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JANUARY 29 2017 GOD'S REVEALED WILL IN GIVING

God’s Revealed Will in Giving

 

The new minister was asked to teach a boys’ class in the absence of the regular teacher. He decided to see what they knew, so he asked who knocked down the walls of Jericho. All the boys denied having done it, and the preacher was appalled by their ignorance.

At the next church council meeting he told about the experience. “Not one of them knows who knocked down the walls of Jericho,” he lamented. The group was silent until finally one seasoned veteran of disputes spoke up. “Preacher, this appears to be bothering you a lot. But I’ve known all those boys since they were born and they’re good boys. If they said they didn’t know, I believe them. Let’s just take some money out of the repair and maintenance fund, fix the walls, and let it go at that.”

 

We smile at this story because we don’t expect adults who attend church regularly to be so clueless with respect to the Bible. Yet there are some subjects in the Bible where God has made his will known in a clear way and his own people either do not know it or willfully disobey it. The latter is worse than mere ignorance. Allowing for benefit of the doubt, it might be that our struggles in a certain area of obedience are simply due to ignorance.

 

Our Scripture reading is Proverbs 3:9,10.

 

From this short passage we see three revelations, three principles, about giving that come from the Lord. Solomon wrote Proverbs, of course, and he was not only the wisest man who ever lived, but he was also inspired by the Holy Spirit to pen these words. I will add one more principal from the New Testament so that we will see four revelations that guide us in the matter of giving.

 

[I] The first three words in our passage are: “Honor the Lord…” When the word “honor” appears in Scripture it is most often a synonym for another, more common, word. That word is “obey.” Recall the fifth commandment: “Honor your father and mother…” How do we honor our father and our mother? We honor them by obeying them! Have you noticed this fact about the men and women of God who were faithful and praised by the biblical writers: they obeyed their parents! Then there are those, like Samson and Esau, who dishonored their parents and paid a heavy price. But Joseph and David did those things their parents asked them to do and were blessed. Of course, Jesus Himself was submissive to his parents (Luke 2:51) and he is our greatest example.

 

Proverbs 3 tells us that, in the matter of giving, we must obey the Lord.

 

On this matter of giving we could bring several passages from the NT to reveal the Lord’s will, and we will consider a few. But there is at least one neglected passage from the OT that is important in this matter. Before we read it permit me to clear up a popular misconception. The OT saints and the NT saints were saved in the same way: by grace through faith. It is not the case, nor was it ever so, that the OT believers were saved by keeping the law. They were saved by having faith in what God had revealed to them at that time. More, they followed the same moral law that we follow under the new covenant. It is only the ceremonial aspects of the law that have been fulfilled and, thus, lose their binding quality.

 

As one Old Testament scholar[1] has aptly said, if the Israelites under Moses had been asked to give their testimony not long after coming out of Egypt, they would have said something like this:

 

We were in a foreign land, in bondage, under the sentence of death. But our mediator – the one who stands between us and God – came to us with a promise of deliverance. WE trusted in the promises of God, took shelter under the blood of the lamb, and he led us out. Now we are on our way to the promised land. We are not there yet, but we have the law to guide us, and through blood sacrifice we also have his presence in our midst. So he will stay with us until we get to our true country, our home everlasting.[2]

 

A Christian today would give the same testimony nearly word for word.

 

Jesus said,      And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. [3]

 

At one time we Gentiles were not part of God’s fold. But we were brought in and now you listen to His voice! (Do you? Do you listen to his voice in the gospels?) Now we are one flock. We were added to the fold that already was! You see, God’s people are one going all the way back to Abraham. There is a unity with the saints of every age. God has one people through the ages, not two. In other words, we have a great deal in common with the OT saints than we may have been taught. There are, of course, discontinuities. We have received more grace, more revelation, and more of the Spirit. Aren’t those things wonderful?

 

  • More grace! How we need that! To have more of God’s favor upon us surpasses every earthly delight. As the Psalmist has said, “Your kindness is a greater good than life.”
  • More revelation! God has shown us so much more than his people received in prior ages!
  • More of the Spirit! We have a greater measure of God’s Holy Spirit to help us understand the things of God and to empower us to live out his will!

 

Yes, those are indeed wonderful! But, before we get too excited we must know that with greater blessings comes greater accountability! That is a biblical revelation in itself. We have greater grace, greater revelation, and more Spirit; so, greater obedience is enjoined! Do we? Do we have greater obedience? Brothers and sisters, we must! Otherwise, we will be disappointed on the Day of His return. Not disappointed in the sense of losing our birthright – the New Jerusalem – but disappointed in not receiving our full reward.

 

But my point now is that we are one people with the saints of old and we have much in common with them.

 

Look with me in Exodus 23:14-15

 

“Three times in the year you shall keep a feast to me. 15     You shall keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread. As I commanded you, you shall eat unleavened bread for seven days at the appointed time in the month of Abib, for in it you came out of Egypt. None shall appear before me empty-handed. [4]

 

This is God Himself speaking to his people very soon after he gave to them the ten commandments. They were to keep three feasts per year before the Lord. The first one was the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Notice what the Lord says in the last part of verse 15: “No one shall appear before me empty-handed.”

 

For an Israelite to come to the feast without bringing anything would be a direct act of disobedience. This is what Solomon meant when he wrote, “Honor the Lord with your wealth.” The Israelites gave to the Lord because they obeyed the Lord.

 

There is great continuity here. The Hebrews celebrated their feasts. We, too, under the new covenant celebrate a feast each Sunday. The Lord is still speaking these words: “You shall not appear before me empty-handed.”

 

I tell you, some of you are appearing before the Lord empty-handed. Some will be offended by me saying this. But what else can I do but speak the truth? Those who are in spirit love to be rebuked because their greatest desire is to honor the Lord in every way. Those who are in the flesh will become resentful when their failings are made known to them. That, too, comes from the wisdom of Solomon.

 

We honor the Lord when we come with our gift. We dishonor the Lord when we come empty-handed.

 

[II] How much should our gift be? Under the old covenant God’s people gave 10% of their produce to the Lord. This was called the tithe. In fact, even before the Mosaic Covenant God’s people tithed. Abraham tithed. However, this is one of the areas of discontinuity between the covenants. The tithe is not required under the new covenant. If we are not supposed to tithe then by what principle do we determine how much we give. There are actually several but I will only briefly mention two.

 

  • We are to give as we purpose in our hearts. (This means we must intentionally contribute to God’s cause on earth. It will not do to just haphazardly give at the spur of the moment.) (2 Cor. 9:7)
  • Our giving must be commensurate both with the benefits we have received and the duties that God has entrusted to the church. (2 Cor. 9:12-14; 10:4-6; 14-16) The benefits that we have received are greater than the benefits that the OT saint has received.

The duties of the church are greater and more important than the duties of Israel.

Therefore, as New Testament disciples, we must give more than 10%.

 

[III] Third, we must give from our first fruits, not our leftovers.

 

Let us consider this point more carefully. This principle of giving to the Lord from our income first is found in the NT. Paul commends the Macedonian churches because they gave to the Lord first – before other matters (2 Cor. 8:5). However, this principle of giving one’s first fruits is found throughout the ages among God’s people.

 

Look again at our passage. Proverbs 3:9, “Honor the Lord with your wealth

and with the first fruits of all your produce;” Here is our third principle plainly stated.

 

I mentioned this the last time I spoke about the essentiality of giving to the Lord, but it is worth repeating.  The wealthiest person in American history is not the wealthiest person presently. The wealthiest person now is Bill Gates. He was worth 90 billion dollars last year. But John D. Rockefeller Sr. was worth 392 billion dollars! Over four times as much! Here is what he wrote:

 

“Yes, I tithe, and I would like to tell you how it all came about. I had to begin work as a small boy to help support my mother. My first wage amounted to $1.50 per week ($48 dollars per week adjusted for inflation). The first week after I went to work I took the $1.50 home to my mother and she held the money in her lap and explained to me that she would be happy if I would give a tenth of it to the Lord.

  

I did, and from that week to this day I have tithed every dollar God has entrusted to me. And I want to say, if I had not tithed the first dollar I made I would not have tithed the first million dollars I made. Tell your readers to train their children to tithe, and they will grow up faithful stewards of the Lord.”

 

He was a faithful follower of Christ his whole life, a lifelong member of the Baptist Church, married to the same lady, Laura Spelman, his whole life and had five children who all became successful in life.

 

His life was an example of giving to the Lord first.

 

I said that this principle of giving to the Lord is found in every age. Let us read Genesis 4:2-5. Starting with the second half of verse 2:

 

Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a worker of the ground. In the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell.

 

Let me ask you, as far as the text is concerned, what are the only two differences between Abel’s offering and Cain’s offering? One difference is that Abel’s was an animal offering and Cain’s was from the ground. Many have speculated that this is why Abel’s offering was accepted and Cain’s was not. And, some have come up with some interesting speculations as to why, too. But, do you know what? That’s all they are - speculations - which is a fancy word for guesses. Nothing in the text even hints at any of the reasons people come up with. In fact, those guesses are most certainly wrong because God commands the Israelites to give their offerings from the fruit of the ground! There is only one thing that is qualitatively different in the text between their offerings. What is it?

 

Abel brought the firstborn of his flock. The firstborn is the first fruit of animals. But it does not say that Cain brought his first fruit. Abel brought his first. Cain did not.

 

When we give to the Lord first this shows that the Lord is first in actuality, in action, not just in words. When we set the money aside for an offering to the Lord as soon as we receive it and don’t touch it, this circumvents it being spent. We all know how quickly that can happen!

 

[IV] Lastly, and I am going to return to this truth again and again because Jesus and the apostles did so, giving on earth builds a treasure in the heavens. This is another way of saying that giving on earth creates a treasure for us in the next age.

Let us return again to our main passage:

 

Honor the Lord with your wealth

and with the first fruits of all your produce;

10  then your barns will be filled with plenty,

and your vats will be bursting with wine.

 

In verse 10 the Lord says that if his people obey the Lord in giving and they give of their first fruits then they will be blessed.

 

This principle is still in operation. However, here is another difference between the covenants. While blessings are still promised to those who are faithful in giving, the primary application of those blessings is for the next age not the present age.

 

Now, don’t hear what I am not saying. There are blessings, including financial blessings, to be realized now. But, this is not the emphasis in the NT.

 

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust[a] destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Mat. 6:19-21)

 

This laying up treasure is far more than money. It includes the many good things that we do to help others or to share the gospel. But, it also includes giving for the work of the Lord through his church. I tell you, every ten dollars that you give (really, every penny…but I want to get your min off of pennies!) to the Lord is laying up a treasure for you. And that treasure will one day be seen and experienced! Oh, it will be glorious! Unless, you are stingy. Then it will not. Your treasure chest will be opened and maybe some moths will fly out.

 

[V. Conclusion and Application] What is God’s revealed will in giving?

 

  • It is a matter of obedience or disobedience. The Lord has spoken: No one is to come empty handed.
  • We are to give according to the purpose of our heart. And, this giving should be more than what the Old Testament saints gave.
  • We must give of our first fruits, not our leftovers.
  • We must enjoy the truth that there will be rewards for our faithfulness in this area. Some even now. Mostly in the age to come.

 

How can we apply these truths to our lives?

 

  1. Commit to obey the Lord and never to come empty-handed.
  2. Purpose in your heart to give a specific amount. I said that it should be greater than a tithe. How much that is, is up to you. It may be 10.5%, 11%, 12%, 15% or more. You must go to the Lord.
  3. Set aside that amount, what you have purposed, as soon as you receive it.
  4. Trust in what Jesus and the apostles have said about this matter: that we are building an eternal weight of glory – that we will be repaid for our faithfulness here. And, do not be surprised when the blessing begin to come even now!

 

 

[1] Alec Motyer in Loving the Old Testament, Christian Focus Publications.

[2] Ibid, x

[3] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Jn 10:16). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[4] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ex 23:14–15). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.