Genesis 28:10-22 – “Then Jacob made a vow: If God will be with me and will watch over me on my trip and give me food to eat and clothes to wear, and if I return safely to my father’s home, then the LORD will be my God. This stone that I have set up as a marker will be the house of God, and I will surely give You a tenth of everything You give me.”
Reverend Joel Holls –
A couple invited some of their close friends to go with them to a popular restaurant. Both the food and service were great. When they had finished their meal and conversation, the host wrote out the tip on the credit card slip. As they left, the waiter gave them a warm and friendly smile implying that the tip was good and generous. This scene is played out in restaurants all across our country. The standard tip seems to have escalated to 20 percent or more.
As the couple who paid for the dinner was filling out their offering envelopes, it dawned on them that they paid a waiter for an hour or two of service, four times what they were giving God in their weekly envelope. They gave the waiter the tithe and more, but to God they gave leftovers. There lies an irony that we make such a limited and poor response to God for all His goodness, mercy, grace, and love throughout our lifetimes and beyond, into eternity.
That perhaps is why a wise person once said, surely there is something wrong with our standard of values, when we compare what we spend for incidentals or amusements and what we return unto almighty God.
A tip or a tithe? For Jacob there was no hesitation about what his response to Gods abiding presence would be. For us it seems to have become a more difficult decision. Jacobs story is not about a saint so holy that he awakes to find himself in the presence of God because of his good actions. It is the story of a scoundrel who awakes with a startling sense of wonder as he realizes that God had visited him in his dreams in spite of all the sins he had committed.
Jacob was in a bit of a jam because the choices he had made turned out to be selfish, calculating, and dishonest. His conniving had caught up with him. He had deceived his aged father, cheated his brother Esau, and was running for his life to escape the consequences. It is on the first night of his flight into the wilderness that he finds himself pursued not by Esau but by the grace of God. He had a vision of a ladder to heaven with angels ascending and descending. The Lord stood beside him and said, know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go (Genesis 28:15). In amazement Jacob murmurs, surely the Lord is in this place; and I did not know it.
Jacobs situation is symbolic of the human condition threefold: a wrong relationship with things of this world; a wrong relationship with people through deceit and dishonest dealing; a wrong relationship with God by not acknowledging His presence and through our disobedience.
Yet, because of his vision, Jacob begins to see all he is and has are gifts from God. He promises to use the stone which was the pillow for his head as the foundation for a pillar in the building up of God’s house. Then he says, and of all that You give me I will give You a tenth (verse 22). Here is one of the Biblical affirmations for what is known as a tithe.
We usually think of the tithe as that form of legalism (LAW) that is no longer part of our lives as New Covenant Christians. The general assumption in many parts of the church today is that the tithe is an expression of demand that is out of date, not the grace-filled redemption of the liberating Christ. Instead of a threatening ultimatum upon a fearful people, the tithe was a plan for salvation and security for a precarious, fragile nation. It set Israel apart from the barbarous and callous cultures that sought to engulf and destroy them in the land of promise. It was a gift from, rather than an extraction, of gifts. Douglas Johnson in his insightful work ‘The Tithe: Challenge or Legalism?’ insists: That the tithe of the Old Testament is a testimony to the interconnectedness of people and God. It incorporates a cycle of giving and receiving and using. It signifies a relationship that cannot be content with using a strict formula from the past. The tithe, like the message of the Old Testament is a living witness of God. Tithing therefore is not driven by legalistic compulsion, but rather arises as the spiritual response of a thankful soul.
I realize that for many this topic is about as welcome as a snowstorm in June. The Biblical concept of the tithe is often understood as an ancient, archaic, legalistic intrusion into our lives, which is compulsory and restrictive, painful to ponder and inappropriate for pastors to preach.
Hearing about it hits home. We are like the farmer who was asked if he had 200 cows would he give 20 to God? Yes, of course!, he said. If you had 100 cows would you give ten to God? I most certainly would, was his response. If you had ten cows would you give one to God? Now that=s not fair, he said, You know I have only ten cows!
Our faith does not deny that economics has a place in the human condition. By the same token, it was Martin Luther who said that a religion that gives nothing, costs nothing, and suffers nothing is worth nothing.
Tithing places before us a standard by which we may center our lives in gratitude to God. Tithing does not have anything to do with a raising a budget or supporting a program. It has everything to do with making a spiritual response to God. Jacobs story is timeless and relevant because it describes how this impoverished soul chose to respond.
Tithing is not a barter with God. It is not a financial contract assuring an increase in profits if one participates. It is not a mathematical formula for assuring the presence of God, nor a clever device for lining the coffers of the church. Tithe is essentially and fundamentally a testimony of faith in the creativity and goodness of God. What we do with what we have can be an outward and visible sign of God’s inward and redeeming grace alive and well within us. This is when the distribution of what we have becomes sacramental.
Do you know that studies actually verify that the more money we make the smaller percentage we give to the church? That’s right! In other words, the biggest percentage givers to our church are those who have the smallest incomes. I do not say that to embarrass anyone. It is a fact. The biggest percentage given in your church are not the big salaried people with fine jobs, as you might guess, but the average member, and in some instances you would be thrilled to know what some of our retired people are giving, and others who are on limited incomes.
Many will be able to resonate with the story of a man who pledged years ago to tithe all that he made to the work of the Lord. His first week’s paycheck was $50 and so he tithed $5 that week. As he grew older and more prosperous, he got $100 a week, then $200 a week – over $10,000 a year. All during that time he continued to tithe, until he finally rose to $500 a week. Then one day he called his pastor and said, I have to talk to you. The pastor came to the man’s beautiful home. They had a good time talking about old times, and finally the man came to the point. Do you remember that promise I made years ago to tithe? How can I get released from it? It’s like this, the man continued. When I made that promise I had to give only $5, but now I’m giving $500 a week to fulfill that pledge.
The old pastor thought for a moment, and then said to his friend, I’m afraid we cannot get you released from that promise, but there is something we can do for you. We can pray, asking God to shrink your income so you can afford to tithe $5 once more.
Does your giving resemble tip or a tithe? In the context of your own relation to God in Christ, you must decide. This is my prediction: if you do decide to accept the tithe as a standard, you will be beginning a grand Christian adventure in faith. When the tithe is practiced, a desire for even greater generosity fills you for God does not just have the tithe; He now has the tither as well. Furthermore, you will be amazed as to how happy you are on the other nine-tenths.
Therefore, as I use God’s word for my guide. I find that the principle is valid as a starting point in my faith journey. In giving a proportion, using the tenth as a guide, I can be spiritually comfortable knowing that I have not robbed God. Moreover, I have been emotionally comfortable knowing that, no matter how large a budget our church may have, my share of the burden is simply God’s share of my income. Finally, I have been physically comfortable, knowing from experience that our household gets along better on the nine-tenths of our blessings than we ever could with one-tenth more without God’s benediction.
Our giving expresses our gratitude for Who God is and what He has done for us especially through His Son, Jesus. How blessed we are to have a God Who loves us and watches over us. In spite of all our blessings, we give less than we should, but God forgives us. He is patient with us, and He keeps moving us along our journeys as God’s stewards.
May the Lord’s blessings be with you as you steward the many blessings that God entrusts to your care.