The Problem of Debt and Tithing
Isa 5:8-23 GW How horrible it will be for you who acquire house after house and buy field after field until there's nothing left and you have to live by yourself in the land. (9) With my own ears I heard the LORD of Armies say, "Many houses will become empty. Large, beautiful houses will be without people to live in them. (10) A ten-acre vineyard will produce only six gallons of wine, and two quarts of seed will produce only four quarts of grain."
As I was reading this passage last month during my daily devotional, I remember pausing and thinking, wow, this is happening right now in America! Houses after ridiculously huge houses are being built in farmers fields that are rapidly being bought up by developers.
Many of these houses are empty, unsold, some, void of families due to skyrocketing divorce rates. The size of families are shrinking as more and more people are holding off on starting families and if they do start a family, they draw the line at two children. Children grow up, move away, and we have large empty houses.
In context this passage from Isaiah was a judgement that God leveled against His people because He had abundantly blessed them with everything they needed for a good life, and they had turned around and perverted justice, and followed other gods in their quest to get more.
Isaiah says, God ďhoped for justice but saw only slaughter, for righteousness but heard only cries of distress.Ē I mean, here was a people that had stooped so low as to offer their children as sacrifices to other gods. It was believed that offering child sacrifices to the god Molech would insure future individual and national prosperity.
What a slap in the face to God. We arenít pleased with what You have given us we want more. So we are turning to Molech! How ungrateful can you get! Yet, if we were honest, we arenít much better.
Most of the reasons given for abortion in our country today are totally selfish and related to financial goals and prosperity. By sacrificing our children by abortion, we are adding their cries to the cries of the children of Israel who were sacrificed to Molech, , to the cries of Abel, ďwhose blood cries out from the ground. (Gen 4:10)
And how can we say that we are satisfied with what God has given us when we look at the debt crisis in the land! And to be honest, thatís what really struck me about this passage in Isaiah. God was talking about a time when ďa ten-acre vineyard will produce only six gallons of wine, and two quarts of seed will produce only four quarts of grain."
That speaks of a horrific famine and I canít imagine the consequences of such a famine if it would hit our world today, and it could, with just a flick of the finger of God. Think of the horrific results of last monthís tsunami, and the ripple effect it has had on human lives, and we have not yet seen itís devastating economic impact.
This was just a little spot in the Indian Ocean. What would happen if God decided to implement other natural disasters and climatic changes?
He may not have to. If we were to sit down and put a pencil to the ďcredit crisisĒ facing many in our land today, we might come up with real buying power that is of famine proportions. What I mean by that is this: Our national and individual debt problem is becoming so bad, that in reality by the time we pay down the interest and minimum payments, there is very little left over.
We have in effect turned our paychecks, our ten acre vineyards into a handful of grapes, and a wheatfield into a handful of seeds.
The most recent statistics show that American credit card debt now stands at 735 billion dollars or 7,000 dollars per household. Consumer debt (EXCLUDING MORTGAGES) is at 1.98 trillion dollars. Thatís a lot of Hummers.
More than 1 million people file for personal bankruptcy each year, according to the Consumer Federation of America.
About 10 percent of those with credit cards said they have missed making their minimum payment during the past six months. However, economists say people are missing fewer credit card payments by juggling their debts and getting new credit cards. (My isnít that good news!
When are we going to realize that our credit cards arenít saving us from emergencies, they are creating them!
A recent survey revealed that 78% of college students have 2748 dollars worth of credit card debt, 10% of those have over 7,000 dollars in credit card debt and we arenít even talking about the foolishness of student loans.
In 1999 alone, 461,000 Americans younger than 35 sought protection from their creditors through bankruptcy. And donít look to the government for a responsible example, we are now in national debt to the tune of over 7 trillion dollars, and we have no plan to pay it back.
And donít look to the church for an example either as many churches are mortgaged to the hilt and struggling just to make minimum payments. What has happened? When did we become a gotta have it now society instead of a ďIíll wait til I can pay for it in cash society? Whatever happened to making do with what we have? Has God not given us enough?
We are a people that are drunk on credit! We are no different than an alcoholic who rationalizes his need for a drink. We rationalize by comparing ourselves to the Joneses and we either lie or deny whatís really happening financially in our own lives.
Oh, youíve tried giving up credit cards, youíve tried budgeting, but there was always that one thing that got you hooked again. That one thing you just had to have. The same thing that ruined your diet, your sobriety, and every other addictive behavior you sought to give up. ďone more wonít hurtĒ and youíre hooked again.
What is the result? Where has it gotten you? A huge vineyard, (income) with no grapes of your own to show for it! You loaded 16 tons and what did you get another day older and deeper in debt. St. Peter donít you call me cause I canít go, I owe my soul to the company store!
What a pit of despair we are digging for ourselves and our children and what will we do when the next severe economic downturn hits? What will we do when financial hopelessness sinks in? How will those who donít know Jesus handle this stress, this despair?
Thankfully, by the grace of God, you and I know Jesus. We have the advantage of having Godís Word to guide us in financial matters. We donít need to use our plastic Molechís to enjoy the good life. God has given us all we need, and itís time we started being better stewards of what He has given to us.
The first step in being a better steward is resolve. First of all, we must resolve to believe the promises of Godís Word and we must resolve to be obedient to Him. We have been talking about this in recent weeks and will mention it again.
When we open our Bibles, the Holy Spirit presents Jesus to us and He asks us, ďwhat do you intend to do with Him and His Words? How we answer that question speaks mounds about our relationship with Jesus. DO we really love Him or do we just give Him lip service? If we love Him, we will believe and obey Him. What does Godís Word, what does Jesus say about debt?
Pro 22:7 GW A rich person rules poor people, and a borrower is a slave to a lender.
Here Jesus states a simple fact. Do you want to be a slave? Then borrow money, go into debt. Charge it! Kind of ironic though. He died to set us free from slavery, but evidently we donít mind some forms of slavery because we are so willing to jump into it. So willing to borrow money.
Rom 13:8a GW Pay your debts as they come due.
When I get a bill for services rendered, I am obligated to pay it. This is what my Lord wants me to do. This passage doesnít say, ďmake a minimum payment, or just pay the interest, it says pay your debts as they come due. Think about it, as long as you have that bill, you are a slave. Pay them when they are due and you are free.
Failure to pay your bills is not only enslaving, but it is sin.
Psa 37:21 GW A wicked person borrows, but he does not repay. A righteous person is generous and giving.
Now I donít say this to put you on a guilt trip, donít bemoan the fact that God has called you wicked. Take your sin to Him, confess it and be forgiven and move on. Strive by His help, to never let it happen again.
Jesus says, ďdonít get into debt, but if you do, pay your debts!Ē This is illustrated in the OT in 2 Kings.
2Ki 4:1-7 GW One of the wives of a disciple of the prophets called to Elisha, "Sir, my husband is dead! You know how he feared the LORD. Now a creditor has come to take my two children as slaves."
Please note that this was the wife of a godly man, a disciple,of Elisha. For whatever reason she was in a financial bind, she was in debt, and in danger of losing her children.
(2) Elisha asked her, "What should I do for you? Tell me, what do you have in your house?" She answered, "I have nothing in the house except a jar of olive oil." (3) Elisha said, "Borrow many empty containers from all your neighbors. (4) Then close the door behind you and your children, and pour oil into all those containers. When one is full, set it aside." (5) So she left him and closed the door behind her and her children. The children kept bringing containers to her, and she kept pouring. (6) When the containers were full, she told her son, "Bring me another container." He told her, "There are no more containers." So the olive oil stopped flowing.
She took what God had given her and brought it to the Lord through Elisha, and look what happened. The Lord produced a miracle and provided a way out of her situation. Now what did Elisha tell her to do with all this oil!
7) She went and told the man of God. He said, "Sell the oil, (go to the Bahamas, buy a Hummer, get that dress you always wanted!? Is that what he said? No! He said ď and pay your debt. The rest is for you and your children."
What was she to do with this windfall? ďPay her debt.Ē
Now I am not going to promise you a miracle, but I am going to tell you what Jesus is telling you. Donít get into debt, but if you do, pay your debt! Make an effort to get debt free. Bring your situation to God, pray, then start to believe His promises and follow His instructions in His Word. In so doing your miracle will come, maybe not right away, but it will come, and if nothing else you will eventually be released from the slavery of debt.
And once released, you will be ready for the second part of Ps. 37:21: A righteous person is generous and giving.
Do you have debt? Then you need to sit down as an individual or as a man and wife and figure your way out of it. Swallow your pride go see a financial planner. Go to F.I.S.C.. we have their brochures on the back table. They can show you what you have to do, to get out of debt.
Do you want some supernatural help, like the widow in 2 Kings? Then turn to the Word of God. Purpose in your heart to believe it and obey it. Look at the principles of tithing and giving.
There is no better place to go in Scripture as it concerns tithing than Malachi. 3:8-11
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 prove 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.
Failure to tithe, to give 10% of your income to God is robbing Him....have you ever considered how ridiculous that sounds? ďAll right God, stick em up, just hand over the cash and no one getís hurt.Ē
Yet, when we donít tithe, we are literally robbing God! But donít let that be your incentive for tithing, rather look to the gospel promise here in Malachi. What does God say He will do for you if you do tithe?
He promises to open the windows of heaven and pour out such a blessing that there will not be room enough to receive it!
Letís get the picture here. What was being tithed here was basically grain. It was to be brought to the storehouse that was overseen by the Levites. It was only 1/10th of the grain harvested by individuals and this was brought to the church granary.
God promised these people that if they tithed, the church granary would not be big enough to contain the amount of grain that was brought in. That speaks of blessing.
What does that tell you about the prosperity of the members of this community that believed Godís promise and began to bring the first 10% of their crops to His temple? It should tell you that they were doing quite well with the other 90%. If the church had to build more silos for 10%, how many were the farmers building for the other 90?
Letís talk about the storehouse in the OT. It had 4 functions. It was used to feed the tribe of Levi and the priests of Aaron. It was used to feed the prophets. It was used to feed the Hebrew widows and orphans living in the city, and it was used to feed the widows and the orphans of the Gentiles who were living in and around the Hebrew city.
The equivalent of the OT storehouse in the NT is the local church...Living Word in our case. .When we obey God and believe His promise concerning tithing and we bring the first 10% of our income to the storehouse. The leaders of this church are then responsible for the distribution of the tithe.
That distribution should mirror the OT model of providing for the needs of the pastor and staff at Living Word, missionaries and evangelists, widows, orphans, single parents, and other needy people in our congregation, and finally, for the needy in the vicinity around our church.
Every month the deacons, who right now are the elected members of the council at Living Word, need to ask themselves how they are doing in proper distribution of the tithe. Are we being good stewards of what God has blessed us with?
Are we taking care of the pastorís financial needs? Are we supporting missionaries and evangelists? Are we helping the widows, the orphans, and the less fortunate in our midst? Are we extending a helping hand to the needy in the city? If not, we have our priorities in the wrong place.
Woe to us if we ever sacrifice these things for a mortgage on a beautiful building.
We ought to have a plan in place to meet the needs of all 4 categories. Any building should be over and above the tithe.
What is tithing? It is bringing 10% of your income to the storehouse, the local church. Tithing is based on your ďfirstfruitsĒ so we give 10% of our gross income! The tithe is not to be directed away from the storehouse. Many people use their tithes to give to other charitable institutions, or to send their children to Christian schools. There is no biblical justification for this.
The tithe goes to the storehouse and if you have money left over, then give to other charities if you wish.
But what about debt? What about the huge credit crunch that many find themselves in? Sometimes, well meaning Christians continue to tithe on their gross income and leave their creditors holding the bag. Not only is this a bad witness, but it flies in the face of Godís command to pay our debts!
So what are we to do? Not give anything to the church until our debts are paid? According to 2 Cor. 9:6, that would not be a good idea either.
2Co 9:6 GW Remember this: The farmer who plants a few seeds will have a very small harvest. But the farmer who plants because he has received God's blessings will receive a harvest of God's blessings in return.
We need to keep sowing something to the storehouse, thereby giving evidence of our belief of Godís promise of blessing.
Pro 3:9-10 GW Honor the LORD with your wealth and with the first and best part of all your income. (10) Then your barns will be full, and your vats will overflow with fresh wine.
But, weíre in debt up to our ears! How do we respond then to this dilemma of debt and tithing? The people at Crown Financial, a Christian financial counseling ministry have come up with a reasonable plan in this area.
Since we obey and honor God as we pay our debts, we need to work out a plan of repayment that will keep our creditors happy and that will keep us from getting deeper into debt. That likely will involve some sacrifices on your part, but hey, donít forget, you are a slave here!
How many slaves had Tvís with cable, and two cars, and cell phones, and internet, and...well you get my drift. Until you are out of debt you are a slave, you will have to sacrifice some of the niceties of life.
Now, since you owe this money, being paid out to your creditors through your debt repayment plan, this amount should not count toward your tithe. It simply is not your money. Your creditor has first dibs on it. So you pay your tithe based on your gross after your debt responsibilities are met.
This gives you the seed money necessary to apply to the promise of God concerning a tithe.
So does this mean I can deduct my mortgage payment and my car payment from my tithe? If you have to in order to keep from going deeper in debt, I would say yes. However, donít use this as an excuse to buy more than you need. If youíre looking for loopholes in tithing, chances are your heart isnít right and your giving isnít generating a blessing anyway.
God loves cheerful givers. Givers compelled by His promises rather than His Law. He loves givers who give to Him because they are thankful for what He has given them. Thatís why firstfruit giving is so important. It says everything about your relationship with God.
It says, ďI acknowledge God, that my paycheck this week was only because of your favor in my life. I acknowledge that being obedient to You and believing Your promises are more important to me than money. I cheerfully give it back to You, acknowledging that all that I have is yours.
Take this Lord and use it to provide for those who feed me spiritually, for those who take Your Good news to the ends of the earth, to the needy in our congregation, and to the needy in our community. Take it, I give it to you joyfully in the name of Jesus.
I also acknowledge that Your Word is true and worthy of trust and obedience. I know that you will bless me as I respond to Your promise and Your command. I know that blessing can be in any form that You choose, may I be prepared to receive it.
Joanie and I began tithing out of obedience to the Lord in 1984 and except for a very brief time in one year, (when I became a little fearful over finances) we have been faithful in our giving.....all Iím going to say about that is that God has been faithful to His Word. He has blessed us beyond measure and continues to do so.
I look forward to writing that check out every week, because every week it says loud and clear,
ďGod is faithful!Ē
ďProve 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.Ē
Friends, you will never know this truth if you donít do your part, and you do your part by striving to get out of debt and believing God with your tithe.