Some time ago, in the Saturday newspaper, there was a two-page article about the largest charity foundations in the world. Throughout recent history there has been a lot of discussion about what philanthropy really is, and clarifications have ranged from it being exclusively humanitarian aid for the poor and weak to the argument that it meets a social need that cannot be met, or fully met, through the classic or governmental channels set up to meet those needs.
Philanthropy comes from the Greek word filianthropos, which gives points to humanitarianism and charity; a philanthropist is a person who loves people and takes care of them. The first philanthropists were actually Christians, and mainly from protestant roots. In Croatia, unfortunately, there are few philanthropists because we are not familiar with the idea of philanthropy. Christian philanthropy is not a popular topic and has often been misunderstood.
One can fall into financial trouble for various reasons. Some experience financial trouble when they fail to govern their finances well. Others perhaps live beyond their means and often buy things they do not need. They ignore the fact that God has promised to provide for our every need, not our every want. The third reason for financial trouble concerns Christians. When believers fail to give to God out of the first fruits of their labor - the tithe. Apart from the aforementioned troubles, they come under a curse that allows the enemy to destroy them. We see this clearly in the story from the time of Joshua. "But the children of Israel committed a trespass regarding the accursed things, for Achan the son of Carmi, the son of Zabdi, the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took of the accursed things; so the anger of the LORD burned against the children of Israel." (Joshua 7:1)
Later in this chapter we read that God allowed the enemies of His people to defeat them after the great victory in Jericho because they took the accursed things. The word used for "accursed" is the Hebrew word cherem, which points to something that is consecrated or given for sacred service, a marked thing that has been completely sanctified for God's purpose.
In the sixth chapter we can actually see that the entire city of Jericho was consecrated to the Lord. "But all the silver and gold, and vessels of bronze and iron, [are] consecrated to the LORD; they shall come into the treasury of the LORD." (Joshua 6:19)
We now have a clearer picture: Jericho was the first victory and as the first treasure of the land, as a whole it was the first-fruits, which is why the entire spoil from the victory should have belonged to God and been brought to His treasury. The sons of Israel were not protected from their enemy because of their disobedience.
Those who do not give God the first fruits rob Him by choosing not to give of themselves and thus step out from under the protective promise of God's covenant with them. The reason for this is clear; living for self and not for God is robbing God and cannot lead to blessing.
1. IF WE WANT TO LIVE A BLESSED LIFE WE MUST FIRST UNDERSTAND THAT THE TITHE IS A PART OF GOD'S COVENANT.
In the first book of Samuel we read, "The LORD makes poor and makes rich; He brings low and lifts up." (1 Samuel 2:7)
There is a reason why God allows some to be rich and others poor. Let us not forget that with the Lord there is a reason for everything, it is not a game of chance or fate. God did not take pleasure in sending His people into slavery. His covenant with them was a covenant of blessing as long as they were obedient. Yet, there are times when God allows difficult things to take place to direct our attention to our bad attitudes and behavior.
There are times of hardship and times of plenty, but God has never left His children to beg. In addition to those times, there are times of God's financial blessing that are possible only within the boundaries of the covenant He made with us.
Yet we must understand that this is not about getting rich quick or about accumulating wealth for ourselves. Giving, or Christian philanthropy (if we can use that term), is an outward sacrifice that we make to the Lord because of our inward love for Him, viewing it as we do the father-son relationship.
As a parent I will do all I can to ensure my children do not have to live in poverty. It is natural that we want to be able to provide for their basic needs. As parents we do all we can do ensure that they do not want for anything; it is a natural desire for us to want to bless them.
If one of my sons decides to behave badly toward me, my love for him will not change, yet on the other hand; I am certainly not going to bless his wrong behavior.
Although I love him, I will hold back my blessing; and by holding back my blessing, together with the discipline that comes from a father's heart, I have hope and faith that my child will find the right path. When he returns to the right path I will support and affirm my love for him with blessings. This is the principle by which God operates.
In the gospel of Luke Jesus says, "Therefore if you have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true [riches]?" Luke 16:11
Every Christian led by the Spirit seeks God's power and anointing, but if we are hungry for His power and yet unfaithful in finances how can He trust us with the true riches we seek? If we do not relate properly to earthly riches then He cannot trust us with His power, anointing and "the inheritance of the saints".
So, let us look at the first thing that is important for God's covenant of financial blessings: the tithe. In the Hebrew language it is maser, literally meaning a tenth. The tithe is, therefore, ten-percent of our gross income and it belongs to God. This principle does not fall under God's law; rather it was instituted around 450 years before God's law was given. I emphasize this because out of ignorance many believe that the tithe is a part of the law when it has no connection to it.
In Genesis 14:17-24 we read that Abraham gave a tithe to the priest Melchisedek, "And blessed be God Most High, Who has delivered your enemies into your hand." And he gave him a tithe of all." (Genesis 14:20) And because of this, Abraham was blessed.
We also see that Jacob, in Genesis, promised to give God a tithe. "Then Jacob made a vow, saying, "If God will be with me, and keep me in this way that I am going, and give me bread to eat and clothing to put on, so that I come back to my father's house in peace, then the LORD shall be my God. And this stone which I have set as a pillar shall be God's house, and of all that You give me I will surely give a tenth to You." (Genesis 28:20-22)
In Leviticus we read, "And all the tithe of the land, [whether] of the seed of the land [or] of the fruit of the tree, [is] the LORD's. It [is] holy to the LORD." (Leviticus 27:30)
In Malachi we also see that man must not fail to pay the tithe. "Will a man rob God? Yet you have robbed Me! But you say, 'In what way have we robbed You?' In tithes and offerings. You are cursed with a curse, For you have robbed Me, [Even] this whole nation. Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, That there may be food in My house, And try Me now in this," Says the LORD of hosts, "If I will not open for you the windows of heaven And pour out for you [such] blessing That [there will] not [be room] enough [to receive it]. And I will rebuke the devourer for your sakes, So that he will not destroy the fruit of your ground, Nor shall the vine fail to bear fruit for you in the field," Says the LORD of hosts." (Malachi 3:8-11)
In other words, the tithe belongs only to God and man must not to use it for himself because it is holy and consecrated. When we use God's tithe for our personal needs we are robbing God's treasury and we step out from underneath God's protection. It is then that we realize we cannot stand against our enemies, we sense that the heavens are brass, our money is wasted on small, unimportant things, and our work isn't as productive as before.
In Malachi we also read that we should tithe on all we receive. Often times Christians are caught in a dilemma over what they need to tithe, but the Word instructs us to pay a tithe on all. We do not need to ask ourselves if we should tithe from our gross or net income; from money we were given, from money earned, or from items sold when the Word instructs us to give a tenth of all our income.
Our gross income is our income and from it we pay our retirement, insurance and taxes. Do we want a gross or net blessing? Let us give in faith and love to the Lord. Proverbs say, "Honor the LORD with your possessions, And with the firstfruits of all your increase. So your barns will be filled with plenty, And your vats will overflow with new wine." (Proverbs 3:9-10)
When we receive our gross income, our first fruits, we pay our tithe. We should not wait until the end of the month to see what we have left over for tithe; this shows a lack of faith in God and removes God's protection from us and our finances. The tithe does not belong to us, it belongs to God and we do not have the right to calculate how much we can afford to give - we must give the whole. When we give the whole tithe we will experience God's blessing and protection.
This is not something we have to pray about, we simply make a decision in our heart. Jesus clearly said, "You cannot serve God and mammon." (Matthew 6:24c) and Proverbs say, "The blessing of the LORD makes [one] rich, And He adds no sorrow with it." (Proverbs 10:22)
It is very sad when His church doesn't have money because His body is not obedient in giving. Hudson Taylor once returned from a mission trip to China and when he entered the church and saw the women with their beautiful expensive clothing and jewelry he said, "It is clear to me know why the mission field lacks money."
John Wesley once said, "Every Christian that takes for himself more than he needs for life's simple needs lives in open denial of the Lord. He has received wealth and the fire of hell."
How many hours we waste worrying about how we will be able to afford certain things when God clearly says in His Word "But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day [is] its own trouble." (Matthew 6:33-34)
God wants us to bring the whole tithe into His storehouse. In Bible times the priests and Levites did not have possessions because they lived from that which was brought to God's temple. They didn't just serve God; they also served the people. The principle of giving tithe is that you give where you are spiritually fed, that is where your tithe belongs. You should not to divide your tithe up and send bits of it here and there, tithe is truly a tithe when the whole of it goes to God's house, the church where you are serving and are served.
We also should not use our tithe to bless a brother or sister whom God has placed on our hearts. If we really wish to help someone, we can help with an additional offering, but not our tithe. There are those who avoid becoming members of any particular congregation in order to avoid paying their tithes, but membership doesn't have anything to do with tithing. You pay your tithe where you are being spiritually fed, not to a Christian organization or at a seminar because these places are not your spiritual home.
2. IF WE WANT TO BE BLESSED AND EXPERIENCE GOD'S COVENANT OF BLESSING WE NEED TO UNDERSTAND RIGHTEOUSNESS.
"[In] the house of the righteous [there is] much treasure, But in the revenue of the wicked is trouble." (Proverbs 15:6)
While we are made righteous in Christ, we need to live righteously. In Genesis God promised Abraham, "I [am] Almighty God; walk before Me and be blameless. And I will make My covenant between Me and you, and will multiply you exceedingly." (Genesis 17:1b-2)
A righteous and blameless life includes our relationship with finances and things, and is important for receiving God's blessing. Working under the table or cheating on our taxes will rob us of a good night's sleep and more importantly God's blessing. These things will fill our lives with worry and love of money will rule over us. In the end, all those things that we have accumulated, as the unrighteous do, will become a great burden.
God expects us to live righteously. If we live righteously, He will multiply us greatly and bless us. Satan, himself, knows this promise and tempts us with interesting excuses as to why we cannot live blameless and righteous lives. If we allow him, he will lure us into his trap of iniquity and unrighteousness from which it is difficult to become free.
If at the store the clerk forgets to charge us for something we bought we should not consider it God's blessing, rather we ought to return to the store and let them know that they forgot to charge us for that item. If the clerk gives us too much change we ought to give back what doesn't belong to us. This is righteousness on a practical level; it is not legalism. There are some Christians who easily mingle unrighteousness with freedom in the Spirit, or who consider true righteousness to be legalism. Give to God what belongs to Him and to the government what belongs to it. Many consider the government to be unrighteous; yet this is not an excuse to not live blameless lives, Christians must be a testimony of righteousness.
While I was doing mission work in Bosnia and Herzegovina, I was shocked one day when a pastor asked me to help him shove some sweat pants under the seat of the church van so that he wouldn't have to pay customs duties. I also remember one brother who told me that he never bought bus tickets because he didn't feel it was necessary and that they were too expensive, yet he still used public transportation. These are unrighteous attitudes that God cannot bless.
There are many ways that we can be righteous, some of which we have turned away from because of the general state of society and the searing of our consciences.
3. IF WE WISH TO BE BLESSED WE MUST BECOME CHRISTIAN PHILANTHROPISTS AND GIVE ABOVE AND BEYOND OUR TITHE.
It is pleasing to God when we have a heart for the poor and for those in need. When people give and meet other's needs, they are given more. Christian philanthropists have established and built churches, daycares, schools, universities, orphanages, supported missionaries, and done many other things in order to extend God's kingdom on earth.
These kinds of voluntary gifts from the heart are true works of Christian philanthropy. This is where we may freely decide for ourselves what we will do. We have no choice when it comes to giving our tithe because it belongs to the Lord, but I believe that true spiritual and financial blessings come in the same measure as we choose to give.
Abraham didn't just stop at giving the tithe; he freely gave God all that he had - his only son. The Word says, "By Myself I have sworn, says the LORD, because you have done this thing, and have not withheld your son, your only [son]-- blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heaven and as the sand which [is] on the seashore." (Genesis 22:16-17)
God often tests our heart to see how much we are willing to give, if we will give with our whole heart and possessions or only when we receive something from Him. Freewill offerings and giving in general is what we give the Lord from our hearts.
Let us not allow ourselves to be cut short of the blessings God has promised, or live in spiritual poverty. Let us give of ourselves all that we have - our whole life - and He will give back to us. Surrender your time, talents, gifts, money, possessions and family to the Lord Jesus Christ and He will reward you. Let us become Christian philanthropists and overwhelm the world with love for people and Christ's kingdom. "Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My sake and the gospel's, who shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time--houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions--and in the age to come, eternal life." (Mark 10:29-30)
"Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you." (Luke 6:38)