Giving By Faith
Trusting God begins where certainty and security ends. So many of us spend our lives trusting in ourselves. We make sure the bases are covered. We trust in our health…until it is taken from us. We trust in our jobs…until we lose them. We trust in our investments…until they come tumbling down. And if everything goes well all the time, we just continue to trust in our selves. Trusting God goes beyond what we can see to what is promised. Trusting God means acting on the commands of God based upon the promises of God, not based upon what we see in the circumstances before us. It means looking past the veil of the physical to a transcending spiritual reality, the living God who never lies.
Abraham believed God, he trusted God, and it was credited to him as righteousness. He was called to leave his home and everything he had built. He had no idea where he was going, but he left on the strength of a promise, the promise of God. "I will make of you a great nation and I will bless you and make your name great. I will bless those who bless you and whoever curses you I will curse, and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you," (Genesis 12:1-3). He laid hold of that promise and set out.
When Abram arrived in the new land he unselfishly allowed his nephew to choose the best land, because he trusted not in land, but in the promise of God. "I will bless you." In the course of time there was war in the land. Four kings, Kederloamer, and Tidal, and Amraphel, and Arioch waged war in the land against its cities, including Sodom and Gomorrah, where Abram's nephew was living. The people of Sodom and Gomorrah were defeated, despoiled, and taken as captives. Abram gathered 318 of his men along with some allies and pursued the invaders. He overtook them, fought them, and took away their prisoners and the spoils. In the aftermath of war and destruction, with the prospect of rebuilding the cities that were attacked, what did Abram do?
He gave God the credit for the victory and for all his blessings. He put God first by giving him a tenth of everything, giving it to Melchizedek, who was priest of God Most High. God was not just "God Most High" in the universe, or "God Most High" in the terminology of Melchizedek. He was to Abram "God Most High" on his priority list. The first thing he did was give a tenth to God. He didn't say, "what will it cost us to rebuild what the attackers destroyed?" and then decide what to give God. He didn't ask, "What will be the economic repercussions of this event long term?" He just took care of God first because he knew that God had taken care of him.
What do you think Abram did next? He refused any of the spoils for himself, and the only thing he wanted was to make sure his friends and allies were provided for. He allowed the goods to return to the people and trusted God to take care of him like he had always done. Abram's faith was not a fair weather faith. Abram's faith was not a sunshine faith. He trusted God first in Good times and bad. Giving by faith means putting God first no matter what happens. It is by faith because it means acting not on what you can see but based on the promises of God.
Jacob followed in his grandfather Abram's footsteps in this matter, at least to some degree. It took Jacob longer to really trust God the way Abram did, but he had a good example to follow. In Genesis 28, Jacob was fleeing from his angry brother Esau on his way to Syria. Exhausted, he lay down on a stone at a place called Bethel and God came to him in a vision, restating to him the promises he had given to grandfather Abraham. "Standing on the promises…" Abram had stood on them, lived by them, planned by them, acted based on them. Now God emphasized his promises again. 28:13ff. Jacob made a vow, a promise, a commitment (Genesis 28:20-21). Times were not good for Jacob at the moment, but wonderful promises were made and he accepted those promises. He committed himself to give God a tenth of everything God gave him. I assume he did that in the same way Abram did by giving it to a priest of God Most High.
In the course of time, this same practice was enjoined upon the Israelites in the Law of Moses. God told the people to give a tenth of everything to the Levites, and the Levites in turn to give a tenth of all they received to the priests for the work of God (Numbers 18). In addition, God called upon his people to give for special works, like the building of the tabernacle. He called upon his people to make him "God Most High" not only in theory or theology, but in priority and in truth, during good times and bad.
Many times in the history of Abraham's descendants, they stopped putting God "Most High" on their priority list. They stopped "standing on the promises of God." They stopped believing that God would take care of them if they just did his will. They began to trust in alliances with pagan nations, or in other gods, or in their own abilities to make a living a sustain themselves. During such times, their lack of faith manifested itself in many ways, but among them was their giving. Malachi records God's chastisement of the priests who showed disrespect to God by their "bottom of the barrel" "leftovers" "damaged goods" kinds of offerings (Malachi 1:6ff, 13-14). As God cries out to his people to return to him with their whole heart, they ask, "How shall we return?" This is God's answer. Malachi 3:8-12. God wants his people to stand on the promises again. He wants his people to trust him again in good times and bad. He wants his people to step out by faith and manifest that trust by giving even when times are uncertain and they can't see the outcome of events at hand. He wants his people to test him and see if they are not blessed!
Surely, there are many ways that we manifest our trust in God. We manifest it when we speak up for God in a hostile crowd. We manifest it when we make the right moral decision in the face of peer pressure or political pressure. We manifest it when we tell the truth no matter what. We manifest our trust in God in the way we spend our time. And we manifest our trust in God overtly in the way that we give to the Lord.
So, here we are. This has been a terrible year for the country as a whole economically. The stock market has been sliding for many months. Business profits are down in many cases, yet we are remarkably blessed. A terrible attack has been perpetrated on our country. We are emotionally wounded by it and we are uncertain about where these events may lead our country in the future and how these things are going to affect our individual lives, our jobs, and our families. What shall we do in the face of all of this? Matthew 6:33. We should trust God. We should make God "Most High" on our list of priorities. We should put God first, in our families, in our thoughts, in the way we design our schedules and in the way we employ our resources. We should trust him now at this point in time because now it really is a matter of trust, going beyond what we can see.
This congregation, as a congregation, has given more this year than ever before in its regular giving. Many have given sacrificially and faithfully in all circumstances. You are to be commended in all of this. But allow me to challenge you on some things anyway, if you will open your heart to hear these challenges. Are you manifesting your trust in God and your respect for God in your giving? Is your giving planned and purposeful like it says in 2 corinthians 9, or is it ill thought out? If you go away on vacation for a week or two or three and have a good time, do you make up your contribution to God for the weeks you were away or just "let it slide." When you commit yourself to give a certain amount to God, do you religiously keep that commitment in all circumstances as a matter of trust or is your contribution the first thing you let slide when you are in a pinch. Do you take your giving to God off the top of your check like Abraham did or do you take it off the bottom after you've done your spending? Though the New Testament does not command us specifically to Tithe as did the Old, I wonder if God meant for us who are blessed so much more in Christ to give so much less than our forefathers? What would happen to us as a family if God took our contribution this week and multiplied it by ten and made that our income for the week? Are we even anywhere close to tithing? What kind of changes would we have to make to get there? Are we giving God honor or giving him the leftovers? If we compare this church with other churches around, we are doing a tremendous job of giving, but is that the standard that God wants us to apply? If you resent that I would bring any of this up at a time like this, consider this. I lay these challenges before you today on request of our elders, but I am glad to do so because they are God's challenges. The sermon today is less about your contribution check than it is about your faith and mine. Don't you see that now is a testing time for us. Now God is watching us to see if we will trust him and keep our commitments to him and put him first. Two weeks ago it was easy, but now it is difficult. What will you do now during this testing time and later on when things seem "normal"? Listen to this passage: Second Corinthians 9:6-11. Will we stand on the promises of God in all of our life? Are you living by faith? Are you giving by faith? Let's stand together and sing, and if you need us to assist you in any way spiritually, please come and let it be known.