MY TITHE – MY TESTIMONY
Dr. W. A. Criswell
10-22-67 10:50 a.m.
On the radio and on television you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled My Testimony for My Lord.
The impression that our church gives to the world beyond is, in many instances, a very unusual impression. I am particularly and especially reminded of what people think we do when it is published and noised abroad of the tremendous proportions of our giving program. Back of me this morning, and in most impressive lights, are some of the sections of that budget. It totals—as that big middle outline declares, it totals somewhat over $1,801,000. And, if we do not subscribe at least $2,000,000, I shall be greatly disappointed. Now, there is not a church in Christendom that has a budget one‑half that large. Our church will give twice as much as any church that I know in the world. I confidently believe that this coming year of 1968 our people will subscribe and give over $2,000,000.
Well, such a thing is phenomenal. It is unbelievable. It is almost beyond imagination that one congregation would do so large a thing by their Lord. So, the ministers beyond and the people think that what I do here in the First Church in Dallas is ding‑dong for money all the time; that every time I stand up to preach, it will be some kind of an importunity, some kind of an appeal, some kind of a pressure, trying to squeeze blood out of a turnip. That’s what they think that I do.
I rarely ever mention it, as you can yourselves be a witness. And so infrequently do I ever refer to it, that the committee who is charged with creating and presenting this budget asked me, “On this Sunday in October, will you not preach a sermon on the stewardship of our possessions?” Well, I am delighted to do so. It blesses my heart to prepare the sermon. I pray it will bless your heart, as I deliver it. But don’t you ever get the idea that the First Baptist Church in Dallas gives itself to no other thing than trying to further a budgetary item.
The thing that happens in the First Church in Dallas happens out of the abounding gratitude of our hearts and souls to God. There is no coerciveness. There is no pressure. There is no repetitive sameness about anything that we do in our budget program. It arises out of our love for God, which, in our souls, is an everlasting, rising fountain that praises the Lord every day that we live.
Now, in keeping with the request of those godly men, the sermon Our Testimony to Our Lord; and the Scripture is in the fourteenth chapter of the Book of Genesis and in the seventh chapter of the Book of Hebrews. And the text is Hebrews 7:8.
First, the passage in Genesis:
And Melchizedek king of Salem brought forth bread and wine: and he was the priest of the Most High God.
And he blessed Abraham, and said: Blessed be Abraham of the Most High God…
And blessed be the Most High God, who hath delivered thine enemies into thy hand. And Abraham gave him tithes of all.
Now the passage in the seventh chapter of Hebrews:
For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, who met Abraham… and blessed him;
To whom also Abraham gave a tenth part of all; this Melchizedek first being by interpretation, king of righteousness—
melek, king; tsedeq, righteousness—melek tsedeq: Melchizedek—
and after that also, king of Salem, that is, king of peace—
shalom, king of shalom, of Salem—
Without father, without mother, without descent, without beginning of days, nor end of life; but made like unto the Son of God; abideth a priest continually.
Now consider how great this man was, unto whom even the patriarch Abraham gave the tenth . . .
And verily they that are of the sons of Levi, who receive the office of the priesthood, have a commandment to take tithes of the people according to the law…
But he whose descent is not counted from them received tithes of Abraham, and blessed him that had the promises.
And without all contradiction the less is blessed of the better.
And here men that die receive tithes; but there he receiveth them, of whom it is witnessed that he liveth.
And as I may so say, Levi the priest also, who receiveth tithes, paid tithes in Abraham.
And the text: “And here men that die receive tithes; but there he receiveth them, of whom it is witnessed that he liveth” [Hebrews 7:8].
The “here” refers to the Levitical priesthood: “And here men that die receive tithes.” And you read that commandment under the law of Moses in our Scripture passage this morning: “The tithe is holy unto the Lord,” and you shall not change it. And, if you do, you must add a fifth thereunto [Leviticus 27:30-31]. It belongs to God. “Here men that die receive tithes” [Hebrews 7:8].
And the Hebrew, under the old covenant, brought to the priest a tenth of all that God gave him [Numbers 18:21-24]. But there, and referring to Melchizedek, there are many biblical scholars who think Melchizedek was a theophany of Christ. He was an appearance of the Lord, as He often appears in the Old Testament, before the days of His flesh.
And certainly, as the Bible says and as the whole seventh chapter of Hebrews avows: “The Lord Christ is a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek” [Hebrews 7:21]. Here men that die receive tithes [Hebrews 7:8]—the Levitical priesthood, according to the commandment of Moses [Numbers 18:21]. But there—speaking of Melchizedek—before whom Abraham bowed and out of whose abounding and overflowing heart of gratitude, “Abraham gave tithes of all” [Genesis 14:20] that he possessed—there he receiveth them of whom it is witnessed that he liveth [Hebrews 7:8]. And in the imagery of that sublime passage, I have taken the thought of the sermon this holy hour: “But there he receiveth them, of whom it is witnessed that he liveth” [Hebrews 7:8]. And the image, our blessed Savior, receiving the dedicated gift and offering that we lay at His feet: “There He receiveth them of whom it is witnessed that He liveth.”
So Sunday by Sunday, on the first day of the week, I bring to God’s house an offering, and I dedicate it in His blessed name. And I place it in an envelope and bring it to God’s house. What is that I place in that envelope? What is in that envelope that I bring to the blessed Jesus? What’s in it?
This is in it: a part of my worship and my adoration, my praise and thanksgiving to our blessed Lord. It is as much a part of my adoration and worship of Jesus as the song that I try to sing, or the prayer that I try to pray, or the Scriptures that I read, or the praise that overflows my heart. This is a part of that love and adoration. There’s no psalm more beautiful than the ninety-sixth:
Give unto the Lord, O ye kindreds of the people, give unto the Lord glory and strength.
Give unto the Lord the glory due unto His name; bring an offering, and come into His courts.
O worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness; fear before Him, the whole earth.
That’s it. In the very center of that beautiful psalm of praise: “Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness [Psalm 96:9]. Give unto the Lord the glory due unto His name”; in the very heart of it. “Bring an offering, and come into His courts” [Psalm 96:8]. This is a part of the love, and adoration, and praise, and worship that I bring to the blessed Lord Jesus.
Nor shall I place in that envelope and bring into the presence of the great High God my Savior, “that which doth cost me nothing” [2 Samuel 24:24]. No. But it shall be worthy. It shall show somewhat of the praise, and the honor, and the glory, and the adoration, and the worship that I feel in my heart for the Lord. “I will not bring before the Lord of that which doth cost me nothing” [2 Samuel 24:24].
You know, people give for different reasons, some for income tax purposes—they figure it out, you know. They’ve got tables, you know—that it won’t cost you so much to give so much. That’s all right. Some people give for respectability’s sake and salve their conscience and things like that. How should we give?
There was an Internal Revenue officer going through the returns. And he came across a return from some queer guy that had an unusually large contribution to a certain church. The Internal Revenue man looked at it, and the fellow, whoever he was, was making less than $5,000 a year, but he had over here a contribution to that church of $625.
So the revenue officer called on him. He found him at home in the evening, knocked at the door, and introduced himself. Well, that usually would bring consternation to a fellow, but not to that guy. He invited the Internal Revenue man in, shook his hand, put him in a nice seat in the front room, and welcomed him.
Well, that was unusual. So the Internal Revenue man said to that fellow—he said, “Now, I’ve come to talk to you about your so‑called contributions: $625 you have written on this return, and you make less than $5,000.”
“Yes sir,” said the man, without blinking an eye. “Yes sir, I gave $625 last year to my Lord in our dear church.”
Well, that kind of got the Internal Revenue man. He said, “Now, now, now, do you have a receipt from the church for it?”
Usually, a fellow squirms and he says, “Well, you know, I might have made a mistake or might … .”
No, this fellow didn’t squirm at all. He looked him right straight in the eye and said, “Yes sir, I keep my receipts where I keep my church envelope, in the bureau drawer.”
So he went to the other room and came back with the receipt: $625. Well, the Internal Revenue man saw it all, saw the fellow was on the level. So he stood up and shook hands with him and said, “Well, you understand, I beg your pardon for bothering you, but whenever these unusual contributions are in a return, why, I have to check them out. And thank you.”
And as he turned to leave, why, the man spoke to him and said, “Sir, before you go, could I invite you to attend our church?”
And the Internal Revenue man said, “Oh, no, thank you. I belong to a church myself.”
And the man said to him, “Well, I beg your pardon. The possibility of your belonging to a church had not occurred to me.”
Well, the Internal Revenue man left and pondered: “Just what did he mean by that last remark? The possibility of my belonging to a church had not occurred to him—just what did he mean by that remark?” And it bugged him, as you say, it stayed in his mind. And he couldn’t understand until he went to his church the following Sunday. And when the collection plate passed, he dropped in his usual quarter, and it came to him.
I will not tip God! Even a waiter at a restaurant will stand there and be unpleased if the tip is less than ten percent. I shall not tip God. It is a part of my adoration, and my worship, and my praise, and my gratitude, and my thanksgiving when I come before Him with an offering in my hand. And it shall be worthy. I will not give God the leftovers, that which doth cost me nothing. “For there He receiveth tithes, of whom it is witnessed that He liveth” [Hebrews 7:8].
What is on the inside of that envelope when I come before the Lord? In that envelope is a part of me. I place in that envelope somewhat of my life when I come before the Lord and lay it at His blessed feet. If I work for a day and I am given $20, that $20 represents a day of my life. I have turned my life into coined personality, and that $20 represents a day of my life. Money has no meaning at all, except as it represents work, power, manpower, services.
I listened one time to the president of a great railway system, and he was illustrating that money is nothing except as it represents work, men serving.
And he said there was a fellow who dreamed, and in his dream, he woke up in the morning and went to the front door to get his newspaper, and it wasn’t there. He went back to the backdoor to get the milk, and it wasn’t there. He went out into the streets to go to a neighborhood grocery store, and it wasn’t opened. And the whole city had closed down. And the man inquired in his dream, and he found that the paperboy was a millionaire now. And the shine boy was a millionaire now, and the milkman was a millionaire now. And everybody was a millionaire, and nobody had to work! And the town, city, nation died. Money is nothing; if a man is a millionaire, he ought to work. And a preacher ought to work. I’m not saying that he has to shovel gravel, dig ditches. It might do us good sometime to get out and shoulder some of these things with a common laborer, and I wouldn’t mind doing it. I was brought up poor, and I know what it is to live with the poor. But a preacher ought to work at his job, and I slave at mine; and I’m not happy unless I do.
Work is what makes a nation, a state, a city, a church, a home. It represents us. And when I bring before the Lord a part of me, it is coined personality. It’s something of me, and I lay it at Jesus’ blessed feet.
What’s on the inside of that envelope when I bring it to the Lord and place it in His precious hands? The training of our children is in that envelope. Isn’t that unusual? Once in a while, someone will come to me and say, “Pastor, you have some of the strangest ideas, and you do in this church some of the most unusual things!” Then, in this instance, my strange idea and my unusual way was my insistence that our pledge card be given to every child—every child, and that every child be given envelopes and that every child be encouraged, every Sunday, to bring an offering to the Lord.
So once in a while someone will say to me, “Now that’s about as foolish a thing as I ever heard a preacher insist on. The child has no idea of what a pledge card is, has no idea of what an envelope is, has no idea what money is, has no idea what any of it is, and yet you insist on our nurseries and our Beginners and our Primary groups—you insist upon their having a part in this campaign just as much as you do our men.” I say, “That’s right. I got that out of the Book. I got it out of the Book. I read it in the Book.”
And the fellow says to me, “In the Bible? You mean that’s in the Bible?”
I say, “Yes, that’s in the Bible. That’s where I got it.” For the blessed Lord by inspiration put on the sacred page 1 Corinthians 16:2: “Upon the first day of the week”—that’s Sunday—“upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him.” Whatever God gives us, a proportion of it we’re to give to Him. Start with a tenth. Maybe, by faith, make it a fifth. Maybe someday make it a half. Maybe someday some of us could live on a tenth and give God nine‑tenths. A proportion; “Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no collections when I come” [1 Corinthians 16:2].
When the preacher stands up to preach, he’s not burdened down with unpaid debts, with a miserly congregation that doesn’t do right by the Lord, and when he stands up to preach the burden of all that is upon his soul. No! When the preacher stands up to preach, we have taken care of all of that: “Preacher, don’t trouble your heart. Don’t burden your soul with these things. We’ll do that. We’ll do that. And when you stand up there to preach, no burden on your heart of these things; just tell us what God says in the Book. You read and study and pray and then tell us what the Lords says. Is there any word from the Lord? Does God say anything? Then tell us, preacher. Everybody’s saying this and everybody’s saying that. Does God say anything, preacher? If God does, what does God say? You tell us and we’ll take care of all these things.”
How do we take care of all those things? We never improve on the wisdom of God: “Upon the first day of the week let every one of you” [1 Corinthians 16:2]—every one of you. So I say to this man, who so objects to what I do with these little children in this church, I say, “I want to ask you some questions now. Are you one in your family?”
“Oh yes, I’m one!”
“Well, I want to ask you: is your wife one in your family?”
“Yes sir, yes sir, she’s one.”
“May I ask you just once again: is the little boy in your family, is he one in your family?”
“Yes sir, he’s one.”
“Well, then, may I ask just once again: the little girl in your family, is she one? Does she belong?”
“Oh yes, she’s one! She belongs.”
“Well, doesn’t God say, ‘Let every one of you?’” [1 Corinthians 16:2].
How many men, in contumacious egotism, will come home and say, “I make the living in this family. This is my money. The check is written out in my name”—as though his wife, who toils, and scrubs, and cooks, and sews, and sweeps, and raises the children, made no contribution to the family at all, and as though those little children were orphaned and were there from some outer place and didn’t belong at all.
Oh, that’s not right, nor what God says: “Upon the first day of the week let every one of you” [1 Corinthians 16:2]. And the father is one. “On the first day of the week, let every one of you.” And the mother is one. “Upon the first day of the week let every one of you.” And the little boy is one, a wonderful one. And the little girl is one, a sweet and precious one.
And when we come to church and appear before the Lord, we’ll all come: the father with a dedicated gift in his hand, and the mother with a dedicated gift in her hand, and the little boy, he belongs, and the little girl, she belongs. We’ll all come with a gift in our hand. And I tell them in the cradle roll, in the nursery that, and if the little fellow is too young to carry it in his hand, pin it on the diaper and bring him here to the church. And what marvelous teaching and training! One example is worth a thousand sermons and how easily and quickly do they learn.
About a few days ago, I couldn’t help but overhear a conversation between our little boy, Cris, and his “mommy,” his grandmother. You see little Cris came home oh, so excited. “Mommy,” he says, “mommy, my little friend down the street, a little boy, oh, they’re having something at his church! Oh, and I want to go, I want to go at his church. Oh, mommy, it’s at the church! And mommy, oh, what a way, what a way. You buy tickets and you win prizes, and you can bring them home!”
And his grandmommy said, “Well, Cris, we just don’t believe in that kind of a thing. We don’t believe in lotteries and we don’t believe in raffles and in buying chances on things.”
“Oh,” said little Cris, “But, you don’t understand, mommy. You don’t understand. It’s for the church. It’s for the church! We go to the church, and all of those things that we buy, those tickets we pay for, that’s for the church. And then we get prizes, and we bring them home!”
And I was most interested in his mommy saying, “Cris, we don’t finance God’s church with raffles and lotteries and selling tickets for prizes. For God has told us,” she said to the little boy, “how to finance the church. We are to take a part, a tenth of everything God gives us, and bring it to the church. That’s how God wants us to support His church” [1 Corinthians 16:2].
What’s in that envelope? The training of our little children. You don’t need to say, you don’t need to preach—just do it, and he’ll learn, and it will bless him and the house of God forever. What is in that envelope when I bring it to the Lord? “Here men that die receive tithes; but there He receiveth them, of whom it is witness that He liveth” [Hebrews 7:8].
When I bring it to Him and lay it at His precious feet, what’s in that envelope? The very existence of our church is in that envelope. We cannot, in our modern society, we cannot exist without it. It is imaginable, I know, that we could come down and each one of us take part in sweeping out. We could come down and each one of us take part in stoking the furnace. We could come down and each one of us take part in keeping up the properties. We could come down and each one of us take part in preaching. I sure wouldn’t want to be here, but we could do it. We could come down and some of us take our share and our part in being a missionary. That may be imaginable, but in our time it is unthinkable and impracticable. How infinitely better to make it a part of me, lay it at the feet of Jesus, and let it be used for all of these ministries of our church.
I’ve been here twenty-three years; this is the twenty-fourth year, and I have these same abounding, overflowing gratitude to God for this church as I had when they called me as pastor years ago. I just look at it. Oh, oh, oh, the work of this church with little children, how preciously sweet! The work of our church with our teenagers—every one of them is worth everything that we give to God. Instead of wringing our hands and lamenting over the way and the direction of modern teenage life, how infinitely better to come down here to the church and do something about it, as our people are doing. They’re singing. They’re involved in camp, in school, in Training Union, in Sunday school, over at the recreational building, in the choir. They’re involved in a thousand wonderful things. The ministry that our church has for our Young People and for our Young Marrieds and the ministry of our church to us—to all of us; how poor, how poverty stricken would we be were it taken away? It means so much to us.
We have in our congregation a sweet couple, they’re newlyweds. They haven’t been married very long, they are Young Marrieds. She came to me within a week, sat down by my side in the study, and she said, “Pastor, the doctor has told me that I have leukemia.” And she said, “I’m in such terrible pain.” She said, “I have come. I need courage, and I need strength, and I need help.” And she said, “I need God to help me to bear this pain. And I need God to help me to face death, and I’ve come to you.”
I said, “Dear child”—and she looks like a child to me. I don’t think she’s in her teens, it looks like that to me—I said, “Honey, about all I can do is cry with you and pray.” So we cried for about thirty minutes, and then we prayed.
This is the church to me. There is no one of us but that sometime, somewhere, we’ll find that illimitable need for God: “O Lord, I need courage to bear this. I need God’s help to face this.” And where shall I go but to the Lord? And where can I find God if not in His people? “Christ loved the church, and gave Himself for it” [Ephesians 5:25]. In this envelope is the very existence of our church and all that it means to so many.
Why, I was walking down the street the other day, just walking down this street here, and a stranger stopped me. I have no idea who he is. He stopped me, and he said to me—he said, “I see you’re tearing down the steeple on your church.” I said, “Yes, it has been there for seventy-seven years, and after a careful survey of its structure, the men decided it is better that it come down and a new steeple be put up.”
“Oh,” he said, “Oh, you’re going to replace it?”
I said, “Yes, yes, we’re going to put it back.”
“Oh,” he said, “thank you, thank you.” He said, “I’ve lived in Dallas all my life.” And he said, “All my life I have looked at that steeple, pointing up to God, and it has blessed me, and it has encouraged me.” And he said, “It was kind of like an irreparable loss to see it come down.” He said, “I just want to thank you that you’re going to put it back.”
Why, sure we’re going to put it back! As I told the men, there’s not a penny in that budget for it. There’s not a dime in this outline for it, but we’re going to oversubscribe that budget, and a part of what we give over and above, we’re going to build that steeple and keep it there, pointing toward God.
I must close, but let me say one other thing. When we come before the Lord and we bring our gifts in our hands, what’s in that envelope? A part of my adoration, yes; a part of me, yes; a part of the training of our children, yes; a part of the very life of our church, yes; and one other: in that envelope is a part of God’s witness in the whole world.
Last Wednesday night, I met in a convocation with our seven missions in Truett Chapel in West Dallas. They jammed that church house, the leaders that we have brought to God in those missions. I have said many times, I don’t think I’ve ever cried so long in my life as I did at a meeting down here in our church. And our missions brought to that dinner—it was at Christmas time—brought to that dinner families that they had lifted out of the gutter. And one after another, those men stood up and said, “I was a drunkard, and I was a thief, and I lived in the dirt and the dust and the gutter.” And these men of God, and he would name a pastor or a godly teacher, came and won me to Jesus—then he described how the Lord had blessed him. Why, it was just like glory! You just wanted to shout and clap your hands and say, “Praise God!” That’s what we’re doing every day of our lives! We have seven of those missions. And the work beyond; we are a part of a great army of the Lord. These institutions, and these mission fields, and these who witness for us and in our name, ambassadors of heaven; God bless them forever.
That envelope—to somebody hungry, it’s food to eat; to an orphan child, it’s a home; to a soul that’s lost, it’s salvation; to the helpless and the hopeless, it’s a promise, it’s heaven; to the sick, it’s medicine and healing; and to the whole world, it’s our witness for Christ. And when the time comes and the church places in my hand that card, it will be no onerous, heavy, hated burden to me to fill it out. It will be one of the highest privileges of my life, and Sunday by Sunday, every Lord’s day, I shall be here and bring to the Savior that envelope, on the first day of the week, and make it a part of my abounding, overflowing gratitude to God. Thank You, Lord, for the privilege, amen.
Now we must sing out hymn of appeal, and while we sing it, a family you to come into the fellowship of the church, a couple you, or one somebody you, give himself to Jesus, take the Lord as your Savior. While we sing the song, while we make the appeal, come. Decide now, decide now, do it now, and when you stand up in a moment, stand up coming. “Here I am, pastor, I make it now.” Do it now, do it this morning, while we stand and while we sing.