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Stewardship and Tithing (2)

M Browne, Bath

Israel’s example - a challenge to believers today

What a challenge to us is this example of Israel under the Law dispensation! If that was the measure of their giving as the redeemed people of God in their day, how much more should that be true of the redeemed people of God today! Should Israel give so cheerfully and liberally to the Lord knowing only the redemption from Egypt and the animal sacrifices of the Old Testament, and shall we give so much less who have the fuller and greater knowledge of Christ Himself and His mighty Cross sacrifice, with its agony and curse, to redeem us from bondage greater far than that of Egypt? How easily we profess, on the basis of 1 Corinthians 6.19-20, that all we have and are belong to the Lord because of His blood sacrifice: "What? know ye not…ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price!". Then many of us live as though everything we possess were our own and use our affluence, with the exception of occasional and special appeals (cp. Paul’s plea in 2 Cor 8.7-11), chiefly for self and selfish ends, and give only a fraction of the tithe of our regular income to the Lord for spiritual work!

Giving in the New Testament - the giving that glorifies God

Giving as faithful stewards of God’s bounty, and accountable to Him

In the New Testament the various Greek words for "tithe" (twice translated as "tenth part") appear only 10 times (Mt 23.23; Lk 11.42; 18.12; Heb 7.2-6, 8-9).

All of these passages refer back to Old Testament custom or contemporary Jewish practice. Nowhere does the New Testament expressly command Christians to tithe. However, as believers we are to be generous in sharing our material possessions with the poor and for the support of the Christian ministry. Christ Himself is our model in giving. Giving is to be voluntary, willing, cheerful, and carried out in the light of our accountability to God. Giving should be systematic and by no means limited to a tithe of our incomes. We recognise that all we have is from God. We are called to be faithful stewards of all our possessions (please read the following Scriptures - Rom 14.12; 1 Cor 9.3–14; 16.1-3; 2 Cor 8 & 9).

The condition required for giving

Our beloved Lord taught His disciples that not all giving was acceptable to God. In order to ascend the hill of the Lord and stand in His holy place to offer a gift acceptable to Him required, as David knew, clean hands and a pure heart (Ps 24.3-4). The hands and heart, what I do and what I am, indicate that the life must be right if the gift at God’s altar is to be acceptable! Again, David emphasises the same thing in a further statement: "I will wash my hands in innocency: so will I compass thine altar, O Lord" (Ps 26.6). So we hear the Lord’s solemn injunction, "Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath aught against thee; Leave there thy gift…go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift" (Mt 5.23-24). The life must be right first before ever we present our gifts to the Lord!

The manner in which we are to give

Give secretly. Giving is to be done, if at all possible, secretly, discreetly, and certainly without any ostentation which panders to human pride. To give pretentiously is to be like the hypocrites who give in order that they may have glory of men. The true disciple does not follow them, he follows the teaching of the Lord Jesus who said, "When thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth" (Mt 6.3-4)! During these days when significant tax can be recovered on income donated for registered charitable organisations including one’s local church (Gift Aid), and cheques are given for this purpose, it is not possible to give alms completely in secret. This is a real difficulty to some believers who because of it will not use the system feeling it violates the spirit of the Lord’s teaching. It becomes then a question of personal Christian liberty to do what one’s conscience permits. "Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind" (Rom 14.5).

Give sacrificially. Giving is to be done sacrificially as illustrated by the Macedonian believers (2 Cor 8.2-4) who gave entirely beyond their means even to impoverishment. When Paul writes that they gave out of their "deep" poverty he used a word meaning rock bottom. They gave, that is, from rock bottom penury, but they still gave utterly selflessly to forward the work of God in relieving the greater poverty of their needy brethren in Jerusalem. Their giving reflected the sacrificial and even reckless giving of the poor widow in Mark 12.42 whom the Lord commended because she cast in everything she had, her last two mites, and in so doing out-gave the whole of the temple crowd of rich merchants and affluent worshippers. Here in this poor widow’s gift we have an example of the kind of giving God loves to accept; it is giving to the point of extreme self-sacrifice. But the supreme example of all is found in the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, " For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich" (2 Cor 8.9).

Give sincerely. Give from a heart stirred by love, then no sacrifice will seem too great for Christ! This is the kind of giving that is neither self-centred, nor gives to draw attention to itself, nor anticipates some future pay-back reward. It is giving motivated by genuine compassion and which has only the well-being of its object in view! It is giving constrained by the love of Christ. This is how the Macedonians gave and who, in their giving, provide a model of the kind of giving that delights the heart of God.

The shining example of giving by the Macedonian assemblies (2 Cor 8.1-9)

The source of a giving spirit is the "grace" of God (v.1). They had experienced God’s grace, His free, sovereign and undeserved love extended to them personally in their salvation, and now they wished to show their gratitude in this practical manner. Only true believers, those who know His grace, may give for God’s work and the interests of His Son whether at home or abroad! The rule is laid down in 3 John 7 where the travelling preachers of the apostolic era "went forth, taking nothing of the Gentiles"! Unsaved people dead in sins and on the way to eternal judgment, can do nothing to aid the emissaries of life and love on the way to eternal glory. Abraham would take nothing from the ungodly King of Sodom, and Abraham’s family of faith today still take nothing from the ungodly citizens of this world.

From vv.2-5 are seen the circumstances from which they gave; it was from a severe trial of persecution which far from depressing them resulted in an overwhelming God-given joy that they were being persecuted for Christ’s sake, and so they gave abundantly out of their joy and devotion to Christ. They gave sacrificially beyond their means. They gave supernaturally "beyond their power" according to divine enabling. Further, they gave eagerly without coercion because they wanted of their own wills to have fellowship with the work of the apostles. Finally, they gave with holy consecration, giving themselves first of all to the Lord. If one first gives oneself unreservedly to the Lord after the example of the Macedonians, one will never have difficulty with generous financial giving! Such will recognise that all they are and all they have is the blessing of God’s grace, and so will give generously, willingly, and sacrificially, out of love for the Lord. When the life is yielded, the purse and bank-book are yielded too! It was John Wesley who argued that total conversion was not complete until there was wholehearted consecration to the Lord! He used to say, "The last part of a man to be converted is his purse"! Salvation became practically evident in the life of Zacchaeus when he started to distribute his wealth (Lk 19.8-9).

To be continued.


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