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The Little Drummer Boy

Leviticus 27:20-32
Cascades Fellowship CRC, JX MI
September 21, 2003

We see their smiling faces on the television. Silky smooth voice, great digs, hair

just so, offering the promise of health and wealth. The key? The tithe. Offer your tithe

unto the Lord – that is, to their ministry – and God will multiply your tithe. A heavenly

windfall can be yours if you will just sow the seeds of faith by giving to the Lord. This is

a message tailored to the American consumer. Essentially, God will pay you to be his

disciple – what a bargain!

The tithe is a hot ticket item in today’s churches – particularly in those churches

that preach a connection between wealth and God’s blessing. The tithe, in their view, is

the investment strategy of heaven. Is this an accurate portrayal of the tithe? Should we

still observe a tithe? If not, how much do we give to the church?

All important questions and worthy of our attention, but before we get into

answering them let me just say this is also one of the most uncomfortable subjects in the

Scriptures to preach on. Those who have preyed upon others to enrich themselves have

fostered such an environment of skepticism concerning the church and finances that

preaching on giving is now considered taboo. And this, brothers and sisters in Christ is a

sad state of affairs because what such resistance and reluctance implies is that we want

Jesus to be Lord over everything but our wallets. That … we want to keep for ourselves.

But this morning, despite my reservations, I am preaching on giving. Jesus is the

Lord of our wallets also, whether we acknowledge it or not, so if I am to be a faithful


shepherd I must preach the whole counsel of God. And, quite frankly, the Scriptures have

a lot to say about money.

So, with no small amount of trepidation, this morning we will take a look first at

the tithe in Scripture and then about giving in a New Testament context. We will begin

by looking at the origin of the tithe – where the idea of a tithe comes from. Then we will

look at how the tithe was presented in the Deuteronomy 14:23-28 – you may be surprised

to find out how the tithe was interpreted. After that we will consider the real reason for

the tithe and then finally look at the tithe in a New Testament context.

To get a good grasp on this difficult subject it is important to understand the basis

for the tithe. We first see it hinted at in Genesis 4:3. Although not strictly called a tithe,

the implication is there. Cain and Abel each brought a portion of their produce as an

offering. Abel, rightly, made it from the first portions of his flock, while Cain just

brought some of the produce from his field, hence leading to his offering being rejected.

So a tithe is to be a specific portion – the first, and best portion – of our produce.

The first place we hear of a tithe per se is in Genesis 14:18 when Abraham gives a

tenth of the spoils of war to Melchizedek, the priest-king of Salem. His tithe comes in

response to the Melchizedek offering a celebratory meal and blessing Abraham after he

defeated Lot’s abductors. So a tithe is also a response of thanksgiving, honoring God’s

providence.

The idea of the tithe continues to stalk the pages of the Old Testament until it is

brought front and center as part of the Law of Moses. It seems that the first place the
tithe is mentioned is in our text for this morning, Leviticus 27:30-32. But the practice of

a tithe is more fully described in Deuteronomy 14:22-28 and Deuteronomy 26.

Although interpretations differ, the Law of Moses appears to call for three separate

tithes to be exercised among the Israelites. The first tithe went to support the priestly

ministry. The Lord was the inheritance of the priesthood in Israel, so they were not

allotted land as the other tribes. Instead they were to concentrate on ministering before

the Lord. To see to their physical needs, a tithe was instituted.

The use of the second tithe went toward the caring for the poor and

disenfranchised. This tithe was to be brought into the Temple storehouses so that it could

be used to feed the widow, the orphan and the downtrodden. The final use of the tithe

(this one was taken every third year) was to be used for a celebration of God’s grace – it

was a festival tithe. If one takes all of these tithes into account (and accepts this reading

of the tithe structure in the Mosaic Law) the Israelite was called upon to tithe 23 1/3% of

his annual “salary” (i.e. produce, flock, proceeds from sells).

The figure just mentioned does not include the Year of Jubilee – the seventh cycle

of the Sabbath year when all debts were forgiven and all land was restored to the original

possessor. This practice was instituted for several reasons, but the most important one

was to demonstrate that although a person may possess the land (which meant they had

the right of use and benefits of its produce) they do not own the land, the land belongs to

God. They simply hold the land in trust, as stewards on behalf of God, called upon to use

the land wisely and for the purposes God intends.


Now, casting an eye over the Old Testament treatment of the tithe – of sacrificial

giving in general – what is the consistent theme or motivation for giving? Does God

need our gifts and offerings (remember that property – according to Leviticus 25 – is

given in trust as a possession, not owned)? What accounts for the call of 23 1/3% of

yearly income? Why does the prophet in Malachi 3:6-12 call withholding the tithe

“stealing from God?” What are we robbing God of, if he owns everything?

If one is careful to observe the discussion of tithes and offerings presented in the

Old Testament, he quickly becomes aware, that the teaching has little to with the

imposition of Law or financing the Temple and everything to do with grace and gratitude.

The reason Cain’s offering is rejected is because he does not demonstrate a proper

gratitude – he does not present his first and best portions to God. Abraham tithes out of

gratitude for the victory won. The tithing structure of Israel is grounded in gratitude for

God’ great act of redemption – deliverance from Egypt. The real motivation behind the

offering is not the Law, but the gratitude – the gratefulness, the overwhelming sense of

.thankfulness – for God’s deliverance and his continued providence for his people. The

tithe – the sacrificial giving – is power act of worship, acknowledging God’s redemption.

Now, one aspect that I have not covered, and will only do so briefly here, is that

financial giving is also mark of our trust in God’s providence. The Scriptures speak of a

first fruits offering and of our tithe coming out of the first and best portion of our

produce. The first fruits were the exactly what it sounds like – the first harvest from the

Spring planting. Israel was to take the first portion of the first harvest and give all of it as

an offering to the Lord. In doing so they were proclaiming confidence – faith – in the
Lordship of God and his ability to provide for his people. Giving this offering was a way

of saying “Thanks God. We trust you for an even greater harvest to come.”

So then, what can we say about the tithe and offering – why is it mandated? We have just

said that it brings expression to our gratitude for redemption and our confidence – our faith – in

God and his ability to provide. And on a pragmatic level, it provides for the economic realities

of maintaining a priesthood and ministry – in today’s terms, providing for a church facility and

staff. But there is a deeper reason, although this teaching becomes much more explicit in the

New Testament – particularly in the teaching of Paul.

God mandates a tithe – and the New Testament echoes this mandate – because it is a

barometer to where the heart is spiritually. The tithe is about attitude, about the willingness to be

a disciple. Jesus said as a man thinks in his heart, so is he. And he warned often about the

dangers of material wealth – how it so easily becomes an idol. Money is much more than a

neutral medium for carrying out business transactions. Because of the fallen nature, it has the

power to captivate the heart – to elicit greed and envy. Material wealth taken as owned and not

possessed often begins to possess the owner. Only the power of grace and a proper

understanding of possession and stewardship guards the heart from the spiritual idolatry that so

easily arises out of material wealth. And the tithe is instituted to remind us that we are stewards,

not owners. It is a bulwark against the greed that can easily consume us when we begin gaining

material wealth.

It is said that if you want to know what is important to a person, take a look at his

or her checkbook (or spending habits, if you don’t have a check book). Money marks the

importance of a particular thing to us. The New Testament reflects this, particularly in
the teaching of Paul. He intimates as much in 2 Corinthians 8:1-15 and is the basis of the

warning in 1 Timothy 6:3-20. Money measures desire.

What is interesting is that in the New Testament, the notion of a tithe is not carried

forward – why? Because as Paul makes clear in Galatians, the Old Testament faith was a

training ground for the fuller, more mature faith that came in Jesus Christ. In his mind,

the OT faith needed such explicit instruction as guidance to the proper worship, love and

gratitude toward God. But in Christ, such instruction is no longer needed because we

have the Holy Spirit to guide us. And Paul makes it clear that life infused with the

indwelling Spirit is a life marked by worship, love, and gratitude. And these things are

expressed in large part through our selfless giving of time and resources for the sake of

the Kingdom.

Some churches hold their offerings at the beginning of the worship service – you

know why? No, its not so they can get the money out of you upfront so that if the sermon

is so bad you leave before giving. They mistakenly think of the offering as “the

business” portion of the service. For them the offering is an interruption in the worship,

so they have it first to get the business out of the way and then they can concentrate on

worship for the rest of the time. And that, dear friends, is unfortunate. Such a deficient

view robs the worshipper of an unparalleled opportunity for worship!

The offering is meant to be an expression of our gratitude! In the midst of the

singing and prayers offered to God and anticipation of being fed from his Word, we have

a powerful, tangible opportunity to say “Thank you!” to God. It is a way that we can

express in concrete terms how grateful we are that Christ has redeemed us!
So if the tithe is no longer really operative, is there a standard for giving? Is the tithe still

a valuable practice? If love and grace are our guiding principles for giving, how much do we

give? Let me offer some guidelines.

We all know the story of the Little Drummer Boy. I love the line in that carol that

goes “…I played my best for him, Berump, pah, pah, pum Berump, pah, pah,

pumBerump, pah, pah, pum Me and my drum.” I remember that as a child, I used to

envision the little drummer boy, face pinched in concentration, coaxing a song of praise

out his drum. With precise timing and unflagging passion, he meted out a beat of

worship and adoration. I also imagined that after the little drummer boy had given his all,

his very best, he then found a haystack and collapsed in a joyful heap. He had given his

all for the newborn king and was rewarded with a smile. He had brought the most

precious gift he could offer – himself – and was found acceptable.

The story of The Little Drummer Boy is a story of incredible hope. It resonates

with the truth that we find in the Gospel of Matthew 12:41-44 –

Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and
watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many
rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in
two very small copper coins, worth only a fraction of a penny. Calling
his disciples to him, Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, this poor widow
has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of
their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had
to live on.”

I think that the first guideline we have to consider is to remember that our tithe –

which, by the way, means a one tenth – is a measure of our desire. What’s really

important to us? In this scene we have from the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus declares that
the miniscule offering of the widow is worth more than all the fantastic gifts of the rich

people. Why? Because her gift is marked by faith. She gives out of her poverty – she

sacrifices. Her gift is taken from her first and best portion, not out of her excess. She

didn’t sit down after everything else was paid for and try to figure out how much she

could give, she gave before everything else, knowing God will provide. Her giving

reveals her heart.

The real lesson here is the lesson of Abel – giving from your first and best

portions. So the guideline would echo the words of the Paul to the Corinthians. Purpose

in your heart what you are going to give and then follow through with it by giving that

portion off the top. Personally, I counsel a tithe – a tenth – off the top. There seems to be

a spiritual significance to that practice.

Let me also offer some guidelines taken from a book by Dr. Robert Heerspink,

pastor of Faith Community Christian Reformed Church. The book is titled Becoming a

First Fruits Congregation.

♦ Our giving should be systematic – in this way the tithe is helpful.

Systematic giving ensures consistency and instills discipline. It is an

expression of the seriousness of our commitment.

♦ Our giving should be proportional – Statistics show an interesting, but

troubling trend. With incomes between 30K or less, the percentage of

income committed to giving is on average in the area of 6 to 7%. When

income shifts from 30K to 60K, that percentage drops to 4 to 5%. 60 to

90K, 2-3%. 100k and up, somewhere around 1%. Do see what is
happening – the trend? One of the real tragedies of the modern age is that

as income increases, lifestyle expectations increase – bigger house, better

clothes, better vacation spots, bigger and faster cars – but giving does not.

Giving proportionally is a faithful expression of gratitude to God. As

income goes up – as God trusts greater resources to our stewardship – our

giving should go up in proportion.

♦ Our giving should be without compulsion – Again, giving can be a

barometer to the heart. If you are giving out of compulsion – that is

legalism, and far from grace. Give according to your faith – as Paul says,

as you have purposed in your heart.

♦ Give expectantly – God, in Malachi – says that giving the tithe is a test of

his providence and that we should feel free to call him on the carpet in this

matter. Those who sow generously expect to reap generously. Although

we cannot expect God to make us rich by giving great amounts (that is

seeking a material return for a spiritual service, that’s hardly selfless) we

can expect God to provide abundantly, according to his promise.1

♦ One final guideline, and this comes from Christian Financial Concepts and

the late Larry Burkett, is begin teaching your children now about the

significance of giving to God. They suggest that you give your child three

separate “piggy banks” – one for savings, one for spending, and one for

tithe or offering. Teach them whenever they receive money to put a portion
1
The list of suggestions and much of the structure and direction for this lesson comes from Becoming a Firstfruits
Congregation by Robert Heerspink pp.41-61.
of it into each bank. This inculcates early that everything they receive, they

receive from the hand of the Lord.

People of God, the tithe or offering is not just another bill to be paid, it is a

recognition that God is our redeemer and that he is Lord over everything – even our

wallets. Never forget, all that we have is given in trust. We are stewards, not owners.

We must use our resources with wisdom. The tithe is a measure of our desires – do we

really want to honor God as the Lord over all things and are we really grateful for his

redemption offered to us in Jesus Christ?

Let us worship the Lord in Spirit and in truth. Let’s make our gratefulness be

known through our giving. It is not investment system, as some like to preach. It is

concrete, tangible way we can say “thank you’ to God.