The recession has ended. The recession hasn’t ended. The economy is improving. The economy isn’t improving. Whatever your position on these and similar issues, there is little question that these are challenging economic times. Such times test our faith in and love for the Lord in that we may be tempted to give less in order to husband our financial resources and safeguard our economic security. Discretion says “Conserve.” And the first places we attempt to conserve are in the non-essential areas of spending and those that impact us the least directly and painfully. But the Bible has always instructed believers to give. And, in fact, there has never been a time so dire that God advised His people to withhold their giving—with the exception of times when they were so apostate in heart and action that He refused their offerings. And even then, the instruction was not so much that they cease giving as that they repent and get their hearts and lives in line with the Word so that their giving might be blessed of the Lord.
Given the fact that the Law required a tithe (an offering of a tenth) from God’s people, the instruction in the Book of Proverbs is interesting. “Honour the Lord with thy substance, and with the firstfruits of all thine increase: So shall thy barns be filled with plenty, and thy presses shall burst out with new wine” is Solomon’s inspired enjoiner (Pro. 3:9, 10). Though we are no longer under the law of the tithe in this age of grace, our text suggests three salient truths for the New Testament believer.
First, giving involves the spirit first and then the substance. “Honour the Lord with thy substance” is the command. And it should be self-evident that God does not need what we possess in order either to survive Himself or to advance His agenda on earth. Even under the Law, then, the command did not focus merely on the amount given, but on the attitude of the giver. Yes, God required a tithe, but He wanted it to be given in such a way that He would be honored in the giving of it. It should be given with thankfulness for His redemption and joy for the privilege of serving. If possible, such is even more the case in this age of grace; God loves cheerful givers (II Cor. 9:7). We should give what we can give cheerfully (all the while earnestly desiring that we can cheerfully give more than a pittance).
Second, God wants first place. The Lord required an offering of the firstfruits of all Israel’s increase. We can imagine an Israelite family enduring a long, hard winter, eagerly preparing the soil and planting a crop as soon as spring finally arrived, working throughout the summer to keep it watered, weeded, and free of pests, and anxiously awaiting the first ripe crop to be ready to harvest. It was that first crop that God demanded as an offering to Himself. He would take care of them, but they must acknowledge thankfully His wholly gracious provision and in faith give Him the firstfruits as an offering due Him. Fewer and fewer of us farm or even garden any longer. But God still wants first place in our lives. He does not want the leftovers, the dregs, the rotten, the dried-up, or underdeveloped. His New Testament instruction is to “let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him” (I Cor. 16:2). We are called upon to “put aside and save” (NASB) in advance preparation for giving. And if we truly have the proper perspective, we will realize that all we have comes from the Lord and still belongs to Him. We merely hold it in sacred trust.
Third, proper giving, however extravagant, will not engender poverty. Our text promised Israel that obedience in the matter of giving would result in increased wealth for them. God’s promises to Israel were much more focused on natural and temporal things than are those of the church, which emphasize the spiritual and eternal. Nevertheless, it is impossible even now to give in accord with God’s commands in such a way as to be reduced to penury and begging. While it is quite possible to give recklessly and injudiciously, generous, even seemingly extravagant giving that accords with God’s will does not result in impoverishment for the giver. In fact, God promises that He “is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work” (II Cor. 9:8). In short, poverty of soul, not of economic condition, produces scant giving. God is generous, and so are those who love Him.
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