Guests: Bruce Toews and Brant Berglin
Read for This Week’s Study: Matt. 10:22, John 6:29, Deut. 28:1–14, Prov. 3:1–10, Mal. 3:7–11, Matt. 6:25–33.
The lesson this week is built around the fact that, in the long ago, God made a covenant with Abraham through which all the families of the earth can be blessed. That covenant has continued to this day and it may still bring its benefits to those who believe. The foundational text is from Deuteronomy 28:
“Now it shall come to pass, if you diligently obey the voice of the Lord your God, to observe carefully all His commandments which I command you today, that the Lord your God will set you high above all nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, because you obey the voice of the Lord your God” (Deuteronomy 28:1, 2, NKJV).
These verses are part of a much larger story, one that unfolds in great detail in the book of Deuteronomy chapters 28-32. If you have not read those chapters in a while, it would be worth your time to do so again.
What becomes apparent in the chapters just mentioned is that God has made agreements – called “covenants” with humans. There are two major types of covenants, “unilateral” and “bilateral.” In the bilateral ones, there is a role for humans to play. In the unilateral ones, it is all done at God’s initiative.
- Some unilateral covenants:
- Matt. 5:45 – God will send the sun and the rain to shine or fall on both the good and the evil.
- Gen. 9:9-16 – God promised there would never again be a great flood.
- Gen. 8:22 – God promised that, as long as the earth remains, there will be seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night.
There is no human component to the fulfilling of a unilateral covenant. God will bring what he promised to pass even if humans do nothing in response. But when it comes to bilateral covenants, there is a very significant place for human action and response to the point that, if humans fail to uphold their end of the agreement, the covenant may prove ineffective, void.
- Some bilateral covenants:
- The covenant with Israel after the Exodus. This is an extension of the covenant made with Abraham. At the time of the making of this covenant, Israel was told to “harken diligently” to the provisions of the covenant that they might receive its blessings and not its curses (Deut. 28:1-14).
- The covenant of Salvation – the promise of salvation comes as an invitation (“Behold, I stand at the door and knock…”) that humans are invited to accept. If there is no acceptance, then there is no gift that comes.
There is also the teaching from Proverbs 3:1-10 in which the Wise Man admonishes his son to be faithful to God in all things. Among the admonishments given is that of honoring God with the first-fruits of the fields and with one’s wealth. The consequences of doing this will be manifold blessings. This is not viewed as a mechanical connection, but as a response, a grateful response to God for things provided.
In the official lesson, this idea of first-fruits becomes the launching site for some discussion of tithe, the idea of giving back to God 10% of a person’s increase. If tithe is like the first-fruits of the field, it is returned to God as soon as it is known irrespective of other considerations.
- The most often quoted passage on tithing comes from Malachi 3:7-11 where there is a statement that some read as a contract, that if we humans honor God by returning a tithe, God will pour blessings immeasurable upon them. Failure to return a tithe is spoken of as robbing God. In other words, when gain is calculated, the first thing to do is to return tithe thereby qualifying the tithe to be the equivalent of first-fruits of a field.
Also, up for discussion here as something to be connected to this line of thought is the famous statement of Jesus, that we ought to seek first the Kingdom of God and all “these things will be added to you.”
It is worthwhile pondering what giving tithe to God says about a human’s relationship to God, because it simply does not make sense that a person would do better on 90% of their gain than they would on 100%.
- Do you know of any testimonies from those who have paid a faithful tithe?
P.S. One of the most remarkable stories of faithfulness in tithing comes from the time of terror in Uganda under Idi Amin where a Christian man, in spite of the adversities he had faced, preserved his tithe money in a little draw-string purse and handed it to a church administrator once things settled down some!