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Tithing to Honor God

Matthew 23:23

23 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.


This sermon grew out of several convictions. One is that stewardship is a deeply spiritual matter. We do not tithe or we are not stewards to raise money for a financial institution but rather to make a deep spiritual surrender of our lives to the Lord. Stewardship is not a matter of dollars and cents; it’s a matter of dedication and commitment. It is not man’s way of raising money. It is God’s way of maturing his people. And so out of that deep spiritual commitment I appeal to you concerning Christian stewardship today.

There is a second conviction and that is that there is a point beyond which you cannot go in your spiritual pilgrimage unless you are right with material possessions. We spend so much of our time and thought and energy in the making of money that unless we have that money in its right perspective in our lives, then we will never have life itself in the right perspective. And I assume by your presence here that you desire to grow to the fullness of Jesus Christ himself. If you are a Christian you want to be everything that God wants you to be. And you can never be all you were intended to be unless you have material possessions in their right place and you are rightly related to God and your stewardship.

The third conviction is that tithing is the starting place for Christian stewardship. Giving a tenth of your income to God is the floor, not the ceiling of Christian giving. It is the consistent testimony of scripture that the tithe belongs to the Lord and that when we start out as Christian stewards, we start with a tithe and we go beyond and God continues to bless us and to prosper us. So, my aim in the sermon today is to get you to do one of three things:

Number one, if you are not a tither that today you will begin to tithe. I hope to show you sufficiently in scripture that this is what God wants, that this is the beginning place. And if I can do that in scripture, then you leave here with the conviction that that’s what God says and you ought to do it.

If you are already a tither, then it is my hope that you will either continue to tithe or that you will decide and commit yourself to give beyond the tithe, to give even more than that to the work of God.

When we come to the end of the sermon I am going to ask you to bow your head and to make a personal commitment in your heart to the Lord. I’m got going to ask you to sign any cards, not going to ask anybody to lift their hands, not going to ask anybody to come forward to make any kind of public demonstration, just right there in your own heart you and God have a little conversation and you tell him that you intend to do. But I want you to do what he wants you to do. I want you to be open-minded to what God has to say. I want you to be prayerful about your decision and I want you with your whole heart to joyfully and generously commit yourself to doing what God wants you to do and expects you to do today.

This sermon is a little bit different and maybe more difficult to follow then most of the sermons. I’m going to share with you four passages of scripture in the Bible that talk about tithing.

The first one that is mentioned in the book of Genesis, another one in the book of Leviticus, and then one in the last book of the Old Testament—in the book of Malachi. And then a simple statement by Jesus. 

There are 39 references to tithing in the Bible, 32 of those in the Old Testament, seven of them in the New Testament, so from the beginning of scripture to the end of scripture the principal of tithing is given to us. 

Tithing is not a Baptist tradition. Tithing is a biblical principle. And we need to see that and I want us to look at the beginning and on through the teachings of Jesus concerning the matter of tithing as you search your own heart and your own mind concerning this matter. If I had an outline this is what it would be and this is what you would want to write on the note page of your bulletin if you are taking notes.

Abraham commenced tithing. Second, Moses commanded it. Third, Malachi confirmed it. Fourth, Jesus commended it.

You take those four characters, Abraham, Moses, Malachi, and Jesus. What they have to say about tithing gives us the outline, the structure, the framework that I want to share with you about tithing to honor God today.

The first account in the Bible that we have of anybody tithing is found in the book of Genesis 14. Genesis is the first book of the Bible. So in that very first book, in the early pages, there is the first account of anybody ever tithing to God. 

1. Abraham commenced the tithe.

Now, I do not know when or where tithing began. The practice obviously has been lost in antiquity. However, I surmise that tithing might have something like this: Man looked up into the heavens and he recognized the existence of God. And he knew that all that he had was a result of God’s goodness, God’s grace to him. And he asked himself, “What can I give back to God that is worthy of his name? What can I return to God that would honor him? What portion of my goods could I give?” And deep within, almost instinctively, the idea of tithing, the giving of a 10th back to God must have come to mind. And that practice was in existence a long time before God ever said, “The tithe is the Lord’s and it is holy unto me.” 

Before the law of Moses, men practiced tithing. Abraham lived 500 years before Moses and Abraham gave tithes unto the Lord, so tithing must have been in practice a long time before the existence of Abraham. Listen to what the Bible says concerning Abraham and tithing.

In the book of Genesis 14:18-19, “And Melchizedek king of Salem brought forth bread and wine: and he was the priest of the most high God. And he blessed him, and said, Blessed be Abram of the most high God, possessor of heaven and earth.” Now it is not Abraham who is the possessor of heaven and earth, it is God. Blessed be God, the possessor of heaven and earth. “And blessed be the most high God, which hath delivered thine enemies into thy hand. And he gave him tithes of all” (Genesis 14:20). 

The story behind this experience is simple but profound. The king of Elem got together a group of confederates and they marched against the twin cities of Sodom and Gomorrah and they took many captives. Among these taken captive was Lot, the nephew of Abraham. When word of this conquest came to Abraham he immediately organized an army and marched against the king of Elem. Abraham defeated him and he rescued his nephew Lot and got back all of the possessions that the king of Elem and his confederates had taken in the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.

On their way back home from victory, they were met by Melchizedek, who was a priest of the most high God. Melchizedek pronounced a blessing upon Abraham, who was a servant of the most high God. And he also blessed the name of God. That word blessed that is used in the King James means “to adore.” It means to praise. It means to give thanks. It means to express gratitude and out of thanksgiving and gratitude to God for the victory that he had given to Abraham they both praised and adored God on this occasion and out of this experience the Bible tells us that Abraham gave tithes of all the spoils of war unto Melchizedek the priest of the most high God.

So tithing had its beginning, not as a law from God, not as an obligation imposed upon man, but as an expression of thanksgiving and gratitude to God for his blessings. It was a way in which Abraham praised God and adored God for his goodness and his graciousness in giving him victory over the enemy and the rescue of his nephew. And tithing always ought to be an expression of gratitude and thanksgiving on the part of his people.

Somebody has said there are three kinds of giving: Three is grudge giving, there is duty giving, and there is thanksgiving. And the giving of the people of God ought always to be thanksgiving. We recognize God’s goodness, God’s graciousness to us, and out of a heart of love, out of adoration to God, out of praise to God, we joyfully, voluntarily, and generously give unto him.

2. Moses commanded the tithe.

What Abraham commenced, Moses commanded. And so I ask you to turn in your Bibles to Leviticus 27:30 where there is a statement concerning tithing. Now God took the practice of Abraham and the practice of men down through the years (and there are many other references in between that experience of Abraham and this verse) and God made that a command. He made that a law. I think I know why God made tithing a law. He commanded it so that man would know exactly what God expected of him. You know there is a desire in us, there is a longing within us to know what is right so we can do what is right.

Let me illustrate. Oftentimes people come to me to get married. And when we are ready to get married, sometimes before, sometimes after, they ask me, “Preacher, how much do you charge?” And I say to them, “Friend, I don’t charge anything. It’s cash on the barrelhead.” I found out if you ever let that guy get away with that gal, he will never pay you anything. 

People want to know what we owe. They want to know what is right so they can feel good about what they are doing. And God recognized that as a basic need and a desire in all of us. And so he said, I’m not going to leave you to wonder about your stewardship, the beginning place where you ought to start out doing. Let me just tell you that the right thing to do and the beginning place is tithing. And so listen to what God said in Leviticus 27:30: “And all the tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land, or of the fruit of the tree, is the Lord's: it is holy unto the Lord.” 

I don’t know whether anything could be any clearer than that. The tithe is the Lord’s. It is holy unto him. And the ancient Jew practiced tithing as an expression and as an acknowledgement of the fact that everything that they had came from God. It was a recognition that all of their possessions belonged to him and acknowledgement that God was the owner of all things. As they gave 1/10th back to God they were saying, “God, we recognize that everything is yours. We belong to you and this is a consecration of everything that we have and everything that we are unto you.” And the scriptures say that the tithe is his. It is holy, consecrated and belongs to him. 

3. Malachi confirmed the tithe.

And that which Abraham commenced, Moses commanded. And that which Moses commanded, Malachi confirmed. And so, turn in your Bible to Malachi 3:8-10. The first book in the Old Testament is Genesis, and the last book is Malachi. He makes an important statement about tithing: “Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee?” In tithes and offerings. Ye are cursed with a curse: for ye have robbed me, even this whole nation.”

The book of Malachi is written by a man who takes legal approach to matters. He is almost acting as a lawyer as he indicts Israel for first one sin and then another. And here he indicts them for robbing God. He begins by asking, “Will a man rob God?” and then he answers that question: “Yet ye have robbed me.” And the people plead innocent. They say, “Wherein have we robbed thee.” 

That word robbed is a very strong word. It means to take by force. And it is the idea that they have by forced taken that which is rightfully God’s. If it is the Lords, if it has already been consecrated, set apart by God for himself, and you keep it for yourself, God says that is robbery. God says you are taking that which is not yours.

And they pled innocence. Why the audacity, that a man would rob that which rightfully belongs to God! How have we robbed you? He says in tithes and in offerings.

A lady wrote to Billy Graham sometimes ago and said, “I wonder If God expects us to tithe today as he did in the days of the Old Testament? I personally would find that very difficult to do in these days of inflation.” Graham wrote back to point to this passage of scripture and he pointed out that behind this statement is a nation that is going through an economic depression. Israel is having a hard time economically here and he says the reason is that you have not been faithful to God in your stewardship. If you had been right materially with God you would not be suffering the economic reversal that you are going through right now. And he promises them that if they will be right in their stewardship that he will open the windows of heaven and pour out his blessings upon them.

Listen to what he goes on to say in verse 10: “Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.”

And Billy Graham said that this passage seemed to teach two things. Number one is that we are to continue to tithe regardless of the economic conditions. You know if we only tithe when we are prospering, if we only tithe when we have an abundance, if we only tithe when it is easy, what is so much about that? You know anybody can do that. But here they were in the midst of an economic depression and he doesn’t say, “Wait until things get better and then start tithing.” He said, “Start tithing and things will get better.”

And then he said there is a second truth: “Obedience to God will bring blessings.” You do what you are supposed to do and I will open the windows of heaven and pour you out a blessing that you shall not room enough to receive it.

You say, preacher, are you trying to say to me that if I will give like I ought to that God will bless me abundantly and the answer to that is yes. That’s what God says. What’s more, God says, “Prove me now herewith and see if it is not true.” If you don’t get truth, then put me to the test.

God is willing to be tested. He is willing to prove himself to you if you will take the step of faith, if you will launch out and do what you are supposed to do, God will confirm himself to you. But you must take the step of faith. While I believe that God blesses those who are faithful in their stewardship, that is not the reason we are good stewards. The poorest of all reasons to give is so I can get something back from God. But I do believe that he blesses those who are faithful to him.

Let me give you my own testimony. I started tithing when I was a teenage boy. When I became a Christian I thought that whatever God told you to do you were supposed to do. And I didn’t have a Christian background and I didn’t know any other Christians intimately and so I just thought if God said it you were supposed to do it. So somebody told me shortly after I became a Christian that we were in a building program and they wanted me to sign a commitment card to give to that building program. And they also taught me as a part of that that the tithe belonged to the Lord. So as a teenage boy I started tithing. When I was working part-time I gave a tithe. When I was earning money to try to go to college I gave a tithe. When Cathy and I went off to Baylor and she was working in the library for 50 cents an hour and I was working in the maintenance department for 75 cents an hour, we gave a tithe. When I got my first full-time church making $67.50 a week, we gave a tithe. When I got my second full-time church making a $100 a week, we tithed. And as long as I can remember and we have always given at least a tithe and usually more than a tithe to God. 

Sometimes it was hard to do. It was difficult to get by on $67 a week then. But somehow we made it. And we were always faithful to give as God had given to us. And I want you to know that today God has blessed me beyond anything I could ever have guessed or imagined back them. God has prospered me in more ways than you could ever imagine. Now you may say, “Well, preacher, that is because you happened to be in the right place at the right time.” If that is the way you want to explain it, that is fine. You may say, “Preacher, you just happened to have some friends who knew how to make money and they let you in on a deal.” If that is the way you want to explain it, that is fine. You may say, “Well, you just happened to know how to get into the right kind of deal.” If you want to explain it that way, that is fine.

But let me tell you how I explain it. I believe that God brought me to the right place at the right time and in contact with the right people who knew the right things and God taught me some things because I have been faithful to him down through the years and I see no other reason for it happening.

I believe that God will be faithful to you also. That is not why I gave. I never gave in my life one cent expecting anything in return. I never gave to get anything from God. I just gave it to God because I loved him and I was grateful to him because he told me to do it and because he is the one who has given me all things. Out of devotion and relationship I gave but in return God has blessed and I praise his name for that. I want you to be a part of that kind of experience also.

4. Jesus commended the tithe.

That which Abraham commenced and that which Moses commanded and that which Malachi confirmed, Jesus also commended. 

Turn to the last book of the New Testament, to Matthew 23:23, and there is a marvelous statement there by our Lord concerning tithing. Now there are some people who argue against tithing as a Christian practice. They say it belongs to the Old Testament, that since we live under grace and not under law, that tithing has no place in our lives. But I want you to know that tithing is as much alive today as it was in the days of the Old Testament. And I say that on the basis of this statement by Jesus: “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.”

Let me read that same verse in Today’s Living Bible. It makes a little easier to understand: “Yes, woe upon you, Pharisees, and you other religious leaders—hypocrites! For you tithe down to the last mint leaf in your garden, but ignore the important things—justice and mercy and faith. Yes, you should tithe, but you shouldn’t leave the more important things undone.”

Here is what he is talking about. The scribes and Pharisees are meticulous in their observance of all the law. Especially the law of tithing. And they go out in their garden and they look at a mint plant and if it had ten leaves on it they would pull off one of them and give that to God. That is how meticulous they were in tithing. But while they were careful to tithe, they were as crooked as a bunch of snakes in their business dealings. They were unjust, they were dishonest, and they had no mercy upon people, they would squeeze people for the last penny they could get out of them, they would scam them if they could. There was no honesty, no decency in their business dealings.

Jesus wrote to say, “You have done well and you ought to tithe, but don’t neglect the other aspect of your life—justice, mercy, and faith. Don’t leave that undone.” What Jesus is saving is this: “Stewardship involves the whole of life. Not just the outgo but also the income. Not only the way you give, but also the way you get. You cannot give correctly if you do not get it correctly and so you must be honest and just and fair and merciful in your business dealings. But you must also be generous in your giving.”

The right kind of stewardship encompasses the whole of life. When you put it all together what does it say? It says that like Abraham we are to give out of a sense of gratitude and thanksgiving to God. Like Moses we are to give in recognition that God owns all things. Giving a part is to be a symbol of the giving of our whole lives unto him. Like Malachi we are to recognize that he is the Lord and we are his stewards and as Jesus suggested our giving is to be a part of our total commitment of self to God. Not only the way we give on Sunday but the way we work and earn and treat people on Monday through Friday or the rest of the week. Our whole lives are a stewardship to God. And when we give like that, out of gratitude, out of recognition to God for his goodness, out of commitment of ourselves to him, out of surrender of our total being, that is the kind of giving that honors God.

Abraham commenced it. Moses commanded it. Jesus commended it. And I must be committed to it and you ought to also. And so my plea to you is, if what I’ve said makes sense, if what I have said is in fact the truth of God, if I’ve been able to show you that this is what the Bible says and what God wants, that right here and right now you will say to God, “Without argument, without controversy, I see what you say and I commit myself to begin tithing today.” Not January 1, but today.

And if you are already a tither, then you will either say, “I will continue tithe or I will give beyond that.” You know some of you giving a tithe is like tipping God. It’s something you never miss. It is so small compared to what you have. It’s not worthy of God. It doesn’t honor God. Some of you spend more money on hunting trips and on gold or on vacations or whatever else your hobby may be than you would in your tithe to God. And that doesn’t honor him. That’s not worthy of him. And some of you ought to go way beyond the tithe in your giving. You know whether you ought to do that or not. It is not my decision. It is yours. And you have to make it under his Lordship. Has he been good to you? Like Abraham, are you grateful? Do you bless and praise his name? Like Moses do you recognize that God is the owner and we are the stewards? Like Malachi, do you recognize that you owe God something? Like Jesus, do you see that this is a part of your commitment? If you do I want you to make that commitment with me right now.

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Today's Devotional

Major on the Basics

Knute Rockne was one of the greatest football coaches ever. In his 13 years at Notre Dame, his teams won 105 games, lost 12, and tied 5. He never had a secret practice. In fact, he sometimes put up a sign for visitors that said, “Secret practice. Come and bring your notebooks.”

On one occasion when an Army scout missed a train connection and didn’t get to the Notre Dame game he was to cover, Rockne obligingly sent him the plays he planned to use against the West Point men. He explained his actions by saying, “It isn’t the play that wins; it’s the execution.”

All great coaches agree: champions are made by majoring on the fundamentals – blocking and tackling. They execute well. Teams seldom win by trick plays or gimmicks.  

The same is true of life. Tricks and gimmicks will seldom get you to the top in any endeavor and can never keep you there. Major on the basics in all of life – work hard, honor God, be honest, kind and helpful to others, and go to church regularly.

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