A Disciple’s Spiritual Fitness Course, Pt. 9
Study Guide, June 11, 2023
Pastor Clay Olsen
You may not recognize the name of Anthony Rossi. But you are familiar with the company he started…Tropicana Orange Juice. Anthony Rossi came to America in his 20’s from Italy and was befriended by a Christian couple and he soon gave his life to Christ. And one Sunday in church he prayed: “Lord, if You give me an idea for a business, I will be faithful to give a portion of everything I make back to Your work.” And the rest is history. For many decades Brother Rossi gave truckloads of Tropicana Orange juice to Bible Colleges, and he also gave generously from his successful business to missions and church planting.1
That is pretty amazing! And the key word here in his giving habit or discipline is the word ‘portion’, because that word clarifies this often confusing concept of this fifth discipline of our Spiritual fitness course that we began exploring last week. So let’s continue our study as we continue clarifying. But first let’s state our theme passage: 1 Tim 4:8-9- “Spend your time and energy in training yourself for spiritual fitness. Physical exercise has some value, but spiritual exercise is much more important, for it promises a reward in both this life and the next. This is true, and everyone should accept it.” NLT
Let’s see how we can really practice this exercise of giving since it is one of the essential disciplines of getting spiritually fit and staying spiritually fit.
Whenever you talk about giving to believers you have different reactions from different groups of believers. This is demonstrated from what we see from the Corinthian church. Conscientious believers sometimes feel guilty about giving when they shouldn’t, since they are already being generous and faithful. But then carnal believers often feel grumpy about it, because they are not being generous and faithful, but a bit selfish with their stuff. And remember, the Apostle Paul’s counsel to each of these groups was to alleviate the guilt from the faithful about their giving and to shake up the unfaithful to try to move them from being grumpy about giving to being generous and being responsible about giving.
Let’s look at a couple passages on this. To challenge those grumpy and unfaithful in giving Paul says in 2 Cor 9:5-6- “So I thought it necessary to urge the brethren that they would go on ahead to you and arrange beforehand your previously promised bountiful gift, so that the same would be ready as a bountiful gift and not affected by covetousness. Now this I say, he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.” NASU Paul wanted those Corinthians who were being stingy with God to understand they were only short-changing themselves. Remember, whenever the Israelites horded their possessions it rotted their souls. There’s something about keeping the first portion that makes it begin rotting away at the other things in our life, like spoiled fruit or vegetables in a bag makes the whole bag stink. On the other hand, there’s something about giving the first portion to God that makes everything else healthy. There is a reason that God’s instructions are called physical and spiritual laws. You have to work with them…not against them.
And then to help those already committed to practicing the exercise of giving, or those already faithful in giving, Paul says, “Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed…” 2 Cor 9:7-9 NASU
By the way, this is one of the passages that commentators refer to when asked that question of: “Is ‘Tithing’ still a New Testament requirement, or is ‘Proportional giving’ the New Testament pattern?” Here’s something interesting…the principle of tithing actually began with Abraham, which began way before the ceremonial law was given to Moses, which means that rather than being a ceremonial law practice, tithing is a foundational timeless principle. However, we do also have further teachings in the New Testament letters about it, which, when they talk about giving, they don’t mention tithing exactly, but rather they put it in terms of a ‘portion’ or a ‘proportion’ rather than a percentage. The Apostles speak about it in terms of ‘generous giving’, and yet the proportion is the decision of the giver, rather than it being a pre-set percentage.
And to help us understand it even more, let’s consider the bigger picture. For one thing…what question did the tithe answer? Remember, the saints of old came to know God in a much more limited way than we know God, since we know so much more about God through Jesus Christ, plus we also have all of the additional revelation of the Words of God in the New Testament. So the saints of old were naturally looking for what God required of them. How were they to honor God in their lives? So, in this particular area of their life, the material, or we could say, the financial area of their lives, God revealed what that requirement would be.
Now, God wanted them to enjoy the material blessings which He enabled them to acquire for their families and their community. In fact, even in the New Testament He reinforced the fact that He expects His people to take care of their families with the provisions which He enables them to acquire through their work. So what He was basically saying to them was that they could demonstrate their faithfulness to Him and His cause by giving a tithe of what He had given them, which means, a tenth. There would be other times that He would ask them to give more, but the tithe would be the way they could demonstrate their dedication to Him in this area of their treasures.
In fact, later on when they could exchange their produce for actual money, there were receptacles in the temple where people could give their tithe in one receptacle and another receptacle for freewill offerings. That’s where the tithes and offerings come from, one was required and the other was an extra free-will offering. However, the freewill offering had also been practiced throughout the Old Testament times with their agricultural produce of all kinds.
In other words, even in this practice of the tithing of their possessions, they weren’t legalistic about it. Think about that: it’s kind of hard to figure out exactly ten percent of a pile of grain or a wagon load of barley, or exactly ten percent of a flock of sheep…you might have had to take a couple more legs from another sheep to make it exact…but that wouldn’t be too good on the sheep. But you see what we are saying…even then, the tithe was simply a guide for their giving of the first portion of their goods to God. The grain offering may have realistically been more like eight percent or 12 percent of the actual pile. The point is this: We need to broaden our understanding of what was going on here. Again, the understanding of the ‘tithe’, even then, was more in terms of it simply representing the ‘first portion’ of their material goods. A clear example of this comes from what Moses said to the people about what they were to say to God with their offerings. Deut 26:10-11- “And now, O Lord, I have brought You the first portion of the harvest You have given me from the ground.’ Then place the produce before the Lord your God, and bow to the ground in worship before Him.”NLT
So even then, the point was that God was telling them that they could demonstrate their love for Him by being faithful in giving the tithe, like the first portion of their possessions to Him, to be used for the sake of God’s work in the community, the temple ministry, with the poor, and others. Even then, the ‘tithe’ was understood as a guide to what this first portion represented.
So the real issue in giving is that the focus is not first on what percent you are giving, but first on how much is this discipline of giving to your God a priority to you? How important is it to you that you dedicate that first portion of what God has blessed you with as a way of saying to God, “Accept this offering, Lord, as a physical expression of my devotion, and a way to demonstrate that You have first place in my heart. You could demand that I give all, since You are the Owner of it all. But You’ve only asked for a tithe-like portion, to share with You, and then for me to share the rest with my family, my church, my community, and my world. Lord, You have been generous with me, help me to be generous with You.”
In the Apostle Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, it was as though he anticipated some confusion about this discipline of the giving of tithes and offerings, so he clarified it even further. Some people seem to have a gift on the other side of that, a gift for complicating the simple and confusing the obvious, but the Scriptures continually bless us by making the complicated simple…simple, yet profound at the same time. But here’s what we mean. The Apostle simply put it all in terms of “Give Generously.” In fact, even the examples he chose to help others understand what generous giving looks like were crystal clear examples. Take a look at this: 2 Cor 8:1-5- “Our brothers, we want you to know what God’s grace has accomplished in the churches in Macedonia. They have been severely tested by the troubles they went through; but their joy was so great that they were extremely generous in their giving, even though they are very poor. I can assure you that they gave as much as they could, and even more than they could. Of their own free will they begged us and pleaded for the privilege of having a part in helping God’s people in Judea. It was more than we could have hoped for! First they gave themselves to the Lord; and then, by God’s will they gave themselves to us as well.” TEV
Way to go, Macedonians! What a great description of what this discipline of giving is all about! These Macedonia brothers and sisters showed us how to do it. It starts with- ‘First things first.’ First, you don’t start with giving a contribution of your income to the Lord. No, first you start with giving your commitment of your very life to the Lord. “First, they gave themselves to the Lord”! The more fully you give of yourself to the Lord, the more freely you will then give the first portion to God from the things God has given to you.
Here’s another principle that spills out of the Macedonian’s example. They understood one of the most misunderstood aspects of giving, and that is; they understood that giving is a privilege in getting to have a part in helping God’s people, helping fulfill God’s purpose, and helping promote God’s program for His Kingdom. A ‘Privilege’! Is that how you look at the giving of your first portion, or of your tithes and offerings to God, as a privilege? Do you know how the dictionary defines privilege? ‘A privilege is a special advantage or benefit not enjoyed by all; an exclusive right, a favor…’
Does this mean that I should look at giving of the first portion of my offerings to God’s church and work as being like a special advantage that I get to do, as a benefit or blessing for even me…a privilege? Yes, that’s exactly what it means. But I thought that my giving was to benefit others or to bless others. Well, of course it does, but here we find out that when you give to God’s work in order to bless others, God includes you in the blessing! You get in on the blessing of your own giving!
God wants us to know that, because that’s just the way our God is with His children. And one day God will show you what He did with what you gave Him and how He wants to multiply those blessings back to you in His kingdom because of your faithfulness to Him. You remember His words about this, don’t you? Matt 6:19-21- “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” NASU
It’s like the old saying, ‘You can’t take it with you, but you can send it on ahead.’ As your eternal financial planner, God promises to give you a greater return on your investment in His Kingdom than you can imagine. It’s all ‘stored up’ in Heaven for you. And again, it’s not the amount of your money you give, but the ‘proportion of the amount’ God has allowed you manage for Him that you give to His cause and Kingdom. God is real owner of all we own. We are His managers of what belongs to Him.
So now, back to the Macedonians: One of the reasons they were so excited was that they learned this principle that Paul had been teaching them of sowing and reaping. They understood that as they gave a generous portion of whatever they had that God would multiply its benefit to others, as well as multiply it in reward for them. Or as Jesus put it, it would be “treasures for them in Heaven.” And certainly, our highest motive for giving to God is our love for God ahead of the reward, but our God wants us to know that He loves to reward those who give to Him out of their love for Him! That’s just the way our God is! So just enjoy your God and enjoy His promises as well!
Matthew Henry said we should live everyday getting ready for our last day. Everything we do today, every gift we give today, will have ripple effects throughout all eternity, even in our own experience in the Eternal Kingdom of God. And once your eternal retirement starts you have no more chances to invest in it. So figure out your proportion now, what proportion of your income, what tithes and offerings you can give to God’s cause of building His church. Catch the excitement and the enthusiasm of these Macedonian believers who caught the vision of what this is all about. What a privilege to get in on God’s financial plan for your life, one that blesses others, as well as then multiplies in rewards for you. God is giving us an exclusive right, an advantage not enjoyed by all, a favor of giving to His Kingdom, of investing in His Kingdom with blessings for others and eternal returns and rewards for you.
Whatever we have learned from this study about Giving of our tithes and offerings we need to learn this: Throw out every tainted negative idea or attitude you’ve ever picked up from our culture about giving or from churches or television programs that abused this discipline of giving, and step up next to these Macedonian Christians and say, ‘From here on out I’m going to give to the work of my God from my finances the way my Macedonian brothers and sisters gave. First, I’m going to give myself to the Lord, and then I’m going to give generously of the money that God is letting me manage for Him. It all belongs to Him anyway, but He’s blessing me with managing it for Him. And I’m going to commit to this privilege of giving a generous portion of it back to God, whether it’s out of my riches or my poverty. But either way, I now understand that giving to the work of the Lord is a special advantage, an exclusive right, a favor that God is giving me by contributing to the building up of His Kingdom!”
And, again, as far as the tithing issue? The tithe is a helpful guide, but the New Testament emphasizes ‘proportional giving’ rather than a percent. Paul said: 2 Cor 8:11-15- “Give whatever you can according to what you have. If you are really eager to give, it isn’t important how much you are able to give. God wants you to give what you have, not what you don’t have. Of course, I don’t mean you should give so much that you suffer from having too little. I only mean that there should be some equality. Right now you have plenty and can help them. Then at some other time they can share with you when you need it. In this way, everyone’s needs will be met. Do you remember what the Scriptures say about this? “Those who gathered a lot had nothing left over, and those who gathered only a little had enough.” NLT
You see how fairly God watches out for His people in giving them these instructions? Again, God understands your circumstances as well as your heart for Him. But the overall emphasis is to just be as generous as you can in giving to the work of God in His church and for His Kingdom! As Randy Alcorn points out in ‘The Treasure Principle’: “As surely as a compass needle follows north, your heart will follow your treasure. Money leads, heart follows.”
He went on to say, “I’ve heard people say, ‘I want more of a heart for missions.’ I always respond, Jesus tells you exactly how to get it. Put your money in missions-and your heart will follow.” You see it? Have you been waiting for something to raise the temperature of your heart for the things of God, for world missions, or for the ministries going on in your local church family, this family of God and the ministries we are seeking to accomplish? How can you get more of a heart for your church? Could your break-through be as simple as that? Could you really get more of a heart for what’s going on in your church family by committing more of your treasure, your mammon, your money to your church’s’ ministries? Could you really get more of a heart for the spiritual matters of your life and others by committing more of your finances to spiritual and eternal Kingdom needs? Well, your Macedonian brothers and sisters have already answered your questions with a resounding… “Absolutely! Yes you can! And you can do it!”
And not only can you do it, but then one day some of those Macedonian believers will come up to you in Heaven and say something like: “We’ve heard about you. You made a practice of our principle. They called it the ‘Macedonian principle’, of ‘Giving of yourself first to the Lord, and then giving of yourself to God’s work for others. It was God’s principle for giving of your treasures for the Lord to use in His Kingdom work. Wise choice Brother or Sister! Way to go!”
Oh yeah, practicing this Macedonian principle for giving is a great way to get Spiritually fit and to stay Spiritually fit for life!
- kluth.org/church/ illustrations
- Recommended Reading: The Treasure Principle, Randy Alcorn