Giving . . . here is an area where I struggle with presenting the truth. Just a personal testimony for a moment is in order. When I became a pastor - I did not preach on giving for the first six or seven years I was at Calvary Chapel. This was not because we did not give according to Scripture - we did. It was because of a reaction I had to all the abuse of this area by the televangelists and others in the church. I grieve over how the Lord Himself is dragged through the greed and abuse that happens in this area. But it should not have surprised me - that kind of abuse has been in the church for centuries. But, I realized through the correction of a godly elder that by not teaching on the biblical basis of giving - I was in effect robbing the saints of the true blessing God brings in this area. That was a good word for me to hear - and since then I've tried to deal with this area from time to time with the saints.
I love the way Solomon speaks of giving here. He does not even use that term. "Honor the LORD from your wealth . . ." What a great way to speak of giving. It is not like we're able to give God anything anyway. The Word teaches us that God owns the cattle on a thousand hillsides. He owns everything. Solomon himself said that all that he had given God had come from God's own hand anyway. So giving is not a matter of our generosity. The fact that we have anything to give is a matter of God's generosity to us. What we are doing is honoring Him from the wealth He has given us.
Why do we need to honor God from the FIRST of all our produce? It is because when we do this - our honoring God will not be affected by covetousness or greed. Too often we make the Lord the last thing we do with what He's given to us. Honoring Him first means we trust Him enough to know that He will provide for us. It is a matter of faith and trust that makes us act in this way. We don't check our budget first - or check if we could use that money for something different - maybe something we really want. We choose to say, "God, I love You and want to honor You for all Your generosity to me!" We make it clear through our actions - that He is first in our lives.
There is something about telling the greed that lies within the fallen human breast that God will be first that deals it a death blow. That greed and selfishness rises up so easily. Oh, what a wonderful thing it is to put it in its place - and to declare with boldness and confident faith, "God will be honored FIRST here - honored FIRST with my wealth - honored FIRST before self even enters the scene." That kind of faith statement prepares us for great blessing.
What kind of blessing comes when we honor God with our wealth and the first of all our produce? That is the subject of verse 10 of this chapter of Proverbs. In dealing with it we need to see what is says - but just as importantly - what it does NOT say.
First, what it says . . . when we honor God from our wealth and the first of all that we have, God promises that our barns will be filled and our vats will overflow with new wine. God promises abundance to those who honor Him. There is a blessing for those who put selfishness and covetousness in its place. There is promised abundance for us. There is no other way to look at this from the full teaching of Scripture. But there is wisdom to grasp here - for often these texts are used as a pretext for our greed.
What does this verse NOT say? It does not say that it is God's will for us to be rich - to have health, wealth, and prosperity at all times and in all situations. First of all there is the example of our Lord Jesus Christ. If health, wealth, and prosperity IS God's will for everyone - why didn't Jesus embrace it? He said that He did not have a place to lay His head. Scripture teaches us that He became poor for our sakes. That poverty included physical wealth. Jesus did not go out and give Himself to make tremendous amounts of money. In His death He had no great physical inheritance to offer. Not only Jesus lived this way - but John the Baptist did as well. He chose poverty in serving the Lord. Paul spoke in Philippians of knowing how to live with much as well as with little or nothing. The famous passage, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me," refers to financial contentment - as well as contentment in all circumstances. Job's setbacks and temporary financial ruin was allowed by God for a season. He lost everything - his wealth, health, and prosperity. Today's false prophets of health, wealth, and prosperity would have eagerly joined Job's three friends in condeming him for his circumstances - saying that if he had enough faith - everything would be restored instantly.
Then we have the Thessalonian believers - who were heavily persecuted for their faith - as well as all those in our day who are their heirs in the persecuted church of the 20th and 21st century. Hebrews speaks of those who willingly allowed their property to be taken from them. Others have lost jobs and some lost everything including their lives to hold fast to Christ - and to honor God. The poor widow who gave everything she had - which amounted to about 2 cents - was not castigated for her poverty. She was praised for the extreme honor she gave to the Lord - trusting Him with everything she had.
Oh, how it grieves me - and I believe it grieves Almighty God - when we make wealth and riches our pursuit - rather than honoring God. The twisting of Scripture that goes on when a religious huckster says that if you give God 100 dollars - He will return 1000 into your lap - is nothing more than the words of a greedy liar who would take from you the blessing of honoring God. Instead he would have you think that God is a spiritual slot machine. Insert a certain amount of giving - pull the lever - and you've hit the jackpot! God did not mean for our giving to be some religious casino experience. The Word is clear here - this is to be an experience in honoring God - not seeking honor for self in what we'll get back.
That is why I love this passage in Proverbs. The whole purpose of this practice is to "honor the LORD." That is what should be driving our giving to Him. A desire to honor Him and worship Him through the experience. This mindset will guard us from the deceivers who would take giving and make something about us. Instead giving it put in the right context - the context of honoring God!