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Financial Giving, Part Two

November 19, 2007

Financial Giving Nov 18 Part Two 

Well, well. I think we started with the heart of giving last week, but this week we need to talk about the mechanics a little.  

It seems to me that today we have a couple of misplaced expectations that are often preached. I hope that we just too carried away with enthusiasms, though from watching TV preaching in my younger years, I think I’ve seen some downright foul play. First, there’s the “health and wealth” gospel of giving to receive. Secondly, there’s an abuse of the tithe, when it becomes a magical, mystical number for those who truly give.

Tithing. If you’ve grown up in a church, then I’m sure you’ve heard the term tithing before and maybe more. Maybe you’ve been pressured to tithe, commanded to tithe, and even promised riches beyond your wildest dreams if you tithed. 

The tithe was instituted among God’s people, the people of Israel as a way of worship, a way of supporting the temple and the priestly ranks. The tithe was an offering of “first fruits,” a way honoring and thanking God at the moment a blessing entered into existence. So when the crops are brought in, when an animal is sold, when wealth is created or received, God receives an offering in the form of a tithe.

And by the way, the tithe is not the sum total of giving expected of God’s people in Israel, it rolls along with the hospitality expected to be given to strangers and the gleanings left in fields for the poor. Every harvest time the owner of the field was commanded not to strip the field of every obtainable head of grain, but to leave the dropped heads and excess for the poor to arrive and collect. (Leviticus 19:9-10

Today we can say that we spend a good bit of time looking at the tithe in the Old Testament writings and looking for it in the New Testament. In the New Testament writings we can see it clearly in the teaching of Jesus when he points out the flaws of the Pharisees of his day. They tithed religiously, but missed the point. Jesus used their legalistic keeping and dishonoring abuse of the tithe as a chance to point to the heart of the tithe, the spirit instead of the letter of the law. (Matthew 23:23-24)

Except for Jesus’ correction to the Pharisees about their tithing, nothing can be seen in the Apostolic writings of the New Testament other than a discussion in the letter to the Hebrews. In that instance it’s an explanation of the supremacy of Melchizedek’s priesthood. Not real applicable to our discussion of financial offering. (Hebrews 7)

It’s worth mentioning that we do see the earliest recorded church collecting money. Paul especially orchestrated an extended collection of funds to help hurting people, giving instructions to the Corinthians about collecting and holding money to eventually be sent off. It’s not a discussion of offering as much as an example of how Paul thought, “Collecting it up over time before his arrival will be better than trying to raise it all at once after he arrives.” (2 Corinthians 9

The discussion in 2 Corinthians 8 & 9 revolve around a collection by Christians for Christians… a gift of financial relief. This is not a discussion of tithing, but it is an example of very practical talk about using money in chapter 9 and a hugely interesting talk about God’s desired equity of wealth in chapter 8.

I am not interested in the least in binding the tithe on this church family as a legalistic expectation. At the end of the day, I personally strive to tithe in a normal biweekly giving, and then be ready for other opportunities to give. I’m not always as successful as I’d like to be. The tithe is an amazing thing… it feels good to do it, and I can’t really always quantify that. Must be a God thing. I like to think of the tithe today as being two things: 1) a great goal for some of us to shoot for, and 2) a great starting place from which others can launch.

In response to the idea of giving to receive… it’s tempting to see that happening in 2 Corinthians 9. There’s the whole “sowing and reaping” that immediately sounds like stock exchange advice to us. Sweet! I’m banking with God because I can get a higher interest rate than with the bank! And it is sometimes reached that giving $1,000.00 at church is going to get you $100,000.00 in returns. That’s simply narrow-sighted. Paul never says that God pays monetary offerings back in monetary dividends. In fact, he’s not even talking specifically about numerically quantitative returns in that discussion, but about the heart of the giver. The heart can be grudging or it can be joyful in it’s giving. And again, God’s promise in that chapter is that God’s giving to you will be cheerful and that God can provide what you need. What you need, not what you want. I think that giving to receive is as tacky as giving grudgingly with a sour look on your face.  

Have you ever been given a begrudged gift? It’s not very satisfying. It doesn’t feel like love, it doesn’t feel like God. Giving to receive is as tacky as it sounds regardless of the circumstance. And by the way, giving with a grudging heart is no picnic either.

Thankfully, chapter 9 is preceded by chapter 8, a clear illustration that we do not give to receive, but that we receive to give. The people of God receive the blessing of God to share with the beloved world of God. Our weekly giving may not be exactly analogous with the collection in Corinth, but the spirit of the collection is definitely corrective for our use today. We have wealth, a gift of God in our lives, but not a gift for our exclusive, personal use. We are gifted to gift. Look again at the clear expectation in Chapter 9, verses 8 & 11: 

And God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others…  Yes, you will be enriched in every way so that you can always be generous.”

We are a people who graciously share our gifts with one another and the entire world around us because we recognize that our Gifting God will not only take care of us, but will always gift us for the care of the world. We are a receiving people who thankfully give.

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