The Best Off the Top, Part 2

    Just think how great he was: Even the patriarch Abraham gave him a tenth of the plunder! Now the law requires the descendants of Levi who become priests to collect a tenth from the people—that is, their brothers—even though their brothers are descended from Abraham. This man, however, did not trace his descent from Levi, yet he collected a tenth from Abraham and blessed him who had the promises. And without doubt the lesser person is blessed by the greater. In the one case, the tenth is collected by men who die; but in the other case, by him who is declared to be living. One might even say that Levi, who collects the tenth, paid the tenth through Abraham, because when Melchizedek met Abraham, Levi was still in the body of his ancestor (Hebrews 7:4-10).

 
    The fact remains that God places some men and women in authority over others.

It is only our pride and lack of faith in God's sovereign order that prohibits our submission to His prescribed ways. When we refuse to tithe because the preacher doesn't agree with us regarding the building program or the color of the bulletin board or Brother or Sister So-and-So's being allowed to teach Sunday school, or because the preacher is driving a nicer car than we are, and we don't think he needs it, then we are wearing our childish ways like a bib, revealing the mess we so easily make of our faith. You can tell the Christians who have been babes in Christ for twenty years by the milk they keep spilling in the presence of anyone unlucky enough to be caught within burping distance.

    We must understand that the refusal to give back to God and the rebellion against God's established authority goes back at least as far as Moses. When God took the tribe of Levi and set them apart for himself, the other tribes supported them. However, when the priests were separated from the tribe of Levi, some people rebelled. This incident is known as 'Korah's Rebellion” and is found in Numbers 16:1-3. In verse 3 the leaders of the rebellion say, ''You have gone too far! The whole community is holy, every one of them, and the Lord is with them. Why then do you set yourselves above the Lord's assembly?'” Moses' response to this is found in verse 11, ''It is against the Lord that you and all your followers have banded together. Who is Aaron that you should grumble against him?'”

    Who are we that the Lord should call us out by His grace and bestow upon us His Spirit so that we may accomplish His work among people for His glory? It is all the work of the Lord for His holy purposes, and we are simply His vessels. Some people He calls to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists or pastors, some teachers, administrators or servers. Why should the administrator or the teacher get mad at the pastor for being the pastor when God has made them all?

    We must come to grips with the fact that God does place people in authority over our lives, and it is up to us to obey them for God's glory. Many people today want to hear directly from the Lord, believing that they will obey Him and His Word, but not necessarily the word of another person. This is the sin of Korah. The Lord is speaking to His people and using His servants, the apostles and prophets, evangelists and pastors and teachers to get his Word out. But sometimes people get offended and decide they no longer like their pastor. They decide to stop supporting the church with their tithes and, in an attempted power play, gather around them others who also threaten to withhold their tithes if the pastor does not change his ways (that is, 'See things our way”). They pray and fast that God would remove this man from their presence, while the whole time God is using this pastor to teach them about His glory. Then they wonder why their life seems to be cursed and they no longer hear from God. Is this what it means to be rightly related to God?

    Righteousness is not merely a spiritual state, but a deliberate choice to live our lives for the glory of God. Some Bible teachers would have us believe that what matters most is our faith in God and our love for Him in our heart. Those are fine values and they matter a great deal, but they are only part of the picture. The Book of James and much of the teaching of Jesus fill in the rest of the story of how we are to love one another. We are not simply to feel loving toward one another and then feel faithful in our feelings! Tithing is a physical act prompted by a spiritual state: obedience to God. How we give to God—off the top and from a cheerful heart (2 Corinthians 9:7), or reluctantly with an expectation of a quick return—is a barometer of our love for God.

    When Moses told the people what materials were needed to build the Tabernacle, they gave so much that finally Moses had to tell them to stop giving 'because what they already had was more than enough to do all the work” (Exodus 36:6-7). And where did this 'more than enough” come from? It came from the material they had plundered from the Egyptians (Exodus 11:2-3; 12:35-36). We must remember that the Israelites had been slaves to the Egyptians for four hundred years, so all they brought out from Egypt was what they had plundered from the Egyptians. That they could plunder the Egyptians was due to the fact that God 'made the Egyptians favorably disposed” toward His people. All that they had in their possession was due to the workings of the Lord. When it came time to provide materials for the building of the Tabernacle, they gave freely from what they had freely received. I believe this to be true about their giving: The amount that they gave was a direct indication of their gratefulness and love to God for having been delivered from the bondage of sin and slavery.

    I have yet to meet a church where the pastor has announced to the members, 'Stop giving. We have enough.”

We like to tell people how much we love the Lord, but not everybody wants to prove that love through their faithful and obedient giving. In this regard we have become a 'resounding gong or a clanging cymbal” (1 Corinthians 13:1). I once read a bumper sticker that said, 'If you love Jesus, tithe. Anyone can honk.”

    Too many people are honking out their love for God like a loud cymbal, but when it comes to putting that love into action they either give reluctantly from their leftovers or give nothing at all. That outlook is fine, as long as this principle is understood: What you sow is what you reap. Sow cheap; reap cheap. Sow leftovers; reap leftovers. Sow what you feel like giving when you feel like giving it; reap from God what He 'feels” like giving to you. But when you bring the whole tithe into God's storehouse you will be proving that God will 'throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it” (Malachi 3:10).

    The author of Hebrews goes to great lengths to show the superiority of Christ over every man and institution. We are considering how great Melchizedek was as compared to Abraham, how great Abraham was as compared to Aaron, and how great Aaron was as compared to his brethren. But above them all stands the Son of God. The reason Abraham 'saw” (John 8:56) the day of Christ was because he tithed to the One who still lives. He gave to God's high priest, as he knew that he should. He gave the best off the top of all that God had given him, including his only son, the son of the promise of God. Abraham held nothing back from God—neither people nor possessions—and he saw the redemptive power of God working in his life. In response to this obedience, Melchizedek blessed Abraham. Since the order of Melchizedek is forever, as is Christ, the blessing of Abraham by Melchizedek is the blessing of Christ upon His people. In the same way, Abraham's tithing of the best that he had is a foreshadowing of the Church's giving to Christ the best that they have to give.

    In the days of Abraham, to have seen Melchizedek was the closest thing to seeing Christ. In fact, Jesus says that Abraham did see the day of Christ and rejoiced. Jesus once said to His disciples, 'Many prophets and righteous men longed to see what you see but did not see it, and hear what you hear but did not hear it” (Matthew 13:17; emphasis mine). But regarding Abraham, Jesus said to the Jews, 'Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad” (John 8:56; emphasis mine). Many prophets and righteous men desired to see the day of Jesus and did not; Abraham desired to see the day of Jesus and did. It may have been 'from a distance” (Hebrews 11:13), but still he 'welcomed” it and was 'glad.”

    Too often we who are living in the day of Christ, in the power of His glory and resurrection, are not glad in Christ but angry at life.

We do not welcome Christ in others, but ignore them and get angry with them when they seem to get in our way and prevent us from living as we desire. In how many ways was Abraham more like Christ than many people today who claim to be Christians but actually live like the world?

    Are we rejoicing and welcoming Christ today? Are we glad at every opportunity we have to gaze upon Him, no matter how far from us He seems? Abraham saw the day of Christ and was glad. We live in the day of Christ and complain that Jesus isn't behaving the way a good Messiah should. In this way we are more like the Pharisees of Jesus' day than Abraham of Melchizedek's day. Much of this attitude comes because our lives are under a curse for not giving to God what is God's, and we know this to be true. Tithes, offerings, talents, and even a sacrifice of praise are all due to our God. 'Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). This is God's will for us because it is beneficial to us; it makes us one with God, keeping us from the curse of God that comes if we rob His storehouse. 

    In Hebrews 7:9-10 we have an important key that is often overlooked in our understanding of what it means to be 'in Christ” (Romans 8:1).

Just as Levi was 'in the body of his ancestor” Abraham when Abraham gave tithes to Melchizedek (Hebrews 7:10), and in this manner Levi tithed to Melchizedek, so every believer was 'in Christ” when He completed His work on the cross. When Christ died according to the law, so every believer also died. Because of this we can now say, 'I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). Even when Christ rose from the dead, all His people rose with Him (Ephesians 2:5-6). As the Jews knew what it meant to be the inheritors of the promise given to Abraham, so we as Christians must learn to live in the promises of Christ. If we truly understood this concept, then the phrase 'in Christ” would take on a soul-changing meaning in our lives.

    If we would take this idea of being 'in Christ” deep into our hearts, our whole way of looking at life would change. We would see the world through the eyes of Jesus, and I am sure that the view from the cross was horrible and exhilarating, painful and fulfilling. We would see that our place in life is due to God's placement in our lives, our gifts in life are due to God's grace, and our very next breath is due to God's approval of our continued life on earth. We would see that people are more important than pride, truth is more important than peace, vision is more important than sight, and giving is more important than keeping. We would joyfully give to God a small portion, say, ten percent, of what He has given to us because we would be eternally aware that all that we have, all that we can do, all that we think and feel and love and enjoy are gifts of God that we did not earn and cannot keep. As one radio talk show host says, we have 'talent on loan from God.” Are we paying back that loan, or are we calling it our own and robbing the Giver? The choice is ours as to whether we will be cursed or blessed.