Sermon at: GracePoint Church, Kikuyu.
‘Have you made unusually many trips to the hospital, spending lots of money on doctors, consultations and medications? Thundered the preacher, ‘Or do you find that you have very many trips to the mechanic trying to fix your car? He continued. Or maybe it is the screen of your smartphone. It is because you are not faithfully tithing that is why these misfortunes are coming your way’ He went on. If you don’t give, then even what you have is not protected from moth and rust. So give according to Malachi 3:10 and secure the rest of your income/wealth.
Such messages ring from many pulpits, radio stations and other medium across the continent. People are made to feel that unless they give very specific amounts and in the correct label/category then God might not bless them and they might also be open to all forms of misfortune.
This form of deception emanates from a misunderstanding of the scripture especially the Old Testament where ideas/practices are lifted and applied directly without reference to the cross. Worse still is that this kind of teaching relies on African Traditional Religion and the fears that ATR upheld such as the evil eye, hence the need for spiritual protection over children or property.
Giving in the Old Testament
In the OT we see a number of ways in which people give. There are specific sacrifices and gifts that form the worship pattern of God’s people in the OT. We shall consider 3 of them;
- Tithe. The word Tithe means a tenth of one’s income or produce. We first see it done by Abraham in Genesis 4: 17 -20 and later by Jacob in Genesis 28:22. Later on Moses institutes it as part of the Law in Leviticus 27:30 (Deut 12: 5ff, 14:22 -29 and 26: 1-19). It was expected that all of Israel would give their tithe (part of their produce) and this would be given to the priest (Levites), the homeless (sojourner), the widow and the fatherless. The prophets rebuked Israel when people did not give their tithes.
- Offering/Freewill offerings: These were general gifts given by Gods people on a voluntary basis. (Leviticus 23:38). In the Law, the free will offering was to be of a male bull, sheep, or goat with no physical deformities or blemishes, and it was not to have been purchased from a foreigner (Leviticus 22:17–25). The offering was to include flour mixed with oil and wine; the amounts varied on whether the sacrifice was a lamb, bull, or ram (Numbers 15:1–10). As with all sacrifices, the free will offering was to be made in a place of God’s choosing, not in an area formerly used by other religions or at home (Deuteronomy 12). Offerings could be given any time (Deuteronomy 16:10). Unlike other offerings governed by stricter rules, the priests could eat the free will offering on the day it was sacrificed or the day after (Leviticus 7:16–18).
The first time a free will offering is mentioned in the Bible is in Exodus 35:10–29. God had given instructions on how to build the tabernacle, and Moses relayed what supplies were needed for its construction. The people responded as their hearts stirred them, bringing jewelry, fine yarn, tanned skins, silver, bronze, acacia wood, onyx stones, spices, and oil. These items were all donated “as a freewill offering to the Lord” (Exodus 35:29). Centuries later, the people made similar offerings for David to pass on to Solomon to build the temple (1 Chronicles 29:6–9). In the book of Ezra, the people gave traditional animal offerings (Ezra 3:5) as well as supplies to rebuild the temple after the Babylonian captivity (Ezra 2:68; 7:16; 8:28). The people also made animal offerings in 2 Chronicles 31 when King Hezekiah, one of Judah’s best kings, led the nation in returning to God and reinstituting His ceremonies.
- First fruits: The concept of first fruits is rooted in a context where people lived as an agricultural community. God called his people to bring the first yield—the first fruits—from their harvest to him as an offering. This was to demonstrate their obedience and reverence for God. It also showed that they trusted God to provide enough crops to feed their family. (Deut 14:22)
“When you come into the land which I give you and reap its harvest, then you shall bring a sheaf of the first fruits of your harvest to the priest.” —Leviticus 23:10.
“Honor the Lord with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops.” —Proverbs 3:9
First fruits had to be brought to the temple priests. No other crops could be harvested until after the first fruits were presented. The Israelites saw first fruits as an investment into their future.so that God would bless all that came afterward.
“The first of all first fruits of every kind and every contribution of every kind, from all your contributions, shall be for the priests: you shall also give to the priest the first of your dough to cause a blessing to rest on your house.” —Ezekiel 44:30.
Closely associated to the idea of first fruits was the idea of firstborns – they belonged to the Lord and were dedicated to him (Exodus 13:2) since they were literally the first fruits of the womb.
Conclusion on OT Giving: One Big Lesson and One Big Warning
Giving was an integral part of worship and showed whole-hearted devotion and commitment to the Lord who is the source and indeed the giver of all things. It modeled a love for the Lord with all mind, heart and strength. Application: Worship the Lord with your gifts
OT worship was a shadow of the reality that was to come – Christ, the ultimate gift from God. It later became legalistic and a heavy burden upon the people (Matthew 13). When the purpose is lost and the forms remain then it becomes a meaningless tradition/culture.
Warning: Stay away from religious legalism – OT ideas can shape how we think about giving but it all has to be taken through the lens of the cross.
New Testament Giving
In the gospels, Jesus talks about money quite often but not about much on giving specifically. An often misquoted verse Luke 6:38 – Give and it shall come to you – is really not about giving but actually about judging others. However, we see giving modelled most poignantly in the sacrificial coming, living and dying of our Lord and saviour Jesus Christ. All Christian giving then is to be done in light of the cross and any giving that does not stem the cross is not Christian.
In the passage that was read today we see Paul calling the church in Corinth towards generosity. He commends the churches of Macedonia for their sacrificial giving and shows us a model for giving. Here then are some lessons we can draw about Christian giving;
- Christian giving is an outpouring of and a response to the gospel. ‘We want you to know about the grace of God that has been given among the churches’ 8:1, 5, 9. Christian giving begins with and ends with the gospel ‘They gave themselves first to the Lord’ V5 and in verse 9: You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ…. Here the motives are important. If the heart is not with the Lord, then the gift – no matter the size may, not be precious. The example of Ananias and Sapphira is instructive – their gift was big but their hearts were not. The language of NT giving then is thanksgiving (for the gospel) (9:10 -15). Giving then is not a means to another end but actually an act of worship in thanksgiving to what God has already done. Here, then labels do not matter(Tithe, Firstfruit, Offering etc) – the heart does.
- Christian giving is unlimited in scope. Because it is giving from the heart, the amounts do not matter. It can be everything or hardly anything. Jesus talks about the widow who gave two copper coins as being very generous in Matthew 12:42-44. In Acts we see people like Barnabas selling land and putting it in apostles feet to be used for gospel advance. People lay down their very lives before the Lord, spending and being spent for the sake of the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Paul says each one must give what they have decided – not what has been imposed on them or to fulfill any pre-set conditions.
- Christian giving is ernest, cheerful and generous. 8:8. Paul says that he does not command the believers to give yet they are to be eager, ready and zealous to give to show that their love is genuine. He knows of their readiness to be generous and encourages them to prepare their gift. Unlike tithes which are dues to be paid, Christian generosity is expresses willingly, earnestly (not reluctantly) and under no compulsion. (9:7). It is not an exaction but a willing gift (9:5)
So, can I Tithe? Yes and No.
- No because there is no NT imperative (command) to tithe for believers.
- No because Christians do not follow OT worship regulations. We live in a different time and place, in a different economic model.
- No if your motive is to reap the benefits associated with tithes in the OT.
- Yes, Tithing can be a helpful discipline, done with the right motive – to honour the Lord with our income consistently.
- Yes, because it points to the Lord being our highest priority hence coming first in our financial decisions
- Yes, because there is no prohibition/restriction of it in all of scripture. The christian is at liberty to label their gift as they may choose. Giving is an act of worship and the worshipper needs the space to exercise their conviction.