A History of Giving to God
August 7th, 1983 @ 10:50 AM
Money, Stewardship, Tithe, Great Doctrines of the Bible: Economology, 1983, 2 Corinthians
A HISTORY OF GIVING TO GOD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2 Corinthians 8:7
8-7-83 10:50 a.m.
The title of the sermon this morning is The History of Giving. It is the first in the section on the great doctrines of the Bible entitled "economology," our giving to the Lord. As you know, over a period of about three years, I am preaching on the doctrines of the Holy Scriptures, and the great series is divided into fifteen sections. And last spring, I came to the section on giving, economology. But we were facing the days of our revival meeting. The next section beyond this one was on proseuchology, on prayer. So I skipped over the section on giving, to preach the series of seven messages on prayer. Now that we have come to the beginning of the fall time, and the first month of our preparation for all the things that God has prepared for us in our new church year, I have picked up the section on economology and begin preaching it this morning.
After the seven sermons on this section, the next one is on angelology. There will be seven messages on angels. Then after that, there will be three final and concluding sections on eschatology, on the beginning of the end of the world, on the second coming of Christ, and on the final consummation of the age. And when those messages are delivered, by next fall, it shall have completed the long three year series on the great doctrines of the Bible. And year by year, the messages are being presented and printed by the Zondervan Corporation in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Now the first one: The History of Giving. As a background text, in the passage that you have just read, there is a beautiful admonition of the apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 8:7, "Therefore," he says, "as you abound in everything, in faith, in utterance, in knowledge, in diligence, in your love for us, see that you abound in this grace of giving also."
The history of giving: all of us are familiar with God’s revelation of our giving to Him in the Old Testament. It begins in the fourth chapter of the Book of Genesis. And this is the reading, beginning at verse 3:
And in process of time it came to pass, that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the Lord.
And Abel, his brother, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock.
He was a shepherd –
And the Lord had respect unto Abel and to his offering:
But unto Cain and to his offering He had not respect
When you read that in Hebrew, you look at that word: Cain brought of the fruit of the ground a minchah unto the Lord. And Abel, of the firstlings of his flock he brought a minchah to the Lord. And the Lord had respect unto Abel and to his minchah. But the Lord had not respect unto Cain and to his minchah.
Now that word minchah, in 1 Kings and in Ezra and in the Psalms it is translated "sacrifice." They brought a "sacrifice" to the Lord. Here it is translated "an offering to the Lord." But when you read in the Hebrew, minchah, it is the ordinary everyday word for "gift." Cain brought of the increase of the ground a minchah, a gift to the Lord. And Abel, who was a shepherd, brought of the firstlings of the flock a minchah, a gift unto the Lord.
You are that way. If you love God in your heart there is a corollary, a concomitant, an addendum: you come before the Lord with an offering in your hands. You can’t help but feel that way. "Enter into His courts with thanksgiving" [Psalm 100:4]. Bring a minchah, an offering unto the Lord, and praise His name. We’re all that way. That’s the way it was in the beginning, with a minchah, an offering to our Lord.
The story continues in the fourteenth chapter of the Book of Genesis, beginning at verse 18:
And Melchizedek king of Salem brought forth bread and wine: he was the priest of El-Elyon, the Most High God.
And Melchizedek blessed Abram, and said, Blessed be Abram of the Most High God . . .
And blessed be the Most High God . . .And Abram gave to Melchizedek tithes of all that he possessed.
A natural response to God, "He gave him a tenth of everything that he possessed." I turn the page of the Old Testament. In Genesis 28, beginning in verse 20: the story of Jacob at Bethel,
And Jacob vowed a vow, saying, If God will be with me, and keep me,
So that I can come again to my father’s house…
This stone, which I have set for a pillar, shall represent God’s house to me: and of all that God shall give me, I will surely give the tenth unto Thee.
A response out of the fullness of a man’s heart: "If God will bless me, out of every blessing, one tenth shall belong to Thee." Then in the incorporation of the Mosaic law of Moses, the last chapter of Leviticus, Leviticus chapter 27, beginning in verse 30, "And all the tithe of the land, it is holy unto the Lord." Verse 32, "The tenth shall be holy unto the Lord." And now the prophetic promise in the last book of the Old Bible: Malachi, the third chapter, verse 10,
Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse…And prove Me now herewith, saith the Lord, 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.
This is the story of giving in the Old Testament. Now we are no less familiar with the history of giving in the New Testament. Our Lord said in Matthew 23:23, addressing the scribes and the Pharisees: "Ye tithe the smallest of things. Ye tithe mint and anise and cummin, but you have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ye ought to have done, and not to leave the other undone."
We are to do both. In 1 Corinthians chapter 16, verses 1 and 2, "Concerning collection,.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 gatherings when I come." That there be no ding-dongings for money when I stand up to preach. Now that’s a Criswellian translation, but that’s exactly what it says. "Upon the first day of the week, on Sunday, let every one of you lay by him a proportion as God hath prospered him."
In the beautiful passage that I read, their deep poverty abounded unto their liberality [2 Corinthians 8:2]. And one other: in Hebrews 7:8, "Here men that die receive tithes"; referring to the Levitical priesthood, "but there he receiveth them, of whom it is witnessed that he liveth," in the passage referring to our Lord Jesus Christ, who is a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek. "There he receiveth tithes, of whom it is witnessed that he liveth," thus, the presentation of our giving to God in the Old Testament and in the New Testament.
The early church, as we continue beyond the days of the Bible, the early church beautifully followed the spirit of our Lord. I have here a sentence out of the Apology of Aristides, addressed to the emperor Hadrian in 135 AD. He wrote to the Caesar, talking about us Christians back there, "If there is any among them that is poor or needy and they have not, the others fast two or three days," shows you how poor they were in the beginning, "they fast two or three days that they may supply the needy with necessary food." Isn’t that a beautiful thing that a man could write to the Roman Caesar describing thereby those early Christians? Tertullian of Carthage, he flourished about 199 AD. He invited the rulers of the Roman world to examine the practice of Christians. And this is what he said:
We have a treasure chest. We have a treasury in the church. Each one puts in. There is no compulsion. They are all voluntary. These gifts are, as it were, pieties deposit food. They are taken thence to supply the wants of boys and girls destitute of means and of parents. Such too, as have suffered shipwreck or have been banished to islands or shut up in the prisons for nothing but their fidelity to the cause of God’s church. They become the nurslings of their confession.
Isn’t that a great thing? Tertullian was the greatest of the Latin fathers. He was a lawyer, never a preacher, but the greatest apologist-defender of the faith of those early centuries. "They become the nurslings of their confession."
Irenaeus, as you know, flourished about 170 AD. Irenaeus believed that Christ had set the example of the firstfruits, when He took bread and the fruit of the vine at the Last Supper, urging us to give of the firstfruits. He wrote, "We are bound therefore to offer to God the firstfruits of His creation," and he was contrasting the law-centered motives of the Jews with the motives of the Christian, and he wrote, "Those who have received liberty and have the hope of better things will not give less than the tithe, but will set aside all their possessions for the Lord’s purposes."
I have one other out of a multitude. Augustine was the greatest theologian of the early fathers. He was born about 354 AD. And this is what Augustine wrote,
Cut off some part of thy income, a tenth if thou choosest, though that be but little. The Pharisees gave a tenth, and what saith the Lord? "Except your righteousness exceed the righteousness of the scribes and the Pharisees, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven" [Matthew 5:20]. He whose righteousness thou oughtest to exceed gives a tenth. How will thou give less?
This is the early church, following after the Spirit of our dear Lord.
The Medieval church moves into an altogether different world. I can hardly believe the record, the historical story, of the church of the Middle Ages. I won’t take time to read it, but I wish I had time; the Dallas Morning News had a wonderful editorial writer by the name of Paul Crume. Every morning on the left side of the Dallas News was the editorial of Paul Crume. And he writes, and I cut out and kept the editorial that he has penned concerning the way they supported the church in the Middle Ages,
They sold Peter’s teeth, and they sold splinters and nails from the cross, and the sponge that they lifted to Christ’s mouth, and the purple robe, and the crown of thorns, and the specimen of hair of the Virgin Mary, some of it blond, some of it red, some of it black. They sold bread from the Last Supper. They sold dice used by the soldiers. They sold the swaddling clothes of the baby born. They sold the carpenter’s tools of Joseph. They sold the thirty pieces of silver by which Judas was paid to betray the Lord. They sold Pilate’s washbasin. They sold the bones of the donkey on which Jesus entered into Jerusalem. They sold Moses’ staff used to part the Red Sea. They sold the manna from the wilderness wandering. They sold Noah’s beard. They sold a piece of rock from which Moses drew water.
You just can’t believe how they supported the church in the Middle Ages. And it was that attempt to support the church that brought on the Reformation. Tetzel assured his listeners that indulgences would avail not only for the living but for the dead. And he wrote,
Priest, noble, merchant, wife, youth, maiden, do not you hear your parents and your friends who are dead and cry from the bottom of purgatory? We are suffering horrible torments. A trifling gift would deliver us. You can give it. Martin Luther attempted to stop the practice by writing to the bishops. They would not move. So on the thirty-first day of October in 1517 he nailed his Ninety-five Theses to the door of the Wittenberg Church, concerning the sale of indulgences, and the Reformation was on.
I didn’t know that until I was preparing this sermon. The Reformation began in a revulsion against the impossible and unspeakable ways of trying to support the church.
Now our modern church, we have all kinds of merchandising schemes and bazaars, items made by the people and then sold, entertainments, used to be Negro minstrels mostly, church suppers, rummage sales, unwanted items donated by members to be sold for the church, commission selling, and the Lord only knows how many bingo parties are conducted, sponsored by the church, in order to raise money for the house of the Lord. Well, this is just a brief review of giving.
Now may we turn from these gadgets to God? It would be unthinkable and unimaginable that our Lord would leave with us the Great Commission [Matthew 28:19-20] to evangelize the world and to build up His faith and His kingdom and His churches in the earth and leave us with no method or program of support. As we study and read through the Word of God, the Lord has spoken to us plainly. And out of the Word of God there are two great principles of New Testament giving. The first one is this, "Each according to his ability." That’s the first great doctrinal principle of giving in the New Testament, in the age in which we live.
Concerning the offering, as I gave order to the churches of Galatia, so do you.
Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him.
[1 Corinthians 16:1-2]
"Each according to his ability," the same great principle was announced in Deuteronomy, "Everyone shall give as that one is able, according to the blessing of the Lord thy God, which He hath given thee" [Deuteronomy 16:17]. God’s word is not up there where we cannot reach it or down there so deep we cannot know it [Romans 10:6-8]. God’s word is down here where we are, and it concerns our everyday living. And this is one of the truths of God: we differ in our talents, in our gifts, in our giving. All through the Word of God is that expressed.
In the twenty-fifth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew is the story of the parable of the talents, told by our Lord Jesus. And this man had this many talents, and this man had fewer talents, and this man, still fewer. Well, as they worked, this man brought to the Lord a wonderful increase, this one was less able, and this one still less.
But when you read the story, the man who gained the many talents and the one who gained the lesser number, they were both commended alike [Matthew 25:14-23]. The Lord knows we differ in our gifts. Some men are marvelously capable and able; seemingly everything they touch turns to prosperity and increase. Another man labors and toils, and at the end of life he’s still a laborer and a toiler; he doesn’t have the gifts of this executive. But if both of them are faithful, when they stand before God, they both are commended and blessed alike.
God sees that and knows that; so it isn’t equal gifts, it is always equal love and equal devotion and equal sacrifice. That’s the way God wants us to give. If I’m able, I can do much. If I am less able, I can do less, but in God’s sight, the little with God is as much as the great, it’s alike in His sight, in His blessing, in His presence.
I am so glad for that. That’s why I think that in the Bible the tenth was the programming of giving to the work of the Lord. For that means all of us can share in it alike. A poor man can take a penny out of ten pennies, nine he keeps, and one he gives to the Lord. Or, a rich man can take a million out of ten million. Whether rich or whether poor: the poor can say, "I’m so glad I can share." And the rich can say, "I’m so grateful I can help so much." And we both alike are blessed.
I sometimes think,you know, when you read the Bible how your mind just turns over so many things? Well, this is one: in the twenty-first chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, and I think about the third verse, it says that the Lord preparing His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, the Lord said to His disciples,
You go to such and such address, such and such a place, and you will find there a colt. Loose it and bring him to Me. And when the owner shall say, What are you doing with my colt? you tell him, The Lord hath need of him. And he will give the colt to you.
So, the disciples did, and it came about just as the Lord prognosticated. And the colt was loosed and brought to the Lord, with just the word, "The Lord hath need of him." When I read that, I think about that man who owned the colt. You know, I wish I could have been there, and I wish I had owned that colt, and I wish I could have given him to the Lord.
Now a woman, a poor woman, as Jesus sat by the well of Sychar, He asked a drink of water of that poor Samaritan woman [John 4:7]. I think it would be great if you were that poor woman. And you could have lived back there. And you had given that drink of water to the Lord.
I think of that little boy whose lunch the Lord asked, and the lad gave it to Him, with which He fed the five thousand [John 6:9-13]. If there’s a little boy here, don’t you wish you could have been that little boy and you had given to the Lord your lunch?
Or a rich man, when the Lord asked Zaccheus, "Come down. I want to stay at your house" [Luke 19:5]. Don’t you wish you could have been Zaccheus, living in a spacious home, and invited the Lord to be the guest in your house? Or the rich man, Joseph of Arimathea, Jesus needed a tomb in which to be buried [Matthew 27:57-60]. Don’t you wish, if you were well-to-do, that you had that tomb and that you could have given it to the use of our Lord?
That’s God’s way for us. If it’s a cup of cold water and that’s what we can give, or if it’s a lunch and that’s what we can give, or being wealthy and live in a beautiful mansion, it can be God’s, He can use it! It’s a wonderful thing God has done for us. No one of us is excluded; all of us are included, according to our abilities. Isn’t it great to be able to do something for God?
When Pat Zondervan comes back here, as he does every year, when he comes back the second Sunday in January, it will be the thirty-third consecutive year that he’s come and made appeal for Gideon Bibles. In the days of the Vietnam War, he came here, and in his appeal he held up a little military New Testament. And when he held it up, seated back of him, I could see a hole right through the middle of it. I could see daylight through, and as he held it up he said that this was taken off of the body of a dead American soldier, a boy from Georgia. And as he held it up, I could see the top had been, bullets had knocked off the top, but one bullet had gone through the center of that little New Testament. And the American soldier boy was carrying the New Testament next to his heart. And when the bullet went through the New Testament, it went through his heart, and the boy died and they took it off of his body. And as he held it up, Pat Zondervan said, "You know, I wish it had been my thirty-five cents that bought that New Testament for that American boy."
Well, when he came and sat down by me, I said, "Pat, let me have that, that little Testament. I’d just like to hold it in my hand." S, he placed it in my hand. As I looked through it, every page had been bathed in blood; it had been simply baptized in that boy’s blood. And I turned the pages to the back, and on the back that lad had written: "This day," and he dated it, "I," and he wrote his name, "give my heart in trust to the Lord Jesus Christ." Lord, as I sat there and held that little Bible, I wish it had been my thirty-five cents that had bought it, given it to him. The whole work of God is like that, according to our abilities the poor have a part, the rich have a part.
When the Lord asked for that tribute money [Matthew 22:19], I wish I could have been the merchant that gave it to Him. When the Lord asked for a boat in which to preach [Luke 5:3], I wish I could have been the fisherman that loaned it to Him. When the Lord needed a place to be born, a manger in a stable [Luke 2:12, 16], I wish I could have given it to Him. Isn’t that what God’s Book says? A minchah, it’s just the way God made us; when we come into His presence, we come with a minchah, a gift for our Lord.
One other, briefly: I said there are two great principles in New Testament giving. The first one, "according to our ability," as we’re able, as God hath prospered us. The second one is: "according to our faith." In Mark chapter 12, beginning in verse 41, Mark 12:41:
And Jesus sat over against the treasury, and beheld how the people cast money into the treasury:
And there came a certain poor widow, and she cast in two mites . . .
A mite is a copper coin worth one-eighth of a cent. And if she put in two mites, she put in a quarter of a cent, a fourth of a cent, the two mites would make a farthing.
And He called unto Him His disciples, and He said, Truly, verily I say unto you, This poor widow hath cast more in, than they all:
For they did cast in of their superfluity and of their abundance; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living.
I want to ask you something that is reasonable: if she gave the Lord everything she had, tell me, don’t you suppose that she also cast herself upon the mercies of God, that God would take care of her? Wouldn’t that be reasonable to suppose? Isn’t that a concomitant, a corollary, an addendum? She gave everything she had to the Lord. Therefore, she was depending upon God to take care of her and to see her through.
I wonder if God did it? Lord, did You take care of that poor widow? Did You? I just wonder. I think that He did, don’t you? He took care of her.
Anywhere in the Bible, anywhere that God will say something to us about giving; it always is accompanied by heavenly promise, always. Like Proverbs 3:  and ,
Honor the Lord with thy substance, and with the first fruits of all thine increase:
So shall thy barns be filled with plenty, and thy presses shall burst out with new wine.
Or Malachi 3:10: "Bring all the tithe,prove Me and see, if I will not open the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there is not room enough to receive it." Or Luke :38: "Give, and it shall be given unto you; full measure, pressed down, running over, shall men pour into your bosom."
Always God has a promise. And I think He took care of that poor widow who gave everything she had to the Lord. That’s why I say the second great principle of New Testament giving, first: according to our abilities; and second: according to our faith.
We must grow in grace. As we grow in love and in knowledge and in the service of our Lord, we must grow in this grace also. God must strengthen us and help us to trust Him more and more and more. I can tell you this: as you prosper, it will be increasingly hard for you to lay aside a proportion for our Lord. It’s easy when it isn’t much; it becomes difficult when it’s large.
There was a young fellow who came to his pastor and said, "Pastor, kneel down here by my side, and tell God and promise God, and we’ll avow to God, that if He will prosper me, I’ll give a tenth of everything God gives me, I’ll give it to Him."
So the pastor knelt down by the side of the young fellow and told Him, "Dear God, prosper the boy. Bless him, increase his income and just pour out blessings from heaven upon him, and he will give You one tenth of everything that You give him."
Well, God did that, the young fellow prospered aboundingly. And he came back to the pastor after the passing of time and said, "Pastor, I want us to get down on our knees, and I want you to tell God that I don’t want to be bound by that vow anymore, it’s too much, too much to give." He was giving an enormous amount to the Lord.
And the pastor said, "Fine, let’s get down here on our knees."
And he says, "Now we’re going to tell God all about it, and we’re going to tell God that He has prospered you beyond what you are able to return the tenth to Him, so this is what we are going to pray. We’re going to say, ‘Now dear Lord, You can’t undo the vow that the boy made, but we’re going to pray that You pull his income back down to the days when he began to tithe, so he can keep on tithing and keep that vow.’"
And the boy said, "Oh, don’t pray like that! And don’t tell the Lord to unprosper me and to bring me back to the day when I began! Oh," said the boy, "Just tell God I’ll keep on giving the tenth to Him and He keep on blessing me."
I read where John D. Rockefeller said, "If I hadn’t learned to tithe when I was a poor boy, I would never be able to tithe the millions I make now." As you prosper, it will be increasingly difficult for you. That’s why I say, "We need to grow in grace." I listened to a wonderful man here I this place. LeTourneau was up there in Peoria, Illinois, and he came down here to Longview and built his plant in Longview. And he gave one of the most marvelous stories of God’s grace that I ever heard in my life; I don’t have time to recount it! Then as he continued he said, "God has been so good to me. Now," he says, "I take the tithe, the ten percent, and I use it for me, and my life, and my family, and my home, I take the ten percent for me." And he says, "Now I give the ninety percent to God."
O Lord, how could we all grow in grace like that? "Just going to turn it around, Lord, I’m going to take ten percent and use it for me, but the ninety percent I’m going to give for Thee." That’s growing in grace, that’s growing in the faith. And that’s the way God wants us to give, as we are able, as He prospers us, then as we grow in the faith of our dear Lord.
When I die I’m counting on the Lord to stand by me. And when I appear before the great judgment seat of the Almighty God, I depend on the Lord to stand by me. And I want to stand by Him now, don’t you? I count on His being faithful to me. Lord, now may I have grace to be thus and no less faithful to Thee? May we stand together?
Our wonderful, wonderful Savior, when we recount the blessings of the Lord God upon us, they number like the stars in the sky and like the sands on the seashore. If we were to live and work and strive forever, we could never repay Thee for the grace that reached down to bless and save us. Thank Thee for Jesus. Thank Thee for the cross. Thank Thee for eternal life. Thank Thee Lord for the gift of salvation. Thank Thee for the church. Thank Thee for people who love Thee and love us. Thank Thee, Lord, for the open door of prayer. Thank Thee, O God, for every blessing. And now Master, may we be used of God to build up Thy name in the earth, to preach the gospel to the far corners of this world, and to be a blessing in God’s hands?
And while our people pray and sing our song of appeal, a family you, "Pastor, we have decided for God and we are coming today." A couple you or just one somebody you, "Pastor, this is God’s day for us, and we are on the way." May angels attend you as you come; a thousand times bless you.
Thank Thee, Lord, for the sweet harvest, in Thy precious name, amen.
Down that stairway from the balcony, down one of these aisles in the press on this lower floor, welcome as you come. While we sing our appeal, welcome, welcome.