SUNDAY MORNING SERMON NOTES
What the Creation of the World Has to Do With Your Offering on Sunday
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Sunday, May 23, 2010 - 10:00 a.m.  Sermon #: 1373
Pastor Don Horban

Today weíre going to launch a brief series on giving. I was making a mental note as I prepared these four teachings. Over the 28 years Iíve pastored this church Iíve had people approach me many, many times with sermon suggestions. ďWhen are you going to deal with sexual immorality?Ē Or, ďItís high time somebody (I wonder who they had in mind?) preached on revival!Ē Or it might be prophecy, or healing, or temptation, or whatever.

But never - not once - has anyone come up to me and said, ďBoy, pastor Don, we just donít hear nearly enough about giving in our church!Ē Itís almost as though we have this unspoken attitude that our money is our business. And blessed be the pastor and church who knows better than to touch peopleís wallets.

But thereís a problem. The Jesus we praise in all our worship choruses talked about two subjects more than any other - money and judgment. So I donít want to stand before Him one day and have to face His rebuke just because we donít like people prying into our material wealth.

My goal in this message is to establish a Biblical vision of how and why we give to the Lord. Especially when we talk about tithing, my experience is the church - even that portion of the church that teaches and practices tithing - still tries to mandate and establish it on the basis of Old Testament law. Please donít misunderstand me. I do believe in the New Testament practice of the tithe and beyond. I donít buy the argument that tithing is an Old Testament practice that has somehow been replaced in the church age.

But I think the reason many people mistakenly think that about tithing is the way in which the New Testament church tries to instruct followers of Jesus in practicing the tithe. I think we invite the kind of arguments against it that we usually receive. If we teach tithing as law people will think of tithing as law. And they all know we are no longer under the law in that strict saving sense anymore.

Itís time to rethink our approach to tithing. Not our practice, but our Scriptural approach needs realigning, and, for that reason, weíre looking back today to the creation of the world. Weíre not looking at the giving of the law to Moses. And weíre not even looking at the practice of tithing in the examples of Abraham (Genesis 14:20) and Jacob (Genesis 28:22), both of which predate the giving of the law.

Weíre going back to the opening chapters of Genesis to establish, not a law, but a pathway - a pathway that takes you somewhere - a life-style of cooperating with Father God in the establishing of the proper order and safe-guarding of everything else He wants to place under the sphere of your governance. Weíre doing this because Iím convinced that, with the best of intentions, we can so easily distort and pollute, with legalistic mandates, something that was so obviously established - right in the patterns of the creation account - to be life-giving and soul-freeing.

Letís look at some of the key principles regarding honoring the tithe from Genesis 1, 2, and 3. Of course, there is no mention of the tithe or tithing here, and Iím not trying to pretend there is. But there is a pattern laid down - a pattern that I hope you will clearly see involves the honoring of things God has set aside for Himself, not for His enrichment, but for our increasing freedom, dominion, and development.

1) IT WAS CLEARLY THE CREATORíS INTENT THAT MANKIND BE DESIGNED TO ENJOY AN INCREDIBLE STEWARDING OF THE MATERIAL CREATED REALM

Genesis 1:27-28 - "So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. [28] And God blessed them. And God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth."

Man was specifically created to exercise incredible stewardship and dominion over all of God's creation. There was a tremendous amount of joy and freedom that man was to exercise over the environment in which God placed him. This was a part of what the image of God looked like in mankind. While this would end in terrible abuse with the Fall, it was clearly Godís intent that mankind enjoy a fruitful dominion (28) over the rest of the created realm. Man wasnít an equal with the rest of creation. He was to subdue it and steward it with a God-given delight and dominion.

2) INTRINSIC TO THE WHOLE CREATION ACCOUNT IS THE SETTING ASIDE OF A PORTION OF THE MATERIAL CREATED REALM FROM MANíS OWN TOUCH AND USE

Genesis 2:16-17 - "And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, "You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, [17] but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die."

Please notice that this is more than a simple eat or donít eat issue. This is not some ceremonial, religious ritual in that sense. This is an issue of knowing how we are made and embracing lovingly ordered bounds. In effect, God was saying, "Everything within your reach is for your use and enjoyment - everything except a small portion. A small portion is not for your touch. I have reserved a small portion of the material realm to be off limits to your own discretion. It is not under your discretion and control as is everything else I have given you in the garden. This is to be Mine and Mine alone."

The whole creation account revolves around this point. Nothing else makes any sense without this central insight. In the garden God gives man a test. "Everything else is yours. This isnít yours. This is mine alone."

Ponder this slowly. Why did God reserve this small portion? Was He going broke and was worried man would get everything and He would be left with nothing? Was He just flexing His muscles in the garden?

ďNo, Pastor Don. God was just testing manís obedience.Ē

And thatís true, He was. But what kind of obedience? What was the specific nature of the test? And why did God choose this particular kind of test? Why not some kind of sexual temptation? Why not the setting up of some kind of idol to see of they would bow down and worship it? Why some silly piece of fruit on a tree?

Here is the reason, and everything hinges on our understanding it correctly and deeply. There is nothing ostensibly religious about fruit. At this time the fruit and growth of the garden was the sustenance of Adam and Eve. It was what they ate. It was what they lived on. That means this test is a stewardship test. Itís a test that relates to everything else about Adam and Eve.

Everything else about their dominion over the created order depends on this test. And the test is to establish this truth: in terms of manís relationship both to God and the rest of the created order, his relationship to the set aside portion determines his rulership over the whole. Hear that again. Manís faithfulness with the part established his relationship with the whole.

The test is what will man do with the part God says is off limits to his own discretion. Does man think that everything he can get his hand on is his? Thatís the issue. It is still the issue. Does he know the difference between all that God has given him to exercise his own dominion over, and the small portion God has chosen to not put at manís disposal? Do you know the difference?

3) THE FALL BECOMES EFFECTIVE THE MOMENT ADAM AND EVE COME TO BELIEVE THEY NEED BOTH THEIR PORTION AND THE SEPARATED PORTION OF THE CREATED WORLD TO SECURE THEIR OWN FUTURE AND HAPPINESS

Genesis 3:1-5 - "Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, "Did God actually say, 'You shall not eat of any tree in the garden'?" [2] And the woman said to the serpent, "We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, [3] but God said, 'You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.' " [4] But the serpent said to the woman, "You will not surely die. [5] For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil."

Notice carefully whatís happening here. Satan convinces Eve, and Eve convinces Adam, that they will both be better off if they have, not only their own portion of creation, but God's restricted portion too. He convinces them that they will secure themselves better for the future if they ignore the difference between what is God's domain and what is theirs.

And what we've learned from the history of mankind in this world is very simple. In seeking to acquire God's portion, they ended up not only losing what they thought they might gain, but they lost what they had as well. So we see that the tithe is not Godís way of taking away from what we have. Rather, it is His way of securing our future with the rest of His material good given to us.

Now we're in a better position to learn why, in those famous words about tithing from the prophet Malachi, God places tithing as the first step in His wayward people returning to Him - not only financially, but spiritually as well:

Malachi 3:6-12 - "For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed. [7] From the days of your fathers you have turned aside from my statutes and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you, says the Lord of hosts. But you say, 'How shall we return?' [8] Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, 'How have we robbed you?' In your tithes and contributions. [9] You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you. [10] Bring the full tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need. [11] I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it will not destroy the fruits of your soil, and your vine in the field shall not fail to bear, says the Lord of hosts. [12] Then all nations will call you blessed, for you will be a land of delight, says the Lord of hosts.

The point of these verses is so frequently missed. Theyíre not just about money. The starting place in man's unmaking was his failure to listen to God about what was God's alone and what was man's. When we honor God with our tithe we begin unbending, as it were, what was set askew in the fall. In honoring God with the tithe we lay the foundation, the starting place, in ordering our lives according to His will and way.

And that's not all. We lay the foundation - the starting place - for a properly exercised dominion and stewardship over the rest of our created world that we've been given "richly to enjoy," but which will only be enjoyed on His terms - not ours.

Tithing is not merely an Old Testament legalistic ritual. It's a gracious, God-given provision (not regulation). Itís a provision, not for receiving salvation and forgiveness, which can only be found through faith in Jesus Christ, but the practice of the tithe provides, beyond forgiveness, a fundamental untangling of the threads of the fall in my life. It's not a slick plan some churches have devised for paying bills or fund raising. It's establishing God's rule into the fabric of my whole life - not just the religious part. Because remember, what Adam and Eve lost through the failure to honor Godís portion of the garden was their dominion over all the rest of it. Not just some religious portion of their lives.

Perhaps more clearly than anything else, tithing shows the extent or the limits of God's authority in my heart. Tithing has little to do with some dusty Old Testament texts and more to do with extending Godís proper dominion and blessing over all the other areas of my life.

Tithing is strikingly related to the Fall. Man lost dominion over the whole because he didnít obey Godís instructions for the part. God placed a tree in the center of the garden and said to man, ďThe rest is yours. This is not. The rest is for your use. This part is not.Ē There is simply no understanding the meaning of the Fall apart from this test. There are no poisoned apples, or witchís spells. This has nothing at all to do with magic. God was establishing an eternal pattern. Two tests were unfolding, and, in a certain sense, still unfold as people either learn, or fail to learn, to live life under the terms of the Creatorís authority:

a) First, God tests the issue of rights and authority - Who is the Creator of everything in the garden? Did Adam and Eve understand the terms of living as creatures? They didn't have anything by right. They received everything as a gift. Adam and Eve were created beings. They were graciously placed in a garden they didnít build or earn. Whatever strength they had to tend the garden they received from their Creatorís all-supplying hand. This is still the test of the garden. This is still crucial to a proper understanding of our relationship to Godís created order.

This was precisely the issue around which the Fall revolved. Did Adam and Eve get it? If they came to see themselves as the owners and the ones in charge they would take matters of this material world into their own hands. In essence, that's what Eve and Adam did. By and large, we've been doing it ever since.

b) Second, God tests Adam and Eveís trust in His goodness and care for their future. Would they believe, really believe, that everything would work out for their enrichment in all the rest of the garden if they honored God in this one special place in the center of the garden?

Of course, we know Satan convinced Eve and Adam that they would end up with more if they had what God had set apart. And we also know that in taking for themselves the portion God had set apart, they not only lost God's portion, but the rest of the garden as well.

This, I believe, is a Biblical starting place in considering the practice of the tithe. I donít teach tithing as law. I proclaim it as a pathway to fulness. I want everyone in this church to discover it, not as a burden, but as unbending the twisted effects of the Fall, not just receiving the forgiveness of sins. Beyond our forgiveness, the tithe is a gracious provision, not a wooden, powerless, commandment. Keep your life in the center of the garden. In every area of your life, youíll bear more fruit there.