When the Stewards Get Selfish

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“For I the LORD do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, have not perished.  Ever since the days of your ancestors you have turned aside from my statutes and have not kept them.  Return to me, and I will return to you, says the LORD of hosts.  But you say, ‘How shall we return?’  Will anyone rob God?  Yet you are robbing me!  But you say, ‘How are we robbing you?’  In your tithes and offerings!” (Malachi 3:6-8 NRS).


(Image courtesy of knightdaleumc.org)

(Image courtesy of knightdaleumc.org)

Stealing from God?  Who would dare!?  We are repulsed when we hear accounts of thieves stealing the brass from altars, and those who enter into the House of God to steal property and money from the offering plate, but are we doing the very same thing in a different mode?  No one wants to be labeled a thief, and yet Scripture recounts the prophecy of God through God’s servant, Malachi, condemning the practice among the people of God.  God extols God’s faithfulness in the face of abject disobedience by the people.  The people have been robbing God of what belongs rightfully and first to God: the blessings God has given over to them.  Out of faithfulness to us, the Lord has provided the means, the gifts, and the graces for us to earn a living, and, instead of gratitude, far too many of us squander that income on ourselves.  We are commanded to give back a portion of our earnings, the fruit of our labor, as a sign of God’s providence, God’s unfailing care for us.  It is not only acknowledgement, but gratitude.  Yet the vast majority of most churches reports that the congregants do not tithe.  We keep that money for ourselves and for all kinds of reasons.

The cost of living continues to rise.  It is not cheap to live in this society, and that is without the luxuries we so often crave.  Gas prices and fuel costs steadily climb.  Medical bills can mount up.  We invest in retirement, college education, vacations to preserve our sanity, etc.  When do we reinvest ourselves by virtue of our tithes in God, the Church, and the work of the Body of Christ?  Ten percent of our income, our gross income before taxes if we follow the command to give the first fruits (Exodus 23:19), should be promised, set aside, and offered upon the altar of God for the glory of God.  That is not chump change for a great many of us, present company included!  My stress level would plummet if I had the money I tithe to the Church back at my disposal.  My financial acrobatics would not be so extreme, and I would feel less pressure to constantly downsize, eliminate, trim the fat, and sacrifice things.  But then again, maybe that is precisely the point.  There is always something to which we cling that we can replace with the promises of God and the cross.  This I know: when my life seemed to be turned upside down and crumbling to dust, cable television did not keep my head above the waters.  When I repented and turned away from my sin to embrace God’s grace, that was not because of an awesome manicure/pedicure.  When I prayed to God for direction and guidance in serving the Kingdom, God never told me to upgrade my car to a luxury edition.  When I am besieged by my sinfulness, God alone carries me through.  When I am overwhelmed by the sin of another, God walks with me through the darkness.  When I feel broken and battered by the ways of this world, it is God that lifts me up and loves me despite my unworthiness and contribution to my desperate state.

Do I want to give away ten percent of my wages?  No, but I do, I tithe because above all else I want to honor and glory God, because when everything else has fallen and failed me, God never has.  Tithing is how I say, “Thank you, God.  I know I am here because of you, and what I have, no matter how great or small, I owe to you.  So here I am giving back to you, because you first gave to me.  Use these gifts as you will, and may you be further glorified by what they can do for the Kingdom of God.”  If the thought ever creeps into my head to stop tithing, I think of what would have happened to me so many times in the course of my life if God had not remained faithful to me.  God has given everything, and I am only being asked for ten percent in return.  Have it, Lord.  Let it be multiplied for another, as your love and grace are being multiplied for me.

Prayer:

Great God of all blessings,

You shower me with so much.

I have more than enough in reality,

Even as I yearn for things I do not need.

You are enough.

You are more than sufficient for me.

Help me find contentment in my many riches,

So that I can cling less to money and materials things.

Draw me closer to you,

That I might bask in your holiness.

May I give back a portion of what should all be yours,

Yet you have given it to me.

I am thankful and I know words cannot express it fully.

So I make an offering and I lay it on your altar.

A tenth, a tithe of gratitude for your honor and glory.

Count me not among the thieves, but the servants of Christ.

Amen.

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