The earth is the LORD'S, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein.
And at that time were some appointed over the chambers for the treasures, for the offerings, for the firstfruits, and for the tithes, to gather into them out of the fields of the cities the portions of the law for the priests and Levites: for Judah rejoiced for the priests and for the Levites that waited.
For most Christians the checkbook or bank account is one of the last strongholds from which self has not been driven. It is no wonder that the area of giving is often one of the first to change when personal revival occurs. During the great revival in Israel under King Hezekiah, one of the reforms that took place was in giving of tithes and firstfruits (2 Chronicles 31:4-10). Another example of this can be seen at the salvation of Zacchaeus in Luke 19:8. Giving is obviously a critical area for the normal Christian in order to have a right walk with God.
In this lesson we shall study some precepts surrounding our possessions and look at some associated kinds of giving. In the next lesson we shall look at some more general principles about giving.
There are three precepts concerning possessions that every Christian needs to have firmly planted within his heart and mind.
How often does the phrase "That's mine" enter our thoughts if not also escape from our lips. It is a cry that comes from self and needs to be confronted with a taste of reality. Nothing that we call our own really belongs to us, for God owns everything. How could we say this any better than the Psalmist, "The earth is the LORD'S, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein" (Psalm 24:1, see also Psalm 50:10-12 and Haggai 2:8). No wonder God could accuse the Israelites of stealing from Him in Malachi 3:8.
It should be no surprise that if God owns everything, then it is Him and not us that is in control of everything that we have. As Job said, "Naked came I out of my mother's womb, and naked shall I return thither: the LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD (Job 1:21). Martin Luther discovered this: "I have tried to keep things in my hands and lost them all, but what I have given into God's hands I still possess." What Martin Luther found was that a man can work as hard as he wants to acquire possessions, but in the end it is God that controls what we have and have not. This is a precept that many a Christian needs to firmly grasp before they find themselves in a financial mess. "Give according to your income, lest God make your income according to your giving" (Peter Marshall).
This precept is so strongly presented in the book of Haggai in the lives of those who had a duty to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. God reminded these people who was in control when they failed to take their part in the work and pleaded with them to consider their ways (Haggai 1:6,9-11). He says, "he that earneth wages earneth wages to put it into a bag with holes … I called for a drought upon the land". Later, when they had gotten things right, he again asks them to consider some things (Haggai 2:15-19). Though it looked now like they would have very little (the seed was in the barn rather than planted in the field), now that they were doing what God wanted them to do, He would bless them and they would be able to easily discern that He was in control of what they possessed (see also Malachi 3:10).
Often times, God gives us things in order for us to be able to give them back to Him. In Exodus 35:5, Moses began taking up an offering from the children of Israel for the building of the Tabernacle. In verse 22 we find that both men and women who were willing gave gold, silver, linen, animal skins, etc. In fact they gave so well that the builders had to tell Moses in Exodus 36:5, "The people bring much more than enough for the service of the work", and Moses had to ask them to stop giving.
Where did a multitude of recently freed slaves living in the desert get that volume of precious metals and material?
If you turn back to Exodus 11:2, you will find that God commanded the children of Israel to borrow these kinds of things from their Egyptian neighbors just before they left Egypt. God had given these things to Israel so that they would be able to give them back to Him. This is a marvelous truth that we should be found worthy to be used by Him in this way.
There are three types of giving (as mentioned in Nehemiah 12:44) which are especially associated with the precepts that we have just studied.
The word "tithe" simply means "a tenth part". It is first seen being given by Abraham to the priest Melchizedek in Genesis 14:20. Later in Genesis 28:22, Jacob would promise God that he would give Him a tenth of all that God gave him. Still later, the tithe was made part of the Law given by Moses being a tenth of all produce, flocks, and cattle (Leviticus 27:30-32; Deuteronomy 12:5-6 and see also Luke 18:12). No doubt this tithe signified the confession and acknowledgement that all possessions really belong to God.
If God owns everything, why would He need a tenth of their possessions?
God chose the tribe of Levi to be priests and His workers rather than taking the firstborn of all Israel (Exodus 13:15, Numbers 3:12-13). Therefore the Levites were given no inheritance in the promised land (Numbers 18:24). How would God provide food and raiment for His servants? God says in Numbers 18:21, "I have given the children of Levi all the tenth in Israel for an inheritance, for their service which they serve, even the service of the tabernacle of the congregation". The tithe taken from the children of Israel was to go to the Levites for their work (see also 2 Chronicles 31:4). The Levites also were to tithe (Numbers 18:26-28) and their tenth went to the priests (Aaron and his descendants). God did not need Israel's money or possessions, but He used Israel to provide for His servants.
Given that we are not under the Law of Moses, is it required that a Christian tithe?
After the death and resurrection of Christ, you will not find the word tithe. However, there are a couple of excellent reasons for a Christian to tithe:
In 1 Corinthians 9:13-14, Paul uses the analogy of the tithe given to the Levites as the way in which full time Christian workers ought to be taken care of. A Pastor does not work in a job which earns a normal income, nor is he able to spend the time in some vocation such as farming. According to Paul, they, like the Levites, must be provided for through the tithe from the church (see also Galatians 6:6 and 1 Timothy 5:17).
Under the Law of Moses, the tithe was a commandment to Israel. While it is true that as Christians we are not completely under the Law of Moses, the tithe has more meaning than just being a commandment. When we read verses like Malachi 3:8 or when we see an explicit statement like Leviticus 27:30, "all the tithe of the land … is the LORD'S", clearly we see that the tithe belongs to God. This is not just a law for Israel because Abraham and Jacob tithed to God as well. No, the tithe being God's portion is a truth for all ages.
So, the normal Christian ought to give a tenth of all of his income whenever it is received. In the Old Testament, the tithe was given to the Levites, but if we use Paul's analogy from 1 Corinthians 9:13-14, the Christian should give his tithe to the local church in order to support those that are ministering the Word to him (see 2 Corinthians 11:8 and Galatians 6:6).
Besides the tithe, the children of Israel were commanded to give the firstfruits from the land (Exodus 22:29, 23:19; Deuteronomy 26:1-11). The firstfruits were simply the "first of all the fruit of the earth". Hezekiah gives an example of what these firstfruits were like in 2 Chronicles 31:5. As to the significance of this type of giving, Proverbs 3:9 says, "Honour the LORD with thy substance, and with the firstfruits of all thine increase". It seems that as with the tithe, the giving of the firstfruits was an acknowledgement that God was the giver and owner of all things.
Should a Christian obey Proverbs 3:9? If so, how should this be done in our modern times?
There have been many times in Scripture when there was some special need for money or materials, and this need was met by taking up an offering. As we have seen already, God used an offering to obtain the materials to build the Tabernacle. Yet there are other examples of this as well, such as the building of the temple (1 Chronicles 29:1-9), the repair of the temple (2 Chronicles 24:4-10), and the rebuilding of the temple (Ezra 1:4,2:68). According to 2 Chronicles 24:6, an offering was the obligatory way to provide for the material needs in the work of God.
To withhold from giving such an offering would truly be stealing from God. Not only would it be selfish to keep back what really belongs to God for the purpose of God's work, it would also be a misappropriation of the possessions that God has given to us. Like the tithe, the offering clearly has a place in the life of a Christian for the work of the ministry is not free.
Something that we need to be very clear about is that our tithes, firstfruits, and offerings belong to God for the purpose of supporting the work in the local Church. These types of giving are not for missions or to feed the poor - we will study these gifts next week. Also, it is important that we fully realize that the tithe is a fixed amount being one tenth. The normal Christian does not need to pray about tithing or how much to tithe because it is a fixed, set amount. Neither does the tithe include an offering. If you are only giving a tenth of your possessions to the church, you are still robbing God, the "possessor of heaven and earth". Be sure of this, God will get what is due to Him one way or another - either we will give it willingly, or He can take it!