DID YOU KNOW (9)?
…That revelation follows generosity.
Yesterday we began to explore the concept that God’s instructions for the way His people were to use their wealth is not “law” in the sense of a military command. It is His ageless wisdom which helps us to break out of our greed and selfishness to take responsibility for four groups of people who need our support.
The first is our spiritual authority or “high priest”, the one who, according to Paul, teaches us the Word. To him must go the firstfruits of our increase. Since we are not farmers who gather in an annual harvest, our increase is our monthly income of which we are to give one-fortieth to our spiritual leader.
Our second area of responsibility is called the “storehouse” which, in Bible times was the tabernacle and later the temple. Every householder was to bring one tenth of the remainder of his harvest after terumah to the temple where it was stored and used to support the priests and Levites who served in the temple. They, too, had no land of their own and depended on the annual tithe of the people’s crops, including the oil and wine, to take care of their families.
We know that the physical building which accommodates the church whenever it meets, i.e. the people of God, needs money to maintain the property and those who work in it. There are staff members who work there, cleaners, gardeners, maintenance and office staff who also earn their living by functioning in and around the building. From the income of tithes, the church also supports missionaries and other Christian workers and ministries.
As new believers, we were taught to “tithe”, if our church leader taught us to be “legalistic”. If not, we learned that we must give “as the Spirit leads us”. This sounds spiritual but the problem lies with our natural tendency towards selfishness and greed. What we hear, supposedly from the Holy Spirit, is not generosity but need – our need. We give less and less as our “needs” become more. We justify our failure to give by the age-old “I cannot afford to give” excuse.
God taught His people to give by percentage under the old covenant. This principle makes sense because it does not matter how much or how little we earn. Giving by percentage means that we will always have the same percentage of what we earn to live on. By being obedient to God, we become participators in His supernatural supply.
It may appal us to know that God’s percentage of giving was twenty-one percent! No, not just a tithe as some of us were taught, but 21.5% of our monthly income. God instructed His people to live in a circle on a square. Let me explain.
When you reap the harvest of your land. Do not reap to the very edges (or corners) of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Do not go over your harvest a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the alien. I am the Lord your God (Lev.19:9-10).
This is the principle of living in a circle on a square. If you have a field that is 100m x 100m, the area of that field would be 10,000 square meters. A circle with the diameter of 100m, which would fit exactly into the square, would have an area of 7,850 square meters. The area of the corners of the square which are outside the circle would be 2,150 square metres which is 21.5% of the area of the square. All this is to say that God asks His people to give away 21.5% of their income to those who need it and for them to live on the balance of 78.5% without guilt.
So far we have identified two areas for which God’s people are responsible – our spiritual authority (i.e., our pastor or spiritual leader) and the storehouse when we worship with God’s people and are fed God’s Word.
Malachi recorded God’s complaint against His people.
“Return to me, and I will return to you,” says the Lord. But you ask, ‘How are we to return?’
“Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me.” But you ask, ‘How do we rob you?’
“In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse – the whole nation of you – because you are robbing me. Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house…(Mal.3:7b-10a).
The Hebrew word for tithes and offerings are masher and terumah, two different words meaning two different things. The first, masher, refers to the tithe to be brought to the storehouse, and the second, terumah, refers to the portion that belongs to God and is given to the high priest. When we fail to give God what belongs to Him and to the storehouse which also belongs to God, He regards it as theft! Ouch! How many of God’s people are guilty of theft?
Please stay with me because we are going somewhere. Tomorrow we will discover the significance of generosity.
Scripture is taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
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