Putting God to the Test


Text:  Genesis 4:105;  Genesis 14:11-20;  Leviticus 27:30-32; Malachi 3:16-18;  Matthew 23:23

Scripture Reader:  Chinyere Dzivenu

In the 11 ½ years I have been systematically preaching through the Bible, you will have noticed that I don’t preach on themes. Why not? Because I can’t lazily go to my favourite themes and preach them over and over again for in preaching through the Bible, I have to simply preach on what theme is up next up. Thematic preaching is much easier for preachers and is certainly the way to numerically grow a church as people are attracted to different hear about different themes but it doesn’t, I believe, teach biblical knowledge nor help people to go deep and strong with their spiritual roots. That’s my opinion, anyway. Having said that, the Finance Committee and the Church Board have asked me to suspend my preaching through the Bible for three Sundays and to preach on stewardship, on financial giving. Well, the last time our church had a real Stewardship Campaign was 25 years ago, so I agreed because I am aware that we can hardly be accused of being fixated on the giving habits and patterns of our people. We will look next Sunday at giving to God of what are called, “The Three Dynamic T’s – our Time, Talent, and Treasure” but today we will look at tithing, the giving of 10%. Last week, we focused on the teachings of Jesus on the topic of money, and particularly noted that he said, “with the measure you use in forgiving others and caring about them and in financial giving, God uses that same measure in giving back to us. If we give generously, then God will give back to us a good measure, pressed down, and running over, and He will pour it into our lap.” Before I begin today on tithing, though, I need to tell you about an insight into human nature I had last week.

While driving south on 111th Street, I spotted a hare trying to cross the road, during rush-hour traffic. The hare was terrified, weaving back and forth between cars, onto the asphalt, back onto the grassy meridian, back into the traffic, over and over again. I wondered why he or she would even try to cross the road at that time and in that fashion and the phrase “hare-brained” ran through my mind. It occurred to me that the phrase “hare-brained” does not refer to h-a-i-r hair growing outside my brain, but to what I was seeing that day, a h-a-r-e- hare, that rather gangly and homely cousin of cute bunny rabbits, and the phrase to be “hare-brained” is referring to the small, limited size of a hare’s brain. They are not smart. Their brains are too small which means that they are the opposite of smart, which results in their willingness to tempt death by hopping in between a multitude of killer cars in their attempt to get to the other side of the road. Why would they be “hare-brained” with cars? Why would they risk their lives? Why would they attempt to fight the laws of the universe or of nature or of God? But then it occurred to me that though I can’t give an answer to that, I can comment on certain humans I have known who are “hare-brained”. Now, my usage of that word to describe humans will sound harsh, I know, and for that I apologize but I want to shock you into a fitting response.

So, I remember being told by one hare-brained human that if God was so caring, He would protect that person if they jumped off a cliff. I answered, “Actually, no, God isn’t obligated to protect a person who intentionally defies the laws of nature or the universe.” Another smart guy I knew went temporarily hare-brained back in the 1980’s and spent a weekend have sex with multiple men. He blew his marriage and his family apart. He ruined the good reputation he once had. And, then he got AIDS and ended up dying from it less that 2 years later. I know of another hare-brained human, a girl who had been raised in a pastor’s home yet who went hare-brained, getting so strung out on drugs for a period of several months that when she got pregnant she realized she couldn’t remember all the guys she had slept with and so she had – and, still has – no idea who the father was. Then there was the hare-brained person who asked me to pray to God for healing. As gently and lovingly as I could, I said I would do so but then suggested that this morbidly overweight person needed to exercise, eat a proper diet, and stop smoking as their part of the healing. I know too many hare-brained Christians who wonder why God won’t heal our land and I say that if we followed His Word in which He states that if His people would humble themselves, pray, and repent of their sins, then God would heal our land. You see, humans can be hare-brained in that they honestly believe that God is some sort of magic genie who simply grants them their every wish and so they test God by defying the rules of life, of nature, of gravity, of the universe, etc, all the while demanding that God protect them. But God is not beholden to us if we “test” Him in such a manner. In fact, the Bible says that the laws of the universe and of nature are plainly there for everyone to see. God the Creator made them clear for us to see. Common sense and human knowledge tell us to not “test” God in those things. Now to tithing: The Bible records only one time that God says, “Test me in this”. Reading from the last book of the Old Testament, the book written by the prophet Malachi, we find that one and only time in which God tells us to “test” Him. To set the scene, God’s people in the 5th century BC were rebelling against God and His ways. God speaks to them:

“I the Lord do not change. So, you, the descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed. Ever since the time of your ancestors you have turned away from my decrees and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you,” says the Lord Almighty. “But you ask, ‘How are we to return?’ “Will a mere mortal rob God? Yet you rob me. But you ask, ‘How are we robbing you?’ “In tithes and offerings. 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. I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not drop their fruit before it is ripe,” says the Lord Almighty. Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land,” says the Lord Almighty. (Malachi 3:6-12)

“Test me in this 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. I will prevent devastation from coming to you and others will see this and call you blessed.” This had – and has – to do with tithing, giving to God of 10% of what we earn. It is similar to the law of proportional giving that we mentioned last week from Jesus’ mouth, “that with the measure you use in giving, God will use that same measure back in giving to you.” I gave a personal example of that happening with me, and I asked if any of you had similar testimonies. Dr. Ipe Mavunkal in Botswana texted me one he said I could use. Here is what Ipe wrote: “There are so many stories…This one stands out as a special blessing. It was sometime in the first half off the 2000’s (maybe 2004 or 2005.) I used to visit hospital to visit patients to share the gospel. We used to take tracts with us to give to patients. I decided to print new ones as the material we had was some computer printout stapled together. Team members were of the opinion to request funds from the church, but I said we may do it without seeking assistance from the church. Since no support from the team members were forthcoming, I decided to do it from my pocket. I approached a printer, and he gave a price. I thought I could manage that as it wasn’t a big sum. When the proof of the tract was ready, I realized that the price given was for black and white work. The color print was way higher than I could afford, especially at that time towards the month end, and I was literally running very low on funds. However, I didn’t say anything but asked the printer to go ahead and do the color printing. I was greatly disturbed driving back home thinking how I would get the required money. I didn’t have enough money to see us through the month. The following Saturday while was I was having my extended sleep on Saturday morning one of my friends barged into our house and woke me up. (Interestingly, Minu who had taken children out forgot to lock the house or the front gate. Something that you don’t do in Africa.) My friend who woke me up thrust a wad of money into my hands instructing me to use it for ministry and disappeared. Later that day I was supposed to collect the tracts. I went to the press and the printer said he made a mistake in printing the number of copies. I asked for 4000 copies, and he printed 8000. He asked if I could at least cover his printing cost (of course he would have added some profit to it.) I asked how much. He gave me a figure. I told him, “Let me see what I have.” I now counted the money my friend gave me. I simply couldn’t believe the amount. It was exactly the amount the printer asked! This was one of the greatest blessings I received from God. No price tag can be put to the blessing I received through that experience… ‘shaken, pressed measure…’ Glory to God.”

Books have been written about Rees Howell during the early part of the 20th century and the revival that happened in Wales and his part in it as well as, in 19th century England how George Muller ran his orphanages totally on the principle of never asking for financial support but waiting for God to supply, which He did every time, even leaving that giving until the kids had all sat down at the dinner table and prayed God for the meal without any food being there, only to hear a knock on the door and to find someone bringing enough food to feed all the orphans and staff. The point of these testimonies is that a life lived by faith and trust in the Lord will see His abundant blessings. So, after He had told the Israelites of Malachi’s time to “test” Him by giving to Him of their tithe and then trusting Him to bless them for having done so, God then spoke again to the people.

“You have spoken arrogantly against me,” says the Lord. “Yet you ask, ‘What have we said against you?’ “You have said, ‘It is futile to serve God. What do we gain by carrying out his requirements and going about like mourners before the Lord Almighty? But now we call the arrogant blessed. Certainly, evildoers prosper, and even when they put God to the test, they get away with it.’” (Malachi 3:13-15)

Notice the incorrect, even lying words of those who didn’t want to faithfully serve the Lord by giving as they should. God called them out on their false words. But some listening did respond as they should.

Then those who feared the Lord talked with each other, and the Lord listened and heard. A scroll of remembrance was written in his presence concerning those who feared the Lord and honored his name. (Malachi 3:16)

To those righteous people, not to everyone, and indeed, the same principle would be true today, God’s blessings would flow.

“On the day when I act,” says the Lord Almighty, “they will be my treasured possession. I will spare them, just as a father has compassion and spares his son who serves him. And you will again see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not.” (Malachi 3:17-18)

People think that the principle of tithing – which was also called “first fruits”, the giving from the first fruits of a crop or flock of animals – was a law that came about at the time of Moses. Certainly the law of Moses was applied a thousand years later in the time of Malachi, the last book of the Old Testament, but actually the giving of first fruits to God which was the basis for tithing, was around long before Moses. In fact, tithing, the giving of first fruits, was found in the opening book of the Old Testament, Genesis. We read,

Adam made love to his wife Eve, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Cain. She said, “With the help of the Lord I have brought forth a man.” Later she gave birth to his brother Abel. Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil. In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord. And Abel also brought an offering — fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So, Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast. Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do no do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.” (Genesis 4:1-7)

Did you notice that Cain was sloppy and casual with his offering to the Lord, bringing “some of the fruits of the soil” to Him? He didn’t give to God of the best or the first fruits of his crop. By contrast, Abel was intentional and precise. He brought “fat portions” (which were considered the best part of the meat) to God, and those fat portions were of the “firstborn of his flock”. Abel honoured the Lord by giving to Him in such a way. Cain was angry that the Lord preferred Abel’s offering but instead of looking at the situation objectively and learning from it, he simply got mad, so mad, in fact, that he would end up murdering his brother Abel. But before he murdered Abel, Cain was told by God, “If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.” Doing what is right, no matter what the area of your life that you need to do so – in your giving, within your family, in your marriage, amongst your friends, at your work – will result in God’s blessings. He will “accept” you, bless you. Allowing the sin that is crouching at your door to stop you from doing what is right results in negative things, a powerful lesson we need to accept.

Now, going on in the book of Genesis, so a few centuries past Cain and Abel, we again read about tithing in an event that preceded the law of Moses by several hundred years. Back before Sodom and Gomorrah had any negative associations pinned to them, so during the time of Abraham and his nephew Lot, the kings of four enemy cities ordered their armies to attack the people of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.

The four kings seized all the goods of Sodom and Gomorrah and all their food; then they went away. They also carried off Abram’s nephew Lot and his possessions, since he was living in Sodom. A man who had escaped came and reported this to Abram the Hebrew. Now Abram was living near the great trees of Mamre the Amorite, a brother of Eshkol and Aner, all of whom were allied with Abram. When Abram heard that his relative had been taken captive, he called out the 318 trained men born in his household and went in pursuit as far as Dan. During the night Abram divided his men to attack them and he routed them, pursuing them as far as Hobah, north of Damascus. He recovered all the goods and brought back his relative Lot and his possessions, together with the women and the other people. After Abram returned from defeating Kedorlaomer and the kings allied with him, the king of Sodom came out to meet him in the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley). Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, and he blessed Abram, saying, “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth. And praise be to God Most High, who delivered your enemies into your hand.” Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything. (Genesis 14:11-20)

Abraham, then called Abram, gave a tithe, 10% of all he had recovered, to Melchizedek the king and high priest of a third city affected, Salem, as a sign of honour. Hundreds of years after that event, God did have Moses write down a law for the Jewish people about tithing:

A tithe of everything from the land, whether grain from the soil or fruit from the trees, belongs to the Lord; it is holy to the Lord. Whoever would redeem any of their tithe must add a fifth of the value to it. Every tithe of the herd and flock — every tenth animal that passes under the shepherd’s rod — will be holy to the Lord. (Leviticus 27:30-32)

So, from the first to the last book of the Old Testament, from Genesis to Malachi, and then throughout it, tithing was considered a normal gesture of showing honour and respect. The tithes given could be either in crops or in cash but were intended to go into the “storehouse of God”, which at first was the Tabernacle in the time of Moses’ desert wanderings, but then later was the permanent Temple built in Jerusalem. However, by the time of Jesus, the religious leaders developed the wrong attitudes about tithing. They gave but Jesus did not approve of some of the attitudes they displaying while tithing.

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices — mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law — justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.” (Matthew 23:23)

“Hare-brained” tithing, as it were, is giving to God of our tithe while mistreating others. God says, “come on”. Remember, God saying to Cain, “If you do what is right, will you not be accepted?” Righteous living needs to accompany generous giving. Now, tithing is not mentioned by any of the writers of the New Testament. I suspect it was such a part of human nature, as was shown in its principle being with the earliest humans, Cain and Abel. However, also there was the formative and powerfully influential Council of Jerusalem mentioned in Acts 15, a Council in which the all-Jewish leaders of the early church decided that Gentiles would not have to keep Jewish ceremonial or purification laws but only the universal sexual mores outlined by God to Moses. However, the principle of putting God first in one’s life was stated over and over again by the other New Testament writers and tithing was a normal part of human existence as a sign of honour and respect and thanksgiving. So, tithing is still an ideal that all Christians, both Jewish and Gentile, follow and observe. The principle is not for us to get rich from but that our relationships with God and others would deepen and be a blessing as a result of us giving generously of our tithe and offerings. “Test me in this”, God says, for “If you do what is right, will you not be accepted?” I see no reason to argue with Him or be “hare-brained” on this matter. Let’s trust God in His promises to us. Amen.

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