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Last week we got back to basics of giving. We looked at some examples of giving in Scripture and established some principles of biblical giving. This morning we’re going to look at two things: a need and the tithe.
What are our basic needs and what is a surplus? It appears the Bible teaches that our basic needs are food and clothing. “For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content.” (1 Tim. 6:7-8) God never promised to make us middle class. There is certainly nothing wrong with having a nice car or house, cell phones, or satellite TV, but it seems that God only guarantees food and clothing. What’s the point of pursuing earthly treasure since it will all be left behind? Surplus is what is left after we subtract our expenses for basic needs from our total income. Most of us probably spend the majority of our surplus on what our society calls needs. Society says you need the latest technological gadgets. You’ve got to have the latest model car; every child must have his own bedroom. Our challenge is to cut back on these desires so more of our surplus can be spent meeting biblical needs.
So what about the tithe? Gen. 28:22 says, “This stone, which I have set up as a pillar, will be God’s house, and of all that You give me I will surely give a tenth to You.” It seems Jacob recognized that it was God who provided everything for him. Gen. 14:18-20 says, “And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; now he was a priest of God Most High. He blessed him and said, “Blessed be Abram of God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; And blessed be God Most High, Who has delivered your enemies into your hand.” He gave him a tenth of all.” Abram felt it necessary to tithe. You may be saying, “Well that’s all well and good, but this is not the age of the law, but the age of grace, so we don’t have to tithe. We don’t live under the law.” The New Testament is surprisingly quiet on this matter. Some believe that since the tithe is only mentioned, not taught in the New Testament, there is therefore no basis for the tithe. That’s the interesting part. The Genesis examples predate the law by over 400 years. There is no grace to ignore Old Testament teachings. Christian pollster George Barna reports that 12% of born-again believers tithed in 2012. A tithe is not regular giving. A tithe is giving a tenth (10%) of your income to the Lord. For most people, you support the church in which you receive spiritual benefits. In Matt. 23:23 Jesus condemned the Pharisees by saying, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others, for being hypocrites.” They paid tithes, but neglected the more important principles of Scripture. There are indeed, some biblical principles that are more important than others. Just because you follow some biblical principles doesn’t mean you can ignore others.
The tithe isn’t mentioned after the gospels, but I want to point something out. The tithe was neither commanded nor rescinded in the New Testament. Christians continue to argue about whether to tithe or not, or even if the tithe is the starting point for giving. Jesus never lowered the standard for anything. For example, in Matt. 5:27-28 Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY’; but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” I don’t want to be legalistic about this, but consider this: scriptural offerings were always from the first and best that people had. Maybe you’re a grace giver. The tithe was the minimum required by God so ask yourself, does God expect less of me, who has the Holy Spirit living inside me, than He did of the poor Israelites? You may maintain that we do not need to adhere to the tithe. That’s fine, just don’t use that as justification to give less.
Here’s the reality for us. As Christians, we’re to be different than the world. Rom. 12:2a says, “Do not be conformed to the world.” But how can we be different in this world of materialism? Paul goes on to say, “But be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” We’ve got to realize some things about ourselves that might not be too appealing. We must realize we are greedy. Greed is something that comes naturally to us. We’ve got to unlearn greed and learn generosity from God. In reality, we’re rich. The West has 15 % of the world’s population, but 90% of the wealth. Even the poorest people in America are richer than many people in other countries. Don’t use the tax code as your guide to giving. Taking a legal deduction is fine, but some gifts that God recognizes, the IRS does not. For example, giving a bag of groceries to a friend or neighbor in need is not tax deductible. If you give to get a tax deduction, not only are you missing the point of giving, but you’re bad at math.
Grab your Bible and look at 2 Cor. 8:17-22. In this passage Paul is saying, “Hey, you promised to give, it’s time to pay up.” Don’t make commitments you cannot keep. Our biggest challenge is freeing up our biblical surplus. Society preaches self-indulgence and consumption, Jesus and the Bible teach: Move down in lifestyle, not up. Live below your income, not above. If we have nothing to share, our lifestyle needs to change. Buy a newer car instead of a new car. The goal is not simply to save, but to save in order to invest in God’s work. Our money gets tied up in culture driven wants. God speaks of humble self-sacrifice and cheerful generosity. He honors service and stewardship, not consumption.
God does not need our gifts, but we need to give. If we’re always on the receiving end of God’s grace, we tend to become selfish. As we learn to give, we enlarge our capacity to receive, and we share in the blessings of grace. A carpenter does not count his success by the number of tools in his tool chest but by what he has done with his tools. In the same way, a Christian does not calculate prosperity by the size of his bank account, but by the ministry accomplished with his resources.