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. Giving from the heart.

GIVING FROM THE HEART

2 Corinthians 12:15

Introduction

 

It is early days in Logos Community Church and some of you have asked what we believe regarding New Testament Giving. Do, we believe in tithing or can I say more on Grace Giving as it is mentioned on our Website. I have for a long time been convinced of Grace Giving, and reading John Piper on the matter simply solidified my views. It was his exposition on 2 Corinthians 12:15 that caused me to focus on this argument as we do today. So I thought it would be good to preach a sermon on this topic before we embark on our next series. For a church to be truly relevant as far as its work in the Kingdom is concerned requires finances and it requires all to be faithful. Now, it is the easiest thing under the sun to tell you to be faithful in your giving and I’m sure most of you are faithful in your giving already. But I have a question for you today. If you are faithful in your giving, are you giving from the heart?

If you are not giving, then I want to know from you, why not? What is in your heart, and where is your treasure?

Now we know that giving is more than finances. I would love to pass the bags around at the end of the service today and ask you to give again, but not money this time. I would like to see each person’s name on a piece of paper, because I know when that happens then we will be faithful in our financial giving as well. Real giving starts with a Kingdom mind and a kingdom heart. Look at the kingdom mind of Paul when he looks at one of their church plants namely the church in Corinth. Look at his giving to the church. Look where giving starts in his mind. 2 Corinthians 12:15 (NIV) 15 So I will very gladly spend for you everything I have and expend myself as well. If I love you more, will you love me less?” Paul is not viewing his ministry in technical terms. He is not saying, I have worked my eight hours for the day or I have done my bit now the rest is up to others. No, here the man who taught us so much of grace giving introduces another principle. Paul had his priorities in order. He would spend for the sake of others, he would expend himself for the sake of others and he would love them more than he loves himself.  He is saying to all of us, spend and be spent for the task of spreading the gospel and for the sake of others coming to knows Jesus Christ and growing up in the faith. Now how does this mind-set impact all of us here this morning?

This verse by the way is preceded by another verse highlighting the attitude the Corinthian church should have towards giving. This is reflected in Paul’s mind-set regarding their responsibility in giving. Listen what he says in verse 14, "Now I am ready to visit you for the third time, and will not be a burden to you, because what I want is not your possession but you…." The NAS says: “I seek not what is yours but you!” What a great sentence. That is the flag over and the heart over this sermon. I seek not what is yours, but you. Was this not the very concern that Christ had with the Pharisees? Matthew 15:8 (NIV) 8”‘These people honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” I have what is theirs, not them. It is not that God is against people worshiping Him with stuff, but it has to happen from the basis of a right heart, then the proportions will be right as well. This goes for giving as well. This verse could just as well say; "They honour me with their tithes, but their heart is far from me" Christ deals with the same issue in Matthew 23:23 (NIV) 23 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.” They meticulously split their mint, dill and cumin and made sure God got his 10th. Now Christ is not discouraging their giving, but He is saying to them ‘I seek not in the first place what is yours, but you.’ May it never be said of us, "Woe to you, Logos, for you tithe, and pledge, and you give when others are in need, but you have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice, mercy, and faith" (Logos. 23:23). I seek not what is yours but you, even though you should have practiced the former. I am not opposed to your tithes and pledges and giving to those in need, but you must not neglect the matters of the heart. I do not desire what is yours, but you.How many tithing churchgoers will be lost to the kingdom because the word of God never reached their hearts: "I seek not what is yours but you."

So as we look at this sermon today “giving from the heart” the dominating point that will come home is this: “that life essentially is the life of the heart or on the flipside of the coin to state it negatively, the heart of the problem in giving is the heart.”

What I would like to do then today is give an overview of the Old Testament and New Testament teaching about giving and then we will draw some implications for how people today who have first given themselves wholly to God should then give of their possessions to the work of God.

Point 1. Old Testament principle of giving

What is the common phrase we hear when somebody announces that that they will be taking up money in church, what do they say? Normally something like; ‘we will now honour the Lord in our tithes and offerings’. Now where does this issue of tithing come from?

The oldest reference to tithing in the Bible is found in Genesis 14 where Abraham pursues a king named Chedorlaomer to rescue his kinsman Lot who had been captured. With 300 armed men Abraham defeats Chedorlaomer and not only saves Lot, but regains all the goods stolen from Sodom. On the way back a mysterious figure named Melchizedek, called priest of the Most High God in verse 18, met Abraham and blessed him. Verse 20 simply says, "Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything.” There is no command in the later Mosaic Law or anywhere in Scripture that men are to give one tenth of their captured booty to the priest. But Abram did it, evidently as a token of gratitude to God who had just given him such a great victory.So our first encounter with tithing is one where the giver is not paying God to stir him into action, but one where the giver is responding to God who has just fought for him and given him victory and great blessing. That is a pattern we must not forget.

The next time we hear of tithing is in Genesis 28:22. Abraham's grandson, Jacob, had a dream at Bethel in which God promised to be with him and give him a great land and many descendants (Genesis 28:13-15). Jacob responds with a vow in verses 20-22 which climaxes with this promise: "of all that you give me, I will give a tenth” Notice well that Jacob recognizes everything that he has disposal of as a gift from God. Therefore, his tithe is not really something he has produced that he then transfers over to God's possession. Instead the tithe seems to be a symbolic statement that all we have is from God and that we do not count it our own. Surely Jacob did not mean that since God gave him everything therefore he would glorify God with a tenth, but not with the nine-tenths. Surely if God gives us anything it is for us to handle it in trust for his glory. Giving a tenth to Him in a burnt offering, or the service of the temple or the like is a token, a pledge that all we are and have are at his disposal all the time.

At the time of Moses, tithing was made part of the law which governed the people of Israel. There are two key texts. The first is Leviticus 27:30-32 (NIV) 30 “‘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. 31 If a man redeems any of his tithe, he must add a fifth of the value to it. 32 The entire tithe of the herd and flock—every tenth animal that passes under the shepherd’s rod—will be holy to the LORD. “ Here the law made explicit what is to be tithed: namely, the produce of the field -- grain, and the produce of the trees -- fruit, and the herds and flocks. In Deuteronomy 14:22-29 (NIV) some instruction is given as to how to give the tithe and what it is for. 22 Be sure to set aside a tenth of all that your fields produce each year. 23 Eat the tithe of your grain, new wine and oil, and the firstborn of your herds and flocks in the presence of the LORD your God at the place he will choose as a dwelling for his Name, so that you may learn to revere the LORD your God always. 24 But if that place is too distant and you have been blessed by the LORD your God and cannot carry your tithe (because the place where the LORD will choose to put his Name is so far away), 25 then exchange your tithe for silver, and take the silver with you and go to the place the LORD your God will choose. 26 Use the silver to buy whatever you like: cattle, sheep, wine or other fermented drink, or anything you wish. Then you and your household shall eat there in the presence of the LORD your God and rejoice. 27 And do not neglect the Levites living in your towns, for they have no allotment or inheritance of their own. 28 At the end of every three years, bring all the tithes of that year’s produce and store it in your towns, 29 so that the Levites (who have no allotment or inheritance of their own) and the aliens, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns may come and eat and be satisfied, and so that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands.”

Let me make six brief observations from this passage about the practice and purpose of tithing.

First, according to verse 23, there was to be a yearly trip to the holy place, the place God puts his name (later Jerusalem). The people were to take their tithe to that place and then eat it there, or at least eat part of it in a feast of joy. Tithing was not to be reduced merely to the pragmatic function of paying the priests and sustaining the temple. It was an expression of joy and gratitude. God did not need the tithe. In commanding it, he was seeking not what was theirs but them.

The second observation at the end of verse 23 is that the purpose of the tithing feast was “so that you may learn to revere the LORD your God always.” Tithing was a means of remembering how dependent they were on God and how much one should fear to displease such a God by joyless ingratitude.

Third provision was made for those whose grain was too heavy and flocks too many to take them all the way to the holy place. They could sell them and then use the money to purchase substitutes when they arrived in the holy place.

Fourth, the tithe is not to be totally consumed by the family bringing it. The Levites who were scattered through the tribes of Israel with no land of their own were to be supported by the tithers of the other 11 tribes (v. 27). The Levites were set apart for special religious purposes and had no crops or herds. The tithe was given to God not only in the sense that it was eaten in a feast celebration of his faithfulness (cf. 'blessing" in v. 24), but also in the sense that part of it supported God's institution of the Levitical order.

Fifth, verses 28 and 29 describe a tri-annual tithe which was designed not only to support the Levites, but also the three most helpless groups of people in that society: the refugees, the orphans, and the widows. It seems that a sort of benevolent fund was replenished every three years for the needs of these people, by the calling in of a special tithe.

Finally, the section closes with a promise of blessing on the people if they are faithful in this act of mercy to men and gratitude to God. And this is a good place to remind ourselves of two things.

One is that the way most tithes were "given to God" was by giving them to ministry and people. God cannot be enriched by us. He has no needs that our possessions can satisfy. But he can be honoured by the way we treat others or the ministry in His name by special acts which celebrate his bounty and by our willingness to trust Him to supply all our needs when we give. And the other thing we must remember is that God always honours people who tithe from a good heart of faith. The promise is not to make us rich, but it is this: those who love and trust God enough to honour him with at least a tithe will never lack the resources they need. I believe that is still true today.

Two other important passages on tithing in the Old Testament: Numbers 18:24 (NIV) says:24 Instead, I give to the Levites as their inheritance the tithes that the Israelites present as an offering to the LORD.” And in 2 Chronicles 31:4 (NIV) 4 He ordered the people living in Jerusalem to give the portion due the priests and Levites so they could devote themselves to the Law of the LORD.”

We can conclude therefore that tithing was God's prescribed way of supporting certain ministries which he had ordained. In actual fact the Israelites gave 23.3 % of their income per annum if you were to calculate it over a three year period. One thing we as Christians must remember though is that they were living under a Theocracy and their giving was used for the governance of the state as well. They were also expected to contribute with donations over and above these tithes as well as towards the building of the Tabernacle and the Temple. In summary, then from the Old Testament tithing goes back to the very beginning of Israel's history before the law was given and seems to have been an expression of gratitude to the Lord who fights for his people and gives them all they have. Then as a part of the Mosaic Law, tithing was made a part of Israel's formal worship and its various forms and purposes were prescribed. It was used to support religious orders; it was used for religious feasting in celebration of God's goodness; and it taught the people to fear the Lord, that is, to fear not trusting him to meet all their needs.

Point 2. Overview of New Testament principle of Giving.

As we come over to the New Testament the picture changes significantly. Jesus mentions tithing only twice, both times in reference to its legalistic abuse. He says in Matthew 23:23 (NIV) 23 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.” In Luke 18:9-14, "He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and despised others. Remember the story of the Pharisee and Tax Collector. Luke 18:11-12 (NIV) “11 The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’” Obviously Jesus did not regard tithing as a spiritual cure all. He does not reject it. He affirmed it for Israel. But He is much more intent on the weightier matters of the law, like faith. You can tithe everything and not trust God. Jesus was not seeking what was theirs, he was seeking them: the love of their soul, not the load of their silver.

The apostle Paul never refers to tithing. Whether he taught his churches to tithe when he founded them we don't know. But his rules in his letters seem to be as follows.

First: In 1 Corinthians 16:2 (NIV) Paul says: "2 On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income,…” So believer give according to their income.

Second: 2 Corinthians 8:3 (NIV) 3 For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own,” So believers according to Paul give sacrificially.

And third in 2 Corinthians 9:7 (NIV), "7 Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” Believers give willingly. They love to give.

And finally 2 Corinthians 9:8 (NIV), "And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.” God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that you may always have enough of everything and may provide in abundance for every good work."

There is only one more place in the New Testament where tithing is mentioned. Hebrews 7:4-12 simply refers back to Genesis 14 where Abraham tithed to Melchizedek, and the point is simply to show that Christ is like Melchizedek. The issue is not tithing. Therefore, with regard to positive, explicit teaching on tithing, the New Testament is almost totally silent. I have a growing conviction why this is the case. I think God took the focus off giving a tithe in the early church because he wants his people to ask themselves a new question. I want to agree with John Piper that the question that Jesus drives us to ask again and again is not, "How much should I give?" but rather, "How great is God’s grace upon me, and therefore how much dare I keep?"

Point 3. The difference between Old Testament giving and New Testament giving.

In the Old Testament you notice a movement in the purposes of giving. Remember. Originally, they would eat their tithe in the Lord’s place to celebrate His goodness, but later it was given to the priests and Levites so that they could live on it and focus on the law of God. In the same way there is a shift from the Old Testament to the New Testament and I believe also from the New Testament to the church of today. One of the differences between the Old Testament and New Testament is the Great Commission. By and large the Old Testament people of God were not a missionary people. But the New Testament Church is fundamentally a missionary people. There is also a difference between the New Testament church in let’s say 64 AD and the church of today. The church is more established, it now gathers in larger facilities and its ministries are more organised which affects the whole dynamic of giving. Now, the spiritual hope and the physical and emotional sustenance that Jesus brought to earth is to be extended by his church to the whole world. The task he gave us is so immense and requires such a stupendous investment of commitment and money that the thought of settling the issue of what we give by a fixed percentage (like a tenth) is simply out of the question, as God’s grace is so abundant to so many. My own conviction is that most middle and upper class South Africans who merely tithe are robbing God.

It is a Biblical truth beyond dispute: that all your money is God's. Psalm 24:1 (NIV) “The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it;” but He has loaned  it to us as stewards to use in ways that maximize the glorification of God's mercy in the world. It is irrational to think that giving ten per cent of that money to the church settles the issue of good stewardship. In a world of such immense need, and in a country of such immense luxury, and under the commission of such a powerful Lord the issue of stewardship is not: Shall I tithe?, but rather, How much of God's trust funds dare I use to surround myself with too many comforts? I had every intention, as I began to write this message, to argue that even though the New Testament is almost silent on tithing; yet, surely we who know Jesus should do no less than the Old Testament saints who did not know him. I believe there is something much more radical than a simple percentage at stake and that was Paul’s message to the Corinthians. To commend tithing as the ideal simply does not capture the New Testament view of discipleship.

Let me show you what happens when the Lord captures the heart of man. Let me give you a few examples of what I am trying to say from the New Testament. Get ready for a lesson in Math.

Luke 3:11 (NIV) 11 John answered, “The man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same.” That's 50% not 10%.

Luke 19:8 (NIV) 8 But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, ” Again 50%.

Matthew 19:21 (NIV) Jesus speaks to the rich young ruler and says: 21 “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” That's 100%.

Luke 14:33 (NIV) 33 In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.” Again 100%.

Acts 2:44 (NIV) 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common.” That’s very close to 100%.

Acts 4:34 (NIV) 34 There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales”. Not sure what percentage, but look at the extent to which some people would go for the sake of God’s glory.

Implications for us.

The best way that I know how to capture the spirit of the New Testament generosity is simply to say: the issue is not, How much must I give? But how much dare I keep? Not: Shall I tithe? But: How much of the money that I hold in trust for Christ can I take for my private use? The financial issue in the church today is not tithing, but the abuse of God’s grace towards us by keeping everything for an exorbitant life-style. The question is not can I afford to tithe, but can I justify the life-style that consumes 90% of my income? And behind that is the question: Do I love to use God's money to spread justice and mercy and spiritual hope in the world, or do I require more and more personal comfort? I don’t believe for any moment we can talk against personal comfort, but not at the cost of God’s kingdom. There is a principle here. Romans 12:6-8 (NIV) 6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his b faith. 7 If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; 8 if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.” The question whether the work of Christ here at Logos Community Church in 2012 will be adequately supported is really the question of where your treasure is. And where your treasure is there is your heart.

I’ve said it time and again. Paul says: “I do not seek what is yours but you.”

Let’s end with an example of a church that gave themselves first and then let us see what percentage they gave. I’m sure that after this example you will understand the point of my message, and that together we will seek to become a relevant church by giving from the heart. 2 Corinthians 8:1-5 (NIV) “And now, brothers, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. 2 Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. 3 For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, 4 they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints". That is more than 100% of what they could afford. Here are people who were Kingdom focused. They did not argue that they were too poor to give. 5 And they did not do as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us in keeping with God’s will.”

I trust that you agree that giving oneself to God first and to God’s people which are His church is the place to start, right? It is time for the second offering. This time we do not give money, but we give ourselves, and I know that as soon as you have given yourself there is no telling what percentage you will be giving. The million dollar question is this, where is your heart? Is your heart committed to the greater purposes of Christ and His church? If it is, I know your treasure will be there as well and not according to a percentage, but according to the grace of God. Somebody once said: show me the stubs of your cheque book and I will tell you where your heart is. Nowadays it is ‘show me your internet banking’. Where is your heart believer? Is it with God? Then put your treasure there. According to the grace you receive, give, and the Lord will honour you.

 

Amen

Logos Community Church:- 20 May 2012

 



b Or in agreement with the