19. POISE THROUGH STEWARDSHIP
It’s said but true that many people will put less in the collection plate at church than they will use to buy a ticket for the movies or buy themselves breakfast. They won’t give their money. They won’t give their time. They won’t give their talents. They are afraid of losing out.
Let me be frank with you. No one has a right to expect blessings from God if, through greed and covetousness, he or she blocks the pathway by which God's blessings come. God is the owner of all things. We are stewards. God knew that man would contest this fact and so He went to special pains to make His ownership clear in the opening chapters of the Bible. God's name is mentioned 14 times in the first 13 verses, 31 times in the first chapter, and 45 times in the first two chapters of Genesis.
God requires stewardship not because of His need, but because of our need. God has no needs: "Every beast of the forest is mine, and the cattle upon a thousand hills. ... If I were hungry, I would not tell thee: for the world is mine, and the fullness thereof" (Psalm 50:10,12). And again: "The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, saith the Lord of hosts" (Haggai 2:8).
God has a threefold basis for demanding our stewardship. Read Isaiah 43:1: "Now thus saith the Lord that created thee, O Jacob, and he that formed thee, O Israel, Fear not: for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name; thou art mine."
God created us. He redeemed us. And He sustains us.
It is impossible for a man to experience the poise that conquers worry unless he possesses an awareness of God's approval. Without the awareness of divine approval, man is plagued by feelings of guilt and fear. He may belong to an Amazonian tribe unreached by even the faintest echo of the gospel, but because of that moral monitor God has placed in his breast he will know, deep within, that he is responsible to a higher power. Not until he comes to know this higher power personally through the mediation of Jesus Christ will his guilt be resolved and his fears subside.
Many are foolishly trying to get victory over guilt and fear with a battery of psychoanalytic techniques: Freudian expressionism and catharsis, Gestalt therapy, and the like. However it is only God who banishes our fear. For through the instrumentality of the Holy Spirit He gives us a spirit "of power, and of love, and of a sound mind" (2 Timothy 1:7). Not that we always make use of this privilege. It is possible for a Christian to be out of fellowship with God and thus forfeit the poise that is dependent upon our awareness of His approval.
The three principles of God's ownership
God has set out three principles in the Bible about the obligations we owe to Him. These transcend the boundaries of time, geography, and race.
One day out of seven belongs to God. This first principle was made clear in the first chapter of the Bible. It has never changed, though it has often been disobeyed and denied and abused. We are still required to honor God by recognizing the day of rest.
Substitutionary sacrifice is the only answer to human sin. This principle also transcends time. Again, we can look back to the early chapters of Genesis. When Abel offered an atoning sacrifice it was in response to this fundamental law and unalterable principle. Hebrews 11:4 tells us that Abel offered his sacrifice "by faith," meaning that there had been a revelation from God concerning it. Now, all sacrifices have had their fulfillment in Christ, "the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world" (John 1:29).
We are called to stewardship of material possessions. Please pay attention! If you are inclined to get a little impatient with this emphasis on stewardship and turn over to the next chapter, I implore you to hear me out—or rather, to hear God's Word out. One out of every six verses of the four Gospels has to do with the right and wrong use of material possessions. Sixteen of our Lord's 38 parables have to do with the right and wrong use of material possessions. Don't sin against yourself by ignoring this chapter. Suspend your judgment and "to thine own self be true." Surely more anxiety and insecurity among Christians is caused by deficiency at this point than at any other.
Why is stewardship so important?
In the Garden of Eden, God kept to Himself the tree of knowledge of good and evil. This He did to remind Adam and Eve of their duty of stewardship and of God's right of ownership. They were not to touch the fruit of that tree. In a special sense, it belonged to God. True, everything belongs to God, but a certain proportion of that which He bestows upon us is to be set aside immediately and with no strings attached.
Is it not traditional that the tenant farmer in the Midwest be required to give back to the owner one-fourth of the corn crop? Is it not traditional that the tenant farmer in the South be required to give back to the landowner one-third of the cotton crop? Since God is the owner of all things, is it not fair that we be required to give back to Him a proportion of that which He makes possible?
Remember verse 5 of our text in Philippians 4. The word "moderation" means "fairness," among other things. There is no poise without fairness, and there is no fairness without stewardship of material possessions. This poise that brings peace is significantly dependent upon our obedience to stewardship opportunities.
Some folks think giving is meant to finance the local church, as though it were a tax. But to think this is to miss the whole point. We don't give out of duty. We give from an inner compulsion, returning to God through the tithe, and offerings above the tithe, "as the Lord prospers us." We practice stewardship:
In recognition of God's sovereign ownership. "Thou shalt remember the Lord thy God: for it is he that giveth thee power to get wealth, that he may establish his covenant which he sware unto thy fathers, as it is this day" (Deuteronomy 8:18). Paul picks up the same point in the New Testament: "What? Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's" (1 Corinthians 6:19,20).
In appreciative acknowledgement of redeeming grace. "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them" (Ephesians 2:8-10).
In surrender of life and talents to the Lord. "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God" (Romans 12:1,2).
When you prepare your tithe, you prepare for worship. In church, as you put the money in the collection plate, you are saying in substance, "This is a tangible expression of my total surrender to Thee. This money that I place in this plate represents my brains, my blood, my abilities—all of the blessings that have come from Thee, for I realize that 'every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning' (James 1:17). It is because of the health, because of the mental ability, because of the friends, because of the various resources that Thou hast given me that I am able to make a living. All that I am and all that I have is Thine. My stewardship of material possessions is but an expression of that fact."
The truth about tithing
The basis of our monetary responsibility is the tithe. Tithing is paying back to God ten percent of the increase. And God doesn't mince His words concerning those who fail to obey. The Bible says that if you fail to pay that ten percent back into the "storehouse" with faithful regularity you are a thief and a robber.
There are those who would try to brainwash people into believing that the responsibility of the tithe was only in force during the days of the law—from the time of Moses to the time of Christ. They will tell you that Malachi 3:10 has no relevance for today because it is in the Old Testament.
The Lord must have known that such mischief would arise. Therefore He introduced the words of Malachi 3:6, "For I am the Lord, I change not…." After these words He calls Israel back to His ordinances, to tithes and offerings, to the storehouse, and to His conditional promise of blessing. The New Testament reaffirms these words of Malachi 3:6 by saying that with God there is "no variableness, neither shadow of turning" (James 1:17).
These same people who say that tithing was for those under the law will, of course, turn in the next moment to Psalm 23 for comfort, to Psalm 32 for guidance, to Job for wisdom, and to Elijah for a pattern of prayer—among many other Old Testament passages.
To be consistent, these people who throw out Malachi 3:10 ought also to throw out John 3:16. After all, this too was spoken prior to the time that redemption was completed by our Lord on the cross of Calvary.
In fact, tithing was not a product of the law. Tithing antedated the law. Abraham tithed. The law of the tithe is not an Israelite law. It is a fundamental and unalterable law of God. It is still in force. That is why tithing is commended by Jesus. "Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone" (Matthew 23:23).
Just as Abraham paid tithes to Melchizedek, so we pay tithes to Christ. In Hebrews 7 this truth is made clear. The Son of God who lives and abides as a priest continually after the order of Melchizedek "receiveth tithes"—that is, receives them now! When paying tithes, Abraham acknowledged Melchizedek's sovereignty as a king-priest. Likewise, today when paying the tithe, we acknowledge Christ as Sovereign and Lord. Refusal to pay the tithe is refusal to own Christ as Sovereign and High Priest. Thus one makes Christ not only inferior to Melchizedek, but also inferior to the Levites, the priestly group of Old Testament times.
The tithe was incorporated in the law because it was a principle worthy of divine enforcement. God never repealed the fundamental law of tithing; grace has not annulled it; time has not altered it.
For that reason, Malachi's command concerning the tithe retains all its original force:
Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings. Ye are cursed with a curse: for ye have robbed me, even this whole nation. 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. And I will rebuke the devourer for your sakes, and he shall not destroy the fruits of your ground; neither shall your vine cast her fruit before the time in the field, saith the Lord of hosts. And all nations shall call you blessed: for ye shall be a delightsome land, saith the Lord of hosts. —Malachi 3:8-12
In this command, Malachi makes the practice of tithing a condition for receiving God's blessing in a special way and to a special degree. The implication is clear. When we refuse to pay the tithe we are robbing God, we make ourselves subject to a curse, and we deny ourselves the blessing of God.
Tithing didn't disappear in the New Testament
Grace does not abrogate the law. Grace fulfills the law and goes much further than the most stringent demands of the law. Grace provides the dynamic necessary for fulfilling the law's mechanics. The law told man what to do, but failed to provide him with the capability to accomplish it. Grace provides the dynamic of the Holy Spirit whereby in the strength of God we fulfill the demands of the law, and much more.
Jesus said in Matthew 5:17-20:
Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.
We have already seen how Jesus commended the tithing of the Pharisees. In verse 20 of Matthew 5, the Lord tells us that our righteousness must exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees. Grace fulfills and amplifies the law, instead of destroying and minimizing it.
Proceed further in Matthew 5. The law says, "Thou shalt not kill." Jesus makes it clear that if a man hates his brother he is just as guilty as if he had murdered him. The law says, "Thou shalt not commit adultery." Jesus points out that under grace whosoever looks on a woman to lust after her has already violated the seventh commandment in his heart. Carry this principle over in the matter of the stewardship of money. How can an enlightened child of God do less under grace than the Jew did under the law? The Jew gave offerings over and above his tithe, too. For instance, if you study the Old Testament, you will discover that the Temple and its equipment were paid for by offerings over and above the tithes.
There is always a question mark in my mind about the person who goes to extremes to prove that we are under no obligation to tithe. What is his motive? In Leviticus 27:30 God makes it clear that "The tithe ... is the Lord's." Therefore we, as stewards, have absolutely no right to handle it as though it were ours. It must be placed where God says and when God says—namely, in the storehouse on the Lord's day.
The money belongs to God
Jesus said, "Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's" (Matthew 22:21). In other words, pay your taxes and pay your tithes. Your taxes belong to the government. The proof of this lies in the fact that they are deducted from your pay before you receive it. Your United States income tax is to be paid to the collector of Internal Revenue at a given location.
Suppose you, an American, owed the government an income tax of $1,000. Suppose that you made out your 1040 Form and attached a note to it in which you said:
*Dear Uncle Sam,
You will notice that I owe you $1,000.1 am sending $100 to my local postmaster. He is one of your faithful servants and he is having a hard time financially. I am sending $100 to a U.S.O. down in South Carolina. They are doing a magnificent work boosting the morale of your own servicemen, and they need help desperately. I am sending $100 to a nephew of mine who is a sailor with the Seventh Fleet. He is liable to get blown up any time and I think that he needs encouragement. After all, he is one of your faithful servicemen. Then I am sending $200 to the Veterans Administration. After all, they are loyally dedicated to carrying out your will. But, Uncle Sam, just to let you know my heart is in the right place, I am sending the remaining $500 to the collector of Internal Revenue in my area here*.
It's absurd. Why? Because the law of the country does not extend to you the right to decide how the tax money should be distributed. It doesn't belong to you. Therefore your only responsibility is to hand it over.
Here is a man who owes God a tithe of $1,000. But instead of accepting God's revelation that "the tithe is the Lord's," he says, "The tithe is mine. It's my tithe!" Then, acting on that premise, he high-handedly determines the distribution of that money, which is not his in the first place. He will send $100 to a radio evangelist, another $100 to a Bible school, and another $100 to a missionary.
That is not what God requires. The tithe is to go into the "storehouse," which in this age is the church. Hear the Word of the Lord:
Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come. —1 Corinthians 16:2
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
The word that is translated "store" in 1 Corinthians 16:2 is the same word that was used in the Greek Septuagint to translate "storehouse" in Malachi 3:10. In other words, it would be a correct translation of 1 Corinthians 16:2 to say, "Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in storehouse...."
Who is the proper beneficiary of the tithe?
Now I should add here that these scriptural truths are set out here by one who doesn't pastor a local church. Rather, I lead a parachurch organization dependent upon the gifts of God's people made above the tithe. Gifts over and above the tithe can be made to Christian causes. But "the tithe. . . is the Lord's." The specific depository is the local church, and it is to be placed there undesignated.
In 1957, when the Lord led me to resign the pastorate to go into the field of evangelism, a dear friend who fought this truth said, "Haggai, now I reckon you will abandon this foolishness about storehouse tithing."
"My change in ministry doesn't mean a change in Scripture or commitment," I replied.
"Follow that notion, and in a year you will collapse for lack of support," he insisted.
Said I, "If this ministry is of God, He'll supply the need."
It was, and He has.
When a man refuses to storehouse tithe his money, he is repeating in kind, if not in degree, the sin of Adam and Eve. In partaking of the forbidden fruit, they took to themselves an authority that was not theirs. That tree belonged to God, not to them. When we do not tithe, we are taking to ourselves an authority that is not ours. We are appropriating money that belongs to God. How then can we expect peace? How can we expect victory over anxiety and freedom from worry? For God and God alone is the Author of peace.
Here is a man who will not honor God by paying the tithe. Yet when his little child becomes critically ill, and the doctors say there is no hope apart from supernatural intervention, that same father will fall on his face before God and say, "O God, this is my child, bone of my bones, flesh of my flesh, blood of my blood. I hand him to Thee. Do what seems good in Thy sight. If it can please Thee, restore him to health and strength and to us."
Such hypocrisy! He is willing to trust God with his own flesh and blood, yet he will not trust God with his silver and gold. Does he think more of his money than he does of his child? How can God honor a man like that? How can God justly bless a man like this who turns his back upon God as soon as it suits him—turns his back upon God by refusing to tithe.
Here's another illustration: You will remember the passage in Mark 12:41-44, where Jesus sat and beheld how the people cast money into the treasury. You will remember also that a certain poor widow put in two mites. Jesus called His disciples together and said, "This poor widow hath cast more in, than all they which have cast into the treasury" (verse 43).
How could He know? Perhaps they had put part of their tithe into a religious foundation, or some Bible college, or sent it to some radio evangelist. You say, "They didn't have such things back then!" That's true, but it is a fact of history that there were more depositories for the giving of alms in that day than there are today. The others could have said they had given much of their tithe to charitable causes. Jesus judged their stewardship on the basis of what they put into the treasury of the house of God, which today is our own literal, visible, local church.
Consider the process of bringing the tithe.
First you bring the tithe in physically. This couples tithing with worship. The two are inseparable.
Second, you bring all the tithe. You don't deduct your doctor's bills, your transportation to and from work, your insurance policies, your gifts to the Red Cross, United Way Appeal Drive, and so forth. You bring a full ten percent of your total increase.
Third, you bring all the tithe into the storehouse. When this is done, your responsibility ceases. Even when Paul was trying to get money together for Jerusalem, he didn't tell the Corinthian Christians to send their tithe there. He told them to put their tithe in their local church. Only then did he urge the church to help out its sister congregation in Jerusalem.
You get back what you give out—and more
Now notice the conditional promise of Malachi 3:10: "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."
If I could not believe what God says about tithing, I could not believe what He says about anything. It is strange that people will believe what He says about salvation, what He says about heaven, what He says about hell, what He says about baptism, and what He says about soul-winning, yet they will not believe what He says about tithing and the stewardship of possessions.
I know a wealthy man who has set up a religious foundation. He allegedly puts ten percent of his earnings into that foundation and therefore considers himself a tither. However, he does not put the tithe where God says to put it. In addition to that manifest disobedience, one of his corporations borrows the money that is in the nonprofit religious foundation, and does so on highly preferential terms. Therefore he has access to money on which he has to pay no tax—money that he uses to expand his business. You say, "Well, preacher, God is blessing him." Is He? The trouble is that too many people think only in terms of money when they think of God's opening the windows of heaven and pouring out blessings.
I know another man who recently made $40 million in a single year, but because of an ulcerated stomach he can't eat a decent piece of meat. There are some men who would give all of their money if they could buy peace of mind, the respect of their children, the love of their wife.
Once again, let me remind you that from a selfish standpoint it would be to my advantage to preach that a person has a right to place his tithe where he wants, inasmuch as on that basis additional money could be secured to finance my own nonprofit organization. But I know that God would not bless it.
Some time ago a dear friend of mine suggested that a group of businessmen give $10,000 a year out of their tithes to support the ministry God has given me. I thanked him for his generous proposal but said quite frankly, "You are barking up a tree where was never found a possum. I would no more be party to accepting a part of your tithe— a tithe which is not yours, but God's—than I would be party to taking a portion of your income tax—tax which is not yours, but Uncle Sam's."
You say, "What does this have to do with worry?" Plenty! If you went downtown and stole $100 from a merchant, would you have peace of mind? No. You would probably think that people were talking about you every time they looked at you. You would feel uncomfortable whenever you were in the vicinity of the business you had stolen from and to which you are now indebted.
In the fourth chapter of Philippians, from which the textual basis of our formula for victory over worry is found, Paul mentions the liberality of the Philippians. Is it not interesting that the Philippian church was the only church in which Paul found no doctrinal or ethical error? Read the fourth chapter and notice how he commends them for their liberality in the matter of monetary stewardship.
Many people glibly quote verse 19: "My God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus." But may I suggest that the fulfillment of that promise is conditional upon a spirit akin to that expressed by the Philippians, and recorded in the immediately preceding verses?
One of the reasons that many people worry is financial adversity—an adversity sometimes begotten of their own stewardship disobedience. "Honor the Lord with thy substance, and with the first fruits of all thine increase: So shall thy barns be filled with plenty, and thy presses shall burst out with new wine" (Proverbs 3:9,10). These words were written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit of God.
Failure to tithe is incontrovertible evidence that you are more interested in yourself than you are in the work of the Lord. One of the chief causes of anxiety and worry is self-centeredness. "Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also" (Matthew 6:21).
When your chief concern is not merely how to tithe, but how to give offerings—generous offerings over and above the tithe given to the glory of God—you will experience a joy and a peace the world cannot define. But when you refuse to tithe, you do so either from ignorance or cov-etousness, and God's Word states that covetousness is idolatry: "Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry" (Colossians 3:5).
Money so easily becomes a tin god. We resemble our gods; we assimilate what we conceive to be desirable. When money is your god there is no peace. But if Christ is the Lord of your life—the dominant dynamic of your experience, the overmastering passion of your interests—then you inevitably begin to resemble Him who "is our peace" (Ephesians 2:14). As a result of your fellowship with Him, you will experience the peace only He can give. "Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid" (John 14:27).
Open yourself to the blessings that God promises to those who honor Him with their substance.