First and Proportional

Pastor Jon Brohn

Luke 21:1–4 (NIV) 1 As Jesus looked up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. 2 He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. 3 “Truly I tell you,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. 4 All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”

1 Corinthians 16:1–2 (NIV) 1 Now about the collection for the Lord’s people: Do what I told the Galatian churches to do. 2 On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made.

My dear friends in Christ,

This week is the second in our three week focus on stewardship. Our theme is “Strive to Tithe.” Last week we saw that we have blessings even greater than winning a $400+ million lottery! God has given us everything, including his one and only Son. We have every reason to be joyful and generous! God has blessed Salem with joyful and generous members who support every aspect of ministry. How much does God want us to give back to him? We’ve been using the word “tithe” in our theme. The “tithe” refers to God’s Old Testament requirement that his people would bring in one tenth of their income in response to God’s generosity. So, if they grew a hundred bushels of grain, they brought ten bushels to the LORD in thanksgiving for the harvest. If they possessed 1000 sheep, they would present 100 of them at the temple as their offering. That’s the tithe. Some churches still require their members to give a tithe today. Is that how much God wants us to give today?

The LORD had a specific purpose for requiring the tithe. In Deuteronomy 14 he commanded his people, “Be sure to set aside a tenth of all that your fields produce each year. Eat the tithe of your grain, new wine and olive oil, and the firstborn of your herds and flocks in the presence of the LORD your God at the place he will choose as a dwelling for his Name, so that you may learn to revere the LORD your God always. But if that place is too distant and you have been blessed by the LORD your God and cannot carry your tithe (because the place where the LORD will choose to put his Name is so far away), then exchange your tithe for silver, and take the silver with you and go to the place the LORD your God will choose. Use the silver to buy whatever you like: cattle, sheep, wine or other fermented drink, or anything you wish. Then you and your household shall eat there in the presence of the LORD your God and rejoice. And do not neglect the Levites living in your towns, for they have no allotment or inheritance of their own. At the end of every three years, bring all the tithes of that year’s produce and store it in your towns, so that the Levites (who have no allotment or inheritance of their own) and the foreigners, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns may come and eat and be satisfied, and so that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands” (Deuteronomy 14:22–29 NIV).

The LORD’s command had three parts. First—set aside the tithe. Second—eat and enjoy what I’ve given you. While you’re eating, give thanks to me as the one who gave it! Third—save your tithe every three years and share it with everyone who needs your help. The Levites had no land on which to raise crops. They relied on their fellow Israelites to support them through their tithes. The tithe also helped the needy among them—land poor foreigners, orphans, and widows. The LORD designated this offering as a blessing for his people!

Does God expect the same from us? Take a look at our gospel reading for today one more time. It was Holy Week. Jesus rode into Jerusalem as the crowd shouted, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the LORD! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” (Luke 19:38 NIV). Jesus drove out money changers who had turned the temple into a place of business. He spoke powerfully about paying taxes to Caesar, answered questions about marriage and the resurrection, and pointed to himself as the promised “Son of David.”

As Jesus taught his disciples and the crowd, he saw the wealthy bringing their offerings to the temple. A poor widow came too, and dropped in two small copper coins—all she had. In the Greek it’s even more astounding—she gave her life! This poor woman, without any support, took everything she had, everything she had worked so hard for, and put it into the temple treasury.

Is that how we tend to look at our offerings? Like it’s all or nothing? Do we look at the time we spend, the abilities we have, and the money we’ve earned and think, “10 percent is a lot when I look at my life. I certainly can’t do like that widow did—that just seems crazy! Give everything I have? If that’s what God is asking for, then, no thanks! I’ll look for a different kind of God, or at least a place where the expectations don’t seem so high.”

Why is does our discussion about stewardship seem to be so difficult? A couple of years ago I called on a member who hadn’t been coming to church for a while. When I asked him what was keeping him away, he told me, “All the church wants is my money. That’s all I hear!” Could it be that every once in a while our wallets and our bank accounts have become more important to us than God? I have to be honest—I fall into that trap. The apostle Paul’s words cut my heart wide open: “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: ... greed, which is idolatry” (Colossians 3:5 NIV). Anything that gets in the way of our relationship with God is our idol. It’s not just money. Sometimes we turn our spouses into our gods—making them happy leads us to put them ahead of God. Our children can become our gods—I want their life to be perfect, so I focus on sports and grades and activities instead of the one thing they need—Jesus! I can even turn time into my god—I’m going to spend it the way I want to spend it! No matter what the god is, if anything takes the place of Jesus in our lives, we have lost everything!

How much is enough? How much time should I spend on the LORD? How many of my abilities should I use? How much should I put in the offering plate? I want to share a little secret with you: God doesn’t ask for any specific amount! Did you notice—Jesus didn’t say there was anything right or wrong about how much the wealthy gave to the temple. He didn’t say there was anything right or wrong about how much the widow gave. He simply said she gave more. Why? Her gift was joyful and generous. It came from the heart!

The apostle Paul offers some guidance when we try to answer the question, “How much?” “On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made” (1 Corinthians 16:2 NIV).

God doesn’t demand a tithe of our time, talent, or treasure. He just wants to be first in our hearts and in the decisions we make. He loves to hear us say, “LORD, you’re first!” First-giving was another command God had given to Israel. He asked for the first of their crops, the firstborn of their flocks—even their firstborn child. The people brought a sacrifice to redeem that child and say “thank-you” to the LORD. Or, like Hannah, they dedicated that firstborn child to him and allowed the child to serve the LORD with their life. Giving first to the LORD taught the people to trust him. We can see how the LORD keeps that promise in our gardens. Imagine setting aside the very first picking of beans for the LORD. Does he give more? Yes! More, and more, and more, until in late August and early September we almost beg him to stop! The LORD will always make sure we have enough!

God only asks us to give what he was willing to give us. He gave us his first and best! “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16 NIV). Jesus came into this world. He lived and died because he put you and me first! For every time we have said or thought, “Me first,” Jesus said, “You first!” God was willing to give up his Son so that we could be first and foremost in his heart. Our response? We put him first!

We put him first as we decide our own answer to the question, “How much?” Paul wrote, “Set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income” (1 Corinthians 16:2 NIV). So, “how much?” is up to you! Give your best, in keeping with what you have. It’s going to be different for each of us, but the attitude is the same. God first. My best.

That’s what I see you doing here at Salem! I love the attitude that our church family has toward supporting the message of the gospel. Whenever there is a need, you step up and support it with your first offerings. We have already had gifts pouring in for the Shah family and their needs after the announcement last weekend in the bulletin. Pastor Jake and Sarah have had so many prayers, so many gifts, so many offers of help that they can barely keep up! What blessings! After the service, our Council president, Greg Galler, will share our stewardship focus with you. He’s going to encourage you to grow in the grace of giving. How much? That’s between God and you! We can’t tell you what your best is, other than that God wants you to think percentages. He wants you to look at everything he has given you and decide what percent you want to give back to him. That means our offerings will change. Sometimes our income goes up. Sometimes it goes down. We want you to think about it, pray about it, and then give as the LORD moves you to give! Every one of us has something to give. Just listen for the “noisy offering” from the children! The LORD wants us to give him our first and our best!

There’s one more way God shows us how he gives the first and the best. At the beginning of the harvest season Israel celebrated the Festival of Firstfruits. When the first sheaves of grain began to ripen in the spring—right around the Passover—they took them to the temple. On Sunday, the day after the Passover Sabbath, they offered their firstfruits to the LORD.

Do you remember when Jesus rose from the dead? He rose on the Festival of Firstfruits, Easter Sunday! While the people brought their firstfruits to the temple, Jesus offered himself as the first to rise from the dead! Here’s what God says about it: “For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him” (1 Corinthians 15:22–23 NIV). Remember the whole point of firstfruits? When we see the firstfruits, we trust that more will follow. Jesus rose from the dead on Firstfruits Sunday so that we can be sure we will follow. God gave his first and best so that we can live forever! We have a great God—a great God who has put us first in every way. So, we respond, “Lord, you are first. Here is my best.” Amen!