|CASH AND THE COMMITTED CHRISTIAN
Pastor Stephen Muncherian
January 13, 2002
I invite you to turn with me in your Bibles to Deuteronomy 8:11-20. This morning we’re focusing on stewardship - and especially financial stewardship.
I’d like to begin by saying that our goal this morning is not to make anyone feel guilty or to make a pitch for money. Financial Stewardship is never intended by God to be a guilt thing. Stewardship of money - giving in obedience to God’s will and direction - is intended by God to help us grow closer to God - to experience His blessings - to live in a deepening - dependent - relationship with Him. That’s where our focus is this morning. How giving God’s way helps draw us into a deepening relationship with Him.
Deuteronomy 8:11-20 - The Hebrew nation is at the Jordan River - ready to enter the Promised Land - Moses is speaking. He’s giving a warning to the Hebrew nation - a sobering warning that is as relevant today as it was when Moses first gave it.
Starting at verse 11: “Beware that you do not forget the Lord your God, by not keeping His commandments and His ordinances and His statutes, which I am commanding you today; otherwise, when you have eaten and are satisfied, and have built good houses and lived in them, and when your herds and flocks multiply, and your silver and gold multiply, and all that you have multiplies, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God who brought you out from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. He led you through the great and terrible wilderness, with its fiery serpents and scorpions and thirsty ground where there was no water; He brought water for you out of the rock of flint. In the wilderness He fed you manna which your fathers did not know, that He might humble you and that He might test you, to do good to you in the end. Otherwise, you might say in your heart, ‘My power and the strength of my hand made me this wealth.’ But you shall remember the Lord your God, for it is He who is giving you power to make wealth, that He may confirm His covenant which He swore to your fathers, as it is this day. It shall come about if you ever forget the Lord your God and go after other gods and serve them and worship them, I testify against you today that you will surely perish. Like the nations that the Lord makes to perish before you, so you shall perish; because you would not listen to the voice of the Lord your God.”
The bottom line of what Moses says is this: When God blesses you materially remember that it was God who blessed you. Financial Stewardship - giving in obedience to God’s will and direction - is remembering God. Done God’s way we experience His continued blessing - not His condemnation.
As I’ve been thinking this through practically - how this warning can be applied to our lives today - I’d like to share Four Foundational Principles of Tithing. My goal in sharing these principles is not to preach about tithing in the sense that you must give 10%. Let’s not get stuck on the number 10. My goal is to share the principles of tithing that help us to do what Moses is talking about - principles of giving that help us deepen our relationship with God.
There’s more to tithing than the number ten. The tithe is an expressions of deep theological truths - an act of remembrance of God’s sovereignty - an expression of our personal relationship with God.
So, here are the Four Principles of Tithing. First: THE PRINCIPLE OF REGULARITY.
To tithe is to give regularly - week in and week out - monthly. We give obediently when the time to give comes - purposefully - regardless of our mood or circumstances.
Money represents days and hours of sweat and tears. There’s a certain amount of pain in giving. We’re giving a part of ourselves. The decision to remember God and give regularly takes a lot of that pain away. As the saying goes, we don’t have to cut the dog’s tail off an inch at a time. Prayerfully - before God - we make one basic decision, and then it’s simply a matter of carrying out that decision regularly and systematically.
Regularity also saves us from self-deception. If we give nothing for a time, and then for a special appeal - a Banquet or the Bazaar or something else - we give $100 - we deceive ourselves that we’ve been very generous. But if we divide $100 up by the number of weeks in a year - how many of us would claim that giving less than $2 a week was really honoring God for all of His blessings.
First giving is regular. Second: THE PRINCIPLE OF PROPORTIONALITY.
John Wesley was a teacher at Oxford University back in the 1700’s. When he began his career he was paid 30 pounds per year - in those days a lot of money. His living expenses were 28 pounds - so he gave 2 pounds away.
The next year his income doubled - but he still managed to live on 28 pounds - so he gave away 32 pounds. The third year he earned 90 pounds - lived on 28 - and gave away 62. And so the years went by. One year his income was a little over 1,400 pounds - he lived on 30 and gave away nearly all of the 1,400 pounds.
Wesley felt that the Christian should not merely tithe but give away all extra income once the family and creditors were taken care of. He believed that with increasing income, what should rise is not the Christian’s standard of living but the standard of giving.
God blesses us not so we can spend more on ourselves. God blesses us materially because He want to use those resources according to His will - for His glory - in His work of redeeming mankind from sin.
When we start totaling up a church budget and dividing it by the number of giving units to determine “what’s my share” or what’s expected of every member - it puts us in the driver seat. Giving becomes filling out the annual pledge cards - a transaction between us and our church treasurer.
Tithing encourages us to examine our real needs - to consider our income - our resources - our blessings - in order to determine - in obedience - what share God would have us give. Giving becomes a transaction between us and God, who gave it all to us in the first place - with a purpose. The question is, “What proportion - how much can I give for God’s work?”Regularity - Proportionality - third: THE PRINCIPLE OF PRIORITY.
There’s a story about a farmer who went into the house one day to tell his wife and family some good news. He said, “The cow just gave birth to twin calves, one black and one white. We need to dedicate one of these calves to the Lord. We’ll bring them up together, and when the time comes, we’ll sell one and keep the proceeds and we’ll sell the other and give the proceeds to the Lord’s work.”
When his wife asked him which one he was going to dedicate to the Lord. The farmer said, “There’s no need to think about that now, we’ll treat them both the same way, and when the time comes, we’ll do as I say.”
A few days later, the farmer came into the kitchen looking very unhappy. His wife asked, “What happened?” The farmer replied, “I have bad news. The Lord’s calf is dead.”
His wife said, “Wait, you didn’t decide which calf was the Lord’s.”
The farmer said, “Yes, I decided it was the white one, and the white one died. The Lord’s calf is dead.”
It may seem prudent to take care of all our necessities and then to look around to see if something is left for God. But honestly - it’s amazing how many necessities we have that can eat up our resources.
To tithe is to put God first - to set aside God’s share first - off the top - the gross - the net - whatever - not the bottom. When we do that it reorganizes our life. All that beautiful language about “God first, others are second, and I’m third” becomes concrete and real for the first time.
Regularity - Proportionality - Priority - Fourth: THE PRINCIPLE OF TRUST.
I once heard about a 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 $500 per week and tithing $50. In a few years his income increased and he was tithing $500 per week.
The man 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 back to $500 per week, then you’d have no problem tithing $50.”
Giving is a very difficult issue to talk about. Especially in these days - with all the demands on our finances - there are some very hard choices that we need to make. Providing for our families - planning for retirement - living in the Bay Area isn’t cheap. Our dollars get stretched.
Most of us can’t see how we’re going to live off 100% of our income. If we give 5% away, can we really make it on 95%? If we give 15% away can we really make it on 85%?
Deeply imbedded in tithing is the principle of trust. If we actually give God the priority - take God’s share off the top - then we begin to trust God. Tithing teaches us to live life trusting God’s promise that He will take care of our needs. We may have to simplify life or do without. But giving that doesn’t reorganize our life and remind us that God is the one who provides - that God is to be remembered and honored - if giving doesn’t make us step out in faith - giving will not deepen our relationship with God at all.
Now, in thinking about how these four principles apply to us - I’d like to come back to the number 10. Is 10% a floor so that anyone giving less than 10% really isn’t a Christian? Or is 10% a ceiling, so that if we make that ceiling we never need to give any more?
Its very interesting that the New Testament nowhere lays this 10% guilt trip on us. Jesus talked incessantly about money, but only twice does He mention the tithe - both times because of its abuse.
The Apostle Paul never mentions 10%. What he does mention are precisely the principles that we just talked about. Paul summarizes New Testament giving this way - 1 Corinthians 16:2 - “On the first day of every week, - give regularly - each one of you is to put something aside and store it up - God’s part comes off first - as he may prosper...” - give proportionately. And then, in Philippians 4:19 he says, “My God will supply every need of yours” - so give trusting God. In the freedom that Jesus gives us we are responsible for fixing our own percentage. God knows that some of us have heavy obligations - children in college - aging parents - or that we may be deeply in debt from some catastrophe. And others of us may be relatively free - children grown and on their own - only ourselves and our retirement to think of.
It would be unfair to impose a uniform percentage on all of us. There are some who can tithe in the sense of giving regularly, proportionately, with priority and trust in God with a proportion of less than 10 %. And there are others who will not be tithing in that sense until they give 20%, 30%, or even more.
Jesus gives to us salvation - joy - peace - healing - security - eternity. Man marvels at such a pearl and says, “I want this pearl. How much does it cost?”
The seller says, “Its too dear - too costly.”
“But how much?”
“Well, its very expensive.”
“Do you think I could buy it?”
“It cost everything you have - no more - no less - anybody can buy it.”
“I’ll buy it.”
“What do you have? Let’s write it down.”
“I have $87,000 in the bank.”
“Good, $87,000. What else?”
“I don’t have anything else. That’s all I have.”
“Well, I have some money in my pocket.”
“Well, 30, 40, 46, $47.”
“Great. What else do you have?”
“Where do you live?”
“I live in my house.”
“The house too.”
“You mean I have to live in the garage?”
“You have a garage? That too. What else?”
“You probably want the car too.”
“You have a car?”
“Well, actually - two.”
“Both cars - what else? - wife?”
“Yes, I have a wife and three children.”
“Your wife and children - what else?”
“I have nothing else. I’m left alone now.”
“Oh, you too. Everything becomes mine. Wife, children, house, money, cars, everything. And you too. Now you can use all those things here but don’t forget they’re mine, as you are. When I need any of the things you’re using, you must give them to me because now I’m the owner.”
When we turn our lives over to Jesus, it costs us everything. When we give to God - we live in the reality of that relationship. While the tithe of the Old Testament is no longer binding in the church age the underlying principles are still relevant and a tremendous help to us today. Giving with regularity, in proportion, with priority, with trust - deepens our dependence on God and reminds us that He is still sovereign over the provision for our daily lives and over our relationship with Him.