September 17, 2000
Robert B. Ives, Ph.D., Pastor
The Grantham Church
One of the most amazing things about life in the church of Jesus Christ is the fact that people give money and time to make the church and what it does work. They give willingly and freely. Think of the implications of this. None of us give week after week in a comparable way to any other organization. We give to the government, but not so willingly. I just sent in my quarterly IRS, State and West Shore taxes. If I didnt have to do this, I probably wouldnt. Personally, Im not all that thrilled in paying for a lot of things I need, the electric bill, a guy to repair my garage door, someone to pave the driveway, and so on. Are you? But when it comes to the church, most of you give. I do and we give willingly. No one makes us do this.
When I was in college and after I was converted, I went to church every week. I gave something, one or two dollars a week. Based on the increased value of money today, that would be $20-$40 a week. But Im not really concerned with how much people give. In fact, C. S. Lewis says in Mere Christianity what I think the issue about giving is:
I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare. In other words, if our expenditure on comforts, luxuries , amusements, etc. is up to the standard common among those with the same income as our own, we are probably giving away too little. If our charities do not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say they are too small. There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot do because our charitable expenditures excludes them.
Those are tough words, but no less so than what we find in the Bible. Let us look over Malachi 3 to get the reading of this final prophet of the Old Testament on the issue of giving. Malachis time was not a time of turmoil and upheaval when no one knew what would happen next. It was a fairly stable time, except for one thing; when Israel had come back from Babylon, many thought God was no longer with them. They had rebuilt the temple, but it was not filled with the glory of God as it had been in Solomons time. The prophets, including Malachi, were not performing miracles like Elijah and Elisha had. Oh, the people still brought lambs or oxen to be sacrificed in the temple, but there wasnt a lot of enthusiasm in it. Israel felt overwhelmed by the large and powerful nations around them. Like J. B. Phillips put it, their God seemed somehow too small. The glory times when David led Israels small army against the armies of larger and stronger nations, and won, were a distant memory. People were losing faith. Even the promises of God to these descendants of Abraham seemed uncertain.
That was the way things seemed, but Malachi spoke to Israel as a prophet of God. Malachi said, there is a way that you can prove for yourself that God has not changed in His love for you and His willingness to provide for your needs. You need to repent. Thats what the words return to me mean. Verse 7. And you need to show you mean it by giving a tenth of what you have to God. Thats where we are in Malachi 3.
Think for a minute about giving a tenth of what you have to God. Most of you give more than twice that much to the IRS. You have to do it, or the IRS attaches your income and forces you to give, but a tenth given to the church after the government has already taken 28% or 35% or whatever may seem like a lot.
Lets turn that around. Take the figure you actually give the church and multiply it by 10 and think of that as your salary. Is that the salary you really earn? Why give a tenth of it to God?
Lets look at what Malachi says.
I the Lord do not change. Nor have you descendants of Jacob changed - you are as wayward as your ancestors were. You have not kept my laws. But if you return to me - a phrase meaning repent , I will return to you, says the Lord.
The Israelites ask, how are we supposed to return? And God responds with what seems like a non-sequitor, but the intent is to awaken the conscience of these Israelites.
Will a man rob God?
How do we rob you? They ask, and thats what God wanted them to ask because then He can teach them a lesson.
You rob me in tithes and offerings. Bring the full tithe, not something skimpy, but bring the full tithe into the storehouse and let there be food for my house. Test me in this! See if I do not, in response, open the windows of the heavens and pour so much blessing on you that you will be overwhelmed.
Now lets look at this. The problem is simple. The relation of these people to God was not right, so there were a lot of things they did in their lives that were affected by this. You can usually tell when your relation to God is wrong when you dont think about God often. Malachi gives another clear clue. Your relationship to God is not right when youre not giving.
There are a number of passages in the Bible which make a connection between generosity in giving and a right relation to God. Proverbs 11:25, A generous man will prosper; he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed. And there is the grubbing attitude where someone does not want to give in Proverbs 11:24, one man gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty. See, if this were mathematical only, you wouldnt expect this sort of thing. This is like Zacchaeus who gave back what he had cheated people out of as a tax collector. He was thankful to do it because Jesus had welcomed him and his attitude to God was completely changed. Before he had been for all he could get. Now he was giving money away.
In Haggai there is a connection made between the punishment of God and the lack of good harvests. I struck all the works of your hands with blight, mildew and hail, yet you did not turn to me. (Haggai 2:17) Or there are those words of Jesus in Luke 6, Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over.... For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you in return. This must not be interpreted as a Gospel of Wealth, that heretical view that afflicted our churches in Africa. You give to the church and youll become rich, this view says. Instead, it is what happens inside a person when he gives that is important. This is what C. S. Lewis says in an interesting analogy in his lecture, Church Music: All offerings whether of music, or money or martyrdom are like the intrinsically worthless present of a child, which a father values indeed, but values only for the intention.
I remember a story my mother told me as a child. In this story a boy took a picture that he had drawn with infinite care - his best picture yet - to his teacher, who thanked him for it and exclaimed over it. That same day the boy came to see his teacher after school, and she wasnt in the room; but as he approached her desk, he noticed his drawing in her wastebasket. Oh, the hurt of that. He had given her his best picture and she threw it away. Now God is never that callous. When we give something to God, however intrinsically worthless, God treasures it for the intent of the giving.
Now what about this ten percent which the Bible calls tithing? Where does this come from? Is this what God expects of us? Malachi says in 3:8 that people rob God in tithes and offerings. The earliest example of giving a tithe is what Abraham gave to Melchizedek in Genesis 14. He didnt have to give anything to Melchizedek. There was no rule about it. But what Abraham did became a principle of the Old Testament law. Deuteronomy 14:22, Be sure to set aside a tenth of all that your fields produce each year. And at the very end of the book of Leviticus, A tithe of everything from the land... belongs to the Lord. And there is a warning. A farmer must not pick out the good from the bad or make any substitution of something less valuable for something better, giving the Lord the lesser and keeping the better for himself.
The principle is, act knowing God is real. There is no talk of tithing in the New Testament - as if that mattered - but I think that the Old Testament principle is still a good one for us unless, like with the scribes and Pharisees, we use the principle only with little matters. The scribes and Pharisees tithed from their gardens, mint, dill, cumin, but they paid no attention to more important matters like justice, mercy and faithfulness. Tithing is to be one example of how to show justice, mercy and faithfulness by giving a part of what we have to the Lord so others can be helped. Tithing is not something in and of itself. The general principle in the New Testament is harder than the tithing principle of the Old Testament, because it has a harder to define boundary. Use all for the glory of God. Gain isnt the goal, but acting for Gods glory.
Now I tithe. I give one tenth of my salary - housing allowance included - to the church . From Nancys salary we give to a variety of missionaries we have known for many years and to other evangelical organizations. Now the fact that I, or you, tithe, does not mean we expect God will be required to give to us in return. When we tithe we are saying something like, You have been generous, Father. I want to be generous also and I am trusting you to give me all I need to follow you! Notice the change in focus. God gives not so we can be wealthy by the worlds standards, but so we would be wealthy by Gods standard, which is, so we have more than enough to follow Jesus.
A tithe is a tenth of our earnings. An offering, on the other hand, is something people give in addition to a tithe for specific needs. In the Old Testament offerings were set apart for the priests use. Offerings were voluntary gifts given for special occasions. This morning we are going to ask you to give an offering for Cooperative Ministries. As you have heard, Cooperative Ministries supports the ministries and personnel of the Brethren in Christ Church, all of whom serve the church sacrifically, as missionaries, bishops, church planter, office support people and so on.
C. S. Lewis wrote for years to an American woman who was the worlds biggest hypocondriac. In one letter he wrote, It will not disturb me in the hour of death to reflect that I have been had for a sucker by any number of imposters; but it would be a torment to know that (I) had refused even one person in need. Now we often speak of how much this church gives to Cooperative Ministries. We give the second largest amount of any church, though we are only the fifth or sixth largest church in the Brotherhood. We have pledged $150,000 this year, but because we are so far behind in our giving, we have given only $30,000 thus far , so that the denomination is feeling a shortfall because of us. Thats why we are asking for a special offering. Were rather in the position of the people Malachi preached to. Weve robbed God in tithes and offerings. Because, you see, we promised to give this $150,000.
Now personally, I like to plan my giving. Each week Nancy and I give the same amount. We use the church offering envelopes to give. I keep track of our giving. Were up to date. Actually, weve paid one week in advance so that in the year 2000 weve given to the church what we promised the Lord we would give. But when the giving of the church is short, I feel I need to help meet this shortage. This morning Im giving an extra $100. That seems to me in the spirit of Malachi 3. I look for a blessing from God for this offering. I dont know what form the blessing will take, but I trust Gods promise of it - and I invite you to trust God in this as well.