ONE SOMEBODY YOU, TITHE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1 Corinthians 16:1-2
11-2-86 8:15 a.m.
And welcome the marvelous and wonderful and multitudinous throng that shares the hour on radio. You are now a part of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message. They have given it a title: One Somebody You, Tithe. This is the annual sermon; once a year on a stated Sunday assigned me, I deliver a message on our stewardship partnership with God. And the message today is an exposition, a word-by-word introduction from the sixteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians; 1 Corinthians chapter 16, verses 1 and 2:
Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given order to the churches of Galatia, even so do ye.
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.
[1 Corinthians 16:1-2]
Now when I look at that in the Bible, I have a big chapter division at chapter 16: big separation between chapter 15 and chapter 16. But when Paul wrote the letter there was no hiatus there, he just wrote the letter as you write a letter. It was something like fifteen hundred years later that they put that big black space in there and printed chapter 16. I notice that for us today because chapter 15 is the high watermark of all God’s revelation: chapter 15 speaks of the resurrection from the dead, of the rapture, of the return of our Lord. Many scholars say that’s the heart and the climax of all the Word of God. Then, without a break, he says, “Now concerning the collection.” You see, we compartmentalize our religion: this is spiritual, and this is material; this is church, and this is practical world. God never does that. To God, our praying or our business practices are all the same in His sight; it’s all as unto the Lord [Colossians 3:23-24]. If I take my heart before God in intercession, or if I sell a cow to you and tell you what that cow is and I’ve lied to you, see in God’s sight it’s all the same: it’s all in His presence. We compartmentalize; not God: it’s all as before Him.
You notice another thing: “As I have given order to the churches of Galatia, so do ye” [1 Corinthians 16:1]. That’s one of the strongest words there, translated “order,” diatassō, “an express command,” translated here “order.” God has an order, a plan, for everything else in His universe; why should I be astonished that He also has an order and a plan for His people, for His churches? God has a plan making every little flower, or growing every grain of wheat. He has a plan by which this planet on which we live turns and moves. He has a plan that governs the whole universe. He has a plan for salvation, for His ordinances. I shouldn’t be astonished that He has a plan for us in the supporting of His wonderful church.
Then he writes it out: the plan of God, the diatassō, the command, the purpose, the apostolic revelation from God, and it’s a very simple one: “Upon the first day of the week, kata, every day, every first day of the week, every one of them” [1 Corinthians 16:2]. Then the plan is periodic: the first day of the week. Why that day? Because that’s the Christian day of worship; that’s when we gather in His name, that’s when we sing our songs of praise, that’s when we bow together before the Lord in intercession, that’s when we hear the preached Word, that’s when we press the invitation for Jesus, on the first day of the week. I suppose also because it’s named for Him, our Lord. That’s the Lord’s Day. On the first day of the week He was raised from the dead [Luke 24:1-6]. On the first day of the week He appeared to Mary and the women [Matthew 28:1]; then to the two in Emmaus [Luke 24:1, 13], then to all of the apostles [Luke 24:36-43]. Then a first day later, eight days later, first day of the week, He appeared to the eleven apostles in the upper room [John 20:26-29]. On the first day of the week the Holy Spirit was poured out at Pentecost [Acts 2:1-4]. In the twentieth chapter of the Book of Acts, on the first day of the week they gathered in the memorial of the Lord’s Supper [Acts 20:7], such as we’ll do this first day in the evening. John says in Revelation 1:10, “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day.” That’s the day, on the first day of the week.
Then it has a recurring remembrance for us. I am not to come before the Lord sporadically, or spasmodically, or adventitiously, or occasionally. Every first day of the week I am to appear before the Lord. Like my breathing, it has a regularity to it if I am to live. Like my heartbeat, it has regularity if I have strength and health. If my spiritual life is strong in the Lord, it also has a God-commanded and ordered regularity; periodic, on the first day of the week.
It is also personal: “Let every one of you,” in the church, all of us; the poor and the affluent. Little is much if God is in it. Each one of us, “Let every one of you” [1 Corinthians 16:2], each one of us. It’s also every member of the family: “Let every one of you,” every member of the church, every one of us, and every member of the family. The father thus recognizes the mother, the husband recognizes his wife, and the parents recognize the children, even the baby; the baby is one. Friday, I wrote a letter to be placed in an appeal from the nursery division to our parents. That baby belongs, that baby is one. And if the child is able to hold a pledge card, place it in the youngster’s hand. He’s too young, pin it to his diaper. He’ll never know any other thing than growing up in the Lord, in the church. “Let every one of you,” that child is important.
We’ve just closed the state fair, the big Texas sesquicentennial fair here in Dallas. When you take your family out there to the fair, and here is a lad, and he has the best time in the world; he rides the merry-go-round, and the Ferris wheel, walks up and down the midway, and you lavish upon the lad loving remembrance, and at the end of the day you’ve spent on the lad twenty-five, thirty-five, forty-five, fifty dollars, that’s on Saturday at the fair. And the next day is the Lord’s Day, and you place in the hands of the lad twenty-five cents for God, he’s learned the lesson well: hamburgers and hot dogs and midway and merry-go-round and Ferris wheel, that’s big business, that’s the real thing; but God’s business is little business; that’s a quarter. He’s learned it well. That’s why God says, “Let every one of you.” When the family is seated, the father has a part, the mother has a part, and each one of those children, they belong to their “somebody one”; they have a part. That’s what God says.
It is not only periodic, “Every first day of the week”; it is not only personal, “Let every one of you”; but it is also provident: “Let him lay by in store, lay by him in store” [1 Corinthians 16:2]. There’s a certain proportion of whatever God gives me that belongs to Him, and I set it aside, “This belongs to God…lay by him in store, set apart, set aside. This is holy unto God; this belongs to Him, not to me” [1 Corinthians 16:2].
Do you think that a little boy four years of age could have a moral, civil confrontation in his heart, a battle in his soul? Do you think such a thing is possible? Well, I want to tell you something in my life, that when I look back upon it I can hardly realize such a thing can happen in the heart of a child. I was born in El Dorado, Oklahoma in 1909. We left El Dorado to go to a little farm in Texline when I was five years of age. So this had to happen when I was either four or five years of age. And what happened was this: my father, every Sunday, gave me a nickel to go to take to Sunday school. And my best friend said to me, “You know what I do with my nickel? I buy an ice cream cone with it.” Well, I said to him, “What does your father think about your taking the nickel and buying an ice cream cone with it instead of giving it to Sunday school?” And he said to me, “Your daddy will never know it. Now you take your nickel and you buy an ice cream cone with it, and your daddy will never know it.” I looked at that nickel—and that’s why I’m saying a four-year-old boy, or at the most the beginning of five, can have a moral confrontation in his soul—never could I forget the feeling I had as I wrestled in my heart about that nickel. “He’ll never know it,” my friend said, “my daddy will never know it. And think of the luscious delight of buying an ice cream cone with that nickel.”
Not to be egotistical, or not to be self-righteous, but I won that war; I did. As I looked at it, I said, “I cannot take it and use it for myself. My father gave it to me to give to Sunday school, and I can’t use it for myself.” “Let every one of you lay by him in store” [1 Corinthians 16:2]. “This belongs to God, not to me; and I must not use it for me.”
You know it’s a strange thing in life: I was never introduced to great riches until I came to the city of Dallas. And these years I have been many times intimately on the inside of some of the wealthiest families in the world. And here’s what I have learned—and there’s no exception to it—that proportion that belongs to God you cannot use, you will not use; God will collect it. Here is a man that has five hundred million dollars, and he uses all that he has for himself and for the world. He will make a mistake in judgment and lose fifty million dollars. Here is a man that has a billion dollars: he’ll make a mistake in judgment, he’ll make a wrong investment, and he’ll lose one hundred million dollars. There’s not an exception to it. You name the richest man you know and you watch his life. If he uses this proportion that belongs to God for himself, for his business, for the things that are appealing to his own heart, God will collect it. He can’t use it; it belongs to Him.
If God gets His, and I get mine,
Then everything will be just fine.
But if I get mine and use God’s too,
What do you think God will do?
I think He’ll collect, don’t you?
[author and work unknown]
And that goes for the poor. If you have a hundred dollars and you take that ten dollars for yourself, you’re going to make a mistake, you’re going to have an illness, you’re going to have an accident, you’re going to have something happen; you’re not going to keep it, you will not. It belongs to God. How infinitely better to give it to the Lord in loving adoration and worship? How much better!
Not only is it periodic, “On the first day of the week”; not only is it personal, “Let every one of you”; not only is it provident, aforethought, setting aside; but it is also proportionate: “As God hath prospered him” [1 Corinthians 16:2]. We’re not all alike—O dear God, how we differ! How we differ! Some people have a genius in business, in investments, in making money; they just born that way. Some people couldn’t make money no matter what they do. We are just different. God says that. This giving of the talents: this man has five talents, this man has two, this has one [Matthew 25:14-30]. Or the Lord’s story of the pounds: “Lord, this pound has made ten pounds. This pound has made five pounds” [Luke 19:16, 18]. We differ greatly in our ability to prosper. I see it in the same family. I see it in my own family; can’t understand that, in the same family: one will have a genius of making money, just does; another barely is able to live. That’s God’s prerogative. He chooses among us. But that doesn’t mean that God doesn’t love us just as much, whether one or the other. And it doesn’t mean that I cannot have a faithful stewardship before God, whether I’m one or the other; whether I’m a five talent man or a one talent man. All of us have a proportion that we can dedicate to God, all of us.
Well, what proportion is that? There is one universal proportion in the Bible, and it never varies. Back yonder in the beginning, five hundred years before the Law, Abraham came before God, and in the presence of the great, wonderful representative of the Lord God in heaven—some people say he was a pre-incarnate manifestation of Christ Himself—in the presence of Melchizedek, God’s high priest, Abraham dedicated one-tenth of everything that he had to the Lord [Genesis 14:18-20]. His grandson, Jacob, whose name was changed to Israel [Genesis 32:28], in the most marvelous vision of the ladder that leaned against the balustrade and battlements of heaven [Genesis 28:12], that story ends with the avowal of Jacob: “And Lord, everything You give me, I dedicate one-tenth of it to Thee” [Genesis 28:22]. Then in the after hundreds of years when Moses wrote the Law, the last chapter of Leviticus says, “The tithe is holy unto the Lord” [Leviticus 27:30, 32]. Then in the after years, the hundreds of years of the Prophets, the Prophets close with Malachi and that glorious promise: “Bring ye all the tithes into God’s house, and prove Me” [Malachi 3:10]. God doesn’t object to your doing that. Like Jim Bolton says, “See, see if He will bless…Bring ye all the tithes into God’s house and prove Me, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not pour you out a blessing, that there is not room enough in heart and house and home to receive it.” That’s the way the Prophets end.
Jesus said, “Even to the Pharisees, your tithing that you ought to have done, do not leave the other undone; to love, to pray, to be merciful” [Matthew 23:23]. The apostle Paul, writing this in the 2 Corinthian letter, speaking of the churches of Macedonia, “Out of their poverty, out of their want, they abounded in their gifts to God” [2 Corinthians 8:2]. And in the Book of the Hebrews, Hebrews 7:8, “Here men that die receive tithes; but there he receiveth them, of whom it is witnessed that he liveth.” When we come before the Lord, there is Jesus watching over; and He receives, He does, this proportion of our tithes and our offerings.
May I make an aside here? You would think that it’d be easy for a rich man to tithe and hard for a poor man to tithe. It is just the opposite. It is a hundred times as hard for a rich man to tithe as it is for a poor man. A young fellow came to the pastor and said, “Pastor, I want you to kneel down here by my side, and I’m going to make a covenant with God, and I want you to tell God that I will do it: if He will help me and prosper me, out of everything He gives me I’ll dedicate a tenth to Him. And you tell God that.” And the young fellow knelt by the side of his pastor, and made that covenant before God. And the Lord aboundingly blessed the young fellow. From height to height and business venture and investment, He just aboundingly blessed the young fellow; until finally the young man came to the pastor and said, “Pastor, this tithe is astronomical. It’s too big. I want you to get down on your knees, and you tell God that I want to be rid of that covenant. It’s too much money.” And the wise pastor said, “My son, we made a covenant with God. We can’t break it. We said, ‘Out of everything You give me, if You will bless me, I’ll return a tenth unto Thee.’ That’s a sacred covenant, and we can’t break it. But I tell you what I’ll do, son, we’ll kneel down here together, and we’ll tell God to lower your income back to the time when it was small, and you can pay it.” That boy shook his head, “Oh pastor, no, not that, not that, not that!” As God blesses you, you will find that true in your life: it’ll be a lot harder when you are affluent than when you were poor. But oh, what an abounding opportunity to dedicate to God this proportion!
Not only is it periodic, “On the first day of the week”; not only is it personal, “Let every one of you, every one”; not only is it provident, “Lay by him in store,” aforethought, “This belongs to God”; and not only is it proportionate, “As God has prospered him”; but it is preventive: “That there be no ding-dongings when I stand up to preach; that there be no gatherings when I come” [1 Corinthians 16:2], preventive.
Sweet people, it is a wonderful thing to change our coming before God from a pestering, continuance nuisance into a wonderful act of worship. “This, Lord, I bring forth to You; not because I’m hammered, and ding-donged, and pressed, but Lord, a privilege, a partner,” changing from a worldly to a stewardship partnership with God: He and I are doing it. And what a wonderful way for a man or woman to work: “God and I are doing it.” Whether it’s plowing a furrow, or putting together a pipe in plumbing, or working at the bank, or selling in the marketplace, “God is my partner.” What a strength and a blessing! May I close?
When I open the Book some of the most remarkable things, here’s one: Abel, right at the beginning, Abel, the son of Adam and Eve, Abel; there’s not a word in the Bible about his song or about his prayer or about his word, just one thing; about his minchah. Abel brought a minchah, translated “offering,” sometimes translated “sacrifice”; Abel brought a minchah before the Lord [Genesis 4:4]. That’s all, nothing else. Or in the New Testament, that poor widow, the Lord watching, and she placed in the treasury of God two mites [Mark 12:41-44], together make half a cent, all that she had, and Jesus looked at it: not a word about her, just that, but God said, “That is enough. That is enough.” All of the rest somehow follows after. Isn’t that strange? The great pastor who preceded me, Truett, said, “If a man is right in his stewardship before God, you count on it, he’ll be right in every other relationship in life.” That’s what he said. That’s kind of like what God said. Don’t need to say anything else; the rest is evident. If I am right with God as a stewardship partner, somehow I get right in every other relationship before Him and in human life.
This is a wonderful open door God has given to us; not to angels, or seraphim, or cherubim, or archangels, but to us. Praise and bless His wonderful name!
Now, Denny, we’re going to sing us a song of appeal. And to love God enough to give Him your life, to trust Him enough to go to heaven with Him, to put your life in the circle and circumference and fellowship and communion of our wonderful church, or to answer a call of God in your heart, in the balcony down a stairway, in the press of people on this lower floor, down one of these aisles, “Pastor, this is God’s day for me, and I’m on the way.” A thousand times welcome, while we stand and while we sing.