Summary: It is easy to take the credit for our success. But if we understand where all blessing comes from, we start to realize that this is something that God has granted. Then we rejoice as we give, and we are glad to show him our gratitude.
They say that it’s bad manners to bring up certain topics in public. One of these sensitive issues is money. We could talk about finances in a general way—interest rates, property taxes, the markets—but when it comes to personal finance, it’s a different story. It’s not polite to talk about how much money you earn, or what you’ve saved, or what you owe.
There’s wisdom in keeping these things to yourself. But this privacy about money can be taken too far, when we conclude that what we do is our business, and ours alone! Yet is it true that personal finance is really only that—personal? Is this one area of life that’s our domain? No, sometimes we like to call money a “material” thing, but it’s so much more than that. Money’s not something merely physical or material—it’s very much a spiritual thing. The way that you handle your money says a lot about you and your Lord, and it says a lot about your place among his people.
So God instructs us often in the matter of money and possessions. In no time, you could find two or three dozen passages that give clear and practical direction about this. Having said that, we turn to Deuteronomy 14. Here God says that being in covenant with him has everything to do with what we earn, and what we’ve saved, and how we spend. I preach God’s Word to you under this theme,
The LORD exhorts his people to present our tithes:
1) from the abundance of God’s blessing
2) for the support of God’s people
3) for the increase of our joy
1) from the abundance of God’s blessing: In this long book of Deuteronomy, Moses is addressing God’s people just as they’re about to enter the Promised Land. Moses won’t be joining them there, but as their leader he wants to exhort and instruct them one final time. Deuteronomy then, is a whole series of sermons. This book is Moses’ last words to his beloved people.
And in our passage, he wants to exhort the people about tithing: “You shall truly tithe all the increase of your grain that the field produces each year” (v 22). The tithe is a “one-tenth portion.” It was simple to calculate: from the harvest gathered from their fields and vineyards, the Israelites were called to separate ten percent to God. This portion would be taken from the total of their regular crops, whether wheat, barley, olives, grapes, or something else.
Now, like other parts of Deuteronomy, this law applies to a situation that wasn’t yet familiar to the Israelites—but soon it would be. For soon Israel would be crossing the Jordan, we said. There in the fertile plains and valleys of the land, the Israelites would take up their work, sowing seed and then reaping harvests. Anticipating that day, Moses teaches on this essential topic: How will God’s people use what He’s given them? What kind of wealth management will they practice?
So they’ve got their crops piled up, and they’ve separated that ten percent. Now what? What to do with it? Every year, God says, they need to take the tithe to the official sanctuary, to “the place where [the LORD] chooses to make his Name abide” (v 23). That last bit is an important detail. The tithe wasn’t simply dropped into some storage bin in the town square. It wasn’t mailed to the Israelite version of the tax office, never to be seen again. No, the tithe was carried to the place of God’s earthly presence—that is to say, it was taken to the LORD himself, at the place of his sanctuary. Why is that? Because this tithe was a gift intended for the LORD!
Moses explains this. You set aside a portion of your financial resources, and you express your thankfulness in a material way, so “that you may learn to fear the LORD your God always” (v 23). Notice the purpose, which is still true today: Our giving isn’t done to change God’s mind about you, or to make him bless you. Taking 10% off your monthly pay isn’t about paying your dues to church. No, this is all about the attitude of fearing God, standing in awe of his Name. When you present the tithe, you show humility before the LORD and his greatness.
This same truth of “fearing God through our giving” is reframed later on in Moses’ speech, in chapter 26. We read, “When you come into the land… and you possess it and dwell in it… you shall take some of the first of all the produce from the ground… and put it in a basket” (26:1-2). Other Bible translations use a more familiar term for “first of all the produce,” when they translate it as “the firstfruits.” It’s basically a generous portion of the whole. The firstfruits is a share, scooped off the top, from those first waves of harvest as they come in.