‘More’ These four letters probably constitute one of the most powerful words in the English language. Very smart people stay up at night trying to figure out ways to convince us that we are (or ought to be) discontent. That we would experience true satisfaction if we just had more. All day long we are bombarded by the prophets of more. Use me, buy me, drive me, wear me, try me, put me in your hair. ‘More’ is an insatiable desire and, unfortunately, not limited to something as trivial as hair. One of my favourite radio adverts at the moment is of a child repeatedly asking his mother “Pleeeease can I have one?” To which the mother replies, “No”. Eventually she explains he will have to wait until he is 18 before he can have a Volkswagen car… Serving the "more monster" will never satisfy our souls. Saying no to "more" can be difficult, if not impossible.
“I can resist everything” said Mark Twain, “Except temptation.” No one sets out to be a greedy person, but it happens all the time—even in the church. Jesus saw it coming when he said this: "No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth" (Matthew 6:24)
Jesus didn’t say this to be harsh. He was just stating the blindingly obvious. There is not enough room in my heart for two masters. What does it take to tame the “more monster”? What does it take to transform a heart from greed to generosity? For most of us, it will not come simply by acquiring more possessions, more knowledge, or applying more will-power. The “more monster” is too strong. We need a way of training. We need a tangible and routine way to say, "Sorry, money, you are not my master. You will not be the god of my life today." What we need, God has provided. And to prove it God has also provided a guarantee. It's called “tithing”.
During the month of April, we usually think about taxes and what we owe the government. This April we are going to think about tithing and what we owe God. We are going to discover how God will help us tame the “more monster” and ensure he is the only God in our lives. The word “Tithe” has how many letters? Lets see what each letter can teach us something about tithing. Lets ask five questions of this passage. Here they are: What? Where? When? How? Why?
1. WHAT? What does ‘Tithe’ mean?
The word ‘tithe’ simply means “a tenth”. People tend to use the word loosely today. They may speak of tithing £10 a week when their income is £50,000 per year. For the math-impaired among us, giving £10 a week would be tithing only if my income were £100 a week. Under the Old Covenant it was compulsory to tithe. That is why Malachi says the people of Israel were “robbing God” (Malachi 3:8). God says, “Bring the whole tithe” (Malachi 3:10).
For many “the whole tithe”, will be one tenth, for others, it will mean more. Our taxation system assumes the more you earn the more you contribute for the common good. I believe the same is true with tithing. Giving a tithe will be sacrificial for some. For others it will not be. That is why I believe in “proportional tithing”. Decide the basic amount you need to live on as an individual or family. Then for every £5,000 more you earn above that you might choose to give 1% extra. So if you began at the national average of £25k @10%, on £30k you might give @11%; say on £35k @12%; on £40k @13% and so on. As a church we try and model this and give at least a tithe and a half of our income to outward mission. Notice God refers not only to tithes but also offerings in verse 8 “In tithes and offerings” (Malachi 3:8). These are not the same thing. The tithe was not a ceiling, it was merely a floor. Offerings were over and above tithes. The word “offering” means “free will giving”.
The Bible teaches that God demands the tithes, whereas he deserves our offerings. He demands the tithe because everything belongs to Him. And giving reminds us of that fact. It reminds us we stewards not owners. He deserves our offerings for all his blessings. We might want to say “thank you” to God on a special occasion or when there is a special need. What ever you decide before the Lord, do it secretly, willingly, proportionately, regularly and joyfully. First question? What is a tithe? Answer?
A tenth. Second question?
2. HOW? How should we Tithe?
a. Whatever INTERESTS us?
c. Gut INSTINCT
Answer? Intentional. We should give intentionally. In dialogue with his people, God asks them questions to make them think about what they are doing. “But you ask, ‘How do we rob you? In tithes and offerings’ (Malachi 3:8). That is how strongly God felt about the way they were handling his money.
To tithe you have got to make a calculation and make a decision. You can’t rely on being motivated emotionally or by guilt. Every time I tithe, I remind myself that God is on the throne. Not me. Not money. Every time I tithe, I reinforce that all I have is from him. The tithe is not a tip for good service, as though God were some helper I could patronize. Every time I tithe, I remind myself that God is the owner and I’m his manager. Every time I tithe, I make a declaration: "I will trust you, God" even when trusting doesn't feel easy or natural. Every time I tithe, I am reminded, even as I calculate the amount, I am reminded of how much you have given me. I count my blessings, and in doing so, I put to death (or at least injure) the ‘more monster’ in me. What? How? Third question?
3. WHY? Why are we to Tithe?
a. THANK YOU
Answer? Test. God asks us to test him. "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." (Malachi 3:10).
I hear you say, "Stephen, you don't know my circumstances. I cannot afford to tithe." My answer is simple. On the basis of these verses, "You cannot afford not to!" God's purpose for the church is that we should be as "a delightful land" (Malachi 3:12) – a paradise of fruitfulness and fragrance. When we give freely, secretly, regularly, sacrificially, in proportion to our income, God’s blessing will be so evident that even seekers to see it and marvel at our response to God’s generosity in Jesus Christ.
What? How? Why? Fourth question?
4. WHERE? Where should we Tithe?
Answer? Here. "Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse.” (Malachi 3:10) In the sanctuary there was a storehouse built for depositing the tithes and offerings of the people. The New Testament equivalent is the local church. The distribution of money will naturally include needs beyond the local church, but the responsibility to bring the tithes and offerings to the local church is assumed in the NT. It is right to bring your tithe and offerings to the place where your membership is established, your spiritual life is nourished, and your church privileges are enjoyed. If you give elsewhere, maybe directly to mission agencies or to charities, then it should be over and above what is needed to maintain the ministry of the local church, not in place of it. What? How? Why? Where? Fifth question?
5. WHEN? When should we Tithe?
b. EVERY HARVEST
Answer? Every Harvest – when ever you are paid. There are basically five things we can do with money. We can spend it, pay off debt, pay taxes, save it and give it away. Researchers tell us that typically this is in fact the order in which we dispose of money… First of all we spend it, then we pay off debts, then we reluctantly pay our taxes, and if we have any left we will save some and if there’s any left after that we give it away. Interestingly the biblical pattern is the exact opposite. We are told to give our first fruits, then save some, pay your taxes, pay off our debts, and then learn to live of the rest. Giving of your first fruits, when you are paid, whether that is at the beginning of the week, beginning of the month, beginning of the tax year - rather than what is left over is the biblical way of acknowledging our indebtedness to God for all that He has done for us.
In our family Joanna does a superb Sunday lunch - especially when we have guests - chicken, roast potatoes, Yorkshire puddings, roasted parsnip, sprouts, carrots, sausage wrapped in bacon and lashings of gravy. In the history of our family however, we have never invited guests round on a Monday to eat the left overs. The family gets to eat the left overs on a Monday, if there are any. The message of firstfruits was not complex: God deserves better than the leftovers. Firstfruit tithing is one of the richest spiritual practices in all of Scripture. It provides a powerful series of reminders built into the very rhythm of our lives.
I remember when one of our girls was younger they asked who decides the price of things in the shops. I said, the value depends on how much someone is prepared to pay for it. If you want to know how much you are worth, don’t look at the house you live in, where you take your holidays, the name of school your children attend, the make of car you drive or the style of clothes you wear. Look to the cross.
For there you were bought with “the precious blood of Christ.” (1 Peter 1:19). That is what you are worth to God. That is what it cost to buy you. “You are not your own, you were bought with a price, therefore honour God with your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)… with your salary, your pension, your investments, your savings. Look to the cross and see the pure and unadulterated love of God.
I invite you to reflect upon the answers to those five questions What? How? Why? Where? When? and experience the unconditional guarantee that comes with this promise when we tithe.
"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." (Malachi 3:10).
 Opening illustration taken with thanks from “Tithing: A Training Exercise for the Heart” by John Ortberg in Giving, Unlocking the Heart of Good Stewardship, by John Ortberg, Laurie Pederson & Judson Poling (Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 2000), pp. 45-49.