Martin Luther once said that a man needs to be converted twice. The first conversion is that of his heart, and the second one is of his wallet. What we are going to be addressing here today is the nature of that wallet conversion. How should we go about honoring God in our personal financial dealings?
“And Abram went up out of Egypt, he, and his wife, and all that he had, and Lot with him, into the south. And Abram was very rich in cattle, in silver, and in gold” (Genesis 13:1–2).
“And there came a certain poor widow, and she threw in two mites, which make a farthing. And he called unto him his disciples, and saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, that this poor widow hath cast more in, than all they which have cast into the treasury: For all they did cast in of their abundance; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living” (Mark 12:42–44).
Summary of the Text
Abraham was the friend of God (Jas. 2:23), and he is the father of all the faithful down through history (Gal. 3:29). He serves as our exemplar in faith (Heb. 11:8), and, as we see in our text, he was very, very rich (Gen. 13:1-2). But despite all of his wealth, he knew how to look for a deeper inheritance (Heb. 11:10), and he sets an example for us in this as well.
We also have examples from the other end of the spectrum as well. The apostle Paul points out that the saints in Macedonia combined great affliction, deep poverty, and profound joy in order to achieve staggering generosity (2 Cor. 8:2). And in our text, the Lord Jesus sets before us the example of a nameless widow who, measured by the percentages, gave more than all the wealthy tithers.
And so we see that money matters, and it matters a lot. But it is not a lot of money that matters, unless that is what you have on your mind. What matters is that God has a lot of your heart, as indicated by the money. You are the one with the temperature. Money is just the thermometer.
A New Covenant Tithe
A common assumption that many Christians make is that the tithe was an Old Testament ceremonial thing, somehow fulfilled in Christ, and so our job is to give as “the Spirit moves,” meaning somewhere in the neighborhood of two percent.
But there is a passage in the New Testament that opens up all the wonderful promises of the Old Testament for us. And here it is:
“Do ye not know that they which minister about holy things live of the things of the temple? and they which wait at the altar are partakers with the altar? Even so hath the Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel.”
1 Corinthians 9:13–14 (KJV)
The passage in context is talking about how the ministry of the Christian church is to be funded. Paul brings up how the Old Testament Levites and priests were supported, which was by the tithe. He then says “even so, in the same way, likewise” the Lord has ordained the funding of New Testament ministry. The ministry in the Old Testament was funded by the tithe, and this is how the New Testament ministry should be funded—in exactly the same way. Abraham paid a tithe to Melchizedek before the Mosaic law was instituted (Heb. 7:5-9), and Christians tithe after the Mosaic law was fulfilled.
But this is not because God is somehow running low on funds, and needing to put the squeeze on His people.
“If I were hungry, I would not tell thee: For the world is mine, and the fulness thereof.”
Psalm 50:12 (KJV)
No. Rather, this is an invitation from God to learn how He has determined to bless His people.
“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.”
Malachi 3:10 (KJV)
Remember that the tithe is what you give off of the increase. If you own a business that has a budget of a million a year, and you take home $50K, you tithe what you take home. You tithe the apples, not the orchard. In addition, if you were paid $1000 in cash, and on the way home you were mugged, you don’t tithe the money you didn’t realize. There is no need to tithe on what the locust ate. This has ramifications for predatory taxation as well. But remember the principle. This is the tithe required. But the promise that the “one who sows generously will reap generously” applies to offerings as well. Offerings? As you please.
“He that hath pity upon the poor lendeth unto the Lord; And that which he hath given will he pay him again.”
Proverbs 19:17 (KJV)
The Meaning of Tribute
Just as sabbath observance is a recognition that God is the Lord of time and history, so it is with the tithe. Observing one day out of seven is our recognition that all seven belong to Him. Giving a tithe your increase is a tangible way of acknowledging all your resources belong to Him, and that you are managing the remaining 90% as a responsible steward.
So you bring your tithes as the Lord’s financial training wheels for you, and this teaches you how to be responsible with your offerings (voluntary gifts) and with your management of all the remaining resources that you retain. In all of this you should remember the exhortation of John Wesley: “Earn all you can. Save all you can. Give all you can.”
What the Priorities Should Look Like
You honor God’s sovereign authority through the tithe. You demonstrate your love for Him through your offerings. You make sure that you fulfill your basic responsibilities by feeding your family (1 Tim. 5:8; Ex. 21:10). You live out your love for others by lending a hand where needed (1 John 3:17). And all of this blends together in one harmonious picture that Paul describes for us.
“Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not highminded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy; That they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate; Laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life” (1 Timothy 6:17–19).
More Precious Than Gold
You have been redeemed from the slave market of sin. You have been forgiven for all your idolatries, and this includes the idolatry of wealth. Greed is idolatry (Col. 3:5). Covetousness is idolatry (Eph. 5:5). The pride of life is idolatry (1 John 2:16). This means that whatever precious things you may possess—whether in money, or heirlooms, or rare collectibles—you should first make sure that your faith is more precious to you than all of that.
“That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ.”
1 Peter 1:7 (KJV)
Learn to prefer spiritual wealth over everything and anything else. The rich man who was overtaken in his folly by death had a problem, and the problem is that he was not “rich toward God” (Luke 12:21).