“The Discipline of Giving” (Genesis 28:20-22 sermon)

(Preached at Pleasant Ridge Baptist, Morganton, NC 6-28-15)

It has been a very disappointing week for Bible-believing Christians, the Supreme Court decision to legalize same-sex marriage at the top of the list. But we have much to be thankful for — including the blood of Jesus the choir just sung about — and that never changes! Because of what Jesus did for us, like that song says, we owe our lives, our all. And we will show how much that truth has impacted our lives in many ways — not least of all through our giving. When you love, you want to give.

One day last week Cheryl took our oldest grand baby, Corley Jane, to Walmart, and when I looked at the sacks when she got home, I said; “You have more bags of toys for Corley than you do for our food!” Cheryl said: “They aren’t all toys; there are some clothes and sandals in there too!”

Of course, grandparents are famous (or infamous!) for buying things for their grandchildren, and the reason, of course, is that we often demonstrate our love by the way that we give. Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Matthew 6:21) In other words, you are willing to spend money on what is important to you. If you want to see where a person’s heart is, just follow their checkbook (or their debit card these days!) — what they spend money on will lead you to what is most important to them.

This morning as we continue our study, “The Disciplines of Disciples”, we remember that Jesus did not call us to merely “come to church”, but to “Follow Me”! We have seen that there are a number of ways in which we are called in the Bible to discipline ourselves and follow the Lord, among them a morning prayer time, as well as spontaneous prayer throughout the day; daily Bible reading and scripture memory; and some more “horizontal” disciplines, like fellowship and service in the church, and evangelism. Today we are going to look at a discipline which should be a part of every disciple’s life: the discipline of giving. As we will observe in our passage in Genesis 28, it’s not merely about money, but gets right to heart of what being a disciple is all about:

“Then Jacob made a vow, saying, ‘If God will be with me and will keep me on this journey that I take, and will give me food to eat and garments to wear, and I return to my father’s house in safety, then the LORD will be my God. This stone, which I have set up as a pillar, will be God’s house, and of all that You give me I will surely give a tenth to You.'”

I. GIVING BEGINS WITH A PERSONAL COMMITMENT TO GOD

:21 “Then YHWH will be my God …”.

To give these verses a bit of context, we see earlier that Jacob had left Beersheba, where his father and mother were, and was going back to Haran, to find a wife. It was a long and potentially hazardous journey, and the verses tell us that as he slept on the way, God appeared to him in a dream (above what has come to be known as “Jacob’s Ladder”) and told him that He would be with him, bless him, protect him, and bring him back to the Promised Land. So verses 20-22 are Jacob’s response to the appearance of God in the dream, and the promises that He made him.

When Jacob says in :21 “IF God will be with me …”, we need to understand that the word “if” in scripture can and should often be translated “since.” Jacob was not saying, “I don’t know if this is really going to happen or not …”; he was saying, “SINCE God appeared to me, and promised me all these things, THIS is how I am going to respond …”. How is he going to respond? He says several things, and the most important we find in :21, “Then the LORD will be my God.” We have mentioned repeatedly that whenever we see the word “LORD” in the Old Testament in all caps, that means it is not the Hebrew word “Adonai” or “lord”, but “Yahweh”, the personal name of God. So Jacob is saying here, from this time forward, Yahweh is going to be my God.

Thus we see that Jacob is making his own personal commitment to God here. In Hebrew it is literally: “Then He will be, YHWH, to me, God.” The personal nature of this is definitely emphasized: “TO ME”. This is significant, because as we read earlier in Genesis, Yahweh was Jacob’s grandfather Abraham’s God; and He was Jacob’s father Isaac’s God also. But now Jacob was saying, Yahweh is going to be MY God as well. Jacob had undoubtedly grown up around talk of Yahweh as Lord; but perhaps he had never come to a time when it was something personal for him. So this was like a “conversion” moment for Jacob. He knew about YHWH, but here he was committing himself to Him personally. For him it was like what we call being “saved” today: from that day forward, Yahweh was his God!

Some of you today may be where Jacob was before he made this commitment. When you grow up in a Christian home, your parents are Christians, and perhaps your grandparents also have been Christians, and you go to Sunday School and church and all kinds of activities and services, it can be easy to just kind of “go along” because that is what the family does, but not really have your own personal commitment to Jesus as your own Lord & Savior.

We had a number of people at our last church like that. There was a young father who had grown up in church, and who attended there where I pastored. One fall I preached a series entitled, “This Is My Story”, in which we encouraged every member to write out their own testimony on a page and put it into a book. But what many people discovered was that they really didn’t have a testimony to write down! This young man was one of them. His parents were Christians, and his grandparents were Christians, but it had never really “connected” with him so that it was real in his own heart. So during that series, he finally put his OWN faith in Jesus as his Lord & Savior. Shortly thereafter he was called to ministry, went to seminary, and I just received news that he and his family recently moved to Oklahoma to pastor his first church.

Some of you here today are just like Jacob, and like that young man at my church. You have heard about God all your lives; you grew up singing “Jesus Loves Me”, and know all about the Bible and church. But it has never really “clicked” with you personally. And today, God is calling you personally to do what Jacob did: make your own commitment to the God of the Bible as YOUR own personal God. Admit your sin. Believe that Jesus died on the cross to forgive you, and make you right with God. Ask Him to be YOUR Lord & God, and commit to follow Him from this day forward. Just like Jacob, the most important thing you will do today is not give your money to God; the most important thing you can do today is to commit your LIFE to the God of the Bible as the Lord of your life, and if you’ll do that, the money will take care of itself. Giving springs from a genuine, personal commitment to God, just like we see in Jacob here.

Let me emphasize: this commitment to God was the most important thing that happened here in Genesis 28. The most important thing that occurred here was NOT that Jacob decided to give God a tithe. The most important thing that happened was that he was ready to move out from a “family” kind of faith, to affirm his own, personal faith in the God of the Bible — which is what some of us here need to do today as well.

II. GIVING RECOGNIZES GOD’S PROVISION

:22 “… and of all that You give me …”

Jacob recognized here that whatever he would come into in the days ahead, in wealth, in property, in provision, would come from God: “food to eat, garments to wear”, etc. He said, “And of all that YOU give me …”. Whatever accrued to him would come to him from God.

We see this taught all through scripture. James 1:17 says, “Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father …”.

Notice the two-fold emphasis there in James, and the sweeping nature of this statement: “every” good thing bestowed; “every” perfect gift. EVERY good thing we receive comes from God. HE is the source of all that is good. Even when a good thing comes through some other intermediate agency — a person, institution or other source — or even our own work — we need to realize that God is the ultimate source of it.

We sometimes like to think of our ourselves as “self-made men” who provide for ourselves, like the farmer Jimmy Stewart plays in the movie, “Shenandoah”, whose dinner prayer went like this:

 “Lord, we cleared this land, we plowed it, sowed it and harvested it. We cooked the harvest, it wouldn’t be here, we wouldn’t be eatin’ it, if we hadn’t  done it all ourselves.  We worked dog-boned hard for every crumb and morsel, but we thank you.  Just the same anyway, Lord, for this food we’re about to eat.  Amen.”

But what the farmer in that movie, and all who have that “self-sufficient” attitude fail to understand, is that GOD is the ultimate source of everything good that we have.

Jesus said in John 3:27 “A man can receive nothing unless it has been given him from heaven.” In other words, whatever you have – whatever you possess, and whatever you are able to do — has been granted to you from heaven.

Even the skills and abilities we possess, which we often think we are using to be “self -made men” come from God. In Exodus 31:6, God said, “In the hearts of all who are skillful, I have put skill.” Whatever talent you have, whatever skill you possess, GOD has given you that ability, and you should give thanks to Him for it, for if He had not granted it, you would have nothing at all!

One of the ways that we demonstrate that we recognize that what we have came from God, and that we are thankful for it, is by giving back from what He has given us. When you write out that tithe check, you are saying: “God, I know that everything I have came from You — thank You. Here is this small portion back — and anything else You want of it is Yours too. It’s all Yours.”
And notice: when we give, we are only giving back what God has already given us. Jacob acknowledged that, when he said “Of all that YOU GIVE ME I will surely give a tenth to You.”

It is like one of our kids one year during Christmas season said, “Dad, I need some money so I can buy you a Christmas present”!

And that’s just the way it is with us and God. It is just as King David said after he and the people of Israel had given a “generous” offering for the new Temple: “But who am I and who are my people that we should be able to offer as generously as this? For all things come from You, and from Your hand we have given You.” (I Chronicles 29:14)

We do well to remember that. Listen: when you give to God, don’t act all “pious” and “self-righteous” like you’ve done some great, magnanimous thing! You are only giving back to God from what He already gave you in the first place! He’s given you everything you have; every ability to live and earn and do, and it’s the least you can do to give back to Him, as a kind of public recognition that you acknowledge the truth that everything you have comes from Him.

III. GIVING STARTS WITH THE PRINCIPLE OF THE TITHE

:22 “… I will surely give a tenth to You.”

So what did Jacob say that he would do to show his acknowledgement that everything he had came to him from Yahweh? He said in :22, “I will surely give a tenth to You.” The word for “give a tenth” there is the Hebrew technical word for “tithe”, and it means, literally, “to give a tenth”! Sometimes people refer to putting $20 or some random amount in the offering plate as a “tithe”, but technically, a “tithe” is a “tenth.” If you are not giving a tenth of what you made, you are not “tithing.”

Jacob’s commitment here was to give a tenth.Where did he get that? Evidently it had been passed down to him from his grandfather Abraham. Genesis 14 tells of how, after the battle with the kings, Abraham brought back his nephew Lot, who had been captured, and all the spoil of the battle. Melchizedek, who the Bible says was a priest of the Most High God (and as Hebrews points out, a foreshadowing of Christ) came out and blessed Abraham, and Genesis 14:20 says that Abraham “gave him a tenth of all.” So Abraham tithed — gave a tenth — to Melchizedek the priest of everything he had gotten from the battle. And he evidently passed this practice of the “tithe” down to Isaac and Jacob.

It is significant to note that both Abraham’s and Jacob’s tithing scenarios occurred hundreds of years before the Law of Moses was given. Many object to “tithing” as “Law” that we needn’t keep as New Testament Christians, but both of these were pre-Law commitments. The tithe was evidently a spiritual principle which God gave His people before the Law, hence it remains a good principle for our giving after the Law as well.

This is important because there is an emphasis today in many Christian circles on “New Testament” giving, or “grace giving”, as opposed to “tithing”, which is asserted to be legalistic. They point out that in the New Testament, the commands to give indicate that we are to give voluntarily, freely, cheerfully, etc., but it never says “tithe”, just that we are to be generous. So as a result many are teaching that we don’t need to worry about giving 10% today.

There are some valid points in that kind of argument. We are not indeed required to keep the Law as New Testament Christians. And tithing under the Law was different than what we think of as a simple tenth today: experts on Judaism debate as to whether they gave two separate tithes each year, or two per year PLUS a third every 3 years — so the total of their “tithe” was more like 20-23% or more! So we are NOT advocating a return to the obligations of the tithes under the Law. We should indeed give voluntarily and cheerfully, under the grace of Jesus Christ and not the Law.

But I do not believe that means that we should completely abandon the principle of the tenth today. Why is it that Abraham tithed 10% to God after the battle? Where did he come up with that number? Why did Jacob tell God in this passage that he would give Him a TENTH of all that He gave him? Why THAT number? When God did give the Israelites a system by which they were to support the Temple and the priests, why did He tell them to give a “tithe”, or a “tenth” of their crops or animals? There is a consistent spiritual principle here, of 10% as a standard of giving, which we would be very foolish to dismiss.

NO, we are not under the Law; YES we are under grace — but would you consider: shall we give LESS under grace than we did under the Law? With, as Hebrews says, “a better covenant with better promises” should we give less? Would it be considered “generous” by New Testament standards to give LESS than we were constrained to give under the Law?

Think about it: where in the New Testament are we encouraged to have LOWER standards than we did in the Old Testament? The fact is, Jesus told us that our moral standards are to be higher under His grace than under the Law, across the board. Look at how Jesus dealt with the Law in The Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5. He said that in His Kingdom, it is not just “do not commit murder” but do not even be angry with people, or call them ugly names! It is not merely “do not commit adultery” but “do not look upon a woman to lust for her.” It is not just “an eye for an eye”, but actually “love your enemy.” In every case, we are not to do LESS under grace, but MORE because of what Jesus has done for us.

I think this certainly speaks to our attitude towards giving as well. No, we are not “under the Law” to tithe — but we should give even more generously and freely, because God has done so much more for us under grace! Yes, absolutely, let’s give according to New Testament “grace giving”: generously, and cheerfully, and sacrificially — but how much shall we give? What kind of starting place should we use? God has, several times in scripture, given us a standard — and that standard is 10%. I think in light of the scriptural examples, a person would be hard-pressed to justify giving less than a tenth. If they want to argue: “We are not under the Law; we don’t have to give 10%”, I say, “Amen. We are not under the Law; don’t worry — you are not limited to giving only 10%! Give all you want! You aren’t restrained by the Law!”

And indeed I know people who started with 10%, and who have made commitments to raise it over the years as God has blessed them: to 11%, 12%, and more. In addition we have opportunities to give to the building fund, and to missions projects like the Lottie Moon offering for our International Mission Board, and for missions like our church supports in India and Romania. We have many opportunities to give above and beyond the tithe, and we should do that. But the tithe is a good guiding principle for a starting place for our giving.

Randy Alcorn says that tithing was like God’s “training wheels” for giving. You put “training wheels” on a bike to get a child started on it, but hopefully they soon outgrow that and go on to much more freedom as they ride. But you certainly hope they would not go back to doing LESS than they did on the training wheels! It is the same with our giving. Perhaps the tithe is just a starting place — but we certainly should not do less! If you want to claim “grace giving” because you want to give more than a tithe, then I say “amen!”, you are free under grace to do that. But if you want to use it as an excuse to give less, I think you need to examine your heart.

I believe the tenth is still a good principle; a Biblical starting place for our joyful, voluntary, grace giving even today. And we would be very short-sighted, and neglectful of a spiritual principle from the word of God — and honestly, very unappreciative of the riches God has blessed us with in His new covenant — if we were to toss the standard of the tithe, so prominent in scripture, completely aside. Our giving should begin with the principle of the tithe.

IV. GIVING IS A MARK OF LORDSHIP

:21-22 “YHWH will be my God … and of all that You give me I will give a tenth to You.”

Jacob said that after his personal experience he had with God, Yahweh was now going to be the Lord of his life. As a result, he said, “of all that You give me I will give a tenth to You.” To Jacob, his giving was a response to the fact that God was now his Lord. It was a “mark”, in a sense; an outward sign, of God’s ownership, or Lordship, of his life.

In Deuteronomy 15:12-17, the Bible describes how a Hebrew could serve another Hebrew for 6 years, and on the 7th year, he was to be set free. But :16 goes on to say, “It shall come about that if he says to you, ‘I will not go out from you’ because he loves you and your household, since he fares well with you; then you shall take an awl and pierce it through his ear into the door, and he shall be your servant forever.” The Bible says there that if a man wants to voluntarily serve a master for the rest of his life, he was to make a commitment to him, with the outward sign of that commitment being the piercing of his ear against the door.

In a sense, Jacob was doing a similar thing with his commitment to the tithe. He was saying, as a sign, of the fact that I am voluntarily making You my Master and my God, I am going to give this tithe, this 10% to You. It was like a mark of God’s Lordship of his life, and of Jacob’s commitment to Him as his Master.

And I believe the tithe serves as a mark of Lordship to this day. When you tithe like Jacob did, you are basically saying, “Jesus is my Lord, and I am showing it by giving Him back at least the first 10% of what He has given me.” Just like it did for Jacob, tithing serves as a mark of God’s Lordship of our lives.

And it is a practical and telling sign. So many people these days claim to be followers of Jesus, especially here in western North Carolina. I have served in churches in Oklahoma and Louisiana, and people in both of those places considered that they were “the buckle of the Bible belt”, but I have never been in a place like North Carolina, where there is almost literally a Baptist church on EVERY single corner! And so it is easy here to claim to be a follower of Jesus. But far fewer demonstrate it by the way they live. Jesus said, “Why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord’ but do not do what I say?” How can you do more than just “say” that Jesus is your Lord? We have seen over the past weeks, there are certain “disciplines of disciples” which we are to adopt as followers of Jesus: praying, reading His word, serving in His church, witnessing to others — and, as we see here, giving. All of these things are outward signs of your inward commitment to Jesus as your Lord. Giving is one of those “signs” of genuine discipleship. When you give, especially when you follow this principle of the tithe, you are demonstrating with concrete actions that Jesus is your Lord.

There’s an old expression: “Put your money where your mouth is.” That expression came about because everyone knows that “talk” can be “cheap.” It is easy to “say” all kinds of things you don’t really mean — but if you really do mean something, you will back it up, with your actions, or with what is important to you: money!

Last year, Southwestern Baptist Seminary in Ft. Worth received a $12 million check from Harold Mathena to construct a new evangelism training building. The report said that Mathena had started an oilfield business years ago to support his evangelism work, and in 2012, he sold his business for more than $200 million. The following Sunday, his church, Quail Springs Baptist Church of Oklahoma City, received Mathena’s tithe: a check for more than $20 million. For Mathena, this was consistent with the stewardship principles he practiced all his life. This was an opportunity, in his words, “to put his money where his mouth is.”

That is exactly what the tithe is for you as well. You may say: “But I don’t have $200 million!” The good news is, you don’t have to tithe on $200 million if you don’t make it. You are only responsible to tithe on what you do make. If you only make $200, you are only responsible to tithe $20 — 1/10 of that. It’s just like the spiritual gifts we talked about a couple of weeks ago — you aren’t responsible for what God didn’t give you; just for what He did. When you tithe what you get — however much that is — then like Harold Mathena, you are “putting your money where your mouth is.”

You know, in a sense it can be pretty cheap & easy in a place like Morganton to say that you are a follower of Jesus. Just about everybody here says they are. There’s not too much of a price to pay, so it is easy to SAY that you are a follower of Jesus. What the tithe says, among other things, is “I am not just going to SAY it; I am going to SHOW it!” When Jacob said that Yahweh was going to be his God, it wasn’t just “empty words.” He said, I am going to SHOW it in a real and concrete way, by giving Him the first tenth of everything He gives me. The tithe was a sign of Lordship for Jacob — and I believe it is for us today as well. Giving at least a tithe demonstrates the Lordship of Jesus in your life in a real and concrete way. It says that nothing — not even your money — is more important to you than your commitment to Him!

This may be even more telling in the days ahead, in light of the recent Supreme Court decision. Since they have ruled that same-sex marriage is a civil right, churches may be attacked for denying this “right.” We may well lose our tax-exempt status, which means that you will no longer get a tax deduction for giving to the church. If that happens, it will test every person: why were you giving? To receive a tax write-off? Or as a mark of the Lordship of Jesus in your life? If you were giving as a tax write-off, those days may be coming to a close, and it will be only those who are giving to Jesus as their Lord who will continue. But then, as now, the challenge for us will be to “put your money where your mouth is” in your commitment to the Lord, through “The Discipline of Giving”!

About Shawn Thomas

My blog, shawnethomas.com, provides brief devotions from own personal daily Bible reading, as well as some of my sermons, book reviews, and family life experiences.
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