This past Sunday, I spoke on the subject of generosity. That’s a more palatable way to say that I spoke on the biblical concept of tithing. I’ve been the Senior Pastor of this church for 32 years and in the past, I’ve approached the subject with great trepidation or I’ve avoided it. And on the few occasions I have addressed the subject, I’ve done so only after apologizing.
You might be surprised to know that Kim and I have practiced the biblical concept of tithing all of our married life. We were both raised in homes that taught the biblical lesson of tithing. As a young teenager, I was a paperboy for the Dayton Daily News. I delivered the paper to just over 50 homes, seven days a week.
I delivered the afternoon paper every day except Sunday, and on weekdays, it was what I did right after school. But on Sunday mornings, I was up at 4:45 a.m. to get the papers and then deliver them. This was all done with the papers in a canvas bag draped over both sides of the rear wheel of a bicycle.
Dad was especially kind in the winters and got up to drive me in his car as I delivered each newspaper to the front door of the house. My papers today are thrown on the driveway or wherever they land. My papers then were delivered to the door and placed between the screen door and the front door of the house.
As a pastor, I now understand the sacrifice my dad made to get up at 4:45 a.m. and help me get my papers delivered on the day he had to head to the church and speak three times. My most vivid memory of the paper route was on the day I collected the money from the customers. I got home, laid out all the money on the family room hearth, put the money I owed for the papers in an envelope, and then put the rest of it in an envelope for myself.
That was the moment I realized the value of work and earning money.
As I looked at the money left over that I could keep, I could not fathom what I would do with all of it. Early in this endeavor, Dad or Mom reminded me to take out ten percent and put it in an offering envelope at the church. I learned early how to tithe, and there were times I didn’t particularly enjoy it. But as I headed off to college and into my early twenties, I began to see the blessings of the tithe. It was a life-changing event to realize the tithe was everything the Bible had described it to be.
Today, there’s nothing you could do to stop me from tithing. The biblical concept of the tithe is a part of the fabric of the Old and New Testaments. God implemented the tithe early on in the history of the Bible.
The early books of the Old Testament speak of setting aside the “first fruits” and giving them to God. Malachi warns us about “robbing him” by not giving our tithes. Jesus warns the pharisees that they have turned the tithe into a legalistic bragging right and they need to pay attention to the needs of people as well as give their tithe.
Jesus also said that when we give, He would give so much in return that it would be spilling over out of our lap. Paul ramped it up a notch when we said we should “set aside a sum of money in keeping with our income” and give it to the church. I'm not sure how you read that verse, but the part “in keeping with your income” indicates a sum that may be far more than the ten percent.
Kim and I were convicted several years ago that our loyalty and diligence in the ten-percent-tithe had become mundane, easy, lacking enthusiasm or a sense of commitment. We had become a bit pharisaical in our giving and it was a routine that was not given much thought. So, God nudged us to proceed to a percentage higher than ten percent.
We did not consult our CPA as to the tax advantage of our giving; that did not matter. We were going to give it. It was biblical. It was our response to God and we have found that you cannot out-give God.
These past few years, I have finally realized that I owe it to my church family to have the same experience that Kim and I have had. We would not take a penny back in exchange for the mind-blowing ways God has blessed us. We have been recipients of everything the Bible says is possible when we tithe.
Tithing is still the toughest subject to talk about because money is so personal. It is still a concept that too many people have decided to ignore. We count among our blessings a large church campus, a Christian school campus for 1,100 students, a free clinic and community center, and a satellite campus in a northern suburb of Oklahoma city. And we believe it is good stewardship to stay out of debt, so we have never made a mortgage payment.
Some say we are just a rich church, but nothing could be further from the truth. Do we have wealthy people in our church? Yes. But every building fund project has included generosity on the part of those who have much and those who do not. And every gift given, whether it is a tithe or a building fund pledge over and above the tithe, has been given by those who know the power of giving, regardless of the amount.
It would be easy for me to think that my tithe or my building fund pledge doesn’t matter. But when I realized I am joining a few thousand people doing their best, it is astounding what we can accomplish together that is impossible on our own.
I’ve never yet met a biblical giver who regretted what they gave--quite the contrary. Most of these folks have told me they only wished they could give more. And I can guarantee you that if they had the opportunity to do so, they would have done it.
John Wesley once said, “Earn all you can, give all you can, save all you can.” And one of my favorites quotes from Wesley is:
“Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as you ever can.”
I dare you to try it.