“It is now time for the worship in giving portion of our service today. The offering today is for local church budget. This morning’s appeal is about a man named Johnny. Johnny recently was placed in a situation where he had to decide between being faithful to the Lord in his giving or spending his money in another way. He made the decision to not compromise and began to faithfully return his tithe and even sacrificially gave the same amount of tithe in other offerings. He surprisingly received an unexpected check in the mail. The amount of the check was 10% more than what he had just given to the Lord! That allowed Johnny to replenish what he had just given and even pay tithe on it, so give generously today to the Lord. Deacons, please come forward.”
Growing up in the church, I have heard many offering appeals that sounded similar to this. Encouraging stories of how the Lord blessed someone who had decided to faithfully return their tithe or sacrificially give their offerings to His work.
Unfortunately, as a young and selfish person growing up, I began to shape a view that giving was a transaction where I was going to receive an equal or greater material item in return for whatever I gave to the Lord. What a great arrangement! I had nothing to lose! It was like that Christmas gift exchange where everyone else brought a better gift than you, and you were guaranteed to go home a lot happier than you came. This arrangement with God was going to be just fine as long as He kept up on His end of the bargain.
As time went on and the giving part of my life became more of a formality, I knew there had to be something more. I began to study into what the tithe and offering system was all about, and realized how much giving was truly a spiritual issue. Leviticus 27:30 calls it a holy tithe and therefore it had to be something more than just a formal exchange. Further in my study, I ran across this quote:
“The gold and the silver are the Lord’s; and He could rain them from heaven if He chose…God planned the system of beneficence, in order that man might become like his Creator, benevolent and unselfish in character, and finally be a partaker with Christ of the eternal, glorious reward” (Christian Service, p. 15).
The Lord began to open my eyes to the beautiful fact that giving was really all about the transformation of character that the Lord was wanting to provide for me through this system He set up so long ago. He was wanting to give me a deeper experience with Him and shape my character more and more like His. He was wanting to grow my faith to believe that 90% of my increase would go further than the 100%, should I keep it. He knew that when I acknowledged Him as ruler of all things, and most importantly my life, it was then that I could truly experience the joy He wanted to give me.
As I began looking specifically at the tithing principle, I noticed an important word that really transformed my thinking about tithe. That word was return. I remember a saying my father always told me while I was growing up. He said, “Son, always return something you borrowed in better condition than you received it.” He was communicating to me that what I was borrowing was not my property and that I needed to take the utmost care of it. I needed to honor the fact that the lender allowed me to borrow it by using it for what it was intended for and to thank the lender by returning it better than I received it.
Our Heavenly Father has also entrusted us with many things and has asked us to be good stewards of each of them. Psalm 50:10-12 clearly states that the Lord owns the world and everything in it. What freedom I can experience when I am faithful in what God has called me to do as I can leave the outcome to Him. When I return to Him all that is His and recognize that all the rest is really His anyway, I can then focus solely on how He would have me be the best steward of what is remaining. With that mindset, I will take care of what the Lord has entrusted me with, but because it is His, He is ultimately responsible for it.
I remember putting this principle in action earlier in my life. We were working in ministry and had very limited income. Our vehicle that we owned was several years old and had a lot of miles on it. We made a conscious decision to say, Lord, this is your van. We dedicate it to you and whatever you want us to use it for. Help us to be faithful in using it for your glory and to care for it just as you would have us to. What a relief came over us! God was now responsible for the big picture of that vehicle. While that did not mean we could be reckless with the vehicle or not take care of it, it meant that God was ultimately in control of what happened to that vehicle. All I had to do was to listen to Him on how He wanted me to care for and use it. We ended up having that vehicle way beyond its normal useful life and when it was God’s time to get another vehicle, He was faithful in providing just what we needed.
In Genesis 14, we see a wonderful example of faithfulness in the life of Abraham. As he returned from his victory in which he rescued his nephew Lot, the first thing he did was to return his tithe. While Abraham’s story is filled with examples of a trust in following the Lord, there were other events in his life where he stumbled in his faith. There were the two times where he lied and told others that Sarah was his sister and when he took matters into his own hands with Hagar. Those choices of not fully trusting in God had a significant impact on his life and to the world we live in today. Yet even though he made those choices, God continued to provide Abraham opportunities to choose Him as Lord over all his life, which is what God ultimately wants from each of us as well.
Next came the biggest test of Abraham’s life. Would he be willing to sacrifice his own son, the son that was the promised seed in which the Messiah would come? Would he trust God, who was calling him to this unthinkable task? Even though he made major mistakes in his life, Abraham had become so close to the Master that God had begun to transform his character into His likeness. That same man who had failed in earlier tests of faith, was now willing to sacrifice his most prized possession of his son, trusting fully in the Lord to work out His promised plan.
As I reflect on stories like these and my own personal experience, I just praise God for His faithfulness to me, and I am sure to you as well. May we take every opportunity we can to consistently be faithful to return to Him what is His and to be the best stewards we can in what He has entrusted to us. By doing so, we are recognizing Him as Lord of all and allowing Him to do the work He so desperately wants to do in shaping our characters after His. “As we heed these calls, by labor and by acts of benevolence, we are assimilated to the image of Him who for our sakes became poor” (Christian Service, p. 13).