I preaching this message on February 13, 2011 at HillSong
Growing up, my parents placed three jars on my dresser and then gave me my $1 weekly allowance – in dimes. One dime went in the jar marked “tithe,” one went in the jar marked “savings,” and the remaining $.80 was mine to spend. They were trying to instill in me the habit of saving some money, and they wanted me to know on that we give money to God’s church as a way of living our Christian faith.
The amount they advised me to give was 10% of my income. Christians all over, trying to honor God with their money give 10% of the paycheck to the church.
It’s a good spiritual discipline, but a curious one as well. We follow Jesus Christ. We commune God in the Holy Spirit and in the Bible. As Christ-followers, our starting point in is the New Testament. Giving 10%, tithing, is not a New Testament concept.
When Jesus talks about the tithe, he’s in the middle of a harsh critique of the religious practice of the Pharisees (see Matthew 23:23). They faithfully give their 10%, but fail to live out the grace of God. In tithing, they are fine examples, but in reflecting God’s love, they are terrible failures.
The tithe is based on the economy and liturgy of ancient Israel. Israel was an agricultural nation. Burnt offerings were the centerpiece in worship. So, people would harvest, and then bring in the best 10% of their harvest and offer it as thanksgiving to God, as praise to God. The animal offerings served as atonement for sins.
From Deuteronomy to the days of the second temple when Jesus ministered in Israel, the idea of tithe went through dramatic change as the society changed. Money became a part of their culture. The world became more mobile and travelers from the North, South, East, and West, came to Jerusalem. The travel, the commerce, and the shift from a barter economy to one that included money all came together to force the concept of the tithe to evolve.
Jesus never says, “Thou shall tithe.” So, why do we hang on to tithing? And if tithing is not exactly the New Testament formula for honoring God with our money, then what is? What does Jesus say? What does the New Testament teach?
The following is from the Gospel of Mark, chapter 12, verse 41-44.
41He [Jesus] sat down opposite the [temple] treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. 42A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. 43Then he called his disciples and said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. 44For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”
When the poor widow put her last coins in the temple treasury, she acknowledged that God is Lord of everything. The temple was extraordinary corrupt and she might have known that. So why give the last of her money to the temple? Whether she could articulate it or not, the widow entrusted the temple to God. God, you are Lord of this temple. You deal with the corruption here. I give all I have to you.
Furthermore, she acknowledged that God, and not her meager two coins and not her hunger, was her master. If she bought bread today with a coin, and again tomorrow with the second, she would be hungry the day after tomorrow. So, she gave it all to God trusting that God would take care of her today, tomorrow, and the day after.
To me that says that we middle class American Christians in 2011 is must count on God and not our money to provide for us. Jesus did not say because this woman deposited her final two coins, all disciples must divest themselves of all their holdings in order to be true believers. He did say her gift was blessed because of how valuable it was to her. It showed how much she trusted God.
Based on how much we make, do our gifts to God’s church and to evangelical ministries around the world show how much we (1) value God, and (2) how much we trust God? If I make $75,000, how much is my relationship with God worth if I give 5% of that $75,000 to God’s work in the world?
God doesn’t need any of my money, but, I need a relationship with God. I need it to become the person I was meant want to become. We need a relationship with God because we are made to be in relationship with Him – a relationship of trust, and forgiveness, and truth.
When we take up the morning offering, what we each put in is an indicator of the worth we put on the relationship we have with God. It makes no difference to God whether I give more than person next to me or less. It makes all the difference in how much I give related to how much I have.
Someone who gives away an amount that he doesn’t even notice missing is saying to God, you’re not worth money that matters to me. Someone who makes all his purchases and then considers the money that’s left and gives his offering out of that is not giving much. It doesn’t matter if it is $1 million. The priority for the true disciple is on the relationship with God. The way to know how much to give is to openly, honestly pray, and then give according to the Holy Spirit’s leading.
As I have talked about this most sensitive topic – money – I have talked about the relationship individual believers have with God. The New Testament doesn’t prescribe a 10% tithe, but the New Testament is full of teaching about qualities that must be present in the life of someone who is a follower of Jesus. In 1st and 2nd Corinthians the letter’s author, the Apostle Paul, illustrates one of the qualities.
The background for he writes here is a famine that hit Israel hard in the mid first century. Hunger spread. The Jewish people had to rely on one another to make it through this painful time. However, the Christians in Jerusalem, who were also Jews, had been cutoff from their neighbors because of their decision to follow Jesus Christ and proclaim him as Savior, Messiah, and Son of God. Because of their faith, they did not receive the help people needed to survive the period of famine. The very first Christians, the ones in the Jerusalem church, were starving.
Paul wanted the Jerusalem Church to endorse his mission to carry Gospel to gentiles throughout the Greco-Roman world. He fought for this evangelical mission his entire career. In the period of famine, he saw an opportunity. He encouraged the Philippian Christians in Macedonia and the Corinthian Christians to take up a monetary offering that he would then deliver to Jerusalem to alleviate the poverty that blanketed that church.
In doing this, he gave the new believers in the new churches an opportunity to express Christ-like generosity. Paul thought it would be good for the spiritual growth of the Corinthian Church if they gave abundantly to help the Jerusalem Church.
He was so convinced of the importance of this offering that he even challenged the Corinthians in a competitive manner. He told how the Macedonians joyfully overflowed with a wealth of generosity by giving out of extreme poverty (2 Cor 8:2). The Corinthians who read the letter knew they were quite wealthy compared to their poorer Macedonian neighbors. And Paul knew it too. He said the Corinthians would be humiliated if they failed to match and surpass the Macedonian gift (2 Cor. 9:5).
Paul was urgent in his desire to collect money for Jerusalem, but he didn’t plead. He framed his request as an opportunity. They, the Christians in Corinth, needed to give generously for the sake of their own walk with Jesus.
In Paul’s presentation we see that believers called to be extravagantly generous.
Listen to Paul’s words:
10He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. 11You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity, which will produce thanksgiving to God through us; 12for the rendering of this ministry not only supplies the needs of the saints but also overflows with many thanksgivings to God. 13Through the testing of this ministry you glorify God by your obedience to the confession of the gospel of Christ and by the generosity of your sharing with them and with all others, 14while they long for you and pray for you because of the surpassing grace of God that he has given you.
Consider this scenario. Imagine sitting down with Jesus in a one-on-0ne session where we go through our bank statements. Sitting with Jesus, you look at the checkbook, the credit card statement, and all the other holdings. Line by line, you explain each purchase, each gift, each donation, - how each transaction reflects how much or how little you value your relationship with God. What would that session be like? Would Jesus takes joy in how much He matters in our lives? Would it be a time of shame, as it becomes clear that he is less important than clothes or a car or a vacation?
The point of this exercise is not guilt. It is to inspire all of us to put God first, but also to invite us to go deeper in relationship with Jesus. Going through the checkbook with him shows how much He desires us. Jesus wants all of us, every part of our lives. He wants to bless, and the blessing may mean an increase – more money – but for some people it will be the opposite. For some, God’s blessing comes in giving it all away.
If upon hearing, someone says, not me! I want to be one of those blessed by wealth. I want to be a Christian, but an extremely wealthy one. That response does not understand blessing or true joy at all. Giving of our money is giving of ourselves. God blesses what we give. God will not bless what we hold back.
So then, how? How do we live in extravagant New Testament generosity? I said earlier the way to determine how much we ought to give is to openly, honestly pray, and then give according to the Holy Spirit’s leading. I believe it, but I also know from my experience that God answers prayer in God’s time.
Until the answer is clear, the Old Testament standard of a 10% tithe is a proper starting point. To begin living in generosity, understand how much money you will make in a year, and give 10% of it to the church. Along with that, be involved in the church family. Know what your church believes, preaches, teaches, and practices.
Know your elder and know what the elders are working on. Know your spiritual gifts and in mission and in ministry in the church and in the community, serve where you are gifted. Use your skills and your talents and your God-given personality to be involved in the life of the church. Be involved in music ministry, youth or children, grounds beautification, leadership, and in small groups. When church becomes something you are emotionally invested in, it won’t be hard to give your time, your heart, or your money to where God is working through the church.
So, start, by giving 10% off the top to the church, and invest your life in the church.
HillSong Church is a really great place. It can be twice what it is, even three times what it is in terms of quality worship and ministry, IF twice the number of people who currently come invest themselves – heart, money, time, talent, and passion. We have passionately devoted Christ followers here who are “all in.” And we have people yawning in their faith here, spiritually asleep, showing up week after week completely unaware of God’s activity in the world. Which category do you strive to be in? Which category would you put yourself in right now and why would you put yourself there?
Start with the 10% tithe; then, increase it. Discover how God will care for you when you give what you have away. Discover the joy of giving your money and your time and your heart to orphans. Discover the blessings you will receive volunteering locally in ministry, and on mission trips and contributing to food collections and giving with abandon to special offerings.
In his book Neither Poverty nor Riches, subtitled A Biblical Theology of Possessions, Craig Blomberg promotes a graduated tithe in which one begins at a certain level and over time increases financial giving.
I knew a school teacher who did this. When his family was running out of money fast, he decided he would trust God no matter what. So, no matter what, he gave 10% to the church that year. The next year, he gave 11%. By the time I was met him, he was up to 33%. And God did provide. He was able to raise three children, own a home and retire with his needs met. Of the 33%, he gave a lot to ministries outside the church, which is great and is something I completely agree with.
One more thought on giving. We invest ourselves completely in ministry in the church. We begin our financial giving with a 10% tithe. We expand that through a graduated tithe and through extravagantly generous gifts both to the church and to ministries outside the church, and we do this out of a love response to God, as a way to participate in missions, and to advance the Kingdom.
And finally, we make all giving connected to prayer.
Giving money to God should not be thought of as some duty which I do so I can check it off a spiritual “to-do” list. Giving is to be, for Christ-followers, an expression of our worship and of our love relationship with God. It’s not that Jesus needs our money. It’s that Jesus desires us. By giving the money to causes that advance His kingdom, the money doesn’t come between Him and us. The money is not an obstacle blocking us from Christ; when we give it, money is a servant advancing the cause of Christ. We aren’t locking Him out of some area of our lives. We’re asking Him to bless us completely and asking that through our gifts, we would be privileged to be a small part of how He blesses others.
Everything I have said in this message boils down to one thing - the relationship we have with God in Jesus Christ. I can’t imagine life without Jesus in it. We can’t hear His voice of love, forgiveness, and guidance, when out money is clogging up our ears and fogging up our minds. So, we open up. We pray, and in joy and generosity, we give extravagantly. We are part of the growth of the kingdom.