In terms of money and possessions, just how much should you give? What if I said you should be ready to give it all?
When we think of Old Testament texts on giving, our minds often go to the tithe, the giving of 10 percent of harvest or income to support what would eventually become the work of the temple, work that included care for the poor. Today’s Deuteronomy text really doesn’t take us into the concept of the tithe, however. There’s something deeper going on.
What we hear was a formal recitation, a declaration of what God had done to help his chosen people. From a practical perspective, the offering brought to the altar was a mere token, but theologically it was huge. The head of a family was acknowledging that all he had truly came from God.
In participating in this ritual, the Jewish man who made this token offering on behalf of his family was making a clear statement before all his fellow believers: God, I depend on you and you alone.
We Depend on God, Too
Now, I want to make something clear: I believe in hard work. I believe in the idea that if we are to succeed in life, there is a need to use our bodies and minds to the best of our abilities.
But at the same time, as people who acknowledge we were made by God and saved from sinful brokenness by God, we have to be the first to say we are dependent on God.
If you think about it, we do owe everything to God, even if we’ve worked hard, if we’ve done our best to succeed. If we’re intelligent enough to make the right choices, it’s because God made us so. If we have been able to succeed through hard work, it is because God at some point graced us with strong, healthy bodies. It all goes back to God. If we declare him Creator, who owns everything is a question with an indisputable answer.
And we can never forget that there is tremendous randomness in how well we do or don’t do in life. If you’re not careful, you’ll simply stumble into success and then start thinking you’re brilliant.
The Danger (and Opportunity) of Riches
A good Jew acknowledged these truths with his recitation and offering. We do much the same when we declare ourselves followers of Christ—for example, if we recite the Apostles’ Creed in worship. We declare God Creator. We then re-tell the story of Christ’s life, sacrifice and resurrection, following that with the story of God continuing to work in the world up to this very day through the Holy Spirit.
That true understanding—that perspective regarding who God is and who we are—should shape every nook and cranny of our lives, if it is properly understood. For many, that deepest, hardest to reach cranny is where we store our attitude about income and possessions.
As I said before, this text isn’t really about tithing. Tithing was a powerful Old Testament concept, of course, but a text like we have today shows us that tithing was just a beginning point, a rule designed to lead a person to a right way of relating to income and possessions.
In the sermon, Wesley said that God provides for the roof over our heads, food, and other basic needs, allowing us to ensure the well-being of our families and even our businesses, if we are people who operate them. Beyond those provisions, everything we are given counts as riches, and they have been given to us to use “to the glory of God.” Often, this means using our riches to help those who are less blessed materially, playing a role in God’s provision for people’s basic needs.
Even for a tither, this is a concept that requires thought. It forces a reassessment of every decision we make regarding how we handle our income and possessions, simply because we learn to say, “It’s not really ours, anyway.”
If you find this idea a little daunting, be encouraged. Remember how our little scene at the altar closes. There is celebration in the house of God, the kind of joy to be shared even with the disenfranchised people among us.
I wonder what we miss when we fail to embrace such a powerful attitude about income and possessions.