The Christian And His Money
“Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him” (1 Corinthians 16:2).
It is an interesting fact that immediately following the great resurrection chapter in this first epistle to the Corinthians, the Apostle gives instruction to the saints concerning the use of their money. With many this is always a touchy question, and yet he who sings from the heart, “Naught that I have my own I’ll call: I hold it for the Giver: My heart, my strength, my life, my all
Are His and His forever,” should surely not be averse to facing honestly in the presence of God what He has said in His Word concerning the Christian and his money.
In the Old Testament God gave to Israel very definite instructions as to this. The tithe of all that they received was to be definitely set apart for Himself and devoted to the upkeep of His house and the support of His priests; but even before the law was given, God indicated His mind in regard to the tithe by what He caused to be recorded concerning Abraham. When the patriarch returned from the slaughter of the kings and the deliverance of his nephew Lot, he was met by Melchizedek, king of Salem, who was priest of the most high God. In response to the blessing of this mysterious personage who was a type of our Lord Jesus Christ, we are told that Abraham “gave him tithes of all,” and our attention is directed to this in the epistle to the Hebrews as indicating the preeminence of the Melchizedek priesthood over the Levitical inasmuch as Abraham was the father of all the Hebrews and therefore of the sons of Levi who, in him representatively, paid tithes to Melchizedek.
When God’s earthly people were going on happily with Himself they gladly brought their tithes, together with additional offerings, thus honoring the Lord and recognizing His authority over their lives and possessions. When declension set in and they drifted away from Him and followed the ways of the surrounding nations, they selfishly kept the tithes for themselves, robbed God of what properly belonged to Him, left His priests to suffer, and neglected the upkeep of His temple. Whenever there was a return to Himself, there was always a new recognition of their responsibility regarding the tithe.
In the last book of the Old Testament, the little book of Malachi, God speaks scathingly of their neglect of the law of the tithe. He says in chapter 3, verses 8 and 9:
“Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings. Ye are cursed with a curse: for ye have robbed me, even this whole nation.”
It was not that God needed their money. He Himself had told them in the fiftieth Psalm that every beast of the forest was His and the cattle upon a thousand hills. The world was His and the fullness thereof. He had no need of anything that His people could bring to Him, but their faithful observance of the law of the tithe was an evidence of their loyalty to Himself, and their neglect of it told out their indifference to His will. In the verse following those we have quoted from Malachi, He calls upon them to bring their tithes, and promises blessing when they obey. We read:
“Bring ye all the tithes 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, and he shall not destroy the fruits of your ground: neither shall your vine cast her fruit before the time in the field, saith the Lord of hosts.”
Material blessing always followed obedience to the command of the Lord.
When our Saviour Himself was here on Earth, He sternly rebuked certain hypocritical legalists for observing great care in tithing while neglecting true spirituality toward God and charity toward men. He speaks scornfully of their habit of tithing the smallest possible herbs and yet forgetting the weightier matters of the law such as loving their neighbors as themselves. But He does not thereby deliver from the law of the tithe, or in any sense decry tithing, for He immediately adds, “These ought ye to have done and not to leave the other undone.” That is, He did not relieve them of the responsibility of tithing even mint and rue, insignificant herbs as they were, but He stressed their responsibility to keep the whole law and put His special emphasis upon its spiritual side.
When we pass out of the atmosphere of the four Gospels into the book of Acts and thence into the epistles of the New Testament, we never again read of tithing, except in the passage already referred to—Hebrews 7:5–8. Hence some have jumped to the conclusion that the law of the tithe in no way affects Christian responsibility, and at first sight it might seem that they who so reason are correct, but there is a passage often overlooked which would appear to negative this conclusion. In Romans 8, verses 3 and 4 we are told:
“For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin (that is, as a sacrifice for sin), condemned sin in the flesh: that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.”
Here is a principle of all importance if one would so live as to glorify God in this dispensation when believers are not under law but under grace. The Christian standard of righteousness is not a lower one than that of the Jew in the legal dispensation. It is really a far higher standard. Therefore, we may well say, if we were Jews living under law, we would be obligated to give to God a tenth of all our income as recognizing His Lordship over all our possessions. Shall we then, as Christians in the reign of grace, allow ourselves to be outdone in this respect by a Jew under law? Shall we not rather gladly render to God as the very minimum a tenth of all that with which He entrusts us, and as He enables, gladly give more in order to show our appreciation of the loving kindness He has lavished upon us.
When Paul called upon the Corinthians to lay by in store as God has prospered them, he necessarily had in mind some kind of a standard. What is that standard? Surely it cannot be less than that which was ordained under law, but it is evident that some definite proportion of our income must be taken into consideration if we are to give as God hath prospered.
He who says, “I am not under law, and therefore I am not concerned about tithing my income: I will give as I feel led of the Lord,” generally winds up by giving the merest pittance as compared with what the Lord entrusts to Him. He, on the other hand, who says, “I shall begin with a tenth and, as God enables, will do better,” becomes a consistent giver and finds joy in thus rendering glad obedience to the Word of the Lord.
Years ago it was my privilege to know a most devoted Christian man who is now with Christ. He told me how when a young man these considerations were brought home in power to his soul as he weighed his responsibility before God. When he was earning only $10 a week, he faithfully gave $1 regularly to sustain the work of the Lord. When his small income was raised to $15, he said, “If when I earned $10 I could give $1 to God, now that I am earning $15, I can surely give Him $2”; and so he did. Then when a little later his wages were raised to $20, he said, “If when I earned $15 I could give God $2, now surely I can give Him $4;” and so through the years he sought to give as God prospered. When I knew him, sometime before he was called home to heaven, he was giving thousands of dollars annually for mission work, to support the Gospel at home, and in ministering to the needs of the sick and poor with whom he came in contact. Surely this was indeed giving as God had prospered! Nor did he feel that he was under law, but his giving was rather the out-working of the grace of God which wrought within his soul.
Let no Christian think that he gains by withholding from God, but rather remember that He who has said, “It is more blessed to give than receive,” will always have the most blessed part. He will be no man’s debtor. As we give to Him we can be certain that He will fulfill to the letter that word which says, “My God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory through Christ Jesus.”
One thing our text suggests that we are often inclined to overlook, and that is an orderly method both as to the time and place of setting aside that portion of our means which we devote to the work of the Lord. This work, of course, is of a two-fold character. It involves the care of His servants who are entirely engaged in the ministry and thus have to live off the Gospel, as Scripture tells us; but it also includes helping to meet the needs of those in difficult circumstances. In fact, it was this latter phase of giving to God which was particularly in the Apostle’s mind when he gave the Corinthians the instructions as to systematic and proportionate giving. Our Lord has said that anything done for one of His own is reckoned by God as done for Himself.
But what I want especially to draw attention to is the time element referred to in the opening words of the verse: “Upon the first day of the week.” Most of us receive our income on a regular weekly or possibly monthly basis. The import of this passage clearly is that when we thus receive our wages or other form of income, we should at that time set aside a proper proportion for the work of the Lord. It is not necessary that is should all be immediately contributed to any particular cause, but he who consistently lays by in this sense will always have something that he can contribute when occasion demands. There is the laying by in store at home, but there is also the “collection for the saints.” This of course, suggests bringing our gifts to the assembly of God’s people where we join with others in making up a collection of our varied offerings.
The question often has been raised whether the member of a given group of believers should give all of his tithes and offerings to the furtherance of the particular work with which he is thus linked. The answer certainly is that each one should be before God as to this and that he should look to the Lord for guidance as to how to use his funds. There is no legal injunction demanding that believers contribute only to certain specific causes, but the money that they devote to the Lord should be at His disposal to be used as He shall indicate from time to time. He who thus learns to act in partnership with God in money matters can be assured of the divine blessing when he himself has to face times of stress and difficulty, but even if this were not so, it should be our joy and privilege to fulfill our responsibility in these things to the glory and praise of God.