Tithing: It's About Heart

Introduction.  In First Corinthians, Paul writes (in part) to the church in Corinth about a collection that is being taken up (16:1-4).  The money will support and care for the believers in Jerusalem who were likely in hiding during a time of persecution.  Malachi 3:10a says “Bring the full tithe to the storehouse.”  Twice Paul quotes Deuteronomy 25:4, that “you shall not muzzle an ox when it is treading the grain” (ESV), and in his first letter to Timothy he says, “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching” (ESV), making an argument that ministers of the gospel should be paid.  While all of these passages are used in support of giving or tithing to God through the Church, the means of ministry funds is not what God is after.  God, as the Bible teaches, is after the believer’s affection.   Giving the first fruits, be it money or otherwise, is more a work happening within the believer than anything else.

God does not NEED your money It is a mistake to think the work of God’s desire will not happen if we, the Church, do not raise the money for his will.  While reflecting on God and his own life, Job said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return.  The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job 1:21, ESV).  Job understood that he came into the world with nothing.  All that he had and all that he lost was a blessing from God, but he did not have a greater claim than God to any of it because it was all God’s to give and take.  Leviticus 27:30 teaches that every tithe, whether it is willfully given to God or not belongs to God, and the rest of Malachi 3:10 says that withholding this tithe is actually stealing from God.  Psalm 50:8-12 reads, "I have not complaint about your sacrifices or the burnt offerings you constantly offer.  But I do not the bulls from your barns or the goats from your pens.  For all the animals of the forest are mine, and I own the cattle on a thousand hills.  I know every bird on the mountains, and all the animals of the field are mine.  If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for all the world is mine and everything in it" (NLT).
When the King Ahasuerus’ edict demanded to have all the Jews killed, Mordecai asked Esther to appeal to her husband, the king, in order to save the Jews from genocide.  In verses 4:13-14, Mordecai says to Ester, "Do not think to yourself that in the king's palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews.  For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father's house will perish.  And who knows whether your have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”  (Esther 4:13-14, ESV, emphasis added)  Mordecai understood that God will have it his way whether it works through Esther or through some other avenue or person, but Esther had the opportunity in that moment to be faithful and obedient to God.  Giving to the Church is much the same way—we can be obedient to the Bible and give or not, but our disobedience will not keep our Sovereign from accomplishing his will.  However, this is not a reason not to give our tithes and offering to God as he as instructed. 
It is about the heart.  In the 18th chapter of Luke (also Matthew 19 and Mark 10), a rich man asked Jesus what he must do to have eternal life.  Jesus asked him if was he had kept the last five Commandments.  The man had since his youth.  But then Jesus went after the real issue—the man's idol, that is, the love of his great wealth.  The rich man had placed his love of money above his love of God, thus violating the First Commandment.  Every sin we commit can generally be tied back to placing something above God, worshiping an idol rather than the living God.  One of the most prevalent idols in the West today is money. 
Money itself is not bad; but both Hebrews 13:5 and First Timothy 6:10 say that the love of it is.  Like the rich man, the believer must strip away the idolatry and the love of money if he is going to follow Christ.  This, at times, comes with resistance.  Criswell writes, “The true gospel preacher is confronted today by a new-time antinomian. . . . Where stewardship of money is concerned they are antinomians; elsewhere they are satisfied to preach the moral code of Jehovah” (Criswell 1980, 148-149).  However, the gospel preacher must continue to call men and woman to give cheerfully, not because God needs the money, because God wants the heart. 

Criswell, W.A. Criswell's Guidebook for Pastors. Nashville, Tenn: Broadman Press, 1980.

*Photo is licensed under a creative commons license.  This post was, in its entirety or in part, originally written in seminary in partial fulfillment of a M.Div. It may have been redacted or modified for this website.


February 9, 2010

Going before a judge today to finalize the adoption of my son has me thinking a great deal about adoption.  This is second time I've faced a judge and expressed my love for a child that's not the biological product of Lisa and I. Both of my children are adopted and words can't express the depth of my love for them.

It's strange how our society treats adoption.  "Will you," asked the attorney before the watchful eyes of the judge, "love and care for this child in every way the same as you would if he were your natural, biological son?"  The flawed assumption of the question is that shared DNA somehow equals a level of love that adoptive families should strive to attain.  Before my youngest was born, people would ask me the big "what if" questions.  "What if the mom did drugs?" "What if the baby has a hereditary disease?" "What if. . ."  Really, these questions are founded in the incorrect assumption that a non-adopted baby is born perfect, free of "problems" or "complications."  And my favorite question (although I admit I myself have wrongly worried about this question) is: "What if the birth mother wants her baby back?"  Flawed question!  Do parents ever have to deal with losing their biologically born children to things like divorce or kidnapping or death?  And taken away from who?  Do we own our children?  Are only adopted children on loan, or are all children? I like to think that God has put children--adopted or not--in our care only for a time.  Psalm 127:3 says "children are a heritage from the Lord" but Genesis 2:24 says that "man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife," that is, the child, a gift of God, will grow up and become a family of his own.  It's only for a time; sometimes only a very short time.

The Israelite law of the biblical Old Testament made no legal provision for adoption.  There were provisions for orphans; and in situations of infertility, there was polygamy and the use of slave concubines. However, examples of adoption are found in the Bible.  While Abram was still childless, he had it in mind that Eliezer of Damascus would be is heir. (Genesis 15:1-4)  In that time, the heir was to be the first born son and would receive all that the father had.  But in the case of Abram, a non-biologically born person was chosen (although God had another plan for Abram).  And of course there's Moses.  At a time when the male Israelite slave babies were killed at birth by the Egyptians, a mother desired to save her baby.  This Levite woman placed her baby boy in a basket and floated him down the Nile river, sending the baby's big sister to watch from the bank to see what might happen.  Pharaoh's daughter found the baby and took him in as her own. (Exodus 2:1-10) And even Esther was raised by her uncle Mordecai, who, the book of Esther tells us, "had taken her as his own daughter." (Esther 2:7, 15)

Jesus was adopted by Joseph (and Mary, depending on your theology).  Jesus, the Son of God, was conceived in Mary's womb apart from any sexual encounter or inheritance of any sin nature; instead by way of the Holy Spirit coming upon her (Luke 1:35).  Like most ordinary men would, when Joseph learned Mary was pregnant he had in mind to divorce her, that is, until an angel appeared to him and explained the situation.  (Matthew 1:19-20)  But we can read in Luke 2:33 that Joseph was called Jesus' father.  However, only a few verses later (48), Mary asks the boy Jesus, "Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress" and Jesus seems to correct her statement. Clearly there's an interesting earthly verses spiritual adoption dynamic here because Jesus points out that he is in his father's house, meaning in the house of God, claiming that he was the Son of God.  And yet, when Jesus, now a grown man, came back to his home town and proclaimed he was the Messiah, the community asked, "Is not this Joseph's son?" (Luke 4:22)  So while we can't know if Joseph loved Jesus like the biologically born children he and Mary had together, we do see that he took on the earthly role of father.  It seems Joseph adopted Jesus as his own son, loving him in the same way a father today would love his adopted son.           

Often when we think about adoption, we overlook the birth mother.  Think about Moses' mother.  She could have tried to hide the baby, and if she succeeded she would have been able to remain close to her son.  What did she have to lose? If she gave the baby up, he would die; if she tried to hide the baby but failed, he would die.  But she chose a better option for the baby.  And in another situation, recorded in 1 Kings 3:16-28, two prostitutes come before King Solomon.  One had rolled over on her baby, killing it, so she kidnapped the child of the other woman and claimed it as her own.  When both women made claim to the baby, Solomon suggested cutting the baby in half so each woman could have equal portions of the child.  But when the mother of the child heard this, she pleaded with Solomon to let the other woman have the baby.  She pleaded to let the other woman "adopt" the child.  On the other hand, the second woman was content to see the baby cut.  And it was in this great love for her child--so great that she would give the baby up so the baby would live--that Solomon saw the rightful mother.  When a birth mother gives up her child, she should be honored for making a selfless sacrifice, as well has having love for her child and concern for the baby's future.  Lisa and I are extremely thankful for both of our boy's birth mothers.  What a great thing they did for us and for their babies!

But there is something else that should shape our thinking about adoption.  In Galatians, Paul writes, "But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.  And because you are sons, God as sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, "Abba!" Father!" So  you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God" (Galatians 4:4-7).  We are God's creation, but through faith in Christ Jesus, God's Son, we become children of God through adoption, able to see God not as some far away being, but as our "Daddy!" And for those who believe, trust, and submit to King Jesus, the Son of God, we become heirs of the Kingdom and receive eternal life.