How intensely solemn is the closing book of the Old Testament, written about one thousand years after the giving of the Law! The people of Israel, instead of charging themselves, in a spirit of repentance towards God, with their own sins as being the cause of the troubles that had come upon them, were adding to their guilt by reproaching God and blaming His prophets. Among the various sins by which they were transgressing the Law, there was the non-payment of tithes. How grievous an offence this was in His sight, is made known in the stirring remonstrance in chapter 3. To His gracious command and promise, “Return unto Me, and I will return unto you,” they asked, “Wherein shall we return?” To this the Lord replied, “Will a man rob God? Yet ye rob Me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed Thee? In tithes and offerings. Ye are cursed with a curse; for ye rob Me, even this whole nation. Bring ye the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be meat in Mine house, and prove Me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it. And I will rebuke the devourer for your sakes.” What a gracious attitude! There was God, waiting all the time to pour out upon them a copious blessing. Their selfishness was hindering their own prosperity. In their meanness they were acting against their own real interests. Let them give God His due. Let them bring both their tithes and their offerings, and they would find that what was retained for their own requirements would far more than meet their needs.
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.
The opening verses of the Epistle of James contain a description of God as “the giving God.” That is the literal rendering of the phrase “God who giveth,” in the statement “God, who giveth to all liberally” (verse 5). “The giving God” it is almost a title.
How abundantly it is illustrated in the Scriptures! “He gave His only begotten Son”; “How shall He not also with Him freely give us all things T’ His giving is the outflow of His love “God so loved that He gave.”
He gives “liberally” (James 1:5), “freely” (Rom. 8:32), “richly” (I Tim. 6:17).