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A Tip Or A Tithe?

October 26, 1986 | First Presbyterian Church Orlando | I Corinthians 15:51-16:4

There are always those people who suggest in one way or another that the mention of money in church is somehow indecent and inappropriate. Such persons are obviously unfamiliar with the fact that Jesus talked more about money than He did about prayer. The Bible never suggests that money is evil—it says that the love of money is the root of evil. But not everyone seems to be aware of that fact.

The Apostle Paul, as he so often does, puts the whole matter in proper perspective in the passage of Scripture I have just read for you. He is talking here about Christ’s victory over death. He is talking about the resurrection which belongs to Jesus, and through Him, belongs to us. It’s a powerful, triumphant message. As he moves to the ringing climax of his appeal he cries out: “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” Then comes the glorious affirmation: “Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

But having said that—did you catch it in the reading?—having said that, without a moment’s pause, without a break, without a clear change of subject, Paul goes on to say: “Now concerning the contributions…” Think about that. “Thanks be to God who gives us the victory…Now concerning the contributions…” In other words, he is saying: “Thanks be to God for what He has given us; now let’s talk about what we are going to give Him.” Paul sees both sides of the coin. God has given us the gift of life, here and now, and for all eternity. Therefore, the question begs, what are we going to give to Him?

Then having clearly, decisively, and dramatically shown that the gift of God to us which is total, must be met by our gift to God which is total, Paul goes on to outline what Christian stewardship is supposed to be. He says it all in a single sentence: “On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside, and store it up, as he may prosper, so that contributions need not be made when I come.” Now amazingly enough, Paul, in that one sentence, tells us precisely what God expects us to do. I’d like for you to join me taking a close look at this word from Paul…

Paul begins: “On the first day of every week…” The first day. The first day is Sunday. It is the day when Jesus was raised from the dead. So on Sunday—the anniversary of Christ’s victory over death—we are to think about our stewardship. Paul is saying that our giving to Christ’s church must take priority. It must come first.

The Book of Proverbs puts it this way: “Honor the Lord your God with the first fruits of all you produce.” That simply means that we are never to come to God with our leftovers. We are not to come to God after all our other bills have been paid, after all the other items which drain away our income have been satisfied, after all our preferences and desires have been met. We are not to come to God with what’s left after we have done everything we want to do. No, Paul says, we are to come to God first.

Now we know perfectly well what leftovers are. The roast on Sunday becomes beef stew on Monday. What’s left of Tuesday’s chicken becomes Wednesday’s chicken noodle soup. But let me ask you a question—and as facetious as it sounds, I mean it quite seriously: If God were to come to your home for dinner, would you serve Him leftovers? Certainly not. Well then, if you would not offer God leftovers in your own house, on what basis would you consider offering God leftovers here in His house?

So Paul makes it quite clear: “On the first day…” Our giving to God must take priority in our lives. Pauls calls us to never give less than the best to this God who gave us his best—His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ.

But Paul says something else here. He says: “On the first day of every week…” Not once a month, not a couple of times a year—on the first day of every week. Paul is saying that our giving to Christ’s church must be persistent.

There’s good reason for that. It is important for us to learn that we are to give to God no matter what our circumstances may be at any point in life. We are to be persistent in our giving no matter how hard or difficult some particular period in our lives may be.

Now there’s something in all of this which I have never been able to understand. You have heard the expression: “There are no atheists in foxholes.” You know what that means. Many people who do not have much to do with God suddenly become very religious when they get sick or when they encounter trouble. A lot of people who never take time to pray suddenly wear calluses on their knees when they are out of a job. Yes, when hardship comes, people have a tendency to go running to the Almighty. And that is true in every dimension of their spiritual lives but one—the dimension of stewardship. For when people find themselves facing tough times, the first thing they invariably cut out is their contribution to the work of the Kingdom of God. So if it’s true that there are no atheists in foxholes, then it’s also true that there are no stewards there either. But Paul wants to give the lie to that notion. Paul wants us to understand that those who give, even in the midst of adversity and hardship, those who give regardless of the circumstances in their lives, those who give even when there is no tax advantage to be gained, those are the ones who are truly responding in faith to Jesus Christ.

That’s why we encourage people to make pledges—so that they can commit themselves to that kind of persistent giving no matter what their circumstances might be at any particular time. Of course, there are those who say: “We don’t believe in pledging.” What they really mean is that they don’t believe in pledging to God. They are only too willing to sign a pledge which obligates them to pay off the mortgage on their home. They are quite willing to sign a pledge to secure a loan or to buy a new car or a color T.V. As a matter of fact, in the course of their daily lives, they sign pledges over and over again. And the pledges which they sign in the conduct of their daily lives are legally binding. But it’s a different matter altogether when it comes to signing a pledge which will call for persistent, consistent giving to the church and which will enable the church to have some idea of the resources available to it for the coming year. Seems strange, doesn’t it, especially in light of the fact that the church pledge is the only pledge which isn’t legally binding. It’s the only pledge which can be altered or even done away with if the anticipated blessings do not materialize.

Paul sounds a significant note here: “On the first day of every week…” Our giving to the work of Jesus Christ is to be persistent.

Then Paul continues: “…each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper.” As we receive, so are we to give. Paul is saying that our giving to Christ’s church must be proportionate.

The Word of God does not state that we are to give a certain number of dollars each week. There is no suggestion that we are all required to give the same amount. And that’s obviously true because we do not all have the same amount from which to give. No single dollar figure could be set which would be both fair and just to every church member. And God is always fair and just. So God says that we are to give in accordance with how much we have been given. We are to give proportionately.

But what proportion? Again, the Scriptures are precise. No room for error. We are to give at least the tithe, which is ten percent of our income. That means, you see, that we have to start thinking of our giving to God not in terms of dollars, but in terms of percentages. When I see a pledge card made out for $52.00 or $260.00 or $520.00, I cringe. And I cringe because it is clear that the person has said: “I’ll give one dollar or five dollars or ten dollars a week.” They multiply that by 52 weeks and put that total on the card. But they are not doing what the Lord requires. They are giving in terms of an amount, not in terms of a percentage. They are not giving in proportion to that which they have received.

Peter Marshall manages to put it so well: “The contributions of most church members are rather casual and all out of proportion to their incomes. Their gifts are more like tips, less than the annual dues at the club, less than the amount spent on non-essentials. It makes you wonder about their values. It clearly reveals what they count to be important. But we are in no doubt as to what the Lord thinks about it.”

Peter Marshall is right. On one occasion Jesus was speaking to the scribes and the Pharisees—all of whom were tithers. Jesus said to them: “Tithing is something you ought to do.” But then Jesus turned to His own disciples and said: “Unless your righteousness, unless your level of dedication, exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, then you shall not enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” That’s not Howard Edington saying that. That’s the Lord Jesus Christ saying it. “Unless your level of dedication exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, then you shall not enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” Think about those words by Jesus when you are tempted this year to say: “Well, God, here is your tip—a few dollars for your work. We appreciate your good service.” Think about those words of Jesus and then remember that that person is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.

Finally Paul writes: “Give so that it is not necessary to take up collections later.” That is to say: You know the needs, so meet them now. Give so that good can be done now in the name of the Lord. Paul is saying that our giving to Christ’s church must be practical.

You see, we are talking here about a Christ who is concerned about the sick and the dying in body and in soul. We’re talking here about what your money can do for this Jesus. We’re talking about bringing friendship to the lonely, food to the hungry, healing to the sick, and salvation to the sinful. We’re talking about bringing the comfort of the Scriptures to those who are dying, the power of the Scriptures to those who are stumbling, and the hope of the Scriptures to those who are sorrowing. All of those things and more can be done by this one .church next year if we commit ourselves to it. Yes, we know the needs—we know them only too well. The question is: Are we going to meet them now?

Colin Wilson, in one of his books, has a young man say: “How shall I live so that I do not have to be ashamed of my life?” Good question. Your pledge, your stewardship of all that God has given you, is a matter between you and God. It’s your decision to make. God says, through His Word, that our giving is to take priority; it is to be persistent; it is to be proportionate, and it is to be practical. But the decision is still yours. Whatever you give, this church will have to live with. But I want to remind you that you are going to have to have to live with it, too. Change just a word of the young man’s question and it comes out like this: “How shall I give so that I don’t ever have to be ashamed of my gift?”

Hear the Word of Almighty God: “On the first day of every week each of you is to put something aside, in proportion to what you have been given, so that the needs of the Church of Jesus Christ might be met and mastered.”

So what’s it going to be for you this year: a tip or a tithe? I dare you to try the tithe! I double-dog-dare you to try the tithe!! You will be astonished at what happens when you do…

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