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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

On Tithing

I have to admit that for a long time, I considered myself a Christian - a Christ-follower, but didn't do anything about tithing. That is to say, I was aware of the mandate for God's people to give the "first fruits" of ten percent. I just didn't respond to that awareness. I had knowledge but not action.

Somewhere along the line, obedience became something that mattered to me. It wasn't a particular conviction about tithing. Rather it was a dawning awareness that obedience to God mattered. Obedience in general - in all things really. Frankly, when I had become a Christian, the notion of obeying was probably the furthest thing from my mind.

Anyway, towards the end of that year (when obedience dawned on me) I asked my wife to add up what we'd given the church. We made a ledger and saw that week after week, month after month, our giving had gradually increased. As it turned out, we were surprised to find that just about 10% of what we'd earned that year had been given.

Our first reaction to that revelation was simply, "We can't afford that!" Then we realized it had already been done. Our second reaction - or conclusion - was that apparently we could afford that, because indeed we had.

How had that come to pass? Well, I had been sitting down on Sunday mornings with our checkbook. Each week I would sit there with it and ask, "Okay God. How much?" And a certain number would come into my mind. That would be the amount of the check that week.

Had God led us into tithing without our realizing it? It surely seemed that way. I had no other explanation. And I knew that I hadn't consciously chosen to tithe. There was absolutely no deliberate effort on my part. That was several years ago. But I'll never forget that revelation that God had led us into tithing, we could afford to tithe, and we were in fact --- now "tithers." Quite frankly, it's a label we had never considered giving ourselves.

God's people are supposed to tithe. We're supposed to give at least 10% of everything we make. And we're supposed to do more than that. Ten percent goes to God (the organized church). There are offerings and gifts well beyond that though. We're to help the poor and the needy. Indeed, God wants His people to be defined as generous. Did you know that?

Now that we've been tithers for many years, I have some experiential learning about it. Let me share some of it with you.

1. Tithing is an obedience issue. God said do it. So do it.

2. It puts God first in our priorities. God gets His first. So we give our tithe before we even think about paying other bills or spending on anything else.

3. It supplies the "temple" and means "the Levites" (i.e., pastors and church staff) can be properly cared for. Without the tithe, the church is handicapped and dysfunctional.

4. Tithing affirms that we are aware God is our provision - and that we are willing to trust Him for our provision. Even when financial matters are pressing, I tithe because I know God is faithful.

5. Tithing kills selfishness and greed. It's hard to fantasize about winning the lottery, for example, when I know that God gets the tithe right off the top. All my thinking about money is changed when I'm a tither.

6. Tithing brings special blessings. God said (in Malachi 3) that our obedience in tithing will result in special blessings and provisions. Said differently, obedience in tithing means God will bless our finances. It's His promise. Really it is.

So the final part of this experiential learning I have about tithing relates to where our giving is to come from. Frankly, 10% of say a million dollars isn't too difficult. God requires the first 10% for Himself. But He further instructs His people to be generous givers. In other words, God's directive with my finances doesn't stop with tithing. For wealthy people, for example, giving God 10% isn't going to require much of a sacrifice or much faith.

But I've learned that God's people are supposed to tithe and give out of our sacrifice, and not just out of our excess. That's right, give out of our sacrifice instead of giving out of our excess. What's the difference? Giving out of our sacrifice means that we give whatever amount it takes to cut into our comfort zone.

We are all to give to the point that it costs us something. For the poor, that's probably going to be 10%. But for the affluent, it's going to be a lot more. Ten percent is the minimum. And there is no cap.

The Lord loves a cheerful giver. (2 Corinthians 9:7) But I've learned that when this so-called cheerful giver loves the Lord and gives out of response to that love, much more can be accomplished with that giving.

I've often wondered why so many so-called Christians can --- as I did for years --- ignore or overlook this important mandate to tithe. Frankly, I'm amazed at how many years I called myself a Christian and didn't tithe. How could I have been so ignorant and unaware?

Call it ignorance. Call it heresy. Call it whatever you want to call it. But I suspect that all most of us would need to become tithers is simply to allow God to lead us. He can lead us into that tither role, without our ever realizing He's doing it.

He is a merciful God. But He wants you and I to be tithers. He wants you and I to give generously. And He wants each of us to give from our sacrifice and not just from our excess. It's how God's people are to be defined. It is His will for our lives.

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