Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Attitude of Giving

It's not why you do it. It's how you do it. 

Last week we opened the door on the subject of tithing and offerings.

As we did so we learned that there is little said or referred to about the subject prior to the Law of Moses. There are a few instances mentioned in Genesis, but nothing expository. Why Abraham felt the need to give a tenth. The reason it was important. There are some practices that we see in Genesis, such as building an altar and worship God, that aren't given much reason or meaning until we see Moses giving Law to the Israelites in Exodus and beyond. Tithing and offerings are another one of those subjects. We see people doing it, but we don't have much to go on.

As we get started this week, we will go to a not so familiar spot.
We'll get to the Law and what it has to say. Jesus spoke about tithing and offerings also. But, it was Paul speaking to Timothy near the end of the first letter the Apostle wrote to his student-son in the faith that will set the tone for us. Paul's letter was to Timothy, and is to us, a refresher course in all that one should believe and practice. It was to Timothy as a preacher and to us as Christians following the Savior. Lets see where it ties in with our giving.

1 Timothy 6:17-19

New International Version (NIV)
17 Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. 18 Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. 19 In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.

What we want to see this week is not the legal aspect of why we give, but the attitude behind what we give. Are putting something in the offering plate because we think we are required to do so? OR, are we doing it because we want to give back; because we realized that God is most important? I think we should find where in the law our subject is first mention and then move forward from there.

It was during the second year of the Exodus that we see Moses instituting the system of tithing. When the Tabernacle was constructed, this mobile temple system that was put together while the Israelites were in the desert, it was here that Moses shows them the need to give a tenth of what they had. And, what they had was not much. Mostly, what they had was some grain. many of them had animals and livestock. They are in the desert. Money was scarce. An agricultural system was next to impossible in this environment. What did they have? Moses shows them the need to give out what they did have.

Leviticus 27:30-33

New International Version (NIV)
30 “‘A tithe of everything from the land, whether grain from the soil or fruit from the trees, belongs to the Lord; it is holy to the Lord. 31 Whoever would redeem any of their tithe must add a fifth of the value to it. 32 Every tithe of the herd and flock—every tenth animal that passes under the shepherd’s rod—will be holy to the Lord. 33 No one may pick out the good from the bad or make any substitution. If anyone does make a substitution, both the animal and its substitute become holy and cannot be redeemed.’”

Why is it that Moses seems to think they need to learn this idea of tithing? What is so important about this mode of worship that the Israelites need grasp? Well, now that this Tabernacle is put together and they have a place to worship God the people need to now how to worship God. The answer to our quandary today is not in the why, but in the how. Worship is something that is to be done. It is not something that we just show up for. It is something that we do. Maybe you came out here today. I thank you for coming to this building this morning. Can't really do any of this without some people here. Otherwise, it looks rather funny to see some guy wandering around a room talking to no one. Thank you for being here. Now that you're here, what are you going to do? Just sit there? That might be stranger than me talking to an empty room. Now I'm talking to a room full of people and nobody is responding. They are just sitting there looking forward. None of this makes any sense unless we are doing something.

Ah, but some people get it. At least that much. We are here to do something. SO, they do it. They stand when they are supposed to stand. They sing when they are supposed to sing. They drop an envelope in a plate as it passes them. They repeat a prayer they have heard for years and have memorized the words to. It is the how we are to worship that eludes many of us. Lets look back at the story of Cain and Abel for a moment. Like many of stories we see back here in early Genesis, there are details left out. Sometimes I think I'm watching a 90's sitcom or dramedy. We've all seen those shows where people in the script seem to intentionally leave out pieces of conversation that if they would have just said this or communicated that then they wouldn't have the problem they have. That's what Cain and Abel feels like. It is shared that both Cain and Abel are about to give offerings to God. But, for some reason unknown to us, God doesn't smile down on Cain's offering. God seems to be happy with Abel's offering. What is it about Abel's offering that God seems to like? We are left out in the cold here. That 90's sitcom leaves out the piece of dialogue we are wanting to hear. It will take a little more digging to figure out what we want to know. 

29 times the word "tithe" is mentioned in the Old Testament (in the NIV).
Tithing and offerings were an important part of the religious system for the Hebrews in the Old Testament. They were required to give of what they had in order to return a blessing to God. In many cases they did not have money, so they gave of their livestock. They gave of what grain they had. The point was to help israel to see that God comes first in all they do. Now, we could get very legalistic here and state that because many fo them did not give money, then we don't have to give money either. Context, context, context. We need to understand the importance of tithing what we have. In our world today, we do have money. Money is a near essential to living in today's world. We are rooted in the New Testament world of thought and life. In thinking more about this tithing issue, what would Jesus have said to his listeners about the subject?

Matthew 23:23

New International Version (NIV)
23 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! 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. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.

Luke 11:42

New International Version (NIV)
42 “Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone.

In the matter of tithing and offerings, the subject is often raised, who are we giving this stuff to? Well, the matter is brought to a head here in the Gospels as Jesus confronts the religious leaders on the matters of giving. The Old Testament offers little in the way of law explaining the importance of giving connected with the outpouring of charity. However, there are verses like this from Deuteronomy chaps 14 & 15 that go into detail about tithes.

Deuteronomy 14:28-29

New International Version (NIV)
28 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.

AH! Sounds like a community dinner to me! last night we put on one of our finest Thanksgiving dinners.  It takes people giving and sacrificing much to pull off what we did last night. I am blessed to know the folks in this church and how they give and give to make things work like these dinners. Listen to further commandment from Deut 15.

Deuteronomy 15:7-8

New International Version (NIV)
If anyone is poor among your fellow Israelites in any of the towns of the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward them. Rather, be openhanded and freely lend them whatever they need.

There is a connection here between giving what we have in tithing and offerings and the directive to be charitable and help the poor. This is what God is all about. Meeting people's needs. God comes first. Our notion, our desire, is to give to God out of what he has given us. With that idea and commandment in mind, we use what we have given to God to, in turn, bless people around us. We make this clear sign that the things we have are not our own. We didn't have possession of them in the first place. Some day we will leave this earth and not own anymore, anyway. So, while we are here, we give to God and give to others. Jesus was clear with the religious leaders he dealt with that they should, in fact, tithe. Yes. That was there spiritual responsibility. Also, they were not to neglect from the fact that they should take care of those in need around them. The two go hand in hand. 

2 Corinthians 9:6-15

New International Version (NIV)

Generosity Encouraged

Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. As it is written:
“They have freely scattered their gifts to the poor;
    their righteousness endures forever.”[a]
10 Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. 11 You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.
12 This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of the Lord’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. 13 Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, others will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else. 14 And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you. 15 Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!

Now, some folks don't like putting this Corinthians passage into the tithing discussion. The issue of tithing is very legal minded one with all the ramification of punishment and consequences.  I cannot help but see all of this as spiritual practice. That's what we are hear from, aren't we? This whole thing is spiritual and not legal. We have been set free from the law. Jesus came to free us from the burden of carrying the law everywhere we go. Instead he has written the law on our hearts. We know what we are to do and we can do it joyfully. "My joy I give unto you" Giving and tithing are not subjects that should cause us grief and harm. They are an opportunity to worship God and put God first in all we do. Can you give a tenth of what you have with a cheerful heart? I'll tell you's a whole lot easier to do that in a setting where you know ministry is being done and peoples needs are being met. Youy know where you offering is going. I am blessed to have a financial team in our church that keeps people up to date on what's coming in and going out and where it's all going. Some treasurers and financial sects I have worked with in the past are so tight lipped and keep the checkbook so 'close to home' that nobody gets to see what's going on. That's a recipe for disaster there.

We give to God freely. We give to bless God and to be a blessing to others.
There's still more to discuss next week. And, there another chance to give freely from what God has given to you.

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