David Jeremiah - Starting With Why
In one of the most talked about business books written in the last decade, and the title of the book is, "Start with Why," Simon Sinek tells this story. He says:
Armed with every ingredient for success, Samuel Pierpont Langley set out in the early 1900s to be the first man to pilot an airplane. Highly regarded, he was a senior officer at the Smithsonian Institution, a mathematics professor who had also worked at Harvard. His friends included Andrew Carnegie and Alexander Graham Bell. Langley was given a $50,000 grant from the War Department to fund his project, a tremendous amount of money for that time. He pulled together the best minds of the day, a veritable dream team of talent and know-how. Langley and his team used not only the finest materials, but they were followed by the press everywhere they went. People all over the country were riveted to the story, waiting to read that he had achieved his goal. With the team he had gathered and all of the resources they had, his success was guaranteed. Or was it? A few hundred miles away, Wilbur and Orville Wright were working on their own flying machine. Their passion to fly was so intense that it inspired the enthusiasm and commitment of a dedicated group in their hometown of Dayton, Ohio. There wasn't any funding for their venture. No government grants. No high-level connections. Not a single person on the team had an advanced degree or even a college education, and that included Wilbur and Orville Wright. But the team banded together in a humble bicycle shop and made their vision real. On December 17, 1903, a small group witnessed a man take flight for the first time in history.
If you haven't read the book, "The Wright Brothers," it's a wonderful read. I remember how fun it was for me to read that book. "How did the Wright brothers succeed where a better-equipped, better-funded, and better-educated team could not? It wasn't luck. Both the Wright brothers and Langley were highly motivated. Both teams had a strong work ethic. Both had scientific minds. They were pursuing exactly the same goal. The difference was that Orville and Wilbur were driven by a cause. They were driven by a purpose, a belief. They believed that if they could figure out this flying machine, it would change the course of the world," and did it ever.
According to Simon Sinek, the author of the book I mentioned, only the Wright brothers were able to inspire those around them, would truly lead their team to develop a technology that would change the world, because they asked and started with the question, "Why"? The Wright brothers understood the power of "Why". They knew that people wouldn't truly buy into a product, a service, a movement, or an idea, until they understood the why behind it. In other words, a person's why is the purpose or the cause or the belief that inspires that person to action. Behind each choice that you and I make, there is a why or a reason.
This is true in every arena of life and it is especially true when it comes to how we manage our finances. What we believe about money and what we believe about possessions and why we do with our money and possessions what we do determines how this all plays out through our lives. I wanna talk with you about starting with why when it comes to giving. For the Christian, the starting point for giving is what we call tithing. Tithing is the act of giving 10% of our income before taxes back to God. This is the method that God teaches his people. It is his plan of economy for his work. It is the method that is found in the Bible and I believe it is God's plan for his people still today.
I believe in tithing, and Donna and I have practiced it throughout the years of our marriage and it has been a journey of great blessing for the both of us. I would hate for any of you to miss out on that blessing so I urge you to take good notes and listen with your heart as we teach these principles together. The book of Malachi finds Israel having returned from being in captivity for 70 years to the Babylonians and, as they return to their homeland, they soon began to backslide in disobedience to God. So God sends his prophet Malachi to call them to repentance and to challenge their godless ways in a series of sermons.
If you ever preach, if you're ever a pastor, and you're afraid to ever get in the face of your people, read the book of Malachi. I mean, that book is an in-your-face book, if there is such a thing. God sent exactly the right person to talk to the Israelites. Their failure to obey God was evident in many ways but especially when it came to the tithe, which was very clearly instructed to them from God. Listen to Malachi chapter 3, verses 8 and 9, and you will see what the people were doing. "Will a man rob God"? said Malachi. This is one of his sermons. "Yet you have robbed Me"! speaking for the Lord. "But you say, 'In what way have we robbed you?' In tithes and offerings. You are cursed with a curse, for you have robbed me, even this whole nation".
As we study the words of this ancient prophet, let's start with why. Here are six reasons for tithing that will inspire us to action. They remind us that tithing not only honors God but blesses us as well. From this sermon from Malachi, we learn first of all that when we tithe we express God's preeminence. Malachi was addressing a group of people because they were pretending to be faithful to God when, in fact, they weren't and I've often read this passage and felt in my own heart the Israelites would have been much better off if they'd have just stopped doing anything, than to try to posture the way they did as if you could fool God. What were they doing? Let me read it to you from the Scripture, verse 8: "'When you offer the blind as a sacrifice, is it not evil? And when you offer the lame and sick, is it not evil? Offer it to your governor! Would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you favorably?' says the Lord of hosts".
You see, the Israelites in Malachi's day didn't wanna tithe. They didn't wanna do what God wanted them to do but they wanted everybody to think they were doing it. So they would pretend to tithe by finding the weakest, poorest animal in their flock and offering it to God. You see, in that day, the economy was an agricultural economy, not so much coins and bills but flocks and herds and all of that. Verse 14 in the 1st chapter of Malachi says: "'Cursed be the deceiver who has in his flock a male, and takes a vow, but sacrifices to the Lord what is blemished, for I am a great King,' says the Lord of hosts, 'and my name is to be feared among the nations.'" Because God is a great God, because he is a great King, the Israelites knew that they were to bring him their best. But when the time came to give their offerings, they gave God the leftovers. When we tithe, we put God first. We give him the best. When we write God the first check every month, it reminds us that he is our number one priority.
Tithing is a way to have our values and our priorities reconfirmed on a regular basis. Why do we do this? What is the why behind it? It is a powerful way to continually express God's preeminence in our lives. I've often said that if you want to know what you really believe in, you can just take your check stub or your computer record and it'll tell you what you believe. Tithing is a way to say, "I believe in God. I believe in what God is doing on this earth. I believe it's the most important thing, and I'm gonna put it first". My memory goes back to my mother doing the bills for our family when I was growing up. I never did know her system. It didn't seem to make a whole lot of sense to me. It was a lot of envelopes and a lot of checks and a lot of stuff but I remember vividly she would always talk about the fact the first check goes to God. And every week when she sorted it all out, that's the testimony I remember.
Why do we tithe? What's the why behind it? It's just a great way to put God first and to demonstrate it with our actions. Number two, when we tithe, we embrace God's promise. Tithing is a two-way test. It's a way for God to test our willingness to trust him and it's a way we test his faithfulness to us. Let me tell you something, it's the only place in the Bible that I'm aware of and I've looked diligently. It's the only place in the Bible where we, as followers of God, are told to test God. He tells us and we'll see the passage in a moment, that we're to try him, we're to test him, in the matter of tithing.
Now, the word "tithe" is an interesting word. In his signature book, "The Blessed Life", Robert Morris writes these words. He said: "The word translated 'tithe' in the Bible literally means tenth or a tenth part. And do you know what the number ten represents all through the Bible"? he wrote. "It represents testing. Think about this. How many plagues were there in Egypt? Ten. In other words, how many times did God test Pharaoh's heart? The answer is ten. How many Commandments are there? There are ten. How many ways is our obedience tested? And the answer is ten. How many times did God test Israel while they were wandering in the wilderness and how many times did God test Jacob's heart when he was working for Laban? Or how many days was Daniel tested in the 1st chapter of the book of Daniel? In each case, the answer is ten. And the pattern continues in the New Testament. In Matthew 25, ten virgins had their preparedness tested. Ten days of testing are mentioned in Revelation chapter 2 and verse 10. The number of ten in the Bible is consistently associated with testing. And the tithe represents the ultimate heart test for believers".
But more significantly, as I've mentioned, it is the only place in which the Christian is invited to test God. Where are we invited to do that? Malachi 3:10. Listen to these words: "'Bring all your tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house, and test me now in this,' says the Lord of hosts". God is more than willing to be tested. He wants to prove himself faithful to his people and the only way to test God is to honor him first, especially if that puts you in a tighter financial bind than usual. If you wait to see if you have enough to tithe, you aren't putting God first, you're putting him last. Some people think they have to get all their priorities in order before they begin to tithe. But tithing is the best way to put your priorities in order.
Why is that so? Because God will honor and bless all of your efforts for your obedience to him. I've heard many people say over the years that I have taught this that one of the strangest things that they've observed is that after they started giving the tithe, the 90% that was still left went further than the 100% ever went before they started to tithe. It's almost like God says you sanctify the first 10% for me and I'll sanctify the last 90% for you. It seems that when we set aside what God tells us to set aside for him, we are blessed in ways we can't even explain. I read about a missionary who had been teaching tithing to his church out in the jungle. One morning, a young Christian came to the missionary's door with a fishing pole in one hand and a fish in the other. He said, "Pastor, here's my tithe". And the missionary said, "Where's the rest of the fish"? And he said, "Oh, they're still in the river. I just wanted to give God his first".
Please hear me. I can't remember anyone proving God in the manner of tithing who was disappointed with the results. So we're discovering the why of tithing. First of all, it expresses God's preeminence in our life. Secondly, it helps us to embrace his promise. It helps us to test God and test ourselves. Then thirdly, when we tithe, we experience God's provision. Do you wanna be provided, do you wanna sense that God's on your team, helping you with all of the challenges you're fighting through in the economic world in which you live? Well, one of the best ways to get right and get in sync with God is to do what God tells you to do. In verses 10 through 12 of chapter 3 in Malachi, we read of this incredible provision of God: "Their fields will be bountiful and all nations will call Israel blessed". God promises his people three different kinds of blessing if they will just take him at his word and tithe. When you break this down, here's what it looks like.
First of all, he wants to bless you personally. Verse 10 says: "I will open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you such blessing that there won't be room to receive it". God says, "If you honor me in the tithe, if you'll do what I ask you to do, I want to bless you, I'm gonna open the windows of heaven and pour out a blessing on you". When he promised that to the Israelites, he surely was talking a lot about the rain that they needed for their crops. But I have heard countless testimonies through the years of the ways God has blessed and provided for people who honor him with their tithe and I wanted to raise my hand as one of those who have experienced that. Do you know the Bible is filled with this promise. Let me just give you some of the scattered references.
First of all, Proverbs 3:9-10, have you ever read this: "Honor the Lord with your possessions, and with the firstfruits of all your increase; so your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will overflow with new wine". The wonderful truth is that God's ability to give far exceeds our ability to receive. In Luke 6:38 says: "Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom". When I was growing up, my father used to preach on giving once in a while and he used to tell this little illustration. It was kind of a homespun thing but he said God has a shovel and you have a shovel, but the good news is God's shovel's bigger than yours. So when you're faithful to God he will be faithful to you in a way that far outstrips anything you could ever do.
The apostle Paul was careful to remind the people he taught about stewardship of God's provision. In Philippians 4:19, in a financial instruction passage, Paul writes: "My God will supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus". And then again to the Corinthians he wrote: "God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work". When we do what God tells us to do with our resources, the Bible says God wants to bless us personally. But he also wants to bless us materially. Here's an interesting verse if there is such one. Malachi 3:11: "'And I will rebuke the devourer for your sakes, so that he will not destroy the fruit of your ground, nor shall the vine fail to bear fruit for you in the field,' says the Lord of hosts".
God told the Israelites that if they would be faithful in what he instructed them to do, that he would rebuke the devourer for their sake. In the Old Testament agricultural economy that meant that those who were faithful in tithing wouldn't lose their crops through pestilence or destructive forces. In other words, God would protect them and provide for them in a material way. And I can give witness to the fact that God still does that today. Almost like the children of Israel in the wilderness whose clothes and shoes never wore out, God protects those who honor him with their faithfulness. God wants to bless his people and he does. Think back over your life.
If you're a Christian and you've been tithing as we have all of our lives, we remember cars that lasted way longer than they should have. I mean, people would wonder how we were still driving that car. Tires that should have been changed out long before they were. God is always faithful to those who honor him by putting him first. I can't tell you how it works out in your life. I can just give you the principle. The principle of God's blessing. Personal blessings, material blessings. Notice verse 12, there's even a spiritual blessing. Malachi told the people, if you do what God asks you to do, "'all the nations will call you blessed for you will be a delightful land,' says the Lord of hosts". This is just another way of saying, "I will honor you and lift you up".
As Israel trusted God with their tithes and offerings, God promised to bless her in such a way that would call forth the admiration of the nations. If a church is blessed, it's only because the people who are in the church are blessed. And God promises to bless individuals who honor him with the tithe. He blesses them personally and materially and spiritually. This may be a little philosophical but let me just say this. My observation over the years and I've spent most of my years with the people of God in the church. My observation is that many people in the church today aren't really sure God wants to bless them. Most of the time they will say that they don't feel worthy of being blessed.
Now, let's face it, if blessing only comes because we're worthy of blessing, let's just go home right now 'cause none of us are worthy to be blessed of God. But God promises that he will bless us. And our capacity for the reception of that blessing is a key ingredient. If we are not willing to accept the fact that God wants to bless us, we won't even know it when it happens. But I have been reading the Scripture and reading a lot about all of the things that God does with his people and I came across a series of verses in the book of Deuteronomy that I think kind of gives us the picture of what God's heart is toward his people. And I wanna show those verses to you. I'm not gonna ask you to look 'em up. I'll just ask you to read 'em with me from the screen. For instance, the people of Israel were instructed to be generous to the Levites, to be generous to the foreigners, to be generous to the orphans and the widows in their towns.
And here is the promise that God gives them if they will obey that instruction. Deuteronomy 14:29: "Then the Lord your God will bless you in all your work". Later on, the people of Israel are instructed to be generous to the poor. Listen to what God says to them if they will do that. Deuteronomy 15:10: "Give generously to the poor, not grudgingly, for the Lord your God will bless you in everything you do". Then they were told that it was all right to charge interest to the foreigners in their land but they should never ever charge interest to their fellow Israelites and, once again, observe God's promise: "So that the Lord your God may bless you in everything you do in the land you are about to enter and occupy".
Notice, God is not simply promising to bless them in the manner of that which they have done. He gives them a really global blessing. He wants to bless them in everything they do. How many of you believe that God is capable of blessing you and me in everything that we do? Here's one of the key ingredients is that he underscores in the Old Testament. Finally, at the end of this section in Deuteronomy that sort of focuses on generosity, there are two incredible promises that are filed just a few verses apart in the 28th chapter of Deuteronomy. Verse 8: "The Lord will guarantee a blessing on everything you do and will fill your storehouses with grain. The Lord will bless you in the land he is giving you". And in verse 12: "The Lord will send rain at the proper time from his rich treasury in the heavens and will bless all the work you do. You will lend money to many nations, but you will never need to borrow from them".
Have you noticed how prominent in these Scriptures is the word "blessed"? I don't wanna take this any further than I should and I know that in the New Testament we are blessed in the heavenlies in spiritual things. If you're a Christian, you've already been blessed. You have salvation, you have the Holy Spirit, you have the Word of God, you have the church. You have all the spiritual blessings that we have. And I understand that and I know that when you come from the Old Testament to the New Testament some of these blessings change. There's more of an emphasis on the spiritual blessings in the New Testament. In the Old Testament, there's a great emphasis on the other blessings. But I want you to understand God still wants to bless his people. In fact, one of the interesting things about the book of Malachi is as you get toward the end of the book, almost before you turn the page to get in the New Testament, you have this word from God: "I am the Lord God, and I change not".
The same God who blessed his people in the Old Testament wants to bless his people in the New Testament. Add to that, the spiritual blessings we have as followers of Christ. But remember, God is just looking for a way to bless us. He blesses us in spite of ourselves but he wants to bless us because of our obedience. So why do we give? Why do we tithe? We tithe to experience God's provision. And number four, we tithe to expand God's praise. Tithing's just another way to honor God and when we honor him we bring praise to his name. Listen to Proverbs 3:9: "Honor the Lord with your possessions, and with the firstfruits of all of your increase". When we honor God with our giving, the word gets out. When we tithe, we execute God's plan.
Let me just touch on this quickly. Do you know that tithing is not a church doctrine? It's a personal doctrine. And here's what he instructed the people in Corinth. In the New Testament he said, "Concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given orders to the churches of Galatia, so you must do also: on the first day of the week let each one of you lay something aside". Everything in our relationship with God is first personal and then family and then church. And this is not a scare tactic by God. Hear me carefully. It is simply a reminder that he is interested in the transforming of us into the image of Christ. One of the last things we let go of often, as Christians, is the control of our resources. We get baptized, we teach a class, we do a lot of things, but the hardest thing for many of us is to say, "Lord God, my hands are open. Thank you for what you've put in them. And what you need to take out of them, you do it".
Let me tell you, you'll never know true spiritual freedom 'til you get involved in some kind of systematic program of giving to God. When we tithe, we express God's preeminence. We embrace his promise. We experience his provision. We expand his praise. We execute his plan. And then we extend his program. We've been talking a lot here recently about what is God's program. God's purpose for us individually and as a church is to take the gospel to the whole world, to preach the gospel to every creature, to see men and women, children, young people, coming to Christ. Sometimes, we can get so involved in running the system that we forget why we're doing it and it's back to that eternal question why. Why? So that it can be used to bring people to Jesus Christ.
So that people can hear the gospel. He told us in his last words before he went back to heaven that we're to go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. That's what we've been called to do. Ladies and gentlemen, when we use our money to fund the purpose of the church, we're literally obeying the Great Commission. We're taking the resources of our life and we're leveraging it toward the souls of lost men and women. That's what God has called us to do. And it's so wonderful to see that happen. I read recently that one of the reasons a lot of churches don't receive the monies they need is because they end up keeping it all for themselves. The church should never be a place where we collect resources. It should always be a place where we channel resources. We should be a distribution center for the needs of people and for the missions of the world, and most of all, for the gospel.
Now, there's two things I just wanna leave you to think about, about this business of tithing. First of all, tithing is a discipline, something you've gotta teach yourself to do. Nobody is born wanting to tithe. Some people may have the gift of giving. It's a lot easier for them. For most, it's a very challenging thing. So it means you do it when you feel like it, you do it when you don't feel like it. Some people have found a way to just do it, make it a matter of just automatic, routine, "I give the first 10% to God". It's a discipline. But more than that, it's a decision. You have to decide to do it. You have to determine in your own heart: This is what God is teaching me. I wanna find out what it's like to be blessed. I wanna do this because God's promised to bless me if I do. I'm gonna be faithful to God and I'm gonna make that decision. How do you make a decision? You just decide.
I've heard stories of people going home from stewardship sermons and, in the car on the way home, looking at each other and saying, "Honey, we should do this". And they decide and they do it. And the next week, they begin. You say, "Well, when should we start? I think I'll pray about it this year, Pastor, and maybe next year will be my time". No, the time between what God tells you to do something and when you do it, that time is the devil's time, not God's time. The moment you know God wants you to do something, you should do it immediately. Don't let the enemy get his foot in the door. So when should you start? You should start next week. You should start next time you get a paycheck. Start as soon as you can. You say, "Well, I gotta". No, if you wait 'til you get it all in order, you will never do it. If you do it by faith, you say, "Lord God, I'm gonna put you first and I'm gonna trust you to help me with the needs that we have," you just wait and see what he does.