In our society today, we like things to be easy. But, most things that are worthwhile in life are not easy. Philosopher William James once wrote, “With no attempt there can be no failure, no humiliation. So our feeling in this world depends entirely on what we lock ourselves to be or to do. It is determined by the ratio of our actualities to our supposed potentialities – a fraction of which our pretensions are the denominator and our numerator the success.” James was saying that we all have a self-image and, for most of us, it’s the result of a ratio of success to pretentions – of what actually happens to our expectations. If your pretension is set so high that you can’t match it, then you will have a low self-esteem. Conversely, if your expectations are so low that you exceed them, you’ll have an inflated self-esteem.
This same type of predictor holds true for personal spiritual analysis. Our spiritual self-perception is a direct ratio of behavior to moral expectations.
Most people deal with this equation by either lowering the moral expectations so the behavior seems more acceptable or we inflate our behavior to be closer to moral expectations. This leads to hypocrisy as we elevate the value of our actions, guilt for our inability to measure up, or an erosion of biblical truth because we don’t want to face expectations that can’t be met. Galatians 3:1-3,10 addresses this spiritual equation:
You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh?… For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, as it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.”
Galatians addresses the essence of the Christian message. We are not called to do better things or do more. Jesus Christ has already done for you what you cannot do for yourself. In the behavior to moral law ratio, we need the Gospel to fill in the gap. Unfortunately, many of us return to the law to feel good about ourselves. We either reduce the standard of the law or elevate our own behavior in order to fill in the gap.
Our approach to money is one aspect of our behavior that reveals this spiritual gap. God doesn’t need your money; giving is more about a spiritual dynamic in your life. The Bible says more about money than almost any other topic. In Matthew 6:24 Jesus warns, “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” In Malachi 3:8, we see God’s charge against His people related to money: “Will a mere mortal rob God? Yet you rob me. But you ask, ‘How are we robbing you?’ In tithes and offerings.” Malachi addresses three issues regarding money.
The Issue of Obedience
Will a mere mortal rob God? Yet you rob me. But you ask, “How are we robbing you?” In tithes and offerings.
In the Old Testament, the tithe meant bringing a tenth of all that was earned to the temple storehouse. If not, God would curse the land. The Old Testament actually had three different tithes totally 30%. Some like to think that this has no application in the New Testament, but usually in the movement of the standard from the Old Testament to the New Testament is one of an increasing standard. The Old Testament law reads “do not commit murder,” but in the New Testament Sermon on the Mount, Jesus challenged the heart and said you are guilty of murder just by calling your neighbor a fool. Though it may be popular to make the argument that the tithe is not mentioned in the New Testament, the more proper argument is that the tithe is even higher – that God owns 100% of all you have.
Money is one of the first things that God addresses in our heart because there are few things that are as difficult for us to give up. No one can serve two masters. Too often money is more important to us than God and money is more important to us than helping those less fortunate.
The Issue of Priorities
“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 there will not be room enough to store it.”
Money reveals something about your heart, but money also leads your heart. Where you put your moneys indicates what you love. Matthew 6:19-21 addresses this principle:
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Notice that this verse doesn’t say where your heart is, there your treasure will be. What we put our money toward tells our heart what to love. Consider where you invest your money. Is that thing more important to you than God? Would an objective observer reviewing your spending conclude that your priorities are about something greater than yourself?
There will be a day for all of us when our money will be worthless. If you give to something bigger you are investing in something greater. Author C.S. Lewis wrote about this tendency to focus on temporary pleasures:
We’re half-hearted creatures fooling about with drink, sex, and ambition when infinite joy is offered us. Like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in the slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by a holiday at sea, we are far too easily pleased.
We spend our time on trinkets and treasures on this earth when there is something much greater offered to us. Where we put our money clarifies our priorities. It shows what we value most.
The Issue of Trust
“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 there will not be room enough to store it. I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not drop their fruit before it is ripe,” says the LORD Almighty. “Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land,” says the LORD Almighty.
We are plagued with a fear that we might not have enough. The phrase “Test me in this” is a unique phrase. Though the word testing is found in the Bible 24 times, it usually has a negative connotation. This is the only time it is used in a positive way. God is saying that we don’t need to let fear drive us, because God will do more if we give him our resources. Jesus used the offering of a widow to show that it’s not how much you give:
Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents. Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything – all she had to live on.”
In the culture of Jesus’ day, when people brought their offering, the priest would announce how much was given. The fact that she gave two coins was significant. She could have given one coin and it would have still been extremely generous. Instead she gave everything she had. With our offering to God, it’s not how much you give; it’s how much you keep. You can only trust God if you push yourself to a place of giving from your need. It’s possible to give large sums of money, but never be pushed to be in a place to trust. Jesus says that you need to give to the point where you are forced to rely on God.
Hudson Taylor, a missionary who lived on very little experienced it like this: “The less I spend on myself, the more I gave to others, the fuller of happiness and blessing did my soul become.” God is telling us that there is no need to fear because you can trust Him. He will do more with what you give than you could even imagine. The One you trusted to give you something as great as salvation is worthy of being trusted with something as simple as money.
Some tithe and still miss it. In Matthew 23:23, Jesus had a warning to those who obeyed the tithe, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices – mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law – justice, mercy and faithfulness.”
Go back to the spiritual perception equation. You may give 10% because it is the law and feel that you are morally good. You may even develop an attitude against those who don’t tithe. Or you may not be able to fathom giving 10% which may cause you to feel guilt for not meeting the standard. Or you may choose to diminish the standard as irrelevant. Or you may elevate your own behavior to feel that what you give is good enough.
If you come to the conclusion that there is something you should do, then you’re missing the message of Christianity. The law serves a purpose. It’s intended to show you that you cannot possibly keep the law. There will always a gap in the equation. If there is no gap, you become a moralist. The fact that there is a gap doesn’t mean the standard should be ignored. Romans 6:1 addresses that fallacy, “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?”
When you understand how short you come from meeting the standard and embrace what God has done for you in Jesus Christ, it changes your motivation. You no longer give to get. You no longer give to make God happy with you. Instead, you will be compelled to give to the God who has been so faithful to you when you have been so unfaithful to Him. You can’t out-give that God. You can’t out-honor that God. You will want to give out of the fullness of God in your heart.