Thursday, November 13, 2014

Hebrews 7:4-10 Tithing: Try it, You'll Like It!

In today’s passage, the author points to the significance of Abraham giving a tithe to Melchizedek:

Just think how great he was: Even the patriarch Abraham gave him a tenth of the plunder! Now the law requires the descendants of Levi who become priests to collect a tenth from the people—that is, from their fellow Israelites—even though they also are descended from Abraham. This man, however, did not trace his descent from Levi, yet he collected a tenth from Abraham and blessed him who had the promises. And without doubt the lesser is blessed by the greater. In the one case, the tenth is collected by people who die; but in the other case, by him who is declared to be living. One might even say that Levi, who collects the tenth, paid the tenth through Abraham, because when Melchizedek met Abraham, Levi was still in the body of his ancestor. (Hebrews 7:4-10 NIV)

Basically what this is saying is that by giving the tithe to Melchizedek, Abraham is acknowledging that Melchizedek is greater than he is. When Melchizedek blesses Abraham, this passage confirms that the greater blesses the lesser. The readers, who were steeped in Jewish law, would have questioned the priesthood of Melchizedek, since he was not of the tribe of Levi, which was the tribe given the priesthood by God. This author is saying that the priesthood of Melchizedek was clearly greater than that of Levi, since Abraham, the Patriarch, gave tithes to Melchizedek. Therefore,it would be as if Levi, as Abraham’s descendant, was giving the tithe. Can we all agree that Melchizedek was greater?? Having argued that, the author will turn next to how Jesus is like Melchizedek, with a superior priesthood.

But before we move on, we just can’t ignore this whole topic of tithing. Is there any topic that makes congregations squirm more? Mention money from the pulpit and you are guaranteed to tick off some in the pews! Why is that? Because deep down we believe that our money is OURS. WE EARNED it and we should be able to keep it. God doesn’t need our money, so why does He expect us to give it?

The truth is that all we have and all we are able to do are gifts from God. Tithing is a way of acknowledging this, and it is also the way God designed the church to take care of the needs of those who serve Him in ministry. The tribe of Levi was called to the priesthood, so their tribe was the only one which was not given any territory in the Promised Land. They could not earn a living from the land, and they were in service to God 24/7. So God provided for their needs with the tithe. So do we have to tithe today? No!

Because Jesus fulfilled the law, we are no longer under the command to tithe. In fact Jesus was harsh in his criticism of the legalistic way the religious leaders would tithe down to the tiniest part of their spices, while ignoring the weightier things that they should have been doing, like caring about the needs of the “least of these:”

“Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone.” (Luke 11:42)

You won’t find a command to tithe in the New Testament! However, the New Testament makes it very clear that Christians gave to the church for the care of pastors and to take care of the needy. I read an article by John Ortberg in which he purports that giving is “one of God’s great gifts to us.” He writes:

“What if tithing is actually one of God's great gifts to us? What if tithing isn't opposed to grace, but is actually a vehicle of it? I'd like to go back to one of the classic statements about the tithe in Scripture, and look at why tithing is in fact God's great tool to create generous people. 

He quotes the best-known promise in Scripture on tithing: 

You are under a curse—your whole nation—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 there will not be room enough to store it. (Malachi 3:9-10)

Ortberg continues:

Tithing is like training wheels when it comes to giving. It's intended to help you get started, but not recommended for the Tour de France.

How do you know when to take training wheels off? The quick answer is: when they're slowing you down. How do you know when its time to stop tithing? For all of us not living in dire poverty, the answer is when you're giving way more than 10 percent. Tithing is a bad ceiling but an excellent floor.” (“Tithing: Law or Grace?” John Ortberg)

I like his thought that tithing (giving ten percent) is just the beginning. Paul tells us that God is more interested in our intention than with the actual amount of money we give. Paul’s exhortation is to be as generous as possible with our giving:

The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. (2 Cor 9:6-7)

Giving back to God reveals the attitude of our hearts. If we hold on to our belongings with a tight fist, and begrudgingly peel a few bills out of our wallets for the offering plate, we are saying we can’t trust God with our money. We fear our financial future, because we can’t trust God with it. Yet, God promises to bless us to overflowing if we will just test him in this area. He dares us to open up our pockets to give back to Him in gratitude.

Try it. You’ll be amazed at how it straightens out the rest of your budget! You’ll find that a tithe is, indeed, just the beginning.

1 comment:

  1. SO encouraging! Thanks for the great exhortation, Mom!