Stealing from God

 

For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” Mark 8:36–37

The rich and beautiful ancient city of Pompeii, situated at the base of Mt. Vesuvius was a trade center of ancient Rome. Severely damaged by an earthquake in A.D. 64, it still remained a favorite resort for wealthy Romans until A.D. 79 when Mt. Vesuvius underwent a violent eruption covering Pompeii with thirteen feet of ash. Though most of the inhabitants were able to escape the eruption, carrying with them their movable assets, not all were so fortunate.

For centuries the city remained buried. Then, in 1748, excavation began and the city was uncovered. Among the ruins they found the form of a man. He had, it appeared, turned back after a box of gold and jewels. Clinging to it, he was suffocated by the hot ash as it descended over the city. He had managed to hold on to some of his precious possessions, but it had cost him his life.

In commissioning His disciples to go “into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15), Christ assigned to men the work of extending the knowledge of His grace. But while some go forth to preach, He calls upon others to answer His claims upon them for offerings with which to support His cause in the earth.

The Lord does not need our gifts, nor can we enrich Him by giving them. Speaking of Himself, He says, “Every beast of the forest is mine, and the cattle upon a thousand hills. I know all the fowls of the mountains: and the wild beasts of the field are mine. If I were hungry, I would not tell thee: for the world is mine, and the fulness thereof.” Psalm 50:10–12. Speaking specifically of money, we read, “The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, saith the LORD of hosts.” Haggai 2:8. Yet God permits us to show our appreciation of His mercies by self-sacrificing efforts. He has placed means in our hands that we might have a part in doing the work appointed us in saving our fellowmen. Thus it is possible for us to manifest our gratitude and love to God. Too often, however, we are prone to forget that not only our money, but all that we have, is on loan while we prove our stewardship.

A Test of Our Honesty

Jesus said, “He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much: and he that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much. If therefore ye have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches? And if ye have not been faithful in that which is another man’s, who shall give you that which is your own?” Luke 16:10–12. (The word mammon, used in some versions of the Bible is a term that means money or riches.)

While money can be a great blessing, when it becomes more important to us than the Giver, it becomes a curse. In the very beginning, our first parents lost sight of the Creator-creature relationship. The serpent, in tempting Eve to transgress against her Creator, sought to instill in her mind the idea that it was possible to have equality with God.

“Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden? And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden: But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die. And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die: For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.” Genesis 3:1–5

Giving is a vital part of the plan for the restoration of the image of God in the soul and of the plan of salvation. God’s plan to redeem mankind was conceived in and could only be carried out in sacrifice. Loving and giving are inexorably joined together. Only when we give sacrificially, is it evident that the love with which we are loved has struck a responsive chord in our hearts. Self-denial and the cross lie directly in the pathway of every Christian who is following Christ.

It is God who gives us the power, the strength, and the intelligence to obtain what we have. “But thou shalt remember the LORD thy God: for it is he that giveth thee power to get wealth, that he may establish his covenant which he sware unto thy fathers, as it is this day.” Deuteronomy 8:18. In return He reserves a portion of all that He gives us, to be returned to Him as a grateful acknowledgment on our part of His ownership and goodness to us. “And all the tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land, or of the fruit of the tree, is the LORD’S: it is holy unto the LORD.” Leviticus 27:30. The word “tithe” is a Hebrew word which means a tenth. This portion of our increase the Lord claims as His.

Returning the tithe to the Lord is not an optional matter. In fact, He views the failure to do so as robbery. “Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings. Ye are cursed with a curse: for ye have robbed me, even this whole nation.” Malachi 3:8–9. The Bible clearly reveals that it is a serious matter to steal from a fellow human being; consider how much more serious it is to steal from our Creator.

In ancient Israel, the tithe was appointed to the Levites (see Hebrews 7:5) who were the spiritual leaders of the people and the tribe especially set apart by God for the ministry. According to the apostle Paul, the ministers of the gospel are to be paid in the same way. (See I Corinthians 9:13–14)

In addition to the tithes, God requested offerings from His people. (See Exodus 35:4–5.) Offerings, unlike the tithe which was for the spiritual leaders—the ministers and teachers of the gospel—were to be used for the erecting and upkeep of buildings associated with worship, as well as for alleviating the needs of the less fortunate.

The High Cost of Holding Back

Sometimes selfishness can be very costly. There was a time soon after Israel returned from their long captivity to Babylon when there just never seemed to be enough money to go around. They could not understand why they just could not seem to get ahead. Then one day, through the prophet Haggai, God told them why they had that problem. “Now therefore thus saith the LORD of hosts; Consider your ways. Ye have sown much, and bring in little; ye eat, but ye have not enough; ye drink, but ye are not filled with drink; ye clothe you, but there is none warm; and he that earneth wages earneth wages to put it into a bag with holes. Ye looked for much, and, lo, it came to little; and when ye brought it home, I did blow upon it. Why? saith the LORD of hosts. Because of mine house that is waste, and ye run every man unto his own house.” Haggai 1:5–6, 9

The temple that had been destroyed many years before was still in ruins. The people were so busy trying to get ahead that no one had any money to give for the restoration of God’s house that was in ruins. As a result, God did not bless them.

Some will say, “If I ever could get ahead, then I would pay tithe.” We have to remember, that we can never get ahead by coveting that which belongs to God. God loves a cheerful giver, and when we cheerfully give our tithes and offerings to Him, He has promised to bless us. “Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the LORD of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.” Malachi 3:10

In all our striving to succeed, we are not to lose sight of eternal realities. Jesus said, “Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” Matthew 6:25, 32–33

In other words, if our priorities are right and we make all our decisions with reference to placing our eternal interests first, God has made Himself responsible to see that the necessities of life are cared for.

The Rich Young Ruler

Every person will eventually have to choose between two great attractions. “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.” Matthew 6:24

This test was brought to bear on the rich young ruler who came to Christ desiring to know what, if anything, stood between himself and eternal life. “And, behold, one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?” Matthew 19:16. In reply to this question Jesus told him that obedience to the commandments of God was necessary if he would obtain eternal life; and He quoted several of the commandments which show man’s duty to his fellow-men. The ruler’s answer was positive: “All these things have I kept from my youth up. What lack I yet?” Verse 20

Jesus looked with love upon the young man and faithfully pointed out to him his deficiency in keeping the divine law. He did not love his neighbor as himself. His selfish love of riches was a character defect, which, if not remedied, would debar him from heaven. “Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me. But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions.” Matthew 19:21–22

Just as did the rich young ruler, each individual must make the same decision. The nature of that decision reveals our priorities and what has first place in our affections, thus determining our eternal destiny. Millions of people are making the choice of the young ruler. They are not willing to be honest stewards of their Lord’s goods. Like the ruler, they refuse the heavenly treasure and choose that which is of passing value and which will disappear with the passing of time. By such selfishness they prove themselves unworthy of the eternal riches. They show that they are unfit for a place in the kingdom of God; if they were allowed to enter there, they would spoil heaven by their covetousness.

There is no security in the things we can see, for “the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.” 2 Peter 3:10. When these seen, but temporary things, have all passed away, only the enduring spiritual realities will remain.

When Jesus returns, will you be ready to meet Him with gladness, or will you, like the poor man buried in the ashes of Vesuvius, perish while clinging to your earthly treasure?

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