A Living Offering
5 Apr 2008, Dr Barry Wright
(Barry is Thornleigh's Church Pastor)
A LIVING OFFERING
We are told many times by those Christian writers and philosophers throughout history that we arrived in this world without anything, and it is equally certain that we will take nothing when we leave it.
Jean Jacques Rousseau, the well known French Philosopher of the 18th century once remarked, 'That when a man dies he clutches in his hands only that which he has given away during his lifetime.' This view would seem to be supported by the well-known Christian apologist, C. S. Lewis, where he suggests that 'nothing is really ours until we share it' (Water, 2000: 401, 402).
Martin Luther of the Reformation extends these thoughts a step further when he suggests that 'I have held many things in my hands, and I have lost them all; but whatever I have placed in God's hands, that I still possess (Ibid: 402).
We are reminded that man brought nothing into this world, and therefore he owns nothing except what the Creator has seen fit to give him.
Everything that you see about you has had a maker. Even you and I did not just happen, for 'we are fearfully and wonderfully made'. In man's creation we see manifest the agency of a personal God. When God made man in His image, the human form was made perfect in all of its arrangements, but it was to be without life. God then breathes into that form the breath of life and man becomes a living, intelligent being. We were designed as the crowning work of His creation to express His thoughts and reveal His glory (White, 1909: 415).
God made the world and everything in it, everything on it and everything above it. He is the creator of all. Not a thing which men call their own actually belongs to them. Never has God deeded over to one man, or to all men collectively, the world or any part of the earth. God is still the sole owner of all things. As the owner of the world and all that is in it, He continues to direct and control and sustain every operation and every process necessary for the good of man and the universe. (Rebok, 1961: 310).
The Scriptures are replete with statements that make His position very clear.
Gen 1: 1 says that 'In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.' This implies ownership.
Psalm 95: 3-7 confirms that '…the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all Gods…The sea is His and He made it: and His hands formed the dry land. O come let us worship and bow down: let us kneel before the Lord our Maker. For He is our God.'
Haggai 2: 8 tells us that even 'the silver is mine, and the gold is mine, saith the Lord of Hosts.'
Psalm 50: 10-12 continues by saying, 'For every beast of the forest is mine, and the cattle upon a thousand hills. I know the fowls of the mountains; and the wild beasts of the field are mine…The world is mine, and the fullness thereof.'
The apostle Paul, as he stood on Mar's Hill in Athens and looked down on that Pagan city with all of its idols, spoke the following truths to the men of Greece when he said to them in Acts 17: 22-28 (NIV) '…men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: To an unknown God. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of Heaven and earth and does not live in temples made by hands. And He is not served by human hands, as if He needed anything because He Himself gives all men life and breath and everything else…for in Him we live and move and have our [very] being. As some of your own poets have said, 'We are His offspring.'
In other words, all of our activities, physical, mental and spiritual are derived from the God of Heaven. Through the agencies of nature God is working day by day, hour by hour, moment by moment, to keep us alive and to build up and restore us (White, 1936: 112, 113).
The earth therefore, and all things therein, are the general property of all mankind…from the immediate gift of the Creator (Rebok, 1961: 33). We need to remember Him as the giver of all things and we are therefore accountable to Him for the use of the wealth and property He has placed in our hands.
'We are God's stewards, entrusted by Him with time and opportunities, abilities and possessions and the blessings of the earth and its resources. We are responsible for their proper use. We [need to] acknowledge God's ownership by faithful service to Him and our fellow men, and by returning tithes and offerings for the proclamation of His gospel and the support and growth of His church. Stewardship is a privilege given to us by God [not only] for nurture in love [but for] victory over selfishness and covetousness. The [true] steward rejoices in the blessings that come to others as a result of his [own] faithfulness' (Ministerial Association GC of SDA, 1988: 268).
Were it not for our heavenly Father, we would have no life, no meaning, and no future. We need to remember that the basis of all stewardship is the life and death of our Lord Jesus Christ. Christ gave not merely what He had; He gave Himself for you and me. There is no higher form of stewardship than what took place at the cross of Calvary.
We need to recognise that stewardship is seen as a total life commitment and by placing ourselves completely into the care of God, this act could therefore be recognised as the presenting of ourselves as a living offering. By doing this we are showing that we recognise God's ownership of all mankind through both the act of creation and the plan of redemption. This act of dedication to God will then affect our attitudes towards the use of our time, our abilities, our bodies and our possessions. We also need to remember that the managing of our health is as much a part of God's stewardship plan as money, time and talents.
The apostle Paul in Romans 12: 1 (KJV) says that: 'I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.'
Further, in Col 3: 23, 24 he says: 'Whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men, knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance; for ye serve the Lord Christ.'
Before man sinned it was clear that Adam and Eve, in all their innocence were but tenants, placed in this newly created world 'to dress it and keep it' (Gen 2: 15). Even after sin, our first parents continued as stewards of their Lord's property, though it was to be under less pleasant circumstances.
Also, from the very beginning, time was to be one of God's priceless gifts. As such, we need to regard each moment as precious. Time was so important to God that He reserved one seventh of it as holy to be used in our communion with Him (Ministerial Association GC of SDA, 1988: 271). The creation of this day was not only to have us recognise God's claim upon our lives, but was intended as a test of man's loyalty to Him as our Creator.
Examining the stewardship of time is just another way of viewing life. As noted by Benjamin Franklin, time is the stuff life is made up of. To use time wisely is to use life wisely. Author Ellen White spoke of time as 'life's great capital' and that a 'waste of time is a waste of intellect' (White, Vol 3. 1944: 146).
It has been said that:
'Little drops of water, little grains of sand,
Make the mighty ocean and the pleasant land.
So the little minutes, humble though they be,
Make the mighty ages of [all] eternity - Julie A. Fletcher (Water, 2000: 1061)
Finally, the Scriptures themselves in Eph 5: 15,16 admonishes us not to behave 'as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil.' And so it was important to follow the Psalmist's advice in Ps 90: 12 to '…number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.'
If we are good stewards of time, our abilities and our health, this can many times lead to the continued accumulation of wealth and possessions. Of all the areas of which we are to be stewards, money, wealth and possessions would seem to be the greatest area of concern for the Bible writers.
In Jesus' day so many people had problems with money that He gave more parables on this topic than on any other subject. Jesus said in Luke 12: 15 that 'a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.' In other words, wealth of itself does not bring happiness.
The story of Solomon is one of the best illustrations of this truth. His early years were ones of spiritual growth and we see this in his writing of much of the book of proverbs and the Song of Solomon. Then gradually we see the pride of prosperity crowding God out of his life. To fill the empty space Solomon turns to pleasure. 'Come now', he said to himself in Ecc 2: 1, 'I will make a test of pleasure; enjoy yourself.' In the next few verses he then goes on to list the things he tried: frivolity and laughter, wine, the building of houses and great works, the making of parks and gardens, the purchase of slaves, the accumulation of herds and flocks, the gathering of silver and gold and other treasures, the procurement of singers and the collection of concubines.
We are told he became so wealthy that 1 Kings 10: 27 says he made '…silver as common in Jerusalem as stone.' 1 Kings 10: 21 says that silver '…was not considered as anything in the days of Solomon. In Ecc 2: 10 Solomon wrote that 'Whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them.'
Solomon became a very unhappy person plagued with gloomy thoughts as there seemed to be no joy of life or peace of mind and the future seemed dark with despair (White, 1943: 76). As a consequence, he wrote the book of Ecclesiastes to save young people from the same bitter mistakes. He records in Ecc 5: 10 that 'He who loves money will not be satisfied with money; nor he who loves wealth, with gain: this is also vanity.'
However, we need to understand that the desire for wealth is God-given. We read in Deut 8: 18 that we need to '…remember the Lord your God, for it is He who gives you the [power or] ability to produce wealth…'
However, this God-given desire to accumulate wealth differs distinctly from Satan's counterfeit. Covetousness is expressly condemned in God's table of the law.
We need to remember that those who accumulate money to use in service are using their abilities under God's direction. Those who accumulate money to glorify self are working for the great deceiver. The book of Proverbs in chapter 10: 2, 4 condemns wealth obtained by unlawful methods, but commends wealth that is obtained properly. It says that the 'Treasures gained by wickedness do not profit,' but 'the hand of the diligent makes rich.'
The book of Proverbs also provides a paradoxical truth when it says in Prov. 11: 24 that 'One man gives freely, yet grows all the richer; another with-holds what he should give, and only suffers want.'
Jesus Himself confirms this truth when He suggested in Luke 6: 38 that we ought to 'Give, and it will be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put in your lap.'
Within the Hebrew economy in Old Testament times liberality was taught to the Israelite nation as a way of life. Contributions for religious and charitable purposes, at times reached to fully one fourth of their income with some committed individuals giving up to one third (White Vol 4, 1944: 467). However, their generosity, instead of making them poor, increased their financial security.
Num 18: 21 says, 'Behold, I have given the children of Levi all the tenth in Israel for their inheritance, for their service which they serve, even the service of the tabernacle of the congregation.'
Originally, under God's instruction, the religious system of Israel, involving full-time support of the Levitical tribe, was to be funded by the other eleven tribes who would provide one tenth of their incomes. This tithing system, which was also to remind the people that God was the source of every blessing, was to be reaffirmed as one of the divinely ordained statutes upon which their prosperity depended (White, 1958: 525).
However, this tithing system did not originate with the Hebrews. From the earliest times the Lord claimed a tithe as His, and this claim was recognised and honoured.
In Genesis 14: 20 we read that Abraham paid tithes to Melchizedek, the priest of the Most High God, showing that this system was already an established custom.
Genesis 28: 2 tells us that Jacob, when at Bethel, as an exile and fugitive, promised the Lord, 'Of all that Thou shalt give me I will surely give the tenth unto thee'.
This was then again reaffirmed when the Hebrew nation was about to be established (Ibid). In Lev 27: 30, 32 God makes clear that '…all the tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land, or the fruit of the tree, is the Lords: it is holy unto the Lord.' V32 'And concerning the tithe of the herd, or of the flock, even of whatsoever passeth under the rod, the tenth shall be holy unto the Lord.'
The many pagan nations around Israel looked with great pity on the Jewish nation because they seemed to be constantly taxed for the support of their religion, but the '…God who created man and provided him with all the blessings he enjoys, knew what was for his best good. And through His blessings He made their nine tenths worth more to them than the entire amount without His blessing (White, Vol 3, 1944: 404).
Some five years before Samaria fell to the Assyrians in 721 BC further reference to tithing is made when King Hezekiah instituted a number of reforms to bring his people back to the Lord. Among these was the call to renew their faithfulness in bringing their tithes and offerings for the support of the temple services.
After the Jewish captivity during the time of Ezra and Nehemiah between 457 and 445 BC, we find the returning Jews ready to pay tithes to the Levites and resolving not to '…forsake the house of our God' (Neh 10: 39).
However, some forty years later, when religious fervour had cooled, Malachi was to exhort both priests and people again to a renewed faithfulness in worship and in support of their religion.
In Malachi 3: 8, 10, the prophet uses some very strong words. Let's read what he had to say. (NIV)
'Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me. But you ask, How do we rob you? In tithes and offerings.' He continues in V 10 by calling the people to 'Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this, says the Lord Almighty, and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven, and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.'
It is clear from all these events that not only did tithing precede God's rule over Israel, but that it continued and survived it. We also know that it continued and was practiced in New Testament times during the time of Jesus and also after the crucifixion when the role of the Levitical priesthood ended This is shown in Matt 23: 23; 1Cor: 8: 11-14.
Even as one seventh of our time belongs to God, so do one tenth of all material things we acquire. We have learnt this morning that the tithe is 'holy unto the Lord', symbolizing God's ownership of everything (Lev 27: 30, 32). Therefore, it is to be returned to Him as His own (Ministerial Association GC of SDA, 1988: 271).
It is important to understand that when God calls for our tithe, He makes no appeal on the basis of gratitude or generosity. While we have every reason to respond with gratitude we tithe because He commanded it. The tithe belongs to Him and he requests that we return it to Him (Ibid).
Often the rewards will seem to be out of all proportion to the relative little that we have given. 2 Cor 9: 6 reminds us that '…whosoever sows generously will also reap generously.'
The system of giving, as already noted, was so arranged by God to prevent the problem of covetousness. This was a problem that was to face all men from the beginning of time. The love of riches was seen as the greatest cause of removing Godliness from the heart.
Jesus knew of this problem when He warned His followers in a parable that told of a covetous farmer who built bigger barns instead of sharing some of his prosperity with his neighbours. We read this in Luke 12: 15-21 (NIV).
'And He told them this parable: 'The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. He thought to himself, "What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops". Then he said, "This is what I will do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to myself, You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry."
But God said to him, "You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?"
'This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself, but is not rich towards God.'
We need to remember that the gospel of the kingdom is designed to take men's thoughts away from self and direct them upward towards God and outward to their fellow men. The rich fool in this parable obviously did not realise that 'he that hath pity upon the poor lendeth unto the Lord' (Proverbs 19: 17).
In 1795 a young twelve year-old boy by the name of William was to travel with his parents from England to Baltimore in America rather than have his family face the risk of imprisonment or even death. The English during the American War of Independence had no time for sympathizers.
William's father, Robert Colgate, first settled on a farm before entering an ill-fated partnership manufacturing soap and candles. The boy worked in the business until the partnership dissolved and his father went back to farming.
At age 19, William decided to go into business on his own and while it failed within twelve months, he decided to try again in New York City.
Before he began this venture, two things happened in his life. The first happened on his way to the city when he met an old neighbour, the captain of one of the canal boats that operated near his home. The words the old man spoke to him that day were to stay with him for the rest of his life. As a Christian, he invited William to kneel with him on the pathway as he prayed for the life of this young man. Before William left that day the boat captain said to him that 'Someone will soon be the leading soap maker in New York. It can be you as well as anyone. I hope it may. Be a good man; give your heart to Christ; give the Lord all that belongs of Him of every dollar you earn; make an honest soap; give a full pound; and I am certain you will be yet a prosperous and rich man.'
After placing himself into God's care the second thing that William did was to read the Old testament story of Jacob's vow in Gen 28: 20-22. He read that when Jacob left home, he said, 'If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear so that I can return safely to my father's house, then the Lord will be my God…and of all that you [God] give me I will give you a tenth.'
Jacob's vow challenged William to make a similar vow. In this vow he determined to give God first place in his life, and he also promised to give a tenth - a tithe- of his profits to God.
In 1804, at the age of 21, William found employment with tallow chandlers Slidel and Company, where he learned more about the soap- making business. When the company ceased production two years later, William was ready to try again.
William Colgate & Co. met with success right from the start. Within six years he added the manufacture of starch to his laundry soap business. Later he also produced hand soap and a variety of toilet and shaving soaps.
As Colgate's business grew, so did his family. In 1811, he married Mary Gilbert, and they became the parents of 11 children who were given mostly biblical names. They attended church, had family worship, and read the Bible together.
William became known as Deacon Colgate in his church. He liberally supported missions, temperance (the Colgates allowed no alcohol in their home), and Christian Education. He donated large sums to several educational institutions, including Madison College, in Hamilton, New York. This institution is now called Colgate University in his honour.
William never forgot his promise to God. From the first dollar he earned he devoted 10 per cent of his net earnings to benevolence. As he prospered, he instructed his accountants to increase the amount to 20 per cent and later to 30 per cent. It seemed the more he gave, the more he prospered. Late in his life he had become so successful that he devoted 100 per cent of his yearly income to the Lord.
William saw, in his business, the fulfilment of the promise made to tithe payers that God will 'throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it' (Malachi 3: 10).
He took such an active interest in the Bible, particularly its translation, its publication, and its distribution. In 1816, he helped organise the American Bible Society, and later he assisted in forming the American and Foreign Bible Society.
The soap king died on March 25, 1857, but his influence continues. The Colgate name lives on in products in supermarkets throughout the world. And the name still preaches a sermon to those who know his story.
Some of the most prominent millionaires of the twentieth century, such as Andrew Carnegie and Henry Ford, attributed their extraordinary success to the practice of tithing. Author, Catherine Ponder reports, that in 1855, a young man by the name of John D. Rockefeller began tithing. His total income for that year was $95.00 from which he tithed $9.50 to his church. However, she goes on to say, that 'between 1855 and 1934, he gave away $531 million dollars.' His standard reply to his critics of his generosity was that 'God gave me my money.'
Stewardship is both a privilege and an honour.
If we love the Lord with our entire heart, our mind, our soul and all our strength we will only ever consider it a privilege to demonstrate our love in many practical ways that honour and please Him.
However, stewardship of total life commitment consists of much more than financial giving. In fact material gifts make up only a small part of what those who choose to follow God are privileged to bring to Him. But what we are to do with the means He has provided becomes a good indication of our wholehearted commitment to Him.
The unselfish giving of our time, our bodies, our abilities, our talents, our possessions and our influence, all begin by presenting ourselves to the Lord as a living offering.
By following God's design we are not only being prepared for a greater work in heaven, but we are developing characters fit for the kingdom while, at the same time, having an avenue to express our love and gratitude to God (Dept of Ed General Conference, 1975: 18).
My prayer this morning is that we all will place ourselves as living offerings before the God of heaven so that we will be ready for that great day He comes to take us home to be with Him.
Dept of Education, General Conference of SDA (1975) Money, Breakthrough with God's World Unit 4. Mountain View, California: Pacific Press Publishing Association
Ministerial Association General Conference of SDA (1988) Seventh-day Adventists Believe…A Biblical Exposition of 27 Fundamental Doctrines. Hagerstown, Maryland: Review & Herald Publishing Association.
Rebok, D. E. (1969) God's Gold in My Hand. Mountain View, California: Pacific Press Publishing Association
Water, M. (2000) The New Encyclopedia of Christian Quotations. UK, John Hunt Publishing Ltd.
White, E. G. (1909) The Ministry of Healing. Mountain View, California: Pacific Press Publishing Association
White, E. G. (1943) Prophets and Kings. Mountain View, California: Pacific Press Publishing Association
White, E. G. (1944) Testimonies for the Church Vol 4. Mountain View, California: Pacific Press Publishing Association
White, E. G. (1944) Testimonies for the Church Vol 3. Mountain View, California: Pacific Press Publishing Association
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