A Christian’s Heart 9 16 2013
The Spirit of the Tithe
Here’s what the Lord said to the rebellious house of Israel, who were not supporting the work of God’s Ministry by tithing as directed in the Levitical Law:
“In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse—the whole nation of you—because you are robbing me. Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it. I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not cast their fruit,” says the Lord Almighty. “Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land,” says the Lord Almighty.” (Malachi 3:9 – 12.)
This passage makes clear, as do others in Scripture, that tithing is not an option for the saints of God. It is a command that God expects us to obey. Note how angry the words of God are here toward Israel. Not tithing is, therefore, a sin against God. I believe it is a grave sin. Note also that He does not say: “If you think you can afford it; or if you find it convenient; or if it won’t get in the way of enjoying the fruits of your labors.” No indeed! The tithe of our wealth should come before all other financial considerations.
Some years ago, as I sat in the pews when the preacher preached on this text, the Spirit of God convicted me that I needed to tithe. Until then, I was putting a dollar or two in the plate every week and feeling pretty good about myself. But after that day, I knew I needed to repent. I realized that if I did not change my ways, my spiritual growth would be stunted. I was convinced also that God would be displeased with me, and I feared the consequences of God’s displeasure. (See Exodus 20:20 and 2 Chronicles 19:9 – 10.) And by God’s wonderful grace I did repent, and that very afternoon, I vowed to honor God’s command and started tithing.
Now the question became, what should I tithe? Of course, the first thing that came to mind was my money. Here’s what Scripture says about this: “Honor the Lord with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops; then your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine.” (Proverbs 3: 9 – 10.) I took this to heart and interpreted this to mean that when I tithed – from a paycheck, say – I took a portion of my gross pay, before any deductions for taxes, and gave this amount to God. (This means, of course, that the tithe comes before any personal expenses such as mortgage payments, medical bills, etc.)
How did I determine how much to tithe? Well, it’s pretty clear to me that Scripture states that one tenth is the appropriate amount. See for example Genesis 14:20, where Abraham gives one tenth of everything to Melchizedek; or Genesis 28:22 where Jacob has just had his vision of God on the heavenly staircase and vows to give God a tenth of everything God gives him; or Deuteronomy 14:22 where God explicitly says to set aside one tenth of your harvest each year (again not after any deductions for food, or the other necessities of life). But the clincher for me was this exhortation from Jesus, Himself:
“ ‘Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices — mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law — justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.’ ” (Matthew 23:23.)
(Now it has also been made clear to me by the Holy Spirit that this tenth is the bare minimum we are expected to give; and that not only money is involved. I will leave that thought with you until another time, however.)
But most importantly, I had to determine with what spirit I was going to tithe. Was my gift to the Lord going to be made grudgingly—out of fear because I sinning by not tithing—because I “was robbing the Lord” and that He might zap me or do something awful to me if I continued in my sin? (See John 5:14.)
Or was I going to do it because the Lord made a personal vow to me to “open the floodgates of heaven” so that “[my] barns [would] be filled to overflowing, and [my] vats [would] brim over with new wine”? In other words, was I going to tithe because the Lord would personally reward me; because I wanted something from Him?
Well, I got the answer from the Holy Spirit, and it was neither of these, and it came into play in a big way recently. As I was balancing my checking account, I noticed that I’d gotten a payment for some work I had done a few months ago, and that I hadn’t tithed my tenth. Then I started looking through my bank records going to the first of the year and found that there were about six or seven such items of income I had neglected to tithe. Adding up all the income, I found that I owed the Lord over $800! Gulp. It was not intentional, as far as I know, it was not a failure of faith, or of love, but simply came from sloppiness on my part. Nevertheless, there it was staring me in the face: $800.
I’m retired now, and I live mostly on Social Security payments and a small pension, making but a fraction of the income I made when I was working full time. So the thought ran through my mind that I could just ignore these occurrences of inattention, and vow (again!) to get better going forward. But that didn’t work, of course, because that certain Spirit posed this question to me: “Well, now, what are we going to do? Are we going to take the easy way out, or are we going to honor our vow to the Lord God Almighty?” Then He brought to my mind this passage of Scripture:
“Lord, who may dwell in your sanctuary? Who may live on your holy hill? He whose walk is blameless and who does what is righteous, … who keeps his oath even when it hurts …” (Proverbs 15: 1, 2a, and 4b. See also how serious the Lord takes the fulfillment of vows in Ecclesiastes 5:4 – 7.)
The reasons to tithe given above flashed into my mind, but, by His grace I rejected them both as motivation for honoring my vow. Here’s why:
An image came to my mind of a certain spectacular beach on the Oregon Coast where I go when I’m troubled or just need a spiritual or emotional lift. This place is one of the best kept secrets in Oregon, I think, because it lies next to a small town that, by its very serious intention, is not a tourist destination. Even Oregonians don’t go there much, it seems. So the beach is never crowded. Also it is spectacularly beautiful, bounded one mile to the north of the village by a huge forested promontory, and stretching as far as the eye can see to the south. As you stand there drinking in the magnificence of it all, including the ocean waves pounding mightily at the shore, you are filled with awe at its beauty. Many times because of the glorious sunlight reflecting off the clouds and the ocean, mixed with the spray from the waves, you get the impression that you are experiencing a misty glowing dream.Now imagine if you can how many grains of sand there are on this beach.
Here’s what came to me. Neither of the above reasons for tithing takes into account what the Lord has already done for me or will do in the glorious eternal future He has promised me. I realized also that the things God has already given to me and done for me over the sixty plus years of life He’s graciously allowed me, could I even count them, would probably number more than the grains of sand on that beach. (See Psalms 40:5.) Why then could I not give Him one little grain in return?
So I wrote the check with joy and great gratitude. This is the spirit of the tithe.