One last thought. This one from Dr. Piper, again. THIS time from his sermon entitled, "I Seek Not What Is Yours but You" and subtitled, "A Sermon on Tithing" . . . . .

In summary, then from the Old Testament tithing goes back to the very beginning of Israel's history before the law was given and seems to have been an expression of gratitude to the Lord who fights for his people and gives them all they have. Then as a part of the Mosaic law, tithing was made a part of Israel's formal worship and its various forms and purposes were prescribed. It was used to support religious orders; it was used for religious feasting in celebration of God's goodness; and it taught the people to fear the Lord, that is, to fear not trusting him to meet all their needs.

As we come over to the New Testament the picture changes significantly. Jesus mentions tithing twice, both times in reference to its legalistic abuse. He says in Matt. 23:23, "Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you tithe mint and dill and cummin and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice, mercy and faith; these you ought to have done without neglecting the others." In Luke 18:9-14, "He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and despised others: Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, 'God, I thank thee that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, I give tithes of all that I get.'"

Obviously Jesus did not regard tithing as a spiritual cure all. He does not reject it. He affirmed it for Israel. But he is much more intent on the weightier matters of the law like faith. You can tithe everything and not trust God. Jesus was not seeking what was theirs, he was seeking them: the love of their soul, not the load of their silver.

The apostle Paul never once even refers to tithing. Whether he taught his churches to tithe when he founded them we don't know. But his rules in his letters seem to be as follows. First: "On the first day of the week each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper" (1 Cor. 16:2). And second in 2 Cor. 8:3, "they gave according to their means and beyond their means of their own accord." And third in 2 Cor. 9:7, "Each one must do as he has made up his mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver." And finally 2 Cor. 9:8, "God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that you may always have enough of everything and may provide in abundance for every good work."

The only other place in the New Testament where tithing is mentioned is Hebrews 7:4-12 where the reference is back to Genesis 14 and the point is simply to show that Christ is like Melchizedek. Therefore, with regard to positive, explicit teaching on tithing, the New Testament is almost totally silent.

Now I REALLY love this next part . . . .

I have a growing conviction why this is the case. I think God took the focus off giving a tithe in the early church because he wants his people to ask themselves a new question. The question that Jesus drives us to ask again and again is not, "How much should I give?" but rather, "How much dare I keep?" One of the differences between the Old Testament and New Testament is the Great Commission. By and large the Old Testament people of God were not a missionary people. But the New Testament Church is fundamentally a missionary people. The spiritual hope and the physical and emotional sustenance that Jesus brought to earth is to be extended by his church to the whole world. The task he gave us is so immense and requires such a stupendous investment of commitment and money that the thought of settling the issue of what we give by a fixed percentage (like a tenth) is simply out of the question. My own conviction is that most middle and upper class Americans who merely tithe are robbing God. In a world where 10,000 people a day starve to death and many more than that are perishing in unbelief the question is not, what percentage must I give?, but how much dare I spend on myself?

It is a Biblical truth beyond all dispute: that all your money is God's (Ps. 24:1) and has been loaned to you as a steward to use in ways that maximize the glorification of God's mercy in the world (Matt. 25:14-30). And it is irrational to think that giving ten percent of that money to the church settles the issue of good stewardship. In a world of such immense need, and in a country of such immense luxury, and under the commission of such a powerful Lord the issue of stewardship is not: Shall I tithe?, but rather, How much of God's trust fund dare I use to surround myself with comforts?

I had every intention, as I began to write this message, to argue that even though the New Testament is almost silent on tithing; yet, surely we who know Jesus should do no less than the Old Testament saints who did not know him. I was going to urge everyone to tithe and give reasons why you can always afford it. I still believe that is true. But that is not the lightning bolt of God's word in the New Testament. The word of God is always more radical than percentage.

To commend tithing as the ideal simply does not capture the New Testament view of discipleship. "He who has two coats let him share with him who has none. And he who has food let him do likewise" (Luke 3:11). That's 50% not 10%. Zacchaeus stood and said, "Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor" (Luke 19:8). Again 50%. Jesus said to the rich young man, "If you would be perfect, go sell what you possess and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; and come follow me" (Matt. 19:21). That's 100%. "So therefore, whoever of you does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple" (Luke 14:33). Again 100%. "A man said to him, 'I will follow you wherever you go.' And Jesus said to him, 'Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head'" (Luke 9:57f). "All who believed were together and had all things in common; and they sold their possessions and goods and distributed them to all, as any had need" (Acts 2:44f). "There was not a needy person among them for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles' feet" (Acts 4:34f). "In a severe test of affliction their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of liberality on their part. For they gave according to their means... and beyond their means" (2 Cor. 8:2,3).

The best way that I know how to capture the spirit of the New Testament generosity is simply to say: the issue is not, How much must I give?, but How much dare I keep? Not: Shall I tithe? But: How much of the money that I hold in trust for Christ can I take for my private use? The financial issue in the church today is not tithing, but exorbitance of life-style. The question is not can I afford to tithe, but can I justify the life-style that consumes 90% of my income? And behind that is the question: Do I love to use God's money to spread justice and mercy and spiritual hope in the world, or do I prefer to embezzle his money to purchase more and more personal comfort? The question whether the work of Christ here at Bethlehem in 1982 will be adequately supported is really the question of where your treasure is. And where your treasure is there is your heart. Therefore, I do not seek what is yours but you. Amen.

May God bless your reading of His most precious and Holy Word,