The Main Thing
April 25, 2010
It’s almost over, can you feel it in the air? Almost an electricity as people wait expectantly for April to be over. They don’t care what Denn will be preaching next week or the week after that they just know it won’t be about Money. By the way next week I will be preaching on Sin. Which leads me to a funny story that has nothing to do with this week’s message. That is the joy of combining my ADHD tendencies with sermon preparation. Look a squirrel.
The story is told that when Calvin Coleridge was president he had to attend church alone one Sunday because his wife was sick. Now obviously the President didn’t always pay attention to the message because when he got home his wife quizzed him and asked “So what did the pastor preach on?” The president thought for a moment and replied “Sin.” “And what did he say about sin?” probed his wife. The president thought again and replied “he was against it.”
But that’s next week.
Two weeks ago I preached on the little things, the minutia, the details, and we looked at Luke 8:2-3 Among them were Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons; Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s business manager; Susanna; and many others who were contributing their own resources to support Jesus and his disciples. And we looked at that last line who were contributing their own resources to support Jesus and his disciples. And some of you commented to me after the message that you never really stopped and thought about the practical aspects of Christ’s ministry and how those needs were met. What they ate, where they slept and what they did when their sandals wore out. The little things, the minutia, the details. The same type of needs that have to be met in churches all over the world to one degree or another and here at Cornerstone specifically. And Then I looked at the reasons why these folks gave out of their own resources to support Jesus and his disciples. They gave because they loved Jesus and They gave because they believed in the mission.
And then last week we looked at the big things, and specifically we looked back into 1 Chronicles 29:3 “And now, because of my devotion to the Temple of my God, I am giving all of my own private treasures of gold and silver to help in the construction. This is in addition to the building materials I have already collected for his holy Temple.”
This was the beginning of what would be the biggest project ever embarked upon by the people of Israel, what some people today would refer to as a BHAG or Big Hairy Audacious Goal, a term first made popular by Jim Collins the author of “From Good to Great”.
And in last week’s message we looked at the sacrifices that were made to build this temple, by the King, his leaders and the people of Israel. And the bottom line was they gave for two reasons: They gave because they loved God and they gave because they believed in the mission.
So we looked at the little things and we looked at the big things, and those who gave to meet both those needs. This week I want to look at the main thing, the thing that both groups had in common. Yes they did give, they gave sacrifically and they gave in order to express their love for God and their belief in the mission. But there is something else they shared. You see all the people involved were Jews who lived under Jewish law including Leviticus 27:30 “One tenth of the produce of the land, whether grain from the fields or fruit from the trees, belongs to the Lord and must be set apart to him as holy.” And so before the people of Israel contributed to the temp of Godtemple they paid their tithe and before Mary and Susanna and Joanna and the others gave from their own resources in order to support Jesus and the disciples they paid their tithe.
Tithe is one of those churchy words, and sometimes those of us in the church suffer from the curse of too much knowledge. We know what a certain words means and we assume that everybody else does as well, but there are some questions that I hear from time to time about tithing , and we’ll try to answer those this morning.
The first is The What of the Tithe? In its simplest form tithe simply means a tenth. In the Greek the word that is used is δεκάτη or Dekate. “Dec” you know like decade is ten years or The Decalogue is the Ten Commandments, and a decapod is a creature with ten legs like a lobster or a crab. The decimal system is based on the number 10 and in the old Roman Calendar December was the Tenth month and decametre is 10 metres. But that isn’t the way it is normally used, it is normally used to mean a tenth that is given to God or to the church. And it was first mentioned in Genesis 14 where we are introduced to a mysterious King and Priest by the name of Melchizedek. The only introduction we have is in Genesis 14:18 And Melchizedek, the king of Salem and a priest of God Most High, brought Abram some bread and wine. That’s really all we know about him, he was the King of Salem, a priest of God Most High and he brought Abraham some bread and wine. After this incident we don’t hear from him again until Psalm 110 and then nothing until the New Testament Book of Hebrews.
But we do read this Genesis 14:20 And blessed be God Most High, who has defeated your enemies for you.” Then Abram gave Melchizedek a tenth of all the goods he had recovered.
The next time the tithe is mentioned is later in the book of Genesis when Abraham’s grand-son Jacob is feeling blessed and decides to make an offering to the Lord and we read in Genesis 28:22 “And this memorial pillar I have set up will become a place for worshiping God, and I will present to God a tenth of everything he gives me.”
Now isn’t that strange, of all the choices that Jacob could make he decides on the very same amount that Abraham did. No written instructions. No law. This was before the bible said “a tithe belongs to the lord” matter of fact it was before the bible. He could have made a hundred choice, 1%, 2%, and 3%, all the way up to 100%. Could it be that God told Him?
And then of course when the law was laid down we arrive at the scripture I had mentioned earlier Leviticus 27:30 “One tenth of the produce of the land, whether grain from the fields or fruit from the trees, belongs to the Lord and must be set apart to him as holy.”
The next question I get asked is The Why of the Tithe People wonder why it had to be dictated what people should give? Couldn’t God have just asked people to give and then leave it up to each person to determine what they should give? Perhaps. But there was The Philosophy of the Tithe and that was recognizing that what we have isn’t ours at all, instead it comes from God. The tithe was the acknowledgement of that. It puts us in our place and God in His place. It allows us to acknowledge that we exist because of him and that all we have is because of him.
So why not just let it happen? You know, let people decide on their own to give back to God and then let them decide how much to give to God. But seriously do you think with human nature being what human nature is that would work? How many people would just give? It’s not just the church that has to ask for money, every organization that does good things needs to ask good people to support their work. Do you think without the Christmas Daddies Telethon each year people would just decide to send their money in? How many people driving down the Bedford Highway go by “Feed Nova Scotia” and stop and give them food or money, just because.
There was also The Necessity of the Tithe. The tithe wasn’t just collected for fun, it was collected to support God’s work. 3000 years ago it was used for the sacrifices that were offered to God, to maintain the tabernacle and eventually the temple and to support the priest’s whose job it was to lead people into the presence of God. Even back then there were musical instrument that needed to be purchased and maintained, building maintenance to be done and salaries to be paid. It was for God’s work and it was God’s people who were expected to support it. And throughout the Old Testament or the New Testament you will not find evidence of a bean supper, raffle sale or chariot wash to support the work of the Lord, you will just find God’s people giving.
And there was The Fairness of the Tithe. It wasn’t expected that any one person would do it all, nor was it expected that everyone would give the same regardless of their circumstances. By being 10% it allowed each to give according to what had been given to them. So the man with only 10 Shekels gave one shekel and he couldn’t complain about why the man who had 100 shekels only had to give 1 shekel, because he had to give 10 shekels. And the man who had 100 shekels couldn’t complain that he had to give ten times more than the other man without acknowledging that he made ten times more than the other man. And as your tithe increased it was an acknowledgement of the blessing upon your life.
I can remember when I made less pastoring my first church in college than I tithe today, and that isn’t a reflection on how much I make now nearly as much as how little I made then.
The Continuance of the Tithe If I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard “But isn’t the tithe an Old Testament concept?” I’d have a lot of nickels. And my answer is “Sure is, along with thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not commit adultery and thou shalt not lie.” And Jesus didn’t negate those commands he raised them to a higher standard. He said “It’s not enough to not kill someone, you can’t even hate them.” He told us “It’s not enough to refrain from committing adultery, you shouldn’t even think about it.” And “It’s not enough to not break an oath, you word should be so good that you shouldn’t have to take an oath”
With that in mind why would Jesus raise the bar on other Old Testament concepts and lower it on giving?
And take the case of the Pharisees, Jesus did not like these guys every time you see them together in the scriptures they are fighting; they mix like oil and water. And Jesus condemned the Pharisees for a lot of things but there was one thing that he commended them for and that is found in Matthew 23:23 “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, 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.” Jesus didn’t tell them to practice justice, mercy and faith instead of tithing; he told them to practice justice mercy and faithfulness while tithing. He condemned them for hypocrisy, he condemned them for neglecting important things, he called them tombs full of dead men’s bones, he called them snakes, but he commended them for their tithing. And they weren’t just tithing the big things they were tithing the little things as well, they were tithing their birthday money and their winning roll up the rim cups.
Listen to what Paul wrote to the believers in the city of Corinth 1 Corinthians 16:2 On the first day of each week, you should each put aside a portion of the money you have earned. Don’t wait until I get there and then try to collect it all at once. Acts 18 tells us that the Corinthian church was started by converted Jews, now remember that the law was pretty explicit about the tithe, if you were to tell a Jew that they should set aside a sum of money for God’s work in keeping with their income I wonder what amount would come to mind? Throughout the gospels Jesus commended people for giving ten percent or more but he never commended anyone for giving less than ten percent. On two occasions he even told people to give everything they had, and when he praised the widow in the temple it was because she had given everything that she had.
The Result of the Tithe A lot of people think they have that figured out, they figure that the result of the tithe is that they will have 10% less to spend where they want. But the scriptures point to a whole different result, listen again to the scripture that was read earlier Malachi 3:10 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!”
That is the word of God, the promise of God. He is telling us that he will bless us for being obedient. Does that mean we’ll get more money? Well, do you believe the concept of all we have as coming from God, he has entrusted us with our material possessions to make an impact on this world. And we can choose to do that or choose not to do that and that is entirely up to us. But if we choose to spend what was meant for the sacred on the secular then God is not going to bless us. The concept is laid out in Luke 16:10 When Jesus said “If you are faithful in little things, you will be faithful in large ones. But if you are dishonest in little things, you won’t be honest with greater responsibilities.
The New International Version says it this way Luke 16:10 “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with very much.”
But of course that also involve your motives, if you are just giving to get you’re not giving you’re investing. The blessing you receive is the blessing of being obedient, of knowing that what you are doing will make an eternal difference, not just a temporal one.
And each one of us will decide what we will give, some will give a tenth of what they have and others give a tenth of what they ought to give. Here is a thought that I mention every year, You should give according to your income, lest God make your income according to your giving. So here’s a question, could you live on 10 times what you give to the church each week?
Is this where you’d live? Is this what you’d drive and is this what you’d eat? Just asking.
So let’s end with something a little different.
The Top Ten Reasons for not Making Your Mortgage Payment
10. The only time I ever hear from the bank is when they want money. They never pay attention to my other needs.
9. I’m upset at the bank president. He said some things I don’t agree with.
8. That house payment is a tenth of my income. That’s a whole lot more than I can really afford.
7. I’ll give them what I can every month. But I don’t want to make any long-range promises.
6. We went on vacation last month. The bank will have to wait while we catch up on other bills.
5. I’ll support the bank with my prayers. That ought to do more good than my measly little payment.
4. The bank spends too much money on itself. When it starts giving more away, then I’ll start making mortgage payments again.
3. The bank has a lot of rich customers. It can get along fine without my little payment.
2. I support another bank that needs my money more.
1. I want to spend my money on me.
But ultimately people didn’t give because of the law, they didn’t give because of the blessing they gave because they loved God and they gave because they believed in the mission.
We’ve looked at the little things and we’ve looked at the big things and the main thing is not whether you tithe or not but whether you are obedient or not. And there are two reasons why you will give to Cornerstone You’ll give because you love Jesus and you will give because you believe in the mission.