Deut 15_1-11 Being openhanded to give freely
Being open-handed to give freely
The land belongs to God
Morning Worship 11-06-06
Call to worship
“Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. (Psalm 46:10-11)
Grace to you from God our Father and Jesus Christ our Lord.
Doxology Hymn No 321: “Bring to the Lord a glad new song” Prayer of Adoration, Invocation and Thanksgiving Lord’s Prayer
Gracious heavenly Father, we are your redeemed people and, as we gather in your presence, how we rejoice in you. We rejoice in the majesty of your character, the sheer perfection of your being. You are the only wise God, the one true and living God, the Almighty, the all-knowing one, the ever present one, the triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We rejoice in the perfection of who you are. And we rejoice in the works of your hands, in the wonders you have done: the splendour of your creation, the generosity of your providential care, the sheer grace of redemption, the mystery of your purposes in election, the infinite wonder of your everlasting love, the gift of your Word, the power of your Gospel, the sanctifying work of your Holy Spirit, the blessings of your Church, the glories of Heaven and the wonders you have prepared for us there.
When we consider the wonder of who you are and all that you have done for us in Christ, we rejoice with trembling. We stand in awe of you. We realize something of the greatness and grandeur of who you are, the high and holy God who inhabits eternity. We also realise the finite, weak, limited, sinful condition of ourselves by comparison. But we rejoice in the fact that despite the vast gulf between us, you nevertheless delight to dwell with those who are humble and contrite in heart and who tremble at your Word. We rejoice that you have appointed Christ to bridge the gap between us, and that he has reconciled us to you through the cross. We rejoice that with you there is forgiveness; therefore you are feared.
We come before you this day, yielded and still in the presence of you, our Lord and Master. Continue and bring to completion the good work you have begun in us. Humble us in our pride. Condemn in us any wrong. Wash us with water through the Word to make us holy and send us to our homes rejoicing that we have met with you, the Sovereign Lord, in Jesus’ name.
Hymn No 96: “God we praise You” (Tune: Ode to Joy)
Prayer of Confession of sin
Father, it is with a sense of shame that we confess our sins to you. It grieves us that we continue to fall short of your glory. We feel the burden of our guilt, but if we are blind to sins in us, trouble our souls about them, prick our consciences, bring them out into the light, show us the true nature of our hearts, and the deceitfulness that resides there. Give us no rest until our sins have been dealt with by the cross, until all sin has been forsaken, its power broken and put to death.
Lord God, you have been very patient with us. You have disciplined us. You have corrected us and rebuked us. Grant us the grace to heed your corrections and yield to your gentle rebukes. We do not want to provoke you. We do not want to grieve you. We do not want to resist your Holy Spirit. Make us humble, keep us responsive, and enable us to keep short accounts with you.
It is our hearts' desire to be your holy people, set apart to you and unspotted by the world, wearing the robe of Christ’s righteousness. Keep us by your almighty power. Increase our faith in you and lead us in the way everlasting, for we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.
Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord does not count against him and in whose spirit is no deceit. (Psalm 32:1-2)
Scripture Reading 1John 3:11-24
Tithes, offering and dedication
While stewards wait upon the tithes and offering, remaining seated we sing:
Hymn No 365: “We give You but your own”
Prayer for others
Scripture Reading Deuteronomy 15:1-11
My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,
Two weeks ago the Word of the Lord came to us from chapter 14 of Deuteronomy, the last section, where it deals with the tithes.
Let’s just ask the children if they can remember what a tithe is. Can anyone help me? A tithe is what one takes of the income God blesses you with 10% to give it to the work of the church so that there will be enough money for workers in the Kingdom of God. It supplies the income for missionaries and other people who are employed by the church who tell the Good News of Jesus Christ to other people. It is also the task of the church to provide for the needs of people who are in need, like the widows, the fatherless and, in Israel’s case, those who had no land rights.
It belongs to God
; There was one very important principle all Israelites had to keep in mind, and of course it applies to us who are members of the church of the Lord Jesus Christ. We find this principle in Leviticus 25:23-24:
The land must not be sold permanently, because the land is mine and you are but aliens and my tenants. Throughout the country that you hold as a possession, you must provide for the redemption of the land. (Leviticus 25:23-24)
It worked this way: God provided for each and every tribe a certain portion of the land. It was theirs because God gave it to them. They did not pay for it; they got the land and what was on it for free. They had to look at their block of land as a gift from God. On it they were only tenants. This was of course an excellent deal: ; because it was God’s land, He would provide for them the rain they needed, and He would give them prosperity for as long as they obeyed the commands of the Lord. Later on, because they disobeyed God and broke covenant with Him, He of course took the land back and sent them into slavery in Babylon. Of what they earned from the land, God commanded them to take 10%, that’s the tithe, and bring it to the temple where it would be given to those in specific work of the Lord. The Levites who served in the temple had no land and they were dependant on the tithes of the rest of the people for their day to day existence.
If the people were disciplined and obedient to constantly give the 10% of their income for the specific work of the Lord, they would not miss out, because God Himself would make up by giving them his blessings. If however they withheld their tithes, the Lord shut the windows of heaven and withdrew his blessing from them. They would then forfeit income, eventually the land.
The application for us living today is: the world belongs to God. He has ownership over everything He has made. He sustains it; He sends rain, withholds the pestilence and famine for as long as his people are obedient in serving Him with a complete heart, loving Him and their neighbour and providing of their income for the work of the Gospel. The truth is also that if God’s people do not serve Him by faithfully providing for the needs of the Gospel and the needy people, and withholding their tithes, God does not only begin to withhold his blessing from the individual members and families in the church, but He also withholds his blessing from the church.
; Tenants and stewards
To make sure that the people did not lose sight of the fact that the land did not really belong to them, but that they are mere tenants or stewards of it, and also to prevent his people from becoming greedy and become lovers of money and materialistic things, God command them to, in a seven year cycle, ; not plant in the seventh year. This is the command:
At the end of every three years, bring all the tithes of that year’s produce and store it in your towns, so that the Levites (who have no allotment or inheritance of their own) and the aliens, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns may come and eat and be satisfied, and so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. (Deut 14:28-29)
And then further:
“For six years you are to sow your fields and harvest the crops, but during the seventh year let the land lie unplowed and unused. Then the poor among your people may get food from it, and the wild animals may eat what they leave. Do the same with your vineyard and your olive grove. (Ex 23:10-11)
Just think about it, six out of seven years one could plant and take the harvests and put it in your barn after you took your tithe, 10%, out and give it for the specific work of the Lord. But then, the seventh year you had to have the land rest. And you could rest and rejoice in the provision of the Lord.
; There was just one problem: let’s say you owed your brother some money and you had to pay off the loan in a prescribed number of years, and then, in the seventh year, the year of the Jubilee, you could not plant a crop and you would not be able to make your loan payment that year. Not to worry, they Lord provided for that, because your fellow Israelite had no right to ask anything of you during that year. It is sort of moratorium on debts. We’ll think about it next year. This year, the seventh, all of us, will rejoice in the Lord. He provided the land, He gave us rain and He withheld the pests. So, He looks after the creditor and the debtor. And both the creditor and the debtor had to acknowledge the providence of God.
; If the person who provided the loan in the first instance thought: how will I survive if those who owe my money will not pay me back, then the same applies: Not to worry; God will look after you.
; Give to God what belongs to Him
The important lesson was this: give to God what belongs to Him, love Him with all your heart, obey his commands, love your neighbour, and God will take care of the rest. ; Both the creditor and the debtor were safe in the hands of God.
Should the creditor try to short-circuit this process by demanding a payment of the debtor in the seventh year, the debtor could appeal to the Lord for justice; and God would deal with the creditor according to his Word: He would punish him for his sin. The implication is: don’t be surprised is the Lord takes away from you what He entrusted into your care and you end up with nothing.
The application for the church is based on the same principle: the moment we begin to think that the money and possessions we have belong to us and we stop providing for the work of the Gospel and stop providing for the poor and the needy, God will listen to the plea of the missionaries, those in fulltime ministry and those who are poor, the widow and the fatherless; He might just take from us what He in the first place entrusted to us to steward over. ; Further, withholding from the Lord is to steal from God; but God owns it in any case. Bad stewards will lose what they think they owe and what was entrusted to them will be given to those who are faithful in the labour of the Lord.
We living in the times following the cross and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ are not obliged to not sow the fields in the seventh year. We can also not deduce from this part of the Word of God that we have the right to every seventh year do nothing and expect the Lord to provide for us. This requirement of the law was fulfilled in Jesus Christ, and was binding on those who lived in the actual Promised Land of Israel. But the principle remains: what we have, the opportunities to work, the gifts and talents we have, the skills we develop and the money and possessions we have, is in our trust: it belongs to God. To Him we should give what He demands of us for the specific work of the Church. This the Bible calls tithing.
; Giving our tithes is an act of love. By doing it we show God that we love Him and that we trust Him to provide for us. But it is also an act of love towards those in need around us, and specifically those our brothers and sisters in the Lord. It does not necessarily mean those close to us, but our brothers and sisters in the Lord living in countries where people and leaders do not know God. More often than not, they are poor and in need of help for their daily living. We saw something of it in the video Rev Bill Lutton showed us last Tuesday night in the Willows Church. There are of our brothers and sisters in a country like Myanmar who do not have an income. Ministers and missionaries have nothing to live upon. These are the people we need to remember in our giving.
The Bible uses very interesting words here in Deuteronomy 15:7-8, where it says:
If there is a poor man among your brothers in any of the towns of the land that the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward your poor brother.
Rather be openhanded and freely lend him whatever he needs. (Deut 15:7-8)
; Do not make your heart hard. This means to show no compassion and love. It is to deliberately shut out of your heart any feeling for those in need. The opposite would be to have a heart which would feel and experience the pain, suffering, hurt and cravings of those who are in material need as if it is my need. Empathy is to put yourself in the situation of the other and feel for his or her sake. This is what our Lord did when He saw us as sinner hopelessly groping in the dark without direction under the punishment of God who is righteous and punish sin. He felt for us. He loved us so much that He stepped in our place to free us from the bondage and eternal darkness and damnation.
And now we understand the word of 1John 3:
This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? (1 John 3:16-17)
; How can we say we love God and not love our brother in need? It is only possible if we have become hardhearted. But it is also true that we have not really learned to love God with a complete heart. So, let us not fool ourselves calling ourselves Christians and when is comes to serving the Lord with our tithes and offerings to provided for the needy, we show ourselves to be hardhearted. It is impossible!
The next term in Deut 15 which draws our attention is “tight-fisted”. This word means to have your hand shut so that your will not give what God has put in it in the first place. It means to lock up and ; keep to yourself what God put in it in the first place. Not only is this disobedience and sin, it is a form of idolatry. The Bible says in 1Timothy 6:10
; For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. (1 Timothy 6:10)
; And in Colossians 3:5
Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. (Colossians 3:5)
The opposite of this attitude is Deut 15:8. Be open-handed and give freely. If we would paraphrase this it could sound like this: your open hand should be the doorway through which you freely lend. Now this phrase “freely lend” comes from the way in which Hebrew grammar sometimes repeat the same word, one directly following the other in different forms. In others words: make your hands the doorway in order that you without reservation lend to your neighbour in need.
Should I give to him everything I have? No, possessions are a gift from God. To steal from someone is therefore a trespass of the commandments of the Lord. Just as God did not command the Israelites to abandon their property after seven years, but only to have it rest, so God does not demand of us to abandon what He has given us. To not be hardhearted and to be open-handed is just to love God and our neighbour and to acknowledge that what we have comes from the Lord.
Brothers and sisters in the Lord, I conclude with this remark. Even if we would give to the Lord our tithes diligently, but our heart is not stirred by our love for God and our compassion towards our neighbour, we would miss the point. Put your heart in it. And heed the Word of God:
A generous man will himself be blessed, for he shares his food with the poor. (Proverbs 22:9)
He who gives to the poor will lack nothing, but he who closes his eyes to them receives many curses. (Proverbs 28:27)
Blessed is he who has regard for the weak; the Lord delivers him in times of trouble. (Psalm 41:1)
But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. (Matthew 6:3-4)
May God help us. Amen.
Hymn No 310: “Brother, let me be”
May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. (2 Corinthians 13:14)