronomy 14:28-29 says, "At the end of every three years, you shall bring out all the tithe of your produce and lay it up within your towns. And the Levite, because he has no portion or inheritance with you, and the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, who are within your towns, shall come and eat and be filled, that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands that you do.” Every three years, instead of bringing the tithe to the temple, the people gave it locally to the local clergy and those in financial need—to the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow. This or any other church could minister to the needs of the poor in a phenomenal way if people tithed. That reason for the law of the tithe still exists even though we are not under the law. If we have the heart of Jesus, which is consistently for the poor and the disenfranchised, then shouldn’t we want to give enough money so that God’s people could be a significant help to those who are so close to the heart of Christ?
Up to this point, we have seen that we are not obligated to tithe under the law, but the underlying reasons for the tithe still exist. A final answer to the question concerning the impact the tithe law should have on our giving is: The Covenant of Grace through Christ provides for a MUCH HIGHER standard of giving than the TITHE. The standard of giving under the Old Covenant, the Law of Moses was the tithe. As we have indicated, we are no longer obligated under that Old Covenant standard because we live under the New Covenant in Christ. We are under grace, not law. The question that remains is, "How is the NEW covenant different than the OLD covenant as it relates to my giving?" The basic difference between the New Covenant and the Old Covenant was prophesied by Jeremiah as he looked forward to this new covenant in chapter 31:31-34. "Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 32not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. 33But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, 'Know the Lord,' for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more."
The essential difference between the Old Covenant of Law and the New Covenant of Grace is NOT that the standards are lowered. Jesus says in Matthew 5:17-20, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. That doesn’t sound like a lowering of God’s standards to me and I don’t want to be among the least in the kingdom of God who relaxes any of the commandments. The Pharisees, according to Matthew 23 tithed a tenth of EVERYTHING, right down to the spices in their spice racks, but they failed in the weightier matters of the law such as justice, mercy and faithfulness.
It's troubling that there are many believers who wrongly think that because we are now under grace, that means that God has lowered the bar on our giving. NO! That notion assumes that a holy God would purchase people with the precious blood of His Son, so that they could then turn around and live self-indulgent lives that dishonor Him. The idea that grace implies that God has lowered his standard of righteousness is rooted in the carnal and unbelieving heart of man, not the bible! According to Jeremiah 31, the difference between the Old Covenant of Law and the New Covenant of Grace is that the law has moved from tablets of stone under the Old Covenant to our hearts under the New Covenant. It's no longer an external force that compels us to do something we cannot do. For the truly born again believer, the law is now a friend--an internal motivator within them that they are more and more empowered to live out. To apply this to tithing, the tithe is no longer something external which I HAVE to do under compulsion. It is something I delight in doing--something I consider a privilege. The New Covenant takes us from law to grace and if we want to see the impact the grace of God has on people’s financial giving let’s briefly look at some examples of giving, NEW TESTAMENT style.
When a tax collector named Zaccheus met Jesus, he was a wealthy extortionist who made his fortune sticking it to his fellow Jews. Meeting Jesus had a cataclysmic effect on him and the VERY FIRST manifestation of the grace of God in his life was in the way he related to money. Luke 19:8 tells us the very first recorded words of Zaccheus after He met Jesus were, "...Behold Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” The grace of God compelled Zaccheus to do far more than the tithing law required. This kind of New Testament generosity is not limited to Zaccheus. As the church began to grow in the book of Acts, we see a typical pattern of financial giving. Acts 2:45 says of the New Covenant church, “And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing their proceeds to all, as any had need.” 4:34-35 says, “There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold 35and laid it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. Does that sound like the standard of giving was the tithe? Did these people say, “We’re tithers—we’ve done our part?” Since when is selling your house or land and giving it all away a tithe?
Another familiar New Testament text on how the grace of God impacts people’s giving is in Second Corinthians chapter eight. Paul writes in verses 1-4, “We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, 2for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. 3For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own free will, 4begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints” Here’s what the grace of God does to people in their giving. It causes people who are severely afflicted and in extreme poverty to overflow with great generosity beyond their means and it causes them to earnestly beg for the privilege of doing that. This is the dramatic impact the grace of God has on a person and it doesn’t simply cause a person to be satisfied with their giving once they have begun to tithe.
We must understand--a tithe is not a bad amount to give but for a person whose heart has been touched by the grace of God but the tithe is for most people only a good START at giving. I was speaking with a brother this week who told me, “My wife and I are striving to see how little we can live on so we can give more and more money away.” That is a good example of God’s grace at work in a person’s heart in this area. Today, some people view the tithe as the summit, the apex, the height of generosity. Under grace, it’s more like the foot of the mountain. It's certainly not bad--it's good, but it’s only a beginning under grace. Now don’t misunderstand. This is not a statement of law—“Since you are under the New Covenant, you must give much MORE than a tithe.” That’s just a newer version of the law. If you are not tithing or intentionally working your way up to tithing, the problem is NOT with your relationship to the law; it’s with your relationship to Christ. If you don't at least tithe, your problem is not with the external stone tablets of the law, it’s with your own stony heart.
You have severe heart trouble because if you're a genuine believer, that law by God’s grace is now written on your heart and you should delight in giving generously to the Lord. We should never go back to external law that says we are legally bound to tithe. That's legalistic because its ultimate source is the law. But if you don't at least tithe, according to the grace-filled New Covenant, there is something drastically wrong with your heart. What happened to Zaccheus and the New Testament believers in Acts should in some way have happened to us. That's the kind of impact the grace of God in Christ has on people’s giving. The answer is NOT to put yourself under the law and say, "Well, I better start to tithe or God's gonna' be really mad at me." NO!!! The answer is to go before the Lord and confess that you have a sick heart and cry out to God to do open heart surgery on you. Perhaps you have never had a real, grace-filled, saving encounter with Christ. Maybe you just think you're a Christian, but you have never been changed by this New Covenant of grace written not on tablets of stone but on human hearts. Don't go back to the law, but DO go to the God of grace and ask Him to examine your heart and show you what's there. For those of you who DO tithe, in light of the witness of the New Testament, is that the place to stop in your giving? Is that the zenith of what the grace of God motivates you by his grace to give? For some with very little money, it is. For most of us, it is only the beginning. May God grant us grace to know our hearts and by his grace live like people of the New Covenant--in our giving and in all areas.
Page last modified on 10/21/2003
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