Tithing Is A Selfish Thing To Do
I’m about to read for you these words from the Old Testament prophet, Malachi. This is the Word of God.
“’Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me. But you ask, “How do we rob you?” In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse, the whole nation of you, because you are robbing me. 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. I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not cast their fruits,’ says the Lord Almighty. ‘Then all nations will call you blessed for yours will be a delightful land,’ says the Lord Almighty.”
May God bless to us the reading and the hearing of this portion of His Holy Word.
Pray with me, please. Give me Jesus, Lord. Give me Jesus. You can have all the rest. Just give me Jesus. Amen.
If you are here for the first time, let me apologize to you in advance. I’m getting ready to preach on the subject of money. And that is not something I do easily. Oh, I know Jesus spent more time talking about money than he did about prayer. I know the history of the church indicates that our generosity is a critical component in our commitment to the Lord. I know all of that. But it’s still a subject which I approach with some hesitancy. And yet I have to do it because you see, the reality is that in order to keep this magnificent church going and growing, in order to keep all of its various marvelous ministries reaching out into the world, we have to have money.
Now, I want to quickly say to you that we do not do some of the things that other churches do, as one wag put it, in order to fleece the flock. We do not, for example, charge admission to our worship services. We do not conduct raffles. We do not play bingo. We do not even run the Lord’s lottery. You know what that is? I read about a pastor who said the Lord’s lottery has eased his church’s money worries completely. Here’s the way it works. Every week, the members of his church place their offerings into envelopes, and they bring the envelopes to church. And they then put all of the envelopes into a great, big, rotating drum. And then at the offertory time, one of the envelopes is drawn out of this rolling drum. And the envelope which is drawn, well, that person gets back twice as much as they put in the envelope in the first place. That’s the Lord’s lottery. And this pastor says his offerings are going through the roof. The budget is extraordinarily high and people are actually lining up to join his church because only church members can play the Lord’s lottery. Well, here in this church, we don’t play the Lord’s lottery. No. All we do, all we do, is call all of us to commit our lives to Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord and then we trust that Jesus Christ is going to guide us in our giving.
Make no mistake: Jesus does have expectations with regards to our giving. Jesus expects the tithe. In Luke 11, speaking of the tithe, Jesus says, “This you ought to do.” It’s as simple as that. It’s as clear as that. We are to bring 10% of everything that we receive. “This,” Jesus says, “you ought to do.” Now, when Jesus was saying that, He was, of course, referencing back to the Old Testament prophecy of Malachi to what His Heavenly Father had to say to His people. Listen again to the words: “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 enough room for it all.”
Not long ago, I was looking at those words again, and suddenly, the lights went on. It dawned on me that tithing is actually a totally selfish thing to do. Now, understand me, please. I know all about selfishness. You see, I have never in my life performed a completely selfless act. Everything I have done in my life has ultimately made me feel better because of it. And most frequently, I knew on the front end that it was going to make me feel better. And so virtually everything in my life has been done for selfish purposes. I know about selfishness. And given that understanding of selfishness, let me suggest to you today that tithing is nothing other than a deliciously self-serving emotional treat. Let me try to explain to you what I mean by that.
Tithing is a selfish thing to do because it gives us the joy of blessing God.
You know how it is when you love someone, if you can be a blessing to that one you love, there is great joy in doing that. Well, think about God. You remember the words of the Psalm, “Bless the Lord, oh my soul, and forget not all His benefits.” We often think about God blessing us. We do not so often think about how we can bless God. But according to Jesus and according to Malachi, the way we bless God is to bring God the tithe.
Now, I’m aware of the fact that it’s so easy to manufacture excuses to justify failure to tithe. Some people say, “Well, I don’t make enough money to tithe.” Well, I know people who are not very well-off and still they tithe. Some people say, “I’m in debt, and so therefore, I can’t tithe.” Well, I know people who are in debt and still they bring their tithe to the Lord. Some people say, “Well, there’s a recession going on.” But I know people who have started tithing in the midst of the most serious economic conditions possible. All of those things are just excuses. We know that. They’re just excuses. And why is it that we would think that God would not see them also for what they really are? Just excuses.
Mark this down. God does not bless sanctified stinginess. God does not take a shine to pious parsimony. God does not look with favor upon those of whom it is said when the buck gets to them, it stops there and it stays there. These people are not blessing God, and they’re missing out on all the joy that that brings.
I have to tell you, I’ve never forgotten the lesson I learned from Julius Frazier. Julius Frazier served for 40 years as the custodian in the church I pastored in South Carolina. One day I was talking to Julius about his church, a little African-American congregation. And he said, “Rev, we got about 150 people in my church.” And I said, “Well, do they all come on Sunday?” And he said, “No, Rev. They don’t all come on Sunday, but they all pays on Sunday.” Whoo. That got my attention. I said, “Well, what? Does the preacher preach the wrath of God in order to get them to do that?” “No, no, no, Rev,” he said. “Those people ain’t scared of God. You can’t scare anybody into giving. You got to glad them into giving. Our people are glad about God. That’s why they give every week.” I love that. You see, when you’re glad about God in your life, then you have the exquisite joy of being a blessing to God. And that’s what we do when we bring the tithe. We bless God. But tithing is also a selfish thing to do because it gives us the joy of blessing the church. Once again, listen to what God says in Malachi. “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse that there may be food in my house. In my church.”
Now, I’m going to confess to you that not all Presbyterians have bought into that principle. Demographic studies revealed that the Presbyterians are the wealthiest denomination in this country. Individual Presbyterians, listen, individual Presbyterians own and control more wealth than individuals in any other denomination. I submit to you that the reason for that is because basic to our whole Presbyterian understanding of the faith are the qualities of hard work and industry and integrity and frugality. Those things we teach. But also, as Presbyterians, we teach the tithe. And yet, there are many denominations whose individual assets are far below ours, but they give five times more to the work of Christ in the world. That’s a troubling factor for me.
That reminds me. I have heard this story told several times. Every time I hear it told, people laugh. It’s the story of the strong man in the circus, who, at the end of his act, would pick up an orange in one hand and he would squeeze that orange until he had squeezed all the juice out of it. And then he would challenge people in the audience to come forward if they wished and take that orange and squeeze it, and if they could get one more drop of juice out of that orange, they would win $1,000. No one ever took him up on it. Until one day, a fellow did, walked right up. The people took one look at him and they actually began to snicker. He didn’t look like much of an athlete. He was rather slightly built, bespectacled, slightly balding, didn’t look like much of a powerful figure at all. He walked up and he picked up the orange that the strong man had already squeezed, put it in his hand and squeezed it, and a little stream of juice fell to the floor. The people in the audience and the strong man, too, all began to applaud. The strong man, then, handed over the $1,000. And he said to him, “How in the world did you develop that kind of fist-squeezing power?” “Easy,” the man replied, “I’m the treasurer in the Presbyterian Church.” Now, see, you laughed. And I suppose that’s funny. But it’s also a little sad. It’s sad that there are so many Presbyterians who love the church so little that they give the church a little.
I want you to understand that Trisha and I are not among them. We love this church. We love this church a lot. We love this living, breathing, sinning, believing congregation of God’s people. Why? Well, because in a world filled with hate, here we encounter a community of embracing love. In a world filled with institutional idiocy, here we encounter a tradition of reason and integrity. In a world filled with oppression and repression, here we breathe the sweet air of freedom. In a world where human sexuality is twisted and perverted, here we see the redemption of human relationships. In a world so dreadfully inhuman, here we touch the tears of compassion. In a world so grim and humorless, here we share a rich joy and a great rolling laughter. Here in the midst of a world surrounded by death and dying, here we hear the incomparable good news of the affirmation of life and salvation. In a world where, on every hand, you hear the rumor of God’s absence, here we encounter the real presence of Jesus Christ. And that is why we love this church. And that is why one of the most deliciously selfish things that we do is to bring our full tithe to this church 10% of everything we receive. We bring it to this church so that this church might be able to continue to provide spiritual nourishment for human souls. What a joy. What an incredible joy it is to be able to bless this church.
And then tithing is a selfish thing to do because it gives us the joy of receiving the blessings of God.
Now, let me be perfectly clear. I do not preach a prosperity gospel. I am not suggesting that tithing automatically guarantees wealth. The operative word there is automatically. Actually, I would tell you that there are some people who tithe who wind up being considerably wealthy. Look at some of the great fortunes in America. Colgate and his toothpaste. Rockefeller and Standard Oil. H.J. Heinz and his ketchup. Kraft and this cheese company that bears his name. Hershey who produced chocolate bars. Procter of Procter & Gamble. I could go on and on. But these all were tithers. And they amassed great wealth and they continued to tithe that wealth, and as a result, they did amazing things for the Lord in this world.
But I want you to understand tithing in and of itself does not automatically guarantee wealth. But here’s what tithing does guarantee: God will see to it that the tither has enough to live and God will give to the tither a joy that transcends every earthly circumstance. The blessing will always come. Not necessarily in financial terms, though sometimes perhaps. But the blessing of God will always come.
My grandmother lived to be 96. She was not a wealthy woman; far from it. She spent the last 30 years of her life as a widow, living on a pension and Social Security. But she always had enough to live, and she always had the most robust, infectious joy in her life that you could ever imagine. What was her secret? Well, I discovered that one day when Trisha and I were visiting her in her apartment. She had actually been out of town for several weeks. And while we were visiting there, the mailman came, bringing the mail that had accumulated while she was away. The mailman came in not with a little bundle of mail, not even with one of those boxes of mail. He came in with a great, big canvas mail sack. And he proceeded to turn it upside down and dumped right in the middle of the floor the biggest pile of letters you could ever imagine.
My grandmother was so excited. She said, “I can barely wait to get to opening those letters and see all the great things God is doing with my money.” I said to her, “Maman—” that’s what we called her. “Maman, where in the world did all this mail come from?” And she said, “I’ll show you.” And she went and picked up her checkbook, and she opened it up. And she said to me, “I don’t have tons of money. But I give my full tithe to my church every year. And then I send a little money here and a little money there and a little money there and a little money here, everywhere I see that people are doing great things for Jesus Christ in the world. And those people are so wonderful to write me back and tell me how their work is going. That’s what all of those letters are.” And then she pointed at her checkbook. And all the check stubs, turning the pages, one after another after another. One check stub after another after another. And I noticed that down at the bottom of every check stub she had written two words. For Christ. Check stubs always speak louder than words. And suddenly, I understood her secret.
Let me finish with this: God doesn’t need your money. He doesn’t. If God wants MDPC to thrive, God is going to raise up generous people to give. God doesn’t need your money. I do want you to remember, however, it is not really your money. It’s God’s money in the first place. He’s just letting you have it for a little while.
But here’s what I want you to understand and to tuck away in your heart. If you believe that we are made for this, you and I, we are made for this, and if you bring to God the tithe, then God will open up the floodgates of heaven and pour out upon us a blessing so overflowing that we will not be able to contain it all. That’s a promise. That’s God’s promise. And God always, always keeps his promises.
Pray with me, please. God on high, hear my prayer. Enable us to experience the extraordinary blessing it is to be a blessing to you and to be a blessing to your church so that then we may know the sheer joy of being nothing less than the children of Almighty God through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.