Taking Your Spiritual Temperature
Author: Andy Robbins
We have probably all been there at one time or another in our spiritual lives. Perhaps it is a nagging sense of disconnection with the Spirit of God, sort of like a one-sided conversation. Maybe it’s a stagnation in one’s spiritual development and/or one or more sin habits that won’t let go. Maybe it’s a frustrating boredom with Bible study and/or a sense of dryness in prayer. Perhaps there is no enthusiasm for spiritual things, and God seems to be a little part of your life, but not the passion of it.
Once in a while it’s a good idea to take your spiritual temperature; a spiritual health exam, if you will. The Apostle Paul wrote that we should examine and test ourselves to see if we are really in the faith (2 Corinthians 13:5).
Because of the breadth of this topic and the many areas we should consider, I hope to do another two or three part series. But the specific area which I have chosen to address may surprise you. Let’s begin by looking at another group of people who had fallen into a spiritual lethargy.
In centuries past, when the nation of Israel had drifted – again – from her devotion to God, a messenger was sent to the Israelites to speak the word of the Lord to them. This prophet of God was sent to help Israel take her own spiritual temperature, and she was shown to be ice cold – indifferent to God and His ways, and thoroughly corrupted. And yet the people were grumbling against God, complaining that He no longer answered their prayers or accepted their sacrifices. So, in speaking for God, this prophet declared to Israel, “Return to me, and I will return to you.”
So clueless were the Israelites about their state of spiritual deadness that the prophet’s accusations surprised them. “We didn’t even know we had gone astray,” was essentially their reply. Spiritual decay is like that. If often catches you unaware of how far from the shore you are drifting.
“How are we to return?” they inquired.
“Will a man rob God,” Jehovah demanded. “Yet you are robbing me.”
“How are we robbing You?” They truly had become so spiritually blind that they had no idea what God was talking about.
So….when the Israelites asked God how He wanted them to return to Him, what was the very first thing He brought up? Are you ready for this? He wanted them to honor Him with their MONEY!
THAT got their attention. And it should get yours. If you want to get someone’s attention, just bring up how they use – or misuse – their money. Money is a very personal matter, and in fact Jesus said where your treasure is, that’s where your heart – or your affection and devotion – will be. That’s why He also said that you can’t serve both God and money, because you are ultimately going to be devoted to one and despise the other.
The Israelites had been commanded to show their honor and thanksgiving to God by giving back to Him the first ten percent (“tithe”) of all their income, and they were commanded to also be willing to give special offerings from time to time for various purposes such as alms to the poor. Because money is such a sensitive and personal matter, God knew that if He could be Master over their pocketbooks, He would surely be Master over their hearts. That’s why one of the first things to be thrown to the curb when someone begins a slow and subtle – almost unnoticeable – drifting from their first love is the giving of tithes and offerings.
Okay…I’m already bracing myself for the backlash. I already know what some people might say. “Tithing was part of the Old Covenant, and we live in the age of grace. I can give what I decide is right for me to give.”
Well, I can see the basis for your argument, but unfortunately it can’t be substantiated with a careful study of scripture.
You see, tithing was introduced in scripture BEFORE the giving of the Law, which means it is a timeless principle. All the way back in Genesis 14, the patriarch Abraham clearly practiced the principle of tithing (see Genesis 14:20), which was about 500 years prior to the giving of the Law. Likewise, it could be argued that Cain and Abel gave tithes of their incomes in Genesis 4. So tithing could not have passed away with the Law since it was introduced in scripture before the Law. Besides, there are spiritual principles within the Law that are timeless and are to be honored even today. Do not murder, do not steal, do not commit adultery. These were commandments in the Law, yet we are bound to obey them today. Tithing is like that. It is a spiritual principle that we are bound to. It’s a spiritual principle because it is one of the most important acts of worship; honoring God with a portion of all that He has provided for us by His gracious hand. Yet a very small minority of church-going people worship God in this way – less than ten percent in many churches.
We should also consider that it has always been a principle in scripture – even before the law and even in the New Covenant – that God wants the first portion of everything as a kind of tithe. When He instructed the Israelites to cleanse the land of Canaan of its pagan inhabitants, He said that all of the spoils from the FIRST city taken (Jericho) belonged to Him, and they could have the spoils from every city after that. All the first born animals were to be consecrated to Him, and even in the New Testament the Jewish believers changed their special gatherings of worship from Saturday’s Sabbath – the last day of the week, to Sunday, the first day of the week. This was in recognition of the resurrection, which God chose to take place on the first day of the week.
But perhaps you are reading this and saying, “I’m unemployed,” or “I live on welfare,” or “I live in a desolate place where even food is scarce,” so “what am I supposed to tithe on?” Well, even if you don’t have regular money coming in, you can tithe on something. If you grow crops, tithe the FIRST and BEST part of those crops to your church or your pastor (and make sure your pastor knows what to do with it, like giving it to the hungry). If you get welfare from the government, even that is increase, so tithe off of whatever income you get. If God blesses you in a desolate place with some meager provision, make sure to share it with someone who has less than you. Always be on the lookout for someone who is in need who you can give to, and most certainly be ready to give to your church or a ministry that has helped you. All these things honor God.
Getting back to the Israelites, it was the prophet Malachi who was sent to deliver God’s message. You’ll find the story in the book of Malachi, and pay special attention to chapter 3 where God addresses tithes and offerings. The thing that I think is so incredible about this chapter is it is the only place in the Bible where God says, “Try Me!” It’s the only place where God literally says to test Him, and see if tithing will not ultimately turn out to be a blessing. Here’s the benefits of tithing in a nutshell as listed in Malachi 3:9-12, and the contrasting curse for those who do not tithe.
· More blessings than you are ready for.
· Preservation of your livelihood.
· Recognized as being blessed by outsiders.
· A curse for those who neglect the tithe, which can take on many forms not indicated in this passage, not the least of which could be continued financial struggle.
You see, I believe God places such an extreme emphasis on tithing not only because it is one of the highest acts of worship, but also because it’s like a spiritual magnifying glass that reveals the conditions of our hearts. It has been my experience that most people who argue against tithing are those who take a very passive approach to their faith and who are generally unreceptive to the God’s standards in the first place. Others are just downright stingy. And in both cases these folks are usually broke or in some ongoing financial crisis. Still others are sincere folks but who lack the faith – like the Israelites in the wilderness – that God will keep His word.
But let me tell you something: I can attest that after having put God to the test, my wife and I are living proof that God stands by His Word. Even when I was unemployed and we barely had enough money to put food on the table, we continued to tithe, and God honored that sacrifice. As God increased us financially, we continued to increase our giving well beyond the tithe, and God has continued to show Himself faithful by blessing us over and over and over again. I wish I had the space to list all the ways God has shown His faithfulness to us, but suffice it to say that I am convinced beyond all doubt that God blesses givers. There is also not space to list all the places in scripture where this is indicated, but for now I’ll leave you with three, and pick up where we left off in a few days.
“Honor the Lord with your wealth, with the FIRST FRUITS of all your crops; then your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine.” -Proverbs 3:9-10
“A generous man will be blessed. He who refreshes others will himself be refreshed.” -Proverbs 11:25
“Give and you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full – pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, running over, and poured into your lap. The amount you give will determine the amount you get back.” -Luke 6:38
Well….is God’s Word true, or isn’t it? Can we take Him at face value? Can we live out our faith enough to trust God to bless us even when tithing and giving doesn’t make financial sense in the natural? I assure you, He IS faithful. God is not in the carrot-dangling business. He won’t let you crash and burn if you decide to take Him at His word.
Put Him to the test.