1 Samuel 15:1-23
Let me start with some simple statistics. A Gallop Poll of Church Members reported that 17% say that they tithe– but only 3% actually do. 40% will give nothing in a year. Tithers make up only 10-25 percent of a normal congregation. Even in America, only 5 percent of the U.S. tithes, with 80 percent of Americans only giving 2 percent of their income.
We are studying the topic of “Giving, God’s way”, this month and we have already seen some aspects of it in the previous Sundays. We heard from Pastor Albert Davis about who should give. We heard from Bro George Ninan on how much should we give. So let us wrap up the series with looking at some myths about giving.
One of the biggest myths about giving is “God is pleased with anyone who gives”. Do you think this is true? Can mere giving get one to heaven? Can giving substitute faith? Is God really pleased with someone who only gives? Let us look at the Bible to see what the Bible tells us.
In the bible portion read out to us, we see the story of God testing King Saul by asking him to do something terrible. Of course, we might consider some of them as terrible things to do, but in God’s wisdom it is required to be done, and God might just have been testing Saul to see how obedient he is. We will see some similar instances elsewhere in the Bible too. God commands King Saul to go and destroy the Amalekites completely, leaving nothing behind. But King Saul decides to use his own wisdom and allows his men to keep some of the best of the plunder in the guise of sacrificing to the Lord. King Saul allows the Amalekite King also to live and takes him as a prisoner again in violation of God’s command to destroy everything. More interestingly, King Saul tries to hide the loot from Samuel. That is when Samuel says, 1 Samuel 15:14 (NKJV) “What then is this bleating of the sheep in my ears, and the lowing of the oxen which I hear?” . Then Saul goes on to justify saying that his men kept some of the loot to “give” to the Lord.1 Samuel 15:15 (NKJV) “They have brought them from the Amalekites; for the people spared the best of the sheep and the oxen, to sacrifice to the LORD your God; and the rest we have utterly destroyed.” It is interesting to note that Saul uses the term “your God”. I want us to ponder over this simple phrase for a moment. This is a simple phrase but with some profound implications. It can actually define our whole approach to giving. When it comes to giving, many have this tendency, of saying “your God”, “your church” etc. Anyone who uses the term “your God” is an unbeliever and is giving only because someone else asked them to. It could be the pastor or an elder who asked them to give, and they give because the pastor asked them. Thus it becomes giving to “the pastor’s god” or giving to “the pastor’s church”. In this case with King Saul, he was obviously doing it because the law required that. His use of the term “your God” indicates that he is giving not to his own personal God, but to Samuel’s God who gave the law through Moses. This is why the sacrifice that Saul offered is rejected by God. This sacrifice was done in disobedience, this sacrifice was being done merely as a duty, a compliance issue to the law, and not because the Lord was “my God” but was “your God”. This is when that pearl of wisdom comes through Samuel. 1 Samuel 15:22 (NKJV) “Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, As in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, And to heed than the fat of rams. ”
You would see this theme repeated in the bible multiple times Actually this happens much before the law about giving is given through Moses, this happens much before the time of Moses when the law was given. We see this right at the beginning when God differentiates between the offerings made by Cain and Abel. Genesis 4:3-5 (NKJV) And in the process of time it came to pass that Cain brought an offering of the fruit of the ground to the LORD. Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat. And the LORD respected Abel and his offering, but He did not respect Cain and his offering.” The actual reason for God’s non acceptance of Cain’s offering is revealed later in many parts of the scripture. Cain was a wicked man, partaking in the pleasures of the land, Abel is recorded in the Bible as a righteous man. Cain offered what was easily available to him without giving it much thought. Abel offered the choicest and the finest there was to offer. In short, Cain made the offering as a ritual, Abel made his offering in faith. God makes it clear that what he looks for is not ritualistic offering, but an offering made from the heart. Proverbs 15:8 (NKJV) tells us The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the LORD, But the prayer of the upright is His delight. Isaiah 1:13 (NKJV) tells the faithless giver, Bring no more futile sacrifices; Incense is an abomination to Me. The New Moons, the Sabbaths, and the calling of assemblies– I cannot endure iniquity and the sacred meeting.
We see this in the life of Abraham, again much before the law was given. When Abraham was asked to sacrifice his one and only son, there was no law about giving. But God asked him to sacrifice the only son through whom the promise of God was to be fulfilled. Abraham did not hesitate, Abraham did not look for loopholes in the non-existent law, but obeyed, and just because of his obedience, God asked him to stop the sacrifice, and provide the substitutionary animal for the sacrifice. And we know the result of such obedience. Genesis 22:16-18 (NKJV) “By Myself I have sworn, says the LORD, because you have done this thing, and have not withheld your son, your only son– blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your descendants shall possess the gate of their enemies. In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice.”
We see this in the new testament. We know the story of Ananias and Sapphira told in Acts 5: 1-11. Ananias and Sapphira intentionally decided to hide the cost of the plot of land that they sold with the exclusive purpose of donating to the church, and kept a part of the money to themselves. Peter’s admonition of Ananias is worthy of noting. Acts 5:3-4 (NKJV) “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back part of the price of the land for yourself? While it remained, was it not your own? And after it was sold, was it not in your own control? Why have you conceived this thing in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.” All that is ours is given by God. God does not need anything from us, but when we make a commitment to give, it must be made with the right heart and the right attitude and made in faith.
Let us step out of the Bible for a moment and take look at the history of the church. I am not sure if any of you have visited Vatican, but many of you may have seen pictures of the St. Peters Basilica in Vatican, or at least have heard about it. It is a magnificent structure, breathtaking in its grandeur and pomp and architectural beauty. But there is a dark side to its construction. A building of that scale (it took more than a century to complete the building in the 16th century, 120 years to be precise, between 1506 and 1626), required enormous amount of money. One of the major sources of funds came from what is known as the sale of indulgences. What are indulgences? Well, the easiest way of describing it is as a ticket from Purgatory to Heaven. That requires me to explain what Purgatory is. According to medieval orthodox doctrines, a person who does not complete his penance for his or her sins in this world do not get into heaven directly, but is sent to an intermediary place called Purgatory and there is expected to suffer and pay for the sins of the world, before he or she becomes pure enough to enter heaven. For relatives of a dead person, this becomes a very emotional matter. They obviously want to see their loved ones in heaven and do not want them to suffer after death. This is where the early Christian leaders devised a fund raising methodology. They struck upon this idea of indulgences and decided to sell the same for money. So if you wanted to release a loved soul from purgatory and send them to heaven all that you had to do was to spend a little money, buy a paper certificate called indulgence and the loved one’s soul would pop out of the purgatory and onto heaven. The archbishop of Mainz (Albrecht) in Germany even hired an excellent sales man named Johann Tetzel to go around and sell the indulgences in the interior places in Germany to raise funds. This man would enter a town or a village with all the pomp and show of a circus, announcing his arrival in a loud manner. He even had a jingle that went “As soon as the coin in the coffer rings the soul from purgatory springs.” He will then set up counters to sell the certificates of Indulgences. He did roaring business, and the St Peter’s Basilica of Vatican was built. Simply put, for some time in the history, the church did teach that you could buy your way into heaven with a little money.
It is s different matter though that God, in his sovereign plans used even this dark event in history for His glory. Martin Luther wrote his famous 95 thesis as he felt strongly against this practice and the protestant wing of Christianity was borne, and the rest is history.
However, as they say, history repeats itself. In today’s protestant Christianity things are not much different. You switch on the Television and you can see preachers exhorting the viewers to donate a certain amount of money for blessings. You can get a blessed piece of cloth , or an anointed bottle of oil, or a book, or a pillow cover with divine powers for a price. There are preachers who guarantee 10 times or more return on investment if we send contributions to a particular pastor or a church. There are preachers who offer healing to fertility to wealth to jobs to anything under the sun for a contribution. We are surrounded by messages that commercialize giving. The prosperity gospel has diverted the real issue of Christian giving and made it into a mere barter system. The message that we hear is mostly, “you give and you will be blessed”. Faith does not matter anymore.
I am pained by this. I am sure many of you are. God wants our heart. And once we give our heart, we will be willing to give without expecting anything in return. We will give, not because we want anything in return, but we will give because we love the God who gave his only son so that we might not perish.
This morning, let us examine our hearts and see if we have accepted Jesus Christ completely. Let us recommit ourselves to Him, and then let us pray that God will put in our hearts to Give, Gods way.