Why Tithe? – Part Two (Deut 26)

To kick off the year, we’re spending three days looking at the question Why Tithe? in light of Deuteronomy 26. Yesterday we made three false starts that we thought we could find in the text:

  1. We give so that God will make us rich – which flies in the face of Jesus’ call to give up material possessions, take up our cross, and follow him… not to mention the experience of millions of faithful believers around the world who live in poverty.
  2. We give because God needs our money – which, despite cash-strapped churches struggling to support gospel workers and social programmes, is quite silly in light of the fact that God created the world and has access to far more resources than we could even imagine.
  3. We give to please God – which is heading in the right direction, but neglects the fact that we can’t please God by our works any more than Christ has already pleased the Father on our behalf.

But these three popular misunderstandings of why we tithe are all missing something. They’re missing the reason for tithing God gave Israel back at the start of the chapter – which we ignored yesterday, because we weren’t reading in context. Let’s see if we can pick up that reason, starting from verse 1:

26:1-2 When you have entered the land the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance and have taken possession of it and settled in it, take some of the firstfruits of all that you produce from the soil of the land the LORD your God is giving you and put them in a basket. Then go to the place the LORD your God will choose as a dwelling for his Name…

That is, gather up a percentage of your income, and head off to the temple.

26:3 …and say to the priest in office at the time, “I declare today to the LORD your God that I have come to the land the LORD swore to our ancestors to give us.”

In other words, God’s lived up to his promises. We’re here in the land, just as he promised we’d be.

26:4 The priest shall take the basket from your hands and set it down in front of the altar of the LORD your God.

So far so good. God gets the gift basket full of tiny jams and Twinings teabags. But what happens next is striking. The person bringing the gift was to give God a history lesson. What’s that all about?

26:5 Then you shall declare before the LORD your God: “My father was a wandering Aramean, and he went down into Egypt with a few people and lived there and became a great nation, powerful and numerous.

That’s Abraham we’re talking about. The ancestor of Israel.

26:6-9 But the Egyptians mistreated us and made us suffer, subjecting us to harsh labour. Then we cried out to the LORD, the God of our ancestors, and the LORD heard our voice and saw our misery, toil and oppression. So the LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great terror and with signs and wonders. He brought us to this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey;

That’s a summary of the events of Exodus. God’s miraculous rescue of his people. Bringing them into a land of their own. And it’s this that’s the reason for bringing the tithe:

26:10 and now I bring the firstfruits of the soil that you, LORD, have given me.” Place the basket before the LORD your God and bow down before him.

Do you get that? That’s what the tithe’s all about. It’s a response of gratitude for what God has done for them. Bringing them out of Egypt, and into a new land. And to make this abundantly clear, it goes on to say:

26:11 Then you and the Levites and the foreigners residing among you shall rejoice in all the good things the LORD your God has given to you and your household.

Tithing is a joyful response to God’s grace.

Gratitude to God for Jesus

For Israel, the defining event in their history was being redeemed from slavery in Egypt; and being given a new life in the promised land. It’s what they remembered each year at Passover. It’s what defined their relationship with God.

For us, the defining event in our history is being redeemed from slavery to sin by Jesus’ death; and being given new life through his resurrection. It’s what we remember at the Lord’s Supper. It’s what defines our relationship with God.

When we give to God, we’re not doing it so that we’ll get something back – we’ve already received everything we could want in Christ.

When we give to God, we’re not doing it because God needs our resources – he’s already made the abundance of his resources available to us in Christ.

When we give to God, we’re not doing it to try and make him happy – he’s already been fully satisfied by the supreme sacrifice of Christ.

When we give to God… we’re simply saying thankyou. We’re expressing our gratitude for what he has done for us in Christ, and how nothing we give him could ever repay him for that.

To do

Spend some time in humble gratitude, thanking God for what he has already done for you. And if you feel prompted, dig into your wallet and give to his work (through your church, to an aid agency that alleviates needs in the name of Jesus, or directly to someone whom you know needs help) as a way of expressing that gratitude.

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