Summary: The act of giving is an act of worship, tells me where my heart is, and tells me how much I trust God.
Burt Reynolds starred in an old film entitled The End. In the film he decides to commit suicide by swimming out as far as he can until he is exhausted and then just go under. But after going under he is looking at the surface from the underside and decides not to go through with it. As he breaks the surface of the water he screams: “I want to live! I want to live!” He then begins to try to swim to shore, but it is a very long way off. As he begins to swim he talks to God. He promises to obey all of the Ten Commandments, and then realizes he doesn’t know what all of them are so he promises to learn them. Then, in his panic, he says, “Lord, if you get me out of this, I will give you 80% of everything I have.” But time passes and he is still going strong, and besides he can just begin to see the shoreline. But as he continues to swim he feels his strength holding out and says, “Lord, if you help me to get to shore alive I will give you 10% of all my earnings.” And, finally, he struggles to the place where he sees that he is just going to be able to make it to land and says, “Well, Lord, let’s just forget about what I said before. I think I can make it from here on my own.”
Reynold’s attitude is reflective of the attitude of many people today. Giving to God or living for God are sometimes thought of as “paying our dues,” or fulfilling an obligation. What should our attitude toward giving be? What is the proper way to give and think about giving? The first point we need to understand is: Giving is an act of worship. It is an expression of gratitude to a faithful God for all his goodness to me. Giving is not just a response to a need in the church, it is a response of gratitude. It is giving as though we were placing it in God’s hands. Worship is a word that comes from the word “worthy.” We give to God because he is Lord of the universe and he is worthy of our praise. We worship him with our lips, with our gifts and with our lives. The question often arises: How much should I give? To answer that question we have to look to the Scripture.
First of all let’s examine the Old Testament. Leviticus 27:30 says, “A tithe of everything from the land, whether grain from the soil or fruit from the trees, belongs to the LORD; it is holy to the LORD.” The Old Testament standard of giving was the tithe, and this principle is found many places throughout the Old Testament. It was among the earliest laws of the Israelites. The idea was that 10% of what they owned belonged to God, therefore it was holy. It was to be set aside for him and not used for common purposes. It was sacred. God was claiming ownership of 10% of everything the Israelites owned. They had worked for their food and money, but it was God who blessed them with crops and herds, and the ability to work. Out of gratefulness to him they were to return a tenth of everything to him. And when they acknowledged God’s ownership of 10% of their belongings God made a promise. Malachi 3:10 says, “‘Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,’ says the LORD Almighty, ‘and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.’”
You may say, “Yes, that is all very well and good, but that is the Old Testament. What about the New Testament? Tithing is not even mentioned in the New Testament.” You are correct. The New Testament standard for giving is not the tithe. The New Testament has a totally different pattern for stewardship than the Old Testament. To understand the New Testament concept of giving we have to look at the story of the Rich Young Ruler. This young man came to Jesus in search of heaven, and asked Jesus what he had to do to inherit eternal life. Jesus’ response was to explain that he must first follow the basic laws of God — the ten commandments. The young man replied that he had kept all of the commandments from his youth. And then Jesus completely astounded him by saying, “Go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me” (Matthew 19:21). The Bible sadly reports, “When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.”