Sunday, December 19, 2004

The Sabbath Essay - Storekeeping

Joshua 7 tells us the story of God’s people no longer experiencing God’s blessing, they had suffered defeat and experienced the abandonment of God. Why was this? They had “taken some of the devoted things” (7:11). Israel was not making an impact on the surrounding nations because she had taken things that belonged to God.

Jump forward 1000 years to the book of Malachi. God’s people are no longer experiencing God’s blessing. God has turned his back on them (3:7). The results were a lack of blessing on the community of Gods people; the work they did was eaten up and destroyed before it brought any real fruit; their reputation among the rest of the world was as nothing. Why was this? They too had taken what belonged to God (3:8)

The pattern of Joshua and Malachi indicates a common theme. That which belongs to God has not been given to Him. But could all these issues stem from one cause? God is not as close to us as we would like. In Malachi God calls His people to return to Him, but how are they to return? Malachi doesn’t get a list of faults, but receives only one answer from God, they are to give to God the tithes and offerings that belong to Him. This is where they are to start.

Tithing means giving to God 10% of our income. He has given us it all and He expects us to return a tenth to Him. Withholding the tithe by some was bringing a curse on the whole community of God’s people.

And the cupboard was bare
Jump forward another 2400 years. Take a look at the church. Are we prospering as a denomination? Is the church making an impact? Something has left us with congregations that are slowly dying, with young people deserting the church; with the church making very little impact on society; with a church that has little reputation among non-Christians; with faithful preaching that is not being blessed as much as it could be; with individuals who feel barren and lifeless.

Look again at the picture God paints in Mal. 3:6-12.

God’s people do not tithe, and as a result:-
  • God’s people experience barrenness.
  • God’s people sow but do not get a good harvest.
  • God’s people have no reputation among the nations.
All this is evidence that:-
  • God’s people are under God’s curse. (3:9)
What about our denomination overall - Can you spot the pattern?
  • Do we tithe as a denomination? (On average UK Christians’ givings are only 2% of their earnings.)
  • Are we experiencing barrenness? (Is our Church declining or growing?)
  • When we sow God’s word, is there growth, or are our harvests blighted? (How many conversions have we seen over the past year?)
  • Do those around us hold our Church up to ridicule? (Have we any impact on society as a Church?)
  • Where does that leave us then? (3:9)
A tithing church should be a healthy one; it should not surprise us if a penniless church is a barren one. Has God turned His back on it? The progress of God’s people is inextricably linked to their obedience in this matter. Is it because God needs the money? No, rather how we spend our money is our indication of where our heart is in relation to God. Are we willing to trust Him?

When we do not bring to God what is His, we are robbing Him, and as God’s people we suffer and the nations look at us in scorn. There is nothing more disgraceful than a church that struggles financially simply because its people will not tithe; or, shabby-looking church premises, or a minister unable to pay his bills; or, Synodical committees having to restrict their work because of lack of funds. These things are only true because God’s people have robbed God of the tithe. When we do not support the work of God according to the pattern set down in Scripture, it should not surprise us when it is not blessed as we expect it to be. If the shelves are empty it is our own fault.

Stacking the shelves
How do we rectify the situation?

Our money is an unavoidable pothole in our Christian growth. Tithing is a solution to our spiritual problems. If we are not faithful in this area, how can we expect God to bless and strengthen our faith? Becoming a tither is a breakthrough for every Christian. It unlocks the door of the mind, heart and will, freeing up what once was closed to the rich blessings of God. Tithing is so essential to our development as a Christian that nothing will be an adequate substitute. Until we are consistently, regularly and faithfully tithing there is something defective with our Christian life, that will not be remedied by any other form of obedience. But, when that area of obedience is dealt with, the blessings are wonderful.

If every church member tithed the Church could be far more active, but instead it is paralysed. The truth is, we have all the money we need for our Church’s work; the reality is that it is in many of our members’ pockets. The world looks on unimpressed by our witness. We speak of faith, so central to our witness, but our lives often show that our faith has not touched our bank balance. When a biographer of the Duke of Wellington discovered some of the man’s cheque-book stubs, he said “When I saw how he spent his money, I knew the man”. What does our cheque book or bank balance say about our values?

Whose grain is it anyway?
We should tithe because:-
  • God commands it.
  • It has an effect on God’s work on earth.
  • It has an effect on God’s work in us.
Our potential blessing should not be our motive for tithing, rather when we tithe we are saying thank you to God for His gracious gift of salvation. When we don’t give, we also rob God of our gratitude. In view of the fact of supreme sacrifice that the Son of God made for us we should want to give.

C.T. Studd - “If Jesus Christ be God and died for me, then no sacrifice is too great for me to make for Him.”

When we tithe we show that:-
1. We take the bible's commands seriously;
2. Our desire to see God's kingdom built up exceeds our desire for material things;
3. We acknowledge God as the giver of all things;
4. We are seeking to reflect Christ's generosity and love within the church.

Some may argue that as New Testament believers we don’t have to tithe, but it is generally the case that in the New Testament the obligations of Old Testament legislation are heightened rather than lessened. That is, the law is interpreted in the fullest measure. So while some people may argue that the tithe doesn’t apply, it is hard to think of any Christian, blessed with the fullness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, doing less. Why should we who have been blessed so abundantly be so ungenerous?

Which Storehouse?
The tithes were to be paid to support the work of the priests in the tabernacle. It is our duty to take our tithe to the place where we worship, i.e. our own church. This is the point Malachi is making when he says “Bring the tithes into the storehouse”. It corresponds with Paul’s statement that those who preach the Gospel “should receive their living from the Gospel”. (1Cor 9:14) Tithes, therefore should be solely and exclusively for the work of the church. We are bound to take our tithe to the Church of which we are members. To do otherwise is to short circuit the pattern God sets down.

People may say “It’s my money; I’ll give to whichever Christian organisations I want”. That’s fine, if you give from your money (the 90%), but the 10% is not yours to decide; it belongs to the storehouse, the place from where you are fed directly. This is why Moses said “All the tithe of the land is the Lord’s: it is holy to the Lord”. (Lev. 27:30) The tithe is to be entrusted to the Church that the Church may make proper decisions as to its use.

A Full storehouse
What tithing does for us is realised at two levels: the material and the spiritual, the spiritual being far more important. It would be a mistake to claim that every tither will have no financial problems. Hardship may come, the promise of blessing is a spiritual one. But what happens when we struggle with hardship? We learn to rely more on our Father, our faith is strengthened and we are blessed spiritually.

Young people may think that they cannot tithe, especially at university, but any money you have coming in should be tithed. You may think that your little bit will not matter. But it is not so much about what your money can do for the Church, but rather what God will do for the Church because of your obedience and faithfulness.

So let us start to give to God that which is His. If we would have God open his treasury, we must open ours. Let us do so, so that the storehouse will be full, full of our tithe and full of God’s blessing - a blessing on the work of God in our denomination, in our congregations and in our own lives.

Imagine the effects of a people tithing out of grateful hearts, holding God to His promise in Mal. 3. What would the church be like? An aura of expectancy; finances to fund mission work, not just in designated mission fields, but to start up congregations in towns throughout Ireland, and to support the work there. Our congregations would be full of people seeing all around them the effects of God honouring His promises, people living by faith, watching God stretch the 90% further than the 100% would ever have gone - people whose hearts are aflame for God.

Jim Elliot - “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” (Different context, same truth!)

Conclusion
There are only 2 directions to go from here - forwards or backwards. We can refuse to tithe and watch the repercussions on our denomination, or, we can start to tithe and wait with bated breath to see God at work.

If we refuse to tithe, we are like Achan. We sit in our tent, with silver hidden away that does not belong to us. We bring judgment on ourselves and on the community of God’s people and hold up the work of God’s kingdom. God has given us plenty of time to repent and start filling His storehouse. Let us determine to make this a priority, so that we may go forward as a church.

If our church is to proclaim the reality of “For Christ’s Crown and Covenant” we must be seen to live in obedience to the commands of the King, and live in faith in His covenantal promises.

“There was a man,
Some called him mad;
The more he gave,
The more he had.”
John Bunyan

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Great post in regards to tithing. The US faces a similar problem with regards to church attenders tithing and the problems associated with it.

It is interesting that when there is a financial crunch that the tithe is the first to go. Yet, christian financial advisors, like Crown, have gone out of their way to teach a more biblically based understanding that the tithe should be first and the rest should follow suite.

I like the idea that the NT generally builds on the OT laws and does not diminish them. I wonder if the Sabbath should go along with the tithe in such a circumstance. I have heard it many a time that in the NT that the tithe did not have to be 10% but what you are able to give. This does allow the giver more autonomy over such decisions. So as your thoughts state, are we to be autonomous over financial blessings though they are at least verbally acknowledged to be from God?

Another idea that has crept in is that a Christian will withold his funds until he is reasonable sure that these funds will be used properly. Again, we place final judgement not in the hands of a mighty God, but in the ideals and thoughts of finite man.

Great post! Keep up the good work

Mark Loughridge said...

Thanks for the comment. Good to know that someone is reading!

As regards to Sabbath keeping - I posted something on that not too long ago. It should be there if you scroll down the main page.

Anonymous said...

Mark,

I appreicate your posts...and, especially this one today... There's so much for us (me) to learn from Old Testament Israel..."these things happend to them, as examples for us..." "they're written for our instruction..." that we might learn from their mistakes...and that we, through patiencen and the encouragemnt of the Scriptures might have hope...

Just some brief thoughts on Joshua 7, beyond tithing…

v.1 When even one among the congregation (Achan) sinned, the anger of the LORD burned against Israel (as a congregated whole)…until the situation was dealt with according to God’s commandment…we're not in this alone...what we do, and don't do, effects the Church...

v.2 While this state of sin within the camp remained, God’s people could not stand against their enemy…and the hearts of the people “melted…”

v.3 Joshua sought the LORD in prayer…in confusion, and with concern for His Holy Name…

v.10 While seeking the LORD in prayer is certainly a good thing…in this situation, God very bluntly tells Joshua, “Get up! Why have you fallen on your face? Israel has sinned…” that’s why you can’t stand against your enemies…it’s time to act, it's time to deal with sin in the camp…

v.21 When the people of God, see the things of the world (those things devoted to destruction…or, even those things set aside by God for devotion to Him…even “good” things), and want (covet), and take, and hide (Achan knew he was wrong to take those things from the start…)…then, they cannot (I cannot…) stand against their (my) enemies.

A sad irony is found in the fact that once the sin was dealt with, and the LORD directs Joshua to move ahead against Ai (Joshua 8)…promising victory…He also makes it clear that this time, His people are allowed to take the spoil, the livestock, as plunder for themselves… If only we’d (I’d) learn to wait patiently for God to provide as He alone knows best, rather than, as little children, seeing, coveting, taking and hiding those things of the world, in an attempt to satisfy our cravings, apart from the promises of God…to our own destruction… We would be blessed beyond measure, and He would be Glorified in us…His people…

Mark Loughridge said...

Anon (no.2) - aka Victor - great thoughts. And great application about the next chapter. Indeed, if we give God his share, and wait patiently for him we will have more blessing than we cope with!

Jeremy Pierce said...

While I think most of what you say here is excellent, I want to point out that Malachi does deal with a number of other things, some of them before he deals with the tithing issue. That's not first. He first deals with the priests who weren't teaching the law, and I'm pretty sure the divorce issue (which probably involves both literal divorce and the spiritual adultery that divorce stands for) is also before the tithing issue.

Also, I'm not sure what the biblical justification for even having a literal 10% tithe in the New Testament. Paul makes it pretty clear that all giving is to be without compulsion and in joy. I have no doubt that he expected people to give more than 10%, in many cases far more, but that doesn't justify the legalistic limit that was appropriate in the old covenant because of what God was doing in the old covenant.

Mark Loughridge said...

Hi Jeremy,

I hear what you're saying - I certainly dont think that tithing is the only problem we have to rectify, like the people of Malachi's day there are many others.

And its not the case of if we are legalistic and give 10% that God is bound to bless us. It is fundamentally an issue of the heart. But that said, the question remains, is our relationship with God such that we are joyfully giving him a significant portion of what he has given to us?