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Take off the training wheels

off to save something
Creative Commons License photo credit: bokeh burger

Here would be a good time to ask – “Well what about all of the times “tithing” is mentioned in the New Testament?” Good question. To be fair, I looked up the word “tithe” in the New Testament and I found a lot of instances in my translation. But when I looked up the actual “Greek word” for tithe “dekatoo” (which is like decca which means 10) the word is only found 2x and it’s in the same cluster of passages.

Where? Hebrews chapter 7, which is a reference to the story from Genesis 14 about Melchizedek and Abraham! It’s not a teaching passage or a defining passage, but a reference to the Old Testament story! But wait, if Genesis 14 is a poor example of the Old Testament tithe, what’s it doing in the New Testament as a reference? Ah, because Genesis 14 is a great example of the New Testament tithe.

And here’s the thing, I don’t care if you call your offering a “tithe.” God doesn’t get hung up on the words we use. Just so long as you understand that your offering is a gift and it’s not a requirement. You are under no obligation to give God 10% of your money. If you were, that would still mean that you were under the law, and people under the law are not free.

But the author of Hebrews uses this Old Testament story because it is a wonderful example about how you and I should give.

I’m going to turn back to Genesis 14, because I want to show you some things:

17 After Abraham’s return from the defeat of Che-dor-la-omer and the kings who were with him, the king of Sodom went out to meet him at the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley). 18 And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. (He was priest of God Most High.)

Who is Melchizedek? He is the high priest and King of Salem. In ancient times it was not uncommon for the head of state to also be the head of church. Back then there wasn’t an issue with separating church and state.  The beginning of Hebrews 7 says,

For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him, 2 and to him Abraham apportioned a tenth part of everything. He is first, by translation of his name, king of righteousness, and then he is also king of Salem, that is, king of peace.

Melchizedek’s name means “King of righteousness.”  And “Salem” his kingdom, is short for Jeru-salem. Jerusalem comes from the Hebrew word for Peace. So, Melchizedek is also the “King of Peace.”

Hebrews 7:3 says, He (Melchizedek) is without father or mother or genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God he continues a priest forever.

What that means is Hebrew records have no other history of Melchizedek’s reign. They don’t know who his parents were, when his reign began or when it ended, so the author of Hebrews makes the connection then, that Melchizedek is a symbol for Jesus. A man who was both King and High priest and whose reign has no beginning or end.

And look at what Melchizedek does in the Genesis story

v19 He blessed Abraham and said, “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; 20 and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand!”

Melchizedek not only gives Abram a meal, but he also blesses him; and the bible says that

… Abram gave him a tenth of everything.

So I think the author of Hebrews includes this story in the New Testament because it is a wonderful example of New Testament giving.

1. First of all Melchizedek gave Abraham a meal and a blessing, so he instigated the giving.

If Melchizedek is a symbol for Jesus then it is only fitting that he is the first one to instigate a gift and a blessing

1 John 4:19 says We love because he first loved us.

Deuteronomy 16:17 says, Every man shall give as he is able, according to the blessing of the Lord your God that he has given you.

Who gives first? God does. Listen, if God has never given you anything, shown you an ounce of grace or mercy and has otherwise shut the door on you, then by all means don’t give him anything in return… but how many of us can truly say that?

If I start the list of the things the Lord has blessed me with, I can’t stop. Life, liberty, country, peace, joy, family, salvation, grace, health just to name a few. And those of us who have lived long enough – we know the Lord’s blessing all the more don’t we?

In the exchange of gifts, God always gives first.

Romans 8:32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?

Oh yea, and if you can’t think of anything else God has given, he gave you his only son.

Our offerings at church are no different. It’s not contingent on whether it’s pay day or not, or whether it’s before or after taxes. We give, freely and cheerfully because God gave to us first. He initiated. He started it. He began it.

2. Second, this story takes place early on in the scriptures and so as far as we know, Abram wasn’t under any obligation to reciprocate.

The nation of Israel was not born at this point, Abraham is still a wanderer and a sojourner, and so what Abraham does here is out of his own good will and good fortune. This is something that Abraham wants to do, this is something that he is happy doing.

2 Corinthians 9:7 Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.

And like I said earlier, I don’t think God cares if you call your offering a gift, an offering a collection or a tithe, just so long as we understand that what we give is done freely and joyfully and not because we “have to” or because God “demands it.”

The purpose of our offering is worship and it teaches us to trust and to put God first.

Proverbs 3:9-10 Honor the Lord with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your produce; 10 then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine.

I don’t know about you, but I want my vats to be bursting with wine.

Remember, God doesn’t want our money. But what he does want is what our money represents: When we “tip” with our money it can represent our gratitude.

When we pay bills with our money it represents our priorities.

When we invest with our money it represents our trust.

God doesn’t want your money, but he does want your gratitude, and your priorities and your trust. And so our giving becomes an act of worship that displays to God – that He has all of those things.

Now look back at these verses in Proverbs 3. Do you see where it says, ‘Honor the Lord by giving him the leftovers of all your income?”

Yea, me either.

Because that’s not what it says.

It says, “Honor the Lord with your possessions and with the first produce of your entire harvest.”

The Bible says, We give to God before anyone else, right off the top of our wealth, but notice there is more – there is also a promise from God: “then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine.

See here is the amazing thing.. the giving is cyclical.

God gives to us, We give to God, and then what happens? God gives to us even more! It’s a wonderful thing.

3. When we give, we’re giving to Jesus, not a building or an institution.

I think the sad thing is, Pastors are afraid to preach about money because they know how self-serving it looks. It’s like the telethon on public television. “The Pastors asking for money because he needs a new car.”

But let’s not forget why the author of Hebrews uses the example of Melchizedek. Because Jesus is high priest and King.

Colossians 1:16-18 For by him (Jesus) all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church.

Jesus is the head of the church. You’re not giving your offering to a man, or a building or an institution or even organized religion, your giving it to Christ.

I think some people use their offering like how they cast their vote. If they like the way the church is being run, they give, but if they don’t like the new paint job or they didn’t get to sing their favorite hymn.. “Well, I’ll just hold on to my check this week and we’ll see how they like it.”

But the truth is, we don’t give based on how we’re blessed by people, we give because we’re blessed by God.

Does the bible say that you’re obligated to tithe 10% of your income? No. But we do give God our offering as a form of worship for how he’s has blessed us.

Passing the golden plate is an act of worship. I’m not submitting my dues, pledging my allegiance or paying my God tax. It’s not a gesture, or a tradition or a requirement. It’s worship.

So, a question that every theology student must face one day is, if the Old Testament law is obsolete, then what good is it? Why have it? Why study it? If the tithe isn’t a requirement any more, why do so many preachers – preach it?

Well, I think my old pastor had the best explanation for this, so I am going to steal it. Think of the law like training wheels on a bike. The training wheels help you find your balance and build your confidence, but…. you don’t need them. As soon as you’re ready, you can take them off.

And the law is no different. The law is there to help you find your bearings, these are the things that God considers right, wrong, beneficial, moral. We learn them, we study them, and even use them to help us find our way. And as they guide us. we grow and gain confidence in our faith.

But see, what Christ did was, he came and took the training wheels off. He knew that the law was imperfect and that as long as the training wheels were on, you’d never go as far or as fast as you could.

God wants you to feel free – he wants you to be free

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