This month we are talking about how to experience the blessed life and most of us know that by almost any standard we might use, we are blessed. In financial terms, we are blessed. The global poverty rate is defined as living on less than $2 a day. By these terms, we are blessed. In Sierra Leone, where we support pastors and churches, the average person earns $1.14 per day. In Belize where we just helped send a second container, the average person earns $7.65 per day. In the US the average person earns over $87 per day. By any standard we use, we are blessed. That’s good news for us and we need to thank God for all that we have.
That’s the good news, here’s the bad news… Jesus said, it is more blessed to GIVE than to RECEIVE and when it comes to giving, we don’t always do a very good job. I looked at a lot of different studies on giving to charities this week and while the numbers and percentages often changed, the same picture always emerged. The more money people make, the less money they give. For example, those in the bottom 20% of income in the US gave an average of 3.2% of their income to charity, while the top 20% gave 1.3%. Every study said the same thing, the more blessed people were financially, meaning the more money they had, the less they gave.
Why, when we have more money to give, do we begin to hold on to it more tightly? Why do we struggle to give when we have been given so much? The answer is that money is the #1 competitor for our heart. As we hold on to our money and as we get more money, the temptation is to trust our money more than everything else. The more money we get, and the tighter we hold it, and the more we believe the promises that money makes. Money promises to do for us the very things that God wants to do. In other words, money is trying to be our god. Think of it, money promises to bring these things that God has promised: Security, Freedom, Power, Significance.
Money promises us security. We are told that when we have enough money, which usually means MORE money, we won’t have to worry about anything and all our future needs will be met. With more money we will be secure, and so we begin to trust our money more than God. While there is an element of truth in the fact that money does bring some financial security, and we need to be wise about our finances to have a secure future, we can’t trust the money to bring the security. God is the one who keeps us secure. God alone is the one we need to trust when we look at the future because money can be here one day and gone the next, but God is always there and always will be there. The psalmist says, God is an ever present help in times of need.
Money also promises freedom. If we have more money we will be free from worry, free from stress, free from problems, and maybe even free from having to work. While we think money brings freedom, the reality is that when we trust our money we become its slave. Trusting money means always working to get more money. It means always managing our money, and worrying about what we have, and where we have it, and if we need to move it. People who trust in their money are the ones who check their accounts daily to see how much they have, how much they have earned, and if their accounts took a hit with the changes in the market. There is no freedom when we trust in money.
Money also promises power and significance. From business to sports to entertainment to politics, it is the ones who have the money that the world listens to and follows. It is the people with money that seem to be important and powerful. For the next 12 months we are going to hear this constantly. In politics we are told that the one with the most money has the most power and is the most significant and therefore is the best candidate and has the best chance of winning. But the power and importance that comes with money is fleeting because it is gone when the money’s gone.
While money promises these things, in the end it always fails, and it fails because it is trying to do what God alone can do. Only God keeps us safe and secure – even in the midst of a storm. When Jesus healed the sick, cast out demons, and forgave sinners he was showing us that God alone is the one who sets us free. Only God provides us with a power that can endure through all of life, and a power that can do all things and even greater things than Jesus, and it is God who made us for a purpose and we find true significance when we start living for God. Money can never provide the things that God desires to give, and yet we turn to money over and over again, and the more money we have – the more we lean on it, depend on it, and trust in it.
Because money is the #1 competitor for our hearts, Jesus said, You cannot serve both God and money. Jesus didn’t say this about anything else because there is nothing else that has the same hold on us. Now most of us would probably say that we don’t love and trust money more than God, but let me ask this: would your life be better if you had a little more money? While we may not love money, we like it, and it is necessary, and helpful, and so yes, a little more money would be good. But then listen to this. Ecclesiastes 5:10. Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income.
It’s a fine line between realizing that money is necessary and that a little more can be a good thing, and trusting in our money. Thinking that money is the answer to all our problems and that more money will always be better is a dangerous trap for our hearts, but God has given us a way out of the trap. God has provided a system of giving that can allow us to put money in its proper place in our hearts and lives and it is a practical way we can show ourselves that our faith and trust is in God alone. This system of giving is called the tithe.
The word tithe literally means tenth, and it is the tenth of all our income, our resources, and the work of our hands that does not belong to us but to God. Leviticus 27:30. Notice that the tithe belongs to God. The tithe is not our possessions that we give to God as a gift, it already belongs to God and we are returning it to him. When we look at the tithe this way, if we don’t tithe then we are actually stealing from God, and while this sounds harsh, it is exactly what God says. Malachi 3:8
The people of Israel had been told to return to God their first and best as the tithe, Proverbs 3:9-10. While this is what God had told them, they had come to a place where they didn’t give their first fruits, and they didn’t give their best, they gave what they had left over. They gave to God what they thought they could. This way of giving, over time, led them to trust more in the work of their hands, their money, than in God. God was testing the people here and reminding them that if they really loved Him over all things, and trusted God to provide for them, then they would return to God what already belongs to him – the full tithe.
I have often wondered why 10% was the amount God chose, and I have no answer to that, but it is interesting that when God wanted to test people’s faith the #10 often appears. When God wanted to test his people and see if they would follow and obey him – how many commandments did God give? When God tested Pharaoh to see if he would soften his heart toward the Israelites – how many plagues did God send? When Jesus healed a group of lepers to see if they return and give thanks to God – how many lepers did Jesus heal? And how many returned? (one – a tenth). And when Jesus chose his disciples and formed the church – how many disciples did Jesus choose? (OK, I was just testing you.)
Over and over again we see the #10 emerge as part of God’s testing his people to see if they would be faithful and live for him instead of for themselves and the tithe is the same thing. Giving God a tenth of our income and resources tests our hearts to see what it is we truly love and trust. Do we trust God or our money? It’s a difficult test, and it’s hard to do, but it is one very practical step we can take in order to experience the blessed life.
Jesus said it is more blessed to give than to receive, which might lead us to ask, what should I give or how much should I give? What percentage of giving shows God that I trust him and love him more than the things of this world? A tithe is a great place to start.
Giving 10% is a very practical step that shows us that we have placed God first in our lives. If we say we love and trust God above all things, this is one clear way to show ourselves that it’s true. It is a test of our faith.
But the tithe is also a way that God invites us to test him. Usually testing God is not seen as being a good thing. In fact, Jesus quoted the Old Testament scriptures when he said, do not put the Lord your God to the test. But in one area we are invited by God to test him, and that is in giving. The tithe is not just a test of our faith but it is also a test of God’s faithfulness. God invites us to test him to see if it truly is more blessed to give – Malachi 3:9-12.
Test me, God says. Give me the tithe and see how you will be blessed. Test me and let me prove to you that I will not only be faithful but generous. It’s a blessing test. If we give – we will be blessed and receive all that God has to give us.
Giving 10% to God is not always an easy thing to do because when we figure out what that amount is, it might be more than we have ever given before. My first week as a pastor I thought about what I needed to put in the offering. I’ll be honest, I had never tithed before. In fact, during college and seminary and the few years in between when I worked, I was in and out of so many churches that I never gave anything more than a few dollars when an offering plate passed by. But I was now living as part of a church community and family, what was I going to give. I thought about a tithe so sat down to figure out just how much money that would be. When I did, I thought, wow, that’s a lot. It was more money than I had ever given before, and then I realized that I was going to have to give that every week. I wasn’t sure I could do it, but then I read these verses and realized it was a test of my faith and God’s faithfulness.
It can be financially difficult to tithe and it might call for us to re-prioritize our lives and reorder our finances in order to give. We might need to spend less on phones, tvs, computers, and other electronics in order to put God first. We might need to eat out less, buy fewer shoes and clothes, shop thrift stores instead of retail, and we might need to forgo that new car and drive the old one for a few more years in order to return to God what is rightfully his. It’s not easy to reorient our lives around the tithe, but once we do – we will be blessed.
But let’s be clear, God’s blessing is not always financial. Sometimes the blessing we receive is the joy we feel when we give to God. Knowing that we are lifting up a child and family and village with the gift of a box, and seeing the excitement of the children in the videos is a blessing we get when we give.
Sometimes the blessing we receive when we give is knowing that we are helping people come to Jesus and experience God’s love Your tithe to Faith Church helps children learn and trust Jesus on Sunday mornings, during VBS, and all week at our Daycare and Playschool. Your tithe helps youth know Jesus through our youth ministry and outreach programs like the 5th Quarter. Your giving supports people in need. It helps feed the hungry, house the homeless, and it cares for those who are sick and alone in our community.
Your tithe also helps us care for people in Belize, and the church and pastors in Sierra Leone. We support God’s work around the world and we know that our giving makes a difference in the lives of others. But our tithe doesn’t just help other people know and trust Jesus, it helps grow in our faith as well. Our tithe provides us the opportunity to worship and learn together every week. It helps us create a community where we can use our gifts and share our faith in countless ways from singing to sewing to teaching to cooking, and as we share our gifts and serve God we find our significance and experience the power of God. Our tithe to the church helps us grow in our relationship with God, the church and the world, which means it helps us become more like Jesus.
The blessed life comes when we give and not receive, and God has called us to give our first and our best, and he invites us to return to him a tenth not as a test of our faith as much as a test of God’s faithfulness. As I close, let me be clear that the tithe is not the law and it is not a requirement for being a follower of Jesus. If we are honest, Jesus called people to go beyond the tithe in order to love and God others. Jesus called people to give sacrificially, and generously, and to anyone who was in need.
The tithe is not the law, it is a test, a test of our faith and God’s faithfulness. It is also a system of giving that can help us make sure that money and wealth never gets a hold our hearts. So take the blessing test, test God and return what belongs to him. Test God and find out that the blessed life comes as we give.
The Blessed Life – The Blessing Test
Read about the tithe
● Genesis 14:20, and Genesis 28:20-22
● Leviticus 27:30-32
● Malachi 3:8-10
Tithing teaches us that all we have comes from God.
● Ask God to help you see that all you have comes from Him and then give thanks
● Thank God for the financial blessings we have simply because we live in the United States.
Money promises Security, Freedom, Power, Significance.
● In what ways do you find money providing these things in your life?
● How has money and wealth take the top place in your heart and life?
Giving 10% to God’s work through the church is a clear sign of our faith and trust in God.
● What percentage do you currently give back to God?
● Figure out what a tithe would be for you and your family.
● What steps would you have to take in order to give the tithe to God? What would need to be reordered and re-prioritized in your life? What might you have to give up?
● What one step can you take this week to move toward tithing?
Information about giving to God through Faith Church can found at bellefontefaith.com/give.