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A Tip or a Tithe?

June 03, 2018
By Pastor Peter Heckert

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A Tip or a Tithe?
Genesis 28:10-22

+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

The text for our meditation for this first stewardship education Sunday is from Genesis 28:10-22, specifically where Moses records, “Then Jacob made a vow, saying, ‘If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear so that I return safely to my father’s house, then the Lord will be my God and this stone that I have set up as a pillar will be God’s house, and of all that You give me I will give You a tenth.’” Here ends our text; dear Christian friends…

A couple invited some of their close friends to go with them to a popular restaurant.  Both the food and service were great. When they had finished their meal and conversation, the host wrote out the tip on the credit card slip. As they left, the waiter gave them a warm and friendly smile implying that the tip was good and generous. This scene is played out in restaurants all across our country. The standard tip seems to be hovering around 20 percent or more.

As the couple who paid for the dinner was filling out their offering envelopes, it dawned on them that they paid a waiter for an hour or two of service four times what they were giving God in their weekly envelope. They gave the waiter the tithe and more, but to God they gave leftovers. There lies an irony that we make such a limited and poor response to God for all His goodness, mercy, grace, and love shown throughout our lifetimes and certainly into eternity. This may be why a wise person once said, “Surely there is something wrong with our standard of values, when we compare what we spend for incidentals or amusements and what we return to almighty God.”

A tip or a tithe? For Jacob there was no hesitation about what his response to God’s abiding presence would be. Jacob’s story is not about a saint so holy that he awakes to find himself in the presence of God because of his good actions. It is the story of a scoundrel who awakes with a startling sense of wonder as he realizes that God had visited him in his dreams in spite of all the mistakes he had made.

Jacob was in a jam because the choices he had made turned out to be selfish, calculating, and dishonest. His conniving had caught up with him. He had deceived his aged father, cheated his brother Esau, and was running for his life to escape the consequences. It is on the first night of his flight into the wilderness that he finds himself pursued not by Esau but by the grace of God. He has a vision of a ladder to heaven with angels ascending and descending. The Lord stood beside him and said, “Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go…” In amazement Jacob murmurs, “Surely the Lord is in this place; and I did not know it.”

Jacob’s situation is symbolic of the human condition threefold: a wrong relationship with things of this world, a wrong relationship with people through deceit and dishonest dealing, and a wrong relationship with God by not acknowledging His presence and via our disobedience. Yet, because of his vision, Jacob begins to see all that he is and has are gifts from God. He promises to use the stone which was the pillow for his head as the foundation for a pillar in the building up of God’s house. Then he says, “… and of all that You give me I will give full tenth to you.”

We usually think of the tithe as a form of legalism no longer part of our lives as Christians – perhaps something that is only emphasized by Baptists or the likes of televangelists. The general assumption is that the tithe is an expression of archaic demand, something you do or else. Instead of a threatening ultimatum upon a fearful people or a capricious requirement for impoverished nomads, the tithe was part of a plan for salvation and security for a precarious, fragile nation. It set Israel apart from the barbarous and callous cultures that sought to engulf and destroy them in the land of promise. It was a gift from, rather than an extraction of, gifts. Douglas Johnson in his insightful work The Tithe: Challenge or Legalism? insists: “that the tithe of the Old Testament is a testimony to the interconnectedness of people and God. It incorporates a cycle of giving and receiving and using. It signifies a relationship that can’t be content with using a strict formula from the past. The tithe, like the message of the Old Testament is a living witness of God.” Tithing therefore is not driven by legalistic compulsion, but rather arises as the spiritual response of a thankful soul.

I realize that for many this topic is about as welcome as a snowstorm in June. The biblical concept of the tithe is often understood as an ancient, archaic, legalistic intrusion into our lives, which is compulsory and restrictive, painful to ponder, and inappropriate for pastors to preach upon. Hearing about it hits home. We are like the farmer who was asked if he had 200 cows would he give 20 to God? “Yes, of course!” he said. “If you had 100 cows would you give ten to God?” I most certainly would,” was his response. “If you had ten cows would you give one to God?” “Now that’s not fair,” he said, “You know I have only ten cows!”

Our faith does not deny that economics has a place in the human condition. By the same token, it was Martin Luther who said that a religion that gives nothing, costs nothing, and suffers nothing is worth nothing. Tithing places before us a standard by which we may center our lives in gratitude to God. It has nothing to do with raising a budget or supporting a program. It has everything to do with making a spiritual response to God. Jacob’s story is timeless and relevant because it describes how this impoverished soul chose to respond.

Tithing is not a barter with God. It’s not a financial contract assuring an increase in profits if you participate. It’s not a mathematical formula for assuring the presence of God, or a clever device for lining the coffers of the church. Tithing is essentially, fundamentally a testimony of faith in the creativity and goodness of God.

Studies actually verify that the more money we make, the smaller percentage we give to the church. In other words, the biggest percentage givers to our church are those who have the smallest incomes. I don’t say that to embarrass anyone. It’s a fact. The biggest percentage givers in our church are not the big-salaried people with fine jobs, as you may have guessed, but the average member. In some instances you would be thrilled to know what some of our retired people are giving, and others who are on limited incomes.

Does your giving resemble a tip or a tithe? In the context of your own relation to God in Christ, you must decide. This is my prediction: if you do decide to accept the tithe as a standard, you will be starting a grand adventure in faith. When the tithe is practiced, a desire for even greater generosity fills you for God doesn’t just have the tithe; He now has the tither as well. Furthermore, you will be amazed by how happy you are living on the other nine-tenths.

Therefore, as I use God’s word for my guide. I find that the principle is valid as a starting point in my faith journey. In giving a proportion, using the tenth as a guide, I can be spiritually comfortable knowing that I have not robbed God. Moreover, I have been emotionally comfortable knowing that, no matter how large a budget our church may have, my share of the burden is simply God’s share of my income. Finally, I have been physically comfortable, knowing from experience that our household gets along better on the nine-tenths of our blessings than we ever could with one-tenth more without God’s benediction.

Our giving expresses our gratitude for Who God is and what He has done for us especially through His Son, Jesus. How blessed we are to have a God Who loves us and watches over us. In spite of all our blessings, we give less than we should, but God forgives us. He is patient with us, and He keeps moving us along our journeys as God’s stewards. I am asking you to prayerfully consider giving a tithe next Sunday, June 10. If you are already tithing or giving above the tithe then that Sunday will be no different, but for many it can be the start of something new and exciting in your journey as God’s steward. It is my prayer that God will give you the strength to take a leap of faith in your giving and start giving God your first and best, not out of obligation, but in thanks for what Christ has done for us all.

+ In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. + Amen.