Why Should I Tithe?
Notes below based on sermon preached at One Church Home on October 9, 2022
“God wants us to prosper!” We hear the word, and our thoughts immediately turn to financial success, material wealth, and perhaps personal health.
We all want to prosper.
But there may be few words in the Bible more misunderstood, misused, and even manipulated than “prosper”—not just in the world, but even in the Church.
The perversion of God’s Word on this topic has become so prevalent that it’s been dubbed the “prosperity gospel.” It espouses a belief that physical health and material wealth are always the will of God for believers and that it can be self-fulfilled through faith and giving. The message is that if we believe enough and give enough, God is obligated to keep us free of sickness and disease (or heal us from them) and give us financial success.
While this leaves many disillusioned when they face financial and health-related ailments, the greater indictment (primarily moral, but sometimes legal) is how some “in the ministry” have deployed this ideology for their own financial gain. They exploit hopeful believers to make hefty donations to various ministries under the unscrupulous “promise” of a guaranteed transactional return of increased personal health and/or wealth.
We should not be ignorant of the Truth on this topic nor surprised that Satan has used one of the world’s most coveted idols to pervert God’s promises to us.
Bethlehem College & Seminary Professor Dieudonné Tamfu Modal explains, “It [the ‘prosperity gospel’] is idolatry because it dethrones God and his Christ in the heart and crowns material things. Goods replace God. When wealth, health, and might become gods, God becomes the means to the gods — the hallmark of the prosperity theology. When the passion for material things becomes God, God and his word become means. The movement dethrones Jesus so that his word becomes merely a manual for mammon, a guide to gold, a footpath to fitness, and a means to might. Ministry becomes business.”
Not only does it exploit God’s people, but it also exploits God Himself as a way to obtain wealth.
Os Guinness says: “Either we serve God and use money, or we serve money and use God.”
While the “prosperity gospel” has only been around in our country since the 1950s, the idolization of wealth and its exploitation of God’s people is not, going all the way back to Old Testament times. In I Samuel 2:12-36, Eli’s sons abused their priestly authority, stealing from the people the most choice cuts of meat brought for sacrifice to the LORD. And the sons of Samuel, who succeeded Eli in his priestly role, followed suit.
1 Samuel 8:3
They turned aside after dishonest gain and accepted bribes and perverted justice.
Their actions were bold and brazen. The preachers and teachers of the “prosperity gospel” are slightly more insidious in their approach. They preach the Word of God, but not unlike the serpent in the garden, they twist it just enough, often taking it out of context to lead listeners not grounded enough in the Truth to embrace a faulty ideology that aligns more with modern culture than with the Bible.
Hope Bolinger (Christianity.com) writes, “The prosperity gospel absorbs our modern culture and makes it sound palatable to Christians. We live in a culture that promotes vanity, selfishness, and gain. The prosperity gospel takes these three temptations and adds Scripture to them, so both Christians and the culture accept the message.”
There is a strong warning for those who take this path, leading many undiscerning believers after them.
I Timothy 6:3-10
3 If anyone teaches otherwise and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, 4 they are conceited and understand nothing. They have an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions 5 and constant friction between people of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain. 6 But godliness with contentment is great gain. 7 For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. 8 But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. 9 Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.
Jesus also warned us about the idol of money.
“No one can be a slave of two masters, since either he will hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot be slaves of God and of money.”
Think of all the things Jesus could have chosen to single out: sex, power, vanity…. And He chose money as the topic worthy of His loving warning to keep our hearts undivided in our commitment to God.
Of course, He knew how easily our blessings—the gifts given to us by God—become treasures that we esteem above the One who gave them. Before we even know it, they have our hearts.
Jesus said, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21).
Treasure is what we value and esteem above all else, and it motivates us to action—we seek treasure. We will sacrifice all else to get it. And when we find it, we want to hide and hoard it, protecting and keeping it from anyone and anything that might threaten that which we now hold dear.
Perhaps the reason there are some 2,000 verses in the Bible concerning money and possessions, and the reason that nearly 40 percent of Jesus’ parables teach about money and possessions is that God knows how easily riches can steal our hearts, how quickly they can destroy our lives and our relationships if not kept in check. Almost two-thirds of all marriages start in debt, and nearly three out of every four couples report finances as a constant source of tension. And finances are the second leading cause of divorce (behind infidelity).
Haddon Robinson reminds us, “For every verse in the Bible that tells us the benefits of wealth, there are ten that tell us the danger of wealth.”
Let’s be clear: it isn’t sinful to have money so long as the money doesn’t have you, so long as it has the proper place in your heart. It’s always about the heart because that’s what God is after, and He will not settle for second place.
Any teaching that sounds more like greed than the Good News, that even suggests godliness is a pathway to greater financial blessing and material wealth, should cause a check in the spirit. The Jewish people missed Jesus because they expected Him to build His kingdom on earth. We can miss Him when we expect Him to build our kingdoms on earth.
While many shy away from this topic and others manipulate it for their selfish gain, we at One Church Home are resolved to teach the Truth on essential topics like this.
This is Truth: God wants us to prosper.
11 “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
So we set our sights on a Biblical perspective of what it really means to prosper and to understand the Truth about tithing and, in the weeks to come, giving, generosity, and sacrifice.
Let’s start with the prophecy in the book of Jeremiah. We must understand the historical and Biblical context in which it was written to be sure we don’t “hear” the words our “itching ears want to hear” instead of the Word God is speaking to the Israelites and us through His prophet.
II Timothy 4:3
For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.
The book of Jeremiah was the Word of the LORD to His people in exile in Babylon and continuing after the fall of Jerusalem. They had been taken captive and carried away from their homeland. Mainly, this is God’s response to their persistent worship of pagan idols and their stubborn refusal to repent and turn back to Him despite repeated warnings.
Jeremiah is primarily a book of judgment rather than prosperity. It is a message through Jeremiah from God Himself, the Yahweh they had disregarded. Their faithful covenant-keeping God was willing to take away nearly all the blessings He had provided—their Promised Land, possessions, even the Temple where His presence had dwelt among them—to turn their hearts back to him.
I will pronounce my judgments on my people because of their wickedness in forsaking me, in burning incense to other gods and in worshiping what their hands have made.
“My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.
In a commentary on this passage, Old Testament Professor Anathea Portier-Young writes, “What is this metaphor, and this passage, about? It’s about idolatry. It’s a familiar subject, but Jeremiah uses a new metaphor to help his people see it with fresh eyes. The tricky thing about idolatry is that often, when we’re doing it, it doesn’t seem like we’re worshipping a false god. It seems like we’re worshipping a true god. Or it seems like we are pursuing good ends, ordained by our true God. It seems like we are pursuing something necessary for our survival, and if we believe that our true God desires our survival, then surely the thing we pursue is not idolatrous. Even if it feels empty and dry. Even if it really is draining us of life and soul.
…Too often, we trade a glorious gift and calling to go after things with no substance, no meaning, and no worth.
When we exchange God for an idol, says Jeremiah, we are transformed (2:11). We become like what we pursue (2:5). If we pursue what is empty, we become empty…”
Suppose judgment had come upon the Israelites in response to their worship of created things above the Creator. In that case, it cannot be God’s promise of prosperity in Jeremiah 29:11 to merely restore to them their land and possessions. However, He would do that 70 years later in fulfillment of the Old Covenant with Abraham and Moses. But we cannot interpret this verse as only a “promise” of health and wealth. Clearly, He has a higher purpose.
God speaks through Jeremiah of a much bigger plan to prosper His people. This was the plan made before the foundation of the world to do for us what we could never accomplish on our own: to make us “holy and blameless in His sight” (Ephesians 1:4-5).
5 “The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land. 6 In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. This is the name by which he will be called: The Lord Our Righteous Savior.
This was the promise of a New Covenant in Christ, a promise that would impute the righteousness of God Himself—Jehovah Tsidkenu—to His beloved children.
31 “The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. 32 It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them,” declares the Lord.
33 “This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,” declares the Lord. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. 34 No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the Lord.
“For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”
His perfect plan to prosper us has always been, first and foremost, about knowing Him, being in covenant relationship with Him—taking Him fully as our LORD and Father, and giving ourselves fully to Him as servants and sons (His children). We can conceive no greater gift, no higher call.
And with it, the gift of shalom…peace. Peace between God and His people. Peace within the hearts of the people of God. And that is the Hebrew word translated in Jeremiah 29:11 as “prosper.” It is shalom from the One who is Jehovah Shalom—the LORD is peace.
Jeremiah 29:11 is not a personal promise of financial prosperity to each of us. It is a powerful statement about our good God, who wills so much more for us than financial wealth and security on this earth. He wills our spiritual security for eternity—so much so that He gave His One and only Son to purchase it.
That and that alone should be sufficient motivation for the tithe whether we are under the law, under grace, or, quite frankly, financially underwater. Tithing begins to put our priorities in order, reorients our perspective…helping us understand that everything we have was given to us by God and belongs to God. Tithing transforms us by changing the way we think about money. This renewal of the mind produces the holy perspective of stewarding finances through tithing, giving, and sacrificial offerings to advance God’s glory and His purposes on the earth rather than the earthly perspective of hoarding money as a means of self-satisfaction and worldly security.
If we are in debt (whether by poor financial decisions or circumstances not of our own making), we need to make specific plans to get out of debt—seeking help from a financial adviser if needed, and begin living within our means so that we have the freedom not just to give, but to give generously to things which matter for eternity.
Harris Malcom writes: “When it comes to the tithe, there are several attitudes. One says, ‘It’s mine, and I can do what I want to with it.’ Another says that the tithe belongs to God and the rest is mine. Then there is yet another that says it all belongs to God, and He has made me a steward of it.
…He wants to set us free from ourselves to set us loose for His purpose. You have to decide if your possessions will control you or if you will surrender your possessions to God.“
Tithing is more a spiritual discipline than a financial one. It’s a matter of the heart. When God is in His proper place in your heart, money will have its proper place in your life. And you will prosper.
Note: all scripture references are from the New International Version. (2011) BibleGateway.com
Questions for reflection or discussion:
In what ways have you allowed the world’s view of prosperity to color your beliefs about money?
Have you ever gotten caught up in the “prosperity gospel” or been disappointed or disillusioned by its false promises? How can you guard against this?
Has money become an idol in your life? Here are some questions you can ask yourself:
- How often do I think about making more money? What am I willing to sacrifice to do so?
- Am I willing to sin or even compromise my integrity for money—in big ways or small ones? (An example would be cheating on taxes.)
- Do I worry about money? Is my mood affected by the ups and downs of the stock market or my bank or retirement account? Do I get nervous about unexpected expenses?
- How often do I argue about money (with my spouse or others)?
- Do I ever boast or brag about money or compare my income and possessions to others?
- How often do I wish for more money or want other people’s stuff? When someone else gets something I want, am I jealous or happy for them? Do I envy people who have more income or wealth?
- How much and how often do I give? Do I give joyfully to God and others as He leads, or do I make excuses and put off giving?
If you tithe, how have you seen God “throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out… blessing” (Malachi 3:10) in your life, and not just in terms of finances?
If you do not tithe, what keeps you from fully trusting God with your finances? Choose three verses from this week’s message or blog that speak God’s Truth in that area. Write them down and pray them several times each day for the next week, asking the Holy Spirit to confirm those Truths in your heart.