“You don’t have to tithe.” ~not Jesus
I love to hear people quote the words of Jesus! However, sometimes they may quote it wrong or conveniently live their lives ignoring some important teaching Christ laid out for us. Today we present Part 3 of our Sermon Series “Things Jesus Never Said!” - “You Don’t Have to Tithe.”
Pastor Bruce Howell of Lighthouse Community Church in Kalamazoo, MI, tells this funny story: IT WAS PENTECOST SUNDAY. As the congregation filed into church, the ushers handed each person a bright red carnation to symbolize the festive spirit of the day. The people listened attentively to the reading of the Pentecost story from the Book of Acts about how the disciples had heard “what sounded like a powerful wind from heaven”; about how the Holy Spirit had appeared “like tongues of fire.” Then came the sermon: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon us,” the preacher began. “Like the powerful wind from heaven!” shouted a woman sitting in the first pew. Then she threw one of the red carnations toward the altar. The preacher began again: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon us.” The same woman’s voce rang out again, “Like the tongues of fire, the tongues of fire!” Again, she threw a red carnation toward the altar. The preacher looked straight at her and said, “Now throw your pocketbook.” To which the woman replied, “Preacher, you have just calmed the wind and put out the fire.” We can laugh at this, but the whole issue of giving in church is so convoluted today, we want to get our truth straight from God’s Word.
Let’s consider the following words of Christ.
Matthew 23:23 (NLT) - “What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens,[g] but you ignore the more important aspects of the law—justice, mercy, and faith. You should tithe, yes, but do not neglect the more important things.”
Luke also remembers Christ’s words and relates it like this:
Luke 11:42 (NLT) - “What sorrow awaits you Pharisees! For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens, but you ignore justice and the love of God. You should tithe, yes, but do not neglect the more important things.”
Malachi 3:8-12 (NLT) - “Should people cheat God? Yet you have cheated me! “But you ask, ‘What do you mean? When did we ever cheat you?’ You have cheated me of the tithes and offerings due to me. 9 You are under a curse, for your whole nation has been cheating me. 10 Bring all the tithes into the storehouse so there will be enough food in my Temple. If you do,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, “I will open the windows of heaven for you. I will pour out a blessing so great you won’t have enough room to take it in! Try it! Put me to the test! 11 Your crops will be abundant, for I will guard them from insects and disease.[a] Your grapes will not fall from the vine before they are ripe,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. 12 “Then all nations will call you blessed, for your land will be such a delight,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.”
What is “Tithe” anyway?
According to The Greek Word Study Dictionary with Derivatives and Exegetical Commentary edited by Dr. Spiros Zodhiates (a well-known Greek-American Scholar), the word “tithe” comes from the Greek word “dekate” which literally means tenth of anything. Another descriptive word is understood follow: “meris” – which literally means “a part” or “a portion.” It is interesting to note that “dekate – meris” literally implies that a tithe given was widespread among both God’s chosen and pagans alike. “Meris” implies that giving a tithe was assumed, expected or assigned. Real life accounts throughout the Bible enforce this fact. Abraham paid tithes to Melchizedek the High Priest, Jacob vowed to pay God a tenth of all God gave to him, the temple of God and the priests salaries were literally paid for by… you guessed it - tithe!
I must throw in a quick cow story… The cattle were tithed by letting them pass out of an enclosure, under a rod held by some person who touched every tenth beast. Upon that touch, that animal became the property of the Priests. I knew cows were important!!
It doesn’t appear that a tithe was demanded of herbs, however, but the Pharisees however tithes their mint, anise, cumin and rue. And our Savior didn’t condemn their actions, but rather called them out for neglecting the even more important issues, i.e. justice, mercy, faith, and love.
So why is “dekate – meris” not stressed in the N.T. like it was in the O.T. A simple explanation would be that in the O.T. tithe was compulsory, vital, and necessary to earn favor with God. It was a Command! It would make sense, then that Jews would focus on the external instead of the inner qualities of the Holy Spirit. The N.T. Christian, however, more easily understands how important developing the qualities given by the Holy Spirit but seem to balk at giving monetarily to the Lord’s work. This hesitance seems to be exacerbated by a lack of understanding regarding the stewardship of material possessions.
We tend to exact a formula based on our selfish nature versus our new nature in Christ. This formula, then, often includes the use of the total dollar amount of our income for our personal discretion regarding the disbursement of those monies. The innate struggle with that formula then, is the tendency to run out of resources before giving to the Lord is considered. It’s a fact that most followers of Christ want to give to God, but their process is flawed from the beginning.
In the O.T., the Lord’s tithe (Lev. 27:30), the festival tithe (Deut. 12:10, 11) and the tithe for the poor (Deut. 14:28,29) were all compulsory. In addition to these, however, there was voluntary giving which included the “first fruits” giving and “freewill” offerings. An Israelite who loved God voluntarily gave the first fruits of his crop to Him. He did this even before he had harvested his entire crop and didn’t know how much he would reap. In other words, first fruits giving was giving the best to God and trusting Him to provide the harvest. It simply was giving by faith.
In Exodus 25:1-2 (NLT) we find these awesome words: “The Lord said to Moses, 2 “Tell the people of Israel to bring me their sacred offerings. Accept the contributions from all whose hearts are moved to offer them.”
It was from those offerings Moses built the Ark of the Covenant and the Tabernacle where the presence of God dwelt! Offerings from the heart!
There were some promises given resulting from that kind of giving!
Proverbs 3:9-10 – “Honor the Lord with your wealth and with the best part of everything you produce. 10 Then he will fill your barns with grain, and your vats will overflow with good wine.”
Remember what we read earlier from Pastor Malachi?
Malachi 3:10-13 -” Bring all the tithes into the storehouse so there will be enough food in my Temple. If you do,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, “I will open the windows of heaven for you. I will pour out a blessing so great you won’t have enough room to take it in! Try it! Put me to the test! 11 Your crops will be abundant, for I will guard them from insects and disease. Your grapes will not fall from the vine before they are ripe,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. 12 “Then all nations will call you blessed, for your land will be such a delight,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.”
So, assuming you want to give, just how do we pull this off? How can we “budget” to give when our expenses are so vast and there are so many places for our limited resources?
Do we really trust Jesus and what He says? Here are His words.
Luke 6:38 (NLT)
“Give and you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full—pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, running over, and poured into your lap. The amount you give will determine the amount you get back.”
So, does that mean that the more we give, the more we get? It is so important that we use God’s formula for blessings and not ours. Last week we talked about how God’s gifts – His “nice” things are ours for simply being His followers. Things such as: The promise of Eternal Life, Freedom from worry about material necessities, Peace of Mind, and Constant access to the very mind of God! I can always use more of all of that! In fact, I need those in great measure whether I’m poor or having vast amounts of troubles! These are incredible blessings no amount of money can buy.
What’s Paul got to say about giving?
2 Corinthians 8:1-7 – “Now I want you to know, dear brothers and sisters what God in his kindness has done through the churches in Macedonia. 2 They are being tested by many troubles, and they are very poor. But they are also filled with abundant joy, which has overflowed in rich generosity. 3 For I can testify that they gave not only what they could afford, but far more. And they did it of their own free will. 4 They begged us again and again for the privilege of sharing in the gift for the believers in Jerusalem. 5 They even did more than we had hoped, for their first action was to give themselves to the Lord and to us, just as God wanted them to do. 6 So we have urged Titus, who encouraged your giving in the first place, to return to you and encourage you to finish this ministry of giving.7 Since you excel in so many ways—in your faith, your gifted speakers, your knowledge, your enthusiasm, and your love from us—I want you to excel also in this gracious act of giving.”
Wow! Poor people, begging to give??? Generously??? When they couldn’t afford to by all human deductions (or budget plan)???
Here’s an idea for you to experience that incredible blessing of giving.
You might be asking, but Pastor – how can I realistically pull this off? I can hardly make ends meet now? This is where trust and obedience come in. Again, let’s go to Brother Paul’s insight to the Corinthian Church.
2 Corinthians 9:6-10 – “Remember this—a farmer who plants only a few seeds will get a small crop. But the one who plants generously will get a generous crop. 7 You must each decide in your heart how much to give. And don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure. “For God loves a person who gives cheerfully.” 8 And God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need, and plenty left over to share with others. 9 As the Scriptures say, “They share freely and give generously to the poor. Their good deeds will be remembered forever.” 10 For God is the one who provides seed for the farmer and then bread to eat. In the same way, he will provide and increase your resources and then produce a great harvest of generosity in you.”
There is one more Greek word I want to leave with you today! It’s the word “eneimi.” It means “to be in,” or “what is within,” i.e. “the soul.”
Let’s look at a very cool illustration of the very essence of “eneimi.”
Mark 12:41-44 - 41 Jesus sat down near the collection box in the Temple and watched as the crowds dropped in their money. Many rich people put in large amounts. 42 Then a poor widow came and dropped in two small coins. 43 Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has given more than all the others who are making contributions. 44 For they gave a tiny part of their surplus, but she, poor as she is, has given everything she had to live on.”
This is what the Pharisees lacked! They lacked the spiritual qualities of a soul that had been liberated by Jesus Christ! Therefore, they could not understand the significance of the widow’s small offering. Her love, trust and obedience quotients were such that giving came from her “eneimi!”
Former president of the Southern Baptist Convention, W.A. Criswell tells of an ambitious young man who told his pastor he’d promised God a tithe of his income. They prayed for God to bless his career. At that time, he was making $40.00 per week and tithing $4.00. God did just that and in a few years his income increased, and he was tithing $500.00 per week. He called the pastor to see if he could be released from his tithing promise, it was too costly now. The pastor replied, “I don’t see how you can be released from your promise, but we can ask God to reduce your income to $40.00 a week, then you’d have no problem tithing $4.00.”
You see, it is vital that as a Christ follower, we must come to grips with not only does He now control our soul’s destination, he also wants to direct our “eneimi” or our “what’s really inside our soul.” Until we embrace that truth, we’ll always struggle with our Original Sin Nature and we’ll want to control how much love, how much mercy, how much justice, how much faith, and yes, even how much of our resources we are willing to give.
Are you willing to trust Him to direct you in all areas of your life? Including your money?