God Loves a Cheerful Giver
by Jack Wald | January 14th, 2018

Luke 16:1-15

Three pastors met during the week and the conversation turned to the Sunday offering and how they used the money that was collected. The Baptist pastor said, “I draw a small circle in the middle of the room and throw the offering up in the air. Everything that lands outside of the circle is for God, what lands in the circle is for me.” The Pentecostal pastor said, “That’s kind of like what I do. I throw the money up in the air but the money that lands outside of the circle is for me and what lands inside of the circle is for God.” The Presbyterian pastor said, “I too do a similar thing. I throw the money up in the air and anything God wants, he keeps.”

How much money should you give to the church? When the collection basket comes by Sunday mornings, how do you decide how much to give? People talk about tithing, giving 10%. Does this mean you give 10% of what you have in your pocket Sunday morning? Does this mean you give 10% of what you earn? If you give 10% of what you earn, do you give 10% before taxes are paid out or 10% after taxes have been paid? What do you do if someone gives you a gift? Do you give 10% of that to the church? If you find money on the ground and there is no way of identifying the owner, do you give 10% of what you found?

This morning I want to run through a brief summary of the concept of tithing in the Old and New Testaments of our Bible and then address the question, “Why should I give?”

The word tithe in the Hebrew means literally, a tenth part. The Greek translation of the Hebrew word means to pay or collect tithes.

In the Old Testament, there are three tithes that are mentioned. There is first of all a Levitical tithe, that was given to the Levites, the tribe of Israel who functioned as priests for Israel. The Levites were given no land when Israel conquered Canaan and instructions were given that the tithe would provide for this tribe. (Numbers 18:21–29)
“I give to the Levites all the tithes in Israel as their inheritance in return for the work they do while serving at the tent of meeting.

And then the Levites were instructed to give a tenth of what they received from the other tribes and offer that to the Lord.
25 The Lord said to Moses, 26 “Speak to the Levites and say to them: ‘When you receive from the Israelites the tithe I give you as your inheritance, you must present a tenth of that tithe as the Lord’s offering. 27 Your offering will be reckoned to you as grain from the threshing floor or juice from the winepress.
29 You must present as the Lord’s portion the best and holiest part of everything given to you.’

The concept of the tithe was that God had brought Israel safely to Canaan, the Promised Land, and now they were to return to God 10% of what he had given them. God gave them grain, new wine, olive oil, fruit, cattle and sheep and so they offered back to him a tenth of their grain, wine, olive oil and so on by giving it to the Levites. In offering this tithe, they were instructed to give God the best they had, the best of their new wine, the best of their olive oil, the best of their cattle and sheep.

There is a second tithe, the tithe of the feasts, that was to be brought to the temple and eaten there with family and friends in the presence of the Lord. This tithe paid for the food and drink at the three annual feasts in Jerusalem, celebrating as a community what God had provided. (Deuteronomy 14:22–27)
Be sure to set aside a tenth of all that your fields produce each year. 23 Eat the tithe of your grain, new wine and olive oil, and the firstborn of your herds and flocks in the presence of the Lord your God at the place he will choose as a dwelling for his Name, so that you may learn to revere the Lord your God always. 24 But if that place is too distant and you have been blessed by the Lord your God and cannot carry your tithe (because the place where the Lord will choose to put his Name is so far away), 25 then exchange your tithe for silver, and take the silver with you and go to the place the Lord your God will choose. 26 Use the silver to buy whatever you like: cattle, sheep, wine or other fermented drink, or anything you wish. Then you and your household shall eat there in the presence of the Lord your God and rejoice. 27 And do not neglect the Levites living in your towns, for they have no allotment or inheritance of their own.

It is not clear if this is a second tenth or if the tenth of what the fields produced each year was to serve both purposes.

And then every third year there was a tithe for the poor that was to be given to the storehouses so the poor and widows and orphans could be provided for.
At the end of every three years, bring all the tithes of that year’s produce and store it in your towns, 29 so that the Levites (who have no allotment or inheritance of their own) and the foreigners, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns may come and eat and be satisfied, and so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands.

In the past, I have said in the Old Testament there was actually an annual 23.3% tithe: 10% for the Levites, 10% for the feasts, and 10% every third year for the poor. After looking at the texts again I am not so sure this is true.

But it does not matter if the tithe in the Old Testament was 10%, 20% or 23.3%. What is clear is that the concept of tithing is well developed in the Old Testament. The tithe belonged to God and he was to be given the best part of what your fields produced. The tithe was to be used to support the Levites, to support the annual feasts in Jerusalem, and to support the poor in the community. To fulfill one’s religious duty, it was necessary to tithe. To meet one’s obligations to God, tithing was obligatory.

So in Malachi 3 we read that God’s blessing was withheld because the tithe was not given.
“Return to me, and I will return to you,” says the LORD Almighty.
“But you ask, ‘How are we to return?’
8 “Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me.
“But you ask, ‘How do we rob you?’
“In tithes and offerings. 9 You are under a curse—the whole nation of you—because you are robbing me. 10 Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house.

God’s blessing was withheld because Israel did not pay the tithe it was required to pay. This was the law of God. To be a follower of God, you had to pay the tithe. God gave you all you had and you were required to give back your tithe. God was given 10% or 20% or whatever % and then the rest of what you had was yours to do with as you wanted.

Now we move to the New Testament and I have some good news for you. You are no longer under the law. In Christ, you have been set free from the law. In the New Testament, the requirement of tithing is abolished. The New Testament teaching is that you are not required to give anything.

When Jesus rose from the dead, Paul understood more clearly than anyone else that his death and resurrection meant we have been set free from the law. And he wrote in Galatians (5:1, 3:23-25)
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.
Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed. 24 So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. 25 Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law.

We have been set free from the law and are no longer under any obligation to tithe 10%. Giving to the work of God 10% of what we have is an Old Testament concept.

What do you need to put in the collection plate to fulfill your obligation to God? Nothing! You no longer have an obligation to God. God has given you a gift you cannot repay and your response needs to come from the heart, not from an obligation. You are not required to give anything.

But now listen. Remember when Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount and said: (Matthew 5)
“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ 28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven.

Let me apply the teaching of Jesus to tithing.

In the same way, it was said that we should bring a tithe of 10% of all we have to the Lord each year, but now, in the New Testament, I say to you that all you have belongs to God. It is no longer 10% that is God’s share of what you have. Everything you have is God’s share. That is the teaching of the New Testament. It is no longer a case of a tenth of what you have belongs to God and nine-tenths belongs to you; all you have belongs to God.

It is not a question of what you need to give to fulfill your obligation to God. What can you give to God to repay him for eternal life? Nothing! God has given you his salvation as a free gift. You who have accepted his gift have been recipients of his grace. You have been given what you do not deserve, what you cannot earn and what you can never repay.

So how much do you put in the offering plate on Sunday? It is far more difficult than taking the sum of what you earn and dividing by ten. What you offer to God is your life. Every minute of your life. Every part of your life.

There might be some who feel liberated by this understanding. “I am free from the law and can give 2% or 5%, whatever I want. The 10% has been abolished.” But let’s review Jesus’ teaching. In the Old Testament the law was given because of the hardness of their hearts. So, do not commit adultery, do not murder, love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But now in the New Testament, the law has been written on our hearts. We have been given the Holy Spirit and in each case, the more exacting truth has been revealed.

As New Testament Christians, not only do we not commit adultery, but the deeper truth is that we are not to view each other as sexual objects. We do not murder but the deeper truth is that our anger is also an offense. We are to love our neighbors and now also our enemies. In each case the law taught the minimum and Jesus moved us to an understanding of the more complete and exacting truth.

In the Old Testament the Jews were instructed to give 10% to the Levites. Now in the New Testament, can it be we can give less rather than more than 10%? This does not fit with the teaching of Jesus.

We did not move from no adultery to adultery permitted on Tuesdays. We did not move from not murdering someone to murdering twice a year. We did not move from loving our neighbors and hating our enemies to hating our neighbors when they are particularly annoying. With a fuller understanding made possible by the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives, we move from the minimum requirement of the law to the fullness of the truth that lay behind the law. We move from the minimum understanding to the greater.

It is for this reason that 10% should be the minimum we give and then we can begin to see after that how generous we are able to be. It has been said you should give 10% to the Lord but now I tell you be really generous and give more than 10%.

Everything we have belongs to God and then God asks us to be good stewards of what he has given us. A steward takes care of what belongs to his master. How well are we taking care of what God has given to us?

When you examine how you use the money God has given you and discover that you are giving just 3% or 5% or 7%, you need to examine your heart and see who it is you are serving – God or money.

I don’t want to beat you over the head and make you feel guilty so you will give more but I do want to help you this morning to see why it is in your own best interest to give.

In the Old Testament, giving the tithe was a religious obligation. In the New Testament giving is an expression of the joy of our Christian experience. Paul said in II Corinthians 9:7 that God loves a cheerful giver.

Let me present three reasons for being a cheerful giver to God’s work.

The first is rather simple. We give to show gratitude. We can never repay what God has done for us but we can show our gratitude.

In Luke 17 is recorded an experience Jesus had that is relevant.
11 Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance 13 and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!”
14 When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed.
15 One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. 16 He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan.
17 Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? 18 Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”

Jesus was walking to Jerusalem when ten lepers, keeping their distance from him as proscribed by law, called out to him to be healed. Jesus saw them and told them to go show themselves to the priests and when they obeyed, they were cleansed, healed from their leprosy. Ten lepers were healed but only one of them came back to thank Jesus and praise God.

Ten lepers received a free gift – healing from a disease that made them social outcasts from their families and communities. How much would they be willing to pay for healing from this disease? Everything they had. What did they have to offer Jesus except their gratitude?

And yet only one out of the ten came back to thank Jesus and praise God.

Why did that leper return? Was he obligated to do so? No. Was his healing dependent on his coming back to give thanks? No. The other nine did not return to give thanks but were still healed. But the leper who returned came back out of gratitude and received in the process what the other nine never learned, that it was faith in God that brought healing, not the magic of Jesus.

Why should we give to the work of God in the world? Because we are grateful for what God has done for us and because when we give, we grow in our understanding of faith and the ways of God working in the world. We give out of gratitude.

How grateful are you for what God has done for you? Let that be your guide as you give.

A second reason for giving to the work of God in the world is that in doing so we are acting wisely, preparing for the future.

The parable of the Shrewd Manager that we read this morning is a difficult parable to understand. On the face of it, it seems to be commending dishonesty.

Let me summarize the story. A manager who has complete control over his master’s estate, is called in to the master and told he will be removed from his position. The manager decides he doesn’t like his future prospects: he does not like to do manual work and does not want to beg. So he goes to the people who owe his master money and lowers the amount they owe his master. In this way he puts them in his debt so that when he loses his job as manager, these people will help him out in his new life.

Now it doesn’t really matter if he defrauded his master of the money due to him or if he removed from the bills an unfair and illegal amount of interest charged. In either case, what Jesus commends in this parable is that he used his resources in his present situation to prepare for his future situation.

Picture yourself on the Titanic. The ship has struck an iceberg and is sinking. People are struggling to get into the lifeboats. The ship has begun to tilt as the stern of the ship takes in water so walking along the corridors and the deck of the ship is difficult. It won’t be long before the ship goes under and if you are not in a lifeboat by that time, you will most likely drown in the frigid Atlantic waters.

Being a conscientious person, you race through the hallway to see if there is someone you can save and bring to the lifeboats. As you race down the hall, you see a man ransacking the rooms, filling his pockets with gold and silver and jewelry he has found in the cabins. He is dragging a suitcase loaded with money and watches and other valuables. He is delighted at this treasure he has discovered. “I’m a rich man! Look at all I have!” he shouts at you and then races on to the next cabin to get some more. You try to persuade him that he should abandon all that and try to save himself but to no avail. His heart is so set on this treasure he has found he is incapable of thinking of the future.

This is the flip side of the parable Jesus taught. What good does it do you to accumulate money and wealth in this life when death is approaching that will take all you have accumulated away from you? The wise person uses what he or she has accumulated to prepare for the future, life after death. Jesus said (Luke 16:9)
I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.

In the Sermon on the Mount as recorded in Luke 12, Jesus taught
“Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Where are you accumulating treasure? It doesn’t matter whether you have it or are lusting for it. It doesn’t matter whether you have a lot or a little. Where are you accumulating treasure? If your treasure is in this world, then you are a fool, like the man on the Titanic gathering up treasure while the ship is sinking.

Don’t end up being bankrupt when your life in this world is over. Build up treasure now in heaven by using what God has given you here in ways that are pleasing to him.

Why give to the work of God in the world? Because we ought to be grateful to God for what he has done for us. Because it is a wise person who uses what he or she has in this world to prepare for the future. And thirdly, we give to the work of God in the world because we receive from God blessing when we use our money and possessions in ways that please him.

I read earlier a passage from Malachi 3 in which Israel was cursed because they did not bring a tithe as they were instructed to do. But I left off the last verse of that section. After the Lord says he is being robbed because people are not bringing him their tithe, he says:
“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.

There is a theme in Scripture that God’s blessing of us is in some measure dependent on how we use the money and possessions he has entrusted us with. We see this in the last verse of the passage from Malachi 3. We see this also in the teaching Jesus gave after his telling of the parable of the shrewd manager.
10 “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. 11 So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? 12 And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own?

What is Jesus talking about here when he refers to “little” and “much”? That becomes apparent when you read verse 11. So verse ten can be read, Whoever can be trusted with worldly wealth can also be trusted with true riches, spiritual blessing, and whoever is dishonest with worldly wealth will also be dishonest with spiritual truths.

If you are not using the money and possessions God has given you in a way that pleases him, you are depriving yourself of the spiritual blessing God wants to give you.

Do you want to be blessed by God? Do you want to receive in your life God’s blessing? Then use your money and possessions in a way that pleases God.

Sometimes when I pray before we take up our offering I make the point that giving what the world most values is an act of defiance, telling the world that we choose Jesus first and foremost, above the money and power of this world. When we share our money and possessions, when we give them away, we shatter the power they have over us and make room for the joy of Christian life. Our giving becomes a joyous act, not a religious obligation.

This is why I focus in my preaching on growing in our understanding of the love of God for us. Money follows our heart and when our heart is given to God, our money will follow.

Why give to God’s work?

How grateful are you for what God has done in your life? Are you using the money and possessions you have been given to store up treasure on earth or treasure in heaven? Do you want to receive all the blessing God has for you?

Be a cheerful giver. I remember a conversation I had with my father and the accountant for our company some years ago. We were having lunch and discussing this subject of giving to the church. Annie and I have given at least 10% ever since we were married and so the accountant began to ask me if a 10% tithe should be taken out before or after taxes. He asked what I would do if I had a tax-deferred investment? Would I tithe from that? He went on and on and finally I said to him, “You’re missing the point. It is not a matter of how much I need to give to fulfill my religious duty. It is a question of how much can I give because of the joy of participating in what God is doing in the world.”

This is what will happen if you are not generous with what God has given you. You will miss out on the blessing of God he has in mind for you, the joy of participating with him in his work in the world. You are the one who will suffer, not God.

John Wesley preached a famous sermon in which he called on Christians to earn all you can. Make as much money as possible. Secondly, save all you can. How little of the money you earned do you need to live on. And thirdly, he challenged Christians to give all you can.

10% is not a limit or a goal but it is a marker to see if you are falling short of how you are using the money God has given to you. “How much can I give?” is the question, not, “What do I have to give?”

I challenge you to open your heart to God and let go of the treasures of this world to which we cling so tightly.

And God challenges you as well.
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.