Tithing Measures Our Love
October 18th, 1970 @ 8:15 AM
TITHING MEASURES OUR LOVE
Dr. W.A. Criswell
10-18-70 8:15 a.m.
Now the message this morning. I called the chairman of our budget committee, Brother Ralph Pulley, and I said, “Ralph”—I look on these fellows now as my sons, my children—I said, “Ralph, I want you to cut down our budget this year. I want you to cut it down $200,000.” I suppose I was in a moment of spiritual discouragement. I said, “I want you to cut it down $200,000.” Well, he made an appointment with me with some of the other leaders in our church. And they came to my study, and they said to me, “Pastor, we have been made aware of your request to Deacon Ralph Pulley, but pastor, it cannot be done. We have an obligation for one thing to the bank; $20,000 a month we have to give to the First National Bank on a note. That is the payment of these valuable properties that we have bought. We have to pay for them, and we cannot cut down on that building obligation. Pastor,” they said, “we have not raised our giving to missions and to cut it down would be unthinkable. And you would not want to cut down on our mission program. And now, pastor, there remains the work we are doing in the church. When our staff came and presented their budgets, we meticulously went through every item, and we pared out and off what we could. Pastor,” they said to me, “it just cannot be done. We must do this and you must lead us to do it.” Well, that is the way, after a prayer, that they left.
Now as I lay my soul naked before God, I would pray as you would, “Lord, if this assignment is ours, and if God has laid this upon us, then Lord there has to be some way to do it.” Would God call us to a task, lay upon our souls a ministry, and then give us no way to do it, no outline, no program? Would God do such a thing to His servants, to His church? Well, as you search your heart and as you search the Scriptures, you come up with always an inevitable answer. God did not give us a mandate, a program, an assignment and then forget also to give us an outline how to do it. And if this ministry and this work we are trying to do, mediating the love and grace of Christ here in this great area and through our mission program through all the world, if God has called us to that, then God has given us a way to do it. And that way is as ancient as God’s dealings with the human family. You cannot go back in archaeological history and find any time, in any culture, in any civilization where God made Himself known that He also did not reveal this heavenly plan.
And Melchizedek king of Salem brought forth bread and wine: he was the priest of the Most High God.
And he blessed Abram, and said, Blessed be Abraham of the Most High God, who possesses heaven and earth.
And blessed be the Most High God, which hath delivered thine enemies into thy hand. And Abraham gave him tithes of all.
Four hundred years before the law. And as Jacob who later was named Israel, the prince of God, lay down his head upon a stone [Genesis 28:11], he saw the vision of a ladder leaning against God’s sky. And he saw the angels descending. And he saw the angels ascending and descending [Genesis 28:12]. And Jacob called the name of the place Bethel, the house of God [Genesis 28:19]. “And this stone, which I have set for a pillar, shall be Bethel, God’s house: and of all that Thou shalt give me I will surely give the tenth unto Thee” [Genesis 28:22.]
How deeply ingrained that was in the lives of the patriarchs who lived by faith [Habakkuk 2:4]. Then four hundred years later, God gave the law, and in that law, repeated again and again, “the tenth shall be holy unto the Lord” [Leviticus 27:30, 32]. The tenth, the tithe, shall be holy unto the Lord; that is, it does not belong to us, it belongs to God. And in the years and the centuries that passed, in the establishment of the church, Paul wrote, “Upon the first day of the week let every one of you,” that includes our children, that includes every member of the family, we all share in the life of the family; the little baby belongs to the family; the little boy, the little girl, all of our children, all of us, “let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him” [1 Corinthians 16:2], a proportion, Sunday by Sunday by Sunday, God’s proportion.
There was a man in the day when people rode the railroad trains, and in the day when they rode in horse and buggies, and this man who had arrived on the railroad train was seated at the front with the driver of the coach. He was impressed with the sincerity of the driver of the coach. So the traveler said to him, “I would like to have you to be one of my porters.” And the man shook his head decisively. “Why,” he said, “It would be a fine place, and you would make a fine porter.”
And the driver shaking his head emphatically said, “Not so.” He said, “When I work, I like for a man to look me eye to eye and pay me what I am due. I don’t like for a man to put it in my hand behind my back, loose change, a tip, whatever whim or fancy might dictate.”
Now the traveler was a Christian man, and he said, “As I began to turn that over in my mind, I began to think about God; whether God would like for a man to look Him eye to eye and give Him a proportion instead of a tip, or whatever is left over, or whatever by whim or fancy, or loose change he might have at the moment.
And this is according to the Word of God, and I suppose that’s where our stewardship people and our church gained the title of their theme, “Tithing: A Measure of Our Love.” For in the prophet Malachi, the Lord God says to the people:
Ye offer the blind for sacrifice . . . and ye offer the lame and the sick . . . Behold, you say, what a weariness it is! And ye brought that which was torn, and the lame, and the sick . . . Bring it now unto thy governor, the satrap of Artaxerxes, will he be pleased? For I also am a great King, saith the Lord of hosts, and My name is dreadful among the nations.”
[Malachi 1:8, 13-14]
Shall I offer to God a tip, or whatever is left over, or whatever by whim or fancy I might be moved to dedicate to Him? Whatever we give, there ought to be in it some measure of cost and sacrifice. As David said to Araunah, “I will not offer unto the Lord that which doth cost me nothing” [2 Samuel 24:24]. “And as Jesus sat over against the treasury, and watched how the people gave, He commended a poor widow who gave all her living” [Mark 12:41-44]. There ought to be in our lives that measure of devotion that when I come before the great King, I offer something that costs, that is dear, that is precious unto me.
Some of these statisticians love to look at how people do. They add us up; they divide us; they subtract; they multiply; they love statistics. Here is one. They took the members of the church and they ran it down, how the church member spends his money. So this is entitled, “The Church Member’s Dollar.” Out of every dollar that the average church member, looking at all the church members, this is what they spend it for: for living expenses, twenty-four and a half cents; for luxuries, twenty-two cents; for taxes, twenty-eight and a half cents; wasted, fourteen cents. And after they get down, here is the bottom one, for the church of the Lord, three-fourths of one cent.
When you read things like that, you bow your head in shame. There out in the world it is a gushing stream, here it is a straightened trickle. There it is a burning fagot; here it is a dying ember. Lord, Lord, could such a thing be? Could such a thing be? God encourages us by every promise and heavenly, benedictory gift, if we will be true to Him in this dedication, listen to the prophet:
Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in Mine house, saith the Lord, and prove Me now herewith, try Me, prove Me now herewith, 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.
“Try Me,” saith the Lord. “Prove Me,” saith the Lord [Malachi 3:10]. “There is a blessing in it,” God says. Like eating, like breathing, like seeing, like hearing, like feeling; God made these things, and they carry with them a blessing. As the psalmist said, “O taste and see that the Lord is good” [Psalm 34:8]. Try it.
Ah, one of the memorable experiences of my life; I was very young, I was in the seminary, but I was chosen as a member of a small team to go to those back-country, mountainous areas of Kentucky to share in stewardship convocations. The association would be brought together. And there were leaders from our Southern Baptist Convention in Nashville, Tennessee and leaders from the state convention in Louisville, Kentucky, and we put on a program for the association. And I was, oh, I was twenty-two years old, something like that. I was in the seminary, and I was a member of that team. Way, way back up, I don’t know where it was, way back up in that mountain country, we were having an all-day convocation in one of the churches in the association, and the people were there, and all the preachers were there.
On the afternoon, they had such a fine high hour, and when the presentation was done, the moderator of the association asked if anyone had anything to say or any question to ask. And seated right in front of me was a big hulk of a mountain man, a pastor of one of the churches. He stood up. I suppose he had worn that blue serge suit for twenty years. I presume it was the only preaching suit that he had. It just shined from all of the use. Seated right back of him, I could see my face mirrored in the seat of his pants, big giant of a man. Now I had known through other times and places those mountain people, and those preachers, and without exception, every one of them preached against tithing, every one of them. Never saw one in my life that didn’t. Well, when that great big mountaineer stood up, I said, “O Lord, this is going to ruin it. This is absolutely the tragedy of tragedies. We have had such a fine meeting, and he is just going to ruin it. I know exactly what he is going to say.” And I just cringed there in the seat back of him.
Well, he started talking. He knew all those people by name all of his life, and the tone of his voice was one of compassionate neighborliness, and he started out, ““My brethren, my brethren. I preached,” he said, “for years against tithing, as you have done. I preached for years against tithing.” He said, “One day, while I was out in the field plowing”—all those preachers worked, they are farmers—“while I was out in the field plowing I began to think, turn over in my mind; ‘You know,’ I said to myself, ‘you know, I am preaching against something I have never tried.’ And it came to my heart that I would try it just to see what would happen.” So, he said, “I began taking a tenth of everything God gave me, and I gave it to my little church where I pastored. Everything, I gave a tenth.” He said, “You know, God blessed my family. God blessed my fields. God blessed my flocks. God blessed my herds. And the days passed, and I went next door to my neighbor and my friend. And I told my neighbor how God had blessed me.” And he said, “I said to my neighbor, ‘Let’s both try it.’ And my neighbor said, ‘Pastor, I will try it with you.’ And he took one-tenth of everything that God gave him, and the same thing happened. God blessed his family. God blessed his fields. God blessed his flocks. God blessed his herds.”
And that big mountain man said, “Then, I stood up in my church, and I told my people how God had blessed me, and how God had blessed my neighbor.” And he said, “I asked my church if they also would try it. And my church tried it.” And he said, “God blessed their families. And God blessed their fields. God blessed their flocks, and God blessed their herds. God blessed our church.” He said, “Brethren, what I have found of the goodness of God, I commend to you today.” And he sat down. Ooh, I will never forget that as long as I live, the effect of the personal testimony of that mountain man is one of the highest spiritual hours of my life.
“Well, pastor, look at all of these sinners out here. They don’t tithe, and God blesses them.” My brother, I have learned something in the years of my ministry. God collects, don’t you think otherwise. God collects, and He does it sometimes in ways that bow your head and your soul. There is a lot more in that man’s life out there in the world than you know, than you realize. If you want to be sun-crowned, and happy in your heart, and blessed in your soul, try it. Why? God says it. Children, the Lord has promised it. “Prove Me, try Me, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, pour you out a blessing, that there is not room enough to receive it” [Malachi 3:10]. Try it.
And so I have come before the Lord, and I have said, “Lord, in this precious Book it is written by the prophet, ‘Not by power, not by clever manipulation, not by might, not by human ingenuity, but by My Spirit, saith the Lord’ [Zechariah 4:6], and our Master, please God, we shall make our dedication a part of our spiritual worship to Thee. As the beautiful and ninety-sixth Psalm says, ‘Give unto the Lord the glory due His name’ [Psalm 96:8]. And we shall do it Lord. ‘Give unto God the glory due His name: bring an offering, and come into His courts’ [Psalm 96:8]. And we shall do it Lord. When I come to bow me before the High God, I shall bring somewhat of what God hath given me in my hand. I shall not come empty handed. If I have not but a dime, a part of it shall I bring to Thee. “Bring an offering, and come into His courts. O worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness” [Psalm 96:9]. And our Master, with dedicated lives asking God to cleanse us, and to purify us, and to wash us, and to forgive us, in the beauty of holiness [Psalm 96:9], Lord, shall we appear before Thee Sunday after Sunday in Thy sanctuary, singing Thy praises, calling upon Thy name, and laying an offering at Thy blessed feet.”
My brethren and my sisters, I think God will bless us if we will [Malachi 3:10]. I don’t think God would let us down. I think He will bless our families, and our children, and our homes, and our work if we will trust Him for it. Do it. Do it.
Our time is spent and we sing our hymn of appeal. To give your life to the Lord, to take Him as your Savior, to share with us in the glorious ministry of this dear church, a family you, a couple you, a one somebody you, in this balcony round, on this lower floor, into the aisle and down here to the front, “Here I am, pastor. I’m coming today.” Do it now, make it now, while we stand and while we sing.