Monday, March 3, 2008

Learning to Tithe

Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was the priest of God Most High. And he blessed him and said: “Blessed be Abram of God Most High, possessor of heaven and earth; and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand.” And he gave him a tithe of all. (Genesis 14:18-20)

And this stone which I have set as a pillar shall be God's house, and of all that You give me I will surely give a tenth to You. (Genesis 28:22)

Tithing is a somewhat controversial subject for many Christians today. Some legalistically promote it, insisting that if we do not pay the tithe, we are robbing God. Others are virulently opposed to it because in Jesus Christ we are no longer under the Law of Moses. My own understanding is that we are no longer under the obligation of law to tithe; but I find there are Old Testament examples of tithing that predate the law, tithes given freely out of devotion to God. Abraham tithed and was blessed by God (Genesis 14:18-20 and 15:1); so did Jacob (Genesis 28:22). In both instances, the tithe flowed from blessing to blessing. That is, they were blessed both before and after they tithed. Although we are not obligated to tithe, I believe God still honors it today.

Tithing is giving, but a precise giving, offering to God the first tenth. It is a priority of giving, the first portion; and it is a proportion of giving, the tenth.

Nobody is cursed for not tithing. Nobody goes without blessing for not tithing, for we have already been given every spiritual blessing in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 1:3), and that is the basis for every manifestation of blessing in the natural realm.

Relationship is key. Neither God, nor prayer, nor tithing is like a vending machine — put your coin in here, pull the lever, and receive your selection there. Rather, it is all about knowing the Lord, hearing His voice, learning His heart, walking with Him, being led by Him. This is soul prosperity, which John talks about in 3 John 2 ("even as your soul prospers"). Gaius, to whom John wrote, understood the heart of God and walked in truth and love. His soul prospered out of his relationship with God. John’s prayer was that the prosperity of his soul would translate into prosperity in all the areas of his life. If right relationship with God is not at the center, neither tithing nor anything else matters. But, as Jesus taught us, when we seek first the kingdom of God (His rule and reign) and His rightness, everything else will be taken care of (Matthew 6:33).

About a dozen or so years ago, when I first began to seriously consider tithing, I asked, “Lord, how can we tithe and still pay our bills?” Money was very tight and there were always extra expenses that would take us by surprise — and we would go into panic mode. We had already learned something about giving, but it was more about us and how much we could afford to give, and not so much about the faithfulness of God. So we gave out of what was left over. It was considerably less than ten per cent. But here I was, considering doing something that I thought was really going to bite into our finances and our ability to pay our bills.

Now, I knew that the Mosaic law called for the tithe, and I had already heard of Malachi 3, where God reiterated that call to Israel, with the promise that He would open the windows of heaven and pour out such blessing that they would not be able to contain it all, and that He would also rebuke the devourer for them. I remembered that Abraham had tithed, and was blessed by God. I learned that Jacob also tithed, and was likewise blessed by God. So here was a biblical pattern, confirmed by more than three witnesses, that we could give at least ten per cent and not only expect to survive, but also to prosper. As Paul notes, though we are not under the covenant of law, the Old Testament does give us many things as examples for us to learn from. So the example of tithing in the Old Testament emboldened my faith to set that as a goal.

My wife and I talked it over and finally made the commitment that we were going to become tithers. “Lord, You are going to have to get us there.” It did not happen over night. But we established our target. We started at the level where we were already giving and began to increase it, slowly at first, but then we accelerated as we began to see that we could meet our obligations. My wife, who kept the budget and checkbook, began to see bills and debts getting paid off, and she was not quite sure how we were now able to do it. She kept calling it "fishes and loaves," like when Jesus multiplied a meager amount and caused it to meet a need that was considerably bigger. That encouraged us greatly.

Our financial condition kept improving. As it did, we were able to upgrade our cars and various things we needed for our home. One result is that things were not breaking down nearly as much—God was rebuking the devourer for us — and when they did break down, we did not shift into panic mode as we had done before, but had peace, trusting that God had shown Himself faithful to us and would take care of whatever we needed.

After four or five years, we finally reached our goal: We were tithing. It was on the net increase, but we were tithing. We did not stop there but kept on going, and soon we were tithing on the gross increase. Since then we have regularly increased our giving — we don't want to become stagnant and complacent about it — and we have seen that God is faithful to supply us seed to sow and bread to eat, just as He said (2 Corinthians 9:10). And our financial situation continually improves.

I say all this to show the value of the Biblical examples of tithing for building up our faith in God. My wife and I have learned to honor God with our possessions and the firstfruits of all our increase. Not the last and the least, but the first and the best. It is no longer about us and what we can afford to give, but about Him and His faithfulness to provide for us. When we tithe, it speaks and prophesies that we have a mighty God who will always take care of our needs and do it abundantly, just as Paul said: "God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work" (2 Corinthians 9:8). We do not tithe out of any obligation of law — that would taint the work of the Lord Jesus Christ in establishing the new covenant — but as an opportunity for God to be glorified and His grace revealed.

We have never regretted our decision.

Tithing is not an obligation of law but an opportunity of grace.

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