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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Title:Giving from the Abundance of God's Gifts
Text:Deuteronomy 14:22-29 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Tithing
 
Preached:2015
Added:2015-11-29
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 81:1,3,14                                                                                 

Ps 36:1,2

Reading – Deuteronomy 26:1-19; 2 Corinthians 9:6-15

Ps 50:4,5,7,11

Sermon – Deuteronomy 14:22-29

Ps 65:3,5,6

Hy 77:1,2,3

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation, they say that it’s bad manners to bring up certain topics in public. One of these sensitive issues is money. We could talk about finances in a general way—interest rates, property taxes, the markets—but when it comes to personal finance, it’s a different story. It’s not polite to talk about how much money you earn, or what you’ve saved, or what you owe.

There’s wisdom in keeping these things to yourself. But this privacy about money can be taken too far, when we conclude that what we do is our business, and ours alone! Yet is it true that personal finance is really only that—personal? Is this one area of life that’s our domain? No, sometimes we like to call money a “material” thing, but it’s so much more than that. Money’s not something merely physical or material—it’s very much a spiritual thing. Beloved, the way that you handle your money says a lot about you and your Lord, and it says a lot about your place among his people.

So God instructs us often in the matter of money and possessions. In no time, you could find two or three dozen passages that give clear and practical direction about this. Having said that, we turn to Deuteronomy 14. Here God says that being in covenant with him has everything to do with what we earn, and what we’ve saved, and how we spend. I preach God’s Word to you under this theme,

The LORD exhorts his people to present our tithes:

  1. from the abundance of God’s blessing
  2. for the support of God’s people
  3. for the increase of our joy

 

1. from the abundance of God’s blessing: In this long book of Deuteronomy, Moses is addressing God’s people just as they’re about to enter the Promised Land. Moses won’t be joining them there, but as their leader he wants to exhort and instruct them one final time. Deuteronomy then, is a whole series of sermons. This book is Moses’ last words to his beloved people. And in our passage, he wants to exhort the people about tithing: “You shall truly tithe all the increase of your grain that the field produces each year” (v 22). The tithe is a “one-tenth portion.” It was simple to calculate: from the harvest gathered from their fields and vineyards, the Israelites were called to separate ten percent to God. This portion would be taken from the total of their regular crops, whether wheat, barley, olives, grapes, or something else.

Now, like other parts of Deuteronomy, this law applies to a situation that wasn’t yet familiar to the Israelites—but soon it would be. For soon Israel would be crossing the Jordan, we said. There in the fertile plains and valleys of the land, the Israelites would take up their work, sowing seed and then reaping harvests. Anticipating that day, Moses teaches on this essential topic: How will God’s people use what He’s given them? What kind of wealth management will they practice?

So they’ve got their crops piled up, and they’ve separated that ten percent. Now what? What to do with it? Every year, God says, they need to take the tithe to the official sanctuary, to “the place where [the LORD] chooses to make his Name abide” (v 23). That last bit is an important detail. The tithe wasn’t simply dropped into some storage bin in the town square. It wasn’t mailed to the Israelite version of the tax office, never to be seen again. No, the tithe was carried to the place of God’s earthly presence—that is to say, it was taken to the LORD himself, at the place of his sanctuary. Why is that? Because this tithe was a gift intended for the LORD!

Moses explains this. You set aside a portion of your financial resources, and you express your thankfulness in a material way, so “that you may learn to fear the LORD your God always” (v 23). Notice the purpose, which is still true today: Our giving isn’t done to change God’s mind about you, or to make him bless you. Taking 10% off your monthly pay isn’t about paying your dues to church. No, this is all about the attitude of fearing God, standing in awe of his Name. When you present the tithe, you show humility before the LORD and his greatness.

This same truth of “fearing God through our giving” is reframed later on in Moses’ speech, in chapter 26. We read, “When you come into the land… and you possess it and dwell in it… you shall take some of the first of all the produce from the ground… and put it in a basket” (26:1-2). Other Bible translations use a more familiar term for “first of all the produce,” when they translate it as “the firstfruits.” It’s basically a generous portion of the whole. The firstfruits is a share, scooped off the top, from those first waves of harvest as they come in.

That’s what we still call it today—“giving your firstfruits to the Lord.” And there’s not really a big difference. The tithe is a set amount, the firstfruits is not—but at heart, the principle is the same: In gratitude, God’s people are called to present to him the first and best portion of what He’s allowed us to produce.

Staying in chapter 26 for a moment, the way those firstfruits are presented gets described in a colourful way. For the Israelite would go to the sanctuary, basket in hand, where the priest would take it and set it down in front of the LORD’s altar. And then as he stood there, the Israelite would make a public declaration: “My father was… about to perish, and he went down into Egypt and dwelt there, few in number” (26:5).

That was the refrain—every gift was prefaced by a brief review of history: mentioning Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, being in Egypt, and then the exodus. Every time they presented their gifts to God, they acknowledged that they used to be nothing, used to have nothing—not even a land to call their own. But then what does the presenter of the gift also say? We “became a nation, great, mighty, and populous” (26:5). God blessed Abraham and his descendants, and He gave them great prosperity.

Why mention that bit of history with every gift? Well, think of what it’d do. Think of how it’d cause them to be aware of the LORD’s generosity, and move them to fear his Name. Every time, a person was reminded that without the LORD there’d be no Israel, and no wealth, and no land—nothing to offer. Without the LORD, they’d be empty-handed and lost. So the worshiper declares, “And now, behold, I have brought the firstfruits of the land which you, O LORD, have given me” (26:10). It’s worth listening to that prayer again: “I bring the firstfruits… that you LORD, have given to me.” The Israelites couldn’t say it more plainly, “It’s never we who give to God—it’s always God who gives to us!”

Beloved, what should we think about these regulations from the old book of Deuteronomy? How does it apply, this practice of giving ten percent, or presenting firstfruits? Is it important to do? Is it still God’s covenant obligation for you and me?

Let’s back up first, and answer another question or two: Is it still God who gives you your material things? Is it still the LORD who provides you with a rich harvest? Whether that’s a harvest in the fields, or it’s success in a business venture, or productivity on the jobsite, or abundance in the home, or it’s your pay for the fortnight—is it God who gives? Has all this come from the LORD? It has! He’s the fountain of every blessing, the source of every gift. He gives us the brains to work, the muscle, the opportunity, the talent—and then He blesses our labours with an increase. The harvest is from him!

We don’t have our own territory like Israel did, that land flowing with milk and honey. But we’ve received our needful things: our daily bread, our clothing, and shelter, and a car. Then in addition to that, we’ve got so many “extras”—like boats and world travel and RVs and fancy toys—luxuries and opportunities that aren’t even necessary to sustain life.

What’s more, we’ve been given great amounts of spiritual blessing. Like that Israelite standing at the sanctuary, we realize that apart from the LORD’s goodness in Christ, there’d be no salvation, no life, no hope. But we’ve got all these things! Because for our sakes Christ became poor, in order to make us rich with every treasure of God’s grace. By his blood He saved us from captivity to sin and Satan. And now He’s bringing us to glory everlasting! So consider this: if the Old Testament people willingly gave him a tenth, if they gave him the first portion of all they had, what does that mean for our own response to God? In Christ, don’t we have more than they ever did? Aren’t we richer than they? We are!

So worship our gracious God through what you give. This is looking at what He’s enabled you to earn, considering what He’s entrusted to your care here on earth, and then it’s gratefully laying a portion of it before him. You give to him, because you’re thankful. Yes, because you fear him—you hold him in reverence as the Lord of glory!

And Scripture always teaches us to give according to God’s blessing. That’s regardless of whether his blessings feel like a lot to you, or a little. Jesus taught us that it’s not the amount, but it’s the attitude, the spirit behind our gift. Remember the widow at the temple, donating her two last pennies, yet giving more than every rich man around. Because she was truly grateful!

The principle of giving according to God’s blessing means giving, even if you’re earning just a small amount at your part-time job. Or giving, even if you’re on a fixed income. Or giving, even if things were really tight this month, and last month, and you lost on your investments the month before. The Lord teaches us to give generously, also if you’re totally comfortable, or if you make more than you can spend. Whatever our position, whatever our bank balance, the one who fears God wants to thank God.

By the measure of attitude then, one person’s gift of $50 can mean so much, while another’s donation of $500 can count for very little. That’s tricky, because we look at the numbers, and we say that $500 is much more than $50. But what’s the heart behind the gift? Let me put it this way: Does your giving really express how you feel about the Lord’s goodness? Is your giving a grudging amount, a little grain scraped off the floor? Or does it show an attitude of praise for him? Does it convey the sense of sacrifice, that you’re actually presenting God with something that’s valuable to you? Does your giving reflect thanksgiving?

And then no matter how you look at it, a gift of $0 for God is hard to understand. Did a person really receive nothing from God? It’s impossible. Were there no blessings from which to make a gift to the LORD? That could not be. For the Lord always gives!

Let’s go back to Israel… Gratitude was a key lesson before they entered Canaan. Because this wasn’t only a fertile land, it was an idolatrous land. And among the Canaanite gods, Baal was king—the god of fertility. He was the god of good harvests and plentiful crops. To him the Canaanites looked with great expectations. Somehow, it was always a temptation for Israel to bend the knee to him. For whatever reason, Israel was sometimes quicker to give Baal the credit than the LORD God.

So what did it say for Israel to present the tithe at the sanctuary of the LORD? This was a direct challenge to Baal. This was defying the “god of fertility.” The Israelites would say it again, with a loud voice: the LORD brought them to this country, God gave strength to work the ground, God made the sun shine, and caused the rain to fall! With their simple gifts, the Israelites rejected Baal, and they acknowledged the true God’s goodness.

And isn’t our own giving also like a challenge to all the gods of the world? There’s no shortage of gods you can present your money to today. But by giving, we say that we won’t use this money to acquire the enjoyments or securities or pleasures that everyone else is busy chasing. We serve a different God! Giving away our money runs hard against today’s culture, but we do it for the LORD. So we gladly say, “I bring these firstfruits, that you LORD, have given to me.”

 

2. for the support of God’s people: Presenting the tithe was important for an Israelite’s own spiritual health. But more than that, it was good for the community. Even as we look up to God in thankfulness, we have to look around, to the people He’s placed around us. Moses reminds the Israelites, “You shall not forsake the Levite who is within your gates, for he has no part nor inheritance with you” (14:27). Once they got into the land, every family would receive a plot of land—every family but Levi. They were called to holy service at the sanctuary, so they’d have no time for tilling the soil or raising flocks. They didn’t have regular income, so when the Israelites enjoyed the fruits of their labours, they were to invite the priests to share in the festivity. And this was fitting! Worship wasn’t only the Levites’ responsibility, but they took the lead in it. By Israel’s giving to the Levites, worship was able to continue at the tabernacle, each day.

In a similar way, God instructs his church today to support the ministry of the gospel. They say that in earlier times, church members would drop off bushels of apples at the minister’s door, or maybe half a cow for the freezer—today, ministers get an automatic deposit into the account, a house to live in, and even a car to drive. But the principle remains: generous giving is needed so that the gospel ministry can be continued. And we want to see gospel ministry continued not just here, but on fields of mission too. That’s God’s priority—so it should be our priority too!

Besides sharing tithes with the priests, the Israelites were called to make a special collection. God commands, “At the end of every third year you shall bring out the tithe of your produce of that year and store it up within your gates. And the Levite… may come and eat and be satisfied” (14:28-29). Why after three years? Probably after that length of time, the Israelites would’ve had ample time to establish their farms and businesses. It was a good moment to make sure that life didn’t just revolve around their own family.

These provisions were for the priests, and for the disadvantaged. It was for “the stranger and the fatherless and the widow” (14:29). God always has compassion on those who suffer; He thinks of those who are lonely, or who go hungry. Jesus did the same, reaching out to the sick, the sinners, and the outcasts. And if that’s what our God does, shouldn’t we try do the same? If you’ve been loved so deeply by God, it’s your calling to reflect this love to others.

Consider 2 Corinthians 8 and 9. There Paul encourages generosity in support of the Judean churches, who were suffering from a famine. He writes, “At this time your abundance may supply their lack” (8:14). The Corinthians couldn’t look the other way, couldn’t neglect their suffering brothers and sisters. Neither should we!

The great thing is that through this kind of giving, both rich and poor can learn dependence on God. The poor can see they’re provided for, only out of God’s generosity to the other members of the community. And the rich can see that it’s only because of God’s grace that they’re in a position to share. With the gifts we give, we acknowledge to others how God has blessed us! It’s all to his praise!

This kind of giving is done in different ways. It’s through supporting the deacons, and giving to other causes in Christ’s kingdom. But it’s also done through finding our own opportunities to care for the needy. Put it this way: generosity is not simply opening your wallet. Generosity is also opening your home in hospitality. And it’s opening your heart in kindness. As those who are called to be Christ-like, we ought to look for the vulnerable in our church, the lowly, the distressed—to look for them, and to impart God’s love.

 

3. for the increase of our joy: Where do your gifts go? The funds enter a bank account, and from there they get disbursed accordingly. Point is, after you give it, you don’t see your money again. But something curious happens to the tithe. “Present it to the LORD,” Moses says. And then, “You shall eat before the LORD your God… the tithe of your grain and your new wine and your oil, of the firstborn of your herds and your flocks” (14:23). Having presented a gift to God, it wasn’t gone—they received part of it back!

So why did the Israelites get things back from the LORD, even when they were showing him their thanks? This is the amazing generosity of our God. He wants his people to acknowledge him gratefully. But He also wants us to celebrate his goodness. If the central sanctuary for worship was too far away from where they lived, notice how the Israelites would exchange their tithes for silver. Convert all that heavy wheat to a few coins to carry in your pocket. Then, going to the tabernacle, “You shall spend that money for whatever your heart desires: for oxen or sheep, for wine or similar drink… You shall eat there before the LORD your God, and you shall rejoice, you and your household” (v 26). There they’d have a fine and festive meal, filled with holy joy. It was one more reminder of the LORD, who’s the Fount of every blessing!

Isn’t that also an important lesson for today? It’s easy to take the credit for our success. But if we understand where blessing comes from, we start to think differently: “This is something God granted. This income, this house, these goods, they’re but proof of God’s faithful care, shown for Jesus’ sake.” In that spirit, we rejoice as we give. We’re glad to show him our praise. Because He’s been so good to us, we’re thankful to make a sacrifice of something precious. And such a spirit brings joy to our God. For “God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor 9:7).

And then we shouldn’t be surprised if our cheer multiplies, or if we receive more than we had before. Because to generous givers, God gives a promise. If the people would set aside a tenth, contribute to the Levites and care for the needy, “the LORD your God [will] bless you in all the work of your hands” (14:29). Faithful giving is richly blessed! Here’s the amazing, even miraculous thing in God’s economy: Grateful giving leads to more receiving.

It’s hard for us to see that. We might say: “If I make this donation, I’ll have less money. If I volunteer this time, if I contribute this energy, these are things I won’t be able to do anymore. Really, my giving is a loss. It cuts into the bottom line, whether the bottom line of my bank account, or my personal schedule.” Yet God turns everything upside down: When we show our gratitude in concrete ways, He gives even more to be thankful about! When we sacrifice to his glory, He makes sure we have even more than before.

It’s like Paul said: “He who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully” (2 Cor 9:6). Scattering a lot of seed results in a big harvest. Giving much to the LORD leads to a bigger share of his blessing. That doesn’t become the reason we give. But his promise holds true: Those who cheerfully give will never have less reason to rejoice, but will always have more reason! For then our eyes get opened to how God provides. We learn to value his gifts, and to trust God to keep sending them. We can rejoice in giving, in all the blessings that come from serving other people. A person with the Spirit realizes that it’s a gift to serve, that it’s a gift to give! For these are God’s works in us.

This is how God exhorts his people. He wants you to look at who you are, and what you possess, in a different way. Your income and your investments and your possessions are not about you—they’re not even yours! It’s not about counting all the money you have, or planning what you want to buy next. It’s about him, the Giver! For in Christ Jesus and for his sake, God has given so much.

So then come into the presence of God. And when you come before him, echo those words of that Israelite of old, “O LORD, I bring the firstfruits—I give from what you, O LORD, have given to me.”  Amen.

 




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2015, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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