The options are excellent if you are looking to divest yourself of excess wealth. Seth Pierce looks at God's plan.
On a website called the Most Expensive Journal, which catalogues the most expensive items in the world, gamers are tantalised by a PlayStation 3 Supreme, a rendition of the video game console completely plated in 22-carat gold that retails for $US323,000.
There pet owners can procure the Lillian Cuddle Couch (coated in Teflon), featuring brass studs on the tassels that cover the legs. The price for pampering your pooch—and the Cuddle Couch can withstand up to 100 kilograms of dog—is $US1101.
Ladies, do you need a new purse? Guess who makes the most expensive handbag in the world? Louis Vuitton’s Tribute Patchwork Bag can be yours for just $US60,000—leaving you with no money to put in it, but, oh, what a feeling!
People spend all kinds of money on life’s basic necessities and, as these examples show, some of us also spend huge amounts of money on other things. But how much do we “spend” when it comes to God?
Pick up an offering envelope from most Christian churches and you may see a line that says “Tithe.” The word tithe simply means 10 per cent—one in ten. In the Seventh-day Adventist Church, of which I am a member, money thus designated pays the salaries of those pastors, missionaries, administrators and teachers assigned the task of spreading the gospel.
The practice of paying tithe has a long history. Very early on, the patriarch Abraham is seen paying a tithe to a priest named Melchizedek (Genesis 14:18–20). Abraham’s grandson, Jacob, was also a tithe-payer. In a very discouraging moment, God gave Jacob a dream assuring him that He would watch over and protect him. In response, Jacob promised God that “of all that you give me I will give you a tenth” (Genesis 28:22). God also commanded the Israelites to pay tithe on all the crops they harvested and on all the animals that were born to their herds of cattle, sheep and goats (Deuteronomy 14:22; Leviticus 27:32; 2 Chronicles 31:5, 6). It was different to any of the other offerings described by Moses.
The most explicit biblical command—and promise—about tithe is found in Malachi, the last book of the Old Testament. God began by accusing the people of robbing Him because they refused to return a tithe to Him and give Him their offerings. Then He promised that if they were faithful in these financial dealings with Him, He would protect their crops and their orchards from pests. And He challenged them to “test me in this, . . . 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” (Malachi 3:10). (It’s a challenge available to anyone still.)
Jesus made an interesting comment about tithe in the context of His most severe reproofs of the legalism of the Pharisees. He said, “You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness” (Matthew 23:23). Jesus didn’t criticise the Pharisees for paying tithe. The problem was that they counted the leaves on their mint plants and gave a tenth of them to God, but were heartless toward the poor, widows and orphans, who really needed help.
One of the New Testament’s most intriguing stories also tells us a lot about offerings, which are in addition to tithe.
“Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but being a short man he could not, because of the crowd” (Luke 19:1–3).
Imagine Officer Zacchaeus up a tree—caught in a materialistic trap, a life of extortion, excluded from the crowd—yet desperate to see Jesus. But Zacchaeus’s desperate desire to see Jesus was surpassed by Jesus’ desperation to see him! “When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.’ So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly” (verses 5, 6). Jesus bypassed the upstanding religious community to reach out to an outcast and a sinner. That’s the gospel!
Taking a break from Zacchaeus’s story for a moment, we’ll come to the present. After attending a weekend of meetings, my employer suggested that we as colleagues go for dinner at a nice restaurant. Just one of us would pay for the meal and be reimbursed for it later. The food was good, the service was good, so one of us asked how much of a tip the elected payer was leaving.
The look on our faces betrayed our feelings.
“What? That’s five per cent!” the payer protested.
We informed him that the standard (but unwritten) rule in our town was 15 per cent—unless the service was bad. It only then dawned on him that he’d been grossly undertipping for a long time.
Adding to the insult another colleague added, “It’s not even our money, who cares if you give 20 or 30 per cent?”
Back to Zacchaeus’s story. His religious culture required the payment of a tithe, which meant giving away 10 per cent of a person’s income. However, Luke tells us that Zacchaeus donated a whopping 50 per cent of his wealth to the poor (verse 8).
And this newly-converted fanatic exceeded yet another law. Numbers 5:7 and Leviticus 5:16 state that if an Israelite cheated or stole from someone, he needed both to give it back and tack on 20 per cent interest. But Zacchaeus said he would “pay back four times the amount”; in other words, 300 per cent interest (verse 8)!
As a tax collector, Zacchaeus used to direct a cash flow to himself, but was now diverting it to help needy people. He was treating his own money like it wasn’t his, tipping like it was on someone else’s account!
Jesus said, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21). When you look at grace and redemption as they relate to how much we should be giving to God, you really only find one specific figure suggested by Jesus: everything you have.
Paul stated a very important principle about giving. He said that “God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7). If you think of all the ways you could use the money for yourself when you give your tithes and offerings to God, He will accept the gift, but He would much rather you enjoy supporting His work with your giving. That’s what it means to be a cheerful giver.
Giving is a concrete action that requires us to trust that God will take care of our finances, and it also inspires our hearts as we watch our resources touch other people and enable the church to do things.
It makes us a part of something bigger than ourselves—a community that is freed by grace to give.