Turning now to the Epistles, it is well to remind ourselves that Divine grace has not only placed us individually in Christ, He has made us members of churches, or assemblies, giving us local corporate privileges and responsibilities. There is this also to bear in mind, that what is recorded of the circumstances, for example, in the church at Corinth, is not simply an account of what took place there, but, as part of the God-breathed Word, is permanently left for the instruction of the saints throughout the present era. The circumstances may vary, but the principles and commands remain binding. When the Apostle wrote his first Epistle to that church, there was deep poverty among the saints in Judea, and the churches in different lands were called upon to send relief to them. Their very poverty has been the means of giving us permanent instruction on the subject of giving. That the call for assistance was not limited to Corinth, but was given to other churches in Greece, and to the churches in Galatia, marks the universality of the instruction.
It may be asked, Was there not a Divine command for the Israelites? Was it not enjoined upon them to give tithes? And if so, is it not appropriate for the Christian to give tithes? In the first place, the Israelites paid much more than a tithe. In addition to the three tithes specifically mentioned, namely, that given to the Levite (Lev. 27:30, with Num. 18:21-24; Deut. 14:22-27), there was the further tithe at the end of every three years, which was also for the stranger, the fatherless and the widow (verses 28, 29). Some hold, indeed, that the tithes mentioned in the three passages referred to, were disconnected, and this is supported by the Talmud. To these tithes, however, there must be added other offerings; those of the sin offering, the burnt offering, and the firstfruits. Mal. 3:8, for instance, speaks of “tithes and offerings” (lit. heave offerings). It has been computed that an Israelite’s total offerings would amount to about one-sixth of his income. One writer has even put it at a fourth. If such was the case with those who were under moral obligations, what response should there be on the part of those who are under the power of the love that expressed itself at Calvary, and still burns in the heart of Him who gave Himself there, and is ministered by the indwelling Spirit of God!
Again, were giving in the case of the believer simply a matter of tithes, those whose income is very considerable would give far less proportionately to their income than those whose income is very small. The former, of their abundance, would so give that there was little sacrifice. With the latter there might be a danger lest the regulation might militate against the inspiring motive.
Yet, if the Israelites paid tithes, that amount may well be regarded as a minimum of our offerings, and from the willing heart there will be a further response according to the ability that God gives. Whatever set proportion there may be as a firstfruits, the proportion will be increased with increasing facilities and possibilities.
The world forms its estimate according to the getting: Christ’s estimate is measured by the giving. The world reckons what sum is given. Men consider the amount: Christ considers the motive. With the world the great question is: What does a person own ? The Lord takes notice as to the use a person makes of it. How much is suggested by the Lord’s remarks about the widow’s offering! “This poor widow cast in more than they all: for all these did of their superfluity cast in unto the gifts: but she of her want did cast in all the living that she had” (Luke 21:3, 4). There was little, if any, sacrifice in their case. They were as comfortably off afterwards as before. She had nothing left. Theirs was a matter of religion; hers was a matter of love and devotion to God. After all, the great criterion was, not how much she gave, but how much she kept. What a difference between their balance and her nothing!
Love and devotion to God! That imparts the real value to giving. And this perhaps serves to explain why no command as to the amount is laid down for believers. To obey a command stating the amount or proportion would be easy, but what exercise of heart would there be? Where would the motive he? Loyalty would be superseded by mechanical religion. Love would be replaced by formalism. Both individuals and local churches would lose their sense of * the high motive which should inspire in the offering a loving response to the love of the great Giver Himself.
One of the prominent lessons in the teaching of the Sermon on the Mount, is that by shaping our conduct in obedience to the Lord’s precepts our character will be conformed to that of our Heavenly Father.
We shall be truly “Sons of our Father which is in heaven” (see, e.g., Matt. 5:45). Not merely children but “sons.” That is to say, those who not only are born of God but share His character, and so represent Him worthily, bearing the impress of the Divine parentage.
As then His grace is such that He is “the giving God,” liberal in His giving, the same spirit of liberality is to characterize us.
When Christ sat over against the treasury and observed “how the people cast money into the treasury,” He was really noticing the kind of giving which corresponded to God’s mode of giving. The poor widow cast in all that she had. Was not that like the gift the Father gave in giving His Son? He was His all. Giving is a test of character.