When you think about giving, are you thinking about God's pledge of blessing or grumbling about your ever-decreasing wallet?
The temptation of Jesus recounted in Matthew 4 is a phenomenal and pivotal point in Scripture. Here we see Jesus — the God-man! — subjected to the same kind of daily temptations to fear, pride and power that we face. He is hungry. He is weak. He is as vulnerable. When tempted with food, He reminds the devil that God's Word is what truly nourishes. When tempted with an inflated sense of self, He responds that right relationship with God doesn't involve testing His love. Jesus says, "You shall not put the Lord your God to the test."
Jesus' words are a strong rebuke to the kind of "deal-making" faith that some are tempted to adopt. Yet, there is one area of life in which God not only allows us to test Him, but actually challenges us to. Consider His words delivered by the prophet Malachi:
From the days of your fathers you have turned aside from my statutes and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you, says the Lord of hosts. But you say, 'How shall we return?' Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, 'How have we robbed you?' In your tithes and contributions. You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you. Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need. I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it will not destroy the fruits of your soil, and your vine in the field shall not fail to bear, says the Lord of hosts (Malachi 3:7-11, emphasis mine).
The bolded line of Malachi 3:10 bears repeating: "Bring the full tithe…put me to the test," says the Lord. See "if I will not open the windows of heaven and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need."
Wow. When you think about giving, are you thinking about God's pledge of blessing or grumbling about your ever-decreasing wallet?
Tithing — that is, giving 10 percent of one's income back to God — is emphasized more strongly within some church traditions than others. For some, a tithe is the only right measure of giving. Other theologians view the tithe as one of the ceremonial laws of the Old Testament that was abolished once the Messiah came. The churches I have attended stress stewardship of time, talent and treasure, but don't promote the tithe as the only response to God's blessing. Still others consider the tithe a starting point for charitable giving. Why cap it at all?
According to a Barna report, tithing is practiced by very few people. Just 5 percent of Americans gave away 10 percent or more of their income in 2007. However some groups were more likely to tithe than others:
- evangelicals (24% of those surveyed tithed)
- conservatives (12%)
- people who had prayed, read the Bible and attended a church service during the past week (12%)
- charismatic or Pentecostal Christians (11%)
- registered Republicans (10%)
Barna also identified several groups that were highly unlikely to tithe: "people under the age of 25, atheists and agnostics, single adults who have never been married, liberals, and [adults making less than $20,000 annually and who have not attended college]. One percent or less of the people in each of those segments tithed in 2007."
There's a good chance that you fall into one or more of these last categories: young, unmarried or still rubbing too few nickels together. Tithing probably ranks around No. 578 on your list of priorities. Then, too, there is the troubled economy and an uncertain future. The unemployment rate has been above 8 percent for most of the past four years, with even higher numbers for young adults (12.7 percent in August 2012). Further, more than 45 million people are now receiving food stamps.
A time of severe belt tightening is not the time to launch out on generous philanthropy programs, right? Not so, says one secular economist I have followed. She said that it is most important to give when you have less. Perhaps, she's been reading her Bible.
The Bible teaches us time and again that in God's economy, those who have the least to give — and yet do so — are those who wind up receiving the greatest blessings.
Who can forget that gnarled old widow who baked cakes for Elijah with her last bit of flour and oil? Her last supper became the supper that lasted for years while the rest of Israel starved. Hundreds of years later, after a long period of falling away, Hezekiah became king of Judah and ordered that the tithes be given again. The Bible says that the gifts were so numerous that they lay in heaps. In 2 Chronicles 31:10 chief priest Azariah states, "Since they began to bring the contributions into the house of the Lord, we have eaten and had enough and have plenty left, for the Lord has blessed his people, so that we have this large amount left."
Other examples remind us that giving is about far more than currying favor with God. The Bible's most famous destitute giver is the widow who put two copper coins into the temple treasury, a gift of all she had. Then, there was a wee lad who gave his two fish and five barley loaves to feed five thousand men, plus women and children, on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. Although these stories mention nothing about a personal blessing, they stand out thousands of years later as the actions of faithful and loving hearts.
Just Start Somewhere
Sometime before I got married and was just getting established professionally (read: poor) I stepped out in faith and began to give a full tithe. There was no fanfare, and at that time I wasn't aware of God's words in Malachi 3:10. It was an act of faith; for me, the right thing to do. Once married, we maintained the tithe and have never looked back.
And we have run the gamut from having less than $100 to years where we had more money in our bank account than we could account for. I began to see how if God can turn water into wine and multiply fish into loaves, He can multiply our savings with a compounding mechanism beyond understanding if He wants to. Throughout it all, we have always felt the hand of blessing on us.
Perhaps, we simply found the freedom Jesus described when He invited us to not worry about anything. God's love, He assures us in Matthew 6:25-34, will carry us through. Getting to that place of trust was difficult, but we have found we never want to leave. No amount of money can buy the peace we feel.
One thing I want to avoid here is to create a new legalism. I don't think for a moment that God won't bless a person because she isn't giving a full 10 percent. Although some promote a strict adherence to giving the "first fruits" of every paycheck, we don't always have every week parsed out exactly. We do, however, keep track of our giving throughout the year and try to make sure we're caught up by the end. One year we came up short quite a bit, but found three excellent mission opportunities the following year to which we were able to contribute.
Withholding From God
Thinking back to Jesus' responses to Satan's temptations, it is clear that God is after a deep, abiding and love-filled relationship with us. All of the devil's designs — and they are myriad and powerful — are meant to disrupt this precious relationship. What God has given to bless us and others becomes twisted into something possessive and self-serving.
David Kyle Foster recounts a story that he heard from Bishop Chuck Jones of Selma, Ala., which diagnoses true poverty, the hardness of our hearts:
One day a beggar saw a magi and his entourage approaching from a distance. He was quite poor, owning only the bowl of rice in his hands. As the magi drew near, the beggar cried out "Oh magi, if you would please share with me out of the bounty that God has placed into your hands, I might live another day." The magi stepped down from his carriage and said to the beggar, "I am so very hungry today. Would you give me your bowl of rice?" The beggar was astonished and a bit peeved that such a rich man would be asking him for anything when he was the one in need. So he ran his fingers through the rice in his bowl and finally brought two grains to give to the magi. The magi thanked him, mounted his carriage and rode off down the road. By then, the beggar was fuming and ran his fingers through the rice once again, suddenly noticing a piece of gold the size and shape of a grain of rice. He frantically scrounged around some more and found a second grain of gold, but no more. Looking up as the magi began to fade from sight in the distance, he cried, "Magi—if I had only known, I would have given you the entire bowl!"
The weight of these stories suggests that God desires to do the same thing with our money and goods as the rest of our life. God takes what we offer and makes it so much more than we ever could. The only parts of our life untouched by blessing are those we withhold from God. Giving involves permitting God to expand our hearts toward Him and others. He stretches us according to the measure of faith we place in Him.
Developing the practice of cheerful giving at this stage of life is likely one of the most important things you can do for your earthly and eternal future. God does not need your money; He desires your heart and knows that where your treasure is there will be your heart will be also.
But don't take my word for it.
Copyright 2012 Daniel Weiss. All rights reserved.