Monday, February 8, 2016

Deuteronomy 26:1-11 Giving to God is Worship

KEY TEXT: Deut 26:9-11 ‘And he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. And behold, now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground, which you, O Lord, have given me.’ And you shall set it down before the Lord your God and worship before the Lord your God. And you shall rejoice in all the good that the Lord your God has given to you and to your house, you, and the Levite, and the sojourner who is among you.

KEY THOT: Moses commanded the Israelites to bring their first fruits to the Lord and recite God’s faithfulness beginning from the time of Jacob (the “wandering Aramean”) who went down to stay in Egypt with his children and grandchildren, a total of 70 members. Over the next 400 years, the clan of Israel multiplied into a nation of about 2 millions slaves oppressed by the Egyptians. But God did not forget his people and delivered them from slavery in Egypt to bring them into Canaan under Moses’ and Joshua’s leadership—the land flowing with milk and honey. They were to offer their firstfruits to the Lord as an act of gratitude and worship: “And you shall set it down before the Lord your God and worship before the Lord your God.” 

God will always bless his people with a land that is "flowing with milk and honey"--in our modern society, it would mean homes, jobs and business opportunities. But these blessings must not to be seen as an end in themselves for our own enjoyment, but rather that we may return these blessings back to God to bless Him in our worship: "They shall not appear before the Lord empty-handed. Every man shall give as he is able, according to the blessing of the Lord your God that he has given you" (Deut 16:16-17). 

Why does God command giving? It is because it is a quality of God's kingdom ethos: "For God so loved the world that he gave his own Son..." (John 3:16). The kingdom of this world is about getting and grabbing; but the kingdom of God is about giving. If we do not learn to give, we are reflecting the world's ethos, not kingdom ethos. The goal of works is God-worship, not self-worship. When we get our bonus, our first thought should not be: “Which place can I go for my holidays to spend my bonus?” Rather we should be asking, “How can I return this bonus to God as an act of worship?” As it has been well said, “When God raises our income, we should not raise our standard of living but our standard of giving.”

In the OT, the standard of giving under law was the tithe (10%), but the NT standard of giving under grace is not less than 10%. While Paul insists that NT giving should be “cheerful and not under compulsion”, he definitely is not saying that if we cannot be cheerful giving 10%, we can give less. Jesus’ commendation of the widow who gave two copper coins (two-cents) has been used by those who are unwilling to give more as the biblical justification for putting only loose coins into the offering bags, 

In actual fact, Jesus was saying that under grace, there is no limit to giving: “Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on" (Luke 21:3-4). So, the NT standard of giving under grace is not less than 10% but anything up to 100%. But this is not some kind of new legalistic rule: it basically says that under grace we are actually motivated to give more, not less because of God's selfless giving of His own Son for our salvation: "He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?" (Rom 8:32). If God is so generous in his giving to us, why are we so tight-fisted in our giving back to Him? Sacrificial giving is an expression of NT grace. If we have received God's grace in the giving of His Son, we would have no problem practising the same grace in our giving back to Him. 

Giving in either testaments is not losing but gaining--it is not an expense but an investment. Like the farmer who sows his seeds in the hope of a harvest, so giving is sowing seeds of faith in order to receive a harvest of blessings: “The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has made up his mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work” (2 Cor. 9:6-8). 

This is not prosperity gospel—this is a biblical principle. 

Father, help us give in faith cheerfully so that we might reap what we sow. Amen.

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