RECENTLY, we received a thought — provoking letter from a subscriber in Australia. We were refreshed by the honest approach and felt we should share it with our readers. You may even see yourself here.
Dear Sir: It is more than a year now since I started reading The PLAIN TRUTH. I sent for it in the first place because your booklet on Whales and Porpoises intrigued me. I continued to read it because your scientific reports are so well documented and laid out. Then gradually I found myself paying more and more attention to the "sting in the tail" and eventually, almost against my will, I had to admit that what you said made sense. The first copy of TOMORROW'S WORLD caught me on the hop. I think I wasn't quite ready for it and some of its contents really jarred me, but I read it and let it simmer away. Then one day I was tempted. I know my weaknesses as well as anybody, but I gave in to one and that very night circumstances arose that proved had I just resisted the temptation I would have got what I wanted anyway. Thereupon I prayed for the first time in many a long year and resolved to try and live my life as God would wish. I might add that even writing this way makes me squirm. I have a long hard road before me. For the first time since I left school I read my Bible and I was amazed by what I read, and by the clarity of what it said. I used to say, "Who'd want to read that? You can't understand half of what it says anyway." But this is just not so! I'd even convinced myself of the need for tithing (the hardest pill of all to swallow) and how, and what is more, in a flash of inspiration I even worked out how to give it to God. Then came the crunch. In your next issue you had an article on tithing, and to me the headlines read: "Give to God and watch the cheques roll in." "How I joined the Have's with one easy 10%." "Unsolicited testimonials from lucky winners." "Gotta be in it to win it." Here it was, the big come-on, the lucky charm, and I was right back to square one. I had been hoping that by tithing I might find peace of mind and fortitude for the times you say we must face, but now, because of that article I find my mind keeps coming back to the "fringe benefits" and I feel soiled. In spite of this, I continued to put money away each week until I could come up with the right answer, and I decided that you have done God's work by making me think. You have inspired me to try to live according to God's ways. So I am tithing. Yours faithfully, Dorothy 0.
I can sympathize with Dorothy — religion and money are delicate enough subjects on their own. The man who broaches both at the same time is sticking his neck out. Unfortunately, the approach of so many revivalists, religious cranks, and even local churches, may lead one to ask if they are "fishers for dollars" — rather than for men. So, no matter how carefully it is put, it is easy to misunderstand when the subject of tithing is brought up. Yet it is a law and men need to understand it. To that end, we publish an occasional article on the subject. But Dorothy's problem is not whether she should tithe, but why. Significantly, she had already concluded from independent study that she must tithe. She had already started. Her problem was what she considered wrong motives for tithing. Perhaps to get a clearer, less prejudiced view of the subject, we should divorce it from money. So forget about tithing for now. Let's boil the question down to its simplest elements — you and God. God has laid down various commandments and laws. He expects you to keep them. What are the reasons why a man makes the initial decision to obey God?
What Is Your Goal?
What do you want out of life? It's amazing how few people really have any clear-cut idea. Many don't even understand the question. Most have never really thought about it. For the Christian, the answer will usually boil down to "the resurrection," the "Kingdom of Heaven," or "eternal life." Freedom from sickness, disease, pain, poverty, and sorrow also rate high on his list. He would like to live his life to the full. How then, do these motivations fit into the Christian's decision to obey God? If he decides to make the Ten Commandments his code of life, why does he do it? How does it fit in with what he wants out of life?
Self-preservation at First
If a man reads the Bible and finds that the wages of sin is death, it doesn't take him long to decide he'd like to know what sin is so he can avoid it. A quick check through a concordance will lead him to I John 3:4 which says, "sin is the transgression of the law." Since he isn't eager to die, he decides he'll try to stop sinning. This may be an over-simplification, but it nevertheless expresses the principle of the Scripture which says: "By the fear of the Eternal, men depart from evil" (Proverbs 16:6). It is true that when a man decides to obey God he does it for himself — at least at first. He does it to avoid the penalties that come from disobedience: heartache, humiliation, poverty, loss of freedom, sickness, even death (Job 35:1-15). Of course, there are those who say that they've always been a seeker after God — that they desire to please God and they keep the Commandments to please God. And God is pleased by willing, whole-hearted obedience. But why do we want to please God? Well, to displease God — to incur His wrath — is a fearful alternative. And to please God is to incur His favor. His favor brings blessings, happiness, health and freedom now, and a whole new life after death. But regardless of what you call it, isn't this still for yourself? Even when a Christian states as his ultimate goal in life the attainment of the Kingdom of God, is he not still wanting it all for self? It is a fact of life that a man's initial motivation in obeying God will always be basically selfish. Oh, of course, there will be some right motives mixed in with it, but if a man never worries about himself, he would probably never even become concerned about religion in the first place.
Now the Problem
However, Dorothy brought up a question which still needs an answer. Is the "What's in it for me?" approach adequate for the ultimate goal of a Christian? We find a little different attitude expressed by the Apostle Paul in the 9th chapter of Romans: "I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit, that I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart. For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh" (Romans 9:1-3). Paul was willing to lay down, not merely his life, but his eternal life if it would help his brethren. This is a long way from a "What's in it for me?" approach. Paul certainly wasn't getting much out of his work in material rewards during this life. His reward for doing the work was being beaten, shipwrecked, robbed, humiliated, ridiculed, betrayed by false brethren and even nearly murdered. There really was no overtly enjoyable reward for Paul for doing God's work. But in the 9th chapter of Romans, we find that Paul wasn't doing the work even for an ETERNAL reward — he was willing to lay even that down if it would help to do the work of God. Sure — I understand that Paul hoped to attain a reward. But he was not serving merely FOR that reward. The man who serves God only for reward is a hireling — a man who will flee when persecution or opposition comes. Christ emphasized this in the parable of the good shepherd: "I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep. But he that is an hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth: and the wolf catcheth them, and scattereth the sheep. The hireling fleeth, became he is an hireling, and careth not for the sheep (John 10:11-13). A Christian must grow to the point where he is serving God not merely because it pays him to do so. In fact, the Scriptures make it very plain that there's going to come a time when serving God may cost everything we have — even our lives. Now with this in mind, let's come back to the question of tithing. Why does a man begin to tithe? For many reasons. He may be tired of having all the curses and decide he'd like to have some of the blessings for a change. He may simply have learned that it's a law — that the transgression of the law is sin, and that the wages of sin is death. Since he doesn't want to die, he decides to tithe! Selfish? Yes. But which of us ever made the first step toward God for unselfish reasons? Remember, it is through the fear of the Eternal that men depart from evil. Later men must begin to learn to love God enough to depart from evil because of that love. Dorothy has grown to the point that she doesn't need "fringe benefits" to obey God. Great! She's on her way. In fact, Christ warned that we would need to grow to the place that we would obey Him if it kills us — literally. Dorothy was right — a Christian should not tithe merely for reward. Or, as Dorothy so aptly put it — "Give to God and watch the cheques roll in"; "How I joined the Have's with one easy 10%." The concept of trying to be a "lucky winner" won't get a man anywhere with God — although there are those religious charlatans who make just such a pitch. But tithing is a test of faith. It tests a person's faith to believe that 90% of his income can cover 100% of his expenses. It is a test of faith to trust God to provide for you. Sometimes, it's a help to hear how many times and in how many ways God has kept His word. If He's done it for others, He will do it for you. To this end, we decided to share the experiences of some of our readers with others who may be just a little afraid to step out on faith and obey God. Tithing is a big subject. And it's an important one to God. Malachi shows that tithing is one of the first things to do when a person wants to return to his God. Read the question in Mal. 3:7, "Wherein shall we return?" And read the answer in Mal. 3:8, In tithes and offerings"! We don't believe that people should tithe strictly for what they're going to get out of it. If they do, the only reward they will ever have will be material — if they even ever receive that. Now forget about tithing again and answer this question. Does it pay to obey God? Is it good for a man to refrain from lying? Is it in any way a benefit to man to refrain from hating his brother and becoming a murderer in his heart? Does it pay a man to honor his father and his mother? This is the commandment that Christ said is the first commandment with promise — that your days might be long upon the land that the Eternal has given you (Exodus 20:12). Does it pay to obey God? You bet it does! But make no mistake about it, all those who live Godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution (II Tim. 3:12), and the time may come when it will cost you everything you have to obey God. You'd better count the cost — and I don't mean in dollars.