Tithing

The Church is often associated with certain duties or responsibilities to be carried out by its members. Apart from evangelizing, the act of tithing is one of the most notable examples recognized by Christians and non-Christians alike. However, as is the case with many issues concerning the Church, over time this holy responsibility has been misrepresented, misconstrued and misunderstood.

Why is tithing so recognizable to non-Christians? One possible explanation is that tithing concerns money: “our” money. And since Churches often are in need of assistance to operate, the plea for financial assistance is one often made from the pulpit. The key in this possible explanation is the word, “our.” To sinful man there is nothing more powerful than the allure of money. Money promises to fix problems. Money promises to cure diseases. Money promises to supply happiness and security. Many people tend to profess a stronger faith in money than in God Himself. And since we have to work for our money, for someone to ask us to give away some of that hard-earned money is an oppressive request. We often are willing to part with our money as long as there is an element of investment involved that could benefit us. We feel justified in parting with our money if there is a possibility that in turn the parting will result in our gain.

Tithing is different. Tithing involves faith and it often aids things that will go unseen by our own eyes and will almost certainly benefit someone else and not us. With this in mind, most people when asked to tithe at Church feel comfortable tossing spare change into the basket, but feel unmoved to reach for a bill or a check. We view our money as “ours.” Thus, we often find ourselves responding to the request of the church to tithe unmoved, unimpressed and unwilling to give anything at all.

Tithing is an established command of God to His people in the Bible, and as is the case with God’s commands, it is not easy or possible through man’s power or effort. A true act of tithing is only possible with God’s hand firmly behind the believer. Otherwise, tithing will eventually result in resentment, frustration, bitterness and anger on the part of the giver. Therefore, a true act of tithing should be giving with four distinct characteristics. Tithing should be:

 

1) Giving that is Just

2) Giving that is Constructive

3) Giving that is Painful

4) Giving that is Joyful

 

1) Giving that is Just 

The root of our discontentment toward tithing is our selfish obsession with money that we view as our own. If we view what we have as something that belongs to us, that we guard, tithing becomes increasingly difficult as a result of this possessiveness. However, according to God, the truth is that what we see as “ours” is not ours at all.

Uprooting this possessiveness and ownership is like a game of “connect the dots.” For example, if I view my car as mine and thus for no one else to drive, I must ask myself how I was able to purchase the car? A job. How did I get the job? Hard work and studying. How did I obtain the skills to work for the job that ultimately paid for the car? And so on and so forth…

The fact is the money we are stingy about does not belong to us. It has been given to us by God, for us to use in this world for his glory. In the same way that we are suspicious about someone asking for our money unless they can prove to us that in some way our money will eventually return to us with investment capital, God has simply invested in us with the intention to provide us opportunities to reinvest what he has given, to produce capital for the Kingdom of God. As Jesus illustrated in Matthew 25, what we have in this world is given to us simply to reinvest for the corporate good of the Church, not for our own personal and private profit.

 

Matthew 25:14-30 

“Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more. So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more. But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.

“After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. The man who had received five bags of gold brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five bags of gold. See, I have gained five more.’

“His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

“The man with two bags of gold also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two bags of gold; see, I have gained two more.’

“His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

“Then the man who had received one bag of gold came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’

“His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.

“‘So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags. For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

 

Tithing is based on a foundation of love and trust and without love and trust we are left anxiously insecure. Our insecurity with tithing illuminates our insecurity with our relationship to God.

 

Tithing is established in Genesis 14, when Abram meets Melchizedek:

 

Genesis 14:17-24

After Abram returned from defeating Kedorlaomer and the kings allied with him, the king of Sodomcame out to meet him in the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley).

Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, and he blessed Abram, saying,

“Blessed be Abram by God Most High,

   Creator of heaven and earth.

And praise be to God Most High,

   who delivered your enemies into your hand.”

Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything.

The king of Sodom said to Abram, “Give me the people and keep the goods for yourself.”

But Abram said to the king of Sodom, “With raised hand I have sworn an oath to the LORD, God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth, that I will accept nothing belonging to you, not even a thread or the strap of a sandal, so that you will never be able to say, ‘I made Abram rich.’ I will accept nothing but what my men have eaten and the share that belongs to the men who went with me—to Aner, Eshkol and Mamre. Let them have their share.”

Aside from the mysterious nature of this King of Salem, the impulse for Abram to give the King a tenth of what he worked for in the previous battle is even more surprising. To the reader this is akin to one working overtime, and then simply handing a tenth of the hefty paycheck to a random stranger on the street. It defies financial logic. Unless, that is, Abram viewed what he had as not his own. Abram knew that the victory on the battlefield was not his own but was God’s. Thus, everything that came as a result of that battle was God’s also. In the end, to Abram, keeping everything to himself would have been as shocking to him as it is for us to see him parting with the tenth to Melchizedek. To Abram, giving to the King-Priest was entirely justified, whereas to keep everything for himself would have been the definition of injustice.

 

2) Giving that is Constructive 

For many people, tithe is simply loose change in a straw basket passed passively from church member to church member, from pew to pew. The giving when faced with the presence of “The Basket,” is often done out of guilt, habit or obligation. This type of tithing is not constructive and therefore not tithing at all.

Tithing must be targeted to a purpose, a need. Tithing revolves around God, is from God and thus should always be directed by God. Tithing is not simply something that God said to do and we simply follow suit. As is the case with everything God calls us to do, we are “called” to tithe. Thus, tithing should look different to different people.   For one person, perhaps tithing should be centered primarily on the financial needs of a church. For a different person, perhaps tithing should be focused primarily on the needs of orphans or poor children in less developed parts of the world. Tithing depends entirely on how God is calling you to reinvest what he has invested in you already.

God wants everything we do to highlight what he has already done for us. He wants all of our activities to increase our faith in him so that we become more aware of his presence. Tithing is no different. It should start with searching out the heart. It should lead to prayer which should lead to more prayer and then lead to what God has called you to do with your money. The final step in tithing is to invest his money with a full dedication and commitment to wait, trust and watch God heal others with what he first gave you. In Paul’s letter to the Galatians, Paul mentions that he was asked by James, Peter and John to continue to remember giving to the poor in Jerusalem.

 

Galatians 2:9-10

James, Cephas and John, those esteemed as pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me. They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the circumcised. All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I had been eager to do all along.

 

The request is not as important as Paul’s response. He stated that this act of giving or tithing was something that he personally had already been moved to do. Paul had clearly sought God for guidance concerning his money and in turn was led to supply aid to the poor in Jerusalem. He then proceeded to organize an expansive relief effort by the Gentile churches, like the church in Corinth, to raise money and assist the church in Jerusalem during the severe famine they were experiencing.

 

2 Corinthians:8-15 

And now, brothers and sisters, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people. And they exceeded our expectations: They gave themselves first of all to the Lord, and then by the will of God also to us. So we urged Titus, just as he had earlier made a beginning, to bring also to completion this act of grace on your part. But since you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in the love we have kindled in you—see that you also excel in this grace of giving. I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.

And here is my judgment about what is best for you in this matter. Last year you were the first not only to give but also to have the desire to do so. Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means. For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have.

Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. The goal is equality, as it is written: “The one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little.”

Tithing is not and must not be reduced to simply an act of giving your money to something else. Tithing requires faith. It requires a dialogue with God and a commitment to follow his guidance on where to reinvest his money.

 

3) Giving that is Painful

As a result of sin, we are inherently possessive when it comes to money. We become like a protective lioness with her cubs when someone reaches for our money without a reasonable reason to do so. Giving hurts, and the human being is a smart, creative, clever creature. We understand that giving is good but we tactfully structure our giving in a way that will not hurt us at all. We desire to have it both ways. Thus, if someone is in need of money, we will give because to refuse to give would appear selfish. However, we calculate what we have and how much we could give so that after we give we can still buy the things we had already planned to buy. Then, and only then, we approve the gesture.

Tithing stands in a distinct contrast to this mindset. Tithing is a command from God and therefore possesses the same characteristics as his other commands. The commands of God always call us to become a new creation born in the spirit of God and not the spirit of sin. Therefore, in order to be recreated and tithe with the spirit of God, we are called to sacrifice our sinful nature and put on the Holy nature of God. Sacrifice inherently means pain, and thus most of us avoiding tithing altogether.

Because of Abram, the number 10 is most commonly associated with the act of tithing as the biblical gold-standard of tithing. While 10 percent is biblical, tithing goes deeper than that. Tithing cannot be tightly calculated in the bankbook in a predictable and mechanical manner. In many ways, 10 percent should be a base number, with God to freely determine how high the number can go. For some people, 10 percent is still comfortably unobtrusive when it comes to still providing for their own comforts. In this case, 10 percent is not painful, not sacrificial and thus, not enough.

 

Luke 19:1-10

Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.

When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.

All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”

But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”

Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

 

Moved by the grace and power of Jesus Christ, this wealthy tax collector was not moved to give 10 percent and then demand blessing or a miracle in return. He felt called by God to give half of everything he owned and then to right the financial wrongs he had committed by repaying those he had cheated four times the amount he had initially stolen. This act of giving is not referenced in the scriptures as a tithe, but the spirit of the giving is the same as Abram in his encounter with Melchizedek, perfectly in line with the spirit of tithing according to God’s design.

 

4) Giving that is Joyful

The Christian character amounts to nothing without love, and tithing amounts to nothing without joy. It’s not difficult to understand why or how tithing and joy are rarely seen in each other’s company today. As we discussed, giving what we believe belongs to us is an act that our sinful nature automatically opposes. Giving what we have means that what was once ours is now gone; we have less while someone else has more. We often find joy in receiving and possessing an abundance of one thing, and giving destroys that passion of ours, “to get.” But God is absolutely clear that giving in His name must never be done without joy. To give under a shadow of obligation, resentment or bitterness is a gift that he warns us not to give in the first place.

 

2 Corinthians 9:6-8 

Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.

 

Isaiah 1:11-15

“The multitude of your sacrifices—

   what are they to me?” says the LORD.

“I have more than enough of burnt offerings,

   of rams and the fat of fattened animals;

I have no pleasure

   in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats.

When you come to appear before me,

   who has asked this of you,

   this trampling of my courts?

Stop bringing meaningless offerings!

   Your incense is detestable to me.

New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations—

   I cannot bear your worthless assemblies.

Your New Moon feasts and your appointed festivals

   I hate with all my being.

They have become a burden to me;

   I am weary of bearing them.

When you spread out your hands in prayer,

   I hide my eyes from you;

even when you offer many prayers,

   I am not listening.

 

Isaiah 43:22-24 

“Yet you have not called on me, Jacob,

   you have not wearied yourselves for me, Israel.

You have not brought me sheep for burnt offerings,

   nor honored me with your sacrifices.

I have not burdened you with grain offerings

   nor wearied you with demands for incense.

You have not bought any fragrant calamus for me,

   or lavished on me the fat of your sacrifices.

But you have burdened me with your sins

   and wearied me with your offenses.

 

Jeremiah 7:21-26 

“‘This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Go ahead, add your burnt offerings to your other sacrifices and eat the meat yourselves! For when I brought your ancestors out of Egypt and spoke to them, I did not just give them commands about burnt offerings and sacrifices, but I gave them this command: Obey me, and I will be your God and you will be my people. Walk in obedience to all I command you, that it may go well with you. But they did not listen or pay attention; instead, they followed the stubborn inclinations of their evil hearts. They went backward and not forward. From the time your ancestors left Egypt until now, day after day, again and again I sent you my servants the prophets. But they did not listen to me or pay attention. They were stiff-necked and did more evil than their ancestors.’

 

Malachi 3:6-12 

“I the LORD do not change. So you, the descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed. Ever since the time of your ancestors you have turned away from my decrees and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you,” says the LORD Almighty.

“But you ask, ‘How are we to return?’

“Will a mere mortal rob God? Yet you rob me.

“But you ask, ‘How are we robbing you?’

“In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse—your whole nation—because you are robbing me. Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it. I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not drop their fruit before it is ripe,” says the LORD Almighty. “Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land,” says the LORD Almighty.

Joy is among the fruits of the Spirit Paul identifies in Galatians, a characteristic of the Christian spirit. This joy is not a joy that one talks themselves into or practices. Likewise, it is not a joy void of the reality that suffering continues to persist in the broken world we live in. The joy of a Christian goes much deeper than that. The joy of a Christian stems from its foundation, which is forever and always Jesus Christ. To know Jesus Christ is to have been saved by him. To be saved by him is to know that without his saving grace we were destined to die, never to have lived. Joy in tithing stems from that very same foundation. The joy of tithing contradicts our typical impulses or desires. Born out of the spirit of God, this giving defies the logic and rationale of the sinful human mind. The Christian character thrives when worshipping God, and to tithe is to lift others up by giving of ourselves. Ultimately, to sacrifice out of love for another is the most powerful emulation of the Father and his son Jesus Christ and thus, the truest form of worship.

TITHING