MALACHI 3:8 Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me.
But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings.
It seems like every sermon I have heard on this unpopular topic of tithing begins with this text. We have all heard the assertion from many pulpits that a man’s commitment to God can be discerned by examining his checkbook. An old joke goes, “The Spirit of the Lord keeps a pastor humble, while his congregation keeps him broke.” Unfortunately, there is more than a grain of truth in this.
A recent nationwide poll revealed that less than three out of every hundred professing Christians tithe. Yet unquestionably, tithing is a part of the walk with Christ.
When I first arrived at the Terre Haute Federal Prison Camp, I was approached by two unbelieving men who laughingly volunteered to “pass the basket” if I would preach sermons for them. Later, a man in our daily Bible study suggested devoting tithes to make the entrance of new men into the camp a less traumatic experience by furnishing them with a few of the creature comforts that are so starkly missing.
Two more different approaches to tithing could hardly be imagined. The one conjures up images of Burt Lancaster in the movie ELMER GANTRY or Steve Martin in LEAP OF FAITH. The other brings to life the apostolic church of Timothy and Barnabas as they provided for the widows and the poor.
We are confronted every day with demands placed upon our consciences for money. Yet we cannot help but become somewhat cynical as we see the well recognized charities around us looted for the enrichment of those trusted to oversee them. As Christians, we are even more sensitive to the portrayal of charlatans and con men played out on motion picture screens as being the standard of men of God.
If this environment were not bad enough, enter the “prosperity gospel” of tithing. Using all the glitz of Hollywood, those who can least afford to contribute are exhorted to “give out of their need.” This is often compared to “sowing the seed.” The promise is an immediate blessing from God. It is sometimes boldly referred to as the return on investment. It brings squarely to the front the question, “What’s in it for me?”
One televangelist spent his entire half hour of airtime extolling the virtues of being a $1000 man, not a $100 man. He showed his diamond rings and told of the great financial harvest he himself reaped by sowing the larger seed. He then promised a blessing of up to one hundred times the gift or offering. This emphasis on the things of this world does indeed sow a seed, ------- the seed of greed! The obvious suggestion to this man would be to simply practice what he is preaching. Give all that he has to the poor and follow the Lord. Think how rich he could become.
Robert Tilton, another TV huckster who has since been discredited by his lavish lifestyle, was more blunt in his demands. He promised his listeners an eternity in hell if they didn’t pony up.
Jesus dealt with men of this ilk when he confronted the Pharisees in Matthew 23:25. “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within are full of extortion and excess.”(KJV) He called them extortionists and promised them woe.
If worldly riches follow sacrificial giving, how do we explain Hebrews 11:35-40? “. . others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection: And others had trials of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; (or whom the world was not worthy;) they wandered in deserts and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. And all these, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise; God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect.”(KJV)
Does the Christian life demand a vow of poverty? . . . . . No! Abraham was possibly the wealthiest man in the Bible. And he paid tithes to Melchizedek while he was returning from Hobah. Job was the richest man in the East before his ordeal. Afterward, Jehovah not only restored him, He doubled Job’s immense holdings.
Then we see, by way of contrast, the lifestyle of the man of whom Jesus said, “Among those born of woman, there is no one greater than John (the Baptist).” And the life of Jesus when he walked among us was that of a man who owned nothing and had no place to lay his head.
If these examples are confusing, let’s look around us today. Chuck Colson founded the Prison Fellowship, which brings the gospel to men and women in prisons across the country and provides an extra touch to help keep their families together. The man who witnessed to Chuck Colson and led him to Christ was Tom Phillips, a multi-millionaire and the president of Raytheon, one of the world’s largest corporations. At the same time, we observe those servants of the Lord who toil daily, unnoticed by the world, in homeless shelters like Pacific Garden Mission under the banner JESUS SAVES.
So do the blessings of the Lord flow to the person who plants the seed with his tithes? Is there a connection? Or to be crass about it, “What IS in it for me?”
I believe King David gave us the answer in the 37th Psalm. Verses 3 and 4 read “Trust in the Lord, and do good; so shalt thou dwell in the land, and verily thou shalt be fed. Delight thyself also in the Lord; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart.” And in verse 25, “I have been young, and now am old; yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread.”(KJV) David tithed. In fact, he gave it all, 100% to build the Lord’s temple (1 Chronicles 29:23). He was called a man after God’s own heart.
We remember the poor widow in Mark 12:42 who cast her two mites into the temple treasury. It was all she had. She will never be a $1000 man, but that impoverished widow earned the admiration of our eminent Savior, the Lord Christ Jesus, through this act of supreme faith.
Tithing is a question of trust. -------------TRUST IS A CONDITION OF SALVATION!
There is a common theme in all these lives. God gives each of us what we need to glorify Him through our walk.
Tithing is not buying a winning ticket in the lottery of worldly wealth. It is an act of obedience. It is an expression of trust. Everything already belongs to God (a hard concept for some to accept). It’s all His! We are merely the stewards of His possessions.
As good stewards, it would be well to keep in the back of our minds that advice given at the conclusion of the roll call on the TV series, Hill Street Blues. “Let’s all be careful out there.”
We, as Christians, are called to follow the example of Jesus who healed and fed all he touched. We are to mitigate the misery around us. If we use those resources He has placed at our disposal, as did the Apostles, we will be the light to other men’s paths.
If you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. If you teach him to fish, you feed him for a lifetime. If you become a fisher of men, He will feed YOU forever!
"If you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. If you teach him to fish, you feed him for a lifetime. If you become a fisher of men, He will feed YOU forever!" -- This is a great and timely article. I like the closing you used which I quoted above. We are quick to receive, but unfortunately for us, we are slow to give. May God bless you. Thomas